"...Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience."
Romans 8:24b-25

31 January 2011

Showers of Joy With Sprinkles of Grief

This is a post I wrote a while before I had the courage to actually start this blog.  I am happy to announce that the friend mentioned in this blog delivered her beautiful son on the 29th of this month (just two days ago).  :-)  I wish I could say that the blanket I was knitting for my other friend's son is complete, but it's almost there!  I can say that I am amazed at how much I've grown even in the few months that have passed since I first wrote this.  I hope this encourages you all.  Blessings! ~Julia

I'm very happy for my friend.  We are not close friends.  We are more than acquaintances.  We went to college together and were involved in many of the same things, went to the same church, had the same group of friends.  But I wouldn't say we ever made it to "kindred spirit" status in friendship.  Far from it, actually, although I think, given more time together, we probably would have found we have much in common.

But we are friends enough for Facebook.  Ah, Facebook!  The world of keeping tabs on people you wish you could see more often, wish you'd gotten to know better, or even just wish you knew.  The world of proclaiming all the joys and happiness to others in your life who, being just as busy as you, don't have time to stay connected through "old school" forms of communication, like the telephone.  I hear you!  That's why I practically live on Facebook, myself.  Phone conversations take too long and require too much form, most of the time.

So, as I'm browsing the news feed, I see a picture of my friend, blissfully happy, face red from smiling.  I remember instantly that she's expecting a baby and assume that the pictures have something to do with her pregnancy.  I learn from the caption that the pictures are from her baby shower.

Now, baby showers are difficult for me.  They were difficult for me before I was married because of the forced socialization with perfect strangers, acting like you're all the best of friends because you happen to have one friend in common.  But they have become even more difficult as I am made aware each month that having a baby isn't yet in God's plan for me.  I still go to baby showers of close friends and relatives, and I truly do share in their joy.  But even in my happiness for them, it's an occasion perfectly suited to bring the reality of my lack of children squarely to the center of my world.  

So I face the question: Do I look at her pictures, or do I pass them by?

On certain days there wouldn't even be a question.  Chances are, on those days, I'm not likely to even be ON Facebook because I wouldn't be able to handle seeing pictures of babies, reading posts of friends grumbling over the hardships of parenting, or seeing advertisements for "infertility cures," adoption, and contraceptions along the sidebar.  Yes, on days like that, I would definitely opt out of viewing the photos.

But this day has been a good day.  It's been a simple and uneventful day, and I have felt uncharacteristically social.  I smiled when I saw the smile on my friend's face, so I chose to look.

Truly, there was nothing earth-shattering in the album.  My friend is beautiful, full and pregnant with life.  She's the kind of friend that, even on her worst days, still manages to smile and find something to be thankful for, something to rejoice over.  So add to that already beautiful personality the beauty of pregnancy, and she almost exudes a type of perfection.  Not true perfection, but a beauty that is beyond her, beyond any human.  There were pictures of her holding cute little tiny baby shoes, pictures of her with her closest girl friends, and pictures of them all decorating "onesies."  That's pretty much it. 

Yet I could not stave off the ache, the genuine, physically tangible ache, that crept in ever so slowly as I looked through the photos.  It's the kind of twinge of pain you get when you see someone's skinned knee, or stitches and your body can't help but empathize and you actually feel pain.  The odd thing is, my friend was not in pain.  I was not viewing an injury.  The pain was mine.  Mine alone.  It came from inside of me.

Now, on a day when I can joyfully knit a baby blanket for another friend's baby, praying for the baby as I generate stitch after stitch for the little guy, why on Earth would viewing pictures of the joy of a friend in her pregnancy cause me pain?

Truly, it's a rhetorical question.  I don't really want an answer to be offered.  Chances are very high that I can come up with a very long list of accurate answers for that.  Its' one of those "I'm just sayin'..." moments.

Friends, I am genuinely happy for my sweet friend.  I was happy for her when I found out she was pregnant, and I'm happy for her that she has had a healthy pregnancy.  I wish her the best.  But looking through the album, I struggled with thoughts like, "I'm so much older than she is, and I've been married much longer," or "I never saw her becoming a mother so soon after marriage," or "Wow! Look how full and beautiful her pregnant body is...I wonder if I will ever get to look like that."  

I struggle with wanting what she has.  I struggle with believing that I know better than God how things "should have" panned out for me.

And there it is.

Each and every day God whispers gently to me of his faithfulness.  I don't always choose to listen or pay much attention, but it's there.  I am more convinced today than I was seven years ago that God is walking WITH us through this journey.  That may not mean anything to some people, but for me it's my lifeline.  The pain I bear, I do not bear alone; even when my sweet husband is away for the week in the field, I am not alone.

26 January 2011

Some Thoughts on Words

It took me a while to realize that people in general are not as insensitive as they can sometimes seem.

When I was a child, a good friend's mother died suddenly and unexpectedly.  My younger sister and I were very sad because the woman was our mom's best friend, and she was our best friends' mom, so she was very much like a second mom to us.  I remember wanting so badly to be with my friends who had just lost their mother, but also being so afraid to go see them.

I was afraid because I didn't know what to say.  I didn't have any thoughts or words that would make everything alright, that would make my friends feel better.

The only reason I knew this at a young age was because I was sad, too.  I was grieving, too.  There was nothing that could be said to make me feel better after the loss of my friends' mother, so there was nothing I could say to them.

My sister and I went to see our friends, and we sat there with them, on their couch, and we were sad with them.

I don't remember saying a word.  I remember sitting there, in the house that had always been full of life because of their vivacious, beautiful mother.  And I remember being sad with my friends.  

And it was okay.  The silence was good.  It was appropriate for the moment.  It was what we all needed.  When it was time to go, we hugged our friends goodbye and left, knowing that they knew that we loved them.  Knowing they knew how sorry we were over their loss.  Knowing they knew we were still there for them.

Words are not always an appropriate response.
Yet we are "fixers."
We like to wrap things up neatly.
We like to make everything right.
Sadness makes us uncomfortable.
Broken things, broken people, should be fixed right away.
So we try to mend things with our words.
We try to ease our own discomfort by speaking knowledge into a situation.

I've been guilty of it, myself.

It used to upset me, to the point of anger, when people would try to fix, or mend, my infertility with their words.  How dare they try to speak knowledge into a situation they know nothing about!  How dare they pretend that they can even begin to imagine what it must feel like to walk in my shoes!  How dare they act like the information they have to offer is so perfectly appropriate that I will be cured of my infertility and get pregnant by following their advice or hearing their story of a miraculous conception!  Can they walk on water, too?

Yes, I have felt that way...altogether too many times.

I started being flippant, and launching the news of our infertility into a group of people after initial introductions for the simple purpose of shocking them into silence.  It's amazing how uncomfortable that can make people...the sudden news that someone they just met is infertile, especially when that person shares it as casually as talking about the weather.  But, it bought me a few advice-free interactions with people.

Years later, in a movie theater, there was a young woman in a wheelchair taking our movie tickets.  I saw her stare at my legs the way I stare at new mothers with their infants, and I was broken.  It was not a stare of anger, or bitterness, or hatred...just a look of longing that flits across the face in an instant even as the stare continues.

I realized that I have been on the other side.  The side of not knowing what to say while facing an elephant in a room and feeling the need to say something about it.  I realized that I had not only said stupid things, but I had avoided conversations and even people altogether so I wouldn't have to deal with being uncomfortable.

Do people still say stupid things to my husband and me?  Yes.  I could rattle off a whole list related to our infertility.  Most of what we hear today is a repeat of what we've already heard from others.  If it's not a cliche, or advice, it's usually a story about someone they knew who adopted a baby and then got pregnant afterward (the implication being that adoption will cure our infertility).

Is it still irritating?  Yes.
Do I still get angry?  I'd be lying if I said I don't, but I can say I don't get angry as often.

So, what's my point?

My point is that people are going to say stupid things.  People that love you dearly, and people you've just met.  And although those things may sting and drive home the reality we face every day, it helps me to assume good will.  I try to assume that they are saying that stupid thing because they care, and extend the grace to them that I'm expecting from them, even though they didn't give it to me.

If you're a fertile friend who is realizing you may have said something that might have stung someone on this journey, give yourself some grace, apologize if it's appropriate, and realize that people dealing with the inability to have children are constantly cycling through the stages of grief.  Some days will be harder for them than others, so try not to give advice.  Be the shoulder to cry on, because that's often all they need.

24 January 2011

Living in These Days of Grace

I am very excited about what's ahead!  I'm not certain how it will pan out, and I'm not certain how to get there, but I am certain that I'm supposed to move forward, so that's what I'm doing.

My enthusiasm stems from something that was laid on my heart on Saturday.  Really, it was laid on my heart years ago, I just didn't know what it was or what to do with it.  Here's the story:

  • One day my husband and I felt very strongly we should stop trying to prevent pregnancy, even though we were not yet "ready" to have children.  
  • Soon after that, we realized that getting pregnant wouldn't happen for us as quickly as it seemed to for other "normal" people - we realized we were not normal.
  • A desire to begin having children grew within us and (what seemed like) "all" of our friends and siblings began having copious amounts of children.  Much pain ensued.
  • We embarked down the path of fertility treatments with much hope, and we grew stronger in our love for each other and for the Lord each step of the way.  
  • I became aware that there was a real need within the church for support for couples going through infertility.  Those I knew going through it felt isolated and unable to talk about it with the very people who were meant to help bear their burdens.
  • All the fertility treatments failed completely (in the sense of producing children) and it suddenly dawned on me that I needed to, that I wanted to, live in the here and now and be fruitful and productive in the moments God has given me to live.
  • The idea of creating a place people could go in order to realize that they're not alone and perhaps be encouraged in hearing from another on this journey came to mind and this blog was conceived.  I didn't birth it until a year later because I was afraid.
  • We moved and were looking for ways to get plugged in and serve in our local church.  While at a leadership meeting, still unsure how to serve as a couple in light of my husband's upcoming deployment, the idea of developing a bible study specifically targeting the issue of infertility popped in my head.
  • I shared the idea with my husband and we immediately began brainstorming what we would cover, how long it should last, and what a study like that would look like.  
We are both very, VERY excited about this upcoming study!  We approached our pastor to see if he knew if there was even a need in this small congregation for something like this.  He put me in contact with a lovely woman on a similar journey.  She brought it to my attention that there are others, as well, that would benefit from a study on this issue, although they might not consider themselves to be under the label of "infertile."

I am thankful for a husband who thinks linearly, as I tend to be a more abstract thinker.  As we brainstormed, I was reminded again why we make such a great team.  He's able to organize the subject matter that we would want to address in the study, and I am able to remind him of the emotions attached to those areas.

I am thankful, also, that God is giving me a more clear direction on this journey.  Yes, it seems tragic that a young couple who longs to have children is unable to conceive and bear a child.  But how much more tragic it would be if that young couple spent all of their time and energy on longing for children, and missed out on the moments of today!  

Ephesians 2:4-10
It is my prayer that, as we continue to struggle with the angst and pain of a God-given desire which is currently unfulfilled, that we not lose sight of how short this life is that he has given us, so that we will remember to ask him how he wants us to make the most of the days he's given us in the midst of the circumstances he's provided for our good and his glory.

21 January 2011

Purple Belly-Button Ring

Sometimes I wish that our bodies did something truly weird in the first weeks of pregnancy to let us know we are pregnant.  My vote is for a purple ring around the belly button.  Oooh!  Or maybe a purple big toe, or left knee cap.  Not the color-of-bruises-purple, but a color that you'd find in the crayon box, like lavender.  Maybe you have a different favorite color.  Regardless, I think it would be fantastic if there were one unmistakable clue that we could easily keep hidden that would indicate pregnancy before a pregnancy test would be effective.  None of this waiting until day 28 (or day 33 in my case) to find out.  It seems ridiculous to me that all the symptoms of impending Periodness (aka PMS) are the same symptoms of pregnancy.  I've thought this many times before, but I felt compelled to share it today. 

No, I am not pregnant.  No purple ring around the belly button for me (seriously, how cool would that be?).  Instead, I spent the nights of an entire week laying awake wondering what I would do with this blog if I were in fact pregnant; wondering how I would tell my close friends who are also dealing with infertility; wondering if I truly do like the name my husband loves for a girl; wondering, wondering, wondering....

I finally decided to have my husband pick up a pregnancy test while he was out.  Of course, it was negative.  It always is.

I wasn't extremely late, but I was late enough that if I were pregnant I would have been three weeks pregnant (seriously, my mind would not stop thinking about it all....we NEED purple rings, I tell you!).  Everything last month had lined up.  I knew when I ovulated, we had sex at the right time, had other bodily signs I'll spare you from reading that left us more confident than usual that my "lateness" this time was not just my body being ridiculous.  I should have opted for the pregnancy test sooner.

Well, since we don't have purple rings, I'm thankful we at least have the technology of pregnancy tests we can take at home.

Here's to another month of living like newlyweds on a honeymoon :-)  Here's to not having to worry about causing friends pain.  And here's to knowing that even though my idea of what's best for me isn't panning out, I can trust that God's idea of what's best for me is better than anything I could hope for.  I sure would like a glimpse into His plan sometimes (and a purple ring).

Have a great weekend!

08 January 2011

One Good Week

There is one glorious week for me almost every month.  It's that perfect period of time when there is no waiting, no expectation.  It follows grief and precedes expectation.  That week is a wonderful break for me emotionally.  Sometimes I reflect during that time, but often I just enjoy the peace.

Grief, peace, anticipation (with a bit of impatience), disappointment and then grief again.  That's the basic cycle of my life, of our life.  My husband goes through it, too.

There are those rare months where we don't think about it.  From time to time our lives are so incredibly full that there's barely time to try to get pregnant, much less think about whether or not we are.  Those months are peaceful as well.

This month, I thoroughly enjoyed that week of peace.  It was a week of freedom for me.  Freedom from grief, freedom from anticipation, freedom to have nothing distract me from the moment of "now."  I love being in the "now" when it's peaceful.

When I'm not in that wonderful week, I still have peace.  It is buried a bit deeper and takes quite a bit more effort to draw from, but it's there.  Sometimes, I try to distract myself from the things that are distracting me from that deeper peace, and I find that my mind becomes so jumbled with thoughts and emotions that the pain of this journey becomes more difficult to bear.  I suppose it's similar to being in a place of denial.  I prefer the genuine peace.

I rely on my husband to help keep me grounded.  Or I try to.  I don't think I've done as well this month.  This month, things were different after that perfect week of peace than they've ever been.  I'm sure any of you dealing with infertility have experienced a month where your body did such weird stuff at every stage of the cycle that you had yourself, and maybe even your husband, convinced that you might actually be pregnant this time.

I've been dancing on that line this month.

This "month" is almost over for me.  My husband lovingly offered to buy a pregnancy test for me to take, just to quiet the uncertainty and calm my anxiety.  But I declined.  I've been able to tap into that deeper peace over the last few days (or perhaps I'm fooling myself and I'm simply distracted by our recent move).  Either way, I feel more equipped to handle a negative test result, or bodily signal that I'm not pregnant again than I did before.

So, dear friends, as I try to remember to keep my mind stayed on Him who gives perfect peace, I will also try to remember to pray that you will have that same, deep peace, even in the midst of pain.