Rachel, Hannah, and Me: Our “Great Anxiety and Frustration”

Apologies in advance for no house photos or renovation update. The house and I are at war today, and I don’t feel particularly keen on showing it off. What I feel like is burning it down.

I also feel like a fool.

Ever since Chris and I got engaged, I’ve been asking for people to pray for us to have a baby. Yes, I was 40 when we got engaged. Yes, I was 41 when we got married. Yes, I’m 42 now. But the fertility doctor I’ve been seeing this whole time (a NaPro surgeon for those tempted to suggest NaPro to me) has continued to assure me that all those things fertility doctors look for—hormones, cycle regularity, ovarian reserve—look great. I should be fine. No reason to think about my age. No reason to worry. Plenty of time for babies.

But, here we are, 14 months later, with every month feeling like a year, and still no babies on the horizon. And although I keep asking people for prayers, I am, again, starting to feel like a fool when I do that…and an old fool at that.

Back when I was still single, I wrote several news stories about infertility and adoption. I learned more about infertility writing those articles than most single people normally learn. That—combined with the fact that I was a single woman in my quickly passing 30s—made me think I understood much of what those struggling with infertility went through.

And I did…to some extent. Being single and 30 (or single and 35, 40, 45, or 50), wanting to be married and wanting to be a mother, while the biological clock steadily winds down, is a real and exceptionally heavy cross. It’s its own particular brand of suffering, and far too many women struggle through it these days.

But that cross, for as heavy and awful as it is, is not the same cross I carry now.

Back then, the pain was generic. I grieved the possibility that I would never be a mother.

Today, the pain is specific. I grieve the likelihood that I will never be a mother to Christopher Chapman’s children. That our love will never take human form. That it won’t become incarnate in a little redhead with curls and blue eyes…or a little brunette with curls and green eyes.

Likewise, back then, the pain was a dull persistent ache. Sometimes—on birthdays or at baby showers—it became acute, but more often, it was just there, a general sadness in the background of my life.

Now, the pain screams in my face hourly. It’s there in the morning when I wake up and take a vat of vitamins to keep my hormones in check. It’s there in the afternoon, when I’m downing fertility shakes and salads filled with so many superfoods that I don’t know why I’m not spontaneously reproducing on my own, with a child springing forth from my body like Venus from the head of Zeus. The pain is also there in the evening, when I really want a martini, but can’t, because someone on the Internet said it will throw off my adrenals…or something like that. (Nobody agrees on what you should and shouldn’t eat when you’re battling infertility, but everyone, sadly, seems to think martinis are bad). And the pain is there at night, when I’m taking even more vitamins and Progesterone and drugs and going to bed with my husband.

These days, infertility is my constant companion. It dictates my diet, what household products and cosmetics I buy, and even how I arrange my kitchen cupboards (it is embarrassing how much space is currently devoted to fertility vitamins and foods). Infertility also dictates my schedule. There are appointments with acupuncturists, appointments for blood draws and medical consults, and of course, appointments with my husband. Nobody warned me just how much time trying to get pregnant can take.

There are, of course, days of hope—days where the fertility signs are all there, when Chris and I are both in the same place at the same time, and when I start to let myself think that maybe, just maybe, this month is it. Maybe this month, the vitamins, walnuts, and flax seed oil worked. Maybe this month, we nailed the timing. Maybe this month, the egg was good and the sperm was swift.

And, for a little while, I live in that hope. I start to relax. For a week or two, the sight of pregnancy announcements in my newsfeed and random babies and pregnant women on the street don’t make me burst into tears. Because maybe this month, God heard those prayers.

Then, on Day 28, the bleeding starts again. And hope dies. On that day, barren isn’t just the state of my womb. It’s the state of my soul.

The days that follow are my worst days. Those are the days all my years of waiting and longing for a baby really never prepared me for. They didn’t prepare me for the cruel 28-day cycle of trying, hoping, and failing. Simply desiring a baby and not being able to have one didn’t prepare me for monthly mourning. And it definitely didn’t prepare me for throwing all our efforts, all our prayers, and all our hopes, into the garbage can every few hours.

The initial cold shock of grief, of course, doesn’t last much longer than the false hope. At some point, it too passes and becomes something else. I’m not sure what it becomes for others, but for this redhead, it increasingly turns into a hot mess of flaming rage.

On my rage days, I’m angry at God, angry at my husband, and angry at every person on the planet who doesn’t appreciate what an amazing, beautiful, and almost mind-blowingly magical thing it is to be able to grow a precious, unrepeatable human being inside your body.

I’m also angry at myself—angry at my uncooperative body, angry at my inability to manage stress, and most of all, angry for agreeing to sell our home in Steubenville and buy this bottomless money pit, which is draining the life and fertility right out of me. At my lowest point in the hope, grief, rage cycle (which today is known as “last night”), I just want to douse the house in gasoline, strike a match, and burn the whole money-sucking, stress-inducing, fertility-destroying bitch down.

I know. I am not handling this well. At least not today. Some days, though, I don’t feel like the lead character in Firestarter. Some days, I actually do okay. And I really am trying to do better.

For starters, I’m trying to remember that babies are blessings—not rewards for good behavior or rights to which I am entitled.

I’m also trying to give thanks hourly for all the good things in my life—my husband, my friends, my family, my work, autumn leaves, roasted Brussels sprouts, and so much more.

I’m likewise trying to use this childless season to love extra on my husband, who is patient, good, and wonderful beyond anything I deserve.

And I’m trying to offer up my pain for all my friends and family members who are struggling through cancer, job loss, injury, loneliness, poverty, sick babies, and dead children. Everyone has their cross, and mine certainly isn’t the heaviest.

Lastly, and most importantly, I’m trying to focus on Jesus, who loves me and died for me and makes himself available to me every single day in the Eucharist. I know he understands the anger, the guilt, the sorrow, and the shame. I know he is with me in this, and I know he wants nothing but the very best for me. I also know that what’s truly best for me may look different from what I think is best, and that I may never, at least in this life, understand God’s version of that word.

I do know all that. And on the days when the rage burns hottest, I eventually manage to cool it by looking at Jesus, hanging on the cross, and then closing my eyes and hanging there with him. Then, for a minute or 30 or more, we keep silent company with each other on Calvary. That helps

But even doing all that, it still hurts like hell. It still hurts more than anything I have ever experienced. Even more than junior high. And my junior high years were pretty darned awful.

So, what’s next? Do I keep asking for prayers?

I don’t know. But I do need them. I need people asking God to give me the grace to carry this cross with more wisdom, patience, and love. And I need people praying for the gift of a child for us, especially when my heart is too broken and bruised for me to even dare to pray that prayer myself. And for those of you who have been praying for me—for us—thank you. I’m sure those prayers are one of the reasons I’m not in jail for arson already. Your prayers have brought me more strength than I’ll ever know.

So yes, please keep praying for me. And pray for all the women and men who are trying so desperately to bring life into this world. Many of us don’t need unsolicited  advice; the Internet is overflowing with that. Most of us don’t need to be told to be grateful and trust; we are and we’re trying. And none of need to be told to relax and it will all just happen; if only it were that easy.*

We all need prayers, though. There are so many of us carrying the cross of infertility—the cross that Hannah, whose infertility drove her almost out of her mind with grief, called “my great anxiety and vexation.” Many, if not most, of those people are suffering quietly, feeling forgotten and misunderstood in the midst of all their baby-having friends and relatives. For them and for me, the only guaranteed help is prayer.

In the midst of all this, I think often about Hannah, and how so many of the great women of salvation history besides her carried this cross: Sarah, Rachel, Elizabeth, and Mary’s own mother, Anne. Someone once said to me that infertility is a cross of biblical proportions. And it is.

We who are struggling to conceive are, in a sense, an icon of the whole frustrated human race, made to be bearers of God’s own life, and yet thwarted by the brokenness within us. We, the infertile, can’t do the thing we long to do, the thing our bodies and souls were made to do, and the tears the infertile cry for our empty wombs and empty homes, are the tears the whole sinful human race should be crying for ourselves, for our failure to be the bearers of God’s image and life that we were made to be.

But, the good news is that Sarah gave birth to Isaac. Rachel, who cried out to God, “Give me children or I shall die,” gave birth to Joseph. Hannah birthed Samuel. Elizabeth birthed John. And Anne eventually held a precious baby girl named Mary in her arms. God’s grace provided. It healed. It healed them, and it can heal me, maybe not of infertility and rapidly aging ovaries, but of something much more fundamental.

I guess, for that,  I’m willing to keep being a fool.

*(As an aside, most of us also don’t need to be urged to adopt. Adoption is a good and beautiful thing, but it’s not a cure for infertility. Infertility is its own particular pain and adoption doesn’t just take that pain away. Besides that, adoption isn’t always an easy solution. It can be just as difficult or even impossible as conception. Chris and I would love to adopt, but for various reasons, it may not be possible, and that makes our struggle with infertility all the more painful. That’s true for many others as well.)

 

144 thoughts on “Rachel, Hannah, and Me: Our “Great Anxiety and Frustration”

  1. Matt Long says:

    Everytime I read an Emily story I am blown away by how fantastic of a writer you are. I am also glad Jess is sleeping right now because I would be embarrassed by how hard I am crying. My heart hurts for you both. I will turn up the prayers and offer up an item of enjoyment today. I hope you know how much we love you and Chris! Blessings!

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  2. Anna says:

    My cross is different from yours. I have children (many children some would say) and I am”young” and sadly, experiencing menopause. I don’t have a 2 week wait or a cycle day 1, but I do experience the round of emotions you spoke of so well. I have days of being grateful for the family I do have and even that I can have that martini, followed by days of sadness and days of anger at my broken body, 15-20 years older then it should be for someone born in the 80s. I will pray for you, that you have a baby. Could you please pray for me, that I could have peace? Bless you.

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  3. vsm says:

    Emily, I pray that God allows you to conceive, if that is His will. I don’t know if that is His will any more than you do. That is why I also pray He gives you the gift of discerning His will for you and Chris, in His own way and in His own time. Discernment is a gift He will always give, because peace of heart always flows from it. Your heart is disturbed, and that is never His will. Of that you can be certain. May God grant you the discernment to realize that He may want more for you than you yourself are asking for.

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  4. Marie says:

    Emily- our family has a mission to pray for those suffering with infertility. We will pray for you. All those vitamins and emotions….I have experienced them. It is a very lonely place. Please know you are not alone.

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  5. Trish says:

    Emily, thank you for this vulnerable post. I am grateful for the ways you unite your suffering to that of Jesus without overly perfecting yourself in the process of telling the story. Thank you for sharing your heartache and seeking the Lord in the midst of pain. You’ll be in my prayers!

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  6. melboe says:

    You have said it so much better than I ever could. I am 51 and have never been able to have children – and for one reason and another, we have never adopted. It is painful even now – and maybe more so – as my peers are beginning to have grandchildren. Living life in two week increments was torment, but there was a time where I came to an uneasy peace with our infertility. This new pain – the missing grandchildren, and wondering who the heck is going to pick our nursing home – is different, deep, and hard. It, too, will be given to Jesus. And I am praying that we are learning whatever lessons we are meant to learn. Blessings, my friend. I will keep you in my prayers.

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  7. Molly says:

    “. . . and most of all, angry for agreeing to sell our home in Steubenville and buy this bottomless money pit, which is draining the life and fertility right out of me.”

    Dearest Emily, these words certainly say a lot. Is there any way at all that you can “unload” this problem house and find something that will bring back your peace of mind and possibly your fertility?
    You are and have been in my prayers. May God bless you for your good work and grant you your heart’s desire.

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  8. Caroline says:

    Hi there Emily – I am committing myself to offering up 40 Rosaries for you and your husband and this heavy cross that y’all carry daily. One of these Rosaries I will be saying at the shrine of Our Lady of La Leche during an upcoming family vacation to St. Augustine, Florida. Thank you so much for your honest words, they are so powerful!

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  9. Amy says:

    Emily, your exact words were what I used to describe my many years of singledom. A dull ache most times with times of intense, searing pain. I felt like I was walking around with a limb missing, bleeding all over the place. Nothing made the pain go away, at least not for very long. I am not exaggerating when I say there was not a single moment that went by that I wasn’t in some sort of pain. I carried that cross every waking moment of every day – morning, noon, and night. I so understand the kind of crippling pain you speak of. I have tears in my eyes reading your post!

    Please know that you and Chris are in my deepest prayers.

    Blessings,
    Amy

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  10. Jennifer Rinaldi says:

    Hi Emily. I was diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure when I was 30 years old. I knew something was wrong but thought it was just stress. When I got the diagnosis, it felt like someone hit me in the chest. It’s a feeling that one cannot describe. I am now 38 and still have days where I despair, I ask God why my body failed when all of my friends have two or three children. Seeing all their pictures online is like a punch in the stomach sometimes. I am dating a wonderful Catholic man now and I told him about my inability to have children. In dating, I have found, most men want their own children and my boyfriend admitted that. We are talking marriage seriously and he is hopeful that perhaps we can get some help in this regard when the time comes. It’s so very hard to admit that to someone when you know they might look at you like some pariah. I can’t even really talk about it, the finality of it, with friends and family. They all say the same thing – you’ll have children. For me, I know better. I know you are married and I know that is very different. Please rest assured of my prayers.

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  11. Edward B. Connolly says:

    Emily: I am in Oklahoma City for the beatification of Stanley Rother (23 Sept). The following day (24 Sept), I shall celebrate Mass in Stanley’s home parish — Holy Trinity, Okarche OK. My specific and exclusive Mass intention will be that Blessed Stanley will intercede with God to grant Mr. Chapman and you a child of your own. Stanley and I were good friends in the Seminary. He needs a miracle for canonization. We shall see whether God chooses to honor Stanley by granting this request.
    By the way, this post of yours touched my heart and my mind. I was able to “feel” (to some extent) what you have been feeling. I remember a friend of mine (at whose wedding I officiated) telling me that, for the first two years of marriage, his wife wept every month. After two years and now, after 25 years and three children, she no longer weeps. She hollers occasionally, but no longer weeps. I guess hollering is to be preferred to weeping.

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  12. Zita says:

    Emily,
    I was in your same position, married late but was ready to marry during college. I married at 41 and after 7 years of marriage and taking my temperature every morning for 6 1/2 years because being catholic I said God will figure this out I’m not going the IVF route and besides that for the money I could adopt and have something at the end. After that amount of time and looking for the latest “cures” I tried DHEA an over the counter supplement, after reading a post on a IVF site that said some women in their fertility program were having spontaneous pregnancies with just the supplement. I tried it and one month later I was pregnant with my miracle, my son! That was three years ago!!!
    I know that it worked for me so don’t give up hope!!!

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  13. sonrie says:

    What you have written here is very similar to my own story. I am a bit younger, but still my body has it’s own issues that will most likely never bear a natural child. My husband and I have ultimately chosen to adopt (and like your asterisk: that was a conversation that took several years. He’s 40 now, so that also restricts how many children). I had always dreamed of a large family, and I try to take all the supplements, etc in the hope and a little of magical thinking that maybe, just maybe this is the month. I think it’s a mix of staying hopeful, trying to discern God’s will for me and a little magical thinking delusion that maybe life will turn out like I always wanted. It’s so hard when it’s not what you wanted but what it will be is not clear yet.

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  14. Carrie MacGillis says:

    I just want to say I can relate to everything you are feeling. I was there. It is horrible. One thing that kept going through my mind the whole time was something Dr. Popcak said to me once when I called his show with my struggles. He said he was sure that God would fulfill the desire on my heart for children. God doesn’t give you that desire for no reason and the desire is a biological, natural desire. What shocked me is that my desire was fulfilled but not in the way I expected. I ended up teaching homeschooled children and taught every age, boys and girls, a variety of races and abilities, with all types of unique needs. One day it occurred to me that “God has given me more children than I know what to do with! I have every type of child around me that is possible!” This realization allowed me to be so grateful and able to really look at each child as a unique human being with specific needs. I focused on how I could meet those needs and be a meaningful influence on their lives. This journey took many years and I have to say the desire was mostly fulfilled, it doesn’t ache so much. It did get better and not in the way I thought it would. So I think the trust in God has to be about trusting him to take care of the desire somehow. It may be with your own children, or in some of a million other ways. But he will not leave you to suffer without some kind of resurrection, I promise!

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  15. Kristen says:

    I’m praying for you too! I read your post the day I found out that I was beginning my 6th miscarriage. I was 6.5 weeks with my 11th (known)pregnancy. Your words were real and raw and I so appreciate your willingness to be vulnerable and open. I have 5 children and while I am so incredibly grateful for each one and would love more, I know that there are others who are suffering differently and more greatly than I am right now. I’m praying for you in my sorrow, and offering up the burden of this new grief for you and your husband. I will pray specifically that God will bless you with a beautiful little one to raise and love…and that if He does not, I pray He will comfort you and fill you with peace while also lavishing you with many graces to carry that cross.

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  16. Mimi says:

    Hi Emily! We are somewhat in a similar “boat” and the “club that no one wants to be in”… Me and my hubby just got married in May of 2015, I am in my 40’s and we have been trying to conceive “naturally” with no success… Can you please let me know who is your NaPro Surgeon (fertility doctor)… We are relatively new to the Pittsburgh area (north hills) and any prayer, help, input, recommendation(s), referrals, etc. etc. would be coveted by us! God bless you, my sister in Christ! Mimi

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  17. Laura says:

    Maybe it is time to shove the flaxseed and drink a bloody good bottle of champagne for trying so hard these last few months!! Won’t solve everything but definitely worth raising a glass to you and hubby’s persistence, patience and faith!! Xxx

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  18. Jocelyn says:

    I have been married 18 years, and have never been pregnant. We have been blessed to adopt 6 of the most wonderful children who are truly my own… but every single month I grieve that the love I share with my husband has not borne physical fruit. Every word you wrote found paydirt in my heart. It’s excruciating to be given the eyes to ‘see’ and be trapped in a body that can’t. I will pray for you, sweet sister in Christ. xoxo

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  19. Nancy B says:

    Dear Emily … as I read your letter my heart ached for you and your husband … I am proud of you however for carrying this cross and I am sure God is smiling on you both for being so open to life … I have often heard that parents who adopt are also blessed with a baby of their own but that cannot be the only motive To adopt … I’m speechless with advice for you but just want you to know that your honesty and pain touched my heart and I will be praying for you and your hubby that you trust in the Lord with all your heart and cling to your hubby as you enjoy the gift of each other each day … as a witness of His Grace in you… as you seek His Will for your lives … God’s blessings and my love for your sacrifice you offer to Jesus each day … Nancy Mc Menaman Sent from my iPhone

    >

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  20. Kate says:

    Emily, I am in solidarity with you here. Every time someone asks when we are going to have kids, I have to shrug and say “when God sends them.” It’s not my husband; he’s been tested and is fine. Supposedly I am too but I don’t have access to NaPro where I live. The blood tests and ultrasound my doctor ordered came back fine. It’s so hard to see all the pregnancy announcements and especially to see my cousin have two babies (not twins) when we were working on one. After two years, I was overjoyed to see those two lines this summer, only to start bleeding and miscarrying a few days later. I know God has a plan but I wish I knew it. Lots of prayers for you and your husband, from someone who is right there with you

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  21. Oriane says:

    Thanks for this raw, beautiful post. I’ll be praying for you and your husband. As one song says “Your ways are always higher, Your plans are always good”, although it can feel downright excruciating sometimes.

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  22. Meredith says:

    Dear Emily, I know your struggle. I married 1 month before my 38th birthday. It took 4 years, 3 surgeries (2 for my husband), countless pills, lab draws, and ultrasounds, 10’s of 1000 of dollars (because the surgery for male blockage is not covered by insurance), and 1 IUI ( I know, grey area of the Church’s teaching, controversial, and possibly a major sin – don’t judge), so that I can hold a precious little girl in my arms. But reading your post brings back the sadness and the anger, the days driving from the doctor’s office with tears running down my face, Muse screaming from the radio, and my yelling at God (at least I was talking to Him). At my lowest, when we found out my husband’s first surgery failed, we were in NYC, and I visited the Lady’s Chapel at St. Pats. There, I received consolation from Mary who reminded me that she understood my pain, for she too watched her dreams, her hopes, and her future joy die. Because what is infertility but a slow monthly death of your dreams, hopes, and future joy.. I also took solace in something a wise friend told me. “God gives us children not when we are ready but when the world is ready for that child to fulfill his purpose.” I will keep you and Chris in my prayers. (And yes, the state of adoption in this country is absolutely ridiculous.)

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  23. Teresa says:

    Thank you, Emily, for your wonderful books, web site, recipes and messages! I’ ll also pray for you and your husband so that you have soon a baby or two! It is really true, all importamt people in the bible, or almost all, have had to wait against all hope to have a baby, and God is allways doing miracles… and the most perfect man on earth is John the son of Elisabeth and Zachary! And they had to wait!

    But I also think that sometimes the baby issue should be seen from another perspective. I am a little bit older and have no children, although i would have loved to have some, actully I think I would have been a nice mother. But having a perspective, I think sometimes society and ourselves, we overestimate this issue. Actually the whole thing about IUI, with the embryo issue, or people that are single and have children, etc. is not a solution, and sometimes turns into a big burden

    Children are independent persons, we don’t own them. We all have to be mothers and fathers to the people around us, our own children and the children of other people.

    And when you look at the Gospel and the Catholic Church, the view is more open on the issue: in contrast to other religions and cultures where the ones without children are outcasts, where having children is so important, and the view on the issue is in a way only materialistic, Jesus has opened the perspective: there are people who don’t have children willinglly. It is true that vocation for that has to be involved, but it is an icon. And helps us to see that own children are no so important… actually many or mos official saints didn’t have children. This gives a perspective.

    Having said this, I think also, as somebody already said in this blogg, that when God makes you feel a wish very ardently, it is because it is meant to happen, this is something St Theresa of Lisieux once said. And she also said that the people God loves especially and he knows that love him very much, he gives them things much later. The people who have weak faith, he gives them things much earlier, us he knows their limitation.

    Count on my prayers!

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  24. Meghan says:

    Emily, I’ve followed your blog for awhile but have recently fallen off the internet-reading train. Something reminded me that I want to buy your book for my mom for Christmas which prompted me to come check out your blog. In September, my 21-month-old son was diagnosed with stage iii nephroblastoma. I wish I could say that I always carry this cross heroically, but today I am feeling particularly anxious, frustrated, overwhelmed, enraged and defeated. I want you to know that tonight I am offering my suffering for you and Chris and I will continue to do so in the future. Many blessings to you!

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