During the darkest days of our infertility journey, my prayers went like this: “How long O Lord? How long will you keep us childless?”
There’s not a lot of joy in this. Asking for the same thing over and over. Being stuck.
And as I was recently reading, Michelle Obama's new memoir, Becoming, she talks about this very pain in her own journey. Learning this about a very public figure is a good reminder that infertility is more common than we think.
So, no matter what we are waiting for, where do we find inspiration for our "stuck" times?
Simeon and Anna have become two of my waiting heroes in the Bible. Luke's account tells us that night and day both of these seniors devoted themselves to prayer and waiting for Jesus to arrive in the temple after his birth.
Simeon and Anna waited and waited. And they waited some more.
(If you want the full story, read Luke 2: 36-38).
Anna's entire purpose after her husband died was to be on this waiting journey—to be that prophetic voice that spoke the truth about baby Jesus who was yet to be born.
And then one day (gasp!) Jesus arrived at the temple with Mary and Joseph. Anna knew immediately! She spoke truth. Jesus was God’s Son. Her waiting was not in vain.
But, the longer I waited too, the more gifts the season of waiting gave.
I learned: who I am right now is ok.
I practiced: what I am doing right now is good (even if it not what I would have chosen).
For, no good waiting season is ever wasted time.
God is a mystery beyond all my understanding.
(And if you've met her, you can testify that this is true).
It's not because as many might think "I got what I always wanted."
Or I finally could feel at home in mom's circles.
Or because I could stop crying so much over my Christmas Eve sermons.
I rejoiced in motherhood as I bet Anna rejoiced over Jesus in the temple that day.
I am different kind of mother thanks to infertility. There's no small joy I take for granted. There's no milestone that I don't want to celebrate. There's no happy picture I can't wait to share with family and friends of the fun things we get into (sorry, friends, if I text you too often).
Adoption seemed too hard, too out of reach. Something we'd tried and had failed at too.
Well, until, it happened.
These days, I still look my daughter eyes with joy as she splashes in the bathtub, asks for more water before bedtime, or exclaims she wants to go to the playground yet again, and I thank God.
I thank God for the gift of growing up with her, learning from her and being HER mother.
My waiting season has brought me this joy.
I pray whatever it is that you're waiting on right now, you'll have the courage to keep waiting on joy too! Somehow, someway, it will come.
You won't be stuck forever.
Not all men are fathers.
Men can long for children and not have them or lost a child in their family.
Families can have their fathers taken from them too soon.
The anticipation of what will be said (or not said) in church, especially on special occasions like Father’s Day is scary for so many.
This is what I know for sure: words really do matter. Words said in places of worship have the power to hurt as much as they can heal. Even if we think we know what someone is going through, we never really know.
As someone who has watched my own husband grieve through an infertility journey and sat with other families struggling in various ways, the words I heard over and over about these days was, “Please talk about me. Don’t leave my story out on Sunday. If you do, we’ll come to church.”
It’s no surprise that we like happy stories in the church that make sense and are straightforward to all. (Enter man with wife and X number of children beside him in the pews.)
So why not take this opportunity on Sunday to name the multitude of many ways all of us connect to fathers, are fathers and hope to be fathers?
Why not honor the ways that men can can father even if is as an uncle, a mentor or a friend?
Why not just be kind to all the men (if you're going to celebrate the holiday at all)?
Below is a responsive prayer I have used in congregational life on Father’s Day. Feel free to use or adapt in a way that fits your congregation’s needs as we all seek to be a welcoming as we can to all on Sunday morning!
Fathers meet us in some very different ways, and today we celebrate them all!
Thank God for the gift of fatherhood!
For those men who have left this earth and who we dearly miss.
Thank God for the dads whose legacy remain strong.
For those men for whom we had/ have difficult relationships as fathers.
Thank God for being our Dad when we needed You the most.
For those men raising his children now making sacrifices—rising early to make lunches, picking up from soccer practice and tugging kiddos in bed at night.
Thank God for the dads whose pace is so hectic today.
For those men who have taken in others’ children through adoption and foster care, showing us that the love of God far extends beyond biological ties.
Thank God for the dads with vision to include.
For those men who have lost a child to death or want to have a child and know they can’t without much trouble carrying on with the pain of lost dreams, often not being able to talk about it at all.
Thank God for the dads who carry heavy burdens.
For all the men in our community; who nurture us, support us and guide us in our becoming who show by their example fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness.
Thank God for the dads who love unconditionally.
We thank you, Lord, for the men who have influenced our lives in so many ways. And lift our voices in your name, O Heavenly Father in whom we adore.
Life is really hard and we have to learn to talk about it.
In so many Christian communities I know, there's such a "How are you?" "I am fine" sweetness in the air.
We look pretty. We talk pretty. And we go home from being together as hurt as we walked in the doors.
For, in the hand shaking, having snacks at coffee hour, or even in the minutes before a committee meeting starts-- we don't say much though we were up half the night worrying about ____.
We don't say that we're having trouble paying our bills this month. We don't say that our marriage is in a rocky season or our child was just found with drugs or is soon going to be kicked out of school.
There's so much we keep to ourselves.
Now, I know I'm stepping on toes as I say this, but from the pastoral seat I've held over the last 12 years, I've seen church folks preferring our vision of reality than our actual reality.
The cost? People are suffering. We're suffering.
And the next call we get on the prayer chain about someone who took their own life might just be someone we'd "never suspect."
Or as my Instagram friend, Stephi Wagner posted recently, "If you are still surprised that people are choosing suicide over living in this broken world, you haven't been paying attention."
Why? Because we have no idea who we're worshipping alongside.
And what happens if your pastor is that person who is suffering silently?
In my book, Birthed, I write about what it was like to be the pastor of a congregation while also going through the deep heartache of child loss, infertility treatments and adoption failure. And then what it was like to move to a part of the country where I couldn't find work and lost all sense of identity outside my husband's. I became a regular church attendee with so much un-ease in my heart.
I might have even been sitting in your church or a church that looks like yours.
It was a season of so many dead ends, heartbreak and loss.
It was a season where nothing seemed to get better as much as I hoped it would. And a season where I felt like life was just too hard to keep living.
Even when I was on a vacation to the beauty of Maine's coast, the sadness still seemed to follow me (as seen in this picture a friend snapped when I wasn't looking).
I have to tell you that I woke up for many months aching physically because my heart was just that sad. And even though I sought treatment from my doctors for depression, it often felt like I was more depressed than the medication could help. I just couldn't get out of bed.
Making myself get dressed and do something every day just felt like too much to ask. My bed was my dear friend.
I share all of this today because I might be the least possible person you'd imagine thought this way.
I seem put together from the outside.
There are pretty pictures on my website. And lots of accomplishments next to my name. There are people who care about what I think on topics of importance.
And I am not alone.
Statistics tell us not only that suicide rates in the US are on the rise by 25% since 1999 and that in 2016 alone 45,000 lives were lost to suicide but that 10 million Americans think about killing themselves each year.
And though I am no longer in this place in my life (thanks be to God!), right now, our churches are full of these folks.
So do your neighborhood a favor this weekend if you attend worship, chat it up with whoever you're sitting beside.
Find out something new about them that you didn't know.
Invite someone over for dinner.
Talk with your faith leaders about not only what they're doing to support suicide prevention, but what their plans are for community building in the upcoming year.
This weekend, Mother's Day, while joy-filled for many is full of anxiety for others.
If you're in the anxiety producing camp, know I am with you.
It's so hard to have complicated feelings about the mothers in your life.
It's so hard to have longings for children (or relationships) unfulfilled. Or to be grieving when everyone else is so happy.
We don't know what to do with these sort of "uneasy" feelings in our "How are you?" "I am fine" culture.
And faith communities really are the worse. Mother's Day is also know as a the day that the grieving don't feel safe at church.
I need to tell you that even as a pastor, one year on Mother's Day, I took the day off. I turned off my phone. And I just couldn't wait till it was Monday already!
I couldn't handle someone else asking me "When I was going to have kids already?"
And even now, though I am a mother with little feet running around my house (after a long infertility journey), I still find Mother's Day so complicated.
As much as there is joy in my life, there is also loss, frustration and delayed expectations.
I don't believe I'm alone in these feelings, so as a pastor, I want to be sensitive to the complicated feelings so many of my beloveds will bring to worship on Sundays.
For it's my belief that we can help the grieving feel safer at church by the attention we give to our words and presence on Sunday (or any day really!)
Here's a prayer I wrote in the spirit of truth-telling, sensitivity and kindness. Adapt, use and share as it's helpful to you.
One: Mothers come in many different forms, and today we remember them all.
Many: Thank God for all mothers.
One: For those women who have left earth too soon and in whom we miss dearly.
Many: Thank God for these mothers!
One: For every woman who is raising children now making sacrifices for her children’s becoming.
Many: Thank God for these mothers.
One: For those women who have taken in others’ children through adoption and foster care, showing us that the love of God far extends beyond biological ties.
Many: Thank God for these mothers.
One: For those women with grieving hearts for children that could have been with futures so different from they planned.
Many: Thank God for these mothers.
One: For the special neighbors, teachers, and friends who’ve nurtured us, supported us and helped us to become the people we are today.
Many: Thank God for these mothers.
One: For mothers in which our relationships are complicated, difficult or strained, but who have forced us to choose healthier paths for our lives.
Many: Thank God for these mothers.
One: Mothering God, help us all to reflect more of your compassion, kindness and strength to those around us today. As Meister Eckhart has said, “We are all meant to be mothers of God. God is always needing to be born” let this be true of us! We need more of you, here, God!
Many: Thank God for mothers. AMEN
If I can be a resource to you, as a grieving mother, particularly, don't hesitate to contact me.
Our National Infertility Week series continues today. (Did you miss the post from Chris Thomas earlier? If so, stop now and read it here). I'm so glad to introduce you to Maren McLean Persaud, my new favorite Canadian who tells a story of hope, longing and loss. Here are her beautiful words-
This past fall, we took all our hope, all our prayer, all our being, and all our money and invested it into the expensive and rigorous fertility treatment known as IVF (in vitro fertilization).
We had been trying to have a baby on our own for almost three years only to find out we had around a 1 to 4 percent chance of that ever happening. IVF was our only option if we wanted to have our own child.
If you have had personal experience with IVF, I don’t need to tell you anything and I salute you.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, IVF is a medical procedure that drains you emotionally, physically, and financially to “retrieve” your eggs and fertilize them with sperm from your partner, or a donor, to create viable embryos that can be put back into you to hopefully achieve a successful pregnancy and live birth.
The process involves a whole lot of needles, drugs, procedures, anxiously waiting for phone calls and embryo updates (spoiler: not all of them make it) and in the end, you might just end up with nothing to show for it.
So we did all that with the confident attitude that it would work, because, why wouldn’t it? We’re young!
And it did work! We got pregnant and even had one little embryo to tuck away in the freezer for a later date. What a great return on our investment.
Three days before Christmas, on our wedding anniversary, we floated into our fertility clinic for the 8-week ultrasound ready to hear the heart beat and successfully “graduate’ from the clinic.
Not even thirty seconds into the ultrasound our doctor said “I don’t have good news”.
After that it’s all a blur, but essentially our embryo was there and had grown, but there was no heartbeat. I would miscarry soon. That night I slept as though I was playing dead. No dreams, no restlessness, just darkness. The next morning, I woke up to myself sobbing, wishing I hadn’t woken up.
‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’
My husband turned into our PR guy, messaging family and friends, letting them know what happened and canceling Advent/Christmas events we had planned to host in our home.
My family rushed in to spend Christmas at our house and they let us be the couch potato, tear-filled slobs we had turned into.
They cooked for us, cleaned for us, looked after us and although we had trouble recognizing it in the moment, brought a lot of light to our darkness.
My husband is a minister and in the days after our ultrasound he had to soldier through services that celebrated a special baby being brought into the world.
Being the bad minister’s wife that I am, I didn’t go to those celebrations with him.
The baby has always been my favorite part of the Christmas story. The fact that God chose to enter our world in that new and hopeful form so full of potential has always filled me with wonder and joy, but not this year.
‘Screw you and screw your baby, God!’
I wasn’t having any of it. How could I hear the ‘good news’ when only days before my Doctor told me there was no good news?
I was literally losing my baby as I rang in the new year.
In the days and weeks that followed I threw myself back into work, almost manically making plans and getting things done.
All the while I was haunted by the exact moment when we heard “I don’t have good news”. I would cry almost every night.
By February every night turned into once a week and by March there was even more space between these “episodes”.
With the Christmas story long behind me I felt like Lent was a good place for me at this point in my life. Focus on the depravity of the human condition while contemplating death on a cross? Yes! Let’s get sad, people!
Lent is coming to an end though and I can feel the tension building in my body as we inch closer to Easter. The Lenten focus on depravity of our sinful nature will turn into celebrating the Love God has for us and death on a cross will turn into resurrection. Ugh.
I’m not pregnant and am still grieving our loss, you expect me to sing Hallelujah soon? I feel like the Grinch, “I must stop Easter from coming, but how?”
Currently, there is hope in the little embryo we have tucked away at the clinic, waiting for us.
There is hope in how even though this experience tried to shred our marriage into tatters, my husband and I have become closer and more tightly knit than before.
There is hope in the stories of infertility and loss that others have personally shared with us; there is hope in that every time I see my psychologist I can honestly tell her I’m doing a “bit better” than last time we spoke.
But ultimately, there is hope because 2000 and some years ago God proved that there is no darkness where God isn’t with us. God will bring all things to a good end, and that is where our hope is.
I will reclaim the doctor's words: “I don’t have good news” and hope that the absence of Good News is not real.
I want to live a beautiful story of hope.
Maren McLean Persaud grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada and pursued her studies in music and theology at Mount Allison University and then Knox College, Toronto School of Theology. Most recently, she worked as Director of Camping Ministry for the Anglican Church in New Brunswick, where she currently lives with her husband, Christian. Prior to that, Maren worked as a ministry student intern in Alberta where she studied the ways that summer camp can teach the wider church to be more creative in community building and spiritual formation. Maren is most passionate about ministry with children and youth and incorporates her experiences in camping and her musical training into that work. She loves spending time outdoors, drinking her coffee black and laughing until she cries.
**If you are looking for another story of loss, hope and healing check out Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility wherever books are sold.***
Happy birthday, Birthed! One year ago-- December 6, 2016, my first book was birthed into the world! Oh happy day.
I can remember the emotions of that week so clearly. Friends and family who'd heard me talk about "that book project" for years finally held their hands on a real life copy. All of my worst marriage moments, darkest nights of doubt and depression and failed attempts to get and stay pregnant now belonged to every reader who picked it up-- not just me (a bit scary!) And all the while, I felt jazzed up about marketing and promotion with a strong belief that I could sell books if I gave it my best effort (and I did!).
In the 12 months since that launch, I've lived into what it means to birth and be birthed. Like any watershed moment in life, I've learned so much.
I've learned the best book events happen when you are hosted by those who believe in your words and seek to create experiences for those in their circles of influence. One of my favorite book gatherings happened around this beautiful table in Birmingham, AL at my friend April's house. She even bought each dinner guest of hers a book-- how amazing! I've learned that infertility is still a topic that we don't want to talk about in our churches, mom's groups or even in our families. I can't tell you how many times I've asked to connect with a church or a group about Birthed and heard, "Oh we can't talk about that here." (Deep sigh).
I've learned that your book's success is not based on the number of copies you sell (honestly I avoid knowing because I don't want to obsess) but on emails you get from readers who say, "Thank you. Your story is my story. I'm so glad you wrote it." But the truth be told, publishing is HARD and NOT for the faint of heart. There are parts of me that feel really sad about how the book has been received. But I move on.
I've learned that publishing opens up speaking opportunities in the most unexpected places-- like this time this spring I got to speak to a group of Marriage and Family Studies students at Samford University. Who knew that college students and professors would want to talk about my book and plan to use it as required reading?
Most of all, I've learned I want to write and publish again. The kind of ministry I was able to do as result of publishing Birthed, (ministry like leading retreats, speaking to groups and hosting round-table heart-to-heart discussions among groups of friends) IS the work I see myself doing long-term.
And this writing more will look like another memoir-- a book on the topic of orphan care and my own journey of adoption-- that I've been drafting since 2015 as well as a spiritual formation resource for congregations (I hope) as a guide on how to talk about other hard topics. So keep hanging with me for the ride. I promise I've got more in me.
But, there's one more thing I need to tell you about this birthing day . . .
It's also the day that we "officially" became parents forevermore to our baby girl. On the day the book about our struggle toward parenthood was published, our adoption was finalized as well. The court just assigned us the date. I don't want to believe this fact is coincidence. Can you feel my goose bumps?
For you see, as much as Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility is a story of grief, loss and hope, so is adoption. Adoption is a beautiful and pain-filled occasion all rolled into one. Our girl lost her first family before she became a part of ours. December 6, 2016-- oh the birthing day, you were!
And I wouldn't take anything for my journey now.
Someone around you is grieving right now. Even if you don't know his or her name. Even if you don't know why. Even if you'll never know why. So many people grieve on overdrive at this time of year.
Recently, I was teaching at "Attending to the Grief We Don't See" workshop at a congregation and I encouraged them to pay attention to certain times of the year trigger grief.
We all agreed that a season that tops that list are the calendar days from Thanksgiving to New Years. Such was my experience for years as my husband, Kevin and I waited with hope that we'd be parents one day. For a couple expecting but not yet expecting a baby or who have recently lost a baby, Advent can be a miserable time. (As everything in the culture screams children and babies!)
And for others of us, we're weighed down heavy by--
Hearing our cancer has returned.
A bout of depression which isn't getting better.
A child diagnosed with a learning disability.
An aging parent given months to live.
Enduring a job search with dead-end after dead-end.
Family dynamics that are just weird.
While songs of “peace on earth, goodwill to men” and “joy the world, the Lord has come!” are blasted on the radio, the grieving among us experience December more like Holy Week than Advent.
That first Christmas without mom here . . .
That second Christmas of being a divorced dad sharing custody of your kids . . .
That third Christmas that your son is in jail . . .
And on and on it goes.
Yet, because it is the holiday season many of us want to be happy, regardless. We want to be able to put whatever is bothering us aside and rejoice as the scripture exhorts us too. We want joy—even as much as our life circumstances aren’t naturally joyful.
So how can we be joyful? Is it even possible for the grieving?
I would love to offer that joy is a formula that can be followed (as many preachers offer: Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last).
I would love to suggest that joy is an emotion of the will that we can just pray harder to make happen.
Or, I would love to tell you if you "Sing one more Christmas carol or bake one more sheet of cookies, then joy of the Christmas spirit will find you!"
But I can't.
Maybe you’re better at joy than I . . . but it has been my experience that seeking joy in the midst of waiting does not come through formulas and cookies.
Waiting on joy has looked more like:
Crying until I’ve run out of tears.
Sitting among the rocks and dirt in my backyard.
Drinking too much wine.
Pulling myself out of bed, brush my teeth and go to work without clean socks believing I'm doing the best I can.
And I've done these things on repeat. Then when I've been lucky, others have come to sit with me and done these things with me.
Here is what I most want to tell you: as I've allowed myself to feel what I feel and been honest with others about it, a miracle has happened.
My spirit has began to move just a little. It moved toward hope—that the next day would be brighter than the one before.
It moved toward love—that someone needed me to notice their pain so getting out of bed was, in fact, a really great idea.
And finally it moved toward joy—that though sorrow lasts for the night, in the morning joy comes.
Such is what I'm hoping for you this holiday season.
Your joy might not be bright and showy. You may not be the one in the choir singing the carols loudly.
But you'll be hanging on because of your quiet strength. And you will get through because you're braver than you know.
Would you like me to come speak with your congregation or community group about sitting with grief during tough times? Contact me.
Today, October 15th is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day.
I'm lighting a candle alongside so many of you for all the children in my life who could have been.
In the deepest points of my pain of child loss and infertility in 2011, I found myself on a plane headed toward Israel on an interfaith pilgrimage.
On the day we visited the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, the following is the prayer called "I am a Mother" and laid between the cracks in the wall.
Though my grief is not as raw or even present in the same way that it was back then, I am still so thankful for every time I read this prayer I published in my book, Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility. For it reminds me that God begins to heals us (though nothing about our situation many change externally), I believe when we're able to truly say what is on our hearts.
Here's my Wailing Wall prayer-
I am a Mother. Yet in my house there are no stray toys rolling around on the floor. There are no sippy cups with apple juice residue piled up by the sink. There are no schedules of what child goes where and when on our refrigerator.
There are no school papers stacked on our kitchen table or science project parts strewn across our countertops. I am not identified in any communities of mothers. I am not invited to forums of mothers who work outside the home.
I’ve never read What to Expect When You Are Expecting, or gone to a play group with girlfriends and their kids. I cringe when I am asked by strangers: “How many kids do you have?” Why? Because I always have to say, “I have none.”
Rather, my home life is as adult-centered as it comes. Almost never do you find my husband and me sitting at the kitchen table at mealtimes. You wouldn’t find child-protective devices on our electrical outlets or wine cabinet doors, nor do we sketch out our weekend activities around nap times or soccer games. And there are empty rooms in our home, two of them. Though we’ve planned big, it is still just the two of us. But, I am a Mother. I have children. But no one sees them.
There are those who have dwelled within me, but decided to take a short, in fact very short, stay. And I wouldn’t have known about them either, except for the signs that pointed to their dwelling. My body spoke of them through exhaustion, nausea, and cravings of unusual foods. Something new had found its way into me, and my heart counted the days and yearned for them to stay, even—just even—for one more day. I loved them, each one of them. And when they were gone, making their way out of me like a disgruntled houseguest, I wept. I cried tears so big they ran from my cheeks to my navel.
They poured like an upstream river out of my being. I didn’t know when or if the intense pain would ever stop. I couldn’t believe that such a good gift could be so cruelly taken so soon. Yet, these children were never gone from my heart. I was still their Mother. Yet, there remain in this time and space children of mine who I do not mother alone. Some have blonde hair, some have dark skin; some are very young, and others are much older than me in years but alone in their own way.
Each is searching for spaces in this crazy world to call their own and for someone to recognize who they really are. They cry out and, even though my own pain sings a loud song, I do hear them. It is my honor to see them. I fiercely want to protect them from any more of life’s deepest pains. I love them and weep for them too—not because their life has gone from me, rather because it has come and stayed close. They have come into my heart and they are now part of me too. Our bond is undeniably good.
So, no, I may never be able to attend the innocence of the average baby shower with other mothers-to-be, or be invited to a mother’s support group, or even be able to talk fully about my mothering pain and joy in public.
I am learning to accept that the gift of mothering I have been given may never be understood by most. And I might never know what physical life coming from my womb is like. Such is the cost of unconventional motherhood: loneliness.
Yet, no matter how I feel or what others say or even what the future may hold for me, there is one thing I know: I am, and will always be, a mother.
If you'd like to read more, check out Birthed here.
Know if days like this are sad for you, my heart is with you. You are not alone.
One of the deepest heartaches for any parent is the loss of a child. No matter if the child was a grown adult, a school aged student or a still-born infant . . . I would even add to this list that there's also great pain in the loss of a child who did not make it out of the womb. Failed fertility treatments leave deep wounds of "What could have been." (With nothing to show for it except drained bank accounts!)
As hearts ache, it seems everything in our world says, "Just move on. Get over it."
But I'm a firm believer in lament.
We can't move on if we don't speak our truth before God first.
Some of the best lamenting is done in communities where the grieving can know they're not alone.
For this reason and may more, today I'm offering a prayer I wrote that is meant to be a resource in congregations to honor children both that are a part of communities and those who have been lost. October is National Infant and Pregnancy Loss month and I'm glad to participate in it. I hope your congregation will too.
Congregational Prayer in Remembrance of National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month
God, today we want to thank you for the children who are a part of our community.
For the children that fill our community with laughter, with song and with questions
For the children that teach us in this over scheduled world how to play, how to walk slower, and curiously take in the world’s wonder.
For the children that try our patience one minute but embrace us with joy the next
We say thank you.
But, God for all the children we see and celebrate, we know there are many who we do not.
For the children who filled their parents’ hope muscles with more joy than they ever thought was possible but whose cells did not grow and multiply fast enough.
For the children with names were already spoken aloud and lived in their mother’s wombs 6 weeks, 8 weeks or even just 12 but not any longer.
For the children whose life span could be counted in hours or days but not years.
For the children who were held but whose futures are empty.
We say thank you, God, with tears in our eyes.
For it’s true, our hearts ache for all the moments of what could have been. Our pillows fill with tears of dreams dashed. Our souls overflow with loss beyond what we thought we could bear. But still, today, we want to stop and say thank you God for these children. We acknowledge them. We claim them. And we pray for peace for them and us.
Keep teaching us to welcome all your children in our community of faith.
I always wanted to be mother.
I wanted to read What to Expect When You Are Expecting with a round belly. I wanted to muse about preschools, brands of diapers and swaddling techniques with experience with my college girlfriends. I wanted a lifetime ticket into the "mom's club."
During years of "trying to have a child," I longed for my social isolation from my with-child friends to be over.
But our wait was long. Our wait was full of dead-ends and the harsh reality that Kevin and I might not be parents in a traditional way. Our wait included a journey to make peace with the life we had, not the one we wished for (such hard emotional work!)
Life is full of surprises, though. Over a year ago when a baby girl came in our lives with unexpected speed, many might have said about my life "I got what I always wanted."
Or did I? (I really have a hard time with that sentiment).
This is what I know: I love my daughter. I love that infertility is not a daily part of my struggle anymore (victories need to be celebrated!). And, I love I can now shop at Babies R Us without a stomach ache afterwards. I'm a parent. It's a fact.
Though I never read What to Expect When You Are Expecting, I'm a diaper changing pro. I've gotten good at taking a car seat a part when spit-up happens. And I love giving baby girl a bath and lathering her up with the sweetness that is baby lotion at the end of a long day. It's a good life I have in this season. Parenting is more joy (and work) than I ever thought possible.
But, when it comes to being a part of communities of moms, I have to tell you all my rosy dreams of playdates and Mom's Day Out coffee dates just aren't a part of my current reality.
Parenting circles aren't natural places where I feel like I fit in. Maybe it's because of the years it took me to get here. Maybe it's for other reasons. Here's one story.
Baby girl was 8 months old. She was invited to her first birthday party.
Though 8 months seemed too soon for the whole "bring a present" and "eat some cake routine" to me, I went along with it. I bought her a present to take the 5-year-old that she met through her babysitter. I packed her bag with baby food and I looked forward to the treat of pizza and cake.
But while there were expected kids party antics of balloons and games, what followed was weird.
I hardly had two feet in the door, no, "Hello." No "What's your's name?" Or even, "What do you do?"
Rather right to: "Does your girl sleep through the night yet?" And when I said, "Yes, she does" the rest of the conversation was a game of 20 questions about this and that behavior of hers.
I quickly made my way to the pizza table trying to escape the questioning but it continued later. This group of parents felt relentless. It was as if children in the room meant having adult conversation was impossible. I wanted adult conversation.
I took way from the experience that what my soul needed during my waiting for children years is the same thing my soul needs now.
I need friends who see me . . . Who allow me to see them . . . Who help shine light into my becoming and I theirs.
I don't need a mom's group just because I'm a married woman in my 30s with a child.
I need to be seen and heard.
This was one huge reality check for me to reach this place. It's a little bit embarrassing how much energy I spent longing for what I believed I wanted in community only now to be here and not want it at all.
This is not to say that I'm anti-mom friends. I have some. I'm sure I'll make more as baby girl grows older.
But I can tell you with complete certainty that I need soul friends, not affinity ones.
The next time I find myself in a season of longing for inclusion in greener pastures of where I'm not yet, I'm going to remember this birthday party.
I'm going to remember what my soul really needs and I'm going to move in that direction.
I'm going to trust that being the parent I want to be means taking care of my spirit.
After all, I want baby girl to grow up and have courage to take care of hers too. It's all that we can really do, anyway.
Want me to speak to your group about infertility, grief or making peace with a life you don't want? Contact me.
Hey friends- thanks for hanging with me this week during National Infertility Week hearing these stories. I hope you've had your eyes opened to how common infertility is-- touching people in all walks of life. I'm so glad to meet Lauren, a friend of a friend and blog reader this week. I was so excited to learn of her willingness to share with us about her experience. Such bravery in these words below. Keep reading!
Fifty-four. That is the number of months we spent waiting to see a positive pregnancy test. For 1642 days, we carried the feelings of hopelessness, confusion, and sadness while dealing with unexplained infertility.
Our story isn’t unique. The details may be different, but our experience with infertility is a story that one in eight couples, unfortunately, can tell. To someone suffering from infertility or pregnancy loss, you feel less alone and find comfort in knowing that others can relate. But you also feel intense heartache for those who understand the feelings and fears that come with traveling this journey for any length of time.
I think all of us in this community can agree that infertility has taken away so much. But the experience of the past 4 ½ years has propelled my husband and I on a powerful learning journey.
Infertility taught me about marriage.
My husband and I learned to be vulnerable and communicate in ways we wouldn’t have been able to without going through infertility. I got to know him truly as my partner, see him exposed with emotions, and feel his pain in a way I didn’t know existed. He was suffering too and together we could share the grief and care for each other’s hearts better and more intentionally than before.
Infertility taught me about the importance of support systems.
When we decided to be open about our journey, we were overwhelmed by the response. I was amazed by those who hadn’t experienced infertility, but wanted to know how they could show support. Others who had walked this path or were still in the midst of it reached out to offer a shoulder to cry on. Without this critical network, we would have suffered in silence and lived in an even darker, more hopeless place.
Infertility taught me about selflessness.
When we were at our lowest and struggling to figure out how to pay for IVF, we each cried out to God, unbeknownst to the other, to acknowledge we couldn’t do this on our own. It was too much for us to bear and we needed Him. Literally hours later, our best friends stepped up to the call. Knowing we would never ask for help, they took our burden upon themselves. They secretly set up a fundraising account, made large donations, and then asked friends and family to contribute. The exact amount needed for our IVF fee was raised in just over 24 hours. Without this selfless act, we would never know what it was like to hear the heartbeat of our baby. How can you repay that? You can’t. You accept it with grace and use it to fuel compassion and kindness in your life moving forward.
Infertility taught me about God.
I felt betrayed. I was angry and bitter. Starting a family was a noble thing to do, so why were we being punished? Admittedly, my faith wavered. Then, my mother, an oh so wise woman, said something to me that I will never forget: “Lauren. It may be that this isn’t about you.” How dare she suggest that my pain was for someone else’s gain! It isn’t fair for me to hurt, both physically and emotionally, for this long only to have someone else benefit. But then I thought about it - What if my suffering was for the good of someone else? What if a friend was silently watching to how I was handling this trial and because of it moved closer to God? Once I started thinking about it that way, my relationship with Him changed. I started to meditate on the words “Thy will be done.” I understood this hurt may never go away, but I had to accept it and trust that no matter the reason for this painful season of my life, He would bring me through to the other side in some fashion and although I may never know or see it, someone’s life was changed for the better.
After countless tries with alternative medicines, three cycles with Clomid, three medicated IUIs, and one round of IVF, we are navigating a new journey – life after infertility. We are some of the lucky ones. For many, it takes multiple rounds of IVF to conceive. But we accept this blessing with tears and welcome arms.
While I would never wish infertility on anyone, I am a better wife, friend, daughter, and soon-to-be-mother because of it.
I love being awarded the privilege of using #webeatinfertility on my Instagram posts, but I’m not sure claiming we beat infertility is the right choice of words. Infertility will always be part of us.
Even now at almost 15 weeks pregnant, I still feel the pain and heartache of the past 54 months.
I truly believe acknowledging that pain and constantly reminding myself of the honor bestowed on me that I so desperately prayed for will keep me grounded in motherhood and in my journey to live the best life He meant for me.
Lauren is a nonprofit communications professional, native Midwesterner, and a lover of donuts and coffee. She currently lives in the Outer Banks in North Carolina with her husband, Andy, where she spends as much time as she can soaking up the sun on the beach and staying true to her roots by keeping up with her favorite Chicago sports teams.
It's National Infertility Awareness week. Welcome to several new readers of Preacher on the Plaza! And I’m happy to use this blog over the next couple of days to give others a platform to share their stories of grief, loss and deferred longing. Even if “infertility” is not your thing and you read my blog for other reasons, I ask you stick with me. Did you read Sarah's and Ronda's stories earlier in the week? Like them, chances are you know someone going through infertility or who has infertility in their story just as I wrote about in Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility.
Today, I'm glad to introduce you to my friend, Lara. Though you might see her happy family photo at the bottom of this post, there's so much more to her story. So much imagining, re-imagining and tears that went into building her family as it is today. I was reminded as I read her words that we truly never know what someone is going through (or has been through). I admire her perseverance.
My below the belt troubles started when I was a teen and by 20 I was flatly told that I would never have children.
It is hard, when you are still a child yourself, to really know what infertility means in practical terms but looking back I cannot recall ever feeling “incomplete.”
Yet, I had a niece and nephews that I adored and a good life, full of travel and access to experiences that many people never get to enjoy. I felt strong, secure, and confident with my empty belly. I filled my house with expensive, light-colored furniture and fragile works of art. I bought sexy and impractical shoes. I researched graduate programs, planned exotic vacations and genuinely enjoyed my life. I was the Anti-Mommy.
And then, on a blind date in 2002, I met my husband, Jon. A man born to be a father.
He was a youth mentor, coach, and all around kid-whisperer. All children loved him and it was mutual.
I never hid my issues and told him on our second date, before he even knew my middle name, that I was incapable of carrying a child. When he proposed, I was thrilled to say, “Yes!”, but also unambiguously stated, “All you get is me. But, I’m all yours. Forever.” He said he was okay with this bargain and I believed him.
From where I stood, this was a really good deal. A few weeks after the honeymoon, the comments started. “Don’t wait too long, aren’t you thirty?” People were well-intentioned but relentless. I started to feel less like a prize and more like a burden.
So I decided, maybe we should at least try.
I started with the gateway fertility drugs as well as yoga, meditation and, herbs. And I prayed. Fervently, earnestly, and often while on the toilet holding a pregnancy test pee stick. After almost a year, I found a specialist.
Our baby chase didn’t always work out so well. There were losses, and failures that hurt like losses. I tried to get and stay pregnant for almost eight years.
I succeeded at least five times, possibly more depending on what you mean by “pregnant.”
If you think you can’t be “a little pregnant” than you have a lot to learn about chemical pregnancies, blighted ovum, and other such novelties.
I tried everything from we will just “not think about it” which is much harder than you’d think, to medications by injection, and procedures that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Physically, the process of miscarriage was the same as early labor, only without the joyous payoff. No baby to cradle, just more cramping.
My husband and I took the losses very differently, at least in the outward sense.
I’m sure he was as heartbroken as I was. I cried often, unable to let go of the deep throb of heartache that replaced the baby’s heartbeat. Each time as I physically recovered, I felt like I had lost my mind and my baby. My confidence, my sense of purpose and my ability to mother the child I did have all suffered. But I kept going.
When I look back and ask myself the hard questions, I know I did it because I am stubborn but also because I wanted to make people happy, especially Jon.
On one of my visits I went through the normal drill, I put the cup on the ledge in bathroom and waited in the drafty examination room. I remember shivering with my legs folded under me trying to keep warm and hoping that the nurse would come soon. The walls were so thin that I could clearly hear a doctor giving instructions to patient in the next room. “Scoot your bottom all the way down. Good. Good. Now let your legs fall open. Great. Now stay right there. You will feel a tiny pinch.” Frustrated and in a disintegrating paper robe, I wished could just put my clothes back on and leave. There was something especially humiliating to me about laying naked on a table, scooting, opening, and yet falling short. But in the balancing of my options, nothing was more humiliating than spending another year having to answer the question, “Why don’t you have any children?”
“It’s positive.” I heard the nurse say to someone in the hall.
Unexpected fear like a lead weight landed on my shoulders. I knew she was talking about me. My hands covered my face as the door opened and the doctor and the nurse walked in. “Surprise, you are pregnant!” she says. I forced a smile but inside I screamed, “No!”
I imagine God hearing me, scratching His head and saying, “That ungrateful so and so. She begs you to give her a child, and then she’s upset when you do it.”
I was also afraid. I was considered high risk and lived every moment until the baby was born wondering if that day was my last day as a mom. While pregnant, I did even more fervent toilet praying with every twinge, cramp or pink spot. But we made it and I gave birth to my first child in 2005. I now am a mother of two.
If I could go back in time, I would tell my heart-sick self to ignore the lie of shame and acknowledge that there are few better ways to guarantee an unhappy life than rejecting contentment, living like someone owes you something. God doesn't. In fact I owe Him more than I will ever be able to repay just for waking me up in my (mostly) right mind today. It has not been easy, but today I honor my losses and rejoice in the knowledge that I have been given exactly the full and beautiful life God intended for me to live.
I’ve come to embrace my children, as well as our infertility journey, as a gift.
This bumpy road is a testament to free and unmerited favor. My children, the living and the lost, are reflections of God's grace and their presence reminds me that their lives, like my own, belong to Him.
Lara is a technology law practitioner and aspiring retiree. She lives in the DC Metro area with her husband and two children who share her love of baking, naps, and old school cartoons.