“Oh! You’re left-handed!” I whispered to the woman in the dressing room of the temple, as if I had just discovered the most phenomenal thing in the world. She looked at me strangely. After all, she was writing names on the prayer roll list. “It’s just…” I stumbled. Then, quickly trying to recover, “My daughters are both left-handed, and my husband and I are right-handed, and my father was left-handed, but he’s dead…” This was not getting better. I was looking weirder by the millisecond. “Is there anything I can do to support my daughters that I might not know?
There. I said it. Only that is not what I really wanted to ask. I could never, ever ask anyone what I really wanted to know:
Do I look like a mother?
Like a woman? A normal woman? An average woman?
I was born with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser, commonly called MRKH. In MRKH, genetic females are born without a uterus and without a vagina. Many do not have both kidneys, some only have one ovary, some have an ovary and a testicle, some are deaf, and many others have a long list of other issues that are too numerous to detail.
This condition is discovered usually because the individual—who otherwise looks female—does not menstruate at puberty, or ever. Or, when a young teen tries to have sex, but can’t. The lack of a vagina makes typical intercourse… atypical. When this is discovered, a chromosome test is completed, and then, ultrasounds and even exploratory surgery.
I went through all of those things, and I hated every second. Most of the time, I submitted to the extremely invasive procedures because my mother so desperately wanted to have a daughter—a real daughter… not the kind of daughter that the United Nations considered within the intersex spectrum. “At least you don’t have androgen insensitivity syndrome,” my general practitioner told me. “They don’t have pubic hair, and we have to remove their testicles. But they are still female.”
Not a word of that made sense to me, except for the shaving part, so I focused on that. I was not a fan of shaving my bikini line and underarm hair, so I thought those girls were lucky. As it was, I went to so many specialists and endured so many invasive exams in my teens that when I finally went to college, a counsellor diagnosed me as a sexual abuse survivor.
The leftie in the temple thoughtfully paused. Then, after dropping her slip of paper into the prayer roll box, she said, “Have someone who is left-handed teach them how to tie their shoes.” Then, “The rest they will figure out.” I thanked her and pondered. Do I really lack so much confidence about my parenting that I was asking strangers for random help?
If God gave me these daughters to parent, and a birth mother chose me over hundreds of others as the right woman to raise her girls, and the courts have declared me their mother… who am I to think I am not enough?
During my MRKH diagnosis phase, I was called as the Stake Laurel representative for a Regional Youth Conference. I attended one or two meetings where pretty much the adults planned everything, so I did not know why a Priest or a Laurel representative from any stake was necessary at all! The conference consisted of three days of activities that were arranged and organized by the adult leaders. By the end, I found myself sitting on stage at the college campus where the conference had occurred. There were two final speakers that the adults had arranged, and the Stake Youth Reps were to bear testimony on cue of this fabulous conference that we had “helped” to plan.
The two final speakers were a husband-and-wife team, and were, from memory, a temple president, and his wife. Before that moment, the world still seemed like my oyster—school, mission, maybe even graduate school, and adventure! I could not wait to hear from BYU that I had been accepted and was counting down the seconds to my high school graduation. The conference itself was captivating! Sure, there were the typical dances at night, but the days offered choices to attend sessions on political activeness, preparing for a mission, applying your patriarchal blessing in your life and so on. Sure, there were some “Mormon womanhood” classes, but as we had been prompted to choose what interested us, I skipped all of those.
I can only remember the opening lines of the temple president’s wife: “The most important role any of you young women have is being a mother.” Suddenly, I felt like all the hot, bright lights were focused on me, the female imposter. Being anywhere in the intersex spectrum makes fertility exceedingly difficult, if not impossible. By then, I knew I could never become pregnant. I might not even be able to have sex! I debated walking out, and glanced to the stage exit closest to me. I thought about walking across the stage and leaving… but where would I go? The women’s restroom? The adults in my stake would follow me, shaking their fingers accusing me of the sin of being born within the intersex spectrum, and I would be forever known as the shameful, imposter girl from my stake. No one would “sign off” on my going to BYU. They would all know that I was a walking lie: the Laurel who could never be a mother.
A dull, high pitch seared through my head, but only I could hear it. It was the kind of searing, painful migraine that brought peace because I could no longer hear any of the words being uttered. There I sat, drowning out everything spoken from that moment on. And when it was my turn to bear testimony, I shook my head, causing the liberating closing prayer to come sooner.
I could never be a mother. I skipped the bishop’s interview for BYU and went elsewhere- a small school where I could disappear into the background to go through vaginal construction treatments. But I did not disappear. Not to everyone, at least. The best guy ever noticed me. And when I tried to scare him away with my lack of female organs, he would not budge. Instead, because his brother was married to a woman from China, he said, “We should adopt from China, to match the rest of the family.”
We did not end up adopting from China, but we did end up adopting two of the most perfect, beautiful girls I have ever met. It was the most blissful and terrifying moment when we heard our attorney congratulate us on the adoption. Being not quite perfectly female always made me feel like maybe God would let me adopt boys. I was not good enough to be a girl, much less be a mother, so… if I were to parent, well, it would be boys, right? Or an intersex child. I could parent like a Rockstar with anyone but girls, I was sure.
Instead, God brought me girls. I was more surprised than anyone, but I didn’t say anything. Because early in the process of adoption, I began to fret. Though it was years away, the idea of trying to teach my (Possibly? Hopefully?) daughters how to use a pad terrified me. Or how to use a tampon. Or what having a period felt like. Or … you know. Girl stuff like that. ‘Cause I had NO CLUE.
And my daughters were left- handed.
Did I really want to out-source this whole motherhood thing every time something about my daughters was different to me? Wow. That would be way more than just left-handedness. Even way more than MRKH. Much more.
No. I did not want to outsource motherhood. Motherhood was hard-earned for me, and I loved my daughters with my whole soul. So I began to Google. There are a lot of handy “how left-handedly tie shoes” videos there! And I bought a children’s book about tying shoes that focused on the laces, rather than which hands did what. I even began to teach myself how to tie my shoes opposite to the way I had been tying them for decades.
In the end, I ended up asking my daughters to mirror me tying my shoes. Which they did, and in turn, they learned to tie their shoes. It was not the easiest thing to do; we had to practice for a few weeks to get it right. But it was fun! And now they tie their shoes. Soon we’ll be in tampon territory. But I am their mother, and it is my gift to be able to teach them about this next step. This next step is going to be fun, too. They are going to have a life that is very different, and way better than mine. And it won’t be just because of the tampons. It is because I get to be their mother. And I am good at that.