Before I begin my series on birth stories from the scriptures I feel like I need to address the topic of infertility. Most of the stories about birth in the scriptures revolve around women's inability to have children. In fact I'd say that the trial of infertility is one that God has given to some of his strongest and most select daughters. Women like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, the mother of Samson, the Shunamite, Hannah, and Elisabeth all struggled with extended periods of "bareness", the ancient term for infertility. As I've been reading their stories I've been pondering on why some women are given the trial of bareness and others aren't. It has confused me why God denies some women the pure and most sacred desires of their hearts-- and from an LDS perspective I have been doubly confused because in the church we are often taught that women's motherhood and men's priesthood are equal and complimentary responsibilities.
Yet I've questioned how motherhood, since it is biologically defined, can really be equal to priesthood, which is spiritually defined? I remember one dear friend, who had gone through almost a decade of infertility before conceiving her four children, tell me how bitter she was when for years she watched 12-year-old boys be ordained to the priesthood, while she-- a full grown and righteous woman-- could not become a mother. I've been pondering on this conundrum and while I could explain it in my own words, I think that Sheri Dew explained it best. She said:
Priesthood and motherhood really are equal and complimentary roles. Just as there are women on this earth who are unable to bear children, there have been men on this earth who have been unable to bear the priesthood. For example, in the Old Testament out of all the 12 tribes only the Levites were authorized to hold and use the priesthood. In the New Testament there was a time when the Gentiles were not allowed to partake of priesthood blessings and in our modern day it hasn't been until the last thirty years that all men have been able to hold the priesthood in the LDS church regardless of their race or skin color (Official Declaration 2). We really don't know why the Lord put these restrictions on priesthood authority, except that God has His own reasons that we don't always understand. In a similar manner, we don’t really know why some women aren’t able to bear children in this life despite all our medical advances. Yet it is a beautiful promise to women to know that just as now all worthy men are able to hold the priesthood, that some day all worthy women will be able to become mothers... it is part of their eternal nature and birthright.
" ...While we tend to equate motherhood solely with maternity, in the Lord’s language, the word mother has layers of meaning. Of all the words they could have chosen to define her role and her essence, both God the Father and Adam called Eve “the mother of all living”—and they did so before she ever bore a child. Like Eve, our motherhood began before we were born. Just as worthy men were foreordained to hold the priesthood in mortality,righteous women were endowed premortally with the privilege of motherhood. Motherhood is more than bearing children, though it is certainly that. It is the essence of who we are as women. It defines our very identity, our divine stature and nature, and the unique traits our Father gave us...
...Motherhood is not what was left over after our Father blessed His sons with priesthood ordination. It was the most ennobling endowment He could give His daughters, a sacred trust that gave women an unparalleled role in helping His children keep their second estate. As President J. Reuben Clark Jr. declared, motherhood is “as divinely called, as eternally important in its place as the Priesthood itself.” (Are We Not All Mothers, Ensign. Nov. 2001)
The scriptures bear powerful testimony of this because in them we see that ALL, let me repeat that ALL, the women in the scriptures who are mentioned as "barren" eventually bear children of their own. Even women like Sarah and Elisabeth who were almost 100 years old, and with whom it would have been physically impossible for them to have children, bear sons from their bodies. These stories bear truth to promise that motherhood is an eternal calling and that all women are mothers and that they will eventually, in this life or the next, bear their own biological children. Remember the scripture in Isaiah 54: 1, 7 that says:
" Sing O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord... For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee."