The following post is not meant to minimize the suffering of those that have experienced the effects of infertility and/or COVID-19 (referred to as the “pandemic” in this post); rather, it is an attempt to find some truth, similarities, and even a little humor in two experiences that have caused suffering of varying degrees. We offer examples of how these statements resonate with our experiences. Perhaps a few of these might resonate with you.
- Both have lasted way longer than we anticipated.
We anticipated the possibility of infertility due to getting married around the age of 40 and our family histories. We thought, however, that we would eventually find the treatment that would result in a baby within a couple of years and did not envision that we would continue to be childless.
Many people initially thought the pandemic would last a couple of weeks or at the most into the summer. Instead, it has lasted much longer and, even once the vaccine is fully available, certain effects from it will last much longer.
- Both caught us off guard, even though we knew they were possibilities.
When we were preparing for marriage, we said, “Open hands, open hearts.” We knew kids would be part of our life (for example, teaching Christian formation), even if they were not our own children. But, we just did not anticipate how hard it would be responding to the question, “Do you have kids?” or “How many kids do you have?” We did not realize how difficult it would be to hear others recount stories about their grandkids, knowing that we have been unable to make that happen for our parents, to see pregnant women, or to hear birth announcements, given the unfulfilled longing in our hearts.
The pandemic also caught us off guard and quickly changed many previous routines. For example, we had to adapt to working from home in roles which was not meant to be entirely virtual. We also began questioning the most basic but important parts of our life, like “Wait, it may not be safe to go to the grocery store? or “We can’t go into the doctor’s office with another family members to hear what the surgeon says?” or “All churches are closed… wait…it’s not safe to attend mass?”
- Both have involved grieving.
Initially, it seemed illogical to grieve a dream not realized and a person who has not come to be, since we more commonly associate grief with the death of a person. Through conversations with each other, our counselor, discussions with other women/couples, and other resources, we have acknowledged that infertility truly is a loss, and we have felt more at peace as we journey through the grief.
Similarly, the pandemic has caused us to grieve the loss of our pre-pandemic life. Examples of this loss include changes to our personal, spiritual, and professional routines, separation from extended family, illnesses among family and friends, and the overall uncertainty in the country and around the world.
- Both have resulted in social isolation.
First, in social circles where it is common for conversations about kids to occur, we often perceive that we have little to contribute. So, sometimes we hesitate to join conversations where kids is the likely topic. Second, there are likely other times that we would be invited to socialize with other families if we had kids, which compounds the isolation.
The pandemic and social isolation…need we say more?
- Both have resulted in additional planning and new ways of doing things.
Over time, we have become skilled at anticipating common triggers. For example, we have a planned response to the “kid question” now. Todd usually responds when we’re together, and Stacy has become more skilled at responding without melting down into tears . We anticipate situations where triggers commonly occur. For example, we check the church calendar to anticipate baptisms at mass so we are not surprised when we arrive. This way, we can either strategize ways of attending and managing emotions, or plan to attend mass at a different parish that weekend, depending on the week and how internally resourceful we feel.
During the pandemic, we have become more skilled with finding workarounds to just about everything, such as ordering groceries online, video-meetings, the mute button , and other technologies to accomplish tasks that we previously did in-person.
- Both have brought us closer together.
Initially, infertility drove a wedge between us. To say that Stacy’s emotional and Todd’s rational responses to infertility were not very compatible is an understatement. Attempting to talk about it drove Stacy to tears and created frustration for Todd. However, through seeing a counseling clinician and finding other activities that feed our marriage, we have become much more skilled at supporting each other and finding activities that we enjoy doing together and that give life to others.
Since the pandemic, we have had more time together, which has been a simultaneous gift and challenge. While we have enjoyed the additional time together, we both felt the impact when outside activities stopped, and we were suddenly in the house together 24/7. Ultimately, figuring out how to use our collective strengths to support each other and our extended family through this difficult time has made us stronger.
- Both have helped us look for ways to become grateful and live in the present moment rather than wishing and hoping for a better time.
God shows up in the present moment, rather than waiting for us down the road, like once we have a child, or once the pandemic is over. Infertility provides different opportunities to give life. Specifically, there have been critical times that we have been available to help family and friends that would have been more complicated with young children. For example, we have had the opportunity to provide continuous support to extended family during their illnesses and unexpected moves.
The pandemic also presents opportunities, even with all the restrictions. For example, we have had the chance to run many errands on behalf of extended family, help neighbors, and support others in using technology to stay in touch with their family and friends.
- We look for ways to extend grace to others because everyone is doing the best they can.
Through our infertility, we have become more aware of the hidden griefs that people carry, such as the loss of a parent or a dream not realized (e.g., a single person’s longing to be married, a divorced individual grieving a relationship that did not work, or a person coping with a professional goal not achieved). So, this has helped us be more aware of the sadness and grieving of others, especially by being more sensitive to bringing up topics that might be a source of pain for others. We have also learned to show others grace, when well-meaning yet hurtful things are said in response to our childlessness. This continues to be an area of growth as it is particularly challenging at times.
Similarly, in the midst of the pandemic, we are all operating on Plan B, C, D, or perhaps even Plan Z, at this point. Extending grace and patience to those we encounter is showing others the face of Christ in a moment when it is most needed, which is often easier said than done.
- We are not in control.
Both infertility and the pandemic point to the fact that despite our best efforts, we cannot control the outcome. Nor can we explain why some treatments support fertility and result in a baby for some families and not for others, or why some people have COVID and show no symptoms while others die from COVID. For both infertility and COVID, there are times where we feel completely helpless.
- God is still present and hearing our prayers.
Despite our feelings, emotions, and even the whispers of the Devil, we are not alone during infertility or the pandemic. While the emotions of the present moment often cloud God’s presence, He walks with us and shows up through the listening ear of each other, extended family, friends, and other supports. For example, God has brought us in touch with a terrific counselor, people in organizations such as Springs in the Desert, and with participants on several marriage retreats, all of whom have listened compassionately and empathized with us without trying to solve our “problem” (i.e., they have accompanied us).
The same has been true of our experience during the pandemic. We are not separated from God’s presence, love, and hope because the pandemic prevents us from physically worshipping together. Through live-streaming, podcasts, and everyday acts of kindness, God accompanies us all as we continue to journey through this pandemic.
Each experience of infertility and the pandemic is unique. Please feel welcome to add or share your own perspectives in the comments box.
Stacy and Todd write from the southeastern United States. They have been married nine years.