Always Real, Snips And Snails

On Infertility

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…

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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.)

153 thoughts on “On Infertility

  1. I have nothing to say…except that my heart aches for you and your friend at church. I have no idea how either of you feel. And I refuse to pretend to. But…I too can offer prayers from a heart that longs to help in some way.

    I have a dear friend in the same situation – and all I’ve ever been able to say is “I’m so sorry…I wish I could understand. But, since I can’t, I’ll talk to the One Who Does in the best way I know how. I love you. And I’m here.”

    Thank you for such a really honest post…

  2. Oh wow. I’m the first to comment. I don’t comment much, but I love your blog. AM, this was a wonderful post. Thank you for opening your heart and thoughts to us. It made me cry for all the women who cannot have children. Thank you also for your list of things to not say. And I am so glad you listened to your friend’s troubles. Sometimes that’s all we need, someone to listen.

  3. There are two Sundays that I skip church every year: Mother’s Day and whatever Sunday is closest to 4th of July. I never struggled with infertility, but I was an adult single woman in several churches that seemed to have no place for me, especially on Mother’s Day. And once you learn what it’s like to be in that place, I don’t think you forget.

  4. With tears now falling, I smile at your list. All of those things and more have been said to me by well-meaning friends and even some strangers. The worst offenders? My in-laws. “Something must be wrong with me” or “I must be doing something wrong” since we haven’t been able to give them an heir. To think it is one thing; to say it to me – a whole other universe.

    If the Lord were to surprise us with a child at this stage, we too would be antique parents. I was 40 when we married (my first), and he was 48. It is six and a half years later, and there have been many miscarriages and many more tears. However, God has been gracious and continuously showered us with peace that passes understanding, but I still dread Mother’s Day every year and the new baby dedication that inevitably happens at church.

    Thanks for this post. It reminded me I’m not alone and that there are people who “get it.”

    I’m glad God made you Antique Mommy. You’ve ministered to my hurting heart AND my joyful heart more than you will ever know. Thanks.

  5. I’ve been there. I was one who adopted and got pregnant the same month. I know the gut longing to give birth – and I know the joy of being a mother. I will say – in my experience – it is better to say something than to say nothing. Ignoring the elephant in the room makes the pain lonely. I’d prefer someone tell me they love me and are praying for me, than to look at me in sorrow and discuss the weather. I may have been unique in this need – but knowing I was cared about was more important than avoiding my tears.

  6. It took us five years to have our first – five years laced with doctors appointments, miscarriages and a variety of hopes raised and dashed. My best friend was going through the SAME problems. On Mother’s Day we used to ditch church together and go to the park. Now I go, but I always feel a little uncomfortable, wondering who is holding back tears.

  7. Your description of the heartache and pain you felt, particularly at the Mothers Day church service, touched me very deeply. Thank you

  8. It never occurred to me that Mother’s Day (or Father’s Day, for that matter) carnations might be causing grief for someone in the congregation. I’ve noted the favoritism shown by birthday and anniversary bouquets at the front of the church and the accompanying acknowledgment in the program, but never the pain of the Mother’s Day carnations.

    Thanks for giving your insight on this.

  9. Yeah. I remember being physically unable to walk into a Babies ‘R ‘Us store to buy a present for my cousin’s baby shower. I could *NOT* make myself walk in that door. I remember going to a gyn’s office for a visit soon after a miscarriage, and asking if there was somewhere I could wait other than in the lobby surrounded by pregnant women, and being told “get over it.” (They stopped being my doctor that day.)

    I remember being horribly jealous of someone I knew whose baby had died after being born several months prematurely. At least she got to touch and see her child, and the loss was seen as “real” by the community. Her baby got a funeral. Mine got sanitary pads.

    I remember having someone wish me a happy Mother’s Day and thinking “Fat lot you know”, except… that was the mother’s day when I had just become pregnant and didn’t know it yet. I remember just before getting pregnant, going to a dedication service for an infant, and saying to another childless woman “I think I’m finally okay with it. If this is how its going to be, that’s how it has to be” and pretending I meant it. I’m pretty sure God heard me at that point and laughed “OK, you’re comfortable. Let’s switch things up! New Rules!” Now I’m on the other side of the fence, another midlife mommy.

    And now I watch my sister in law suffer, and listen to others in my family complain about how she is so grumpy and disinterested in the children and won’t participate in showers and I know why this is… but I can’t convey to them the sheer pain she’s in, because I think you have to have been there to really get it.

  10. Hello,
    I found you a while back, and have been following you on Twitter, because I’m an older Mom too and have been planning to launch a blog on the subject for a while. Tonight, compelled by the Bristol Palin story, I launched my blog early. I also saw your tweet about infertility tonight and thought you might have shared my need to post in the wake of the news about Bristol.

    Anyway…this post hit home because I too suffered through the Mother’s Days, the showers, etc.etc. I never did give birth, but I do have a beautiful daughter via open adoption.

    I too still feel that pain of loss and grief and wonder if it will ever go away, or if I even want it to. I’m glad you hit publish, by the way . . .

    My new blog is called vintagemommy.com (so similar to yours I know!) and I hope you’ll check it out sometime.

    Thanks.

  11. Thank you for sharing. I’ve always thought it was unfair how easily I was able to get pregnant when I knew so many women who couldn’t. I’m sure I’m guilty of saying thoughtless things, but I have always ached for women in that situation, even though clearly I don’t understand that particular pain.

    I had not, however, considered the pain of the Mother’s Day service. Thank you for opening my eyes.

  12. Thank you for posting this! If I could, I would hug you tight! How often I have wanted to post something like this, but knew it would be done out of bitterness and that’s never a good thing.

    I’d like to add to your list…as cute as those baby tickers are on the blogs….Pullleeeze! Where’s the biological clock ticker for the rest of u?!

    Okay…back to having a good attitude.

    I married March 2007. I am 35. We have been trying ever since. No baby…yet. We have seen a doctor and are on track to having a baby…all in God’s time and in His hands…right? Oh, that is so hard to keep in mind some days, isn’t it?

    “Just relax!” Is what I have been told most often. Everyone else in my family had no problem conceiving. I truly thought this would just happen…on my wedding night. I was so naive.

    Oh, and my husband keeps reminding me of how old Sarah was when she conceived….not helping! It doesn’t make me feel any better that she was twice or three times my age! Should it? Remind me of Hannah…except for the part about giving her child up to the Lord. I prefer to keep mine. Though, I feel her pain.

    I know, I know…attitude. If I don’t keep my mind on truth, the Enemy gets a foot hold. The Word is where I must turn and I wait on the Lord. And, waiting is so hard. When I’m done waiting on this…it will be something else. I know it. That’s life.

    I would appreciate your prayers as I wait and hope to have the right attitude. I would appreciate any encouragement as well. Thank You!

    – Deborah

  13. What a beautiful post. It must have taken a lot to actually hit the publish button, and I am glad you did.

  14. Oh, how I remember those feelings! We have adopted, more than our fair share according to some family members, but I still dread Mother’s Day. At first it was because my arms & womb were empty. Now, it’s because even though I am “The Mom” to my children, I know it’s not because it’s something I did. Somewhere out there are 6 women who are hurting and I feel partially to blame.
    I know in my mind it was their choices that caused them to lost their children but my heart still aches for them. None of our adoptions were the rosy,”Here’s my baby. I want them to have a better life.” adoptions. We have the battered, broken, prenatally abused children. The ones some well-meaning Christians look at & ask why they don’t settle down or shake their heads & label them “spoiled” when they have a sensory meltdown due the music.
    Tell it like it is Antique Mommy. God bless you.

  15. My husband and I have yet to start trying for a family and so I am not sure whether or not fertility will be an issue for us. But I do have a close friend who has struggled with it and her body is incapable of carrying a child to term. I have been blown away by the insensitivity of people, especially women. I just don’t understand it. Why do people always feel that they have to say something. So much of the time it ends up hurting the other party rather than helping/comforting. And sometimes it’s just stinking intrusive and rude!

    After hearing her story, I have been reminded that other peoples’ pain, no matter what it is, has nothing to do with me. I need to put my desire to fix their pain aside and know that is not what’s needed. Instead, I need to listen, not judge and allow them to emote as they wish or not. Prayer is the only thing that will always be the right thing to do.

    Thank you for being so brave and telling your story so that those of us who haven’t walked in your shoes can be educated and reminded of our hurting sisters.

  16. My church does nothing special for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Thank goodness.

    I don’t fully comprehend the pain of infertility. I do know pregnancy loss (4X), though, and there were moments when church was the last place on the planet I wanted to be. What a fertile bunch. Everyone smiling. Having to explain what happened and getting the sideways head-cock of sadness. Listening to worship songs about a God I wasn’t particularly happy with. At all.

    It made me more aware of the people around me, particularly the women. I find myself very sensitive to body language, facial expressions, that numb vibe. I’ve seen more than one woman make a hasty, trembling exit, and I know in the pit of my stomach that she is hurt by everything around her.

    Why can’t CHURCH be the safe place to land?

  17. This post really touched my infertile nerve, cos so often I have felt this way on Mother’s Day too, but this year on Mother’s Day our wonderful pastor who looks after the Women’s Ministry prayed for all of us infertiles and my heart felt healed and it was like God was holding me in His arms… For the FIRST time in church on Mother’s day I cried for the right reasons.

    xxx

  18. My personal favorite (NOT!) is “You mustn’t obsess about it. It will happen when the time is right.”

    I’m at a stage where I don’t talk about it at all, to anybody. I will not listen to platitudes. And strangely enough, I feel much better these days. The raw pain is gone and there are days when I don’t even think about it. Which, given the above statement, means that I’m about to get knocked up, right?

  19. My nephew and his wife just had their first child in the spring, after many years of infertility treatments.

  20. Thanks for bringing this up. Since Mother’s Day was always celebrated in the churches I grew up in, I thought something was wrong with our new church. They have roses up front in honor of mothers, but usually that’s about it–no sermon, no major to-do. I see now that they are probably being very wise and sensitive. And I can always learn from those showing wisdom and sensitivity.

  21. My two sweet, lovely nieces who are just like daughters to me, are both suffering from infertility. One has been waiting almost a year for her daughter from Guatamala. And the other is going through fertility treatments right now. They would both be such wonderful mothers. Just not fair, is it?

  22. Oh, AM, Thank you for this post. I can really identify. People are so quick to judge and say stupid things, even those who don’t mean to.

    My eight-year-old daughter was planned by God, but not by me. I got pregnant with her very easily. We tried for over a year to get pregnant (and had a surgery) before conceiving our three-year-old little boy. Now we have been trying for 2 1/2 years for number three. Anyone judging me yet? People seem to think that after you’ve been able to have children, there’s something wrong with you for wanting more. I already have two, why should I be sad because I can’t have another one? I adore my children and thank God for them every day, but my heart still aches for the children I may never have. No, I don’t know the pain of having never conceived, and my heart goes out to those women because I can only imagine their sorrow. But I wish people wouldn’t overlook my sadness.

    My other favorite — besides that it will happen if I stop trying — is when people tell me I have plenty of time because I’m so young. Thank you, that makes me feel much better, I’m really looking forward to sorrow for the next fifteen to twenty years. Sorry to sound so bitter…I supress it so often and your beautiful post brought it out.

    YOu’re a gem, Antique Mommy.

  23. Thank you for this AM. One of my very close friends has struggled with infertility for years. In the beginning, I know I said some of those well-meant things in an effort to cheer her up, not knowing I was just hurting her more. She graciously loves me anyway. Every Mother’s Day, first day back to school, etc., my heart aches for her as I celebrate and she mourns. I think this was lovely and timely.

  24. My Aunt Jean is 90 years old. She was never able to have children. Although she is too dignified to complain or let on, I know that even after all these year, Mother’s Day celebrations at church are uncomfortable for her.

  25. I cannot agree more that Mother’s Day does not belong in church. I did not have trouble getting pregnant, but my daughter did. When she finally did give birth to her daughter, she only lived 6 hours. She has since had two more daughters and though those are a total gift and a tremendous joy for her, she still grieves for her baby that died and all this public stuff that comes every year at church on MD does not help. “Mother’s Day” is a personal thing….not gospel/worship. It belongs in the home. Many people do not have a mother for personal reasons that hurt. It NEVER should be a public thing and I wish my church would stop it. Apparantly all others also.

  26. You are so right. It’s a pain that you can never forget. The worst times for me were seeing people who had no business parenting one child become parents over and over again. I know we shouldn’t judge others, but there was one family in particular that I was too familiar with their background to not cry in agony everytime they announced a new one on the way.

    We adopted our daughter when I was 45. She is the light of my life, and I couldn’t imagine not having her as my child, but you never forget.

  27. I agree with everything you said.

    I’ll add to the list of what not to say from my own collection–

    “When will you two have children?”

    “Just relax” (I know you said this, but when people told me this I would say, with much bitterness, I haven’t ovulated since I was a teenager. What makes you think relaxing now would make a difference?)

    If someone miscarries, after months of fertility treatment–“I heard that fertility drugs can cause miscarriages.”

    And my all time favorite–after months of fertility drugs and just weeks after my miscarriage, at my brother’s wedding, his father-in-law said to me “your parents cannot wait to be grandparents!”

    It has been 16 years since my last bout with infertility–and these statements still bring a lot of pain. My oldest child just turned 19. I still remember the physical ache in my arms the years before he was born–and it still hurts. I still hate mother’s day–maybe because I remember the pain and know that there are so many women who have that emptiness and pain and may not be as fortunate as I am.

  28. Oh, this was beautiful and it will encourage so many women who walk this lonely road. My hubby and I struggled with infertility for 3 years, while we were Pastors. It was one of the most painful seasons in our lives.

    I would have found comfort in your words then and even though I have 3 children in my home and one in Heaven, your post rushed me back to Mother’s Day 8 years ago. I remembered a young lady with silent tears coursing down her cheeks-I hurt so badly. Once you’ve experienced it, I think God opens your heart to others….

  29. I feel for all those women too. I have a friend now who has one child that took years to conceive and I know she is hoping to have more, but for four years has had no luck. I never know what to say to help her or show her I care. I had another friend who couldn’t conceive and church was hard for her too. She hated mothers day even though at our church they give flowers to all women over 18 because we are all mothers. But i think more than mothers day it was the frequent baby showers the women in our church gave each other that was hard on her and she never went to one. Even after she adopted three children she still does not attend showers. I never understood why until now. Thanks for helping me understand that the pain doesn’t go away even once you are able to adopt or conceive.

  30. Thank you for writing about this. It took me a while to get pregnant with my son, not the same thing as what you went through, but at the time it was so painful. At one Bible study, everyone was discussing the fact that ALL the other couples there had kids, and they made a comment like, “Well, that just leaves you guys”. At which point I had to run to the bathroom and burst into tears. I will never joke with another childless couple about their childlessness, because of that comment (and many others made during that time).

    This also reminds me to always treat and talk about my kids as being blessings, and not as being a burden to me. Many people would love to be able to get up at 5:30 am to soothe a crying baby.

  31. Yes, oh yes to all of it. Infertility changed me fundamentally, and three boys later I’ve finally shaken the bitterness, but the sadness keeps up permanent residence in a tiny space in my heart. It amazes me that people don’t think the pain of infertility or miscarriages should just evaporate as if they never happened. This was a beautiful post.

  32. I’ve only had a taste of infertility, and it breaks my heart for women who have to go through it for so much longer than I did and am going through, and for women who never get to have a child of their own.
    Thank you for sharing that. I really don’t think people have a clue what they are saying or how it affects people.

  33. Believe it or not this very issue has been on my heart a lot lately. I have a dear friend who is struggling with getting pregnant and another who is now beyond the years where it is even possible.

    It is amazing how thoughtless people can be sometimes in the things they say. I’m sure I’ve even been that way myself before. I wish I knew how to help ease that pain, even just a little.

  34. Oh, you got me teary this morning. And thank you for your words- explaining things more clearly for me so that I can be more understanding to those going through this same thing. You have the sweetest heart.

    Steph

  35. Also, I totally agree with the Mother’s Day at church thing. It seemed like I had an emotional meltdown every year on Mother’s Day, after going to church and seeing all the mothers getting flowers, or whatever that church did.

  36. Thank you for the reminder that Mother’s Day can a hard day for some women. Church, of all places, should be a safe place for those in pain.

  37. Totally agree – no Mother’s Day celebrations at church – or Father’s Day celebrations either for that matter.

  38. I think I still struggle at times to come to grip with Harry being an only child – not by design, but by fate. And my heart breaks a little every time someone (not knowing my age), asks me if we have plans for another. I want to answer – we did, but God has other plans…

    No. The pain never really fades, does it?

  39. I would like to add to your list:
    Never start a “helpful” comment with the words “At least…”
    I think those two words are so damaging because they minimize our pain. They imply we should be thankful for our situation and that we are greedy.

  40. Thank you for this post. I have a friend who was just told she probably will not be able to have children, and I appreciate the “don’t say” list.

  41. I don’t know how you feel about this particular situation but I do know what it feels like to not feel like I don’t fit in at church sometimes. My husband, while a wonderful husband and father, is not a Christian and does not attend church with me and my two daughters. There have been so many times when the pastor has asked families, led by the father, to pray together. At one revival meeting the evangelist wanted famiilies to go to the altar together and tell their children about their salvation experience so that they would not have to worry about whether or not their parent had ever accepted Christ as savior. This caused my oldest daughter, age 12, to start bawling. This just seemed so insensitive to me. Sorry about the rant but I guess there are always going to be people who don’t think about what others are going through and that just makes me mad.

    * * *
    Yes, I know how it feels not to fit in at church. When I was 34 and widowed, there was no place for me at church – the widows groups were in their 60s. When I was 38 and re-married, all the young marrieds were in their 20s. When I was 44 with a new baby, all the folks my age were sending their kids to college and all the people with kids my age were in their 20s and 30s. There is no box for me and AD at church, just as well as we don’t believe people boxes at church are scriptural and don’t want to be in one anyway.

    As a church we are called to be a body with each part supporting the whole, yet we put all the toes in one room and the arms in another. How does that work? What does a room full of toes do together?

    ~ Antique Mommy

  42. Wow! You are amazing. I think you jumped through time and space and ripped the words and feelings right from my very soul! After 5 years of infertility, my husband and I adopted a baby girl in an open adoption. 7 years later I lost both my husband and daughter to cancer. However, our God is able to do “so much more than we can ever think or imagine”! Today I am remarried and have 3 daughters. I married a widower with 2 girls and I had adopted another girl (I was 40 – so I am definitely an antique mommy, too!). Our “baby” just went off to High School for the first time this morning.
    The hardest Mother’s Day for me were the times I had to direct a children’s program in honor of mothers – when I so desperately wanted to be one. I left church in tears more times than I like to think about it. I can also remember clearly the women who came along side me and said they were praying. It was such an incredible experience to walk up to those women and show them the baby we had adopted (and that they had prayed for). To this day I have a very tender heart for couples struggling with infertility and have become a prayer warrior on their behalf. Our church has begun mentioning in prayer those that are dealing with infertility or adoption issues. The last several Mother’s/Father’s Days they have focused on honoring our parents, since we all have or had parents. That of course brings up issues with those that had bad relationships with their parents, or were given up for adoption, etc.
    I also had a sister-in-law that complained because it took her 2 months to get pregnant with her 2nd child and then complained that it was another girl. They made the comment that “they did not even want to bring her home” since it was another girl.
    You could not have described my feelings and thoughts any better than if you were me! Thank you for walking a mile and my shoes and doing such a precious job of expressing the heart of infertility.

  43. I understand the pain you and others feel on Mother’s Day, but I think the Church celebrates and supports mothers who actually bear their children in response to the prevalence of abortion.

  44. Great heartfelt post. I don’t know how a woman feels when she cannot get pregnant, just like I don’t know how my friend feels because she is dying of cancer. I don’t know why God sometimes says “No.”

    I’m only human, and I often don’t understand. We’re Catholic, and there is a blessing of mothers on Mother’s Day. I’m sorry it’s painful.~~Dee

  45. This is a post that needs to be submitted for publication far beyond your blog. Today’s Christian Women? Family Circle? Good Housekeeping?

  46. In reading these responses about some of the church experiences, I see two issues. One of the pain of infertility and one of houses of worship not “getting it.”
    I can’t help but wonder what some of these leaders are thinking? I remember quite a few years ago, my then rabbi giving a sermon on how bad interfaith marriage and interfaith dating was–on a high holiday that many of my friends’ spouses and boy/girlfriends of other faiths attended. Was this a way to welcome them?

    Why, do some houses of worship, sometimes focus on how they think things should be, instead of how things are?

  47. Thank you for this post. I too suffered through infertility and I can relate to your list of things people shouldn’t say! I would add to the list all the well-meaning scripture quoters. If I heard it once, I heard it a thousand times, “honey, remember that ALL THINGS WORK TO THE GOOD OF THOSE THAT LOVE THE LORD”. Yes, I know all things work to the good…according to His purpose, but that scripture did not help, it just solidified that becoming a mom might not be in His plans. We eventually adopted and I could so clearly see God’s plan at work in my life. But in the mire and muck of living through the hopes and dreams of becoming a mom I couldn’t see past my own hurt. Thanks again for sharing your story and thoughts!

  48. Thank you for sharing this. As someone who is unbelievably blessed in the fertility arena, I really try hard to be mindful of the women who are not in my situation. I have had many friends struggle with infertility and I always feel sad knowing that my joy causes them pain. And it does make me uncomfortable that our churches have embraced what is essentially a made-up day and elevated it to such high status. I’ll be thinking of you and all of the other women who have had to bear the cross of infertility on the next mother’s day (and many other days too).

  49. I appreciate the insight in this post, especially the thoughts about Mother’s Day in church, but it raises a question for me. Should we never, then, honor anyone because it might make someone else feel bad? I say that in honest sincerity.

    Sometimes I think people in pain have become so overwhelmed with their own pain that they lose a little perspective. Please understand, I am not trying to minimize anyone’s pain. I’m just trying to understand how the rest of us are supposed to cope with so many hurting people around, usually with their pain hidden so that we have no idea that our ordinary conversation, and even existence sometimes, is stabbing them to the heart.

    I have read quite a few rants around the blog world from hurting people and it makes me want to hide in my house and never deal with people at all, because try as I might, I will probably–unintentionally, and in ignorance– hurt someone by stepping on their camouflaged land mine. The only solution I can think of is to never say anything. I have been working on that, but it takes some creativity to learn how to interact with people without tripping their triggers.

    You have a long list of things NOT to say. How about some suggestions about what we CAN say? (or do)

    (I hope this doesn’t sound bitter or angry. I’m only a little frustrated, and wanting to do well.)

  50. This is ministry, AM. You are comforting others out of your sorrow.

    I see God’s fingerprints all over this. (The comments are proof.) His grace is pouring out of the cracks in your heart.

  51. Momhuebert, I see your point and it’s tricky to be sure. But, and this is just my opinion, that secular holidays have no place in a worship service. Outside of church, different story. In our modern churches we have confused our holidays with our holy days and anytime you are honoring someone, you are excluding someone else and I am uncomfortable with this at church as it smacks of favoritism.

  52. Through your pain it has made you who you are today and I kinda like who you are today!

    It is wonderful when we are sensitive to others.

  53. Do not EVER regret publishing this. It says what I feel, oh so well. I wish I didn’t know this pain. I am thankful, I am blessed, but the aftertaste of it remains with you forever.

    I am linking to you, because you said everything I’ve said at sometime or another, but you’ve said it well, and you’ve said it all in one place.

    I’ve been there with the flowers, wishing I could have one. And I’ve been there afterwards, not wanting to take one anymore, thinking about my friends who were still on the other side of hope. I am so grateful that my current church doesn’t do this custom.

  54. What an eye opener this post is to me, in many ways. I have a lot to learn. Thank you, sincerely, for opening your heart.

  55. I will never understand people’s well-meaning yet, at the same time, thoughtless comments on subjects like that. “I’m so sorry” or “I will be thinking of you” can go a heck of a lot further in most cases.

    HUGS to you, AM.

  56. AM, you wrote a very touching and relevant post about this. For many years I have worried about Mother’s Day in our church. It seems right to honor and elevate moms – because as a church we honor and elevate families – but I always am concerned for the women you wrote about. Is there anything you recommend? My husband (our pastor) always prays for those women who want babies and can’t seem to have them- but is that enough? Besides not doing anything at all – is there something that would have helped you or been more comforting to you during those difficult Mother’s Days at church?
    I’m glad God answered your prayers with a YES too.

  57. I don’t think you ever ‘recover’ from infertility. From a medical standpoint, I’m ‘cured’ of infertility with my three daughters in less than three years. But it was a long battle to get pregnant the first time and a struggle to get pregnant with the other two as well. It’s been a year now of waiting for #4 and the emotions and feelings are exactly what I was feeling before #1. It hurts.

    Thanks for being real.

  58. Like many of your commenters, I FEEL this post all the time. I have 2 beautiful daughters, who happen to be adopted. I’ve never been able to carry a baby or give birth. Am I head over heels in love with my girls — I can’t explain how much! But the ache for the physical experience doesn’t go away. Whether it’s for a first baby, a second baby or simply hurting for others not able to conceive.

    And God acknowledges that in Prov 30:15-16: “There are three things that are never satisfied, Four never say ‘Enough!’: The grave, The barren womb, The earth that is not satisfied with water, And the fire never says, ‘Enough!'”

  59. Tell it like it is AM! The pain of infertility has molded and changed who I am as a woman. As I look at my beautiful 6 year old daughter, who joined our family through adoption, I am eternally grateful for the journey that led us to her. Yet, although the pain of those years has healed (mostly), I still bear the scars of that time. Our family doesn’t fit in any of the “boxes” at our church either.

    I have to add on my own least appreciated comments since finally becoming a Mom. When those days come where my child has me totally exasperated and hanging on my very last nerve, inevitably someone (often my own mother) will remind me that I asked for this. Are you kidding me? As if I didn’t already know that! Apparantly infertility was to somehow immunize me from all typical feelings of motherhood. Give me a break!

  60. I agree the pain never goes away. I am an Antique Mom also. After years of hating Mother’s Day in church, I thought, This is ridulous” and stopped going. I still tend to skip Mother’s Day at church because I know there is always someone there yearning to be a Mom. I can pray for that wonderful woman while at the beach just as much as in a church because God knows her.
    Great post AM.

  61. Maybe the only thing worse than people offering “helpful” platitudes when you are infertile is when they don’t know that you *are* struggling. “So, when are you two going to have a baby? You’d be such great parents!” can be the most hurtful thing of all. We used to hide our pain by quipping, “Nine months after the last person asks us that.” Mother’s Day is awful.

    Baby showers are the absolute worst. I don’t go to them anymore.

  62. Wow…

    I haven’t walked in these shoes, but it seems that Susan is onto something when she talks about “I’m sorry.” and “I’ll be thinking of you.” as going a long way. I agree. We are so tempted (sometimes with nothing but well meaning intentions) to fix or advise. Sincere hugs, tissues, and listening seem to go a long way no matter what the struggle.

    I had never thought of not honoring moms before at a mother’s day service (or dads). But, I will suggest that we stop doing so, with this post in mind. For those of us who have lost moms, it’s also hard to smile on that day in church.

    So wonderfully well written.

  63. I also battled infertility, for a year and a half. It is a dreadful place to be. You’re doing all the right things at the right times, and still…nothing.
    Two of my husband’s sisters got pregnant, unplanned, during that time. They DREADED telling us. MY infertility was a struggle for the whole family.
    I’ve been on both sides of the coin…miscarriage and infertility, and I’m not sure which is harder.

  64. The one comment that seems to bother me the most is “have you thought about adoption?” Like – duh – no, we never considered there was another option since I can’t sustain a pregnancy!

    I can’t agree more with your opinion that churches shouldn’t celebrate Mother’s Day. Not only do we skip every Mother’s Day, we also skip Father’s Day since my husband doesn’t want to be reminded that he’ll never be a daddy.

  65. I just read some previous comments, and I think it’s perfectly OK to talk about infertility. Ask sincerely, BUT DO NOT OFFER ADVICE. The woman with infertility isn’t looking for advice, but a shoulder to cry on and some support. Offer to pray for her and WITH HER. It shows you TRULY care about her circumstances.
    I went to church with a woman without children (not by her choice) and she ministered to me so much just by sharing her experience with me. I didn’t feel alone or like I was the only one anymore. AM, I’m sure that you are ministering to the other woman more than you can imagine.

  66. Amen. I hate Mothers Day. I can’t even bring myself to do anything for my own mother/grandmother on that day anymore because to do so acknowledges the day. Those sweet little kids that sit up there and sing about how wonderful their mommies are is unbearable.

    The worst of all though was when a sister-in-law’s pregnancy was announced. Fortunately, we were notified by phone. After the phone was hung up, I cried and cried. The frustrating part was that I could not even get my husband to understand that I was happy for them, just sad for us. The guilt therefore a month later when she miscarried — even though I was never unhappy about THEIR news, just because of his misunderstanding that I was — was awful.

    Thanks for this post. I’m glad I’m not the only one that feels this way.

    * * *
    Prairie Rose, I know this sort of disconnect you feel when someone announces their pregnancy – thrilled for them but at the same time tremendously sad for yourself and bowled over by the unfairness of life with a pinch of jealously thrown in. As wacko as this sounds, even though I’m now 48 and no longer have the means to have another baby, I still sort of feel that way when someone tells me they are expecting, especially the surprise pregnancies “We weren’t even trying!”

    It’s certainly not as bad as before Sean came along, but nonetheless, we certainly would have loved to have had more our own (yes we know about adoption) and I’d be lying if I said I weren’t a tad bit jealous, happy for them just the same. Having said that, I think it’s okay to feel whatever it is you feel as confusing and as mixed up as it may be, as long as you don’t make a career out of it. ~AM

  67. I never knew that kind of pain. I got pregnant at 19 and 22 easily and without a single mishap. I felt extremely blessed but at the same time I asked God why? Why me? Why an unwed teenager who had not a clue what to do with her life? Why not someone who had been praying for years, who needed a baby a lot more than I wanted one at the time? Why?

    Now at 25 I am happier than I could have ever imagined, and because of the joy that my kidlets have brought to my life I can somewhat look into the hearts of those who have no children and understand how empty they must feel. I decided about a year ago to become a surrogate for families who just need a working uterus to make it happen. A year ago I met a family that had been trying for 14 years to have a baby. Praying, crying, praying some more, and ultimately on their last leg and ready to give up. After two failed transfers, they were ready. Tomorrow we go in for the final attempt at giving them a baby. They have one embryo left and we will do all in our mortal power to get that darn thing to STICK!

    I never realized before how many women are affected. Whether they’ve been trying for two months or two decades to get pregnant, it affects too many. Now when I’m in the grocery store and and bend over to get a box of cereal from the bottom shelf and wince in pain as I stand back up, I get the knowing look from a woman down the aisle that yes, she knows how uncomfortable Progesterone injections are. She shares her story and asks about mine, and when I tell her I’m a surrogate she embraces me in tears and says “thank you” I wasn’t there for her ten years ago but she appreciates my actions anyway. If I’m swimming at the neighborhood rec center and someone notices the estrogen patches gracing my stomach, more tears and stories are shared.

    I never knew how many were affected, or imagined that I would ever be part of their lives, but now that I’m here I couldn’t conceive ever going back to how I was or how I thought in the past.

  68. AM, thank you for hitting “publish.” This exposes an area where the church is really missing the boat. Thank you for helping us to be more sensitive…

  69. Thanks for the great post. My husband and I are sort of at the beginning of the infertility saga. I hate to even call it that since we haven’t quite been trying for a whole year yet, but we’re almost there, and even in this relatively short amount of time, it still hurts. I realize that this doesn’t yet even compare to the years other people wait, but every month that goes by, it still feels like a failure. I’m a doctor. I should know how to get pregnant. Plus almost every day I take care of pregnant patients, many of whom are 15 or 16 or even 12. Which just makes me wonder why – why is this unwed, too young child having a baby, when we are not? We haven’t told a lot of people that we’re trying yet, and so often get asked when we’re going to start having kids. It definitely has made me never want to ask that question to anyone, since you never know when people are trying but don’t want to tell the whole world yet. And every time that question gets asked, it just gets more and more painful. Thanks again.

  70. Dang. When you wrote the part about the “hungry hollow feeling… ” The big crocodile tears and the runny nose started. I am so thankful for the life I have been given, but whew wee it still hurts. Just hurts.

  71. As someone who had her own journey through infertility, I had to laugh at your list of what not to say. You were SO ACCURATE with everything I was thinking in my head when people said those things to me! The worst one ever? “Just relax.” I definately think that you have to have travelled this path to truly understand someone else who’s going through it.

  72. I think that grief is so similar, yet people never really think it is. If a spouse or a child dies, people understand grief, but someone who is longing for a spouse and/or longing for a child also grieves….just silently. And so many are unwilling to share the fact that they ARE grieving.

    Our church has a prayer circle called, “ladies in waiting” which is specifically organized to pray for pregnancies, infertility, pregnancy loss of all kinds, etc. It is one of those low-key ministries that I think are highly underrated. I didn’t realize how many women are in that prayer circle until I asked for some pregnancy-related prayer and many people came up to me and just said, “we are praying.”

    That was helpful.

  73. Thank you for this post. I have lived this too: the baby showers where I got physically ill, the Mother’s Day where it was said, “we’re all mothers.” Um, no we’re not! After 14 years of marriage and no pregnancy, the ache never goes away. Nor does the hope. I guess they go hand in hand. Even after adoption. Daneen said it…”But the ache for the physical experience doesn’t go away.” Exactly.

  74. The.Pain.NEVER.Goes.Away. After all these decades….after giving away the baby clothes, etc.

    I will go to my grave grieving the fact that I never became a mother….but pretending to everyone that it’s “okay.”

    A solution I found for church was to make sure to avoid church that Sunday in May and the Sunday in June for fathers.

    I have actually had coworkers say to me when they would be frustrated with their children: “Oh , Dee, be glad you don’t have kids,” and I just try to smile. And seriously try not to think about it.

  75. Ohhh AM! I love that you published this post. My hubby and I started trying on our honeymoon. After escaping the un-chartered territory of “infertility treatment” for five years, followed by three years of close calls with adoptions, we have successfully adopted – twice! There was a lot of heart-ache and still is, even now that I’ve joined the ranks of cranky, overwhelmed mom-hood. Your comments touched my heart. My personal favorite of the “what not to say” remarks was the one about conceiving as soon as you adopt. Hmmmm….for some reason people have finally stopped using that one on me! *Ü* Thanks for being brave and sharing.

  76. Churches should be a place of peace and harmony. If no children appear they first yell BIRTH CONTROL! And treat said person as such. Churches are the first who should practice what they preach.

  77. Thank you for your thoughtful, tender, tough and true words. As a 43 year old new mother of a 2.5 year old daughter adopted from China, I know something about the pain that comes from the deep longing within to have a child. Unable to biologically have a child, there were always stark reminders- (ie the mother cracking her child at the Wal-Mart and saying things no mother should- the stories on the news about hideous neglect -etc)- of what seemed so unfair to me. But life here on earth is just that. And then some. Questions for heaven- I have a growing list- and I hope I get the chance to ask them someday. All I know is that seldom are the blessings we receive from Him even close to what we hope for or envision. And for that I am so humbled and thankful! Aren’t you?

  78. As a woman who was, frankly, abandoned by her first husband; walked out on without an attempt to even identify or resolve issues, and in my mid-30’s left to start over to try to form a life and a family, too devastated by the loss and needing too much time to heal, I have similar reactions to the way people respond to women who are divorced or single in their 30’s or early 40’s. I spent more time than I want to think of, wanting to throttle someone who informed me that I should be thankful because their husband — drops their socks on the living room carpet, or forgets to pick up the dry cleaning, or “isn’t wonderful.” Or even really IS a prick, even, but is THERE and HERS, and has not stood up one day and said basically “you bore me,” and tossed his head to go on to his “better life”…

    If I could swing a skillet for the number of times I was reassured by leaders of my congregation that no, as a single person trying to maintain the mortgage on my house and having suffered a 25% loss of my own income, as well as a 100% loss of his, no, I really was still considered a “family” in terms of financial obligations, and their definition of “family” included families that were just one person, I’d knock out at least a dozen people, maybe more.

    I wanted to scream at them: I am *NOT* a family, you blithering idiot — I am a single woman, trying desperately not to lose my mind in my loneliness.

    And now, with a house full of husband and boys, even when I want to pong one of THEM with a skillet, I am always grateful that they are there to want to pong with a skillet.

    And like you, I never forget what it was like to be there. I don’t think you ever can.

    You are so insightful and wonderful. Thank you.

  79. You need to write a book, Antique Mommy. There are no guarantees…about anything…least of all that everyone who wishes to will get pregnant and deliver a healthy, happy child. There are no words of comfort and you’ve just illustrated the many clumsy and thoughtless ways people try to be helpful, but are anything BUT helpful. Even after you get what you want…that feeling is still there, no? I don’t know what that’s like, but…the way you’ve written about it makes me feel as though I do.

  80. I feel for all of you in that struggle. I was afraid for many years it was going to be my struggle as well. I probably have said some of those please dont say list unintentionally and for that I am truly sorry.
    I think no matter what your struggle or where you are you will hear those kids of insensitive things…
    we are blessed to be pregnant with # 3 and just found out it is another boy. I was shocked the number of people who have told me Im sorry when I say its another boy??? Sorry for what? that we are having another healthy son? I dont understand why some people dont have the sense to just shut their mouths.
    Bless you all in your trials.
    Steff

  81. After 5 years of infertility, we were blessed with the gift of a son through adoption. Five years later I gave birth to a little girl. Many people have said to me, “Oh, I know so many people that happened to.” Do I then tell them that it “happened” after 2 miscarriages and then surgery and then 6 months of Lupron? Not usually.

    Most days, that memory of feeling the ache for a child is gone, but when I meet a woman who is in the struggle now, it can come flooding back.

  82. Thank you for this post. Our son came along, a surprise by that time, after we’d given up on having a child, ten years after our first hopes. Probably the worst comment, to me, gesturing at The Mate: “When are you going to give him children?”

    The boy is almost five now, and a second child has not made an appearance, which at 44 doesn’t surprise me and it’s not as painful as the desire for the first… but the pain doesn’t go away. It’s like a scar; it will always be with me.

    A cousin with several children recently loaned me the children’s book The Red Thread, about a king and a queen who find, at the end of the thread, the baby that is meant to be theirs. I read it to my son and his adopted cousins and could barely get through it, I was crying so hard. My cousin of the Great Fertility expressed surprise that I would still feel pain about the situation.

    Thank you. I know I already said that, but thank you.

  83. I’m glad you wrote this post.

    Mother’s day celebrations at church are making me more and more uncomfortable as the years go by.

    I’m at the stage in my life where most of my friends are married and have at least one child. I’m not married, and it doesn’t look like I will be any time soon. I hear my clock ticking and I wonder if and when I’ll have my chance to be a mommy.

    So when I went to church on Mothers day this year and they had young girls standing at the doors handing out flowers to the women, first I tried to get around the girls without them noticing me. But they chased me down and gave me a flower. I explained to the girl that I wasn’t a mother and she told me it was OK and that I could keep the flower anyway.

    Sweet, but uncomfortable.

    I’m so glad that Sean has you. It always comes through loud and clear how much you cherish him.

  84. This post touched me – deeply. Thank you for sharing your heart.

    What do you do? How do you respond? How do you love someone you know is hurting, just like your friend? I really struggle with what to say or not say…

    You see, I have a friend. We’re not super-close or anything, but we’re friends. She’s on medication now due to infertility. She LONGS for a baby with all of her heart. I pray for her each time I think of her. This past Mother’s Day I knew her heart must be breaking as they handed out the flowers (roses in our case) because not only is she struggling with infertility, she had just miscarried her first precious baby. I didn’t know what to do! I was then pregnant – with my second baby. I wanted to love her and hug her and reassure her, but I didn’t want to rub salt in her wounds with my protruding belly. Our paths didn’t cross after church, so I did nothing, said nothing, but grieved for her in my heart. Is there something I should have done or should have said?

    I pray for the day I can rejoice with her in the joy of her motherhood!

  85. Afternoon! My husband and I have been struggling with infertility these past few years.

    I find that Infertility and premature birth are probably two top life stressing events. You will find tons of information in this book I got called Tiny Toes . It’s good for the couple going through it, as well as friends and family trying to understand what someone goes through during this trial in their life. It’s written by Kelly Damron.

    Enjoy! Hope it helps someone as much as it has helped us!
    Good luck in the future to all! Best wishes!

  86. I almost dread situations where I need to tell people that I have two adopted children followed by two tiny surprises, because I can count on what’s coming next.

    Most say some variation of the following: “Oh, I know lots of people who are like that: they adopted, then they had their own children!”

    Well-meaning though they may be, I want to stop them and ask if they can hear themselves. I want to know how many. How many couples do you know who adopted and then had “their own” children?

    And, what else do you mean? Do you mean that my adopted children are the price I had to pay for “real” children — as if they were dues to be paid or booby prizes before the real award arrives?

    It’s 2008. Who doesn’t know that we no longer refer to biological children as “our own”? Do we refer to adopted children as “someone else’s”?

    I know they mean no harm. I know it.

    But other people’s pain is not for us to play with. It’s better to keep our mouths shut in situations we don’t truly understand.

    Four children later, here I am in the boat. Other passengers consider me one of them, albeit older and slightly less real.

    But I’m not one of them, because the pursuit to build this family was too serious, too hard-fought and too physically and mentally challenging. I won’t take my kids for granted, and I won’t dismiss the pain of a woman facing similar circumstances.

    I can listen. I can relate. I can hold a hand. I can pray.

    But I can’t understand unless I’ve lived it.

  87. Thank you for writing this. It hurts me most when people who probably doesn’t care much either way say: “Don’t worry, it will happen.” It has only been 2 years for us as compared to some others with many more years, but my heart sinks with every period I get.

    My husband and I are engineers and in good careers and there are people who think that we are delaying children so that I can climb the corporate ladder. I never try and correct them because I have realized that accusation is sometimes easier to bear than pity.

  88. I have been there, and am thankful God answered my prayers and others’ with 2 beautiful children. For 5 yrs tho, I figured I was never going to get to have children, and I know the ache. I, too, think recognizing only the mothers or fathers on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is an insensitive thing to do. Perhaps we need to encourage our churches to not do this. We now have a Ladies’ Banquet at church instead of a Mother/Daughter banquet, and I think that’s a good idea.

  89. Our church doesn’t even acknowledge Mother’s Day for exactly that reason. At first it kind of annoyed me, but now I am glad. I am so sorry that this is so painful for so many women. It just frankly sucks.

  90. Why didn’t people talk about this 5 or 10 years ago? Bless your heart for sharing about this crap.

    Our church doesn’t acknowledge MD except to say, “For some, today is not a happy day. If MD brings pain to you for any reason (infertility, mother is no longer living, etc..) YOU can come up after the service and get a white rose.

    Last MD, it seemed every other person I saw had a white rose. I was the one who left humbled and softened. I wish every church did that.

  91. We too struggled to have children and now have 4 – the last one was actually a surprise, and I never thought that could happen. And although in my head I wasn’t too thrilled to have #4 on the way, I remembered all too well the pain of wanting a baby so badly and seeing everyone around you pregnant, and I got excited real quick! It only took us 3 years to get pregnant, but it seemed like an eternity. And I was just like you as far as being shocked that I couldn’t get pregnant. I was just sure the first month off of bc pills I would be pregnant, that’s how it was for everyone else I knew! Mother’s Day was always hard, and I would always think, “Will next year be my year?” I cry every year when my kids bring me those carnations. I don’t know if this helps or not, but my husband is a pastor, and it is expected that mothers be recognized. However, he always has every woman over the age of 18 stand, and he prays for them all, always praying especially for those who long to be mothers and those who have lost their mothers, and everyone gets a carnation. I don’t know if that’s any better or not. (I also know a family whose only child died of cancer – she said Mother’s Day & father’s day were excruciatingly painful)

    This past year they showed a funny video of kids fixing their mom breakfast in bed and what a mess it made and then had the kids pass out honeybuns instead of flowers. I liked that b/c it was funny & lighthearted, and there was still the prayers. When we were struggling to get pregnant, I was teaching high school and 2 of the girls in my class were pregnant, and 1 had an abortion – talk about a slap in the face! My husband even went and talked to her & her parents to tell them we would take her baby if she chose not to abort it – you can imagine how well that went over! I too wish God would grant all women the babies they so desperately want. Thanks for sharing.

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