"...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

08 February 2011

Knowing When to Hold Them

I'm in a different place emotionally now than I was just five years ago.  My husband and I both are, although our paths to this place have not been identical; but that's another blog post.

A little over five years ago, my younger sister had her second child - a precious baby girl.  At the time, we were only two years into this journey, only having one year of knowing we were infertile under our belts.  I can't remember if we were in the process of moving or if we had flown in for a visit, but we had the rare treat of being able to see a newly born member of the family just a few days after birth.  

I was excited!  My sisters started having kids when I was in college, and I have treasured every moment I have been able to spend with my nieces and nephews.  I was a professional when it came to doting on them and making sure I got plenty of time to hold them.  I could not wait to meet the newest addition to our family.

My husband has always had a way of stealing some of my cuddle time with babies.  I don't know how he manages to do it, but one minute I'm holding a baby, and thirty seconds later the baby I just took from the mom is in his hands.  We've had many discussions on how he needs to wait his turn, so I made sure to reiterate to him how very important it was for him to let me hold my new niece.

When we arrived, we were greeted with much joy, and my brother-in-law graciously and generously brought my niece to me right away.  I was so excited!!!

As he placed her in my arms, I had scarcely held her for a moment before I almost lost it.  I can still feel her in my arms as I write this over five years later.  She was perfect. Her little body was all snuggled up like an Anne Geddes baby model, and she was the most relaxed baby I had ever held.  Her body seemed to melt into my arms as the wonderful smell of "newborn baby" filled the air.  Holding her was everything I had imagined holding my own baby would be.

The moment was perfect...except I couldn't bear to hold her.

For once in my life I was thankful for my husband's habit of taking babies from my arms.  I immediately turned to him and begged him with my eyes to take her.  I couldn't do it.  I had been longing to meet her, to hold her, to rejoice with my sister over her, and I couldn't do it.

I was shattering inside.  With all of my strength I attempted not only to maintain my composure, but to also express to my sister how happy I was for her.  But in my mind's eye it seemed that the walls were falling down around me, like so many pieces of glass.  I had not expected this to happen.  I couldn't separate the pain of holding her from the pain of not being able to hold her.  It made no sense to me and I was heartbroken.  My arms were empty.

I feared that my sister would see the pain in my face.  By this time our family knew we were struggling to have children.  I did not want her to think that I was not happy for her, because I was exceedingly happy for her.  I did not want her to think that I did not love her daughter, because I loved her more than I could bear.

Looking back now, I wonder if a part of me might have thought God was not being fair.  I honestly don't remember the thought processes that unfolded after that because I was bombarded with new emotions on this journey almost daily early on.  But I wonder if I thought that it was unfair of God to not only keep me from knowing the joy of having children of my own, but also to keep me from knowing the joy of holding my sister's child.  I doubt it was a thought that took form, but sorting through the emotions of that moment in this moment, I find myself thinking that it wasn't fair.

My husband holding
a friend's son
Many months passed before I could hold her.  I praise God that my husband was in a different place emotionally than I was.  I was content to let him hold her as I looked on in awe and wonder.  After that experience, I seldom held newborn babies.  If I did, it was on my own terms.  More than once I heard myself respond with a contented, "No," or "No, thank you," to a mom who asked me if I wanted to hold her child.  I always smiled, to make it known that I appreciated the offer, but that I was content to look on.

Now the times are seldom that it hurts to hold an infant, but I find that I still decline many of the offers to hold them.  I found that I get a better view when I'm not the one holding them, and I am also able to take photographs to pass on to the parents.

My niece on her 5th birthday
I had the privilege of seeing many of my nieces and nephews this past weekend.  What a joy it is to see them all growing up!  They are great kids with great parents.  Five years ago, I couldn't bear to hold one of those precious children.  It just so happens she was born at a time of deep emotional pain in my life.  Today, I can't bear to pass by her without kissing her on the top of her head, or throwing my arms around her in a hug, or flashing a great big smile her way.

God has redeemed the time I lost with her.  He held me the way I longed to hold her, and he has allowed me the privilege of many joyful moments with her.  That experience was one of the most painful experiences I have had on this journey, and it's the only time I clearly remember not being emotionally able to hold an infant.  The fact that it was family impacted me deeply.  The fact that God held me in the midst of that pain impacted me even deeper still.

If you're reading this in a state of infertility, it is my hope that you will be encouraged that holding babies and being around children will not always be painful.  It's okay to decline holding babies.  Use your discretion in those moments.  You know where you are in this journey. 

If you're a friend of someone struggling with infertility, know that it's acceptable to ask if they want to hold your baby, but that asking is much better than simply handing them the baby.  Not everyone has a difficult time holding babies, in fact there are times when it is helpful and can ease the pain of infertility.  But be prepared to hear a "no, thank you" and know that it's nothing personal.  Also be prepared for a flood of tears, and know that that's not personal either.  A silent hug, an "I love you" or an "I'm sorry" (as in, I'm sorry you're in pain) is appropriate in that moment.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." 
2Corinthians 1:3-4

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I would love to hear from you! The subject matter of this blog can be very sensitive. This is intended to be a place of encouragement and to be uplifting. It is never my desire to cause pain through what I write here, so please keep that in mind as you share your thoughts. Thank you.