Wednesday, October 17, 2018

On Infertility and the Church

Just last year a friend asked me if it was alright for her to talk about her pregnancy. My youngest was about a year and a half at the time. Presumably the pain of infertility is enough in the past that I should be able to have these conversations without holding myself back.

I appreciated the question.

Was it time? Could I do it?

Or would it, like so many conversations that happened during our years of infertility, throw me into emotional chaos?

It only took a few seconds for me to take stock and realize I was ready. This was a friend who had prayed for me, cared for me, loved me, who was now on her third pregnancy and hadn't really felt free to talk about the first two with me because we were still waiting and hoping and experiencing the pain of loss over and over and over again. And she knew it was too much.

It's funny, you know. Looking back on the years of that struggle, there are a few very stark memories that define it for me.

Sitting in a pew at church while pregnant woman after pregnant woman walked by, bellies right at my eye level, and fighting ever so hard to be happy for them, to pray for their unborn children and, honestly, fighting hard not to flee down the aisle and sob in the car.

I didn't always win that fight.

Listening to sermon after sermon wherein the person shared a similar struggle and how God eventually "blessed" him or her with that long-awaited biological child.  Because (a) they finally stopped asking or (b) they let God teach them something they were stubbornly unwilling to learn and so God answered them or (c) they prayed without doubt or (d) they prayed in tongues or (e) they chose holiness in their life and so God rewarded them. It really goes on and on. And not one time did I hear a sermon in which God didn't answer that prayer in exactly the way the person wanted. And yet I know couple after couple for whom a biological child was not "the answer."

Being told that to "be fruitful and multiply" was still God's mandate for how I should family plan. Just trust him, if children are indeed a blessing, then you will have more.

There was no language for what we were going through. There were only stories of victory. Hang in there, I know someone who waited 10 years! Oh, well, you are going to adopt? You know the second you do, you'll get pregnant. That's how God works. Stop asking. Once you don't want it, he'll give it to you.

Friends, come on.


Can we not do better for one another, here? Can we stop misrepresenting God as a capricious, malicious being who only gives kids to those who pray the right way? Are we really going to tell people there is a way to earn kids? What is that?

I realize that there is no comfortable way for us to talk about infertility. It DOESN'T make sense. In our case, the medical community called it "unexplained." There was no biological reason for it. There was nothing we could "fix." Maybe that's why all the spiritual fixes felt even more unhelpful. Even though we knew we disagreed with the theology of so many of them, we would latch onto the hope they offered. Ok, maybe I am NOT praying hard enough. OK, maybe I AM really being disobedient in some way. What can I change? What can I do so God will stop punishing me?

Maybe it's my fault. I caused it, I perpetuate it, I am guilty, somehow.

Rather than sitting with each other, lamenting the losses, the miscarriages, the unwanted periods...we struggle to find an explanation. And inadvertently heap guilt on one another when we do.

Look, I don't have any answers here. I don't know why it happens. I don't know exactly what God is up to in anyone's journey of infertility. I know the literature says that it can be as emotionally painful as a cancer diagnosis and I know that felt true. It was literally debilitating at times. And it sure as heck was isolating.

And I know the church, where babies are celebrated, longed for, baptized, dedicated and cherished can be the hardest place in the world for an infertile woman to thrive. Sometimes the way motherhood is communicated, the way pregnancy is communicated, can even threaten the very woman-ness of someone going through this. She feels less than. Like who she was created to be cannot fully be.

Can I be honest?

This is nonsense. Utter, damaging nonsense.

I was created to be a daughter of a loving God. That's it. Whether I can produce a baby or not doesn't change who I am or my status before God. Let's cut this out now. 

It's Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.

What if we talked about that IN THE CHURCH?

What if we started to have a language for women to understand that it isn't about their spiritual effort?

What if we mourned with those who mourn in this particular area?

What if we shared stories from the pulpit that DIDN'T result in a biological child?

What if we talked about adoption not just as the "solution to abortion" in our churches but as a complex and traumatic choice and not the simplistic, unicorns and rainbows, way that we currently do?

What if we didn't talk about adoption as the "backup" plan?

What if we could truly be the church and embrace those couples who feel alienated from a culture that equates blessing with family size?

What if, like Jesus did, we could just sit with a woman in pain and offer her love?

Man, that would be a beautiful thing.

Friend, if you are going through this silent pain, please know that I'm safe. I would be happy to listen, to cry, to lament, to yell.

And I promise not to offer you any solutions. Just love.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Cue the Balloons

I don't know if it's one person's job or whether it's some kind of magical, automated thing, but you know that moment after a huge victory? When people are cheering and balloons drop from the sky as if from heaven and everyone is smiling and laughing and existing in a sea of delighted chaos?

How fun would it be to be the person who makes that happen?

Who waits for the cue and releases celebration into the world.

Today was my middle son's last day of camp. It started 3 days into summer and ended 3 days before the new school year.

Camp, my friends, was a risk. Last year came with a lot of curveballs. A lot of failures. New diagnoses. New therapists. New medicines and supplements. LOTS of new grey hairs. And heading into the summer, my son hadn't had a lot of successes to tuck into his belt. It had been a very hard spring.

His therapist, however, had insisted he was ready for camp. That he could DO this. And not just do or survive it, but love it.

And friends?

Today, I am seizing that job that sounds oh-so-fun and releasing a storm of metaphorical balloons into our lives.

Today, he celebrated the last day of camp with a party. He brought in his own safe cake and special chips and lime juice so he could partake of the kona ice truck fun. He smiled. He laughed. He said goodbye at the door to his dad without screaming or panicking.

And when I picked him up three hours later, he ran into my arms and told me all about the party. He hugged his teacher goodbye and thanked her. And she told me he had been a delight. A DELIGHT. In fact, we had not one phone call home the whole summer. Not only did he survive, he thrived.

I handed him a little gift to celebrate - a pack of water balloons - and we talked the whole way home about how much fun he had had. About the friends he had made. And the beautiful women who had taught him and laughed with him and sang and danced with him. Who had helped him have success after success.

And later on, he filled every one of those balloons and had his own little party.

And it wasn't just camp. As a sweet little four year old, he joined the swim team again this season and worked up to racing. He earned ribbons. His amazing coaches pushed him and loved on him. He had the large majority of the team and not a few parents waiting at the end of the lane in his very first 25 meter freestyle race cheering their heads off to make sure he made it. He felt like he was a part of something bigger and it made him so very happy. We even made him a swim team corkboard just like his big brother and he is so very proud of it and can't wait to fill it with more next season. He loves for me to read him his little awards that his coaches wrote for him and we laugh together about how true they are.

Cue the balloons.

We fight hard for victories around here. They don't always come often and they don't ever come easy. But my beautiful boy who had one of the hardest years of his life had his best summer yet.

I am so stinking proud of him.

He has worked his little patootie off with his therapists. And he is ready and excited for school next week. Turns out his amazing teacher this summer will be his teacher this fall so his transition (and MAN are transitions rough for him) is almost nonexistent this Tuesday. Look at God, friends.

We don't know how this fall will go. We have a lot of hope that his successes will continue. We know there will be good days and really hard ones.

But today, as his mama, I get to be the one who releases the celebration. And what a joy it is!

Friday, July 6, 2018

Sanity Savers #2: The Routine Checklists

About a month ago, I wrote a very well-intentioned post about my intentions to write a series on some Sanity Savers around here. 

Then, you know, life. End of school. More appointments. Etc. 

I did manage to get that first one written about the visual timer but my hope is that now we are setting into a (so far) successful summer rhythm, I can finish the job I started.

In that spirit, here is entry two: the Routine Checklists.

When you have a bunch of kids and one of them has a LOT to keep track of, you need a way to make sure you don't forget any part of the routine. I am sure there are amazing apps or programs that can do it- but I am a visual person and I love paper and am addicted to my laminater- so I make lists. And display them prominently. 

It seems so silly and simple. But it honestly works for us.

I write a checklist with boxes to check, print it, laminate it and display it on the side of our refrigerator because the kitchen is most definitely the hub of our family activity.

My oldest son is 11 and has increasing levels of responsibility around here. We believe strongly in kids having a sense of ownership in their home and family - a deep sense that they are supposed to joyfully contribute to the functionality of the household. He will be ready for college when the time comes, we hope, because he has learned he has a role in keeping not just himself functioning, but his family, too. (And yes, he wants to go to college and he's working towards that. That is not just his crazy mom assuming that future for him.) 

This is his morning list (and he has a separate evening list) and he can handle it:

My middle son needs a number of things to happen in the first hour of his awake time in the day to give him the best shot at a successful morning. And yes, his list includes chores, too. Giving kids responsibility is a positive thing and for my incredibly independent four year-old, it is a way for us to give him trust, independence and a positive sense of accomplishment. 

Here's his list:

I also just enjoy having a to-do list that I can erase and start over each day. Saves paper and again, I know I could do this on a phone, but I LOVE using markers to make those satisfying check marks. Call me a nerd. I embrace it. 

Looks like this:

Does this save my sanity? Yep. Saves the time of wondering if I have done everything I needed to do for my boys in the morning. Gives them a clear expectation of what needs to happen before they leave the house for school or camp. Do we tweak the lists in different seasons? Of course! Does the laminater get used all the time? Happily! 

It's a simple system but it works for us. 

What kind of system could help YOU stay on top of that morning routine?