One of the hands-down toughest days inside of infertility was my “daughter’s” baby shower. I met Synda when she was only eighteen. I was in my late twenties and it was just few months after David and I began Trying to have a baby. I interviewed her for a summer staff position at the Christian camp where I worked. What a delight she was! She was so full of joy and excitement about life. During the interview, there was an unmistakable connection. It was like I was called to love her in a special way.
During that summer at camp, David and I met with her together one morning and invited her to be part of our family forever. We offered her our parents, our siblings, our holidays, our love and support as long as she wanted it. When she married Aaron, we were there. When she graduated college we were there. When she bought her first house, we were there. But years later, the day she called to tell me she was pregnant, I cannot put words to how it felt.
She didn’t know it, but we had been racing. For me it was a marathon, but for her it was a sprint and the finish line was this unmistakable double pink stripe. When she won the race I was devastated. I had been running long before her. I sobbed and sobbed. I shook my fist at God. It was so unfair! He was so unfair! She was ten years younger! She was my daughter! I was sick about it.
Then she lost the baby. At six weeks she called me, crying hysterically and asking what to do. There was pain and blood and such great sorrow. I looked in the mirror and saw the face of someone who had begrudged the life inside her womb because God gave it to her instead of me. Now I wanted her to have it more than anything. All night I laid awake imagining her curled up in a tiny ball as cramps wracked her little frame, weeping with her sweet husband. I drove to her house 3 hours away the next day and held her in my arms. My precious girl was heartbroken. I wished so badly that I could take back that moment when I told God He was wrong.
A few months later, she and Aaron were pregnant again. This time I rejoiced. I was still jealous. I cried again. I asked the Lord why my womb was still empty. But I was not angry. I did not begrudge her this new life. Not after hearing her stricken voice and seeing her cheeks covered in tears. I never wanted her to hurt like that again. I wanted good things for her.
The next few months were some of the hardest of those first 5 years of infertility. She called often, asking questions that I had no answer to because I’d never been pregnant. I was her mother figure and I had to tell her to ask someone else. I was supposed to be walking 10 years ahead of her and helping her with all my wisdom and experience, but now she was walking ahead of me. I felt such shame and such inadequacy and such incompletion. I felt like half of a woman. I felt humiliated. I felt stupid.
I helped host her gender reveal party. I had always wanted to have a boy first someday. I was so hoping she would be pregnant with a girl. Maybe I could stomach this as long as it wasn’t a boy.
The balloons flew up in the air and they were blue. Well, nevermind then.
Later that summer I wrote this:
And today was Synda’s baby shower. All the way to San Marcos last night I was trying to figure out how to navigate this perceived injustice. The mature, wise, strong side of me knows that what God has done for her has absolutely nothing to do with what He has planned for me. It has nothing to do with Him being for or against me. I rejoice. I celebrate. I am truly excited.
The weak, bitter, immature side of me feels like a victim. It’s unjust. It’s unfair. It’s too hard to ask this of me. I am in charge of the baby shower games. I’m melting chocolate and peanut butter and spooning it into newborn baby diapers. Diapers that I may or may not ever need to buy for my own baby.
The day before yesterday I went shopping for everything I would need for the shower games. I walked back and forth through a Target three times before I found the aisle with the diapers. I texted David this message, blinking away still more tears:
I can’t explain why it was humiliating. There’s no reason I should know where that aisle is, right? THAT’S why’s it’s humiliating. Because I have to reason to know where the baby diaper aisle is. Because I don’t have a baby.
Most of her sweet friends at the shower were young and newly married. One of them revealed that she and her husband just started trying. Trying. The word means so much more now. The other friends asked her a million questions and gushed and said they couldn’t wait for her to be pregnant. I sat there silently. I knew this would go one of two ways for her.
Either it would be fairly easy, or it wouldn’t. Either she would get pregnant within a few months or she would be classified infertile. Either she would run out of the bathroom one morning waving the stick and she and her husband would hug and kiss and start shopping for strollers, or she will tearfully say, “No Baby” month after month after month. But you don’t sit around a table eating brunch, admiring the complexity of a robin’s egg blue Anthropologie salad bowl and pondering these things when you’re young and excited and you just started Trying. You don’t know what Trying could mean. I hope it’s easy for her. I hope she doesn’t have to go through this.
I love my friend Stephanie. She hosted the baby shower. Our friendship goes back over ten years. She and her husband Denbigh have also been a pivotal part of Aaron and Synda’s lives. We are her moms, both of us in different ways. Stephanie made the room beautiful. She makes everything she touches beautiful. Her kind and gentle nature is beautiful. Something she planned for the shower was for us to wash Synda’s feet and pray over her. I felt like the knife I was cutting fruit with stabbed me in the ribs when she mentioned that was on the schedule. I silently choked back tears while I stared at her collection of wooden spoons and wondered how on earth I would make it through this day.
When the time came, it was submission to the will of God above all else to put my hands in that water. It was literally my greatest pain standing face-to-face with Synda’s most abundant joy. And I couldn’t just avoid the moment. I couldn’t tune it out. I didn’t want to fake it.
I had to compose it. Love had to get on its knees and massage the swollen feet of my pregnant "daughter” in warm water with flower petals floating in it. It had to look at her in the eyes and say, “I love you” with tears running down its face even while a deep and restless ache hammered in its heart. It was love deciding that no matter the personal cost, it would be there. It would serve her. It would give her what she needed.
Love had to balance being real and fully present, but also making sure that nothing that would make her feel weird or bad on this day that was hers. Love threw a baby shower today. Praise the Lord, love overcomes weakness.
I remember the day Synda's baby was born. I got to their house 20 minutes after he opened his eyes. I became a Nana on that day, before I was really even a mother. All the pain I felt and anticipation, not knowing if I could handle these things melted away when I saw him. He was a person; a real, little baby person that God gave life to. And his momma was my precious girl. He was a gift of grace, not an object of jealousy. Cohen is 2 now and a remarkable little boy. Baby number 2 is officially on the way, and her bump is beyond cute. I have still never seen 2 lines on a stick. But, these years later I can say this time it feels so different, because God continued His work.
There were so many moments where it was clear God was working in me to knead and massage these exhausted emotions into a place of peace. Jealousy and bitterness began to have less control as I faced that season with Synda, and now with so many others.
I will never forget when God began to answer my prayer for Him to take my sadness away. Ironically, it happened when good friends came over for a casual Saturday breakfast and told us they wanted to start Trying to have a baby. Sarah and her husband Tony were so sensitive and caring with their approach to it and I really appreciated that. They had seen and known our heartache. One Mother’s Day, Sarah even came to stand beside me as I openly wept with my face in my hands. I knew she knew that it was a tender place, but what I didn’t expect was the fear in her eyes; fear of hurting me when their turn came.
Three months later we heard the news. They were expecting. After she made the announcement, we missed seeing each other for a few weeks at church. I think her apprehension about this wonderful news hurting me grew every week.
For the first time since I began Trying, I felt something new. Relief. There was a pang of sadness initially, sure. A little tiny slice of “what about me?” But, somehow, no overwhelming jealousy. No aching grief. Nothing to hold over her head. No resounding pain. Just relief that she would never need to eat my bitterness pizza. She burst into tears when we finally saw each other one Sunday and I approached her with arms open wide for a hug and a true sparkle of excitement in my eyes. She had been so nervous, but I was ok this time.
That Saturday breakfast months before, David and I prayed over Tony and Sarah as a family to be able to conceive and have a safe and healthy pregnancy. Thinking about them over the next few months, I wondered often how their journey would end up. I found myself truly thankful that it did not take them long and she would not have my story. She would never have to wonder what was “wrong”. She would not have to go to specialists. She would not curl up into a ball and cry beside her husband after seeing “not pregnant” on a plastic stick 85 times. God had given her a gift of new life and I was genuinely relieved.
Approaching others’ good news began to morph as God formed my heart in this area. It has taken so much time. It’s taken desire and willingness and surrender and some ugly prayers. And it began with relief. I could see an announcement and intentionally breathe out “Whew. Good. They don’t have to go through this.” Over the coming months, relief became my immediate gut reaction instead of sorrow or jealousy. It was so much easier to feel relief. Ever so slowly it grew into genuine happiness.
The shower invites haven’t stopped coming. The announcements are unending. The gender reveals are getting cuter and more creative every year. Ha, when we started Trying forever ago, that wasn’t even a thing! Like promposals. I realized the other day that I have been Trying through an entire generational pregnancy culture shift, including the adorable month-by-month photos with the little fox onesies and list of accomplishments, like eating oatmeal and rolling over.
Thank you God for orchestrating so many moments and being so very gracious to let me learn as slowly as I needed to. Guilt and shame and Christianese shoulding does not remove jealousy from the heart of a barren woman like me. It is only grace. It is only because He formed my heart that I could fully experience new life with others though I’m not able to experience it myself.
Last week I was driving home from something and once again told the Lord how real my desire still is. I wiped away free-flowing tears while weaving through Houston traffic. I went to that place of grief and briefly said hello to all those old emotions. They were honest tears and didn’t take me back down to the pit. I was tired of the pit. I am done with the pit. After a few minutes I returned to face my reality and keep walking down this path I’m on instead. I don’t know where it goes, but I know the One who asked me to walk and He is good.
Over the years I grew weary of all the verses and stories of barrenness in the Bible. I tried so hard to find myself somewhere in their stories, but I can’t. Of all the verses in the Bible, I am clinging to Micah 6:8 instead. Humility. Mercy. Internal justice for God’s unmerited gift of life to other wombs and other women.