My mother was sick with Early Onset Alzheimer's for over 13 years and died 2 years ago this month. In those 15 years, I often shared through social media, blogging, speeches, and with acquaintances and dear friends about the unique pain of grieving a parent who is still alive and subsequently burying a parent you were already mourning and missing.
But for the last 8 years, I have not shared much about our fertility struggles. There were brief spurts on social media and even on this blog when I was brave, but it was fleeting. I think it's harder to be public about it because it is a wound that never heals, never scabs, never scars-it just keeps bleeding into every area of my life. Lifting the fragile bandages off this wound only exposes it to the callousness and lack of understanding of the world. So I only give the world glimpses and peeks under the bandage, afraid I will bleed to death if I am too exposed.
You see, when I tell people that my mother didn't remember my name, or know who I was, or couldn't talk or walk, they can briefly imagine their parent with such an illness. They can wear that grief for a second or two. But when I tell them I want to be a mother, and we haven't been able to conceive, people simply cannot forget their children exist- this grief doesn't fit, they cannot wear even for a moment. They cannot imagine a world where they long for parenthood because they are actively parenting in their real world. They cannot empathize their real-life babies into mere dreams.
When people cannot grasp the pain you are in, they respond to it in a myriad of hurtful ways. This includes, but is not limited to, telling me I was not meant to be a mother, giving bad advice, asking extremely personal questions about our reproductive organs, making jokes, and giving more bad advice. Many people have told me to relax. One woman told me I just needed to get drunk and have fun with my husband. Honey, we have lots of fun. One time, our pastor's wife asked me, whose "fault" it was that we didn't have kids. I did not tell her.
First of all, it is no one's fault. I have many conversations with God, many pleading, desperate conversations about our unfulfilled desire for children. Still, I am no closer to understanding why we have not had babies. I see slivers of purpose for this pain, but I have no flowery explanation to share with you. What I can tell you is that I trust God and His plan for our family - even if I yell at Him like an inpatient, petulant child. But what I will not tell you is anything clinical related to this journey. I might tell you about the many tests we both have endured, about the invasive ultrasound wands, the humiliation and pain of a hysterosalpingogram. But I won't tell you if we ever received a diagnosis. I will vaguely tell you that the ART routes we attempted were all blocked and that I believe that was part of God's plan.
But I won't give you any details. I won't share reports or doctor's words. If you are a praying person and want to pray for our family, this is not information that you need. It is information that many people want. I believe how we pray matters, I believe that doubt is powerful, and our words matter.
While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler's house some who said, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?" But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe." And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, "Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, "Talitha cumi," which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise." And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. Mark 5:35-41
If you're praying for me to be ok with a childless life, please stop praying; those are prayers I do not need. If you look at 8 years and only see a mountain of impossibility, I ask for you to search for a mustard seed. If that mustard seed cannot be found, I ask you to completely put our predicament out of your mind. We do not need the doubt of others in our ears or in your prayers; we battle in our hearts and minds enough without your intrusions. We strive to rid ourselves of fear, and only believe; to take all the doubts and doubters and put them outside.
But silence is not what I seek. I will admit that Mark and I have different needs, and I think silence is indeed what he often seeks. But ignoring the gaping wound provides no balm or comfort. People are uncomfortable with pain and grief and, therefore, purposely ignore and avoid it. I know many women who have lost children, they think about them every day, your mentioning their name is not protecting them, or bringing up what was not already on their minds. Every day I feel the absence of children in my life. I am not depressed or forlorn every single day. I definitely have moments of despair; holidays and the darkness of winter are hard. But I live knowing something is missing. I live expectantly. I have a beautiful, thriving marriage and a husband that can always make me laugh. I have friends who are like family and family who are close and caring. My life is good. And yet, it is missing something. I am filled with joy, but I hold grief in my heart. Life is a collage of contradictions. We exist in the 'and' of beauty and pain. We all do. I've gotten more comfortable with the in-between in recent years.
If you are expectantly praying and hoping for us, if you think about our struggles with sympathy, if you want to support us- let us know! Break the silence. A simple text or card doesn't upset me; it makes me feel seen and loved. Infertility is a lonely community- there are thousands of men and women in private support groups who quietly walk this path every day. You work with them, you go to church with them, but you don't know their daily pain. It is a private ache, and we are afraid that your lack of empathy will cause us to drown in the blood of our emotional wounds. But your encouragement applies pressure to the wound and strengthens our resolve.