My heart is full but my womb is empty.
I’m married to an amazing man. I know every wife probably thinks this, but I mean I REALLY hit the jackpot. Aaron was seriously injured at work four months ago. I walked into the emergency room to find him laying in a bed surrounded by first responders moaning, sobbing, and shaking. He was in incredible pain and facing overwhelming fear. And the first words out of his mouth to me were “I’m so sorry. Now I won’t be able to work. How will I take care of you?” This is his constant first thought; “how will I take care of everyone else?” A couple of days ago, our dumb dog chewed the flipper off a stuffed penguin Aaron bought for me on a very special outing while were still dating. Aaron is now back to work, having just started a brand new job about a week ago. His brain is crammed full of new information all day every day and he comes home exhausted and desperately needing some rest. But he walked in to find me crying over a stupid stuffed penguin and he immediately took out the needle and thread and spent the next hour and a half performing stuffed animal surgery. No one has ever loved me better than this man. I’m convinced that no one could possibly make a better father either.
I have the best friends in the world; people who support and encourage me, live life alongside me, and love me in my scum and sin and constant screw ups. And they’re pretty fun too! That’s not even including my family, whose goodness I don’t have enough time or ink to describe. I have infinitely more love in my life than I deserve.
I teach preschool. I’m surrounded by adorable, wonderful, compassionate, intelligent children all the time. I love them with my entire heart. When they give me bear hugs, dance around the classroom to Christmas music with me, or say, “Teacher, I love you,” my heart swells and I am overwhelmingly grateful for my job. There is no greater gift in my life than the gift of my students.
But still, sometimes I look at their little faces and wonder if I’ll ever know love like that from a child of my own and the ache threatens to tear me in two, sometimes right in the middle of circle time. Grief strikes at the strangest moments. A friend announces their pregnancy on facebook and my heart is ripped to shreds as I smile for them and feel simultaneous joy that they’re producing more life and love in the world. I receive an invite to a baby shower for a family member that I knew was coming and who I am so thrilled for and I burst into sobs. Sometimes the pain is so big, I feel swallowed up in it. Some days I’d rather give up and just enjoy my quiet life with my husband because it would be easier to know we won’t have children than to try and fail. Then at least I’d feel like I had some control over my own body. In reality, I have none.
I have PCOS; a vindictive disgusting disease that causes my body not to ovulate for months on end (among other symptoms). My husband and I have been trying to start a family for 14 long months and I have ovulated only twice in that entire stretch of time. For 8 months, my doctor told me to lose some weight, as if I would miraculously get pregnant as a reward for no longer being chubby. Guess what one of the symptoms of PCOS is? Unexplained weight gain and inability to lose it. I ate 1200 calories a day and worked out regularly and I stepped on the scale every morning to find that it had not budged even an ounce, that I was failing at this too, that I had even less control over my body than I had realized. I wanted to scream. Finally, I was diagnosed with PCOS. But then my doctor told me that in order to give me the medication that might help, he would require me to come in for an ultrasound once a month. Insurance does not cover infertility treatment and ultrasounds are horrendously expensive. And remember that bit about my husband being injured? He didn’t work for months. If we wanted to eat, we quite literally could not afford the treatment that might finally make my body work the way it was supposed to. I felt taken advantage of by the people that were supposed to care for my health. So I started trying to find a new doctor. But none of the doctors in this valley will take new patients unless they are already pregnant or have a referral. I called and called for months before a brand new doctor to the area finally agreed to see me. Now I’m on medication that is supposed to force my body to ovulate, but it hasn’t. It might not work for me, ever. And even if it does, the average time it takes to get pregnant for a normally ovulating woman is 6 months, then there’s that 9 month incubation period before you get to meet the baby. So even if the medication works, it will probably be at least another 14 months before I get to hold a child in my arms. If it doesn’t work, that means a referral to a specialist in Seattle, thousands of dollars in treatment, and more hypotheticals. That, or adoption, which also takes time and copious amounts of money. You see where I’m going with this? The hope I once had that I would be called “mommy,” that I would love and nurture a child, that I would get to have what so many of the people my age seem to so easily have; it’s wearing pretty thin. In fact, I wouldn’t say that what I feel can be called hope at all; more like desperation. So now there are days when I’m angry with people I love just because they get to have what I desire most and may never have for myself. I walk around broken, empty, feeling like there’s a piece of my heart/life missing. I knew when we started trying that I was ready. I started praying for my unborn child and their life and future and health and happiness 14 months ago, but that child is still not in my life. I have cried out to God time and time again; explaining why I’m ready, that I have complete faith that He could make my body work even when medicine can’t, that I would rely on Him every day for the selflessness it takes to sacrifice your lifestyle for a tiny human being who depends on you for everything, bargaining with Him, and begging through hot tears. And He has not answered. I am still barren. People have said to me that it will happen when it’s the right time, that God knows when that is. And though I know they mean well, it still takes every fiber of self control in my being not to slap them. With those few words, meant to comfort, they tell me that they believe my husband and I did not do our due diligence before we decided we were ready. That even though we prayed and talked and thought for years, we were wrong to think that it was the right time, that God is closing my womb because He doesn’t yet think I can be a mother. What I hear when people say those words is that God gave babies to countless women who are drug addicts and to women who beat their children; but He thinks I’m unfit to be a mother at this time.
I hear people talk about their infertility struggles and how they understand my pain and then I look at their one or two or three children and think, you don’t know the meaning of the word “infertile.” You have what I so desperately want. I feel alone in my pain and I feel abandoned by a God that I trusted when I felt the nudge toward motherhood.
We don’t talk about our own personal hells very much, at least not publicly. But they certainly exist. Hell is always touching earth in the places where brokenness is winning. In my case, it’s my body that is broken. I don’t believe it actually has anything to do with God because I believe He designed my body to work a certain way and the fact that it doesn’t has a whole lot more to do with the enemy. I digress, but my point is that heaven and hell both exist this side of eternity. We’ve all experienced moments of shining joy and clarity and hope, like those moments when a four year old says to me, “Teacher, I love you,” and I know that I have been given the gift of pure, Christ-like, unconditional, unquestioning love. That’s heaven on earth, things working according to the way God designed them. “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Then there’s the civil war in Syria, the abuse of children, the injury of my dear husband, the barrenness of my womb; all places where hell is touching earth, where God’s will is not being done, where things on earth are not working as they should/would have if Adam and Eve hadn’t screwed us all over. And we don’t like to talk about those places. Our culture likes comfort. Staring pain in the face, especially someone else’s is not comfortable. But we all have it. We’re all carrying hell on our backs because hell is right here on earth. My hell may be different from yours, but you all know what I’m talking about. That thing that rears its’ ugly head at the strangest of times and makes you feel like you just might shatter into a million pieces. Maybe the rest of your life is just as full as mine and that’s part of the reason the pain takes your breath away. There’s so much good, so why should this one thing feel as though it can cancel out all of that? But it can and it sometimes does. Grief is funny like that.
You’re not alone in your hell. I’m living here too. This side of heaven, we will always be experiencing a little bit of hell. No one is immune. The person sitting next to you who you’re convinced has the perfect life? They have their own personal hell too. Hell on earth is a universal reality. If you believe in Jesus, your hope lies in the fact that we know who wins in the end; that hell gets eradicated. I cling to that daily, but it isn’t always enough to hold me together. I’m still falling apart and I’m tired of not talking about it. The not talking about it keeps me alone in it. So I have some things to say about hell on earth. Even though I know how trivial and unhelpful this can sound when you’re walking through hell, I hope you know that you’re not alone.
As Christmas approaches, I’m reflecting on the significance of the entire holiday and I think it is pretty well summed up in those four little words; you are not alone. Christmas is the day that we celebrate God leaving heaven and descending to earth, a place where hell often reigns. We celebrate the birth of a baby destined for abandonment, exclusion, and unimaginable suffering. God is the only being in all of history who had a choice whether or not to be born. He is also the only being in all of history who knew how badly His life would hurt before He made that choice. And He came anyway, just to demonstrate, in the most costly of ways that you are not alone. Christmas is a reminder that God has walked through hell too and come out unscathed; and it’s the only reason we can hope for the same eventuality for ourselves.
“Isn’t it wonderful? It makes all the difference to know there’s someone else screaming alongside you-and that’s the point of the incarnation. I can see that so clearly now. God came into the world and screamed alongside us.”-Susan Howatch
God and I; we’re both screaming alongside you, and so is the rest of humanity. So even if your Christmas isn’t merry this year, I wish you a Christmas brimming with hope and the knowledge that hell is a not a solitary place. You are not alone.