<< This post is part 4 in the blog series The Christian Woman’s Guide to Infertility: Finding Hope and Healing even without a Baby. >>
Infertility Doesn’t Define My Relationships
When I was still single a friend who struggled with infertility was trying to explain why she wasn’t particularly close to one of her best friends any longer. She paused, stumbled around, and then said quietly, “Well, she was having babies and I couldn’t and I didn’t handle that very well.”
I remember thinking, if I ever have to face infertility, I’ll never do that.
Oh, the prideful thoughts of youth.
I had no idea at that point that I would face infertility and I would want to pull away from relationships. I would cry when I found out friends were pregnant. I would withdraw inside myself when I saw newborns. I would hide around corners and in hospital stairwells. I would hurt so badly and the fury of infertility would attack more than my heart—it would go to battle against my relationships with friends and family as well.
Things would usually start out pretty good. I’d be headed to a friend’s house, knowing their little one was there, and I’d give myself a pep talk. “It’s a sweet baby. It’s a gift they have. I’m so happy for them.” All very true things.
But then I would be around the baby and the enemy would start launching attacks on my mind. Lies about who I am, what God thinks of me, and what others think of me would start to weasel their way into my thought process. Suddenly, questions would be hitting like a rapid-firing machine gun. Why does she get two babies (or three, or four, or more) while I get none? What is wrong with me that I don’t deserve one? Am I not good enough? Is the core of who I am somebody unworthy of a baby? Is it because I’m ugly? Too overweight? Am I not disciplined enough? Not rich enough? Is it because I have too much sin in my life? Or maybe I haven’t prayed long enough or hard enough?
And that was just the beginning. From there, things would go downhill. Way down. Spiraling into a dark, damp, miserable pit. Within moments I would feel like the ugliest, most unlikable, most ridiculous person to ever walk the face of the planet.
Of course I shouldn’t have a baby, I would think. God probably has a dozen reasons for keeping me barren and empty and aching…
Then I would look up and see my friend with the precious baby snuggled in their arms and the wild vine of envy would sprout and grow and wind its way around my heart. After all, they were given the gift of a baby. They would good enough to get the thing my heart ached to have.
Why couldn’t I have what they had? What made them so special and me so worthless?
When the word “envy” is used in the New Testament, like in Romans 1:29, it is the Greek, phthonos. In studying the word, we find that it is described as a feeling (or desire) that sours, due to the influence of sin. Another explanation is the jealousy that negatively energizes someone with an embittered mind.
Envy is no little thing. It’s a sin that rides right there beside murder, strife, deceit, and gossip. To embrace envy is clearly to turn one’s back on God, Himself—which is why it is the favored offering of the enemy when we’re in the middle of battling lies about ourselves.
He serves it to us on a silver platter—and I don’t know about you, but I gobble it up far too often. I let the sweetness of self-pity disguise the molding, stinking, disgusting mess that I’m inhaling.
How thankful I am for the gospel! The good news that saves me from the condemnation of my sin. No matter how far down we wallow in sin—as long as we’re still breathing, there is still hope, until the very last second. Because the good news is simply this: Jesus is bigger and greater and stronger—He is the Hero of every battle, even this one.
In James 3:14 we’re reminded that if we harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in our hearts, we’re not to deny its presence. The first step toward freedom is always calling sin by its name. Tearing the ugliness from the blackness of the hidden places in our heart and dumping it into the light.
A bit later, in James 4, we’re given the rest of our instructions for dealing with sin. To put it simply? We have to submit to God, resist the devil, and draw near to the Father.
Envy has no rights in the life of a child of God. It’s an intruder, one that can be cast out.
But it does take work to grasp the freedom God offers. It takes turning our faces back toward the light—submitting our hearts to God.
Which sounds simple in words, but is not so simple in reality because this is the God who has the ability to heal my body and give me babies and is choosing not to. This is the God who is saying, “Will you trust me without? Will you serve me without? Will you love me without?”
Hard questions that scrape and wound. As we’re told in Hosea, there are times when God is known to wound us in order to heal us. He’s known to look past our outside and see right down to the very deepest parts of our insides, where the festering spoils of sin abide. And He’s known to slice us right open, letting all the infection and darkness spill out, so we can finally see what we’ve been living in. But no matter how deep the pit of our sinfulness, no matter how much envy or selfishness or greed or pride there is, we still have hope.
As Betsie Ten Boom once reminded her sister, Corrie, who then reminded the world in her book The Hiding Place, “There’s no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” She didn’t come up with that idea on her own—she found it in Scripture. Nestled there in the Psalms. In chapter 40 we’re told that the Lord will draw us up from the miry pit, from destruction, and set our feet on the rock. He stretches out his hands, his heart, his all, right toward us. He finds us, down there in the murky muck of our sin—and He draws us out because His love is big enough, strong enough, great enough.
He simply is enough.
And when we believe, when we say, okay, Lord, I’ll trust You, even without, He stands in the gap. All those deep pits of sin are scraped clean. Then He fills in every, single pocket of emptiness.
I know, because I’ve watched Him do it.
One of my closest friends currently has five children. Actually, that statement applies to at least three women in my life. Close, treasured friends, who each have a house full of children.
But this particular friend I’m thinking of is actually my sister-in-law. I had only seen her a handful of times before she married my brother, and by that time I already knew barrenness would mark my life. I wanted to be friends with her but it was quickly evident that she would probably be pregnant or nursing for a large percentage of our lives.
The day she told me she was pregnant for her third child, quite unexpectedly, there was a physical tug-of-war that took place in my gut. I wanted to cry and I wanted to encourage her and I wanted to sit down and rale at God and ask why her and not me?
It took every bit of gentleness I had to reach out my arms and pull my friend into a fierce hug. I saw it then, as she leaned back from our embrace, the fear and relief that pinched her face.
This wasn’t just hard for me, I realized. It was hard for her too. She was scared to tell me. Afraid that I would withdraw, afraid that I would hurt and in the process, hurt her. When I looked at her face again, her eyes filled with tears and she whispered, “I’m sorry. I wish it was you. I’m so sorry.”
“No, no,” I said, and I meant it. “Never be sorry. This is a gift. It’s good.”
Something changed that day. Our relationship blossomed and grew and it was good. She lived thousands of miles away from me when that baby was born, but would later move closer again. She would have two more babies while living nearby and both times she would call me. “I’m going to the hospital. You’re welcome to come.”
She was so gentle with me. So compassionate and caring and full of grace.
She didn’t just invite me to the waiting room, but she welcomed me right inside the birthing room. Humbling herself to the very barest, in an effort to share everything she could. Birth is one of the most vulnerable places a woman will ever find herself, and this precious friend let me come all the way to the foot of her bed—to watch her babies gasp their first breath. First a son, then years later a daughter.
Her words, her actions, everything about her promised that she was willing to share the gifts she’d been given—as much or as little as I could handle.
She thanked me after her fifth baby was born. Thanked me for coming in the middle of the night and sitting with her through the long hours of her labor. Thanked me for standing by with my camera to capture pictures of the newest addition to their family in those first few moments.
I cried during the birth. Hard, hot tears. Thankful, heartbroken, and also heart-mended, tears. Because even though I’m barren, even though I was faced with the possibility that I would never hear the first cry of my own baby, I was still welcomed in. I was pulled close to the mystery and beauty of birth—to the places where I feared I would never be part.
She thanked me, but it was I who was so thankful.
Thankful for the Lord’s kindness to me. For the way He stabilized my feet on the Solid Rock. For the way He met me and freed me from the sticky trap of envy so I could experience His overwhelming gifts of hope and breath and life.
Not every woman facing infertility would want to be at another birth, and many more wouldn’t ever have the space or ability to, but God pieces together stories for each of us. He sees the pathway of our lives and He knows. He reaches out a hand and asks if we’re willing to follow without, then leads us through some dark and wandering roads. But the beauty that we forget is that God can see in the dark. All the way. And He never forgets whom He is leading.
He knows me.
He knows you.
And He’s willing to write His presence so deeply into our stories, we can’t possible forget we aren’t alone.
That said, I still have to face off with envy periodically. It roars its ugly head and lashes at me. It never gets easier, but the battle ends quicker. I know now how precious and important these relationships are. I know these other women, whose lives look so drastically different than mine, have something to offer me that I desperately need.
One day my husband found himself in a conversation with a guy who was acting a bit condescending and pointed out a neighbor’s farm in disgust. “I’d never have a place that messy,” the man stated. My husband nodded, thinking about the disasters that filled this man’s property, then quietly said, “I think everyone sees their own mess differently.”
After all, we know exactly what’s in the pile of clothes on the floor or the stack of dishes by the sink. Sure, we know it needs to be cleaned up but we’re not going to approach it with trepidation. It’s just the pile of whites that were waiting for a full load so we could bleach them, or last night’s dinner of tacos and salsa. It’s not like the food-encrusted dishes at someone else’s house that have been sitting there who-knows-how-long, or the pile of stinky laundry in the corner of their bedroom.
When it comes to our mess, it’s pretty easy to judge other people more harshly than ourselves. Their mess looks different to us because we weren’t there when it came.
But hardships? We tend to flip the script for those.
The heaviest weights are always our own, because we’re the ones carrying them.
Infertility must be harder than three babies ages 4 and under, we say.
Okay, maybe it’s not harder but we’d much rather carry that hard thing instead of this hard thing. We’d rather carry the weight of babies instead of the weight of emptiness. It’d be easier.
So, friend-who-gets-pregnant-as-easy-as-breathing, don’t think you can teach me anything. You have no idea what kind of agony I carry.
Wait. No, no. Maybe she hasn’t gone through the exact same thing as I am experiencing, but that doesn’t discount her life experiences. I can still learn from her. I can still have compassion for her hardships, even if they come from the fulfillment of the dreams I’ve been forced to bury.
And God may just use her to teach my heart something new.
I know this for real now because of Marsha and Julie and Nicole and Denise. I know because of Hannah and Charlotte and Elizabeth and Rachel and so many others. All women who have homes full of children, whose wisdom and admonition and kindness have taught me and helped me and changed me.
Yet, none of these truths cover the fact that my heart is so fragile. It can crack and shatter so easily; with one misplaced word, one random complaint, one newborn’s whimper. And it’s so easy to just wrap all that hurt up inside myself, to go home and determine to avoid that person, that circumstance, at all costs. A choice that, to be successful, would mean I would have to break relationship.
If we were all just random people traveling through life, I guess it wouldn’t matter much. But we’re not. We are sons and daughter of a loving God who created us for community. And He’s got something far better for us.
But maintaining relationship through hurt means embracing humbleness. It means being willing to look a friend in the eye, without anger or malice, and say, “I am struggling right now and this thing hurts me.”
I’ve done this. More than once. And yes, it carries its own kind of pain because slaughtered pride is excruciating, but it builds relationship instead of tearing it down and it leaves you with community who will hold you up when everything else falls apart.
It has left me with a sister-in-law who has literally, physically, held me through evenings of shaking and sorrow and hurt. It has left me with a friend, Nicole, the mother of seven and counting, who has sat across from me with coffee and tissues—nursed her youngest and prayed grace and peace over me and into me. It has left me with warm hands on my arm, outpourings of love during my saddest moments, and strong women of faith who have believed for me when I’ve been too broken to believe anything for myself.
I’m not going to pretend with you either—it has also left me without the closeness in some relationships that I once knew. Some women aren’t at the place to be able to handle another person’s heartbreak, and that’s okay. Some friends have backed up and stopped communicating, which carries its own sorrow.
But the ones who stay and look at the hard things with you? They are gifts layered with the finest gold. They are God’s voice in the dark, whispering, you’re not alone.
There’s one more piece to the story, to the forming and building and fighting for relationships. When something like infertility comes into your life it is consuming. It so easy to be constantly thinking about what’s happening in your life, your dreams, your body, your appointments, your…your…your…
It’s important to be willing to share about your journey but every good relationship will have give and take. If all I ever do is dump my hurts on others, then something vital is missing.
I have to learn to listen. To listen closely and carefully. To hear what my friend is saying out loud, and what she’s whispering in the silence. To see the struggles she fights during her own dark nights—to make them a matter of importance. To pray with her and for her. To love her as I would love myself. To bless her with my attention and compassion and understanding.
In praying for others, in listening to their struggles and sorrows and joys, I can build life into my friendships. And instead of feeling like every area of my world is filled with sorrow, I’ll realize the Lord can still use me to bring comfort and hope to others even through my weakest time.
Pain has no boundaries. It finds a home in the strongest, most beautiful, most perfect lives.
But Love has no boundaries either.
Our relationships don’t have to be defined by infertility, by our own personal sorrows, or by the sin that has left gaping pits inside of us.
Instead, our relationships can be ruled by Love. Not just the lower-case love, but the capital Love.
The Love that can see in the dark.
The Love that fills all the empty places in us.
The Love that overcomes.
Thoughts to Ponder:
Are you allowing infertility to define your relationships? Is envy stealing your joy, your friendships, your hope? Are you choosing to share with and listen to those around you?
The beautiful part of struggling with envy is that sin has a cure. For real, my friends. It can be identified, confessed, and forgiven. Jesus is the Hero to every story–and He’s already done the work so we can be free from the prison of sin. How thankful I am for this truth!
If you’re struggling, start with confession and trust Him to transform your heart and mind, just the way He promised He would.