Christian and Childless, Not By Choice
I haven’t blogged about this topic often, and in retrospect, I’m not sure why. (It’s my blog; I can say whatever the hell I want.)
Millions of women go through the same thing I go through each month and they seem to be just fine in public. Sometimes I cannot go out in public because I’m so affected.
I never thought I’d find myself in a situation in which I desired to have kids, and 18 months later, find my arms still very much empty. There are women who have been trying to have children for years who suffer silently and suffer alone. In Christian communities in which children are plentiful, the pain runs especially deep. (I have a theory that the two most overlooked and forgotten groups in Christendom are singles and married couples who have not chosen to be childless.)
I don’t know how many women spend their days and nights in hysterics each month because they grieve the loss of someone who has never come to pass. I don’t know many of these women and these women likely don’t know me. It becomes especially difficult to watch babies and toddlers grow up, knowing that before many of these kids were born, I was hoping to celebrate my own bundle of joy nine months later. Even though I don’t currently consider myself “infertile,” the struggles and stories of infertility resonate with me on levels I never, ever thought they would. (While I’ve been told infertility isn’t necessarily genetic, I will point out that it took 11 years for my mother to conceive me naturally. She had a miscarriage later on. I am her only surviving child.)
I can no longer attend baby showers for anyone other than close friends. For the baby showers I have been to, I did my best to push aside my hurt and pain to celebrate a dear friend’s new addition. But don’t think that I didn’t retreat to the bathroom for a while in a mess of tears… and yes, even shame.
The Shame of Unchosen Childlessness
I’m thankful that American society does not value a wife based on her ability to bear a child. (The stories of barren women in the Bible strike an unusual chord with me now.) When a woman desires a child of her own and cannot conceive, internally she feels broken and shamed. It is often thought that one of the fundamental abilities of a woman is to be able to bear a child. Women (Westerners, anyway) like to have the option to choose. There is freedom in choosing childlessness. Not having the option is the equivalent of being confined to a jail cell.
During the past few years, I have come to love children. It is a complete about-face from the time when I first got married in which I was simply able to enjoy a child for a few hours and hand him or her back to the parents guilt-free, no strings attached. Now, I spend time with children and have the ability to love and care for them. But those children are not mine and they will never love me. Only my child will care about and love me. (Until those lousy teenage years, of course.)
I have arrived at the end of another cycle in which my womb is barren. I am filled with pain, sadness, and experience the five stages of grief month after month. Serving in nursery in church is a bittersweet experience for me, and it seems to always be perfectly timed after I’ve just had (what I call) a “Barren Breakdown.” (Kind of like a nervous breakdown except that it’s specifically related to not having conceived.)
Stupid Assumptions in Trying To Conceive
When my husband and I first began trying to conceive a child, I stupidly thought I’d be pregnant instantaneously. Women in my church were getting pregnant left and right a few years ago, and I was hoping I would soon catch whatever was “in the water.” My periods are militantly regular, and I experience intense pain called mittelschmerz each month that gives me a pretty good idea of when I’m ovulating. Since I’m not irregular and can pinpoint with bull’s-eye accuracy when I ovulate, I should’ve been pregnant in no time, right?
Wrong. No one told me that I’d be playing craps with my menstrual cycle—picking which days I thought were best and then hoping for a positive outcome. No one told me that the odds were against me.
So after the first few times, I try to “fix” it. I get it all down to a science. I try to get my hand on every book that tells me the perfect days to try by charting, the perfect positions that help (sorry, but it’s true), and every other tidbit of information that maximizes my chances for conception.
Doing that made me psycho. I lived and died by what my basal temperature was that morning and whether it was dropping. After several months of trying that method, I had nothing in my uterus to show for it. I stopped. It may work for some women but I will not do it again.
Then I tried using ovulation sticks. Perhaps it’s the brand I bought, but I’ve never gotten a solid dark control line like the test line (which means positive for ovulation; faint lines are negative). I know I’ve ovulated after the fact (and adjust the time frame for my expected period accordingly), but the ovulation sticks haven’t helped.
Then finally I get to the point where I realize I cannot control what happens inside my uterus. I cannot be an orange-shirted traffic manager who directs the sperm into the egg. I cannot use super glue to get a fertilized egg to implant and burrow inside my uterus for nine months. I have no control over these things during the dreaded 2WW (2-week-wait: the time between ovulation and expected period).
God and His Sovereignty
But God does, and I get so angry with Him. This situation has forced me to question my relationship with God and whether He even hears my prayers.
When I read that 41 percent of all New York City pregnancies end in abortion, I weep terribly. Not only for the children whose mothers decide they are something that can be purged on a whim, but also for the God who KNOWINGLY allows these children to be conceived to women who do not desire them but WITHHOLDS children from those who would make their best attempt to care for them.
(Side note: I don’t want to ever hear that “God withholds no good thing from those who walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11) from a parent. God has specifically withheld something I desire deeply and to hear it from someone who is not in the same situation smacks of ignorance and condescension.)
As a Christian who believes in Reformed theology, I believe God is sovereign over all things including whether I conceive a child or not. If this is in God’s control, why would He not allow to me have conceived? If children indeed are a blessing from the Lord (Ps. 127:3), what have I done that God has not seen fit to bless me in this way?
I waver between anger and resignation with God. Anger that God currently deems me unfit to mother a child while he deems another woman fit to abort it; resignation at the fact that I cannot change my circumstances and cannot will a baby into my womb. While I have some simmering anger with God (don’t worry; I resolve things with Him at the beginning of each cycle), I am also resigned to my situation. He is sovereign, He is control, and nothing will happen that He does not want to happen.
Much of this stems back into the idea of contentment and being okay with the way things are; the paradox of wanting a child means that the woman isn’t happy with the way things are and is actively working to change her circumstances.
Awkwardness with the Childless Couple in the Church
I live in a religious world that does not know how to handle or minister to people in my situation. It’s perhaps just as uncomfortable for a concerned mother to ask me, “How are you doing this month?” as it is for me to follow their children running around joyfully out of the corner of my eye. Although it might hurt to ask and it may be painful to answer, nevertheless, I will answer. There may be some women who prefer to deal with the pain of not conceiving a child privately. I suppose I’m not one of them. I am tired of feeling alone.
There Are Two of Us
I’m talking about me in this post, but my husband suffers too. We experience the grief of being childless in distinct ways, and I cannot speak to the way he experiences this loss just as he cannot speak fully about mine. He struggles in a way that I cannot understand because of our gender differences. We agree on one thing: unchosen childlessness hurts and the pain, at the end of each cycle, makes a resurgence as acute as ever for each of us.
Seeking Medical Assistance
The time is nearing in which I will have to seek medical help to achieve a successful pregnancy. I am not looking forward to this. While many women have successfully conceived children with the assistance of modern medicine, I always thought that because “things were functioning correctly,” I would never be that woman. But I’m sure they never thought they would be “that woman” too.
Community Outside of the Church
In the meantime, I will finally take the initiative to join an online TTC (Trying To Conceive) community. I am sick and tired of feeling alone in being Christian and childless, not by choice.
Note: We have not pursued adoption yet and are not against it. But many adoptions can be extremely expensive and the money that has to be ponied up front can be a serious deterrent for many couples who struggle financially and would do better with the gradual financial change that comes with a biological baby.
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