…in the extreme night which no word penetrates, there will be a voice that calls us, a hand that takes our hand and leads us on.
~ Joseph Ratzinger
There are a range of emotions that strike us as we navigate the rough terrain of infertility: frustration, anger, jealousy, hopelessness, to name only some of them. I think that the one that cuts the deepest, and which persists the longest is simply sadness. Of course each of us will experience this sadness differently and with varying intensity along the way. (For some the predictable sadness accompanying any loss may lead to or exacerbate clinical depression, in which case it’s important to seek good professional help and support). The sadness to which I am referring is like a dull pain, one that is at times barely noticeable, or non-existent, but which flares up when triggered, or for no perceptible reason at all.
This past summer I fully expected a “flare up” of the pain when my cousin and his wife visited us with their new baby. We all sat outside on the deck and chatted, ate lunch and doted on Gabriel. It was a hot and humid day, the kind that would make anyone fussy and uncomfortable, but especially unpleasant for this little guy. I took him in my arms and went to the sunroom, where the blinds shaded us from the harsh sunlight and the air conditioning created the comforting coolness perfect for a nap. After a little bouncing and rocking, Gabriel was asleep. Lying there on my chest, his ear to my heart, I slowly and gently stroked his temple, skimming the tiniest bit of hair that was still struggling to come in. I felt oddly at ease; odd because I fully expected the day to be hard, and had even prepared myself to be a jealous, sad mess as soon as I laid eyes on the baby. But sitting there with Gabriel sleeping soundly on my chest I felt very much at peace. The dull pain of sadness had been replaced by contentment – was this finally acceptance? – and happiness that he was here with me, and happiness that he wasn’t mine. Here, in the heat of the summer (the heat of my sadness), I enjoyed the cool consolation of just being with this sweet child. Nothing more was wished for or needed.
After a while Gabriel and I returned to the deck, both feeling refreshed and content. During the whole visit my husband (who is naturally more introverted than I anyway) was especially quiet. He held Gabriel for a few minutes and I took some pictures. As he cradled the boy my husband smiled, bounced him a little, and spoke some “baby talk.” Looking at those pictures now I see my smiling husband looking natural and at ease holding Gabriel, and yet…. Something I didn’t see on that day lies behind the smile. Like any good nagging wife, I asked him periodically during the day if everything was okay, since I perceived his quiet was not about just “being in the moment.” I felt as if there was some discomfort or lack of ease that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. After brushing me off a few times he finally snapped, “Nothing is wrong!” so I let it go. When the visit was over we said our goodbyes, gave Gabriel a parting kiss – and that was that. Keith and I did not speak a word of our thoughts and emotions following the visit.
The next afternoon I was sitting at the kitchen table working on my computer when Keith returned from work. He came straight over to my chair, dropped to his knees and confessed the reason for his quietness and short responses the day before. “It hurts me too, “ he said, and that moment was a revelation and a transformation. All of the conversations we’d had about infertility over the years were mostly one-sided, with me crying or lashing out, and him comforting me. Sometimes I thought perhaps he didn’t care that we were childless, that it didn’t “hurt him too;” but more often I probably only cared that I was hurting. As my husband’s tears wet my cheeks I felt cleansed by them. I hated to see him in pain, and yet I felt like we finally reached the solidarity in our infertility that had been so elusive for eight years – and which I didn’t even realize we were missing. Our shared sadness had been unmasked, hidden for so long beneath brave fronts and a life that doesn’t stop just because we experience bumps in the road. It hurt me deeply to see my husband in pain, yet I felt that we’d broken through a barrier that we didn’t know kept us from moving forward in hope: hope for the continued growth in our marriage, hope for a future in which our love was more than words and sentiment, but the strong and enduring presence of each to the other. What I felt now was a hope that is being fulfilled by Christ, the One who bound us together in marriage and Who holds onto us even when we feel like we’re floating aimlessly and alone. As my tears mixed with Keith’s, it felt like a second “baptism,” our sobs the letting go of the stain of our infertility, discovering the freedom in being open and honest with each other, and the water flowing from our eyes washing away our feelings of inadequacy and letting each other down. Jesus was in those tears, His voice crying out with ours, breaking through the silence of our shared pain, making way for light to overcome the darkness that had in some way for all these years concealed us from each other.
It is the Archangel Gabriel who announced to Mary that she would be the Mother of God. The name is derived from Hebrew and it means “God is my strength.” Gabriel is the Messenger who delivers Good News and knows that the strength of his authority to speak on God’s behalf comes not from himself but the One who sends him. Baby Gabriel, the youngest member of our family, doesn’t yet know that he carries a name with such power. As for me, the dull pain of sadness from the wound of infertility still makes its appearance once in a while, and that’s okay. But on one hot summer day, a little baby revealed to my husband and me that God is our strength, and the good news is that the strength of our marriage lies not in our weak efforts, but in Him. Light overcomes darkness, joy outlasts pain – and a little child will lead us.
Ann Koshute writes from Central Pennsylvania where she lives with her wonderful husband, Keith
Meet Ann and the Springs in the Desert Team at our one-day Seasons of Infertility retreat on Saturday December 7 in Philadelphia, PA. Go to our retreat page for more information. Email us with your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org