Apparently, this week is National Infertility Awareness Week.
According to the National Infertility Association, 1 in 8 women have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy. And I am one of those.
It’s not something I talk about very much, but I’ve been encouraged by my sister-in-law’s example to start sharing more of my story with the hope that it will help someone else. Maybe you’re walking through the same thing, or maybe you’re trying to help someone you love walk through it. Maybe you just need some encouragement to share your story.
Whatever the case, I pray that this helps you in some way.
I’ve written before about my 2007 diagnosis of Wegener’s Granulomatosis, a rare life-long chronic illness. Long story short, it’s an inflammatory autoimmune disease that can lead to death within a year if left untreated. I had it for about 9 months before they figured out what was happening, and I likely would have died if my then-fiancé hadn’t been wise enough to get me to the hospital, stat!
The initial treatment for Wegener’s includes fast, high doses of a toxic immunosuppressant (ie, chemo drugs). At the time I was diagnosed, my body was so ravaged by the disease that I need some pretty intense treatment. Unfortunately, the drugs that were saving my life were also slowly killing my ability to create more life.
I am currently in remission and have been able to stop of all the Wegener’s-related treatment. But there’s one problem that’s still ongoing — one that is permanent, as far as anyone can tell.
I am barren.
And those are probably three of the hardest words I’ve ever had to utter.
As a result of the immunosuppressant, I started going into menopause at age 30. My chances of getting pregnant dropped to practically nothing at that point, regardless of any fertility treatments that were available. Yes, doctors can be wrong — and yes, God can make a 99-year-old give birth to a healthy baby boy — but in my case, that hasn’t happened yet!
While I wasn’t the typical girl growing up dreaming of getting married or having babies, I did want a family eventually. I wanted children to carry on our family name, to teach our heritage, to raise to be lights in the world.
Giving up that dream is like grieving the loss of a loved one. It’s burying a hope and consigning it to the grave. It makes you feel “less than” in a very painful, unchangeable way.
Yet in Christ I am complete!
It’s good and healthy to cry through the pain! But when the pain becomes all I can see, it slowly eclipses the face of the One who loves me more than life itself. When I fixate on my grief, I turn my eyes away from Him and reject His plan for my life. I begin to sink in the lie that says my desires are more important — that I know better than God what I need to feel fulfilled.
And it’s not just infertility that can do that. We can get so focused on anything we desire — good or bad — that it can eclipse the One who created us, who sustains us, who has the right to our total devotion. Marriage, children, health, career, recognition, peace and quiet, friends, money, possessions, talents, gifts… anything!
So, I want to make two points with this post.
First, don’t let your desires get in the way of God’s perfect plan.
He has the birdseye view of our lives: we just have the dashboard view. We don’t know what’s coming around the bend, or the twists and turns we’ll face a few months or years from now. Think of Peter trying to walk on the water: whenever he took his eyes off Christ, he started to sink. And we’re no different! Whenever we take our eyes of the Giver of Life, and look instead at the waves surrounding us — trials, limitations, inadequacies — we start to sink down in their depths. But when we keep our gaze on Him, then He upholds us with His divine strength and His power is made perfect through our weakness!
Your hope does not rest in having children, getting a better job, moving to a better neighborhood, finally getting recognized for your skill, or anything else. Those are good things to desire, but they matter little in light of eternity. Instead, pour that energy into loving and knowing your all-sufficient Savior. When it hurts the most, find someone else to love. When you feel the most alone or misunderstood, seek out someone else who needs compassion and understanding — and pour it on them generously! Be willing to share your heartache for the sake of encouraging and comforting someone else.
Second, don’t underestimate the pain that others are facing.
It can be easy to rejoice with those who rejoice — but learn also to weep with those who weep. You might not relate to the specific struggle someone is facing, but we all long for the same basic things: acceptance, fulfillment, recognition, freedom, love. Stop long enough to listen, and you will likely hear emotions and soul-needs that you are already extremely familiar with.
Don’t miss the agony that lurks behind a quiet response of “no we don’t have kids (yet).” Or, “no I haven’t found Mr. Right yet.” Or, “no I don’t know when that next ‘life change’ will happen.” But don’t be fooled. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle! So the next time you start feeling jealous of that person who “has it all together,” stop your whirlwind of thoughts and take a moment to glimpse the the unshed tears behind the sweet smile. Hear the unspoken pain behind the quiet words.
And then love them hard! Go out of your way to show compassion. Learn to just be there without words, to simply let your presence be a comfort and strength. Help shoulder the burden that threatens to overwhelm them. Speak truth to them — the truth they need, not just what they want to hear (here’s a good example). Dare to be awkward in loving others.
I am 1-in-8 women — but I am also complete in Christ.
I still long for children of my own, and maybe someday God will allow us to adopt — but I don’t need children to feel complete. The pain is still there, fresh and throbbing every time I hear of a baby shower or an abortion. But I don’t need to wallow in the grief, and I don’t need to bury it either. Instead, I can learn how to turn that emotion into something useful, and use it to love someone else. I can keep my gaze on Jesus, despite the waves swirling around my feet, and let Him make something good out of all the pain.
He is my Good Shepherd, and I shall never lack anything that He considers good for me!