Faith


This is the second part of my infertility monologue.  My performance of these monologues plus some other monologues and 5 songs is delayed for a month because we had a major Tennessee Snow Panic.  This is an event where everything closes before any snow falls, and in this case not one flake ever did fall last Friday.  I am not kidding.  Happily I will still be doing my performance next month, or I would be an angry person about putting all this work and then getting canceled for not even any snow.   Today we have actual snow, maybe 3-4 inches, and it actually makes sense to shut everything down since I think we have one snowplow in this town, and if I want to go out I’ll be on my own.

Here’s the rest of the IVF monologue.  Some of it’s about faith and God stuff, so take what you like & leave the rest.

“But we are Christians, and we will pray.

At the beginning, we pray that God will give us children.  A boy and a girl, born close enough to be friends but not so close that we can’t lose the weight in between.  Because we lose the weight.  Like that’s hard?

But after a year, nothing happens, so we pray that the IVF works, and we tell God that it’s His will if it’s twins or just one, but we secretly know that it will be twins.  A boy and a girl.  Because God is all about abundance, and the desires of our hearts, right?  God was whispering something to me about that, but it didn’t make sense.

And after another year, and nothing happens, we pray to God that the IVF will work and there will be a baby.

And after another year you we pray to God “why?”

“Why?”

Christians will tell you why.

They might say: “Maybe God doesn’t want you to be a mother.”  Really?  My neighbor’s son died in a car accident.  Does God not want her to be a mother anymore?   My friend has cancer.  Does God want her to only have one breast, and no eyebrows?

People will say: “Have you prayed for a baby?”  Oh! I was praying for a toaster.

People will say “my friend just kept believing that God could heal her, and then blah blah blah she had a baby.”  I don’t believe that God can physically heal me.  I know He can. I just don’t know if He will.

People sometimes say: “Why did you wait so long to get married?  Didn’t you think about it?”

Did I think about getting too old to have a baby?

Every day.

Every day that I trusted God to bring me a husband.

Every day as I hoped and prayed and dated and waited.  Every year as I saved myself for my wedding night and wondered if even that would ever come. Yeah.  I thought about it.

I don’t do “empty.”  Never could.   I like a full schedule.  God knows I like a full belly.  Full womb was incredible (along with incredibly uncomfortable).

Empty is hard because it scares me a lot.  I spent a lot of my life figuring out all the things I could stuff into the empty.  It all works… for a minute.  Empty feels full, full resembles happy, or not scared, or loved / included / needed.  Pretty soon (if not really soon) the heavy social calendar, the overeating, the striving and pushing and banging too hard on the wrong door for too long… is just exhausting, and there’s that empty again.  Emptier than ever.  Even in good times, I feared the empty.

Sometimes “empty” meant “unloved.”  I thought that activities and gigs and commitments proved that I was liked and needed.  And in the commitments that I cultivated, I tried to prove that I had value.  I was like those people who think it’s rude to show up at a party without a gift or a bottle of wine.  Like just their company isn’t enough.

Since I got to be really good at filling up the empty, I rarely had to face it.  Today, empty is a deep black hole and it has swallowed me.

It doesn’t take decades of therapy to know that “empty” means “available to feel unpleasant emotions” or, more succinctly, “drowned.”  I knew it the minute we got off the plane from Chicago.  The first thing I did (after buying a chocolate milk shake) was start looking for clinics and thinking about what we’d do differently for IVF#8.  But after a few days, I knew that IVF #8 wasn’t going to fill the empty left by IVF #7, and then thinking and planning didn’t comfort me any more.  Didn’t fill me.

One of the things that does “fill me” is music and theatre.  I performed professionally most of the time we lived in Chicago; along with teaching and writing it is my official occupation.  The vague plan was that here in this smaller market I would be able to start all over again, find a gig or two, start a band, write some things, whatever.  I was going to do that after the baby came… after the depression… after I lost the 40 pounds I gained in the 4th trimester… but once I got home from Chicago, filling the empty became an emergency.

I saw an opportunity and went to the audition.  I knew that just reading at the audition would be a mini-performance in itself, and thus would be fun, a whiff of the airplane glue high that I get from performing.  It wouldn’t amount to anything, and I would shrug it off, and maybe meet some new people.  But by the time I got home, knowing that I had done well,  the play was no longer an irrelevant piece of candy but had turned into something big and essential.

To fill the empty.

Obviously, in the way that these things go, I didn’t get the part.  The cameraderie, the juice of being chosen, the time so deliciously full, the important way I would say “I have to go to rehearsal...”  dried up and blew away, and into the whistling darkness of the empty poured all that delayed, denied grief and sadness and fear and anger from our loss.

The empty stretches before me for the rest of my life, because even as I drown in it, I know that I’ll never get away from it.  Some of what defines the empty for me is my slippery hold on my purpose.  What is my purpose, beyond overcoming it all, finding marriage, becoming a mother, becoming a mother again?  What am I for, when that’s all over?  Suddenly nobody’s pulling on the other end of the rope and I fall into the empty.

I’m a religious person, and apparently not a very good one, because God 101 is that He fills me.  This is the “God shaped hole” writ large, and I should fall into the empty and wait for Him there.  I know this.  I also should know that when the empty fills with grief and sorrow, I won’t drown.  But I don’t feel like I know these things today.  The knowing of them in a solid way is stuck on a shelf somewhere and not comforting me.

I felt relief when we found out all five died… it was the worst thing I could think of, and I didn’t have to dread it anymore.  I felt relief when I found out that I am not cast in this stupid play.  I hate the empty and I probably always will, but that panicky moment of standing on the edge and wheeling my arms, grabbing for something, trying not to fall…  is worse.

The first thing is I can’t believe how much better I feel.

This makes sense, because cycling again, and being away from home, was stressful.  I was full of angst and fear and worry about what we could lose, and after last week’s bout of puking stomach bug, I felt a little traumatized by my body’s sudden betrayal.  We stupidly scheduled a long weekend trip that featured a nine-hour drive, with only one day at home before making the Chicago trip.  We’re not easy travelers, and back-to-backing it would have been hard even without the puking bug, which had to hit us on the same day as the nine-hour drive home.

In the very limited sphere of our IVF plans, we lost a lot.  Losing a full sibling for Daniel is a little bit hard, and of course we were hoping for another just like him, even if  that isn’t … wasn’t very possible.  Once we got the first phone call that two embryos had died, I feared / knew that we were a lot closer to losing everything we had.  Or at least everything we had in that freezer.

It didn’t help that Daniel kept us awake most of the night before with a very rare restless night.  He probably picked up on our tension.  Having to get packed and out and to the hospital early was stressful, and once we got the bad news, the exhaustion just magnified everything.

In terms of going forward, and what next, and all that, I feel only a few things.  When we got the news – and can I just say that getting bad news in a hospital gown with half your ass hanging out is extra sucky?  At that point I was exhausted and hormonal and the idea of cranking it up again, finding a new clinic, yadda yadda, seemed impossible and ridiculous.  But when my husband expressed despair about not being able to try again,  I had a big, loud, angry NO in my spirit at the idea of “stopping.”  Of just saying, that’s it, I don’t have any more cycles in me, it would be easier to get used to having an only child than it would be to go back to the drawing board.

Throughout our time of doing IVFs and struggling and all that, I have logged endless hours thinking and discussing what God thinks about infertility, and IVF, and all that.  When a natural process like conceiving a child goes off the rails, many religious people get uncomfortable.  We like to believe that when having a child works as planned, all we do is roll the dice by having sex; God decides when the seed yields a baby, and when it doesn’t.  Fabulous.  That is a lottery most of us will hit.

But if the baby never happens in the usual way, then the paradigm doesn’t work anymore.   Did God just decide “no” for us, “no” every month, every egg, every time?  That’s a lot of “no.”

And then we look around, and see that the paradigm doesn’t work all over the place.  When a woman has a lump in her breast, is God saying “no” to her hope that she will live a long life?  Not necessarily.  Did God say “no” to most of the people who got smallpox, diphtheria, typhoid – until there was a vaccine, and then God started saying… what?  “Never mind?”  “Drat, foiled again!”  Who can fathom it?

I had to adjust my own paradigm, and that means that it got bigger.  God says “yes” to the seed planted in the usual way – for some.  God has said “yes” to the embryo that grew in a laboratory for us, and God apparently said “no” various times as well.   But now I think that we see “yes” and “no” where we want to.  Need to.  Some of us religious folk see “no” even where it breaks our hearts, because a God who takes away but stays within the paradigm is better than a God who seems terrifyingly random.

When we started third phase of IVFing, which means we got the batch of embryos from IVF #4 that seemed promising, transferred two, and froze nine, the paradigm snapped into place easily.  We had nine frozen, and I figured that if God said no to every single one of those cycles until all of those embryos were gone, then maybe God really didn’t want me to have kids, and we would have had to waste a lot of time and money and tears to find that out.

That was actually one of my biggest fears.  And how mean is a God who would do that?

Obviously I am grateful beyond measure that we didn’t end up that way; I had the amazing experience of pregnancy and we have a gorgeous and healthy child who brought, and brings, indescribable joy.

And now that the finale of that batch seems to slam the door on our hopes for a sibling, I’m realizing that the paradigm works when we want it to, and doesn’t work when we don’t.  Because when I think about letting this be “it,” I feel the big “no,” and I remember that we always followed our hearts.  There were opportunities to stop.  There were people who said “Your poor body has been through so much,” which always feels like a veiled criticism to me.  There were setbacks and obvious opportunities to see a big “no” from God.

But I never wanted to stop.  The only “no” I could hear was my own: NO I don’t want to stop. I never got beaten down by it all, not enough to just walk away.  And I still don’t.   This is a lot to consider, and I am looking at it carefully.  Having an only child doesn’t fit my family paradigm, but that doesn’t mean I can’t decide to embrace it.  Being a mother, or being someone who “conquered” infertility, being the little engine that freaking finally could, is some kind of identity that I like for myself.  Who will I be if I’m not trying to overcome?

These are valid questions and I’m not minimizing them.  But I do have clarity on the God / yes / no thing.  If a single person has a crappy date, or is dumped by her boyfriend, is God saying “no” to marriage or companionship for her?  I sure hope not.  Even if a woman is dumped by ten boyfriends in a row, no one would say that she should give up and embrace singleness.   If an unemployed person applies for a hundred jobs and never gets so much as a rejection letter, because that’s how bad things are these days, would we say that God is saying “no” to that person’s hope and need to have a job?  Would we say ‘Isn’t it time to stop?” in that annoying, pitying tone?  I don’t think so.

I am trying very hard not to figure out where to cycle, and what it would cost.  (We still have insurance coverage, can you believe it?)  I am leaving a space in my ideas about now and the future, so that a one-child family can take root as an acceptable plan, if it should, or can.  I have faith that God will let me know if there is something new, different, better, that I should be doing instead of trying for a sibling.

But to those who will say “Do you think it’s time to stop?”  or “I guess you’re supposed to have just one child,” – and what is up with thinking that’s an okay thing to say?  Seriously?  In many minds there is still a kind of prejudice that says an infertile woman should accept her fate, and there is something wrong with “needing to be a mother” so much… and of course there is equal censure for the woman who is childless by choice, isn’t there?

Anyway, I hear the phrase “… time to stop…” and I understand the benefits of it and I’m not ruling it out.

But on that question I also, still, have a great big “NO.”

I had always thought Christians were horrendous, narrow-minded hypocritical people and I am sad to say that I was right.  Many are.  But I had also known a few over the years who were kind and caring, and who had lives that looked happier and better-adjusted that the turmoil I always seemed to be living in.  So when I became a Christian at age 35, it was a shock to my secular family and friends.

It came out of left field for sure.  God had always been vaguely there, but I was surprised to find that a transaction with Jesus could relieve some of the garbage and guilt I’d carried for so long.  So I joined a church and a community and everything was great for a while.

I believed at that point that God loved me more because I was now “his,” and that in return for my signing on the dotted line that He would give me an “abundant life” as Scripture promises.  I figured that meant that I would have an easier life.  After all, I expected God would answer my prayers, and so when I prayed for a husband and one finally came, I felt like things were falling into place.

I was surrounded by people who believed that God would give them “the desires of your heart,” as Scripture promises, and so I believed that getting pregnant at the age of 40 and a few months was another goodie that God would give me.  I saw Him giving this goodie to other women I knew, women who like me had postponed sex until marriage – which isn’t easy – and in so doing postponed our opportunities to try for a baby when our time was already getting short.

Well, obviously God did not come through with the spontaneous over-40 pregnancy.  Since I believed that God either had promised me this, or owed it to me, it was hard.  Christians love to say that “God can do anything,” and I believe that He can.  But “can do” isn’t the same as “will do.”  At the time I started trying to conceive, many of my friends insisted that God would always answer prayer, always give us a promise, always “come through.”  I had a friend who would always say “Do you really think God is going to screw you over?”

At the time the question shamed me.  How could I think that?  Now I believe differently.

After a 37-year old friend was diagnosed with very aggressive breast cancer, a woman who was a shining example of Christian goodness as far as I could see, I realized that my little infertility problem was only the tip of the iceberg.  God wasn’t doing all kinds of things to make Christians’ lives better.

At first I went to the known fallback position, which was that I must be bad in some way.  God must be punishing me for something to withhold the gift of fertility.  This is a hard switch to make, because as we came to Christ, the big deal was that our sins were forgiven.  “Jesus doesn’t care what you’ve done before,” we sang, and that was what made the whole thing so wonderful.  Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross are supposed to be big enough for any sin, so we were supposed to be redeemed.

Hm, I thought.  Did it not take?  Was I not forgiven, since I’m not now getting what I need?

As my friend’s breast cancer progressed and another friend was diagnosed, I thought wow, What did THEY do?  And how did they hide it so well?

It didn’t add up.  Meanwhile we wondered if maybe God wasn’t punishing us.  Our Christian friends who did IVF and ended up with beautiful babies weren’t being punished, apparently.  So we decided we’d do IVF, all the while thinking we’d probably be successful right away.  Because God loves us, and he rewards those He loves, right?  Scripture promises this.

But we weren’t rewarded.  My friends with cancer died.  My IVFs failed.  The sure-thing protocol failed.  My first strong pregnancy was ectopic.

But somehow my faith got stronger.  I realized for every friend trumpeting God’s blessing with her over-40 pregnancy, (some subtly taking credit for it), there were four or five others with no pregnancies, or miscarriages.  I saw God not healing deserving people at all stages of life, and I saw the occasional miracle occur too.  There was never any obvious reason for who drew the short straws and who was rewarded.

I scaled back to the basics.  I know that God loves me but I see that God doesn’t seem to break the laws of nature to help or heal very often, even those who “belong to Him.”  We get sick, we have miscarriages, we die, no matter how good (or bad) we are.

I walked away from the people who insisted that I just had to ask God for “my promise.”  I walked away from the church that insisted that all the answers are available.  I found a new faith that is about choice in the midst of mystery.  Is God giving me everything?  Hardly.  Am I still blessed?  Absolutely.  Do I understand why God is, why God does, why her and not me?  No.  Am I still in?

Yes.  More than ever.

My heart rebounded as I realized that taking credit for good things in my life means I must take the blame for the bad, and I deserve neither credit nor blame.  Now when I hear people saying that a bad thing that has happened to someone – such as infertility – is “God’s judgment,” (almost always misspelled, to boot), I recognize the infantile faith that I used to have.  The idea that “God loves me more than you, because I’m good and you’re bad,” is sad and hateful.  And doomed.

Because bad things DO happen.  They always do.  The entire book of Job can be boiled down to “Bad things happen to good people, trust God and suck it up.”  And when “the day of evil comes,” if we think that bad things are only supposed to happen to bad people, we will suffer ten times more.

I know.  I believed that and I suffered.

I am sorry for anyone who believes in this cardboard, transactional, conditional God, and I’m sorry for the pain that these beliefs cause.  Many of us suffered yesterday just from the briefest encounter with such deep hate and ignorance.  But bad things come to all of us, good or bad, and when they do, hate burns the hater and the cardboard God fails.

The real one will be waiting.