<< This article is part of a blog series titled The Christian Woman’s Guide to Infertility: Finding Hope and Healing even without a Baby. >>
Infertility Doesn’t Define Me
As a child, were you ever asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Yeah, me too. Some may have struggled to pick an answer but I had mine down pat by the time I was six years old. I wanted to get married and have babies. It wasn’t that I didn’t desire to do anything else in life, but that every other thing I wanted to do included a family.
When I was nineteen and some health issues started showing up, I found myself staring blindly at a doctor while she explained there was a strong chance I would never bear children. Infertile switched from being a random descriptive word, to a word that was inscribed into my life.
It was a sharp, scraping, fearful word.
So I pushed it down, hard. I didn’t accept it. I didn’t ponder it. I was young and adventuresome and refused to be held back by a descriptive word that hurt. I trusted God to take this irritating part of my life and make something better from it than my imagination could—and I walked right back to the life I wanted to live. If you had asked me then what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have still smiled and said, “I want to get married and have children.”
If I knew you well, I might have mentioned in a quieter voice, “It’s possible I could struggle to get pregnant, but I’m trusting God to take care of all that.”
This worked well until a few years later when I got married and was left staring at the rest of my life without ever bearing the children my longing-heart desired. There were no miraculous pregnancies. No sudden healings. There was just me, with a broken body, and no babies. Everything I had once pushed down exploded onto the surface and ripped painfully through my life.
I didn’t have the right words to describe my descent into depression and sorrow—but now I know it was the ugly, aching fingers of grief that were squeezing my heart until it bled agony.
Loss has many masks, and grief always follows right behind it. For me, this branding of infertility was the way loss would come slicing into my life—and I felt powerless as the force of this sorrow tossed me around without care.
Along with the loss and grief, another thing arrived.
Fear of hope. Fear of my friends who might announce their own pregnancy. Fear of community where someone might ask me a question that hurt. Fear of another month, another cycle, another crushed dream. Fear of trusting God, because it sure looked like His trustworthiness was in question.
So much fear, knocking holes in the ship of my life, allowing the storm of infertility to dump water into my hull, threatening to sink me.
I was all alone in the middle of an ocean of sorrow, drowning.
Maybe fear isn’t a strong enough word. We could use something harsher, like terror or dreaded horror.
Watching your life sink beneath waves of sorrow is nothing to just plow through, but that was what I thought I should do. It seemed like I should have been able to stand up and face the fear with miraculous strength. It seemed like I should have been able to face off with the terror and quote Scripture or see a better doctor or pray a more effective prayer.
Actually, since the Bible tells us that the prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective, it would seem that all I needed was to be more righteous.
But I wasn’t more righteous.
I was afraid.
There is a beautiful thing I have learned while battling the stormy season of infertility: the habits you form in the light will still be with you in the dark—even if it takes a while to find them.
Even though I was scared—terrified that I was a failure as a wife, a person, a Jesus-follower—I still somehow stumbled over a habit formed years before that grounded my feet, even as the wind kept whipping at me.
I still talked to God and I still read His word, even when I was soaking the pages with my tears. Even when my words were harsh and angry. Even when His words felt paltry and pointless.
Day after day, I went back and I talked and cried and read.
In fact, I opened right up to Genesis and I told God, with frustration and anger lacing my tongue, show me where You are! And then I read straight through. From Genesis to Revelation.
Remember the story of Job? Remember how storms buffeted his life and loss tore his heart open and then physical ailments sliced his skin until he writhed in agony? Remember how he prayed that God would show up? Remember how God did?
Well, God showed up in my life too.
He walked right into the storm, right across the violent waves and the loss of dreams—where the blood of cycles that meant no-baby-again-this-month were tearing my heart open.
Day after day I opened my Bible and day after day God spoke His thundering, gentle, life-giving words into my life. Slowly, softly, roots that were being whipped around by the storm finally pushed down, down into the earth below the sea—anchoring my life so I could finally catch a breath.
The storm was still crashing, but just like He promised, Jesus doesn’t change or move. He is solid. The Rock of Ages that can’t be shaken by the hurricane of infertility.
He was still, despite the storm, and when I was looking at Him I could focus.
One would think that the presence of Jesus would bring me a languid peace, but as the depression lifted, I began to recognize something deeper writhing in me. If Jesus is here, my soul screamed, and He is all powerful and all good, why is my heart still breaking? Why were my arms empty when the desire for babies was built into my DNA? Why were so many other people, ones who didn’t even care that much, having babies while I was barren?
I knew there was something wrong with my questions, so I tried to keep them tied up inside me. But then years passed.
Years when babies were born all around me. Years when babies were aborted. Years when babies were neglected. Years when mothers complained. Years when teenagers had babies while still in high school. Years when I cleaned up the blood of endless cycles instead of holding the baby I longed for.
And the questions multiplied and grew and burst out of me as I faced the God-Who-Is-Still-In-The-Storm.
Why won’t You do something?
Why leave me in agony when we all know You could fix this?
When His words started answering my questions, I wanted to duck my head and cover my ears. I didn’t like His answers because they were more true than anything I had ever faced. As I pointed at others and wondered why God didn’t move on my behalf, He pointed right back at me and said with heart-pounding finality, “Will you follow me without?”
Without the babies.
Without the miracle.
Without the fulfilled dreams.
Would I follow Him right out onto waters where hurricanes would beat my heart and life and body?
Would I surrender to that God?
My first whisper of surrender wasn’t really surrender at all. It was more of a giving up because I was cornered.
Okay, God, You win. I can’t change my childlessness on my own so I’ll be facing infertility whether I surrender or not. I guess I’d rather face this storm with You than without You.
And it’s like God chuckled and said, “That’ll do for now.”
Every God-story has a similar thread. There is the person who is wounded and trampled by the storms of life, and there is Jesus—who is pursuing His loved ones with unswerving compassion and kindness.
Nestled in the Old Testament Minor Prophets is a small book that carries a powerful punch. Hosea. He’s the prophet who married an adulterous woman, and then pursued her even when she ran away. More than once. He bought her back even when she had fallen into slavery. The heart of the story, of course, is the heart of God. This heavy bass beat of truth that drums a steady rhythm under the building and cresting of the storyline—despite all, He seems to say, I still choose to love.
Despite all, He pursues us still.
Despite all, He loves.
You’re turning your back to me, but I still call you daughter.
You’re holding your barrenness against me, but I still choose to be your God.
Those were His words and He held to them, even as I quaked and broke and flayed through the waves. One moment I would be Peter, called from the boat onto the water. Remember the whole walking-on-water-through-the-storm bit that he tried? I did that some days. But other days I ran away, I embraced fear and questions and bitterness, and my feet sunk rapidly.
Sometimes I called out for help immediately.
And other times I waited until the water was over my head, the panic from the lack of oxygen already racing through my body, before I reached for the hand that was always held out.
But slowly, with time, I learned to keep my eyes on the only unmoving thing: Jesus.
Yet, even then, there was still something missing. I was watching Jesus, and it was keeping my feet firm in the whipping wind, but I was still afraid.
When God spoke to the Israelites through Hosea, He told them a hard-earned truth: the desert is the best place for those who are forced into surrender, but still don’t know how to trust.
No, it’s not as a blasting punishment. It’s not a session of you didn’t do it right so watch out! No, no. The desert is the place for lovers, for hushed whispers, for gentle nudges of mercy.
He calls us to the desert so we can let go of all our distractions and simply learn to know His voice. The desert seems like a place of want—but it’s actually a place of plenty, when you know where to look.
Just like the Israelites learned to know God in the desert, I would also meet Him there in a new way. Not just as the Solid Rock in the storm, but as the giver and sustainer of life in the middle of nothingness.
In answer to my faltering cries of surrender, He picked me up and carried me from the storm into the desert. The wind was calmer, but the desert has its own hardships.
And it was there that I faced the rawness of my own brokenness.
The desert is a mirror, you know, but it reflects the images you create in your mind—not what actually is. Mirages danced across my vision and they seemed so real, I nearly crumbled under them.
I looked at the doctor’s reports and saw, it’s your fault you’re not pregnant.
If you could afford more treatments, you could have a baby.
If you would just never eat white flour or sugar, maybe you’d have a baby.
If you just had more money, more willpower, more discipline, more strength…
It didn’t matter how ridiculous the mirage, or how many times my husband countered the lies with truth—my identity was being altered by whatever pictures I built in my mind. Names were adhering themselves to me left and right. Instead of being in a barren wasteland, I believed I was the barren wasteland. Infertile. Which can be loosely translated: not enough.
I was dying of thirst. I was starving to death.
After all, that’s what happens in the desert if you don’t know how to survive.
But when I closed my eyes, defeated and broken and desperate, something happened. My ears were opened. There was a voice in the desert.
“God,” I whispered, because when you’re thirsty, you don’t even have the ability to raise your voice. “How do I survive? I’m so, so tired of hurting. I want to live abundantly, but I’m trapped in this emptiness. Do I really have to walk through this desert?”
Yes. He told me. But I AM with you.
It took me awhile before I understood. But gently, ever so gently, He showed me what He meant. The more I turned to Him, cutting off my view of the mirages, the louder His voice became, and the clearer I could see. I was trapped in a desert—but I wasn’t alone. Everything I needed was right beside me. Jesus. The Living Water. The Bread of Life.
There was enough.
I didn’t have to be thirsty. I didn’t have to be hungry.
I didn’t even have to be enough.
Because He was.
In Hosea, God tells us why He takes us to the desert. Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. It’s in the desert place where the tender words of the I AM can filter through the intensity of human life.
My wilderness, my desert, was long term infertility.
I saw a glimpse of it one day, near the beginning. My husband and I were standing in our barn, discussing an idea for the next year and suddenly we were talking about five years in the future and a panic attack clawed at my throat.
Five years? I thought. Is it possible that I still won’t have a baby in five years?
It was possible alright. Five years, eight years, ten years…
It was different than the first blistering storm that came through and labeled my life. That was a swirling inferno where infertility marked me with deep gashing wounds. No, that storm had settled. The desert was quieter. And harder. The label infertile left great caverns of emptiness now. Hollowing out my heart and my mind, my relationships and my marriage. There was nothing of strength left in me.
I would either turn to Jesus, trusting Him to sustain me, or I would die.
Hosea warns the people that there are consequences coming for those who keep their backs turned to the Yahweh. Return to me, He tells them. I brought you to this place so you could be healed, but you have to turn your face to Mine.
Over and over He repeats, “Seek My face. In your distress, earnestly seek Me.”
In the emptiness of the desert, I sought the Lord in a new way. With my head, and my heart, and my soul. This wasn’t about doing the good thing, or the right thing, or the expected thing. This was about survival.
I turned and the Lord’s words found me.
They were tender. Infinitely tender.
Your name isn’t infertile.
Your name is daughter.
Throughout Scripture God promises the most startling things. He says stuff like, “I will give you streams in the desert” and, “I will make your valley of trouble into a door of hope.” He builds tables in the wilderness and spreads out a feast for us.
You’re aware what a feast is, right? More than enough. Far, far more than could ever be consumed in one sitting. Abundance.
I’m still in the wilderness, you know. I’m writing and living from the vast barren wasteland of infertility. I still have endless heart-breaking cycles. I’m still young enough to hope, but old enough to feel the turning of days that are graying my hair.
I still ache for a baby.
But infertile and barren aren’t my names anymore.
I can hear the Father, whispering the truth, inscribing His words into the foundation of my life.
We were born with our backs turned to the Star-Breathing God, rebellion was our name and our life and our essence. But when we turn? When we seek to see His face? That’s when the miracles happen.
“You are enough, even without,” I say, and God hears me.
He carves streams into the wasteland and His voice thunders a whispered promise back over me. You are enough, even without.
I am surprised when He says the words back, but they burst into me. A deep pool of water thrusts onto the surface, rinsing my life with truth. Remember how I was afraid? God puts His finger right on the crux of the matter. I’m afraid I won’t have enough, I won’t be enough.
His words trace the pattern of the now-flowing streams that cover my heart. All fear is drowned in Love. There is enough, even without.
Infertility, it turns out, doesn’t (and can’t) define me.
Thought to Ponder:
Are you able to say, “God, you are enough, even without,” or are you still holding out—attempting to demand a positive answer to your questions?
This is a rough question, isn’t it? One that still scrapes me raw time after time. Because it’s not a one-time decision—it’s a daily choice.
Today, will I choose to say, “God, you are enough, even without,” no matter how I feel? Will you?