Badges of Honour

We wear our years of trying to conceive as a badge of honour, proudly displaying to our fellow infertility comrades for how long we have endured the hardship; keen that none should forget how deep the scars run, how much we have sacrificed, and for how many months or years our arms have remained empty. We can’t help but to compare with each other, some more subtly than others, just how tough our time has been, just how heavy the burden we’re carrying.

I don’t know why, but alongside this monthly score, I keep a list of babies born since we started trying to get pregnant. So far I have recorded forty announcements over the last four years, and that’s only of friends and family, for there have been many more social media status updates along the way. Forty babies conceived and born since we started trying for just one of our own. Forty cards or gifts or hot meals or congratulations offered alongside the strain of waiting for our own.

I am always in awe of those who have been trying for longer than us – wondering at their tenacity, bravery and determination, whilst secretly hoping I never reach their rank in the army of women who know this particular fight.

But there is also an uglier, less gracious flip-side, for I find at times I judge any woman who has endured fewer months of trying to get pregnant than me, or who now has a healthy child even as she looks to conceive the next. I give in to the bitter cheapness of thinking how little she must know of what it’s like to be in this. It’s not the same, I tell myself. It’s not the same as what we have endured, how horrid it has been for us, how much longer we have had to keep going and keep believing.

And it isn’t the same. Every story is different. Every medical complication, every bump in the road, every yearning looks and feels different to each mother-in-waiting. But in reality, pain is pain. Whether it has been three months, 12 months, 48 months or many more lived in the trying to get pregnant – and whatever the biological rollercoaster or triumph of conceiving has looked like along the way – the waiting is an agony and the cycle of hope and disappointment seemingly never-ending.

And why am I – or you, if you’re like me – even comparing? I know full well that there is a lonely, isolating, envy-inducing weariness that comes as month after month drags on and on. It does not benefit from the sin of comparison. Hasn’t infertility taught me to be more aware of another’s pain and want to speak life into each situation I encounter? Haven’t I felt another’s loss almost as keenly as if it was my own? Haven’t I wondered at how Hannah endured the taunts of Peninnah in 1 Samuel and been so grateful that I am not ridiculed for my lack in this way? Wouldn’t I choose to eradicate barrenness from the world so no other woman ever had to endure it?  Aren’t I already declaring over every little girl I come across that “No woman shall be barren”?

But being totally honest with you now, the truth of the matter is, I am fearful. I am fearful not just of every other woman ‘beating me to it’ and getting pregnant before me, but I am fearful that I may never carry a healthy baby to full term. And as much as we huddle together in our shared distress, or the brave endurance of the Two Week Wait, or as we ready ourselves for medical tests, so too are we constantly bracing ourselves for the impact of a fellow trier sharing her good news with us and leaving us behind – again. Perhaps for forever.

Perhaps I’ll never, ever get out of this boat…?

And in this way, I forget the gifts of choosing solidarity. When I see myself once again as a victim, I forget that each story is unique. It escapes my attention that every miracle healing or unexpected pregnancy is a testimony which I am allowed to claim for my own life too. When I see these sisters as adversaries I fail to remember that when God’s goodness touches their wombs, hearts and dreams, it shows that it can happen for me too. Envy, jealousy and judgment are poor companions to choose in this time. They are thieving little grease-balls that talk a good line and are quick to stick close, but they blind us to the opportunity for growth, favour, generosity of spirit and maturity.

Despite us wondering, “Why her and not me? Again” and “When will this ever end?”, He has not forgotten us. Your story doesn’t look like hers or mine because the impact of your testimony is as unique and wonderful as you are. When we compare ourselves with another mother-in-waiting, we devalue the power of that which God is unfolding in our own life.

Our Daddy in heaven values each one of our hearts as His most prized possession. He tenderly runs His fingers along the fading ridges of our timeworn scars. He massages the newest hurts that are only just healing. He grieves over the deep, open slices of longing that have pierced us.

We don’t have to prove ourselves to anyone in this place. He sees it all. And He is determined to bring the fullness of His glory and goodness to pass in your life. And in mine.

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I am not Saint Helena!

The journey out of grief is a sticky one.

Grief takes time. There’s no quick fix. No shortcut. No getting around it. 

If I can pass on any pearls of wisdom in dealing with the tricky stuff of life it’s to reach out, reach out, reach out. I unashamedly lean in hard to the faith of my friends and family in this time, using their words, their hope, their trust in my Saviour to drag me through, one day at a time. When one’s mouth is dry and one’s heart is in a state of cardiac arrest, we need the determination of others to pump life back into our veins when we’ve simply reached the end of ourselves. And I knew myself to be wrecked by an overdose of pain.

For days and days and days I feel like an aeroplane in a holding pattern. Round and round and round in circles with the loss, disappointment and hopelessness. Round and round in circles with the questions.

How to believe in a limitless, all-powerful God now…?

How to open my Bible…?

How to make sense of my heavenly Daddy allowing this double portion of despair…?

How to believe we will ever, ever move into a time of joy and having a family of our own…?

How to sing a song of worship in this place…?

I allow myself to be the victim I feel I am. I let myself indulge in the sadness of our situation. I give myself permission to believe that our circumstances are worse than anyone else’s.

I am grateful for the messages of comfort, the verses, the silly cartoons, the cards and flowers from those who care. I try to utter the words of faith that I shouted in the centre of the storm, but I don’t believe them now. Such a weak and fickle faith after all?!

I am blind to the foundations I thought I was building my life and hope upon. My renewed mind has trauma-induced amnesia and I can’t remember one wise word or one golden nugget of God’s faithfulness.

St Helena

I am sent a photo of a stained glass window of St Helena – the mother of Constantine the First and the woman who is believed to have discovered the cross on which Jesus was crucified. I stare at the photo of this amazing, faith-filled adventurer and I weep. I see her leaning her head against the cross, her arm wrapped around it in peaceful contemplation, and recognise that I too am holding onto the cross of Jesus for all I am worth. But I am not behaving like a saint! I am anguished and distraught. I am clinging to Jesus with every ounce of strength, my face pressed into his chest, screaming agony and fear. I am a shadow of myself. A self-defined victim of circumstance. Yet I know that I have no other option than to hold on for dear life to my God. I can’t walk away now as much as I might want to. Where would I go? What would bring me comfort instead?

My marriage reels from the turmoil of this intense pain and begins to flounder. We are classic examples of Man and Woman in our grief. As I see-saw between the inability to simply start the day and an urgent craving for busyness, my husband retreats further and further into his cave and we lose sight of each other. We can see it happening, as we harbour our resentments and our reluctance to find the extra energy to put the other first, but there are too many diary commitments, too many excuses, to create the time and space for a solution. I am grateful for our unsuspecting foresight in planning a break away which forces us into a place of pause and the walls soon come tumbling down.

We had been warned that infertility puts strain on a marriage, but I had ignorantly assumed that the IVF treatment would bring the pressure and not the unexpected detour down Miscarriage Mile.

And yet God is on a mission of restoration, and slowly, slowly we begin to lift our heads. We hear two sermons in a row at our church exploring the pain of pregnancy loss. Never in my 35 years of attending church have I heard a single talk on miscarriage and suddenly here are two! We are astounded and grateful as we unlock doors to prayer, community and fresh healing. I unwrap my birthday presents and see how my friends have invested in my heart through books and a new journal to aid my spiritual growth.

We may not have the answers. We may wonder at the strange wilderness of the last four years and counting. We may still struggle with every new pregnancy announcement and each newborn photo that is sent our way. But we do have a God who has promised to climb into the slimy mess of sadness with us and who continues to weave His goodness into the tapestry of our lives, as He sews the deep tears of our wounded hearts back together.

The battle is to stay soft and open-hearted. The desire is to remain surrendered. The deep, character-defining belief is that this is not the end of the story.

Grief takes time but joy will come in the mourning.

He will live with them

“I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children”.”

Revelation 21:3-7