A Reflection on Infertility, in Two Parts
Part II: Don’t Look Down
If I had the answer to eliminating infertility or its suffering I’d share it with the world. Sadly, there’s no answer, or at least not an easy one. But I have learned that though God hasn’t given me what I want (to conceive, give birth to and raise a child), He gives my husband and me what we need. First of all, He’s given us each other, and that is a gift that for the longest time I believed I’d never receive. Second, He’s generously gifted us with spiritual parenthood, which we exercise in a number of ways. I’m still trying to appreciate my spiritual parenthood, which feels in some sense like second place, the consolation prize that doesn’t actually console. I’ve been learning how to view my spiritual motherhood in terms that aren’t overly romantic, but still concrete. Babysitting my godson or holding a niece or nephew is not the same as having my own child. At the same time, I am no less nurturing or protective when I interact with these children. Those are moments when my motherhood truly is actualized, and I’m learning not to disregard them.
Some days I feel as if I’ll always have a certain sadness over the infertility that has shaped my marriage. At other times, I see a clear way forward, my feet are steady with each step on the tightrope and my mind and body are relaxed, no longer feeling the pressure or anxiety that comes with trying and failing to conceive. I know that anyone reading this who is walking her (or his) own tightrope has a unique experience. Some of you are newlyweds but have already had infertility set you off balance. Some have been walking this line for years, and others are where I am, having essentially reached “the end of the line,” though maybe not realizing it, or not wanting it to be true. We find ourselves frozen out there standing in the middle of the wire, feeling the urge to look down, afraid to move. Wherever each of us finds ourselves on this line, we inevitably look for a way around whatever it is that keeps us frozen, or off-balance, or relentlessly pushing forward without a net. Honestly, I don’t think it’s something I, or any of us, have to get around. It’s the loss of really meaningful things and moments in life that cause pangs of sadness, but that’s what makes us recognize and appreciate their value. Children are good! And our desire for them is, too. It’s a loss we mourn when we they don’t come to us naturally. The mourning is okay, and it’s healthy. The danger lies in some of the tricks we might try to pull up on the tightrope, perhaps by contorting our bodies in an effort to get them to “work,” bargaining with God or the saints, not letting in grief for fear of conceding defeat, or letting bitterness and despair rule our steps to spite an unfair God.
We have to remember that the acrobat on the high wire doesn’t walk it effortlessly on the first try. She knows her body and its limits, and she takes those first steps low to the ground, gradually working her way higher and higher. She is eager to make it to the other side but usually she falls along the way as she builds up the patience needed to make it safely to the end of the line. If she’s smart, she has a net below and holds onto that pole for balance. Most importantly, she doesn’t look down.
For a long while now I’ve been stuck in the middle of the tightrope. Only now am I understanding that I need a net beneath me: the support of family and friends, and the network we’re building with Springs in the Desert. I have to hold on for balance, or else my arms will flail and I’ll fall down and really hurt myself. That “balance” for me is my husband, and I realize that my good desire for a baby is too often all about me, and not the fruit of the love and gratitude I have for my husband. Infertility means a loss for both of us, but it also means that we have to more intentionally (and selflessly) nurture our marriage and each other. If I don’t hold on to Keith I’ll lose my balance and fall – and I’ll bring him down with me.
For much of the time our marriage has languished in infertility, I’ve been “looking down” as I walk the line. “Looking down” for me means second-guessing our decisions, indulging in jealous anger and self-pitying, blaming my husband, but more often blaming myself for our infertility. Looking down keeps me from facing what’s straight ahead, and keeps me off balance and frozen where I am. As I confront my grief and try to process it, I understand more clearly that what I need to see in front of me is not regret over what could have been, but to acknowledge what is. What I have now is a wonderful husband with a generous heart who loves me as I am.
Infertility is a process. Some experience it for a short time, and others remain in it indefinitely. Some couples will never conceive, while others may lose one or more children. Regardless of where we are in that process the rules of the high wire must be attended. The marriage bond created and sustained by God is the net, and it’s with gratitude that we must cling to our spouse to maintain our balance. But the most important rule to follow when we’re up in the air, trying hard to keep from falling, is to focus our gaze on Jesus. The most fearless act any of us can perform is to stop looking at our own feet and where they’re taking us, and just look at Him.
Ann M. Koshute, MTS, lives in gratitude for her husband, Keith, in small-town Central PA