How Infertility has Blessed my Marriage

IMG_0154My husband and I are enjoying our five year wedding anniversary today.  How time flies!  When I look at this photo from our wedding day it sums up how full our hearts were as we left the church to continue the party.  Fresh from our wedding vows we were surrounded by family and friends and caught up in the celebration of a life to be lived together.  We had become engaged after only three months of knowing each other and were walking up the aisle only ten months later. We knew This Was It!  We left church as Mr and Mrs to the sounds of a gospel version of This is the Day That the Lord has Made and felt the splendour of His banner of love over us.  My wedding day is an event I look back on with sheer joy.  I would live it again in a heartbeat.

I remember as if it was yesterday those weighty vows we spoke to each other in the quiet of the church service.  The enormity of what I was signing up for seemed to make time slow down around me.  As is so often the way, it is really only since that special, significant day in 2011 that we have begun to learn the importance of those promises we made to each other.  The first couple of years of our marriage focused around an especial education in “for richer, for poorer”, followed at the beginning of 2013 when “in sickness and in health” began to take on a deeper meaning.

Infertility is tough on couples.  You only have to read my very first blog post here to know why this might be. In a nutshell it batters one’s individual identity, one’s capacity to relate to others evenly and one’s acceptance of one’s body.  Like a cunning cuckoo it seems to check that the coast is clear and lay anxiety and sadness in the marital nest.  It buckles you in on a rollercoaster ride you hadn’t planned for your life, whilst mugging you of your priceless dreams and plans in the process.

So far though, I am strangely grateful for the challenges it has brought us because it has taught me much about how to love and how to do marriage with God at the centre.  As bizarre as this might sound, infertility has blessed me in more ways than I had expected.

As I contemplate these last three and a half years particularly, I know that my husband and I have grown in tenderness and respect for each other.  We have always made an effort to be good communicators, but infertility has taught us to work hard at being gentle when being honest. My husband amazes and surprises me constantly with his ability to accept me – and each new twist and turn of life – with steadiness, kindness and patience.  I am so grateful that we are able to read between the lines of each other’s moods and more often than not choose to show grace rather than to retaliate for the sake of a small personal victory. Being on the same side, the same team, matters most these days.

Forgiveness has been another key which has unlocked precious new levels of understanding in each other.  Infertility has a habit of carelessly throwing one’s heart and emotions around like a lone sock on a spin cycle and we have had to learn to contemplate, wait, retrace our steps and start again when in danger of handling each other’s hearts too flippantly.  “Sorry” is uttered much more quickly now and so too is the ability to look past the smaller, inconsequential grumbles for the sake of the bigger, beautiful picture.

We have had to fight to maintain intimacy as the disappointment of another failed month coupled with various medical processes have threatened to pull us apart.  Or as the very act of ‘trying for a baby’ has shifted at times from spontaneous enjoyment (“you must be having loads of sex!” so helpfully pointed out by our friends) to performing for the possibility of conceiving.  Over time we have learnt to listen and to care, to wait and to share.

Our faith in God has been fundamental in all of this.  We have clasped hands – two children before their Daddy – and sobbed, laughed, pondered, repeated scripture and whispered promises together. We have begged, railed and repented. We have stood in awe, sat in silence, lain with our faces to the floor in surrender or lifted our hands together to worship Him. We have reminded each other of dormant dreams and prophetic words. We have witnessed turnaround, seen answered prayer and watched each other grow and overcome the tests of life. We have challenged each other to keep on, keeping on for the sake of the One who loves us. I am thankful that we know how to pray for each other now with more vulnerability than I thought possible.

Three years ago when we started trying to get pregnant I shut my husband out of my grief, frustration and disappointment because I wanted to protect him from what he couldn’t fix.  Since then there is very little he doesn’t know about who and how I am.  As we have had to ask ourselves hard questions, contemplate various options for our future, undergo invasive procedures and wrestle with painful truths we have silently agreed to approach some of the tougher stuff in life head on.  We have chosen to hunker down together rather than wrestle on our own.  We know how to cover each other now as well as pull the other one up and onwards.

All this isn’t to say that I’m oblivious to the many luxuries we have enjoyed as just two during this time. We recognise the privileges of a child-free lifestyle. My husband and I enjoy plenty of uninterrupted quality time together. We can go on spontaneous trips out. We get plenty of sleep.  We can hold a conversation without being constantly interrupted by distractions. In essence, we only have to share ourselves with each other. Our life together is as quiet as we want it to be and dictated by our preferences and not the demands of a small posse of mini-mes.  We have been able to focus on investing in each other.  We appreciate these benefits and are grateful for this prolonged time as two, making the most of this precious phase of life.  But we cannot ignore the underlying sense of yearning which whispers to us when we contemplate our future.

Over these years we have spoken with couples who have survived infertility about the importance of protecting our marriage.  We have kept our eyes wide open and have sought a joint path which has cemented us together.  My marriage is certainly not perfect – and I very much hope for long, long years to come to keep learning to do it better.  I have come to see that despite being without the gift of family yet – which is so often taken for granted on one’s wedding day – we have seen richness in our life together and know that when we do become parents we will be all the stronger and better for this time.  The last five years haven’t been much like what I hoped they would be as we made those sacred vows to each other on our wedding day.  I had naively expected life to be plain sailing.  Instead, we have lived the ‘for better, for worse’ of our circumstances. 

Today I get to celebrate the man, the marriage and the Giver of all good things which make my heart sing every single day and I am profoundly grateful.

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Contrasts and Conflicts

Life is full of contrasts and conflicts.  I’m learning this again at the moment.  I thought I had moved past some of the negative emotional aspects of infertility, but it seems that they had simply lain dormant for a while.  I had hoped that by navigating well our infertility I might put to bed – or even put to death – some of the less savoury sides of this position.  However, it seems the human condition is a permanent one, dictating that I will spend my whole life with the option of choosing the higher road – or not – and never escaping this decision-making process.

I had been doing better of late but after a period of quiet, the same old choices began to present themselves again in a more aggressive clamour.  Choices of hope vs. disappointment, joy vs. bitterness and envy, faith vs. fear, contentment vs. indescribable sadness, living in the now vs. the yearning for change.  I had naively thought that I might conquer the negatives through this process of adjusting to my surroundings, but I am reminded that circumstances are fluid and so too is my character.  I wonder again whether I shall be learning these lessons until the day I die…

The trigger was an email from a friend last week, sharing the fabulous news that she is pregnant for the first time through IVF treatment.  It is monumental news and incredibly exciting.  And yet there is always the “But…..” that I feel as I digest someone else’s triumph.  I don’t want to feel the flip-side of this wonderful news.  I want to be different, to be better than that.  And yet in all this time of watching friends fall pregnant easily – or even with difficulty – as soon as they leave the ‘infertility waiting room’ and head out the door into parenthood, I can’t help but feel envious.  On this particular occasion the knowledge that it was through IVF seemed to smack home just a little harder – our own failure in this came sharply back into view.  It is so very, very difficult not to fall prey to the sin of comparison and to contemplate all the reasons why it should be our turn for success instead.

It’s not that I can’t see the goodness of God or the testimony in this special news.  It’s not that I’m not pleased for my friend.  It’s just that her joy and certainty emphasise my own grief, longing, uncertainty and pain.  We have walked for almost 40 months now in this barren wilderness and I am desperate to be delivered into my very own Promised Land.  Until I’m released from this place I can celebrate but I cannot find true consolation in anyone else’s breakthrough because I am so watchful for my own.

On Monday I was standing on top of a ledge in the Peak District near where we live, surveying the glorious, rolling countryside with the sun on my face, the wind in my hair and my arms outstretched as I sang back to God of This Love that He offers me.  I didn’t really care who saw me because I needed to worship.  By Wednesday my personal landscape was looking less sunny and I didn’t know what to do or how to throw my hands up to praise.

Conflict and contrast are part of our very existence; the fabric of our complex being and the foundation of our faith.  The beauty of singing to the One who made me, sees me and loves me is that along with it being all for His glory, we can choose whether we throw our arms wide as we praise or hide within the comfort of the refrains that we sing to Him.  God is ok with conflict; His Kingdom is fundamentally connected to the contrast of seeing this groaning, messy world as it is and offering the opposite.  Luckily for me He doesn’t love me any less as I ponder my choices.  His love is an every day love. His love is acceptance and safety.  His love is steadying and close.  His love reminds me that I am not forgotten or alone.  His love fans the flame of wanting to know Him better and letting Him in to the hurting places.  His love whispers my name and reminds me that I am His. His love holds fast to its promises.