Where am I Anchored?

When we’ve never experienced something for ourselves, it can be really difficult to imagine what it’s like to be inside the circumstances that someone else we know is going through.  I imagine a long term illness such as cancer or chronic pain can be like that.  For me, I think infertility is one of those situations that can only be lived to know the many colours of its character.  It’s only when you’ve been in that place that you know the triggers that are particularly sensitive or the ebb and flow of particular thought patterns.  I’ve lost count of the number of text messages I’ve sent to friends on birthdays and at Christmas, holding their hands from a distance and reminding them that I understand the muddle of feelings as they consider the loss of hopes and dreams even on those days when they are meant to feel especially glad to be alive.

It can be very difficult to put into words what this feels like.  Infertility can leave you constantly plastering a smile on your face rather than confessing the truth of your circumstances because it can be downright awkward, let alone agonising, to explain to someone that it’s not that you don’t like children, or don’t want them but simply that “it’s taking a bit longer than we expected” (and those words can feel like the understatement of the century).

Friends of ours have kindly told us not to worry that we’re struggling to get pregnant because we can “just have IVF and so-and-so had it and now they have children”.  Bless them completely for their kindness but such words seem so naive.  If you’re reading this and you’ve been through IVF already I suspect you might agree with me that there is no “just” about undergoing IVF treatment and no guarantee but God in the outcome.  Having gone down that route recently I’m still trying to work out in hindsight whether I felt more buffeted by the physical procedures or by the psychological battering of coming to terms with the fact that IVF didn’t work.

IMG_2967Going into the month of treatment we armed ourselves as well as we could.  I bought posh chocolates to see me through the daily injections and we messaged a small select group of friends, asking them to join us in praying.  A brave or crazy move you could say – allowing people that far into the mess of life – but we felt protected over the days we were going back and forth to the hospital and I don’t regret a second of that choice to share my vulnerability – and the pain in the aftermath.  I am grateful for those close allies who may not have walked through it for themselves but who were each filled with the resource we value most – faith!  I am grateful for the prayers for no side effects and good rest – I suffered very little in the way of effects from the injections.  Our marriage hunkered down and we stayed close to each other in the daily injections and repeat blood tests and internal scans.  We saw God at work in tiny, beautiful details every single day as we watched and waited to see how the medication would take effect.  We could see the effects of being prayed for and it was gold.

And when treatment had to be abandoned only eight days in, and we reeled like we had been punched in the face by disappointment and shock, we somehow continued to feel lifted up and hopeful.  We maintained an expectation that God would intervene with a miracle.  Even when the bleeding started and the pregnancy test that I still had to take anyway (nurse’s orders) was negative, we knew we were in God’s sights.  I’m still marvelling even now that in the days which followed as I wrestled with deep, deep disappointment, overwhelming fear, huge loss and such a fearful sense of futility, my friends kept in contact with me to remind me that I was not forgotten.  I hid the depths of my despair from everyone but Father God saw and made sure I had what I needed even as I mourned the lack of what our hearts were really, really wanting.

The huge low which followed the hopeful phase of treatment took me by surprise.  I was back in that wretched pit, wondering whether I was really anchored by God in this storm after all and I just could not move.  And then something happened that really surprised me.  So often as Christians we talk about going up the mountainside with Jesus, standing on the heights with Him and looking out at the landscape ahead of us.  The local hillside that comes to my mind is where I stood with my husband and shouted into the wind about my frustration and sorrow, my yearning to see our prayers answered.  The landscape up there seemed bleak and quiet.  It’s funny to me now that as it happens there is a house at the bottom of that hillside and a year on we discovered that the leaders of our new church home group live there.  And it was huddled in the warmth of their lounge that we were surrounded not by the wild wind and our pain, but by love and words of promise once again.  I found God not on the mountaintop nearby, but in a damp and misty valley.  I was reminded of my inheritance and my birthright, my identity and my heavenly Daddy’s nature. Had I known over a year before that as we trekked up that hill to vent and spill we would find a greater sense of His love in the valley below, I would have wondered again at the detail of His planning.  And I can’t help but smile at the beautiful sense of timing and redeeming that God excels at.

During my low days recently a friend sent me a song that she wrote a few years ago.  How she knew that this is what my heart needed to hear……only God could have told her.  So I leave you with Spring – a song that has reminded me that Spring is the season that always follows Winter.  And if you’re on this fertility journey today can I encourage you as she sings to hold on, hold on.

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In Praise of My Mother

It’s my Mum’s birthday tomorrow and as I sat and tried to think of what to write in her birthday card earlier I found myself struggling both for the words to write and for the space to jot down all that I would like to tell her.  I consider myself hugely blessed to have her as my mummy. In fact, I happen to be richly blessed by a wonderful godmother who has become like my second mother and by a third, spiritual mother.  These three women have invested their wisdom, love, care and time in me over many years and I am indebted to them for that.  I know I am spoilt to have such amazing women around me.

For today though, this is all about my mother…..

Mum and I are blessed to have a wonderfully honest and kind relationship.  She is generous, fun, a free spirit, ambitious, successful, gentle, modest, hard-as-nails and so very loving.  She laughs with her head thrown back, full throttle – an embarrassing habit that I have adopted.  She is energetic, passionate, petite and loves the sunshine and flowers.  She gives running commentaries whilst watching films and finds board games far too stressful! She has encouraged me to travel and seek adventure as she has and her advice is normally right.

My mother is totally different from me and also very much the same.  She has prayed me through some tough times and hung on when I flew the nest and started to forge my own path through life.  She has a fabulous, hilarious habit of announcing over breakfast with typical nonchalance, a huge pearl of timely wisdom, straight out of the mouth of God, for the big things in my life.  My Mum doesn’t know what authority she carries and it makes me smile.

And yet I didn’t realise until recently how hard our struggle with infertility has been for her.  In the beginning I could protect her from my pain.  We lived on different continents and it was easy enough not to talk about the tough days when we did see my parents because there were plenty of other things to catch up on.  As time dragged on though and the months turned to a year and the year turned to years, the medical tests and the wondering started. And the wondering also started to turn to yearning for my mother.

I didn’t realise that it’s possible for our mothers to experience jealousy of other women they see playing with their grandchildren just as I have envied mothers and their children.  I didn’t know that she would sit and chat with childless women and have to end the conversation abrubtly because it was just too close to the bone.  I didn’t know that God would ask her to do her own journey of faith, surrender and hope in this time. I have been saddened to watch her wrestle with that longing to see her own child’s dreams fulfilled whilst being unable to do anything to bring it into being.  I have watched her protective parental instinct kick in as she watches and waits alongside us.  I have listened to her voice her frustration at God as she wonders why her prayers for us and for her family remain unanswered. I haven’t witnessed a lot of the grief she has felt for us and for herself in this time but I know it is there and it hurts and she has done her very best not to show it.  We have cried together and I am in no doubt that we have cried apart.

In the beginning it made sense to do this by ourselves, but as time passes I have found that the need to be held by prayer, by strong arms, by other people’s faith has meant that it’s necessary to share.  But it is a big ask, especially for our parents, to be only a little way back from the frontline of infertility.  For them to experience every twist and turn as we do.  For them to see how it crushes those they love and to not be able to fix it as parents want to.  For them to have no answers and yet stay firm in believing that there is more to come and we have not reached the end.

I didn’t know at the beginning what our infertility would cost my mother.

So this post is in praise of my courageous, feisty mother.  The woman who taught me to have dignity and strength when the going gets tough and who has demonstrated that grit and determination go a long way.  I may not have children yet but I have a mother who blesses me daily – and that’s a very good place to be.