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.)