Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I got exactly what I wanted

Specifically: not to have children.

If my posts haven't indicated this, I've been doing a lot of soul-searching (and, I hope it will turn out, healing) over the last year or so.  I feel the earth shifting under my feet, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.  One supposes that's a good thing; and I have small flashes of insight, but I have no great overarching enlightenment.

The latest small flash of insight came to me last night as I was (belatedly) finishing my daily baby-Examen.  And I am going to take the scenic route to explain it.  

I have said before that I would have very mixed feelings if I found out I were pregnant tomorrow (not a serious possibility).  The mixture heads more to "negative" every year, as I become more accustomed to my life the way it is, and my desire for a child of my own shrinks smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror.  But it's not an uncomplicated "don't-want," for some reason.  There are lots of other things I generally wouldn't want: an(other) irregular PAP smear, a goiter, pantry moths - just off the top of my head.  I don't occasionally find myself paralyzed by the possibility that I might later turn out to have a goiter.  If a friend discovers she has pantry moths, I sympathize; I do not agonize.  Somehow, with pregnancy, it's all more complicated.

I interrogate myself, when I encounter these strange overly-complicated reactions.  "OK, yes, it would be bad news if being several weeks late meant you were pregnant.  It's understandable that you're apprehensive about how the test will turn out.  But you're also horrified that it might be negative.  You can't be upset about both possibilities.  Why would you think that?  It's not rational!"

I do not provide myself with particularly satisfying answers, but one conclusion that seems fairly confident is that a downside of my never-been-pregnant-and-never-will-be condition is that there is a blight, an incapacity, a shadow, if you will, on my life.  If I once saw those two pink lines, a significant portion of that shadow would be instantly lifted, never to return.  That means something huge and important entirely apart from the expectation that it will, some months later, result in a baby.  (Perhaps there are more rational infertile women, who see this issue entirely in terms of its effect on their ability to have children.  Obviously, I approach the matter differently.)  If I continue never to have that happy (?) news, I remain under the oppressive shadow - familiar, but still dark.

What I realized last night was that, at some point in the infertility journey - and possibly not all that far into it - I lost my attachment to a baby as an outcome.  (I have a near-pathological resistance to wanting things that are out of my reach.)  But that didn't protect me from the pain - as Brene pointed out, it never does.  What I did have was a profound, a keen appreciation of the ugliness of infertility.  Its twistedness.  Its absurdity.  Its poisonous attack on the very ideas that undergird the Christian life.  "For I know well the plans I have for you - plans to steal your hope, give you no legacy, make your attempts to live virtuously into a cautionary tale that renders the faith unattractive even to believers, empty your life of meaning, and rob your time of all that might make it valuable."  I could never find words to explain the whole of what I saw, but even the explanations I could manage seemed to outstrip the ideas of other infertile women, who often seemed scandalized by my perspective.

By the way - I was right.  They were just in denial.

I have lived under this shadow for years.  I know it intimately.  I know its banality and its malignancy.  I know its power to shut out all perspective, to make us forget how much worse things could be, and how many good things there are in our lives.  And I know its power to drive away blessings that seem to have nothing to do with it.  To poison holy days.  Undermine marriages.  Tear apart families.  I know its isolation of people who have asked nothing from those who reject them.  I know its wholesale destruction of the human spirit.  I know its power to maim, and even to kill - repeatedly (from the witness of others if not in my own life).  If this were a person, none of us would hesitate to assign it the death penalty.  It is a consummate evil.

I cannot know something so terrible and not want to be rid of it.  A part of my soul will always long to be free of it, as long as I live.  But more than I could ever want my freedom - after paying for this knowledge with so much pain, I want the truth.

If God allowed that I should have to live with this thing, there must be a reason.  An adequate reason.  Never has the word "adequate" demanded so much.  Even if He did not will this, if He so much as allowed it, in the expectation that more good could come of it than if it had not occurred (which is unimaginable - if all the childless women had been mothers, if all the babies who are not, had been!), there must be a reason - a reason as vast and pervasive as the terrible thing itself.  Everywhere its toxic fingers have reached, goodness, meaning, purpose must reach further.  And this reason, as it must be God's reason, is bound to correspond to the reality that is - not the good that could have been borne of this evil had I been someone better, stronger, purer than I am, but good that can be borne of this evil by a vessel as weak and flawed as I.  And as weak and flawed as is every other poor vessel who has had to carry this thing.

He owes me that much.  If I am morally obliged not only to have the life I have, but to claim to the world that in spite of all this ugliness God is good, and loving, and has a singular and precious and irreplaceable plan for each person's life including mine, then He has at least this much obligation - that those words must be true.  That this must all have meaning.  He owes me an explanation, and it will have to be staggering.  Bigger than anything I could possibly imagine, because I have a very active imagination, and I absolutely cannot come up with anything that would come close to being enough.

And if I were pregnant tomorrow, then He would be weaseling out of it.  He wouldn't not owe me the explanation - after ten years I have earned it, many times over, and that's to say nothing of the years and years of suffering that so many other women have endured - but by the idiotic shackles of Christian practice, I would be prevented from demanding it.

I would be expected by all my acquaintance to laud my "miracle" - the miracle of not conceiving for ten years!  I would be expected to show an overwhelming gratitude - for a decade of barrenness, because it was not two decades!  It would be demanded that I exceed all others in glorifying God.  But He wouldn't deserve it.  Not for that.  Because a baby tomorrow wouldn't give me back my ten years and they matter.   All the money in the whole world would not be enough to purchase ten years of a healthy life.  The value is beyond counting.  And if He wants to be God, if He deserves our reverence, our faith, our love, He needs a reason good enough for those ten years (and all the decades to come).

After all these years, I realize, as much as I've hoped for a reprieve, above all I live in a horror of cheap grace.  A parent doesn't get to abandon his child for sixteen years and then become father of the year by showing up and buying him a car.  I would argue that that's nastier than never showing up at all, but being willing to admit that you're a deadbeat.

And as I've seen more and more - and more, and more - infertile women conceive, or adopt, or both, I realize that it is becoming possible for people to imagine childlessness as something that will ultimately happen only to me.  (And, yes, there are other long-term childless women, even some beyond "reproductive age" altogether - but have you noticed that after infertile women realize that conception will not be happening, and conclude that adoption is not their path, they tend to vanish from the internet?  You're actually relieved they've left, aren't you?)  For an infertile woman who conceives (or adopts), the motivation is strong to believe that becoming a mother does not merely discontinue her pain, but annuls it, as if it had never been.  There are many rewards to this line of thinking - to seeing oneself as having suffered so that a dearly desired outcome can occur (as if infertility caused pregnancy); and to seeing oneself as the recipient of particular favor (rather than as the sufferer of a particular cross - a much less attractive self-understanding).

Although I cannot say so from experience, I obviously am convinced that much of this belief is self-delusion - a natural self-protective reaction of the brain, and not at all an accurate perception of how God is working in these women's lives.  As a logical matter, the only woman who is in a position to say reliably how infertility has been a blessing in her life is one who did not ultimately have a child, and who does not expect to.  (And I am not prepared to say that infertility has been a blessing in my life.  I am still waiting on that explanation.)

If I am correct that the infertility-was-worth-it-because-now-I-have-this-wonderful-child reaction is largely self-protection, then it will necessarily follow that people who believe this will be hostile to any influence that might undermine their belief.  (And this would be as true for atheists as for Christians, I think; atheists often want to believe in a benevolent universe even if not a god.)  This would result in, I would think, viewing anyone who has not crossed with them into the blessed condition of motherhood as either (a) someone whose "miracle" of motherhood merely has not happened yet; or (b) someone whose miracle is not happening because she does not share the special favor - in other words, because she's unworthy of motherhood.  And if we're all honest with ourselves, I think we can admit that these two things are both happening a lot.  Not universally - but with disturbing frequency.

I will not have all my suffering - and that of so many others, whether they now disown their suffering or not - made nonsense.  We as a (former) community should be pursuing this answer, which we all need, even if many are scared to want it.  It is now more comfortable, in the main, to sweep exceptions like me under the rug, and refuse to have the conversation.  But I won't shut down the conversation in my own life.

I don't need a baby, but I need God's "love" not to be what would pass for hate if it came from anyone else.  I need His benevolence to be real benevolence.  I have to hold Him to all His extravagant promises.  He didn't have to make them; but He chose to, and He doesn't have the luxury of lying.  He has demanded too much of me - and everyone else - to go back on His word.  I can't continue to tell others why they should believe in Him, why He is the truth and the answer, that He loved us enough to die for us and there is nothing He would not do to make us happy, unless it is true.  I will not be schizophrenic to cover for Him or anybody else.  This is the ugliest thing that has ever happened in my own life, and it's not even huge, like a war or a famine.  It's just a little thing: my reproductive system hasn't worked for ten years when it was supposed to.

If He can't make that right, make it meaningful, make my life more good on the whole with that than it would have been without that, then He is not God, and nobody is.

In the end, I have what I wanted more - because if I had had a baby, then I would have been prompted to live a terrible lie, a lie I probably could not have survived.  As it stands, of course, I don't have my answer.  I don't have meaning and purpose and healing.  I am locked in a fearsome struggle - but a struggle with at least the possibility of redemption.  If the benevolent God I teach about is who He really is, then perhaps He has allowed me to stay on this path because, some day, He plans to offer me an adequate answer.  That would be worth more to me than anything else I have ever wished for.


  1. At times I wish I could see you write, so I had a bit better of the idea of the tone you intend. I can reasonably guess, I hope, but I hope you also read my comments with charity as, I mean them with nothing but sincere interest in your life. I found this observation very powerful, if not simultaneously tragic. I've thought many of the same thoughts, for better or worse. If I get pregnant tomorrow then really, my life looks totally normal and perfectly planned. But then what do I do with these great thoughts of meaning and purpose and acceptance? I feel like I've been down that road before and frankly, it was shaming. I sometimes feel like a Buddhist (maybe?) detachment approach, or Christian acceptance really is the only answer. Because then you get in this "I deserved this and this is why this and this happened!" because you want it to make sense! Those people are doing the same thing! But at the same time, the consolation lies in US feeling in control. So basically what you're explaining is that, you feel in control because now you know what to expect. And anything taking you out of that control would really suck.
    So, I say beautiful post because it seems you really have found some place of peace. Tragic because, well, infertility is tragic. The creator of the universe is in a tiny box with no move that would really make you happy, because really, what reason in the universe could he give that would suffice for denying you offspring? The holdout for the possibility is powerful.
    And tragic again because of the (former) community comment. That the nature of the beast is that some move on and have mommy gatherings instead of infertility coffees. I'm just, sorry. That blows.

    1. You noticed that, too?

      As to putting the Creator of the Universe in a tiny box - I see your point, but I don't agree. If I were writing on a blank slate theologically speaking, then maybe, but we've got the whole Bible (and many more things besides) to deal with. I can't read every promise in the Psalms and everywhere else and either (a) lie to myself and say they have proved true for my life or (b) conclude that these promises are meant to apply only to people who are not me. (That's possible in theory, but then I would like a copy of the book that applies to me so I can read that instead.)

      I'm angry, obviously; I'm disappointed, obviously. I'm challenging God, not telling Him, "I trust you." But, back to the lying to myself - I can't have a healthy relationship with anyone (certainly not God) that consists of me saying "I trust you" when I don't and - in my experience - I can't. At some point, the other party has to ante up, or I have to cut him off. That's what healthy boundaries look like. God being God, I can't really cut Him off, and He is absolutely capable of anteing up. And He's going to need to do that.

      In short - though this is not a short response - I didn't put Him in a tiny box. He painted all the lines in my life, from the medical problems to the rules that say, "I have made you for a good purpose," and "suffering has meaning." It looks like a tiny box from where I stand, and I'm not willing to lie about that to protect Him. (If He needs me to protect Him, we have a problem.) If I didn't imagine my experiences (I didn't) and the precepts He has given us are true (I hope they are), then from some vantage point in His great big universe, all of this works out for Good. And He will have to find a way to convey that to me.

      Not too toot my own horn, but - doesn't my challenge mean I believe in a bigger God than if I let Him out of His promises that every life would be TRULY valuable and meaningful, crosses and all?

    2. Also: "I feel like I've been down that road before and frankly, it was shaming."

      I don't know which part of the prior sentence you're referring to, and I would be interested to hear more of your thoughts on this.

  2. Wow such a powerful reflection. I have been asking similar questions about infertility in my life. I do question whether or not I want to raise children sometimes because I am growing more comfortable with it just being my husband and I. I love how you pointed out the last 10 years of your life matter! I feel like the last seven years of my life matter too whether or not we ever raise children.

    This part struck me because I think it is true: "And, yes, there are other long-term childless women, even some beyond "reproductive age" altogether - but have you noticed that after infertile women realize that conception will not be happening, and conclude that adoption is not their path, they tend to vanish from the internet? You're actually relieved they've left, aren't you?)" I have been reflecting about if I should blog anymore or not. We are not moving onto adoption, foster care or the medical treatment offered by our Dr. For lack of a better phrase we are 'just being" right now. I feel that people are not comfortable with an IF couple just being and that many people would not read anymore because there is no "news" to expect anytime soon or ever. I cold be wrong but when I look at the popular blogs of IF women it is mostly the ones actively in treatment or who have had their miracle that are getting the comments or shared posts.

    Thank you for this. I always enjoy reading your reflections.

    1. I can't argue with that. People know what to do with "cycling" or with baby pictures. They don't know what to do with us. Obviously, I don't know what to do with me yet, either :).

    2. Quite honestly, I think most people eventually monetize or start doing affiliate links on their blogs, or they stop blogging. I don't know who sticks around in general. Blogging seems to have really changed.

  3. Infertility is a hard cross (I know, I had unexpectedly my only child at 41); I don't know why God allows suffering and I don't know why sometimes the blessing of a new life is given to people that will do abortions or abuse children. I reached some level of peace only when I was able to pray 'God I don't know why you say no but I trust you'. Now that I have a baby and I look back to my infertility years what I would do different would be to put at good use the gift of time/freedom/financial resources that comes when you don't have the responsability of caring full time for your own children. Time to nurture relationship with God and spouse, time to learn new skills, time to serve your neighbors and your community and to share with others your financial and personal resources. In other words infertile but fruitful. God bless you and a big hug.

    1. I've been going through infertility for 10 years too. Each turn in my time line seems to deliver worse news than the one before...just when I think I've figured out how to deal with my disappointments it grows 10 more heads. I cannot count how many times I have thought " Fine, if I am not supposed to have kids yet...let my life at least have MEANING and fulfilling purpose in the meantime." Most recently in the last 2 years I have realized that God will bless me with meaning as I seek for it, but the comment above opened my eyes. I will strive to use my time more wisely now..and use my resources in a more meaningful and helping my neighbors way. Instead of being like the monkey who is so focused on pulling obsessively and unsucessfully on what I want in the jar, and missing all of what God wants to give me in the meantime...if I would just look up. Thank you, I needed all of this today.

  4. Thanks for posting this. I share a lot of your feelings about children - yes, I love them, yes, I can now tolerate other people's pregnancy announcements, but after 11 years of just me and DH, I've kind of grown accustomed to our situation. (And I wouldn't have the first clue as to what to do with a child, but that's another story.)

    And while motherhood doesn't appear to be part of God's plan for me, I am going to keep blogging! I'm in a busy season of life right now and updates will be sparse for the next few weeks, but I'm still here.

  5. Can this suffering have meaning for you in the ability you have to minister to us who suffer similarly, but cannot express it as clearly? I admire you so much and find so much encouragement in your boldness. I want your book and seminar and small-group-sharing program to come to my town! :-) - Dawn

    On a side note, I found this quote that challenged my expectation of God. "Religion is actually not a crutch; it is a cross. It is not an escape, it is a burden; not a flight, but a response. We speak here of a religion with teeth in it, the wind that demands self-sacrifice and surrender. One leans on a crutch, but a cross rests on us. It takes a hero to embrace a cross.” Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

  6. I wholeheartedly agree that the division of one's life into "before my suffering was alleviated" and a "after my suffering as alleviated" (outside of entering eternal life, of course), is rejecting God's actual gifts and plan for your life. Life is not a slot machine. We're not putting in a quarter for each year of suffering so that we can eventually get the jackpot of a baby. We are being led, mysteriously, through a valley of tears, to eternal life. And if God's chosen are the meek, the poor, the compassionate, the persecuted, etc., who are we to reject that He would allow to make us so? Am I more humble because I wasn't allowed to have my heart's desire? Yes. Am I judged and looked down upon? Probably. Am I more compassionate? Yes. Do I seek now to minister to the hurting more than ever before? Yes. God is leading me to him. I thank Him for that. That is all there is!

  7. Hi! I wanted to let you know that I find your journey truly heroic. I am also an infertile Catholic and wanted to have a big family. But, I recently read a book called "Hungry Souls" by Gerald J.M. Aardweg. It is a book about purgatory and how these souls need the prayers and sacrifices of those on Earth in order to get to Heaven. I believe that if you offer up your pain of infertility to those poor souls in purgatory that you will help many of them get to Heaven as well as get yourself to Heaven. God puts things in our lives to get us to Heaven. Some people need to have children in order to get to Heaven and some people do not. Those who were blessed with children may have to rely on those children to get them into Heaven and not everyone who has children will go to Heaven. God is calling you to greater things. You could be a modern day saint! The only reason we are here on this Earth is to glorify God and get to Heaven. Once we are in Heaven we are all the same age and we are no longer related in human terms "mother and daughter" or "husband and wife". We will all be equally God's children, which if you think about it, it how it is on Earth too... God sends down souls to be children on this Earth. Even though the children are born to a woman they still belong to Him. They come down for a reason, just like how Jesus came down to sacrifice himself for us. Don't let the worldly temptations get you down, live for your home in Heaven. I know this is very hard in reality and people make snide remarks and judgments. The truth is that the devil is out in full force. He wants to make infertile women feel useless, when in fact we can do a lot of good if we unite our suffering to that of Jesus and Mary and offer them up to God. Don't let the devil use you. I hope to meet you in Heaven some day.


  8. Hello Child of God and not a misfit. I am so glad to know you through your profile on the blogger and the blog post. I am also glad to stop by your blog post and had an opportunity to go thorugh your post which is very touching. I am from Mumbai, India and have been in the Pastoral ministry for last 37yrs. Over the years the Lord has burdened out hearts some twenty years back to pray for the couple who are with out children. Since then we have been praying and amazingly the Lord has answered our prayers for some couples. We keep trusting the Lord for impossibilities. I would be so glad to know your and your husband's name so that by name we can pray for you. We have trusted the Lord and seen the fruits of it. We are also praying for our son who has been married for three years. Just a couple of months back his wife concieved but unfortunately she miscarried. She went in to depression for some time but recovered from it. We do not loose heart and give up. The Lord will fulfill the desire of your heart. So do not need to be locked in a fearsome struggle. He has answer to your cry. Pray like Hannah. Just want to give you a promise from the scripture. Psalm 112:9 please read it. My email id is: dhwankhede(at)gmail(dot)com and my name is Diwakar Wankhede. God's richest blessings on you.

  9. Trigger alert: 'miracle' pregnancy

    Wow this is a poignant view. Sorry I've just found it now. I see that it is true for your heart and your faith, and if that is the case, I hope you find what the reason for your suffering has been.

    I am also annoyed by the supposed annulment of long-term infertility pain by eventual pregnancy. Many 'former' infertiles talk that way, and I feel like it must be a coping mechanism to say that everything happens for a reason, etc. I had a successful pregnancy after 5 losses and 11 years of marriage, and society seems to want me to feel completely healed, otherwise I'm apparently not grateful enough. The truth is, I'm not healed and will be forever changed by the pain I went through. And I am still grateful. Becoming a mother did not fix the broken part of me, and it would be too much pressure on any child to expect it to. I still read blogs like yours because I relate more to your feelings than to the happily ever after stories that get thrown around. I'm so sorry for your struggle, but thank you for your honesty and depth of reflection.

    I am not religious. Not atheist, but not a member of any particular church. I don't think God/the universe gave me a successful pregnancy after years of trying as some sort of change in plans. I'm not really convinced there was a plan...simply biology at its messiest. But I refuse to think of the first decade of my marriage as wasted time. I enjoyed it, lumps and all. And the extreme anguish I suffered didn't need brought its own gifts of compassion (including self-compassion) and a letting go of the need for anything to make sense. I am a much different person, and different parent, than I would have been had we not struggled. Maybe that was what God wanted. Or maybe it was just a bunch of randomness.