If you read this blog, you’ll notice that there was a very long break between one set of postings and then when they picked up again. In 2009 I separated from my husband of 20 years for reasons that were deep, troubling, and irreconcilable. I won’t go into it in detail here. But when I went through the separation and the subsequent divorce, I can honestly say that I could see God’s design in not giving the two of us children.

I was, in fact, protected by God through my childlessness. Knowing that fact did NOT ease the pain of being childless, any more than having one’s leg removed to save one from gangrene or bone cancer eases them from the grief of losing the leg. People would say to me, “Wow, aren’t you glad you didn’t have children with him?”, as though somehow now I was supposed to only be glad about being childless. I could realize the benefit of being childless while going through that divorce, of knowing that I wouldn’t have any other ties that bound me to him, but that didn’t make me glad to be childless.

But through the last four years, I’ve continued to read the comments that were left on this blog. At this time, posts on this blog have been read more than 18,500 times, even though I stopped writing! It was very humbling, and a testament to the silent sufferings of women all over the world who struggle with infertility. And it was still a blessing to me to hear from women who were struggling, to hear their encouragement and prayers for me, and to answer them as best I could, even while trying to make sense of the changes in my own life.

Fast forward to 2013, and I’m newly married to a wonderful and supportive man, Dan! He also always wanted children but never had them, and so we are going through the exploration of “is it even possible for us at this stage of our lives?” It’s exciting, and it’s frightening. In a way , I’m mostly afraid of opening all these old wounds again and reliving the day-to-day experience of infertility and the struggle to conceive. I’m also afraid of introducing Dan to this particular type of pain and struggle. But we’re in it together, and blessed by God regardless of our circumstances.

So, I’m back, with all my thoughts, my prayers, my joy, and my love. Back in the trenches with hope and love in one hand, and maybe some extra knowledge and wisdom in the other, but always, through everything, covered in His Grace.

I was listening to my favorite Christian radio station this morning and heard a beautiful tribute to moms, “God made a Mom”. It lists all the sacrifices and contributions that mothers make in the lives of their children and all the ways that moms exhibit the qualities of our Loving God.

I love celebrating my mom and all the amazing things she’s been in my life! She is, without a doubt, an amazing woman full of love, and patience, and wisdom.  She’s worth celebrating 366 days of the year!

But I just want to give a shout out to all the other women, like myself, who are “childless moms”: We are the women who longed to have children and haven’t been able to.  Whether it’s because the right father hasn’t come along, or we’ve suffered a series of miscarriages, or have endured the pain of unresolved infertility, we have those same qualities and have yearned to share them. Many of us have become like the woman in Isaiah 54 who was encouraged to “stretch out the walls of your tent”. We have nurtured our students, the children of friends and neighbors, and our beloved nieces and nephews. We have loved openly and shared the maternal longings of our hearts with the world. We are the unsung moms.

Some of us won’t go to church this Sunday, because it’s painful to watch the celebration of motherhood and know that we are left out and forgotten. It’s too painful to listen to the children’s choir sing songs and put on skits, to watch the celebrations of the “oldest mom”, “Mom with the most grandchildren”, “Mom with most kids present”, “Mom with the most shoes”, or whatever silliness is contrived to let moms stand up and be recognized.  It’s indescribably hard to sit through a sermon that often so explicitly links the love and blessings of God to motherhood, knowing that those blessings were not extended to us, that while the minister is not speaking about us, we cannot help but feel his words are directed against us, as though he’s saying, “ I’m speaking of all the mothers, but Not You”.

Some of us will still go to church and weep silently and wonder why God never saw fit to bless us with children of our own.  Aren’t I kind enough? Loving enough? Strong enough? Giving enough? Wouldn’t I have been a good mother, too? These are questions that grind us down silently, because few people can know how to address this type of pain.

How can you address it? Send a note to a woman who mothered you even though she didn’t give birth to you. Thank the woman who mentors your children, who leads their Sunday School class or helps with the Girl Scout troop. Thank the teacher who makes sure you know when your child needs you. They are all mothers. They just may not have been blessed with children of their own.

So, I challenge you to listen to that sound file again.  If you can think of a woman who exhibits those qualities to the people around her, substitute her name for “mom” and thank God for making her, just as she is.

But to you, my Childless Sisters, I say to you: Keep being all the beautiful, loving, giving women that you are.  Look around at all the people you’ve mothered, and through your tears and pain, be proud.  I know you and I’ve seen you in action.

“Sing, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband,”
says the Lord.
“Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
your descendants will dispossess nations
and settle in their desolate cities.

When you experience infertility, it seems that every other woman in the world is pregnant.  I still have that feeling, but not just in that concrete obvious way.  I often get the impression that every thing, every comment, is geared to draw attention to my infertility and conspire to make me feel inadequate and a failure. 

A less-than woman.  A less-than person.

This has happened twice this week, two experiences that really stayed with me and left me chewing over them during my drive into work today. 

The first happened at the museum of fine art over the weekend.  My mother and I had gone to spend a day out together, and I was happily reading the little notes to the left of the paintings, when I read a description that I allowed to steal my joy away.  It read,

Famous Artist So-and-so considered motherhood to be the ideal expression of womanhood.

And then I read this article on CNN.com and the kicker phrase in this article states:

Having a baby is the ultimate bonding experience.

Comments like these only serve to accomplish one thing in my life: they make me feel that my experiences are condemned to be less than ideal, that no matter what I do, I can never have a full life, and that I can never fulfill the requirements of ideal womanhood.  They scream to me that I should just get used to the idea that I will never know ultimate bonding, that no matter how hard I try, I will never measure up to even the minimum standard.

I was turning these thoughts over in my head this morning, trying to reconcile them with my heart, when I heard the Holy Spirit say to me, clear as day, “Trish, that’s the world talking.  You know that’s not true for you.”

Wow.  Just let that sink in for a minute, because even as I write this, I have to pause and let my thoughts catch up with my beating heart. 

It is the world’s view, and it’s so insidious that it can influence even our best-intentioned Christian thoughts.  What makes it so seductive is how pure it seems on the surface.  Afterall, the world asks, what can be more pure than motherhood?  What can be more perfect than the bond between a woman and her children? 

It’s an illusion, a distraction, from the truth.  It’s Satan’s subtle way of saying, It’s a beautiful feeling, so it must be right.  By focusing our views and thoughts on childbearing as the ultimate and ideal , the true Ultimate and Ideal is overshadowed in our minds: God. 

It places childbearing on an untenable pedestal, makes it the new idol, the new theology of our society.  Even our values are now phrased in terms of Family Values, not God’s Values.

Christian women also fall victim to this seductive view of womanhood.  I know I have.  And I’ve had kind and sincere well-meaning Christian friends say they are praying for me that I would have children, “because you can’t really understand and experience God’s love until you’ve had children of your own.”

Talk about killing me with kindness!  According to this viewpoint, not only can I never attain the ultimate and ideal expressions of womanhood, I also will never fully experience God’s love! 

But Sisters, it’s a lie that motherhood is the highest calling of women.  It’s a warm, beautiful, and seductive lie, and to those of us who are precluded from it’s fulfillment, it’s a sharp and bitter sword that separates us from finding our true worth and purpose as women of God.

I have to remind myself, when the world tells me that I’m less than the ideal expression of womanhood, that God tells me that the ideal expression of my womanhood, the reason He created me, was to worship Him.  That the ideal expression of my personhood, above all, is to be Christ’s ambassador on this earth, to be like Christ.

To understand God’s love through the love of a child is a step in the right direction, and I don’t mean to take anything away from parents in this regard!  It’s a beautiful bond that cannot be imitated.  If you are a parent, please don’t take offense, but your love of your children, while strong and undeniable, is not the ultimate love.

Jesus said, If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  (Matthew 5:46-48)

I believe that in this passage, Jesus is saying, “It’s perfectly natural to love your children and your family, it’s the way you are designed.  But the true measure of your love is how you love those who are unlovely, who are not your flesh and blood, who are unloved.” 

Perfect love, as God loves, is to love super-naturally.  Beyond the natural.  That’s how God demonstrates His love.  Certainly, a mother can aspire do that. 

But so can a woman with no children! 

As women, we need to be careful about not letting the world set our standards.  As Christian women, we need to be especially careful of this, because while it is good to study and reflect on the qualities of faithful mothers and women in the Bible as models of earthly women who walked in faith and love, they are models for living, but should not be our ideal models for living. 

Our only ideal should be Christ, and the ultimate bonding experience that we seek should be the bond of relationship between our soul and God.

So while I may indeed be missing out on the experiences of motherhood, while I may indeed never fulfill the world’s view of perfect womanhood, I need not fear missing out on the Ideal or the Ultimate on account of my disease or my inability to bear children.

God is my Ideal and my Ultimate.

I tell myself that I understand that I’m not going to bear children.  I reassure myself that God has a plan for me, that I am not some horrible mistake, but that all this will work to His glory.  I even whisper to myself that maybe I have a mission on this earth to serve and love other women who have suffered as I have.

And yet, and even yet, I can’t help but hope that I’m wrong.  While the voice in my heart whispers, “Trish, trust Me.  This is for My glory”  the voice that swells from my empty womb pulls at every possible straw, looking for hope. 

Maybe my mission is not to be a model of how to live with the grief of infertility, it says to me, or to carry the message of Christian infertility to the fertile world.  Maybe I’ll be called to serve as a different model of God’s glory

Maybe I’ll be someone cradling an infant child while others look on and say, “God is so good to her!  Look how He works His miracle to overcome her grief and shame.”

How do I reconcile the irreconcilable forces of my undeniable infertility, and my indefatiguable fertile immagination?  And I can’t stop wondering whether or not this conflict exposes me as untrusting, as unaccepting, as unrelenting in my desires to live my life according to my own plan, and not according to His plan for my life.

I’ll be honest with you:  I’ve been avoiding posting on this blog site for weeks while I’ve wrestled with these thoughts and feelings. 

Over my Christmas break, it just so happened that right at the time my in-laws left Tony and I to ourselves at precisely what should be the right time of the month for a pregnancy to occur.  And I was rested.  And Tony and I, after ten days of houseguests and no privacy, were reacquainted with each other in a way that happens so rarely, and was so joyful.  To say we were like newlyweds, as so many like to say, would not express the same fulfillment anda  sense of knowing each other with that deep intimacy that comes after many years of loving Christian marriage.

I should have been happy and blessed just in my marriage, just to have that bond with my husbanda, and in the goodness of our relationship.  But with all those variables aligned like so many shining portents, I just couldn’t help myself.  I couldn’t stop from hoping.  All those years of pain and heartache, of living in two week cycles, of having my heart wrenched from me in tears, cramping, and bleeding, was no match for my irrepressable belief that God can work miracles in my barren womb, just as He has done in others, that maybe…

just maybe

…this would be the right time according to His mysterious plan for me to bear the child I’ve prayed for, for so very long. 

This hope was borne silently in my heart for two weeks.  I didn’t tell Tony, because I didn’t want to get his hopes up.  I didn’t even tell my best friend, who I can share everything with.  I kept it close and quiet, a whispered prayer between me and the Lord, a private, silent supplication to my Loving and Gentle Father.  Abba, please.    I was even a day late in my cycle, 29 days, which is so unusual for me, as I normally start after about 25 days.

Of course, you know how the story ends.  Eleven days ago, on a Sunday, while I was sitting in Sunday School class, God gave me my answer.  He said, No Trish.  Not this time.  To add a bittersweet punctuation to His answer, it came at a time when I was sitting in a class called Discovering Your Life’s Mission.

I don’t know what my life mission is, I just know that, it all likelihood, it does not and will not ever include motherhood.  And so I come back to my original question:

Am I a fraud?  If God says to me, in so many undeniable ways, that this is not His plan for my life, how can I say with my mouth, “Your will be done,” and in my heart beg Him to change His perfect and omniscient mind? 

And this is why I’ve not posted in so long.  I’m still sad, I’m still grieving, or grieving again, for my lost hope.  But that’s a feeling I’ve come to know very well.

What has kept me from posting is feeling a bit ashamed that I let myself go down this path again.  Like Lot’s wife, I looked back and not forward in obedience, and in doing so, I’ve tasted the salt of my own tears again.

I know that God will pick me up and dust me off again, that in His Grace He has already forgiven me and is just waiting for me to forgive myself and get back to work. 

But I did feel that I needed to share this with you before moving on from here, to mark this spot on my emotional map of infertility so that maybe I won’t come back this way again.  And also to let you know I’ve been here.

Hello Everyone!  I’m completely overwhelmed with the beginning of the semester, in addition to the fact that I’ve been under the weather this week.  But I came across this music video and wanted to share it with you.  In some ways, it’s a little trite, but honestly, I think it’s encouraging to hear the voice of an infertile woman across cultures and with a new rhythm. 

 More philosophical thoughts soon,

Trish

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.

This promise from Romans 8:28 is what I cling to in the darkest moments of my struggles with infertility.  The very idea that all this pain, and fear, and heartache, and disappointment can be woven through the tapestry of God’s plan to produce something good is both reassuring and unfathomable.

It’s a promise that I believe with my head.  Afterall, it’s consistent with everything I know about God’s workings through His Word.

It’s a promise that I belive with my heart.  I’ve had quiet moments of conversation with the Lord during which I can hear His Holy Spirit whisper and calm my anguished soul.

Sometimes, though, it’s a promise I have difficulty believing in my feet.

When the way is hard, and I stumble on the rocks and the broken glass that the path of infertility is paved with, it’s hard to keep my feet moving forward in faith.  Have you ever felt that feeling, when your feet hurt so much that you don’t feel like you can take one more step?  Or when the pavement is so hot that you can’t stand anymore with any poise or dignity, so you try desperately to skip across the surface without feeling the pain…and fail?  That’s what I mean by the challenge of believing the promise in my feet. It’s the kind of faith that keeps me moving towards maturity in my Christian walk, even when it hurts to go forward, and moving forward even when I feel the burning pain.

But it’s not just moving to keep from stopping.  It’s not simple avoidance of the appearance of failure that keeps my feet on this path.  It’s knowing that this path leads somewhere, and I need to know where that is, and what God’s promise holds for me.  He tells me that it is good, and I want to be there.

He promises that it’s good, but not that it’s easy.  It certainly hasn’t felt good to me, but He assures me through His promise that He will make this journey have meaning in His Plan.  Even if His plan for me never involves children of my own, I know He gave me the desire to love and to nurture, and that He intends for me to use it to His Glory.  He held me in the depths of my suffering and promised me that He would use it to work miracles in His Kingdom.  He can do that.

Somehow, through His divine will, the struggles of my infertility will reap a harvest for Him.  Perhaps through my speaking, or my writing, or my empathy.  Perhaps I won’t know until the end of my days what gave my life meaning in his Plan.  But I do know that I have to keep believing in order to reach the end of this journey.

I have to believe in His promises in my head, in my heart, but most importantly, in my feet. 

I’ve been rather consumed with the beginning of the semester, and although I’ve begun many blog postings in my head during my commute, I haven’t had a chance to actually commit them to writing.

 But this morning, while reading about what’s up in the blogosphere, I came across this post from Janna regarding an upcoming topic on the Tyra Banks Show, and wanted to bring it to everyone’s attention.  [Thanks again, Janna, for a great heads-up!]

I have taken the opportunity to write Tyra a passionate response about the show’s topic, while at the same time urging her (or, rather, her producers) to address the struggles of the infertile community with greater understanding and less divisiveness.  I encourage you to do the same, if you have a few minutes.

 Here’s what I wrote: 

Dear Tyra,  Please don’t air the show as described above!  As a woman who has been struggling with infertility issues for over eight years I can assure you that the tone stated in the above summary is devisive and demeaning to women who are dealing with the often conflicting emotions of infertiity.  We are pressured from every angle to successfully conceive and bear children, whether it’s our family members who keep saying, “but I want you to have my grandchildren” to the medical community that always has ONE more step to take, one more procedure, one more option.  The fact is that, as infertile women in this modern age of medicine, we are often not “given the option” of giving up and moving on with dignity and grace.  Every message we receive is cloaked in the unstated judgement, “maybe you don’t want it badly enough because you haven’t done x…”

Really, we rely on our friends to be truthsayers as well as supporters, but calling us “obsessed” puts us further in the shadows and alienates us from those who we desperately need to accept us and our trials. 

My husband and I are not longer trying to conceive, nor are we trying to adopt.  But instead, we are trying to find our purpose in this life outside of parenting.   But I can remember all too well when I could make no one happy at all with the decisions I made regarding my infertility treatments.  For some, it was not enough, for others, it was too much, and all I knew was that I felt as though I had to try whatever I could. 

Couldn’t you do a show addressing the issues and pain of infertility without marginalizing infertile women even more?  I would love to see some dialogue between infertile and fertile women whereby we try to establish that, even though we are infertile, we are still women; we are not less-than-women, we are not incomplete women.  We still have maternal urges that go unfulfilled.  We still want to know what pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering is about.  We beg our fertile friends not to keep us in the dark or at arm’s length.  We are not crazy.   We are often sad, desperate, cornered, guilt-ridden, and confused.

On another note, surrogacy or adoption is not necessarily the “cure” for infertility.  One can never regain the loss of the experience of pregnancy or childbirth, the loss of being able to see your husband’s smile in your child’s eyes, and the loss of knowing intimately a child you carried in your womb.  Surrogacy and adoption place children in your family, but can not completely resolve the pain and trauma of infertility.

Would you call a woman with a sick child, who tried to do everything possible to find a cure for that child, “obsessed”, and if so, would that have a negative connotation,such as in the case of your show?  Would you tell her to give up and get over it, to have another child, or adopt another child to replace her lost child?   No, of course not.  What you have to understand is that the children of infertile women are still very real to us, even if they are not realized.  To lose hope in having a biological child is to accept the “death” of that envisioned child in your womb, and to go through a period of grief and mourning for that potential of life within you.

If you have any other questions regarding the very real and crushing realities of being infertile in today’s society, please do not hesitate to contact me or any other infertile woman.   You shouldn’t have any trouble finding us: 16% of American couples have infertility issues.  We’re just never encouraged to discuss them meaningfully in public.  I believe that many women would welcome the opportunity to raise awareness of our struggles and how much we need sisterhood from those who are fertile.

If you are prompted to write a letter, please keep in mind that anything less that graciousness and rationality will only strengthen the stereotype of infertile women as crazy and obsessed.

Peace be with you all, and I’ll post something more personal soon.  Hopefully tonight, since I have some news.  [Before you ask, no, I'm not expecting!  ;- ) ]

With love,

Trish

It’s not that I didn’t reflect on infertility during the holidays.  It’s not that I forgot I was infertile for awhile.  It’s certainly not that I “got over” my infertility. 

I just never had a private moment to sit and collect my thoughts in a blog post.  I have scraps of paper with fragments on thoughts scribbled on them.  Little bits of inspirations, perhaps revelations, that broke through the cacophany of the busy days and nights, thoughts jotted down in the margins of church bulletins, on napkins, even one on the back of a realtor’s business card.  But the opportunity to transform those incomplete musings in a coherent blog post just never presented itself.

I had my MIL staying in my house, as well as our 25-year-old nephew, neither of whom I feel particularly comfortable sharing my innermost thoughts and feelings with.  My nephew probably just doesn’t want to hear about his aunt’s dealings with infertility.  He knows we’re childless, and he knows it wasn’t our choice, but I’m sure that’s all he cares to know any more about it.

The fact that I can’t share my experience with my mother-in-law, however, is very sad to me, because she, too, faced the pain and heartbreak of infertility.  I know from my husband that her very real pain stems from five or six miscarriages, a pain I can never completely comprehend.  I can’t imagine the pain of feeling life growing within me, and then suddenly dying away.  Five or six times.

But we never talk about it.  Our relationship has never been close, and at times it has even been combative, and the one thing other than her son that we have in common is one thing we never talk about. 

I remember one time, while we were just beginning to make the rounds of the fertility specialist, the labs, and the radiologist, MIL was visiting in our home.  Very hesitently, I broached the subject that Tony and I might be having “trouble” in that way, and that we were seeking help.   Her response, one I’ll never forget, was “You’re not going to have children, so stop saying it.  You need to accept it.”

I was stunned.

And then I was hurt.  And mad.  And indignant.  And unforgiving.

Now, five years later, as I have moved from active trying to trying to accept it, I think I understand her reaction a little better.  It was not entirely directed at me and my situation.  It was borne of her and her own difficulties, so many years ago, and yet still fresh and raw in the face of our difficulties. 

Perhaps, standing there in the hallway, she could smell my fear, and it stirred up her own fear and heartache from the unforgotten corners of her soul.  It might actually have even been the most sensible advice she knew how to give at the time, a kind of emotional ripping off of a band-aid quickly.  Say it quickly, and maybe it won’t hurt so badly. 

Of course, understanding her reaction doesn’t take away the affront of her response, but I am glad that I have reached the point of thinking beyond my own hurt, and considering the hurts of other women.

That’s a huge step in the healing process. 

So, my MIL was here for a week, and once again, we never discussed the topic of either her or my inability to bear children.  As always, we carefully avoided the issue, dancing gingerly around any mention of babies and children, never reaching out to each other to establish any kind of a common ground between us based on our experiences. 

And whatever reflections on infertility that I happened to jot down in church bulletin margins and on paper napkins remained tucked away, waiting for a few moments when I could let down my guard and even admit to these thoughts and feelings.

For now, our only voiced commonality will be her adopted son. 

In my forays in blogland, I often come across great jewels of wisdom in unexpected places.  For instance, I don’t expect to find great empathy and understanding for our hurts as infertile women in a blog that’s primarily about a young family with four children.  In all honesty, it’s the kind of blog that I generally shy away from when I’m feeling fragile. 

But then I came to this entry, a wonderful commentary on how our expectations in life often don’t live up to our realities by God’s design, how even when we go looking for a room in Bethlehem, we sometimes find ourselves in the stable.

So, I ask you, do you find yourself in a stable? Did you come to the holiday looking for rest, for comfort, for peace, but instead find yourself troubled, cold, and isolated?  I know that many days, that’s exactly where I find myself, complete with scratchy hay in my ears, and quite frankly, a bit of manure on my shoes.

If you read the whole post, and I hope you do, (and believe me, I feel your flinch as you stumbling past the references to childbirth and delivery), I hope you don’t neglect to read the footnote in italics below the body of the post.  This note states that many scholars believe that, although Mary may have given birth in a stable, she probably had female members of her family present with her at such a critical time to assist her.  Many of the mothers who commented on that post commented on the fact that they were comforted by the fact that Mary hadn’t been alone during childbirth.

I’m just comforted by the fact that Mary wasn’t alone in the stable.  And if I allow God to light a lantern in the darkness of my stable, and I look up from the dirt of the stable and around, I can see the faces of the many beautiful women who are the members of my family in Christ.  For no matter what hardships or uncertainties drive me to the stable, I am not in the stable alone.

There’s no doubt about it: the holidays are some of the hardest days to handle when you are struggling with infertility.  No matter how we try to focus our thoughts on Christ and God’s plan in the world, there is bound to be that incident, that comment, that moment when our grief breaks through and whisks our hearts away from the babe in the manger to the babe we wanted so much, and never knew. 

Because there’s not any getting around the pain of our infertility, we must learn to anticipate those occaisions that are likely to stir up those agonized feelings and learn how to cope with them when they face us down.  

I found this newsletter on dealing with infertility during the holidays on the RESOLVE website, and thought it was valuable enough to share with my readers.  In fact, I needed some of these reminders, too.  I hope that it gives you some help in dealing with the particular stress and pain that the holiday season can bring in its wake.  It’s a pain that our families and friends often won’t understand, but be assured, you are not alone.  Please keep me in your prayers, and I will do the same for you.

In other news, I have posted one of our new family holiday traditions on my other blog.  It’s a silly thing, but I have found that whatever brings me laughter and joy brings me one step closer to healing.  You know, whatever it takes…

What you’ll find here…

...is a Christian woman who has battled against infertility for ten years, and is now working her way through living with childlessness. I draw a lot of strength from my faith and God's promises to me, strength I need each day as I search for purpose in life.

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