As we approached the end of 2017, I found myself marvelling at the realisation that I was no longer zoning in on 23:59 on 31st December in an eagerness to shake the dust off my feet from a difficult year and launch over the threshold into a spotless new year, as yet untainted by pain and longing. What I found instead is that God’s goodness and pursuit of me in the latter end of last year had left me more healed and peaceful than I could have expected. My mess of emotions weren’t yet lined up neatly in resolved boxes, but the gaping wound of loss that our third miscarriage wrenched open in me was soothed and quiet, and I no longer felt the rawness of heartbreak. I had questioned His ability to really comfort, to really heal – and yet once again Father God showed me just how skilled He is at understanding my pain and taking it from me.
As I have continued to reflect on this shift in perspective and emotional state, I have also looked back over the adjustments that my husband and I have made in our thinking since the summer. When we experienced loss again in July of last year, it forced us to look long and hard over the previous four and a half years and to ask ourselves a question we had been dismissing for a very long time: what if we never have children?
I think up until this point in time we had resolutely set our faces towards a deep belief that children would come, perhaps with a time of waiting and struggle, but they would come. Yet as we reeled in the aftermath of miscarriage, we found ourselves needing to be more ‘real’, needing to consider what a life without babies might look like. It’s a question that came up during our marriage prep classes years ago, but the theory back then absolutely did not prepare us for the reality of walking this out!
What would being a childless couple surrounded by our friends with kids be like – for us, and for our friends? How would this play out in our local community? Where would our place in society be? What role might we have in church? How would it feel to be constantly referred to as ‘Aunty and Uncle’ and never ‘Mummy and Daddy’? How might it affect the decisions we made with our careers and home – after all, what’s the point of having lots of bedrooms if there are no children to put in them? Would we consider downsizing or moving abroad, doing aid work or throwing ourselves into our careers with more gusto? How would we manage the gaping hole of loss and what would a life without children look like as we turned 50 or 60 or 70; as our friends’ children grew up, got married and had children of their own? Would we have to spend the next fifty years answering the question, “So do you have children?” with a well-rehearsed line whilst side-stepping the look of pity that would inevitably appear? Would this sense of grief simply morph from one degree of loss into another as each milestone reached reminded us again of what we have gone without?
Now I know that there are other options. I’m aware that adoption and fostering are both wonderful alternatives to having biological children. I am acutely aware of it, in fact, because it’s one of the first things that people who don’t know me well seem to want to thrust in my face as an obvious solution to our ‘infertility problem’ the minute they get the chance; and it’s a tentative suggestion that close friends or family courageously whisper in a “Have you considered…..?” kind of a way when they sense I seem open enough to be asked. As I said, adoption and fostering children are two options which may well be the best and richly blessed answer to prayer for those who have been unable to have children of their own. I have worked with colleagues who were adopted as children, have friends who have fostered and/or adopted gorgeous children and can see the wonderful weaving of lives as they’ve come together. We know that there are plenty of incredible, deserving children who need and should be receiving love and care, and there are many, many couples who are absolutely ready and able to be brilliant parents and who go on to create beautiful, loving homes with their children. We have given all of this stuff much, much thought.
But for me, for us, these two options aren’t appropriate ‘this fixes the problem’ answers to a question that we’re still unravelling in our hearts and minds. They are not a sticking plaster to be slapped on the wound of childlessness as though it’s a ‘one size fits all’ solution. For me, the first step has to be the willingness to move towards acceptance and surrender of the life we’re unexpectedly living, and to find joy in the midst of this landscape that still seems unfamiliar and disorienting even after all this time.
As we approach the five-year mark of our (in)fertility journey, I am focusing today on the fact that I can now say what I never thought I would be able to: if I never have children in my life, I know that the rest of my days will still be rich, full and blessed and that we will be ok. My life may not end up looking anything like I had planned, and I may spend from now until I die wondering why God decided that His “best” for us was not to bestow the gift of children upon us, but I love and trust God enough to live the fullest life I can with every opportunity with which He presents me. And for now, coming to this place of acceptance and surrender is a huge leap forward. Having a healthy pregnancy is neither a right nor an entitlement. Yet when so many friends, acquaintances and strangers are merrily procreating without a second thought, relinquishing the same expectation feels like a sacrifice so painful I can’t put it into words.
But if I cannot give up my deepest desires and dreams to God, then how can He really have me, heart and soul? How can I truly say I have lost ALL my life in order to find it unless I lay every last bit of it down in surrender?
Six months ago when we stood in our kitchen and asked ourselves the question ‘what if we never have children?’ I felt like I was staring down a black hole. As I sit at my dining room table and type these words today, I no longer feel like Alice staring down a rabbit hole of confusion, at a problem I cannot fathom. My heart’s delight, my deepest joy, still comes from time spent in the presence of children. I still long, pray and hope for babies of our own – and that’s not going to change any time soon. Acceptance is not defeat. But should children never come into my life, I whole-heartedly believe that I will still have a wonderful time with God, undertake great adventures and journey deeper into my faith with Him. And I will not get to the end of my life and feel it has been a waste.
2018 is my self-titled Year of Joy. I am determined to pursue joy in my relationship with God whatever else comes. Perhaps I am beginning to realise that up until now I thought that joy could only come if a baby made its way into our family. I am learning that my source of true joy is God, and He can be (more than) enough joy for me.