November 11, 2013

10 Words...


I am grateful for my dear friend Anita, who's given me permission to post this excerpt from her personal journal. Her hope is that all those who experience the unique challenges of childlessness (both single & married) may in some way benefit. I am not only thankful for her honesty and courage in opening her precious and tender heart wide for the whole world to see, but I'm deeply thankful for the friendship we share that is rich in truth and grace. Thank you, Neets! xx

*Anita & Adrian are currently serving as missionaries with MOCLAM in Cochabamba, Bolivia. They would love your prayers.


I recently read a blogpost, with 10 words that describe infertility. As I read them, I could relate to each of the 10 words – ‘Lonely. Exposed. On hold. Invaded. Awkward. Angry. Stressed. Loss. Despair. Ambivalence’

In one sense these feelings are not foreign to me at all. The surprising thing for me is that I feel a sense of "moving on" from these words. I'm not sure it is necessarily a positive "moving on", in the sense that I've progressed and no longer find infertility as hard as before. It is more that those words capture what infertility was like during the "testing" and "treatment" phases, but not necessarily the "just living with it" stage. This is how I think now about the 10 words mentioned on the blog...

It's still a lonely feeling watching others around us have children, but Adrian and I have learnt to be comfortable with just each other. Sometimes it is full on spending time with families because we are not used to the pace, noise and unpredictability. The silence of our house can deafen me at times, but it is the norm and I am used to it.

We have learnt to welcome other children into our life, despite our grief. Others have 
generously shared their children with us, allowing us to be a significant part of their lives. We love them and feel loved by them, which means we are not lonely in the same way as before.

We are still exposed, especially as we share our infertility with new social circles. It is hard for these new relationships to grasp the weight of 6½ years of disappointed hopes (or more, depending on how you count). Advice still flows freely, requiring a brave face and a generous heart. 

On hold is an old old feeling for me. The first couple of years of trying to have a baby I knew when the baby would be due if I fell pregnant in any given month. I also new what consequences it would have for future plans, so there was always "outcome 1" and "outcome 2" to consider. I remember so many decisions hanging on whether or not we fell pregnant - future study, holidays, applying to be missionaries, leaving dates for moving overseas.

I have not given a thought to due dates for years now. I do not think in terms of "outcome 1" and "outcome 2". It's not that I'm not aware of the possible outcomes. I still have hope in God's ability to bring about the "option 1" we always longed for. At the same time I recognise it may not be his plan.

I do not know the Lord's plan for me in terms of having or not having children. I do know that he wants me to faithfully serve him with my life, and he promises to use even the hardships to make me more like Jesus. Infertility cannot put God's plan on hold. I am learning more and more to focus my efforts on what I can change and be responsible for, rather than on those unfulfilled hopes. I continue to see him do a mighty work in my stubborn heart. I long more and more for the final fulfilment of God's plans in Jesus' return. "Come, Lord Jesus".

Invaded is also an old feeling. I was sick the other day (sore throat) and had to have an antibiotic injection. I realised at the time that it was the first needle I'd had in almost 2 years. In the 2 years before that, however, I had so many many needles for tests and treatment that I would hate to sit down and count. They were a part of everyday life.

I am no longer living day-to-day at the whim of the next batch of results. After an intense few years of testing, monitoring, probing and pushing myself to the absolute physical limit, I now am barely conscious of "where I am in the month". Neither is it relevant to the group of concerned doctors, friends, and family who previously followed all the updates of my body's functioning.

I no longer feel physical invasion, but throughout the last 6½ years I have felt spiritually invaded as I try to work out how the Bible's truths apply to me. How can I continue to trust in God's goodness, knowing that he could remove our pain but chooses not to? How do I tell the difference between sin and expressions of grief, especially when facing feelings of jealously, bitterness, impatience and anger? If I continue to grieve not having children does that mean I am not content? 

These questions have become weightier over time, "invading" my relationship with the Lord and demanding a response.

Awkward isn’t something I feel in the same way the article describes it.

 The awkward I feel now is related to questions like:

- Where do I fit as a married woman who may never bear children?
- How do I participate in this conversation about kids' schooling when it is a world away from the life I am living?
- How do I respond to the person who tells me that they know God will give us children?
- How do I tell someone that we haven't been able to have children without it being too awkward for them?
-  What do I do when everyone's busy looking after their kids at a social gathering and I am left alone?
- How do I know who God wants me to love?
- How do I decide what ministries to be involved in?

To a large extent I have moved on from the angry feelings and the arguments with God about how unfair it is that Adrian and I have to be the ones to suffer with infertility. I think I've come to terms with the fact that God has chosen us for this struggle, for his glory. I do not know why. I have tried to tell him many times we are not up to it. He has had other plans. There is a greater degree of acceptance within us. At the same time, every pregnancy announcement feels like a strong kick in the stomach. I still feel shocked, winded, knocked-for-6 at the reminder that God can do it, (i.e. create new life). He just hasn't chosen to do that within me.

I no longer struggle with the stress of not having fallen pregnant yet. The monthly high and low is less extreme. I struggle more with the stress of living with the grief of infertility on a day-to-day basis. The stress of having to explain our situation to someone new. The stress of putting on a brave face when unexpectedly saddened by something I see that reminds me of what I don't have. The stress of thinking through what life should look like now that it is panning out so differently from how I thought it would. The stress of another milestone like our wedding anniversary, our birthdays, the anniversary of when we started trying to have a baby. The stress of keeping it together enough to share in the joys of those around us (as I want to) until I have my own space to cry it all out.

Despair is perhaps the feeling that has changed the least. We have lived the cycle of hope and despair almost 80 times. At first it was a cycle of innocent hopefulness followed by optimistic sadness. Then it became a cycle of stressed anticipation followed by bitter disappointment. Over time the cycle turned into a determined search followed by confused despair. The ability to gather our hopes together after each disappointment became harder and harder. After testing and treatment ended we had nothing left in us. There was no cycle anymore, only despair. We are still healing from that time.

We no longer "ride the cycle" like before, but lately I've noticed inklings of hope creeping back... the hope that we have a good God who could do it if he thought it was best. I think it's better to live like that. Living with no hope is a scary place to be. Ultimately the hope we have is not a hope in the fact that God will grant us children. He doesn't promise us that. The hope we have right now is the hope of a good God who loves and cares for us, hears our cries, comforts us in our despair, knows our greatest needs, gives us what he thinks is best, and enables us to hope in him.

The loss of infertility is a heavy burden to bear. Grief would be another way to describe it, and it is as much a part of my daily life as children would be if we had them. It comes with me everywhere, and affects me to varying degrees on any given day. It is often unpredictable. The sinking feeling when I know someone's about to tell us they're expecting a baby. The shock of an unexpected pregnancy announcement.
The deep unfulfilled longing when I see a pregnant belly. The lump in my throat when I see an ultrasound photo. The guilt of feeling so bad about the joys of others. The tears that well up when I see little girls playing with younger siblings or dolls. The emptiness I feel as we helplessly watch other people's children grow up around us. The silence of our house. The work I do when I'd much rather be caring for children. The disappointment of a "late month". The anger at having allowed myself to hope. The sadness in Adrian's eyes as he deals with his own grief while also shouldering my pain. The fact that our situation doesn't change.

I thought that over time it would get easier to cope with the grief, but the disappointments build and the burden has become heavier. At the same time God has provided, time after time, enough to enable me to cope and continue trusting in Him. The (good and right) desire for children remains, and so also the grief of not being able to have children. In my grief God is teaching me to hope in Him, but every day I long for him to take this burden from me.

My ambivalence is different now. I often have a conversation with myself that goes something like this... "I cannot believe the ache in my heart at not being able to have children"... "But it's not like having children would solve all my problems"... "That's true. In fact, it would create a whole new set of struggles."... "I should just move on then and be happy with the situation God has put me in"... "But how can I stop my heart from hoping?"... "You can't". Then tears.

The temptation is to be ambivalent about the significance of not being able to have children. Instead I want to continue to hope in God's power to bring about new life, continue to desire to have children in our life, continue to dare to hope in the good and sovereign Lord of all.


“The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord”

- Lamentations 2:25-26 -

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your openness Anita. Such a helpful post in understanding just some of the emotions you have experienced and continue to experience. We continue to pray for contentment in your childlessness but also that God may still see it fit to grant you a child. I hope that's the right thing to keep praying. love, Ali B xx

Narelle Jarrett said...

I have only just caught up with these beautiful yet sorrowful words written by Anita. There are many of us, whether married or single, who encounter this heart breaking situation. I haven't married so I have that additional sadness of neither marriage nor children. Yet God continues to be my comfort, strength, joy and salvation. Some may think that this is just piety but how can that be when God, in the reality of every day, not only brings comfort but also joy and delight in the work He involves me in? Thank you Sarie and Anita and others who have contributed, thanks also to our heavenly Father who watches over everyone of us with loving words and care. 'For God so loves the world that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but will have everlasting life.' Jn 3

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