April is Infertility Awareness Month. 1 in 8 couples experience infertility. During this month we invite you to walk with us along side of those who face fertility grief. Or to claim the story as your own! Please remember that Project Pomegranate’s recently published book – Though the Darkness Gather Round, Devotions about Infertility, Miscarriage, and Infant Loss – is a great resource. Please share it with your congregation!
I imagine it was an ordinary day. I remember sitting in the bathroom. It could have been a test day. It could have been while painting on the mask of makeup that hid the dark circles under my eyes. It could have been month 27 or 40 or 52. The details are fuzzy now, and ultimately, I suppose they don’t really matter.
What does matter is that the journey of infertility had been long up until that point. There had been more sorrow than joy, more pain than celebration, more loss than gain. Month after month of disappointment had taken its toll, as we rode the roller coaster that took us through the plateau of waiting and preparation, the pinnacle of hope, back to the plateau of waiting and ultimately to the valley of despair. The cycle was endless.
On that ordinary morning, what I do remember was the clear need for some assurance that God was indeed with me in my suffering and that God was on my team, cheering alongside me to keep fighting because God’s dream and my dream were the same dream. And the realization of this need just happened to arrive in the bathroom – the room we had painted goldenrod yellow, ironically over a shade of grey-blue, to try to lift my spirits each morning as I readied myself to face the day ahead. [Oh, the things we do in an effort to generate healing and energy and forward momentum on this journey…]
So when the words slowly formed on my lips and were whispered into the empty room in the form of a Taizé like chorus that morning, vulnerable and sad and anxious and numb, I held them closely.
God of love, God of peace,
Hold me now, comfort me.
Take my fears, give release.
Plant new life in me.
I could not know it yet but something sacred had happened in that instant. For these words that rose up out of the very depths of my pain still drew upon the reality that I trusted that the character of God was (and is) love and peace and comfort, even while simultaneously questioning God’s ability to deliver that same love and peace and comfort into the rises and falls that made up my abyss of chronic grief.
I returned to these words day after day, a musical breath prayer that became the grounding for my spirit again and again through our nearly six year journey of infertility. The phrases rolled around in my mind. They were sung out loud. They were spoken in an empty room. They were whispered under my breath. The occasions were too numerous to count, and grounded me on days when hope seemed naïve. When blood flowed. When the test was negative. When the test was negative, again. When the heartbeat that was present weeks before was suddenly gone. When dear friends shared cautiously the news that they were expecting, and then years later, expecting again. When fertility procedures were canceled. When emergency surgery was underway because the embryo grew in the wrong place. When pain – both physical and emotional – blindsided without warning.
The theme is clear now. The words rose up out of deep pain on the days when the great Empty of my womb threatened to swallow me whole. For the Empty is powerful and gripping. And at its core is fear, because it causes us to bump up against the Limit
I was staring the Limit in the face that morning as I sat taking in the stripes of the white seersucker shower curtain. I was staring down my fear that I might never be a mother. I was staring down my fear that I might never see my husband be a father. I was staring down my fear that I would never know what it would feel like to have life grow within me, and then to watch it grow up outside of me. I was staring down the fear that not having a child might affect my calling to work with children and families. I was staring down the fear that I was questioning God’s understanding of what we were going through.
And I needed to be released from the fear. I needed some solid ground to stand on. I needed a set of tools and provisions in my backpack so that I could traverse the mountain, a mountain I never imagined I would have to climb.
It was a slow climb. And most of what I acquired along the way was accidental, at least to my eye. I vowed to put one foot in front of the other, sit in the difficult places as long as I needed to, and keep showing up.
Imagine my surprise as the ground actually held and outposts of hope appeared on the trek.
There were the people already in the “club” who offered wisdom, a piece of gear here and a tool there that taught me about the trail ahead. There was the duo of dear friends having babies who found the strength within themselves to sit with me in my pain, and I found the strength within myself to sit with them in their joy. There were the colleagues who mourned with us, cried with us, and prayed for us day in and day out. There were the family members and my dear husband who allowed me to lean on them a bit extra through the turbulence and heartache. There was the congregation who rallied around us in ways that words cannot begin to express.
Let’s be honest, it wasn’t the specific ‘planting of new life’ I wanted at the time, and sometimes I couldn’t even honor the outposts for the gifts that they were to me in the moment. Like a flailing toddler mid-trantrum, I’m certain I knocked down some things and some people dearly loved in my wake.
However slowly though, the fear diffused. It held less power over me. The tiniest bits of salve offered at these outposts softened my heart. The abyss felt less deep, and beauty crept its way in like a flower blooming in the midst of a desolate concrete pad. Hope (God?) was still quite hard to trust, but I resolved to keep trusting and hoping, for what else was there to do?
In this month of infertility awareness, look around. Wonder. Who among your circle is whispering desperate prayers in their bathroom on the most ordinary of days? Find a way to be an outpost of hope.
And if you are the one whispering like I was that random weekday morning, trust that the ground will hold under your feet as you keep showing up, sit in the difficult places as long as you need to, and look for an outpost. It will be there, in the most unexpected place on your path.