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 am not kidding. I firmly believe Christians should steal, and steal widely, boldly, and in front of other people. It was infertility that taught me to steal.
I had never expected to have to face infertility. Both my parents and my husband’s parents had gotten pregnant with ease, and since I am a fairly healthy woman I thought my body would just, you know – do what women’s bodies are supposed to do. I do not have to explain to you the pain and agony that became a familiar part of life when we failed to get pregnant. I read a book on infertility once with a chapter entitled something like “Crying in the Bathroom.” “Crying in the bathroom?!” I wanted to scream. Who cares about crying in the bathroom? What about all the times I cried at work, at the grocery store, at a house concert, in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, at church on Easter Sunday where there were six pregnant women present in a congregation of less than eighty people. Crying in the bathroom was the least of it.
When I was just out of college, I had a counselor one time who told me that there were some treasures to be had while going through difficult times in life. Her rationale was that no one would willingly put themselves in the midst of terrible and overwhelming situations, and because of that, there were things to be learned from that time in life that one would not be able to glean in any other way.
Now allow me to pause for a moment and clearly say, in repeating this counselors perspective I do NOT mean that infertility is “worth it” in anyway. I do not agree with the atheist Nietzsche’s “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” because I think he was wrong. I also do not support the comments of Christians who tout, “God has a plan for you in all of this,” “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” or “Everything works together for the good of those who love him.” Anyone who has faced suffering of any kind knows those comments are only useful to one who says them, to keep them from having to quietly face the terror of unexplained suffering and maybe crying along with the sufferer.
Months of infertility turned into years, and as my husband and I faced the darkness of not knowing when this heartache would end, the only way I knew how to make life out of a period that was all about the lack of life was to steal. I remembered my counselor’s words from years ago, and I began to search out what I could steal back from the valley of death we were crawling though.
The first and still most important thing I stole was floating. I am an organized person who likes to plan things and enjoys being in control. I am sure you have seen there is very little control involved in not being able to have a baby. Oh sure, I tracked my cycles, we timed our sex (nothing like a 6:30am wake-up call that says, “I’m ovulating and will be at work late tonight, so we’ve got to have sex now if we don’t want to miss this month…”), and we did all the medical tests. But when there is nothing that is perceptibly wrong, there is just not any level of control that can make one’s self get pregnant. We even had one doctor’s visit where all the questions we had planned to ask went out the door within the first few minutes of hearing how the doctor recommended that we proceed. No control. So I learned to float, to be in the moment and to go with whatever was happening. At least if infertility was drowning me, I could keep just enough of my head above the water to float and still breathe. I figured, too, that there is a never-ending list of things parents cannot control in their children’s lives, so we were just getting good parental training in advance.
Another thing I stole was not putting things aside. There is such a ridiculous amount of waiting involved in trying to have a baby, and I realized that the longer we could not have a baby the more we needed to stop putting things off. So we took a big trip out to Colorado, we went to Durham Bulls games, we got dressed up to go on dates, we spent time with friends, and we went to concerts. I had even put off buying new clothes when I needed them, figuring I wanted to save money for maternity clothes. After about a year, I realized I just needed to stop waiting and buy clothes for myself.
As I write this, I am sitting at my kitchen table, feeling our son who is due in two months kick inside me, and tears are streaming down my face. Infertility does not leave us unmarked. The pain of infertility does not dissolve away like marks of sidewalk chalk after a cleansing rain. We have invisible scars all over our lives. But we can take something back from it. We can say death will not have the last word. What is it that you can find to steal back? You may be like a gladiator who is forced to fight in an arena you never would have chosen, covered in sweat and dirt, the blood of struggle under your fingernails. But what can you grab with those fighter’s hands? What can you steal back from all of this, what life can you claim as belonging to you, even as so much has been stripped away? Find what it is that you can steal back. Then steal more. And live.