For three and a half years now, I have walked life alongside infertility. At the beginning, the word infertility felt so cold to me, and daunting. Over the years, it has morphed into a familiar, stern teacher, not unlike Much Afraid’s guides in Hinds Feet on High Places. (Read that book if you have not.) The final years of my twenties and half of my marriage have been accompanied by infertility. Though unplanned and still rather unwelcome, I find myself grateful for the shaping this persistent teacher has brought in these days.
A disclaimer at the outset: I do not know your journey, so I can’t speak to it specifically. I share only my experience. I do not bundle infertility, miscarriage, and loss of a child into the same category. The dryness of a waiting desert is surely different than the tempest of loss. I do not mean to be prescriptive in what I share here, but I do hope my learning at the hands of infertility is not for my benefit alone. Lastly, the following is not what I practiced perfectly, or even consistently, but what I learned, aimed for, and found to bring the most life in this season of infertility.
And so I share with you four lessons from infertility, a teacher.
1. There are no areas of my life where Jesus should not be free to go; similarly, the followers of Jesus in my life should be brought into vulnerable spaces like infertility.
In the pages of the Bible, a common way Yahweh God interacts with women is through their infertility. God seems to obtain the undivided attention of His daughters through the closing, and sometimes opening, of the womb. My experience of infertility taught me that this painful, uncontrollable, and sometimes embarrassing part of my life is one of the most open doors for Him to enter and meet with me. When I appreciate how my infertility is out of my hands, that’s when my eyes are widest open and fixed on Him. This stepping in of Jesus into this space is not unique to infertility; His character is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Jesus is free to meet with me in my infertility, and He is desiring to go there to communicate with me about His love and faithfulness. It is the same for any corner of my and your existence that seems too-without-life for the Life-Giver to make a difference. Indeed it may be where He speaks most.
In contrast, I have observed and experienced that there can be a conversational “no fly zone” when it comes to infertility. Perhaps fear of offense, perhaps awareness of an inability to relate by experience, or perhaps discomfort stop short the questions that often show care and concern. And I understand it, I do. People don’t want to overstep their bounds. But as Jesus should be welcomed into my infertility, the followers of Jesus who know me need to be in this part of my life. As is often the case with painful topics, advice isn’t really the most beneficial; however, conversation, the knowing and being known of talking, can be quite healing. The conversations might be awkward. My answers might be tear-filled and painful. But there are also surprises for both of us. Perhaps you will be the hugging arms that show me how present Jesus is with me. Perhaps I will share some life from the lack-of-life I’m experiencing. There are troves to be shared that silence keeps under lock and key. Still, infertility has taught me that I can, even with great difficulty, take proactive steps to not walk the infertility in isolation. “I really want to be a mom, and sometimes I’m afraid it’s not going to happen.” “I don’t understand what’s wrong with me.” “Do other people think less of me because I can’t get pregnant?” Real statements and questions I have brought before other souls, because infertility has taught me that the beautiful way of Jesus means no part of my life has to be closed off to Him or to my Jesus-community.
2. If God is trustworthy, He’s trustworthy when I don’t get what I want.
Not long into my infertility, I brought a lot of questions before God, mainly in regards to my worth and what I deserved. Did God not think I would be a good mother? Was there some cosmic lesson I needed to learn first before earning the right to get pregnant? Was God testing me? How could I know God to be loving if He did not grant me this very good desire?
Thankfully, gracefully, He answered these questions with a definitive statement about His character, about Himself. “He withholds no good thing,” (Psalm 84). He withholds no good thing. It is fact. Fact I did not always feel. But a fact I tried, day by day, to believe. My lack of pregnancy was not Him withholding good. He withholds no good thing. Not one good thing. So each day I was without a child, He was giving me good things. Would I see it? Some days yes, and some days no. “He gives good gifts to His children.” It’s who He is.
In retrospect, I see I was (and in many ways continue to be) facing the first lie Eve encountered. “Did God really say?…” The temptation to doubt God’s love for me, because there is fruit I’m not able to taste. Doubt what He has said about Himself because there is something I want, just out of reach. Did God really say? Infertility taught me that a good day often involves saying, “YES! He really said…” and then inserting whatever truth is being affronted. “He really said He withholds no good thing from me!! And I WILL believe it.”
3. Sadness can coexist with other emotions.
The thing with infertility, is that it becomes a constant state, a way of being. So the sadness of it can start to permeate everything, every day. But we don’t have to experience only one emotion at a time. With the heartache and hardship in the world, how could any of us ever be anything but sad, angry, or terrified, if we were only allotted one emotion at a time? In therapy, I often talk with clients about this, about allowing their “negative” emotions to coexist with the myriad of possible “positive” emotions. Infertility has been an ironically fertile ground to practice what I’ve preached in this regard. One of my best friends became pregnant during my infertility. The day she told me she was pregnant was also a day I was sharing with her the insecurity I felt about my infertility and the dread of having no control of when I would become a mom. She cried with me. I squealed with her. And that felt like the right way to grieve, pairing it with celebration. Similarly, in the months of us beginning the adoption process, all three of my sisters-in-law found out they were pregnant within six weeks of each other. Because the sadness of infertility is always present, there was a temptation to let their good news become only a reminder about the sadness that was there for me, whether someone else gets pregnant or not. I’m thankful for a husband and a God who directed my eyes to the worthy-of-celebrating life in each of them. (Unexpectedly, we brought our adopted daughter home before any of them gave birth, and the three of them have been some of the kindest, most intentional pursuers of my thoughts and feelings on infertility and being an adoptive mom.)
Rejoice with those who rejoice. Mourn with those who mourn. In the same day if need be. God has created us as incredibly complex emotional creatures. Praise be to Him that we are not limited to primary colors of emotion, but blue and yellow and red can combine to create nuanced hues not limited to solely sadness as long as we have cause to be sad. Joy can be chosen, perhaps not in pure experience, but in actions and thoughts that add a warm tone of color, changing the shade of a day.
One way which I have found that helps me choose joy is a shift of perspective. It has occurred to me that my current life, regardless of hardships, is the life some woman in the world is dreaming of. Yes, I’m infertile, but I have a kind husband and a roof over my head. Yes, I have emotional struggles, but I have eyes that can see beauty and I have more than one friend I can call on a phone that I own if I’m having a hard day. There are enviable things of my life that a darkness like infertility can tempt me to overlook. To someone, somewhere, I’m living a life they only dream of. Gratitude brings things back into perspective and I can choose joy for those gifts.
A hug. A cup of tea. Making a meal in a kitchen. Eye contact with someone I know. Listing daily gratitudes.
If nothing else…
“Celebrate His death and rising,
Lift your eyes, proclaim His coming.”
4. Regardless of the details, today matters.
It was a turning point for me, over a year into our infertility where I had the realization that the trauma clients I was meeting one day, I would never have met if I had got what I wanted nine months ago. These interactions with clients were special to me, and I’m so honored to be welcomed into their lives. But over a hundred of them wouldn’t have ever crossed my path if I had gotten pregnant on my time. Though I had not gotten what I wanted, infertility taught me that God had ordained purpose for each of my days. Some days it felt like a weak consolation prize, but I could still look someone in the eye and know that it mattered greatly, for it was God orchestrated.
God calls me into my days; if something is missing, it’s not what he has called me to today. If I’m not pregnant, that’s not what He has for me in His intimate foreknowledge and grace for me today. It may seem over simplistic, but when I struggle, I find I cling to the simple.
“In Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
Yes, I can trust that today matters, even if I don’t feel it.
Because of Jesus, light comes into darkness, life comes from death. Eden, the name of our daughter adopted one year ago, means “fertility”, among other things. Born three months early and left for dead, she has over the last fourteen months become lively, happy, healthy. The juxtaposition of her life and my continuing infertility is a daily reminder of how Jesus can put life in the middle of lifeless situations. Even infertility itself can be a life-giving teacher, because of Jesus.