Infertility is a struggle far more prevalent than I knew up until a few years ago. The unspoken, behind the scenes nature of it leaves many couples suffering in isolation. My wife Laura and I struggle with infertility and because of that, and the fact we just wrapped up National Infertility Week, I wanted to share with you a post written by Laura.
It’s an odd thing to be fairly open in one-on-one conversations and yet largely quiet in other spaces (social media, church, work, etc.) about long term struggles. It sometimes feels like I’m being somewhat disingenuous, especially when I read things online or hear snippets of conversations and don’t readily chime in.
One of those long term struggles my husband and I have been battling over two years now (33 months to be exact, but who’s counting?), is infertility. Before I go any further, I want to establish some things out of my own personal experience. First, I don’t speak for everyone experiencing infertility. We each experience it in different ways and while there are commonalities among us, our backgrounds and personalities dictate how we feel and express our grief. Second, I will not tolerate pity for myself or anyone else experiencing infertility. I’ll welcome your prayers, you sitting with me in my grief, and your grace as I process my unmet expectations, but pity can be left at the door. It is not welcome here and my intention in writing this is not for you to feel sorry for our circumstances, but either for you to learn more about what this looks and feels like from my perspective, or, if you’re also experiencing infertility or have in the past, to know you are not alone and your grief is valid.
I recently read an article in the New York Times called “The Lasting Trauma of Infertility”, and while I’d highly recommend you reading the entire piece, one section stood out to me in particular. The author writes, “Infertility changes how you see yourself and the world. Somewhere along the journey, many of us stop feeling though it is something that is happening to us, but instead begin to believe that it is a part of who we are. You become used to living in a constant state of fluctuating despair and hope.”
That’s where I am right now. We’ve been expecting a pregnancy for a while now. We’ve seen doctors and begun to address some of the underlying issues of why we’re not having an easier time getting pregnant, but month after month, there’s a very tangible reminder that my body has rejected the notion of motherhood and what starts with such hope ends in tears.
The article also mentioned that “research has shown that women dealing with infertility have depression and anxiety levels similar to those with cancer, H.I.V., and heart disease” and I can vouch for the fact that infertility has certainly had a psychological toll on me. It’s an exhausting emotional rollercoaster that has absolutely changed the way I feel about myself and interact with others.
Having conversations regarding the morality of fertility treatments and adoption, which I’m not sure I would have even thought about had we not been faced with this reality, are incredibly taxing. We’re still working through those things, but so often we hear people say, “have you tried [fill in the blank]” or “well you can just adopt”. I know those folks mean well, but there are real costs, both financial and relational to consider. Short answer, we’ve thought about all these things, but have decided on little as of now. Side note: unsolicited advice is also not helpful on the whole.
Some of you know we recently became a licensed foster family. Many times, the assumption is that we’ve become a foster family to grow our own family because of our infertility. Maybe (big maybe) that’s the case for some families, but we decided to become a foster family long before we were married, let alone knew we were going to have trouble conceiving. We want to be a safe space for children regardless of whether we have biological children of our own because we love kids. Our primary goal in foster care outside of providing a safe home is to be a partner to their parents, to give them an opportunity be the parents their kids need. In other words, our goal is to keep biological families together. Adoption is most certainly on the table, but that’s not our first goal in fostering.
All of this has stretched me in incredible ways. I now know what it looks like to hold both grief and hope for others experiencing infertility or other health struggles. I no longer hold my tongue when others assume we should be in a different place in our lives and I am learning to shrug off the expectations I have unknowingly put on myself. I have rethought what family looks like and what Jesus may be calling us into to better welcome others into our family.
I truly believe God is good too. Even in the midst of my depression, I know that no matter the outcome, God only gives good gifts and we’ve been abundantly blessed in so many other ways and we are grateful. We can long for a baby, grieve for what may or may not be lost, and also be content in what we have. Living in that tension is where we are right now. That being said, I don’t pretend I’m ok with this and that I’m not angry sometimes. A lot of times actually. But I believe in a God who knows my pain and can handle my range of emotions.
Lastly, for those of you who have babies of your own or are currently expecting: we are thrilled for you. We still very much want to be part of your lives and the lives of your kids. Invite us into your lives like you would have if you didn’t know we were in the midst of infertility, but extend us grace if we decline to engage sometimes. We’re doing ok, but we need you to be ok with us sometimes not being ok too. Mostly, we just want to know you’ll be alongside us in the unknown and the waiting.