To couples and singles facing infertility, those words can sound like two atomic bombs. The air raid sirens begin to wail and everyone runs for cover as the date comes near. Those trigger words – babies, mommy, daddy, childless, single, pregnant – which sometimes fire blanks seem to be full of real bullets in the springtime month of May. All systems are on “high alert” in anticipation of a national “holiday” to celebrate infertility – oh wait, no, I meant to celebrate MOTHERHOOD. Whoops.
Actually, I really dislike the word “infertile” and “infertility,” so I think I’m going to stick to “childless”. No, I’m not sure that sounds much better. I guess it’s the same thing no matter what you call it – a stark reminder of what you don’t or cannot have and what it seems like you cannot give.
In this blog post you will hear some bombs that went off around me on Mother’s Day, and you’ll also feel the gentle night breeze that wrapped me up in reminders of God’s sovereign care. Such is the bittersweet experience of a christian woman walking this road.
SO, HOW DID I SURVIVE MOTHER’S DAY THIS YEAR?
As much as I wanted to stick my head in the sand, I knew Mother’s day was coming. Therefore, the date was circled in dark pen on my calendar as I counted down the days to avoid surprises. I wrote Mother’s Day cards to my Mom and Gran and my Sister-In-Law at least one week beforehand so that I could think clearly and really give them the thanks they deserved, before the air raid sirens were deafening.
I took time to reach out to other women who are in the trenches, some who have the trenches memorized and could crawl through them blindfolded, it seems, after years of experience (if you’re wondering, I DON’T have a map of the trenches yet). While the emotional bombs may not be perpetually falling, something I’ve learned from these older women is that the desire to be a mother doesn’t just disappear with time. One of these women told me last week, “Even just recently, just yesterday, I thought, “What if I got pregnant?! I’m in my 50’s!”. It might not happen, but it could happen, though if it happened it would really be God, you know? The desires are still there.”
Remembering what she said, I wrote to my Gran (who hasn’t had children of her own – we are related through Christ) who has expressed the same sentiments at other times. I wrote, “Mother’s Day is so bittersweet, isn’t it? During this day our hearts are happy to see mothers honored. During this day we can celebrate the blessings we have received through our biological and spiritual mothers. That’s the sweet. But then there is the bitter. The stark reminders of so many dreams, hopes and longings unfulfilled. How can a day of celebration be both so joyous and suffocating simultaneously? Though our personal experiences with this bitter-sweetness differ by circumstance and by our personalities and how we cope, I am so glad that we can behold the Cross together and say with the tenor of confidence that only the Holy Spirit can bestow, “Christ is enough!”. Because for all those dreams that died under the weeping willow’s shadow of disappointment there is an empty tomb testifying to LIFE and hope in our Risen Savior, who is the Redeemer of all death and darkness. In a miraculous way, we trust that every loss is gain and God will surely wipe away every tear, every pain. He will sustain us and He will be more than enough for us to maintain true joy. Thank you for sharing your journey and walking beside me on my own. Go and enjoy this Mother’s Day because it honors you! Meanwhile I will pray for the both of us that the sweetness of His fragrance will overpower the bitterness of loss and bring peace. Love, Sarah”
This was the most important thing I did – I prayed. I wanted God to show me how I can enjoy the joy of others rather than being entirely self-absorbed and swallowed up by wishing for what others have (coveting, right?). I wanted to honor those to whom honor is due and appreciate their sacrifices, as this is pleasing to God. I wanted to be able to hold the bitter and the sweet together and give both up to God with grace. I asked God to confirm in my heart my value as a woman despite my single and childless ‘status’ – my value as the woman He has made me to be in His own right, for His purposes and for His glory. I asked for broken, humble submission to be birthed within my heart. And I asked God to help me love others NOW with the love I desired and do still desire to give to my own family one day, rather than holding out on loving until the “perfect opportunity” comes.
I sometimes experience a deep ’emptiness’ and it drives me to God in prayer. I ask God to take a passion for Him and for the mission of sharing the gospel and to fill my emptiness with that passion. I ask for healing of the CRPS and restoration of my health in general. I ask for God to lead me to a man who is godly and who He is hopefully preparing to be my husband, but to also help me entrust this hope to Him and to fruitfully use this continued time of singleness which God has given me rather than spending (or wasting) it foolishly and frivolously. I just need God’s help. I’m weak. I do know, however, that my Redeemer lives and that He will have His way and I’m better off clinging to His promises, His hope, His purpose than to any other thing in this life.
As I have prayed, God has been faithful and gentle in His responses.
In the last month a few more women who are living through infertility have come out of the woodwork in my church. I was at a women’s meeting last month and two of the three women who spoke had briefly mentioned God working in their lives through this very trial. It wasn’t easy to make myself vulnerable and expose my insecurities, but I did. Over the next few weeks I went to both of them and began opening up a dialogue so that I could learn from them. I’ve benefited as I’ve listened to their stories – very different stories from very different personalities – and have received grace as they have patiently listened to mine. Knowing that they are praying for me is powerful, as they can pray for me in ways that others, to whom these trenches are entirely foreign, cannot pray. Though any conversations on the topic tend to leave me exhausted afterwards, I feel more assured that God’s goodness is displayed in His plans after I’ve spoken with these God-trusting women. They help me be a bit more patient with my grief and also encourage me to be honest with God, reminding me that God is big enough to take the weight of my emotions and to give me peace and contentment. Whether they know it or not, they remind me that I’m not alone. I see them as godly WOMEN. In my mind, I in no way put down their femininity because they could not have biological children, and as I give grace and compassion to them I’m able to better understand grace and compassion toward myself, which helps me extinguish Satan’s bullets and lies about my worth. Last week I asked one of these women if I could sit next to her in church this week. Just sitting near to someone who “got it,” even if nothing was said about “it” (and nothing directly was), helped me.
Do I Get a Flower Too?
I decided I would go to church on Mother’s Day even though I really wanted to skip. As I pulled into the parking lot I noticed more women – myself included – were dressed up in skirts with earrings than there customarily are on an average Sunday. I said to myself, “I wonder how many women dressed up more than usual like I did today because they are feeling insecure or how many dressed up today because they are happy and confident (with children or without), celebrating?”
I know how my church celebrates Mother’s Day and I think it is sweet. Mothers are given a flower or a cute cookie cutter or a decorative card with some little gift inside. The moment my wheelchair rolls through the front door of the church as I head towards the auditorium for worship has got to be one of the most challenging moments of the day. I’m single. I’m childless. I guess I won’t get a flower/card this year.
To a woman who longs to have children, the simple gesture can look like an otherwise invisible line of demarcation, a “no woman’s land” dividing “mothers” from “non-mothers”. Rationally, I realize the absurdity – a little card or flower makes no difference – but emotionally the link cannot be so neatly divorced. I tried (but failed) to avoid eye contact with the women passing out the cards this year, as if to pretend it did not matter to me one way or the other (God forgive me for lying in church. Was that a lie? I’m confused.).
Dorsey, a joyful and personality-filled woman whom I’d consider to be a young “church grandmother,” was handing out the cards and bent down to tell me as she handed me a card, “Thank you for being a godly example to our young women.” I don’t think I said anything, though I may have tipped my hat. I quickly slipped my card in my purse, almost unsure of whether I was supposed to have one or not. The card somehow felt like contraband. “Alright, that part is over,” I thought silently as I smiled a little because of the encouragement Dorsey had given me. Now I had a card burning a hole in my purse, however, and I wondered, “Does it have a poem in it about being a mother?” and vowed not to open it until I got home, and then only when I felt ready.
Typically something is said about mothers during the announcements and after worship or teaching, but the sermon isn’t usually given to the topic (for which I’m personally grateful – or I wouldn’t make it to church on mother’s day!). I give pastors and church leaders credit when they remember that Mother’s Day is both WONDERFUL (as it should be!) for many and difficult for some, and when the later point doesn’t escape mention. I knew some in my church were praying for those of us who found the day challenging for any number of reasons, childlessness (or “less-child-ness” for those who have a child/children but cannot have more) being only one of those potential reasons.
Ministry Should Happen Everywhere Christians are Gathered – Including the Bathroom…(but not just in the bathroom)…
I’m always amazed at how much ministry happens from women to women in the ladies’ bathroom at church. I’m serious! That’s where the tears are shed and hugs are given and prayers are prayed. There’s this unspoken rule that “what happens in the bathroom stays in the bathroom”. (So, if there are any gents reading, now you know why we take so long in there and why the ladies’ bathroom needs to be twice as big as the mens’!) I’ve been on both ends of that ministry many times in the last six (?) years.
This Sunday it was the tears of those mothers who had lost children or who were grieving because their children aren’t walking with the Lord hitting the bathroom floor, but not silently, because other women were there with hugs, tissues and prayers. When I went to go “powder my nose,” one of the women who was sharing her tears took a few seconds to notice me and said, “I know it’s a challenging day for you, Sweetie, but thank you for encouraging us all by how you persevere.” The other women around her joined in. It was a moment that touched me because it served as a reminder that in the middle of our own pain, we can still look beyond ourselves (as this friend did) to encourage others. I want to be like that. Another woman told me specifically how something I’d done has blessed her little boy. These little encouragements went a long way for me, reminding me that while I may never “mother” proper, I can still love as Christ loved, and my love needs know no bounds.
Sometimes Strings Just Get Plucked…and There’s Not Much You Can Do About It
I came home from church and crashed on the couch. By evening I was emotionally and physically spent, having tried to get extra sleep in preparation for Mother’s Day but having found myself in too much pain to get more than an hour of sleep the night before. I needed to get up and do my exercises as part of my doctor’s prescription to treat Dysautonomia and my chronically low blood pressure, and I needed to get out of the house before I went bonkers.
My friend, Mike, and I decided to go to the park to walk and as I started past my neighbor’s apartment I heard a whimper. My neighbor had found a kitten which she’d heard but hadn’t been able to locate for the last 48 hours. It had been crying and abandoned and we assumed the mother cat may have been injured. She’d called animal control to have them pick up the kitten in the morning, but I knew if the cat survived the night it would be a miracle. I’m a sucker for animals. I don’t like to watch any animal suffer (almost not even a cockroach – I said ‘almost,’ as cockroaches aren’t even “animals” to me). As I started to feel my instincts to care for the kitten kick in, I said, “Mike, we better get going” and tried to change the topic because I didn’t want to think about it.
When we got home, I couldn’t get my mind off that kitten and I realized I had a dropper for milk that was probably the right size, so I brought it to my neighbor. I helped her feed the squirming kitten who was having trouble getting the hint. I didn’t even want to touch it – it was too cute. “Please do yourself a favor and don’t get attached to this thing!!” I kept yelling to myself in my mind. When I came back inside, I sent Mike a text message asking him, “If you find out that the kitten died, please don’t tell me, okay? I’d be upset.”
At first I kinda beat myself up over caring about the kitten, but eventually I realized, “You’d care about this kitten and be sad if it died any day of the year. This happens to be exceptionally bad timing to be trying to care for a needy animal, however, so just take it for what it is and remember that sometimes things are just going to pluck those heart strings…and that’s life, and that’s okay.”
Just Gotta Get It Out
While Mike and I walked he noticed I was lost in my own thoughts. “Why are you puffing (sighing)?” he asked. “Oh, nothing you could personally understand,” I answered honestly and kindly, not wanting to burden him with problems beyond his league. We walked 5 laps instead of 4 today, but I still wasn’t able to work out the emotion through my exercise to the point where I found relief.
Instead, I remembered the years I’d worked so hard to improve my health for the purpose (though not the sole purpose) of being healthy enough to have children when I married. That was before I knew I had several other health conditions that make pregnancy very risky and before my health failed to an all-new low. After receiving my diagnoses and sorting through the implications with my doctors, I felt crushed. The years of hard work I’d put in with increasing hopes of becoming healthy enough to safely have children…didn’t work. And I remember feeling, well, “cheated” and learning that because God calls me to do something (take care of my body in a particular way) doesn’t mean he promises success the way I desire it or think He would give it. As I walked as fast and hard as I could, checking my blood pressure and pulse along the way while clinging for dear life to my walker, I prayed, “God, I know I need to follow this prescribed exercise plan, but right now it’s just reminding me of the times I’ve tried before to get well, and this time I have little hope that it’s going to help with MY goals. Help me. Everything hurts right now.”
I was glad when we were done walking and I went to the swing and swung for probably 15 minutes because I like the free flying feeling of the breeze on my face, then on my back, then on my face…. No matter how hard I swung on the swing nor how hard I prayed, the emotional aches and emptiness just wouldn’t leave. I wasn’t sad, really, and I could be grateful even as I told God how I hurt. One of the sayings I use which Mike most likes is simply “It is what it is,” and that was my general attitude, trusting that God’s will is best.
After warning me more than a few times not to swing so high, I said, “Mike, there are things in life that make my heart hurt, and the hurt in my heart is worse than the physical pain I often deal with. Sometimes I like to think that feeling physical pain – or swinging with everything I’ve got in me – could distract or cover up the heart pain. I guess it rarely does unless the physical pain is very bad, however. So if I hurt from swinging too hard tonight, at least it was because I was trying to accept my life and God’s provision and to be grateful instead of striving for what I cannot have or give.” He looked at me like I had 27 heads, which is approximately what I expected. Smile. “You’re right… I don’t understand,” he admitted as he looked at the moon.
I began to tell him what I think heaven may be like, why I think God made the moon, pondering what music in heaven will sound like and what God’s voice will sound like. He listened to my excited considerations. Thinking about God and His creation was refreshing – smelling the cool night air and noticing the blueness of the moonlight. “It’s amazing to me when I think that the same God who made that moon with the face in it and who knows all our thoughts and all our doings by day and by night, who made those starry big balls of fire, also made you and me. If He knew what He was doing when He made all of these, I’m sure He knew what He was doing when He made us, even with our disabilities.” My deeply philosophical moment was broken by Mike getting up and walking away with the flashlight, sweeping its beam from side to side across the ground. As usual in Mike’s company, levity followed as I joked, “What are you doing? Looking for doggie dung?” We laughed.
Whatever He Wants to Give Me
We got home and Mike said goodnight and went to his apartment. The card was still burning in my purse. I sat down on the couch with a deep sigh, staring for a few minutes at the purple and green stamped ink on the envelope. Then I opened it and read,
“Loved Beyond Measure….”We are women, and my plea is: Let me be a woman, holy through and through, asking for nothing but what God wants to give me, receiving with both hands and with all my heart whatever that is.” – Elisabeth Elliot”
I let the words sink in. I read it again. How fitting. By God’s design, I am a woman. I am loved beyond measure by the One who made the Universe. I want to be holy and I want my life to glorify God. I want what God wants to give me, whatever it is AND IS NOT.
Mother’s Day is for Women
Then I came to a comforting conclusion. Mother’s Day is a day to honor our mothers who God chose to give us life and to whom we should be sincerely grateful. It’s also a day to honor all women, God’s handmade life-nurturers and helpers. Mother’s Day is for you, and it’s for me too. Womanhood and motherhood were invented by God who gives good gifts. God notices the mothers who are barren yet who love all those whom God has put under their “tents”. See Isaiah 54:1-6, below. It’s not the title that matters, it’s the call to selfless love, serving others as unto the Lord.
1 “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.
2 “Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes.
3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
your descendants will dispossess nations
and settle in their desolate cities.
4 “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
5 For your Maker is your husband—
the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth.
6 The Lord will call you back
as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
only to be rejected,” says your God.
My Gran has been an amazing example to me of a woman who is a mother yet has no biological children. She’s loved many and has given her life to praying for and counseling several young women over the years. I praise God for her every day, for how she has richly blessed my life.
One Down and Recovering
So, that’s how I made it, between bombs and breezes, through Mother’s Day this year. And this blog post? It’s part of my recovery. Smile! I’m serious. It’s my “decompression” day where I unpack and unwind yesterday’s thoughts so that I can move on tomorrow. The kitten? I don’t know what happened, and I am not going to ask. Hopefully I’ll forget soon???
Thank you to all my friends for their support – my friends who are childless, or who wish they could have more, my friends who are single and waiting or married and hoping, my friends who are grieving lost children, my friends who don’t want to have children yet are sympathetic, and my married with kids friends who are sensitive to all of the above. You make living sweeter.
If you’re looking for a way to bless a friend who is enduring infertility on Mother’s Day (or any day!), check out this link.
Looking for encouragement on your journey? This lady’s blog has really lifted me up this week with lots of wise and sensitive posts on the topic, from one woman to another. For that matter, click through the hyperlinks within my post above – I think you’ll enjoy those too.
Finally, check out my friend Cindy Dake’s book, “Infertility – A Survival Guide For Couples And Those Who Love Them”. I contacted her through her website one day and her book has been the starting place in my lief for understanding infertility from a christian perspective. I cried through at least half of the book, finding relief in hearing what I was thinking finally put to words and explained. (Thanks, Cindy, for your friendship!)