Wednesday, December 1, 2010

New liturgical year, old calendar year. All difficult.

So about a year ago I wrote a list of resolutions for 2010. I was going to repost them here and note which ones I had accomplished, but after re-reading, I am too depressed. The successes sound impressive: I was supposed to do more non-work reading and I've joined a book club and well surpassed my goal; I wanted to get into better shape and though I've not gotten quite as much exercise as planned, I am in much better shape; I was struggling to find a spiritual director and now I have one; I had been dreading dental work for years and now it's done.

But the prayer-related resolutions (other than spiritual direction, I guess) were not only failures, but I rapidly forgot that the resolution ever existed and made zero efforts to fulfill it. I had written out the details, but I have deleted them because they upset me. I will be seriously thinking about the wisdom of such a list for next year.

This also prompts me to take stock of my year in more general ways.

I've realized lately that for the last few weeks or months I've been in A Phase. Rather than my general distance from/vague anger with God (yes, I tried stating it all to Him directly, and it doesn't appear to have helped - but it may help you, so give it a shot), I'm much more actively angry and much less hopeful about the possibility of having a fruitful relationship with Him. As I do more spiritual reading (which has been reasonably regular), I get angrier.

I started reading a nice book on St. Catherine of Siena (my patron saint for 2011). She talks, in just the first few pages, about how with greater love (of God) comes greater grief and suffering. What she means is that the soul will suffer more greatly on account of the things that grieve God (i.e., souls turning away from him), and the greater love will prompt the soul to do more reparation. I understand what she means. I have no doubt it's true. In the abstract I'm sure it's a great idea. If I'm being honest, here's my reaction. I am extremely distant from God. My love, such as it is, is hanging on by a thread. I am profoundly miserable, although I may be OK on any particular day. The misery itself makes it impossible for me to see how I could get closer to Him. The thought of drawing myself nearer makes me truly upset. I am angry with Him and I do not see a resolution; He has not repented, and I do not think I am capable of rejecting the priorities measured against which He has failed me. (I don't think this is a defect of character, or at least, not a deliberate one. I could say I'm not aggrieved by the things I've lost, out of piety, but I would be lying. Saying so will not help unless it is true.) Further to all of this, the authoritative spiritual perspective I am absorbing indicates that if I somehow grew closer to God in spite of all of these things, I would suffer more. I don't think I'm capable of making a conscious decision to suffer more right now. (I recognize that St. Catherine would - and in a later chapter probably does - say that greater love also brings greater joy, but since the love part seems impossible, this is not helpful anyway.)

St. Catherine also says that love for God necessarily means a desire to suffer (extra!) for the sake of the salvation of souls. I remember a time in my life when the salvation of souls was quite a priority of mine. Right now, ponder on the subject though I might, I can't seem to get passionate about it. I am sincere and impassioned in my petitions that my dear ones be spared greater earthly suffering - that a blogger not suffer another miscarriage, not be called on to suffer more and more months of childlessness than she has already borne, that a lonely friend find someone with whom to share his life, or a desperately seeking person find employment. My only regular petition that touches on the salvation of souls is for my husband to return to the faith. That intention is heartfelt, but I don't think it's because I fear for his salvation. Right now, I'm not capable of thinking that far ahead.

I understand that the bigger picture is the whole point. I can recite all the theology fairly well. I know, too, that if I could convince myself to see only the long-term goal (heaven), the short-term details (kids or no kids) would recede in comparison. There's just one catch. I can't see around the mountain in front of me at all. It's huge - enormous. It consumes my focus. This may sound silly, but I don't think I'm capable of taking an eternal perspective when the cross that wakes up with me every morning takes such a great majority of my emotional energy. I don't know how to relate to, let alone look forward to, a God who is the God I'm contending with now, today, in this struggle. I can recite the pretty theology about spending eternity with Him in bliss, but if He is the same fellow who minds my day-to-day, how can I just leap over this relationship and this experience of reality into one of which I have no experience? Based on what I see, the current questions are who He really is and whether it would be bliss. I don't have good answers, and I don't know how to skip that step without my faith being entirely empty.

"It could be worse" and "I have lots of blessings" - not helping at all.

So my present spot is far darker than usual. At the same time, for whatever reason, I am tempted by the thought that what appears to be a deterioration may in some way be progress. Perhaps this is true. We shall see.

I also realized lately that I have just a glimmer of the ability to peer through the looking glass from the other way. I was talking to an IF friend who is adopting, and was trying to say something positive about the degree to which our friendship will (inevitably) change when she has a child. In situations like this, my instinctive thoughts are so dark that I grope for platitudes that will defend me from having to say something horrible, or nothing at all. My grasp landed on "Well, you'll get to be part of the mommy group then, and go on play dates...what we all you'll have lots of friends around you."

Halfway through uttering a sentence I saw as tinged with evil (evil play dates. Evil mommies) I realized that it could be the truth. The bitterness-drenched images of the happy experiences I once thought to have really do have the power to bring happiness. I find them hateful and false because I will not attain them, and for me they are a mockery; but some will. The muscles that would allow me to say something positive and sincere about the IF journey were very rusty, and my comment came out hackneyed, I know. But I realized that I could say something genuinely good, and genuinely mean it, if I tried.

I wonder when I lost the power to think happy thoughts about getting out of the IF concentration camp, where I expect to spend the rest of my days. I have the germ of a theory that I developed a fairly wide-ranging insincerity (with a few exceptions) in saying nice things about babies and pregnancies at the same time I was developing a conviction that I had no right to tell the truth. I rail and rail about how no one has a right to expect us to make them feel better. How we infertiles are the aggrieved party in every relationship with someone who is expecting a healthy child; how they have their blessings, and we should at least have their consideration. How this is not a punishment from God. We're not worth less.

Many infertile women struggle very clearly with the conviction that they are valueless because they are reproductively defective. I am well-catechized and I can articulate clearly why this is not so. As a result, it never crossed my mind that I believed it. I have realized that I do believe it. For every time I say, "Confront that receptionist and tell her not to [unthinking behavior that is needlessly hurtful to infertile patients]! If you had a different illness, you wouldn't think twice!" - I have an opportunity to do something similar myself, and I do not. Once, or twice, in the last year, I have told the truth. Typically I grit my teeth and internalize whatever the grief is until I am enraged to the point at which no one could relate to me. Or, in social situations, I gloss over, smooth out, and evade, so that nothing unpleasant need ever be said. Some things are unpleasant, and they need to be said.

I have a friend who went through reproductive health issues (and is SUPER-fertile) who loves to talk about inappropriate social topics; for example, telling everyone at a (different, bachelor) friend's birthday party that her water was likely to break on their shoes. She is a very nice person. She should know better. She just doesn't. There is no law, anywhere, that says I can't tell her that I would prefer not to talk about her children, pregnancies, or deliveries. That I have already avoided being a guest in her home when I suspect these will be the topics (I was right, by the way), and that she need not value my friendship, but if she does, avoiding these topics will be the price.

I am capable of saying this kindly, if I don't hoard my rage until it consumes me. I could give her the choice between the baby talk and the friendship, instead of making the choice for her. I don't, because I can't fathom asking her to be considerate. So I quietly harbor daydreams that she is hit by a bus. If I were her, I would want me to be honest. Why don't I say so? Because I don't feel I have any right, and because I cannot even imagine a reality in which she would actually be considerate if I asked. Why not?

And of the two other couples with whom DH and I regularly spend our time...the newlywed couple is now expecting. I predicted this with great accuracy and have no reason now to be devastated. I am devastated anyway, far more than by bloggers' pregnancy announcements. I realized why: this young woman reminds me so much of me, before I was embittered and jaded by this process. And she has the light-hearted, hopeful, grateful view of her marriage, life, and vocation that I was supposed to have. I don't envy her her child, but I envy her that situation. If I somehow had a dozen biological children now, I would never get that innocence back. And I can't look her in the face.

Sharing this would be too much. The innocence itself means she will never understand it. She is tactful almost to a fault; they were very considerate in how they conveyed the information. I don't want to punish her, I just don't want to see her ever again. But I don't have that option. All my carefully trained habits say that I should be pleasant, avoid the subject, volunteer platitudes if it is raised. I don't feel pleasant; I want to crawl into a hole in the ground and never come out. Her news forces me to face all that I have lost, all at once. I don't want a baby so much, really; I just want to be a whole woman, a real woman, a woman created the way God intended, whose love for her husband is generous and fruitful enough to bring about new life. If somehow I were not going to have children, but I could have them...that would make a world of difference.

As I said, I can't tell her this. And I don't know what I can tell her, or should tell her. And maybe it's not her; maybe polite lies are the way to go with this couple, until we can slowly drift apart. But maybe with the next conflict, I can steel myself to say, "I'm so sorry to trouble you, but I have a very difficult time dealing with..." Words I want never to say. But if they're the truth, then shouldn't I learn?


  1. A few books I recommend, protestant, but still, good and thought provoking reading.

    "When I Don't Desire God" by John Piper

    and "Crazy Love" by Francis Chan

    As for last years resolutions- I applaud you for accomplishing all you did! My poor list is a joke, I may have fulfilled one goal.

  2. i'm curious how you see your life ever getting better. you mentioned that even if you could have 12 kids right now, it wouldn't help take away the bitterness. what would? can you imagine a situation? you seem to imply that it would take more than your infertility to be removed.

  3. I have great admiration for your honesty and strength. I wish you were not in such a dark, hopeless, angry place right now. FWIW, I do believe God is with you and loves you - and He is big enough that He can handle you being angry with Him. You are being honest, and you feel what you feel.

    You are in my thoughts and prayers.

    And I totally get what you are saying when you mention that having 12 kids right now still wouldn't take away the bitterness. There's grief in the loss of innocence, of faith even, that life will unfold "as it should." I don't know if that sense is a bad thing or not (maybe it's entitlement?) but I feel it too. I'm not sure I'd say the bitterness never goes away - I don't know - but you never again get back to the place or the person you were, full of possibility. On the other hand, perhaps it allows you to become a different person with other qualities - compassion, strength, whatever.

    Wish I had more wise words for you. I'll just quote my perennial "This too shall pass." (that's how I get myself through the days lately).

    Also, have you considered the possibility that you may benefit from medical help - ie. depression, medication, counselling, etc? Sometimes when we are low for a prolonged period, it really can affect brain chemistry and there is a physical reason for needing help. Just saying.

  4. "This may sound silly, but I don't think I'm capable of taking an eternal perspective when the cross that wakes up with me every morning takes such a great majority of my emotional energy."

    I don't think that sounds silly at all and I think all of us, if we are being truly honest, can way we've been there before, regardless of the particular cross.

    This honesty is brutal and raw, but necessary, I suppose. I, for one, can never seem to move forward until I acknowledge and feel the trueness of the situation without all the platitudes. It seems you are angry (or distant and removed) with God and that manifests itself in anger towards others and even towards yourself at times. Some arguable deserve it for never having consideration for your situation, but I think even if they could, it's just too hard for you because you see the world divided into the "haves" and the "have nots" and it is that situation, not necessarily or always the people, that causes so much pain and anger.

    And the whole having a dozen kids wouldn't bring back the innocence. Even in my current situation, I 100% get that. Even in the IF blog world, people see 2 pink lines and can immediately let their minds jump 9 months ahead and never look back or can look back with a type of affection I cannot. I have no ability to do that. It makes me feel like such a negative person who is always waiting for the bad news. I'm really not a negative person (I swear!), but I've always said my reality and their reality are different. Same with you. Innocence and naivete are things you only have once and once they are gone, they are gone. You could have a child and I could have a child, but it isn't going to erase the years of pain and struggle or change the fact that your life doesn't look the way you thought it would. That is something to mourn, but it is also something to move away from once you've mourned it lest you let it consume you to the point you fail to see the truly good things in your life.

    You are a fighter and this is an epic battle. Don't let the bitterness win because you'll lose everything if you do.

    I don't have any great words. I wish there was something I could say to take it all away. I truly do. But this is where you are and it is up to you to push through. All I can do is promise I'm here for you whenever you need and am always praying for you.

  5. wow, so much to think about in this post! i definitely struggle with feeling valueless- especially in regards to my fertile college friends. not so much in regards to bloggers who are (all) blessed before me- with them i feel more plain left behind, not necessarily valueless. to me there's a difference, not sure if it makes sense to anyone else.

    even if we get pregnant this cycle (can i get a big HA!!!), i think i will always have a hard time around fertile people. the way the parade their kids around and talk lightly about when to have another. i think it will always get under my skin because, even if they say they do, they will never appreciate their kids like i appreciate mine.

  6. I don't think everyone wants honesty. I think some people would prefer to live in their own little happy bubble and wouldn't like their infertile friend to burst that bubble. It's weird - but you hear it all the time. Fertile people who RESENT their IF friends for being sad while they're so happy. Who take it as an insult that you can jump and squeal for joy at every pregnancy announcement or potty training story. I find it incredibly selfish, but they resent having to restrain themselves. Not saying you shouldn't be honest, just saying that you may not get the reaction you're hoping for. I still think it's worth telling the truth though.
    You have said before that you don't even really want to be pregnant or want a baby. I understand how frustrating it is to know that our bodies just won't work, but I always have that physical yearning to hold a child in my arms. I'm a little curious about the answer to matchingmoonheads' question...

  7. don't know what to say but i'm here.

  8. I am sorry. Sometimes I want to say a bunch of different things, but in the end it doesn't matter what I think and my advice most likely not be anything that would help. But I can pray and I will.

  9. I should have responded to matchingmoonheads's comment before. The short answer is, I don't know. The best idea I have is that the effects of infertility (anger and grief and mistrust of God) would not be healed by a healing of the infertility itself (medically - fixing my system and/or getting me pregnant). That doesn't mean that they can't be healed at all ever (though I don't think healing means that it will be THE SAME as if none of this had ever happened), but I don't know how that happens. That's what I'm searching for.