Oh friends. Yesterday’s post was a hot topic. Before I address some of the comments and e-mails I received I want to clarify a couple of things about the other two ladies in the story. Those two young mamas are longtime friends, and neither of them had ever met me before. They are godly women, pursuing motherhood in the most honorable ways. And they did not know my story.
That is the point of my whole post yesterday.
Unless someone has specifically shared why they don’t have children, you don’t know their story. You don’t know the broken heart behind the fragile facade of a brave, but misleading smile.
Motherhood is a high and honorable calling, a priceless gift from God. And I understand that for many mamas, their whole world is wrapped up in the care and loving of little ones – as it should be. And I know that talking about breast feeding, diapers, potty training, school clothes, and picky eaters comes naturally to you, and I do not want to stifle your “mommy talk” or disrupt your camaraderie. I suspect that on some days the encouragement and companionship you offer each other is a vital part of keeping your sanity! *wink*
I want to be the voice of infertility in a way that honors both the mamas and the want-to-be-mamas.
There’s already a wall built up between mamas and non-mamas. That wall is built on the foundation of different life experience, different world views. And it is fortified by careless words, ignorant actions, sensitive hearts, jealousy, and bitterness. Friends, I want you to know that my heart, my passion is to tear down the walls that divide mamas from non-mamas. And I am fully aware that just as we have both built that wall, it will take both of us to bring it down. It will take heaps of grace, loads of forgiveness, intentional understanding, compassion, and a lot of hard work from both sides of that wall. Some mamas need to take off their mama glasses and some barren women need to take off their infertility glasses, and take a good long look at each other through the eyes of Jesus.
Consider how much we know about you.
Thanks to social media and modern technology, women who battle infertility have a front row seat to motherhood. Of course, we’re not active participants, so there is a lot we don’t know. But consider how much we do know about being a mommy.
- We know about the various options for delivering a baby: home/hospital, natural/medicated, C-section, etc.
- We know what color you picked out for your nursery, what kind of diapers you plan to use, and where you’re registered for baby gifts.
- We know that breastfeeding is painful, but worth it for some, and not worth it to others.
- We know that you stay up at night when your babes are sick or scared.
- We know that you get sick of loads upon loads of laundry when your toddler isn’t yet potty trained.
- We know that your children are your whole world, the delight and truest joy of your life.
- We know about co-sleeping, cloth diapering, and that some of you will vaccinate your children, and some of you won’t.
- We know when you’re ready to have another one, or when you’re finished having kids.
- We know when your baby learns to roll over, sit up, crawl, walk, eats solid foods, sleeps through the night, pees or poops on the potty, and graduates kindergarten.
- We know when your kids gets his or her’s first haircut, loses a tooth, outgrows their clothes, learns to ride a bike.
- We know your body changed when you had a baby. Maybe you lost the baby weight, maybe you didn’t.
- We celebrate you with baby showers, birthday parties, and Mother’s Day. And we’re happy to celebrate you and your little one’s life because you both are so very worth celebrating. Your child’s life is precious and your role as mama is invaluable.
This is a broad generalization, and I know that. I know that some share many details of parenthood while others keep their lives more private. But in general, infertile women have a fairly good grasp on the milestones you and your child experience as they grow.
But what do you know about the infertile woman?
As I mentioned yesterday, 1 in 6 women face the overwhelming and painful journey of infertility. Add to that women who have had abortions or lost a child, and there is a staggering number of women who wrestle with pain, frustration, fear, and shame. The odds are that you interact with and engage these heartbroken women on a daily or weekly basis, and in many cases you don’t even know it.
Let me tell you a little about what most of you do not know about me.
- My husband and I have been hoping, praying, and actively trying for a baby for the better part of 4 years.
- We have been diagnosed with “unexplained infertility.”
- We have undergone a total of six months of fertility treatments, spending upwards of $10,000 to be just as not pregnant now as we were a year ago.
- We wrestled for months over whether or not it was the right thing to pursue fertility treatments, and we have faced criticism and questions over our own trust in God’s will and timing.
- We have been asked why we think God is punishing us by not giving us a baby, and whether or not our miscarriage was God’s punishment for pursuing fertility treatments.
- We have been told to “drink the water” of (insert church, school, housing unit here) because everyone there is pregnant. We’ve been told to start the adoption process because then God will open our womb and give us a baby, and after all there are thousands if not millions of children who need good homes. We have been told to rub the sleeves of a fertile woman who has enough fertility to share.
- We’ve charted my temperature at 5:30 a.m., my cervical fluid, and ovulation test results for months upon months.
- We’ve changed our diet drastically in order to eat as healthfully as possible.
- I have been poked and prodded more times than I can count, from vaginal ultrasounds (those hurt, by the way) to self-administered shots in my stomach.
- I’ve been asked why I don’t have children, when will I have children, and how do I spend my day since I don’t have kids but am a stay-at-home-wife. We’ve been asked when we will start a family, as if my husband and I alone do not constitute a valid family unit.
- I”ve heard my entire life that God instructs us to be “fruitful and multiply” and that children are a heritage from the Lord, blessed is the man who’s quiver is full. And I’ve questioned if a quiver full is a blessing, surely an empty quiver is a curse?
- I’ve been told to “move on” and start living, get past the infertility.
- I’ve sat in my car on the verge of throwing up because I was crying so hard on the way to church on Mother’s Day.
- I’ve stood in my bathroom screaming and cursing at my husband when our first month of treatment was unsuccessful.
- I’ve hidden friends on facebook because seeing another picture of their baby bump, newborn, child, toothless kiddo, etc. puts a discontentment in my spirit that I know is wrong.
- One of the reasons we monitored with our fertility specialist three hours away is because sitting in my OBGYN’s office among all the pregnant mamas was too painful to endure every week, sometimes multiple times in one week.
- We have opened up about my menstrual cycle, my husband’s sperm count, and our sex life to our friends and family so they can pray for us with understanding and knowledge.
- I gained forty pounds in ten months thanks to the fertility drugs. And it doesn’t come off nearly as fast as it came on!
- Infertility has impacted my faith, causing me to question God and wrestle with His sovereignty. It is has impacted my marriage and sex life, and it has affected my relationships with those who love me the most: my family and close friends.
- I have poured over Scriptures to learn what the Word of God says about barrenness. Sometimes it’s comforting, other times it’s painful.
- In my darkest moments, in the deepest despair and depression I not only thought, but actually verbalized to my husband that I’d rather die than live a life without being a mother.
- And I’ve sat on the sidelines of countless conversations because when mamas talk about motherhood and babies, I have very little, if anything to contribute to the conversation. So I sit back as an observer, because surely redirecting the conversation to my infertility would be more painful than listening to their stories. I am often an outsider, an alien among my friends.
Some of you encouraged me to speak up, to intercept the conversation and redirect the conversation myself. That’s tough to do. Mainly because I don’t know what common ground we share. Mamas love talking about their children, so much so that often times I don’t really know anything else about them other than those things which relate to motherhood. I don’t know their hobbies, passions, desires, goals, or dreams apart from motherhood. Perhaps that is my fault for never asking.
Infertility is isolating. And part of that isolation is our fault: we withdraw from the majority of our friends and acquaintances in an attempt to protect ourselves from being hurt…again. But part of that is also your fault, unintentional as it is. When conversations are exclusively about motherhood and parenting, it is just that: exclusive.
To the mamas: I am not jealous of your babies, I want my own. I don’t want you to stop talking about your kiddos altogether, I want to encourage you to be mindful of the women you encounter who want to be a mama, but can’t. And I want you to know that often times they are there all around you, smiling on the outside so they can keep up appearances, but on the inside they are hurting, broken, wounded, and questioning their purpose, value, and worth. And often times you may never know they sit beside you in the pew at church, or behind you at the restaurant, or stand in line in front of you at Wal-Mart. But they’re there, hearing every word you say, the complaints, the praises, the pains, and the joys.
Who is responsible?
Who is responsible for the hearts of infertile women? Who is accountable for their bitterness, anger, frustration, hurt feelings, and worries?
The Bible tells us that we are each accountable for our own thoughts and actions. (James 1, Revelation 22.) To those of you who are my sisters in infertility: YOU are responsible for your thoughts, your words, and your actions. You will be tempted in every way, lied to by the father of lies, and challenged by hurtful words and actions. People say stupid, insensitive, and hurtful things. Sometimes intentionally, but usually they speak because they are unaware. And ultimately, you will be held accountable for how you react to them.
Scripture also tells us that as Christians, we are accountable for each other. (Mark 9, I Corinthians 8.) To those mamas who encounter infertile women, you also will be held accountable for your words and actions that cause a barren woman to stumble. Does that mean you cannot speak of motherhood? Not at all! It means that you must use wisdom, discretion, and compassion when you do.
If we’re going to narrow the gap between mamas and infertile women it is going to take strong women who are good forgivers, filled with charity and compassion for one another. Women who will scale well-built walls and bring them down piece by piece. Some walls come down with a big stick of dynamite. Others come down brick by brick, stone by stone.
Let’s do this together, even if it is the slow way. Even though it’s painful and tedious and tiring. It’s time.