Monday, October 26, 2015

Backsliding into Bad Theology: On a Journey of Infertility

As a pastor, it is embarrassing to me how quickly I revert back to bad theological understandings of God. On Sundays I preach about a God who is with us, inviting us to be co-workers, a God who lures us to love. But really, at least today, I want a God who, like Santa Claus, rewards me for being good by giving me everything on my wishlist. I want a God who understands fairness. Or, I'd take a God who has a better sense of timing, my sense of timing; like a Wedding Planner on a bluetooth headset ready to make perfection happen on my schedule.

You see, a year ago, my husband and I were taking pictures in the park where we got married, as we try to do every year on our anniversary. We brought our puppy with us, and I remember thinking, "Next year in this picture, there will be a baby."

But there isn't.

Now, I hadn't totally won Aaron over to my way of thinking while we were taking pictures that day. He is a very practical person, knew we have plenty of time, and just wanted to have fun. I agreed with him--- holding off my desire for children at bay at least until I went on my big blow out vacation to Bosnia and Herzegovina last year. But while in Bosnia, there was this particular moment when one of my friends was sitting drinking coffee with me and her three-year-old came over acting silly. My friend, who was pregnant and so exhausted she struggled to stay awake during our visits, shook her head at her daughter and said to me, “Are you sure you want kids?” Before I could respond, her beautiful little girl, who was upside down at this point, looked up at me with her huge brown eyes and said, “Ok!” She had been repeating things I said the whole day, but this time both her mother and I almost fell over laughing. I knew in that instant I wanted to start trying to have a baby.

I have wanted children all my life. The desire has gotten softer in some ways as I work through my social programming to want children and as I watch people ignore their other callings in order to be mothers, but I have always wanted to hold my baby in my lap, reading When God Was a Little Girl in our big noisy house. When Aaron and I got married, we knew there wasn't a rush; we wanted to settle down, enjoy one another. I would still often find myself jealous when friends announced pregnancies--- after all Aaron and I had been together longer than the rest of them had and from the time I was young I was the "mother" type in my groups of friends. Even friends who were vehemently opposed to having children themselves at the time, even they would say, "Well, I'll just play auntie/uncle to Shannon's pack of kids." So when we were still holding off and they weren't, I would get a little jealous. But then one day, one of my friends told me she was pregnant and I was genuinely happy for her. And I was so happy for my sister, even though she is younger than I am, because I knew she and her partner were ready for kids before we were. I thought the lack of jealousy was another sign of readiness. That I was growing up or something. Cue that be-bluetoothed God on the phone making stuff happen.

But then. Aaron and I started trying, and nothing happened. Christmas came and I was unable to enact my hilarious birth announcement plan for my family and actually had to buy them gifts. But it was still early yet. And then, we went on a vacation to visit family and friends in which I had envisioned myself pregnant when we first planned the trip, only I still wasn't. And then it was April and I realized that I would not have a baby in 2015. And then my beautiful nephew was born, and my sister and I had not been pregnant together.

At first, I was upset but my husband kept saying, "It takes a while for most people, don't worry." And my best friend said, "Stop being stupid. You will have a baby when you have a baby." [She's sweet like that, but it really was comforting.] Many of you reading this may even think trying for a year is nothing, but the comparison with those who have tried for years does not lessen my own pain. I reminded myself that these empty months meant I could go on mission trips and did not have to worry about ordination interviews during maternity leave. I reminded myself that for as many stories I hear about getting pregnant on the first try, there are many too of struggles, even if only for a few months. And I reminded myself that it was not worth it to me to have a baby but not a loving supportive partner (Aaron is really worth more to me than ten sons).

But here's the thing about infertility: it is a huge betrayal by your body, especially when you are unused to not “succeeding” at something. And it is a huge betrayal by God. Ultimately, any rational, well-meaning thoughts cannot stand up to the desperation and disappointment endured month after month. Every month I feel my period coming on and I know I'm not pregnant, but I still have that tiny hope until my period comes.

I am angry, and I am tired. That first day of the month when I realize I am not pregnant--- that first day I spend crying on the couch as much as I can, raging at the unfairness of it all to my Santa Claus God. When people ask, "So when are you going to have a baby?" I want to stop answering, "well, I want to get ordained first," or "oh, I haven't gotten rid of that pesky travel bug yet" (and I really never will at that), and just say, "I'm not sure I can," giving them a glimpse of the disappointment I face month after month as I ask myself the same question. Except I don't want pity or to hear remarks like, "stop being so negative," either.

Because the next day, the day after the crying and the raging, I get up, take a breath, and remember a God who does not open and close wombs based on some kind of a reward system, who does not work on my schedule or anyone else's for that matter but who does not require my pain to teach me a lesson either (ahem to all of you who say "well, it's just God's plan you don't have a baby yet"). Instead, I reach out to a God who was crying and raging with me just the day before on that couch. I lean on a God who is lending me the strength now to try to find the abundance even in the emptiness. I turn to a God who is showing me how to create family in a different way. 

Because there is so much beauty even on this journey of infertility. I have had the most amazing conversations with my youth when I am driving a bunch of them around in my tiny Toyota Corolla; I wouldn't be able to fit them all in if I had a carseat to accommodate as well. And I have taken up writing again, which would be much more difficult if I were spending a lot of time pumping. And I can stay up late with the love of my life watching funny videos and sleep in without worry the next day. I can sing leftie church hymns and read radical children's books with my nephew all day as though we are the only two people in the world (well, besides my dog Stella who also appears in many of our adventures). These are moments of abundance in the midst of disappointment and emptiness. They are moments that might still exist with a baby, but they might not, and they are moments to be treasured. Because they are enough. And I am enough.

And God, that God who is beside bearing all my disappointment with me and still helping me find joy--- God is enough.

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