April 30, 2017

On Barrenness

Only once have I outright written anything about infertility. A few years ago, a friend of mine asked me if my five-year experience with it would ever work its way into my writing. I told her yes, but I didn't know if it was the right time. Even now, as my 17 month-old son sleeps in the next room, I still feel an ache from all of the struggle it took to get him here. I still feel like I don't quite fit into all of the "mommy culture" that having a kid throws you into, and I still struggle to put into words exactly why. In a lot of ways, infertility puts things into perspective. It helps you zoom out and see that there are things that are equally important to giving birth. There are even things that are more important.

This past week was National Infertility Awareness Week. 1 in 8 families are affected by infertility, whether it is life-long, secondary infertility, or in my case, a rather short experience by comparison. I'm not an authority on it, but I do have a story to tell. That story can be summed up in lessons I learned. I'm not going to tell you about my reproductive system, or my doctors visits, or the panic attack I had one time when I had to dig through my box of saved-up baby stuff so I could lend out my unopened and unused baby-monitor that someone asked to borrow. Instead, I'm going to tell you about what I've learned over the past seven years.

Hope hurts, but it's what we were made to do.
This isn't just in the context of infertility. This is all day, everyday. There will never be a time in my life when I do not have to choose between hope and giving up. Hope is an engine. It's a propulsion system. It carries precious cargo. It's what pushes through the stuff that we think will bury us.

Sometimes, there's nothing to run from, because there's nowhere to go.
I couldn't escape infertility. I couldn't escape watching almost every woman around me having baby after baby. I had to face it. I had to let it shape me, and in doing so, I met God in ways I never thought I could. I met Him in dark places... sprawled on the ground, as low as I could get, because I knew there was no way out.

"I’ve been to the bottom, when everyone else has left and I was alone with my hurt in the silence. I’ve been at the place where I knew all the right theology but none of it reached me.
In this pit, I found a silence even deeper still. It was called honesty, and in that place, He was the only one there. I cried out, and to my surprise, so did He."
J. S. Park

There are more important things in life than having kids.
This is possibly one of the least popular beliefs that I hold. Maybe it's because I spent the "formative" years of my adult life childless and with no physical assurance that having children was even a possibility, but I do believe that there is life beyond parenting. I believe that I am an individual with gifts, skills, and abilities outside of motherhood. Having a baby is not the best thing that has ever happened to me. Only Jesus can take that cake. Being a mom is not the pinnacle of real love. There are so many ways to give and receive real, deep, fierce love outside of parenting a child. My kid is not my life. If I made my life entirely about him, I would be doing him a disservice. There's a big world out there with lots of hurting and broken people to care for.

Every time I thought I couldn't make it through, I did.
The sun always came the next day. I was so much stronger than I believed. Every time I had the thought, "I can't do this.", I managed to do it. Once I realized this, things got a lot easier. I did not die of grief. I did not lose all of my value as a human being because I didn't have kids. I didn't get stuck in the quicksand. I put my hand to the plow, and I did what I had to do. I let myself feel, but I didn't just sit in it.

There are things I will never say to a childless woman. Among them;
"Just relax, it will happen."
"God's trying to teach you something."
"You should just adopt."
"You should be glad you don't have kids, because ______________" (You get to sleep in. You get to do whatever you want. You don't have to deal with the responsibility. Fill in the blank-- none of it is actually helpful.) There are, however, some things I will gladly say to any woman battling infertility. In fact, I'd say them to anyone fighting anything that feels too big and too hard and too heavy to navigate.

Embrace the process.
Don't lie to yourself.
Find out who you are.
Know who you want to be.
Don't be afraid to ask for help.

Don't give up on your hardest day.

On Aprils

Ten years ago, I sat in the dining hall of a Christian camp. A man my father's age sat with me. It was April, and I had no idea... I had...