Thursday, February 27, 2014

The closing of a chapter and the beginning of something new

Our journey with fertility, at least for the foreseeable future, has come to an end. And as we close a very long chapter in our lives, my heart is filled with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I feel relieved to be free from the stress and demand and expense and hormones of fertility treatments. No more mixing shots to give to myself. No more pills to manipulate my hormones. No more painful procedures. No more rollercoasters. In many ways, I have been defined, confined, and consumed by fertility—or rather infertility. And I get to lay that down. I’m free.

On the other hand, I’m laying down very real hopes and expectations that we’ll ever get pregnant. It’s possible that God could surprise us down the road. I pray consistently—and have for years—that He would heal my body. I fully believe He can. And maybe in His time, He will.

But it’s also possible that He won’t. Not because He can’t, but because He has a different plan. People like to say things like, “I bet you’ll adopt, and then you’ll get pregnant.” Or “I’m sure it’ll happen when you least expect it.” Well, maybe. Certainly I’m up for any surprises God wants to give us. But maybe not. I have two aunts who never had babies from their womb, but who cherished and loved and parented their children. People like to tell the stories of so-and-so who waited X years or who after adopting Z times, had a baby. But my aunts’ stories are real, too, and no less valuable.

This struck me most this week, when a friend of ours—who after 7 years of trying to get pregnant has adopted a baby—said to me, “I wish I hadn’t spent those 7 years agonizing and worrying over whether or not we were pregnant. Because now, holding my baby, he is mine, and I realize God never intended for us to get pregnant. That was never His plan. THIS is His plan, and it’s perfect.”


So, as I finish this chapter, I want to reflect on a few things I’ve learned. For anyone reading this who is struggling on this journey, I hope you’ll be encouraged:

1. God really is a good Daddy, and He withholds no good thing from His children. If you’re not able to get pregnant (now or ever), God is not punishing you. Fight that lie with the truth that He loves you, and out of His love for us, He gives good gifts.

2. Everyone’s journey is unique. Our deepest desire is to be known and understood, and even on the journey of infertility, there’s no pattern or script. Some women may have a child or multiple children and now find themselves infertile. Some women may get pregnant, but miscarry multiple times. And some women, like me, may never know what that “plus sign” feels like. And whether you’ve been trying for 6 months or 6 years, whether you have one child or none, whether you’re 35 or 25, your journey is no less difficult or painful—and neither is someone else’s. Our hope is in the truth that He deeply understands us and our own unique experience. He is El Roi—the God who sees, and He knows our story personally.

3. People mean well, even when their answers seem pat or trite. Women like to encourage. We do this on all levels. When we’re married, we tell our single friends to just wait and God’s best is coming—like we know what their journey will be. We tell them they have to be completely content to be single, then God will bring their spouse. And we like to give these success stories of ourselves and others who waited X years but found the perfect someone. And so, in that same vein, women—especially mothers—like to tell trying-but-not-pregnant women to just relax, to just wait on God’s timing, and to just be patient.These pat answers used to make me angry—because, again, I felt misunderstood. But here’s what I’ve learned: people really do have good intentions. And even though just saying, “I’m sorry” or “That’s hard” could go a long way, people—normally mothers—don’t know what to say to us, the trying-but-not-pregnant. But the motive is almost always to encourage and uplift. So receive it as truth, or let it go, but don’t be offended. It’s not worth it.

4. Be grateful. This is a command to myself and a charge to anyone on this journey. Be grateful for your spouse; be grateful for your life. Be grateful for any good thing you have. On this journey, it’s easy to be consumed by the negative—the prayers unanswered, the hope deferred, so be intentional to find the good gifts in your life for which you can be grateful.

5. And finally, it’s not my fault. And it’s not yours either. This has been the hardest lesson for me personally, and I am finally free from the guilt and self-blame I have carried all these years. For some couples, it’s both the man and the woman who have fertility issues—and again, everyone’s situation is unique. I used to secretly wish that was our case because Howell was perfectly healthy, and I had all the diagnoses and “issues.” As a result, I carried all the blame. And although Howell never once blamed me—and has, in fact, tried repeatedly to reassure me of the opposite, I always felt responsible, like it’s on me to create this miracle of life! 

But I have learned to battle those lies with His truth—that grace is really in spite of me and not because of me, that His love is great and gives and is unconditional; it’s not based on me or my performance at all, and that my job is only to believe and trust—not do. Because of the finished work of the cross, because I put my faith in what Jesus accomplished in that, I am whole, complete, perfect, lacking nothing. He bore my guilt, my shame, my punishment—and I get life instead.

If that’s a struggle for you—to blame yourself—I encourage you to really release that guilt and let God fill your ears with His truth of your identity in Him.

For three years, this has been my journey and my identity. Infertility has defined me. But it doesn’t, and it won’t, as we go forward. I want to walk in the fullness of all that He has for me, and I want to see myself as He sees me. Not being a mother—especially when it seems most of the people in my life are mothers or soon-to-be mothers—has made me feel inadequate or like I am not enough; I have nothing to contribute. But that’s a lie; that’s not walking in my true identity as whole, complete, lacking nothing. May this new chapter be about letting God—not infertility—define me as I step into the fullness of all that He is calling us to do.

So my heart is expectant as we begin a new chapter. We have cried and grieved, but we are excited to live the life God has for us today. I don’t want to spend 4 more years agonizing over the plan God has for us. I want to walk in the fullness of His plan today. We don’t have children yet—that’s simply a fact. So what does God want us to do now, how does He want to use us in this season of life—before we have kids? That’s the journey I want to embrace!