Bitterness is Easier and it Tastes like Pizza - (Part 1)
The other day I was looking through pictures of David as a little bitty and I just sat there and cried. He was so beautiful as a child. Still is. The thought of never having a child with his incredible voice, no genes carried down from his gifted mother and father; it brings fresh tears every time. I want his child so desperately.
Infertility is hard. It just is. And heaped on top of the overall ache, jealousy and bitterness became mainstays for me since Trying began 7 years ago. In some ways, they’ve been the cruelest part. Why does it hurt so bad when others win this pregnancy race ahead of me, whether I consider them deserving or not? Why is it sometimes just honest grief and other times it is the vilest form of envy? Why does it feel so good to be so angry? Why is my first instinct to crumple up the zillionth baby shower invitation and throw it when someone else younger than me gets pregnant so easily?
I have been chewing on these questions for years. I am weary of the emotional gymnastics and exhausted by the whiplash of my heart feeling completely fine one minute and shredded the next.
Mother’s Day is such a difficult day for me like it is for so many of us inside this fellowship of suffering. I remember a specific one in my growing collection of babyless Mother's Days . The hope I felt that morning was palpable. The “what if…” was so unbelievable and too wonderful of a thought. It would have been too glorious to become a mother for the first time on this day.
We were at church and I went to the bathroom to discover that my suspicions were correct and yet again I was not a mother on Mother’s Day. My glimmer of hope plummeted. All the anxiety of trying to perceive every sensation settled once again for another 28 days of waiting. Tears fell as I dug into my purse and got what I needed for my body, but what about my heart?
Just as I walked out the door, I saw her. There was a stunning new mother, standing in the hallway by a window. She was cradling a newborn with the beautiful light of the morning sun shining down on them, turning her hair golden and making the side of the baby’s face glow with the epic beauty of the ultimate irony. Awesome. Heart shredded. I’m never doing Mother’s Day again. Except I love my mom, so there’s that.
Two years into Trying, my beautiful sister-in-law had her third baby. Last year 76 friends got pregnant (I just made up that number... there’s probably more). I remember the first time I had to apologize to a coworker after the way I handled her announcement. I attended countless baby showers. I even guilt-tripped one gal in her second trimester for telling me she was tired of throwing up when I would do anything for a taste of morning sickness. Then I called her back and ate crow. I weathered the experience of others’ wonderful news picking me up and slamming me on the ground in the grocery store while I was innocently checking my phone for a list of pot roast ingredients. Geez! Is there nowhere sacred? So exhausting. Such a constant battle with grief. Whiplash. Never-ending whiplash.
I decided to talk about this with my friend Karen when I was in Nairobi on a mission trip serving with her organization. Her understanding for this kind of suffering came from the battles she fought for her children. Although infertility was not a lengthy experience for her, both of her children were born with a genetic condition that meant a life-long struggle for survival. Their bodies do not respond normally to things that you and I encounter every day. She’s lived a life of frequent, terrifying trips to the hospital and so many harrowing moments as a helpless mother, watching medical professionals perform life-saving treatments year after year after year.
Her children are adults now and incredible people. She’s had decades to ponder. Hers weren’t trite words in passing, or a sweet church lady trying to solve my problem with a WWJD bracelet and a pat on the arm. I found myself able to listen to her with an open heart.
Late one night we discussed my emotional and spiritual struggle inside this cloud of infertility constantly hanging over my head. Somewhere down the line, bitterness disguised itself as sadness and felt completely out of my control. I was a victim and these HUNDREDS of other pregnancies were continually assaulting me while I tried to do normal life and make it through the perpetual disappointment month after month.
Karen looked at me with kind eyes and said, “You must be so special to God for him to allow this to happen to you.”
My brain responded with Uh... What? She reminded me of the story Jesus told in Matthew 7 about the son asking his father for a fish. Would a good father give him a snake instead?
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)
She said that God loved me so dearly and his desire wasn’t to hurt me. If he allowed me to experience pain and did not grant my petitions, I must be very special to Him or He would never allow me to go through this.
I had not considered myself special to the Lord in this. In fact, most of the time the words in my head were closer to “cursed” or “broken”. I tried to wrap my mind around why she would say that. If this is what it’s like to be special to Him, then I’m glad I’m not his favorite. Then I thought about what His favorite was asked to do. It involved a whip, some nails, and a cross, so I guess I would rather be considered special than a favorite.
I thought about other followers over time who were special to him. Lots of whips, more nails, a few shipwrecks, some stones, and a deserted island came to mind. Lifelong singleness, prisons, cold nights, loneliness, hunger, screaming mobs, being hated and ridiculed. They were special to God. Rejoice. That’s what they taught. Rejoice in all circumstances. Be anxious about nothing. Being special to God did not exempt them from hardship, but even granted them seasons to undergo suffering in order that their faith may abound and He would receive glory. Ok maybe. Maybe I could eventually swallow that, but I was going to need some time.
Then she said, “I think you need to pray that God will take your sadness away so you can enjoy this time.”
Waiting for the clouds to dissipate and the sun to shine with the final answer to, “will I ever have a baby?” would be a lot easier if my default reaction to another’s happiness wasn’t instant heartwrenching comparison. It would be easier if I didn’t immediately feel they received the gift I longed for. But HOW? That seemed impossible. In that conversation, she gave me permission to ask God for help with negotiating the ache in order to be faithful in the midst. It wasn’t wrong or immature to ask Him to take the sadness away.
It’s then I realized that I didn’t really want to. I kind of needed to be hurt and angry every single time. Because infertility was an injustice. And everyone else’s success was an affront, a reminder, a torment. Part of asking this of the Lord would include me actually not wanting it to hurt anymore. And that did not really feel like an option.
The third thing she told me that night was something that no other woman in my life has had the guts to say. “Maybe your plans are wrong and God has other plans.”
Right when she said that I was angry. I smiled at her and nodded submissively (because I'm so spiritual), but inside I could not accept that thought. No. You are wrong. I don’t care how wise you are. You are wrong about this. Followed almost immediately by the reminder of a familiar command:
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20:4-5)
But that verse is not talking about me in THIS?! I promise! Because what I want is good. It’s right! Could my vision for my future family actually have become a graven image that I bow to? I cradle it and love it and it’s precious to me.
Her words brought conviction from the Holy Spirit, which I didn’t really want. I really just wanted everyone to put their arm around my shoulders and tell me they’re sorry for me and encourage me in this dream until it’s a reality. I didn’t want to face that it’s not my reality and may never be.
I felt like I was dangling a thousand feet up, holding on for dear life to a burning rope and she had the audacity to put a ladder right there beside me so I could climb down and set my feet on solid ground again. I thanked her in the moment, but what I meant was, “No thanks, I like my burning rope.”
After processing that conversation over and over in my mind, I began to question whether I could defeat this all-consuming emotion of bitterness and possibly live without it; or if I even wanted to? I felt like a victim of injustice for so long. Never had I considered that as long as infertility was my story, it would no longer necessarily have to strangle me as it did so often.
Bitterness is easier and it tastes like pizza. It’s so delicious and so inviting. As exhausting and unhealthy as it had become over the years, I was perfectly content to keep feeding off my bitterness pizza and label myself helpless against these instinctual gut reactions that wreaked havoc on my life daily/weekly/monthly. Inside of this steady diet, the gift of peace was not available to me while my questions remained unanswered and my belly remained empty. If there was another way to live, it would have to be a work of the Lord, because the strength and desire for anything else simply wasn’t there.
What I didn’t know was that He had begun that process years before and He was continuing to refine me in this area before I even knew I wanted it.
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