I don’t know about you, but the experience of infertility has involved a lot of weeping for me – a whole lot of weeping, often in strange places, frequently in front of perfect strangers and about procedures both bizarre and invasive. On a fall day in 2006, I was weeping on the floor of a chapel the size of an office desk at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The fact that our national, government-funded hospital had a Eucharistic chapel at all was a surreal surprise, and its ridiculous size meant I was practically wrapped around the tabernacle’s pedestal. It was just me and Jesus and an abundance of tears.
I was at the NIH for a three-day study on the reproductive condition I’d been diagnosed with at thirteen – premature ovarian failure (POF). In the years since my diagnosis, the number of women suffering from POF had increased dramatically, and I had just had a battery of tests to gather data on my condition. Many of them were deeply unpleasant. The expression of horror on the radiologist’s face when she realized she had to do a transvaginal ultrasound on a menopausal virgin is particularly memorable. To this day, I’m really not sure who was more traumatized by the experience.
So there I was, curled up in the fetal position, all but nose to nose with the tabernacle door, and incandescent with rage. Three days of invasive, often painful information gathering had solidified afresh what I had been told thirteen years earlier. My ovaries had failed then, they failed still, and they would likely never function again. I was reproductively broken. I would have no babies of my own.
At some point during this maelstrom, I flipped my Bible open, and my eyes fell on a verse I’d never read before: “Am I a God at hand, says the LORD, and not a God afar off?” (Jeremiah 23:23). I wasn’t comforted by this reminder at all. I was furious: “HOW?! HOW CAN YOU LET THIS HAPPEN?! I get that You’re with me always, and I’m grateful. I am! But I need you to FIX this. I need You to fix ME. Please. Please, fix me.”
My silent bellowing at the Lord went on for some time, until one of the NIH chaplains came in. Her entrance was awkward for two reasons. First, it’s not easy to politely pretend not to see someone who is sobbing so hard their eyes have all but swollen shut. Second, the poor woman had to practically stand on top of me to access the tabernacle. I closed my eyes tighter, hugged the wall while she filled her pyx, and prayed that she’d just hurry up and leave. Then she gasped. I opened my eyes and saw a consecrated host falling to the carpet. It rolled to a stop within an inch of my feet, and that terribly, horribly uncomforting verse I’d just read echoed in me with a soul-deep resonance I still cannot describe: “I am a God at hand, says the Lord, not a God afar off” (emphasis clearly His).
I don’t know why He was so literally, so scandalously direct with me in that moment, or why in even harder moments before and after He has chosen more circumspect ways to press in. All I know is that He does. He presses in. He is always-already pressing in to me; to my specific pain; to the indignity of being reduced to a malfunctioning pair of ovaries to most of the medical profession and often to myself; to the awful temptation of being told by more than one reproductive endocrinologist “we’ll just get you a donor egg and get you pregnant in no time!”; to the unspeakable sorrow of knowing that, barring a miracle, I won’t see my husband’s wildly curly hair in our children and carry them under my heart.
Children of my body isn’t the shape His presence has taken – the fruit His abiding with me in this suffering has borne, if you will. He and I discuss this frequently and at length. I’m almost always crying, and He is at hand. He is with me. He is unutterably moved by my pain and completely undaunted by it. And He is with you too, friend.