I didn't keep a hope chest, like a lot of my friends did, before I was married. I didn't want to be presumptuous to think that God would actually fulfill the desire of my heart, to be married. I felt like I needed to be devoted wholeheartedly to God and that the true test of that would be whether or not I could stand being single the rest of my life. I feared that if I started saving things for "when I'm married" that I would never be married and then have all of those things to remind me.
This was all from a teenage mind, naive and still getting to know the character and heart of God. At the time, He was still very much a distant being who was concerned with rules being followed; not so much a being that thought "fun" and "pleasure" were worth anything. I am SO GLAD to know now that I was incredibly mistaken back then!
I bring that up, because tonight I found myself entertaining a question that I have often had come to mind; yet I have always been quick to think of something else because of the thought, "what if God never blesses us with children."
The question, for those of you who are curious, was: "Will I use cloth diapers?"
Which led to the thoughts: "There is so much research I will need to do! 9 months won't possibly be enough time for me to prepare for motherhood! How can I possibly read all the parenting books and find the ideal products before the baby is born if I get pregnant?!?"
And then the big IF stood out to me. Both the "if" of the 'it hasn't happened yet', and the bigger IF of InFertility.
I used to pride myself on how great I was with kids and how much I knew about them. It was pretty ridiculous how prideful I was, actually. I was definitely one of those people always secretly criticizing parents for their lack of parenting skills, as if I could do a better job. And this was LONG before I knew we were infertile. Infertility was one of many tools God used to humble me in that area.
But, I had been keeping kids since I was 12 years old. I remember helping my mom change my brother's diaper at the young age of 5. I have always loved kids and loved being around them. Babysitting wasn't a "job" for me until college, it was always a fun thing I got to do that had the added bonus of giving me spending cash. It never occurred to me that with as much as I loved kids, with as long and as deeply as I had wanted to be a mother, and with as much experience as I had had with kids, that I would ever struggle with infertility.
Infertility changed me. Ultimately it has been used to change me for the better. But initially, it crushed me, and I no longer wanted to be around children. I enjoyed my nieces and nephews, and looked forward to time with them; somehow being with them gave me hope that I might one day get to have children of my own and that it just wasn't time yet.
But I quit holding children, I quit working with them in Sunday School or the nursery, I quit my teaching job, I quit helping my friends by caring for their kids when they needed a sitter. In fact, I began to resent the requests. My thoughts would immediately jump to this place: "They're just asking me because I don't have kids. They wouldn't ask me if I had kids of my own. I'm just a convenient free source of childcare for them. They have no idea how bad it hurts me that I don't have kids yet. Don't they know it's painful for me to be around kids??? Why would they even ask me?"
Of course, those thoughts were only accurate in one case that I know of, and I quickly ended that "friendship."
I not only began resenting the requests from friends to watch their kids, but I began to be very uncomfortable around children, and I would even say I was downright irritable. I was like an old person who forgot how to let kids be kids! I HATED realizing I was that way, yet I couldn't do anything about it, except avoid kids as much as possible, so I did.
Recently, I had a dear friend make the comment to me that I seemed much more comfortable around her kids than I had years ago. I told her that I was in a much better place in dealing with infertility and that I could actually find joy in the presence of children again.
Still, I have found that my stamina and tolerance levels for some things could use a bit more stretching.
So, I went from being a person who practically existed to work with, love on, and be around children, to being a person who is now a little clumsy, uncertain, and intimidated by the prospect of being around children too long. What once came as naturally to me as breathing, has now become as foreign to me as walking backwards blindfolded while juggling. It's as if my inability to have children, indirectly handicapped me in my ability to handle children.
Getting back to the hope chest: I have two baby items hanging in my closet. One was to use as a size gauge for a knitting project for my niece (I knit a christening gown for her), and the other one was meant as a gift for a nephew that I never ended up giving before he outgrew it. I have often debated getting rid of them, simply because I have no way of knowing if God will grant me the privilege of bringing a child into this world, and I wouldn't want to be presumptuous.
But I have never gotten rid of them, because I still hope to be a mom one day.
My husband has purchased two items for me, in hope of us having a child one day. The first year we stopped using contraceptive, he bought me a cameo pendant of a mother and child that I stumbled upon while organizing the closet. He was going to surprise me with it when we finally got pregnant (that was seven years ago). And last year, during the two week wait of our fourth fertility treatment (the one that we almost had to cancel because the doc was certain we'd end up with twins if not triplets and she was uncomfortable with that), he bought me a knitting book of patterns for dolls and stuffed animals for children. When he gave me that one, he told me that whether it worked that time or not, one day we would have children. That gift is a treasure to me. It represents genuine hope.
While I may not have a physical "hope chest" for our future child, my heart and my husband's heart fill that role.
It is difficult, when every attempt prior to the current one has failed, to hold onto hope. It's no longer something you feel like clinging to, rather it seems to be a bitter pill to swallow, a tease; for when you truly hope for something, you honestly expect it to BE! Eventually, as that hope rises and swells in your heart, you begin to counter it with logic and almost a type of hatred and anger that it would even dare show it's face again, in an effort to guard your heart. Our wounded hearts. And they are wounded, and often weary.
Tomorrow morning I am supposed to call the nurse to find out if we are still on for the scheduled transfer of two embryos back into what I hope will be their home for the next nine months.
There is a very real possibility that she will say, "No, we are moving it to Friday," or "No, sadly none of the embryos survived." But there's also a possibility just as real that she will say, "Yes! We'll see you at 11:30."
There is a very real possibility that after the transfer I will still have a barren and empty womb, and a deeper chasm in my heart than I've ever felt before. But there's also a possibility just as real that one or both of those embryos will nestle in for the long haul and make their appearance on this earth sometime around my birthday.
We are excited! And we are also very much aware of the risks. Allowing ourselves to hope has been difficult, but it has made this part of the journey a lot of fun.
I don't regret that I never kept a hope chest for marriage. Our needs were met and we did fine with what we were given by others. I doubt I will regret not keeping a hope chest for our children. We will make it work and I'll be like every other parent in the world, and just do the best that I can.
Sometimes I think, "I, of all people, should be abundantly prepared for children when they come because I've been given seven years to prepare, yet here I am, just as clueless and uninformed as ever because I didn't seize the opportunity! What was I thinking?!"
And then I remind myself that I've been being prepared, my husband and I both have been being prepared, to parent throughout this entire journey in ways many parents will never be. As painful as these years have been, they have also been a strange, strange gift. Not one I would have ever asked for, but one I have accepted and have hopefully grown from.
We'll see what tomorrow holds. And then the next day, we'll see what else is there. But tonight, I'm going to hold onto hope, even though it seems like it should be against my better judgement.
May you be blessed, my friends, and may hope be a constant companion to your hearts.