When Ted and I decided to start trying to have children, I ordered an infant’s onesie in Astros blue and orange from Amazon. I decided that once I got a positive pregnancy test, I would hide it in a big pile of laundry and then bug him until he came to help me fold and put all of it away. I’d avoid the onesie and wait for him to pick it up and figure it out. And then we’d laugh and cry and laugh and forget the laundry.
For the last twenty months, the onesie has lived in several different hiding spots, wadded up into a wrinkled ball: the glovebox of my car; my purse; on a shelf in our laundry room. Now it’s in my bedside table drawer, stuffed underneath the binder we got from the infertility specialist’s office to hold all of our lab results.
I don’t really personally know any women who are currently dealing with infertility. A few months ago, a couple girls kindly and bravely opened up about how they were also struggling, but both have since become pregnant.
I wish I could say that the news that these couples were able to conceive encouraged me, but it only felt like that sensation you get when you miss a step on the staircase and you land badly on your ankle. I’ve watched dozens of families announce their first, second, third, fourth, and fifth children over the last few years, but these two specific announcements particularly felt like utter abandonment by God.
Because it doesn’t feel like a punishment, this never-ending cycle of waiting and disappointment. It just feels pointless. It feels like my heavenly Father is looking down at me from on high to say, “Oh, sorry, I forgot you were there. Tell me your name again?
We had a hellish spring this year. We spent more money and time than I want to think about fixing my car and undergoing tests at a doctor’s office. We were also trying to buy a house at the same time and it all just got way too overwhelming and expensive. I remember leaving the doctor’s office in Ted’s truck (because my car was in the shop for the fourth time that month), sobbing and holding on to his arm.
We eased into the Austin traffic and I finally said it out loud: “I can’t do this anymore.”
So we took a break. No more tests, no more appointments – not until autumn, we told ourselves. I just needed time and space to not think about all of it; time to not be sad. I’m still not sure if that was self-care or my way of avoiding processing my grief.
Eventually, things got better. The car was repaired. We moved into our new house with much thanksgiving and Ted encouraged me to use the third bedroom as a creative space, but I stalled. I wanted to make it into a nursery.
In September, a dear friend hesitantly asked me how I felt about what I was going through. I honestly wasn’t sure what she meant until she clarified: “You know…about not getting pregnant.”
I hadn’t let myself feel anything for months; now, autumn had come, and I still didn’t feel ready. So I laughed it off and said, “Same old, same old. It sucks.” Then I ended the phone call, because I wasn’t ready to jump back into that valley of fear and pain and anxiety.
January, I told myself and Ted. Let’s wait a little longer and go back in January.
We’ve talked seriously about fostering to adopt. We’ve actually always thought we would become foster parents at some point in the future, but not so soon, and only after we had some experience of actually being parents.
These are winnowing thoughts and conversations – they winnow the chaff of your selfishness away. You have to toss your dreams and wishes into the air. You must bid farewell to the possibility of ever seeing your husband’s laughing blue eyes in your young son. You must let go of the desire to see your grandmother’s thick, dark auburn hair – your own hair – on your daughter.
You start to research fostering and try to make peace with the idea that the whole point of it is to reunite children with their families; to love and raise them as if they are your own, with the knowledge that there’s a very good chance they won’t be.
That idea hurts worse.
So you look into adopting an infant outright and your lungs seem to deflate at the cost. A sliding scale of anywhere between $16,000 and $36,000, says one website.
You read stories of failed matches, of birth parents who change their minds at the last moment, leaving the adoptive parents heartbroken.
You read testimonials of people of color who grow up feeling alone and whitewashed in their families, who feel they were stolen (and sometimes, devastatingly, actually were) away from their real culture – even those who were raised by kind, understanding parents.
You read blogs of adoptive parents who must face questions like: “So, you just bought me? Why didn’t my real parents want me? Would you still have adopted me if you were able to have your own kids?” and wonder how they do it – these incredible friends of yours who foster and adopt.
If this is our path, you think, God has a lot of work left to do in me.
Research says that one couple out of every eight has infertility issues.
One in eight, and yet, I know of very few. Either I live in an exceptionally fertile social bubble, or people aren’t talking about their struggles. Or maybe both.
A friend of mine, who recently and unexpectedly became pregnant, wrote me a letter. This is part of what it said:
I don’t know what to say, but I’m here for you. And you may not want me. You may want nothing to do with the girl who was given the blessing you have waited faithfully for. You may want to unfollow me from social media…You may want to punch me straight in the face. And that’s okay.
I don’t know what to say, but I’m here for you.
I do want others to step in and help us to shoulder this burden. And that’s not to say that I haven’t had people with me through this – I have, and I am more grateful for them than I could ever express.
But I need others to know that I may not be “fine,” even when I say I am. I’d like to find solidarity. I’d like to provide solidarity for others who aren’t ready to open up.
I do want you, and others.
(Oh, and for the record: I do not want to punch any pregnant women in the face.)
During this season (of life and especially of the church year), I have struggled with bitterness and jealousy. I’ve wished that God would send us a sign or something to mean that we would be granted a child in the future. I’ve wished that we could at least see the end of our path; I’ve thought that surely, a loving God would at the least give us a definitive answer for the waiting we have endured and are enduring.
But these alluring thoughts are dangerous. God is loving and merciful and full of grace, and my unfulfilled desire to be a mother does not make Him any different.
Our church put on a children’s Christmas play this last Sunday. There was a young girl dressed as Elizabeth, the woman who waited, and a boy dressed as Zechariah, her elderly husband. We waited for years, they said. We waited for years because God had a plan. Even as they stumbled through their lines, their words rendered slightly inaudible by inexperience with a microphone, the truths of these stories were made new for me:
Maybe you’re not waiting because you’re forgotten. Maybe you’re waiting because He is better than the plans you’ve laid for yourself.
‘He is better’ is a mantra I’ve often repeated to myself in the last two years. He is better than health and wealth. He is better than a master’s degree or a dream job or a book deal. He is better than pregnancy.
He is better.
I wish I could say that I’ve convinced my emotions of this, but all I see is through a mirror, darkly. My mind knows it. My heart believes it. But my sinful nature whispers against me: It can’t be. Look at how happy everyone else is. He can’t be better than that.
But He is.
He’s got to be.