*Manuscript from a presentation I gave at my church in November 2013*
When I got married 8.5 years ago, never thought I’d be up in front of a group of people talking about infertility. Much less as the 1 out of 10 couples who wrestle with this. We just assumed we’d have kids.
I’m sharing from a midpoint in the journey. J and I have been wrestling with this for about 7 years. If my sharing today raises questions for you about our story that I don’t get to, please know that I’m open to engaging them as we have time today and even down the road.
I’m at a weird place in the journey, and I don’t know what’s ahead of us. I have to learn how to rest in God in that place of uncertainty. Because of that need and to make this a safe space for all of us—myself included, while I’m welcoming of your questions/comments about my journey, I’m going to request you not to tell/ask me any one of the following three things:
1) We’ll have kids when we quit trying so hard. (For J and I, when we’ve quit trying – we end up with miscarriages or an ectopic pregnancy)
2) Have we considered adoption? (There’s a whole slew of issues here that I don’t have time for today.)
3) Or sharing stories about people who adopted and then had biological children.
I wrestle with the lack of control over my situation, and these well-meaning comments can exacerbate this situation. If I’ve demolished your social script for this awkward topic, as a heads up – just saying “that sounds like it would be hard” is usually a non-damaging response to folks in my situation. I’m cool with folks saying “they’re sorry” but some folks aren’t.
So, with all that out of the way…
What’s my actual infertility story?
Seven years of trying to get pregnant, three miscarriages, 6 months of failed fertility treatments, and an ectopic pregnancy that resulted in emergency surgery this past August.
There’s no known medical reason for our situation, and we’ve done lots of tests on this front. And, at least for now, we’re done with the fertility clinic route.
In the past few years, we’ve watched as nearly all of our friends have had a successful pregnancy, and now are continuing on to having multiple children. Feeling isolated in this at times – cycle of hope/dejection. New dimension since the ectopic – fear.
I’m focused today more on how my faith intersects with this issue – so if you’re still wanting more facts about our process or how we’ve made certain decisions you’re welcome to check in with me outside.
I spent the early years of this journey alternately angry at or negotiating with God. And if I wasn’t blaming God my situation, I was alternately blaming myself. And judging myself – trying to determine what crazy thing I had done that God for which was punishing me. Last, I warred with bitterness as I watched friends/ family/acquaintances who could have children while I could not.
Where’s God in this? For me, part of my problem as I interact with God on this infertility journey is that the biblical story that connects with infertility is often not helpful for me. In the cases of Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth, their infertility has a positive end result. In the case of Hannah, I am so tempted to look at her story in 1 Samuel 1 as a sort of magic solution; if I just do what she did, pray as she did, then presto, we’ll have kids. And thereby, I miss the actual point of the story, and I endeavor to manipulate God (not a good choice).
This is not to say that there’s not value or comfort in Hannah’s story for my situation, but my mind jumps to magic; I’m more prone to want a fix than emotional resonance. In other cases, like David’s wife Michal, her barrenness is attributed as a judgment from God.
And in the above examples, I feel like my story doesn’t easily resonate with the biblical stories that people want to throw out as hopeful or helpful. However, with Job, I feel like finally I get something helpful. I don’t have to know why this is happening (and really am unable to grasp “why”), and I don’t get simplistic explanations for my situation. And I come to a realization that I’m not God, and can’t see the world from God’s perspective. I’m a creature – not Creator. Not easy pills to swallow, but, for me, in this situation, it makes life simpler.
I was pretty intentional in saying “where’s God” instead of “why God?” as my title. I’ve found that when I want to demand “why” from God – I’m not really seeking a rational explanation or justification; I want an answer that allows me to feel safe, to feel that I have control over the situation. I demand why so that I can prevent something like this from happening. And my problem here with infertility is that I don’t know “why.” And am unable to resolve “why.”
This past fall, I read Helmut Thielicke’s The Silence of God and he writes,
“Secondly, the Pharisee thinks of God as his debtor, He presents his account; he has always acted justly and never harmed anyone. This is typical of us men. God is almost always our debtor. He has to pay us according to our own self-assessment. He owes us for the grief we have to bear…”
“It is worth noting that so long as we cry: ‘Tell us God, why you do this or that; explain that we may be comforted,’ we never find comfort. It is only when we learn to be silent and to say: ‘We are not God’s creditors, He does not owe us anything; on the contrary, God is our Creditor and we can only submit to Him for grace or judgment,’ that we really come to know His divine comfort (40-41).”
I think there’s a difference between being angry about my situation and blaming/judging God for that situation. For my own situation, I’m grieved, and I want healing from God in my life; but I come before God as a beggar – not as one who is owed something.
The only way I experience peace in this situation is by asking where God is – instead of demanding why something happened. And the answer to “where is God” is so simple… but so extremely difficult to experience and see.
Where is God? Present with me. Present with me even when the day is dark, dreams are dashed, and I see the portrait of Jesus on the wall of my hospital room as mockery. God is present even there – even when I can’t feel him, am so grieved I am hesitant to reach for him. And here I can choose to invite God into that space with me or to try to wall myself off from God and hurl accusations. If I wall myself off – I’m walled off from the only path toward healing.
I choose to invite. Not in a blind, happy way. But like the Psalmists and Job. God – Have you forgotten me? Will I forever sit outside the circle of my friends feeling cursed? And I anchor myself in the knowledge of God’s enduring faithfulness; I don’t know how mercy or comfort will come to me. But I wait in expectant hope that God will provide.
And provide God does. I’ve begun to experience God through community in the past 6 months in a way that I never would have expected; the mentor who sat and cried with me as he found out about my situation in August; a friend who made a point to check in with me every day for a month after the pregnancy loss in August; a few friends who brought us food for several days after we came back from the hospital. In those moments, God proclaimed I was not alone, not abandoned, nor forgotten –even as life had not turned out the way I hoped. I find that I’m not as alone in infertility as I thought; people I never would’ve dreamed of started opening up with me about their life and their journey. I’ve learned that I don’t have to carry infertility as a badge of shame.
For now, I find myself reaching for the white flag of surrender. I cannot plan my way to baby. I am unable to medicate my way to baby. Heck, I’m unable to know medically why I haven’t been able to carry a full-term pregnancy. My body is mysterious, and I do not understand it. Now, I yield to it. I cannot make it produce a baby. Instead of trying to control, to scold it into doing what I want–I am surrendering. I am seeking ways to offer myself compassion and grace. I’ve starting telling myself vocally, “Body – its okay that you’ve tried your best and haven’t been able to sustain a pregnancy. I will not hold it against you.” And that statement is a miraculous one for me.
Beyond forgiving myself, I also avoid comparing my life to others, fleeing from questions that sound like “why can so-and-so have kids and I cannot?” and rejecting jealous or bitter thought patterns that might inhibit me from celebrating another person’s joy –be it pregnancy, child, etc– that I may never experience. I joyfully celebrate my friends’ pregnancies, babies, and children. And while I do that, I don’t live in denial either – there are times when J or I share news of someone else’s pregnancies and one or both of us wants to weep for ourselves—but in the midst of that we don’t begrudge others their joy. We rejoice with those rejoice.
And in closing, I keep coming back to Kosuke Koyama’s Three Mile an Hour God, and his discussion about the co-existence of danger and promise within Christianity. He writes,
“When danger and promise come together to us, it is called crisis. The Bible does not simply speak of danger. If it did so, the Biblical faith would be reduced to a ‘protection-from-danger religion.’ The Bible does not simply speak about promise. If it did so, the Biblical faith would be reduced to a ‘happy-ending religion.’ The Bible speaks about a crisis situation, co-existence of danger and promise–wilderness–and there God teaches man. In the wilderness we are called to go beyond ‘protection-from-danger religion’ and ‘happy-ending religion.’ There we are called to ‘trust’ in God (pg 4).”
“Hope is in spite of troubles. There is no hope apart from troubles. There is not automatic hope, no easy hope. Hope is hope against all odds (pg 37).”
I continue to ask God, “how long will You hide your face from me?” or “Where are you in this?” But, like the writers of Psalms and Job, I also feel an invitation from God to not just wait in sadness, but in expectant hope that God is faithful. I do not deny the sadness or the grief or the sense that at times God has forgotten me or is angry with me, but I come with these before God also clinging to the realization that God has steadfastly carried me through other dark nights. I anchor myself in the knowledge that the same God who carried me through the loss of my mother at 12, who healed my father’s tongue cancer several years ago, that same God is able to bring me through this even when I feel forgotten and don’t have a map indicating where my road will end.