I didn’t really intend to write this post and I may regret hitting the publish button. I intended to just jot down some thoughts surrounding an exchange that occured at church last Sunday so that I might further ruminate upon them later, but apparently all this stuff has been fermenting and percolating and it kind of just bubbled up to the surface and oozed out all over the keyboard. Read on at your own risk…
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It always catches me by surprise — the hollow hungry feeling in the pit of the stomach, as though I hadn’t eaten for days, the closing of the throat, the burning sorrow that wells up from some secret unseen place.
But on Sunday morning, there it was again, that familiar pain just as fresh and raw as it was almost ten years ago – a pain that seems to have no expiration date.
The bell sounded the end of Sunday school class. As everyone gathered their stuff and stood to leave, I said hello to a gal I know who was sitting in front of me. I asked her how she was doing. She rushed into a description of how hectic the first days of school have been and the classes she’s teaching. As she spoke, I watched her fill the air between us with words that represent the busyness of her life, I watched her as she tried to convince me and convince herself that “busy” was the answer to my question. We both knew that it was not.
“Well, that’s good,” I said, “But what I really meant is how are you doing? How is it going with your infertility treatments?” She knows a little bit about my story, I know a little bit about hers, they are similar. We chatted and it wasn’t long before tears began to fill her eyes. They have all but come to the end of the line in their quest to get pregnant, they are in desperate measures territory, where the soil is spongy and threatens to swallow you whole with each uncertain step. It’s the place you said you’d never go, it’s beyond the line you would not cross.
I told her I remembered those days, how the tears were always there, just barely below the surface, how hard it was. I offered her my understanding as one who has been down that road. I so desperately wanted to comfort her but at the same time I knew from experience that nothing comforting can be said. I wanted to offer her hope but at the same time to tell her to let it go, to give up. But I didn’t. These are lessons one has to learn for oneself. AD and I offered her and her husband our prayers and our availability and then she slipped away to dry her eyes, probably not for the first time that day.
I carried her sadness with me for the rest of the day and the day after.
You would think that once you had achieved victory over infertility — that once you became a mother — that the grief would go away. But for me, it has not. I simply cannot forget that there are women in my midst whose dream of becoming pregnant and having a baby has not or will not come true. As a society, and particularly in our churches, we have dismissed those women and brushed off their pain. And that makes me not only sad, but angry. And if I had twelve children, I would not forget how it feels to slip out of church unnoticed and in tears on the most painful day of the year for the infertile — Mother’s Day.
Mother’s Day was salt in the wound of my infertility, but never was it more painful than at church.
In 2002 I sat in the back of church on Mother’s Day watching as little children handed out carnations to all the mothers in the congregation. I smiled a tight-lipped smile and scolded myself for the bitterness I felt as I watched all the carnations pass me by. I don’t even like carnations, in fact, I hate them, yet I was grieving the fact that I was not going to get a carnation and more so that I would never get one.
I will not cry I will not cry I will not cry I repeated in my head, as though that would somehow quash the great upwelling of sorrow that was rising in my chest. Antique Daddy put his arm around me. I looked up at him and he squeezed my arm. He knew what I was feeling. And it was then that I felt the sting of tears. I got up and quickly left the church before I broke down into big ugly snotty sobs. When we got to the parking lot, I shook my fist at God and I cried my eyes out. And I don’t think anyone even noticed that we had left. I don’t know if that is good or bad. It felt bad.
By the next Mother’s Day, I was several months pregnant. As we left the church that day, a well-meaning person commented to me that now that I was going to be a mother I would never have to be sad on Mother’s Day again. I just shook my head. She didn’t understand. I could not participate in the rubbing of salt in the wound of a sister and I never will. Mother’s Day is a fine holiday but it is not a holy day and has no business in the context of a worship service.
Every time I look at Sean, I think of how my life could have turned out so differently. God simply does not say yes to the prayers of every woman who longs for a baby. I don’t know why God decided to answer our prayers as he did in the 11th hour. He could as easily chosen not too. I’m so glad he did. So very glad. I just wish he would answer yes to the prayers of a few more ladies like my friend at church.
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What Not To Say To Someone Who Is Struggling With Infertility (from my own personal collection)
I have a friend who adopted and then immediately got pregnant. (If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard this, I’d have a lot of dimes. And I would roll them all up and throw them at you.)
Just relax! (Oh great. I’m too uptight. Something else that is my fault.)
Have you thought about adopting? (This isn’t about adoption.)
I know just how you feel. It took us two months to get pregnant. (No, you don’t know how I feel and just now I want to hit you.)
If you pray, God will answer your prayers. (My bad, I’m not praying hard enough.)
I know how you feel. I got pregnant with my first one, but the second one took forever. (Shut up.)
You should be glad you don’t have kids, mine are a big pain in the butt. (Seriously. Shut. Up.)
And the list continues….
Edited to add this jewel from Heide to the list:
Any “helpful” comment that starts “At least…” (Implies we should be thankful for our situation and that we are greedy.)