third in an ongoing series…
There is something I should note going forward; Anna is not the only friend with whom I have had this experience. There have been several friends of mine who have struggled with infertility and miscarriage. I can say that almost each time I was pregnant, including miscarriages I walked with a friend who was also pregnant. Three times I went on to deliver a healthy baby and they did not, three times they went on to deliver and I did not. I have also walked with friends who never got pregnant, never miscarried and never stopped desiring motherhood even so.
I find myself skittish now about how to move with other women. This is sad to me. I think, perhaps, what should have come from this relational distress should be a greater understanding of how to find our common language. It is easy to speak Hope, easy to offer up bite sized helpings based on scriptural references. God WILL grant you the desires of your heart, He DOES have plans for you, plans to prosper you, Remember the persistent widow…blah blah blah…easily said. While all of these moments of Hope are genuine, prayed for, shared, they are not always meant to be delivered by someone who has no need for that particular brand of Hope.
I think what would have been life giving would have been for us to operate with Grace as a mediator, rather than Hope. Grace is difficult to speak because Grace operates so often without words. Grace is quiet and still. Grace does not require action but rather waiting and breathing and listening. When Hope enters the room it fills in the empty spaces like expandable foam, entering into the cracks but Grace, Grace is the air we breathe. It is what fuels this “walk beside me empathy” that is required. Hope may be dashed to the rocks when spoken in the silence but Grace is sweet when given, in noise, in quiet, in grief.
Second in the series….
I have no comparison for Anna’s experience. There is nothing I can compare, any loss or unfulfilled dream I can imagine that can equal the absence of motherhood. I cannot compare it to never having a car or a house or a career because we are talking not about a “thing” but rather about a human and about a transformation of one’s very being. That may seem like an overstatement but I don’t believe it is.
For someone who desires motherhood the experience of having a child, whether by adoption or biologically, brings with it something which changes forever the fiber of one’s being. Well known humourist, Erma Bombeck once said that to become a parent means forever wearing your heart on the outside of your body. There are very few joyful things in life that cause this degree of vulnerability really. A good friend struggling with infertility said recently that “right now my personal need to mother children is right under breathing, eating and shelter.” It would have been easy for me to take that statement to a place of judgement, to “call her to a higher place” and tell her that it sounded like she was elevating motherhood to an idolatrous level and then what she said next was so beautiful that I was floored. She said that what she needed, what she was desperate for in fact was “walk beside me empathy”. When she said this to me I immediately saw how little I had understood.
All this time with Anna I had been trying to either walk ahead, shouting directions on how she should move, how fast she should walk or just saying “come up here…THIS is where Jesus is!” or I was lagging behind and making myself more deserving of grief than she, “Well, yes, but I’VE suffered too! Can’t you see how much grief I have had??” Now what I really wish I had done was stand next to her, walking as she walked, asking once in a while if she would like to stop and rest and just listening and hearing that it was hard. Walk beside me empathy, Christ on the road to Emmaus.
Of course I have had pain, I have had hard experiences too in the field of fertility but that is not really what comes into play when I am walking with a friend who is suffering. We cannot move our emotional furniture to make space for Joy to live because Grief brings with her some very heavy pieces. All the light in the room is eclipsed by the weight of the fabric on the windows, the need to protect oneself from the glaring daylight of reality, statistics and desperation. The only air to breathe MUST come from a third party in the room.
The first in a series of articles about friends and infertility…
“We ought to be able to navigate this,” I kept thinking. It was my second child. It was her first, she was newly married and this baby was a suprise, a honeymoon baby. We were close friends so to be pregnant together was exciting. It was another commonality we had, one more piece of the foundation to our friendship. I remember being at a lakeside vacation house with her and we both ordered fried food for dinner one night to satisfy a craving. Our due dates were about a week apart so I was close to 8 weeks and she was going on 7 weeks.
About a week later Anna began to spot a little. I was afraid immediately because I had recently experienced a miscarriage and the circumstances felt familiar to me. I prayed for God to ease my fears, I prayed for this baby of Anna’s to continue to develope. When the spotting didn’t stop and the morning sickness did stop Anna told me she didn’t feel pregnant anymore. She made an appointment for an ultrasound and I prayed.
When the doctor told her that the baby had stopped developing and that she should have a d&c, I prayed. I prayed that God would show the doctor and the ultrasound to be wrong. I confess that I even prayed the He would give me the miscarriage and Anna the baby. It’s not that I didn’t want to be pregnant, it’s more that I wanted Anna to be spared the loss. It was unfair that she should suffer a loss while I already had a healthy baby.
Anna had the d&c, something I had avoided with my miscarriage because it happened “naturally.” At first we talked about our experience with miscarriage, compared the d&c route to the “natural” route, much as we compared pregnancy experiences. I tried to avoid saying things that used the words “God’s plan” or “Nature’s way.” I tried to be encouraging to her when she was grieving, acknowledging her feelings and standing close when she asked that of me. I tried to not talk about being pregnant anymore even though time and the growing baby I was carrying were a constant reminder, a blinking light in her face.
“We ought to be able to navigate this” was all that came to me, nothing more. I did not know what to say and what not to say. Often I chose to remain silent and she became more silent. I could see the grief on her face as the months wore on just as she saw the joy in mine as my due date grew closer. A wise mutual friend suggested that there had to be room in our friendship for her grief and my joy but I’m not sure we were able to arrange our emotional furniture enough to discover that room.