To California and Beyond
In last week's post, I started my deconversation story. Today I bring you part II of the story. The third and final part will appear next week. I'd love to hear your comments or your own deconversion stories. If you have any questions about Mormonism, leave them in the comments, and I will address them in a future post.
I did indeed find the right man at BYU, my husband of 33 years, Tim. However, he was the right man because marrying him didn’t require changing my mind. Tim is one of the few Mormon men who never treated me condescendingly. He treated me as an equal and saw my career goals having equal importance to his own. We got engaged my senior year. Friends nodded knowingly as if I had finally come to my senses. They were shocked when they learned that my upcoming marriage hadn’t changed my future career goals, except for influencing where I applied to graduate programs. I applied to my top choices and various graduating programs within driving distance of Long Beach, California, where my soon-to-be husband had gotten a job. If I got into one of my top choices, my husband would find a new job and we’d move there. If I didn’t get into one of my top choices, we’d live in Long Beach, and I’d commute.
As it turned out, I didn’t get into my top choices and attended graduate school at Claremont Graduate University, which is about an hour inland from Long Beach. Californian Mormons tend to be more liberal than Mormons in other parts of the country, so it was easier to be a married, childless graduate student there than it would have been elsewhere, but still the pressure to have children and be a stay at home mom was intense. But not only didn’t I want a baby at 22, I wasn’t sure I ever did. I resisted the pressure until I passed my Qualifying Exams and had only my dissertation left before I finished my degree.
I would have resisted maybe forever had my husband not badly wanted a child. After I passed my exams, I figured with the time it would take to get pregnant and then the 9-months that pregnancy lasted I would be finished before the baby was born. It is rare for a Mormon couple not to have a child within the first two years of marriage, often in the first year. When Jesse was born, Tim and I had been married for 6 years.
While my childless, career path wasn’t a popular thing at Church, my Mormonness caused me to stand out in my feminist graduate program. I never talked about the Church, but I didn’t drink coffee or alcohol, so my classmates figured it out. I knew Mormon’s patriarchal teachings were indefensible from the time I was 10, and in graduate school I came to see its homophobia as equally indefensible. But I was still sure both would change in the not-too-distant future.
You may ask if I knew at least two aspects of the church were wrong and harmful, why didn’t just drop the whole thing then? I should have, but my heritage and my family made that impossible to consider at that time. Six generations of my family had been Mormons, and family lore was full of the persecution and sacrifices they had endured in order to be members of the “true” Church. One ancestor in particular was a nearly unbearable weight about my neck. Her name was Jane Davis, and I was named after her, although I stopped using the name Jane when I entered college. Jane Davis, along with her family, joined the church in Wales in the 1850s, after which she married the man who converted them and the whole family emigrated to the United States, as those who joined the church were encouraged to do at the time. She gave up everything she knew in life to go to a strange country where she couldn’t speak the language. When she and her family reached the end of the railroad in Missouri, she walked over 1000 miles to Utah pulling a handcart. Mormon history is full of stories of the hardships hardcart pioneers experienced and praise for their faithfulness in the light of such difficulties. The church only sent pioneers to Utah by handcart for 2 years, so having a handcart pioneer bestows a somewhat elite status on an individual in Utah.
Jane Davis’s experiences as a handcart pioneer were detailed in her life story that was written by one of her daughters. Besides the hardships of the 1000 mile walk, the leaders of the handcart companies planned badly, creating an even worse situation and resulting in low rations. At one time Jane and the members of her company were down to nothing more than 3 tablespoons of flour per person per day. They also left Missouri too late in the year, so they were facing snow before reaching Utah. But Jane and her husband made it, and Jane remained faithful throughout her life. How could I, a person who had never gone hungry, dare to doubt the religion my ancestor gave up so much for. She sacrificed everything and endured tremendous hardships in order to be a Mormon. In the weight of my namesake’s experience, it seemed a gross obscenity to even entertain the idea that the religion she gave so much to was nothing more than a con man’s scheme. So while I had rejected large portions of Mormon doctrine as wrong and harmful, I could not yet question that idea that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God sent to restore the truth to the world. The guilt in even admitting I had doubts, after all Jane went through, made it difficult to breathe. So I lived in limbo, half in and half out of the church, that I was still waiting to change.
As is common with life, things didn’t work out as planned, and my dissertation didn’t get written at the speed I anticipated. Having a baby made finishing it more difficult, but I never considered for a moment not doing so. Ideally, I think I should have waited a few more years, but I can’t regret having Jesse. I was ambivalent about having a child throughout my pregnancy, but the very second Jesse was born, I fell deeply in love with him. I doted on that child. My son was the greatest joy of my life, and his death at 24 was the greatest tragedy I could have experienced. But my love for my son in no way affected my career plans. I never considered full-time motherhood as a option and knew I would be miserable if I took that route. Having breaks from caring for Jesse meant that when I was with him, I was fully with him. I was happy to see him and happy to play with him. If I had had to take care of him full time, I would have been a far worse mother and far less able to meet his needs. At Church I saw Mormon women my age and slightly older with four or five children. They looked exhausted, beat down, and miserable. I pitied them and hated what the church had done to them.