How are you doing? It’s been a while! I’ve thought of this space often. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to write; I have. So many things have fought for this precious place over the last couple of years including the thought that now I have a child, perhaps my voice on this subject is no longer valid. But today, as I find myself once again surrounded by the familiar strains of infertility, I find I’m back with that cathartic compulsion to unburden myself here once more.
Because these days, I find myself returning increasingly to feelings that were far more familiar before my pregnancy with Hope three years ago. You might think that having a child after so much wanting would bring a sense of closure to our story. Who am I to think I get to keep talking about this stuff when I now have what I dreamed of, right?! Let me ask you something: are your dreams small? Are they limited to the very least that you hope for? Mine aren’t, nor have they ever been based on seeing the answers to my prayers occur just once. Although there are times when I’m made to feel to the contrary, just because I’m no longer childless (and words cannot express my gratitude for that), it doesn’t mean I’m free now from the burden of infertility or the heartache for more babies. And to my shame and regret, I now realise how little I understood this or had compassion for mothers when my arms were empty.
My biggest hope for 2021 was that it might make room for us to celebrate another pregnancy, though I remember the faltering hollowness in my voice as I confided this desire to a friend last autumn. Instead, I’ve spent months chasing, waiting for and attending gynaecology appointments. Oh, how weary I am of the sinking displeasure in discovering that yet another medical problem has been found and that the ongoing fight to be seen, heard and treated will remain. Don’t get me wrong, I’m insanely grateful for such easy access to excellent, safe, free medical care and I’m grateful the issues aren’t life-threatening. I’d simply rather not be needing the help at all, especially while our medical experts are struggling to cope with the aftershocks of a global pandemic.
But it’s so much more than the misery of medical investigations. Infertility is such a disempowering state. At its very root is a continual sense of feeling out of control – of one’s body, one’s life and plans, and one’s emotions at times. And don’t we just love feeling in control of our lives!? Isn’t that something that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light for so many people who have been totally side-swiped by enforced limitations on lifestyle and plans over the last eighteen months? I’ll be honest, I felt a little smug as I dusted down my imaginary and well-worn ‘This is out of my control’ T-shirt and shoved it on, for at least such lessons for me and my infertility buddies aren’t especially new. ‘Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be broken’ is the mantra of the wise in such times. We’ve all been subjected to a prolonged lesson in how to come to terms with circumstances beyond our control over this last year or so, and generally it would seem that the desperate cry remains, “Get me out of this!” Infertility is no different, but for many there is no cure and no answers.
There’s also the constant waiting which infertility brings, and man, I haven’t missed that! I might be a little more patient now thanks to the schooling I’ve had here, but I don’t like to wait any more than I used to.
There’s the growing sense of being left out and left behind, and of suspicion, resentment and bitterness towards any other mother who is lucky enough to succeed in growing her family. Slowly but surely peers and good friends are moving on again without me and those old feelings of loneliness and jealousy are growing stronger, creating distance within friendships that had been safe, supportive harbours. I’m back in the brace position, wondering which friend is going to gut-punch me next with their unexpected good news, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but…”. I know what’s coming at the throat clearing and loaded pause, long before these all-too familiar words are tumbled forth apologetically.
There’s the knotty, exhausting, clenching of faith in God to remain the good, faithful and wide-awake Presence that I know Him to be. There’s a beautiful sense of just how very good motherhood really can be and the longing to do it again. There’s the repeated, determined knock to confidence, identity, hope, marriage, self-worth, joy and peace that requires constant refilling to try to ward off any sense of lack, when a monstrous sense of lack seems to be daily snarling in my face, “I’m here. You can’t ignore me, sweetheart!”
I’m so weary again already, and I sense we’re only just beginning.
I had hoped, like many women before me, that having birthed one beautiful baby, this time further pregnancies would come swiftly and easily. So many people assured me it was likely. Several friends who struggled to conceive the first time have gone on to fire out a big brood with ease. Statistics for successful natural pregnancies after IVF are fairly encouraging. One close friend is now enjoying this fact for herself. But there are also the more solemn stories from other friends. Those who longed for more children but for whom it didn’t happen. Those who are still mourning very recent miscarriages and navigating the all-consuming grief of dashed hopes and physical loss. Infertility is never predictable and doesn’t neatly follow statisticians’ charts.
And for us… yes, we have a beautiful blonde flame of a daughter now, who cheers us daily and thanks to whom my grateful heart knows that anything is possible. I do not take for granted the utter, life-transforming joy that she is here, for there were days when we wanted to give up hoping that we’d ever become parents. It is not at all the same to be back in this place of disappointment, longing and frustration when one’s life is filled with the busy beauty of parenthood. But once again I’m sobered by the knowledge that children – and for us now, siblings – are not a right or an entitlement. And as I navigate the phone lines and corridors of hospitals, hating the waiting to secure appointments and results, trying to remain calm as I wonder what might come next and how long it will all take, I am battling the hideousness of feeling powerless all over again.
Because powerless is how all this makes me feel. It’s how it’s always made me feel. And when I feel powerless it distracts my eyes away from the joy around me and disturbs my peace. Suddenly I can’t find my focus. I can’t breathe. The chuntering of worried thoughts cranks up several gears and fears buzz loudly around like persistent, suffocating flies. My problems loom larger than all the promises of God that usually keep me grounded, paralysing me and preventing me from seeing the daily beauty which underpins everything. And most of all, my powerlessness reminds me that I cannot fix things.
How I wish I didn’t long to be self-sufficient. How I wish I didn’t need to rely on other people for help. How I wish that the experiences of infertility didn’t still leave me feeling scarred, scared and cracked wide open. I am having to remember all over again that powerless does not mean defeated. Being surrendered does not mean I have to cave to despair. I am revisiting old blog posts, turning over the ground I now stand on, reminding myself that there are good solid foundations of hope, peace and God’s faithfulness. More than ever before I know I can say I’ve seen prayers answered and expect to see more bear fruit.
But I’ve also learned, the hard way mostly, that certain seasons cannot be rushed no matter how much I want to kick against them or use my hands to push things along. Though I want to be pregnant again and settle back into that delicious time of growth and gathering, I have to look beyond my own longing to what God is asking of me at this time. And it’s hard, especially when other women seem not to need to walk this same path. It’s so difficult not to compare.
And so all I can do is show up each day, putting one foot in front of the other. I had hoped this was all behind me now, but apparently it isn’t. My resolve this time is not to fight. My inclination will always be to find glimmers of hope. My longing is to not be here for long again. But I am here. And I see you if you’re in this waiting room too. I promise that there will be blessings in this messy, mournful middle bit which leaves you with more questions than answers.
Courage, dear heart. Do not give up. Keep looking beyond your own longing to the One who knows it all. Though we may not understand His ways and His whys, we can be sure that His Word stands true, and He will have the final say.