Misconception: Grieving The Life I Should’ve Had

3acf51768ceccca90982ad7887bb46c2--pcos-infertility-struggling-with-infertility

This week, I’ve spent a lot of time with my two-and-a-half year old Godson, and it’s been wonderful. He’s learned to call me by name: he calls me “Godmommy Sarah.” He’ll run into my arms, run up and hug my legs, give me kisses, and all sorts of other adorable, heart-melting things.

And I love him. I love him so much that it leaves me breathless. I would give him anything, do anything for him- I would literally die for him. I love him like he was my own.

But he’s not my own.

He is my best friend’s baby. And because I love my best friend, and I see how her life has changed and the incredible joy her son brings brings her and her husband, I can’t be anything but happy for them that Nolan belongs to them. He is the center of their lives, and that’s how it should be.

As much as I love spending time with my best friend and her son, or any of my friends who have children (that would be nearly every single one of them) it reminds me of what I don’t have. They are nearly all married too, reminding me that I do not have a spouse either.

None of this is their fault. I do not blame them, I am not angry at them, nor do I wish any of them ill.

It’s not that I’m not happy for them. It’s that I’m sad for myself.

The ironic thing is that, when I really think about it, I don’t even feel ready to married or adopt children. I’m not at that place in my life. I need to focus on my education, career, and continuing to get myself healthy. And yet, when I see my friends with what I don’t have, I feel this deep and abiding sense of grief, and a feeling of something missing.

Perhaps it’s not what’s missing in this life I’ve got right now, but the life I was supposed to have. The life I would’ve had if I hadn’t grown up in violence and chaos, the life I’d have had if things had been normal. If I’d gone up through high school and college, dated and found a husband, and maybe, if I hadn’t been abused the way I was and wound up so unhealthy, I might’ve been able to get pregnant. And I’d be in the same place as all my other friends in their early thirties, and I’d feel like a person who did things on a normal trajectory, instead of someone who’s always playing catch-up, always missing something that would make me enough.

I never said this was rational.

I grieve that life that was stolen from me. I grieve the fact that I’m not where my friends are. I grieve my inability to have children.

Because all the Sunday school teaching, Children’s Chapel leading, babysitting, teen mentoring, and Godmommy time in the world does not make me a mother.

To my friends: Please know that sometimes I may be inexplicably sad around you. Just let it happen. You can’t fix it; just be there with me and it’ll pass. It’s ok to talk about your kids, talk about your marriages. If you’re trying to get pregnant or you are pregnant, it’s ok to talk to me about it. If you need to complain about it, to be honest, I’m probably not the best person for that. But please continue to include me in things. Invite me to your kids’ parties and your girls’ nights. I love you, and I am happy that you are happy. I want nothing but the best for you. I will never let my grief get in the way of our friendship.

Thank you for understanding, and loving me through this. Thank you for letting me be part of your families and your lives. You make my world so wonderfully rich and beautiful. And this grief will eventually subside. In the meantime, I have plenty to do; nursing school to tackle, a business to run, Sunday school to teach.

And a Godson to love.

 

Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.

Luke 1:45

 

The Struggle is Real: Accepting, Not Overcoming, Infertility

“There is a unique pain that comes from preparing your heart for a child that never comes.” -David Platt text

When you hear that a woman is “struggling with infertility,” what do you think? Do you think of a woman desperately trying to get pregnant? Someone timing her ovulation, taking hormone injections, freezing her embryos?

This is one picture of a woman struggling with infertility. There is another picture: Me.

I am not desperately trying to become pregnant. I will never try to become pregnant, because pregnancy is too dangerous for me. Struggling with infertility is not always about pregnancy. Struggling with infertility is also about the grief that comes from knowing that you can’t even try. That pregnancy is simply not an option. My struggle with infertility is not an attempt to overcome it. My struggle with infertility is my attempt to accept it. 

How many other women are in this part of the struggle? How many other women silently try to grieve their way through without any support? Why is there no support system for women who can’t try, can’t fight it, who have to simply accept that having children naturally will not happen?

Believe me, when you go looking for “infertility support” every single resource is focused on getting pregnant or adopting. I have not found a single one that simply says, “Yes, you are grieving the loss of your ability to have children naturally. We’re here to help you accept that and move forward.” I don’t know why that doesn’t seem to be available. If you find a resource like that, please let me know.

While I do hold on to the idea of adoption someday, that does not, in any way, mitigate the grief that comes from knowing I can never have children of my own. I wish that I could have what other mothers have with their children: getting to learn about them from inside my body, to feel their energy and get a sense of who they are from the way they move, kick, and flutter. I wish I could know what other women talk about when they describe that overwhelming love, that primal heart-to-heart connection they have with their biological children.  I don’t know what kind of love I’ll experience as a mother to a child not born of my body, but I know it will be different. Not less, but different. I don’t believe that a genetic connection is a guarantee of love, nor that a lack of one means less love. I know that isn’t true. I know that from how much I love my Godson, and he isn’t even mine. But I do wonder what it would have felt like to hold my baby moments after they came into this world, to tell them that I’m their mom, and have them look into my eyes with recognition. To know that I will love them forever.

That will not happen.

It’s a loss, and it’s real, and I will let myself grieve it.

 

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thessalonians 5:23

 

 

The Mother’s Memorial

IMAG1890

I don’t know how to write about this, which is why I have to write about it. I write to process, I write to grieve, I write to get through things. I write to feel less alone, and so others will feel less alone. Initially, I wasn’t going to write about it, because it felt like a really personal thing. But I feel like it’s part of my testimony, of how God works in my everyday life. Some people don’t believe in that, but it is absolutely true for me.

I had this idea, a while ago, to have a memorial service for…I’m still not sure. For the children I’ll never have? For my loss of the ability to be a biological mother? For my hopes and dreams of biological motherhood? For the things that prevent me from being a biological mother? I think it was all of that and more. (I specify “biological” mother because I still hope to adopt in the future.)

The reasons I wanted this memorial service were many: to acknowledge the grief, to physically manifest that, to have someone else acknowledge that grief with me, to make it real and help me move past it. Humans need ceremony, rites, and rituals to move through the pivotal events in our lives, positive and painful. It’s why we have weddings and funerals and baptisms and birthdays. We need those occasions to acknowledge that a change has happened in our lives, and we need our community to acknowledge that with us.

There is not, however, any kind of ceremony, rite, or ritual (at least in our culture) for a community to acknowledge a woman who has lost her ability to have children. Women are expected to grieve that on their own, and often, we don’t even talk about it. The few support groups that exist are for women with infertility who are desperately trying to conceive. That isn’t me. What I wanted was support for the process of accepting, healing, and moving on from the loss of fertility– and there was simply no one talking about that. So I decided to create that for myself, and I chose to do it with a memorial service. I asked my priest, Beth+, to help me do this.

At first, I wanted complete control over the whole thing. I even wrote a liturgy and a service leaflet based on the funeral liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer. I found quotes from Scripture and hymns, I made it exactly how I wanted it. I hand-painted a tiny box, which, now that I think of it, is the size of a uterus (about the size of a fist). In it, I had written and folded up several little notes, each of them with something I would be losing. I decided I wanted to bury it under an angel statue in the prayer garden at my church. I had it all arranged in my head.

God, however, in His wisdom, made scheduling my version of this service impossible for several weeks. And as those weeks went by, I felt less and less inclined to do it my way. I felt less and less attached to my version of this event, and I felt like I wanted to give up control of this whole thing. This, as it turned out, was the best thing that could’ve happened, because if I’d had it my way, it would not have been nearly as meaningful.

Beth+ and I discussed this service beforehand, and I let her know that I wanted to hand it over to her. We scheduled it for the following Monday, and I spent the weekend praying about it. The main thing I prayed for was to be present. I’m very adept at shutting down uncomfortable feelings when they show up and I knew I just wanted to be present to whatever I experienced in the moment as we went through this. I also decided to invite a dear friend of mine who was going through a hysterectomy that Tuesday. She was feeling similar feelings of loss, and I felt it would be important for her too.

The night before, I wrote a letter. It was addressed to my Children Who Weren’t Meant to Be, from their One-to-Be Mother. It was hard to write, but I’m so glad I did. Strangely, in another one of God’s timing things, I had run out of my birth control a few days earlier and was having terrible cramps. I’m usually on continuous birth control and don’t have a period at all, so this was unusual. But I realized that this was actually a good thing. I kind of wanted to feel my uterus right then. I wanted to be able to feel it contracting, like it was laboring through it’s own emptiness and grief.

On Monday, I came into Beth’s+ office and she asked if I was ready. I showed her the box and the letter, so she could figure out where to include it in the service. When we went into the Nave, she arranged three chairs around the Mary altar we have in the corner, with a kneeler in the middle. As we sat down, before Beth+ even began talking, tears were rolling down my cheeks.

Beth+ talked about how she wanted this to be a special liturgy, just for me, one that had never been done before and would never be done again. She talked about Mary and Her pregnancy, how She may have had more children or lost children, how She walked with me through this. Beth+ had me kneel, and she anointed my forehead with oil. She had my friend put one had where my uterus is, and one hand on my back. Beth+ had one hand on my head and one hand on my hands and she prayed: for the Holy Spirit to heal the places in me that felt broken, the places in me that felt damaged; for those places to be filled with light and love; that she and my friend, as my sisters, were there with me, to walk with me through this loss. Then Beth+ asked me something unexpected, which was probably the most painful part of the whole thing: did I name any of the babies that I couldn’t have? I did. I said those names out loud, and we prayed for them. When I got up, we prayed for my friend the same way, with my hand on her uterus, and Beth+ anointing her with oil. Then we lit candles. Beth+ read the letter I wrote for me, because I couldn’t get through it. She held my hand the whole time. After that, we went outside. I hadn’t told her that I had picked a place under the angel statue, but that’s where she went. We buried the little box and the letter along with it. We commended it to the earth; ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We sang a hymn that my friend had picked out, and Beth+blessed the ground and us.

It was a beautiful service, and Beth+did it perfectly.

After everything, I sat in the church for quite a while. I knelt at the Mary altar, I sat in a pew, I sat in front of the main altar on the floor near the tabernacle, and cried. And cried.

And cried.

Sometimes when I need comfort or guidance, I’ll say a prayer and flip to a random page in the Bible to see what direction God might give through His word. As I sat in the pew, this is what I saw, and I laughed through my tears:

But now hear, O Jacob my servant, Israel whom I have chosen! Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you in the womb and will help you: Do not fear, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground. I will pour my spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring. They shall spring up like a green tamarisk, like willows by flowing streams. This one will say, “I am the Lord’s,” another will be called by the name of Jacob, yet another will write on the hand, “The Lord’s,” and adopt the name of Israel. Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let them proclaim it, let them declare and set it forth before me. Who has announced from of old the things to come? Let them tell us what is yet to be. Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? You are my witnesses! Is there any god besides me? There is no other rock; I know not one.

God is with me, I need not be afraid. As someone once said to me, “Whether or not you have children, you are fertile.” There are many ways to give life to the world. I will figure out what my way is, at some point.

Right now I’m just grateful, for the opportunity I had to do this, a friend who did it with me, and a priest who treated it with such reverence, sensitivity, and importance. The way Beth+ treated this loss, always with such seriousness, gave it a validity that I needed to stop minimizing and denying the grief I really felt. It helped give me permission to open up to those feelings and be honest about them. I’m so thankful for that. And it makes me so thankful that I am in a church that ordains women, because a male priest, no matter how sensitive, just could not have helped me through this in the same way.

This was not a silver bullet, and I still have things to work through, but it did help me immensely. As painful as it was, it was equally healing.

For that, I can’t be anything but grateful.

 

 

Understanding Grief: Love With Nowhere to Go

grief-is-just-love-with-no-place-to-go

I can’t seem to find a reliable source for the author of this quote. But it’s the best explanation I’ve found for the type of grief that I’ve been experiencing around the loss of my ability to have a child.

I was sitting in therapy the other day and I was frustrated. I was saying how I didn’t understand why this “grief process” was taking so long. How I didn’t understand, didn’t anticipate, that my grief over not being able to become pregnant and have a child would be so intense. And why it had only seemed to be since that last ultrasound the previous March that I have felt this way.

It’s not like I didn’t have some understanding that infertility was a possibility for me. I’m not an idiot. I’ve been on psychiatric medication since I was 14. I was diagnosed with my first autoimmune disorder seven years ago, and PCOS six years ago. I was told about the scarring from repeated sexual trauma when I was 25. I knew all of those things could affect my chances to get pregnant and have a healthy baby at some point in my life, but I wasn’t putting it all together. I thought I still had options. I thought there was still some chance.

The truth is, I know why it’s only been since March 11, 2016 that I’ve felt this way. It’s because that’s when I put it all together. That’s when all my options were taken away. That’s when I was told that there was, essentially, no chance, unless I wanted to risk both my life and the life of any fetus I tried to carry. That’s when whatever little hope I had was crushed.

And so the grief really began. The loss that had been, up to that point, only theoretical, became an actual, tangible loss. A death. One I was not prepared to mourn.

The strength of this grief and the length of time is has gone on has confused me, frustrated me, angered me, and generally been a stumbling block in my healing. I understood that there would be grief but why was there so much? For a long time I felt like I didn’t have the right, didn’t deserve to mourn so much about a loss that, for the first few months, I still had to convince myself was a real thing. I told myself that I was mourning “imaginary children” and that was “stupid.” Disparaging and minimizing the truth was a defense against the pain I was feeling, just a another stop on the way to acceptance. I had to have multiple people tell me that this was real. That I had the right to feel what I felt. That it made sense.

Six months after that ob-gyn appointment, two dear friends of mine lost their three-year-old child to a drowning accident. And suddenly, my grief seemed like the stupidest thing on earth, because this mother had lost a real child. Her living, breathing child whom she had carried and birthed and held and known and played with and taught and fed and rocked and loved beyond measure, had died. I mourned for her child, mourned for her. I stopped mourning for myself because I felt unimaginably dumb doing so.

I’ve never said this to her before, but I know she’ll understand if she reads this.

I had to get past the idea that there was some comparison to be made. I had to understand that we are two separate people with two separate stories, and we each have the right to grieve our own losses. I had to get past the idea that there’s like, some scarcity of grief out there, and that if I grieved while she did I’d be taking up too much of the supply.

There’s plenty to go around.

I finally really understood this two months ago when I went to a Lenten discussion on grief with a few people from church. Why they chose to do this in a loud,  hamburgers-and-beer place was beyond me but I found myself leaving the discussion to sit outside at a picnic table and cry. A woman I know, who had also lost a child, came and sat down next to me. This woman had lost her fourteen-year-old daughter to a rare disease just three years ago. Without a word, she sat down next to me and opened her arms. I fell onto her shoulder and sobbed. She told me something I hadn’t known: that since she had been very young, she thought that she couldn’t have children, so she understood my pain. When she got pregnant with her daughter, it was a total shock.

Something about the fact that this woma who had lost her real, living child, was willing to sit down and be in my pain with me over not being able to have any was extraordinary. It was one of the most generous acts of grace I’ve ever seen. She validated my grief with hers. She validated it by being a mother who had arguably been though much worse and still was willing to comfort me. I can’t thank her enough for that.

I remember continuing to cry after they left, in my car, for an hour. I drove around, eventually ending up at the St. Mary’s church grounds. I walked the prayer path, stumbling in the dark, not seeing the irony of the metaphor at the time. I went home, because I had to. And I felt something shift.

The very next day, because this is how God works, I saw the image at the top of this piece on Facebook. It hit me like a ton of bricks: The reason my grief is so intense is because I am feeling all the mother’s love I ever wanted to give to all the children I ever wanted to have, all at once– except there are no children to receive it. So this love has nowhere to go but straight back into me, where it sits like stagnant water, a swamp full of care-taking and nurturing and hand-holding and playing and teaching and mothering. 

I’m a mother, but I will never be a mother.

That’s why it hurts so much, and is taking so long.

 

And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

Job 1:21

Day After Mother’s Day: Moving On

Today is easier.

Today I did normal things. Took the cat to the vet. Wrote emails. Went to the pharmacy. Drank a Frappuccino. Today I was a person again, not just an empty womb walking around, which is what I felt like yesterday.

After the five pm service, Deacon Russ came over to me and hugged me. He said, “You just look so sad today. You don’t have to tell me what’s going on, I just wanted to give you a hug and tell you that I see your sadness.”

He doesn’t check social media much.

I got a hug from Beth+ too, and when she pulled back she said to me, “You made it.” I said something along the lines of, “Sort of.”

Once at home, I cooked dinner and made dessert for my own mom. She works the 3 to 11 pm shift as a nurse, so she didn’t get to enjoy it until midnight, but that was ok. It was good to see her smile, give her a gift in an act of service and make her feel loved. She gave me a hug and said, “Thanks for letting me be your mom.” I said, “Genetically, I don’t think I had much choice in the matter.” Because that’s how we are. And she laughed.

Did I choose her, though? Was my soul bound to hers before I was born? Do I have a child somewhere out there whose soul is bound to mine, and I just don’t know it? Or does that only happen to mothers who carry their children inside them?

I will wonder about these things for a long time to come. In the meantime, I will focus on finishing school, on discerning if I am called to the priesthood. I will write emails, drink Frappuccinos, take cats to the vet. I will live a regular life, and maybe someday, when God thinks I’m ready, a child will come into my life.

Or maybe not.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:12-14

 

Mother’s Day Missing: Continued

Today was a sort of nightmare.

Being on social media today, especially Facebook, is like being assaulted from every angle. All I want to do is forget and grieve in solitude and peace but today the world has chosen to say to every women who can get pregnant, every woman who can do what I can’t do: congratulations on being everything Sarah wants to be but can’t be! Congratulations on being a mother!

God, help me.

This is all very selfish and self-pitying and irrational. Trust me, I am aware. It’s not a conspiracy theory to make me feel like shit, although that’s how it seems to me right now. I am, as my friend Deede says, “all up in my feelings.” It’s hard not to be.

I decided I needed to go to as much church as possible today. For me, that’s the best place to be when I’m all up in my feelings. I need Jesus and my friends to sort me out. So I went to Adult Christian Formation, where we talked about Why Bad Things Happen To Good People. A timely subject. I could have shared for hours about all the fucked up shit that has happened in my life, but I mostly kept my mouth shut. I only opened it to say that the idea of “bad things happening to good people” is a fallacy in itself. Because to believe in that, you have to believe in the notion of “good people” who deserve good things vs “bad people” who deserve bad things. And as Christians, that is fundamentally against our core belief that God loves everyone equally.  

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 5: 44-45 

So during the 10:30 service, I was called away to help with Children’s Chapel. Of course. Actually, it was sweet. A little girl who I had in my Vacation Bible School class last year, who has since been quite attached to me, was there and wanted to hold my hand the whole time. We did prayers and songs and what the kids prayed for was adorable. Everything from a dead dog to “hungry people” to “grandma’s hurt back.”

When we came back from Children’s Chapel it was time for blessings. Rev. Beth called up every woman in the nave to the altar rail to receive a mother’s day blessing, because she said, “If you are a woman, then you are a mother in Christ and you help to raise the children of this church.” When I got up there, I was surrounded by friends, people who know about my grief over my infertility. I began to cry, but tried to hold it back. Then Beth+ gave me a meaningful look, and put her hand over her heart. My friend Mary grabbed my hand. So I lost it, and just cried.

I continued to cry through the Eucharist. Someone behind me handed me kleenex. I felt honored, recognized, and deeply empty at the same time. It was incredibly sweet and incredibly bitter.

I don’t know how to do this.

I will never forget the day that I was told in definite terms that pregnancy and children would not happen for me. It was March 11, 2016. I will never forget lying on a table having a pelvic ultrasound, looking at this giant flat screen on the wall where most women see the progress of their growing fetuses, and seeing black. Seeing my big, empty uterus in HD, with a cyst on my fallopian  tube and another on my ovary, seeing the huge, black, empty space that would stay empty forever. I watched as my ob-gyn moved the wand around to check for more cysts, just staring at the black emptiness. That, as Rev. Beth said, is when the death happened for me.

The death of all my hopes and dreams. The death of my identity as a hopeful future mother. The death of my ability to give life through my body. Part of me truly died when my ob-gyn told me my chances of ever being able to carry a pregnancy without me or the baby dying were less than 1%. It’s not just about the cysts (PCOS), thought that’s a big part of it. It’s my bipolar medications, my autoimmune diseases, and scarring from years of rape and sexual abuse. The combination of those factors makes it nearly impossible.

I am not meant to be a mother by natural means.

Maybe I am meant to be an adoptive or foster mother. Maybe God has a child out there that isn’t even born yet, and I am destined to be his or her parent. Maybe I am meant to rescue a child from a situation like the one I grew up in, and because I went through that, I will be specially equipped to help that child. I don’t know.

All I know is that right now, the loss still hurts. It’s been one year and three months, and it still, still, hurts. I sometimes feel silly or stupid for continuing to grieve for so long. A part of me is like, you should be over this by now. C’mon, stop it already. Another part of me says that this will take as long as it takes, and I have to just follow where the grief goes.

I hate that.

That’s the way grief works though. The more you try to suppress it, the more it comes rushing up to make you pay attention. You can ignore it, but it won’t go anywhere. Grief will wait. It will sit there, kick back and relax until you deal with it. So you might as well deal with it.

I am trying.

 

“Sing, barren woman,
    you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
    you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
    than of her who has a husband,”
says the LordDo not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
    Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
    and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
For your Maker is your husband—
    the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
    He is called the God of all the earth...
“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
    but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger
    I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
    I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord your Redeemer.

Isaiah 54: 1, 4-5, 7-8

Mother’s Day Missing

Mother’s Day is just around the corner.

For all the mothers, I am happy for you. For my mom, whom I love with everything I have, I am glad there is a day to celebrate how wonderful you are, to let you know how grateful I am for all that you do for me.

For some of us– those who desperately want to be mothers but can’t, those who’ve suffered miscarriage or stillbirth, those who’ve lost a living, breathing child, for those of use who never had mothers or had abusive mothers– Mother’s day can be one giant Hallmark reminder of what we’re missing.

I do not look forward to seeing all of the tributes to all of the women who’ve given birth, who’ve gone through pregnancy, who’ve nursed their infants, who’ve raised their babies. I’m not looking forward to seeing all the cute gifts kids give their moms, all the hand-colored cards, all the play-doh sculptures that will be treasured like gold. I do not look forward to seeing all the flowers and cards and brunches and whatever else. I will fully admit that these things bring about feelings of envy, sadness, anger, and grief, because I can’t understand and I can’t be part of it and I don’t know if I will ever be blessed with a child. And right now, “bitter” is perhaps the best word to describe where I am.

Maybe that makes me selfish or short-sighted. Maybe that makes me silly. Or maybe I’m just being honest about where I am in my process right now.

For friends of mine who have children in Heaven, I can’t imagine your pain. If this is how I feel just not being able to have them, I simply can’t even conjure what it must be like for you. For my friends having suffered miscarriage or stillbirth, you are not alone. Do not let your pain be silent. All of you, dear friends: Your children are remembered. They are loved. They are important. They are still part of your families. For Judah, for Jamie, for Charlotte, for Andy, for Damian, for Joshua Aiden, for Tyler, for all of those whose names I do not know: I pray for you and your mothers who miss you more than you can know.

For children who had mothers who were abusive or absent: I feel for you. There was a long period of time when my mother and I had a destructive relationship. It took years of hard work to get where we are. And when Father’s Day comes around, forget it. Believe me, I understand. It sucks going through a holiday that celebrates a parent who abused or neglected you, or died early in your life, leaving you with painful memories of absence in any way. You are not forgotten.

This Mother’s Day, if you are lucky enough to celebrate your mother or celebrate being one, please take a moment to remember the ones who are mourning. The mothers who can’t be mothers. The mothers who lost babies. The mothers who lost children. The children who lost or never had mothers.

This can be a difficult and triggering day, so say a prayer of healing for us. Then say a prayer of gratitude for what you have. You are blessed.

 

As a mother comforts her child,

    so will I comfort you.

Isaiah 66:13

Poems on Infertility and Loss

9/15/16

 

Empty

 

Empty

I’ll forever be empty

Like a chalice gathering dust

In pieces on the floor

Where someone dropped it and left it— shattered

Too shattered to ever hold water

 

Empty

Like one end of an hourglass

Watch as the time drops away

Grain by grain—

See her life drain

 

Empty

Like the nest she left so young

The one she destroyed

Tumbling from branches on high—

Watch her fly

 

On empty

Like a starving child’s belly

So hungry for love

We can feed her with hope

But part of her will always be

 

Empty

Like this womb meant to give life

That will stay waiting so still

A tomb nothing fills

 

Eternally

Awfully

Empty

 

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2016

 

4/1/17

 

Nowhere

 

When you find you’re infertile

There’s no place to mourn

 

There’s nowhere to bury children that will never exist

There’s no funeral to be held

For the death of hopes and dreams

 

There’s no name for a mother

Who was never a mother

 

When you grieve the child you’ll never have

You grieve alone

 

The only grave site

Is the empty place in your womb

Something you carry, always

 

The grief and anger grow

Like the baby that will never live there

 

And sometimes you nurture them

For there’s nothing else in your body

To nurture

 

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2017

 

 

Motherhood Lost

I have previously posted this on Facebook, but I’d like to have it here as well.

In the Old Testament, Sarah is the wife of Abraham. She is infertile and impatient. She doesn’t trust God when He tells her that she will eventually have a child. In fact, she laughs in His face. I might have doubted too, because it took until she was ninety before she conceived Isaac, a patriarch of Judaism. Thus, Sarah eventually became the “mother of many nations” that God promised her she would be.

My name is Sarah. Unlike the biblical version, I will never be a mother. Not of many nations, not of one child.

I truly am infertile.

The medical reasons behind my inability to carry a pregnancy are mostly irrelevant. They are such a small part of the story. The part of the story that stays with me, that follows me like a ghost as I continue to try and heal, is the grief.

I have always wanted to be a mother. Since I was a little girl playing with my baby dolls, since I knew how pregnancy worked, since I could remember. I wanted children. I dreamed what a lot of women dreamed.

I began babysitting at 14; I still babysit my friends’ kids. I volunteered with kids in organizations that protected them from abuse. I rescue cats, one of whom is like my baby; we’ve been inseparable for fifteen years. I mentor a teen in the juvenile justice system. I have a godson that I love with all of my heart. I have a niece and a nephew and another one on the way.

And even though I have and do all of this I am keenly aware of one thing:

None if it is enough.

There are many days when I feel fine, normal. There are days when I’m not sad at all, or only just a little. Then there are days when I am completely slammed with the reality that no matter how many nieces and nephews and godchildren and cats I have, no matter how many children I babysit or volunteer my time to, I will never have a child in my womb. I will never understand what my friends mean when they talk about how their children are physically part of them, how the love they share is something special because of that physical bond. And even if God grants me the gift and honor of being an adoptive parent, I still will never know what those women are talking about; that primal, heart-to-heart connection a woman has with a child that is physically hers.

And maybe none of that matters. Maybe I will develop a love for my adoptive children that is just as strong and special. And I think my history as survivor of family trauma makes me specially capable at caring for children who were separated from their birth parents at an early age.

All I know is, right now there are times when I feel the aching chasm of my empty uterus within me. I feel it and I know that the one thing that could fill it is the one thing that is impossible for me. So when I see another pregnancy or birth announcement on Facebook, or when people get into conversations about their kids that I can’t add to, there’s a tiny, grieving part of me that can’t stand to listen.

At least, not right now.

Introduction

This blog is simply a place for me to expound on topics that are too long for Facebook posts, and maybe for some of my poetry. I am a woman on a journey of faith, healing, discovery, and recovery. Currently I am in school, seeking my Associate’s of Science. I plan to use that as a bridge to finish my Bachelor’s of Nursing at the University of Texas Health Science Center (if I’m lucky enough to get in!) Ultimately, though, I feel called to ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church. What that looks like yet, I don’t know. My feeling is the priesthood, but it could be something else. Once my Bachelor’s is complete, I will apply to seminary.  Right now, I’m simply in prayer and discernment, taking things one step at a time. I have plenty of time and wonderful clerical guidance in my life to discern God’s plan for my place in the church, if indeed that is where He wants me.

I currently serve on several ministries at my home church, St. Mary’s, including Eucharistic minister, worship leader, and arranging altar flowers. I recently completed my postulancy to become a member of the order of the Daughters of the King. When I say this is my home church, I mean that in the truest sense of the word. There is nowhere in the world that I feel more comfortable or safe than the nave at St. Mary’s. The people there are my family. I feel loved, cherished, needed, and wanted there. Through the pastoral counseling I received there I’ve found so much healing, hope, compassion, and peace.

Despite all of the healing I’ve done, I still struggle with many things. Most of my issues now are with grief. I grew up in violence and chaos. I was physically, verbally, and emotionally abused, and sexually tortured. I am a child of domestic violence, a victim of rape and incest. Most of these things were committed by my father. I was also raped again as a teenager by a stranger, sexually harassed by my gymnastics coach and a college professor, nearly date-raped by a guy, and sexually assaulted by another college professor. Classic re-victimization; it happens. I had a major surgical trauma at 23, when I developed a rare pneumonia and was forced to have my chest cracked open to have part of my lung removed. I briefly coded on the table during surgery (read: died for minute) and was in a coma for several days. It took me nearly a year to fully heal from that surgery. I have some trauma from several car wrecks, as well as the sudden death of my young cousin, Tyler. Basically, I’m a walking case of Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

Along with those things, I have struggled and nearly died a few times from anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, bipolar disorder, and self-harm (cutting myself mostly, hitting myself with blunt objects, at times until I broke bones, and rarely burning myself). I’ve had some issues with prescription pills at times.

You would, too.

I’m thirty three now, and I’ve been in therapy since I was fifteen. Basically, I’ve spent the second two thirds of my life trying to recover from the first. At the present I am also dealing with chronic illness: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Celiac disease, inflammatory arthritis, fibromyalgia, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and a number of gastrointestinal issues that need not be detailed. (To be noted: there has been resent research into the link between childhood trauma and the development of autoimmune disease later in life “Childhood trauma leads to lifelong chronic illness”). Last year, I found out that I am infertile, and unable to have my own biological children. (That has been brutal.) I take about twenty pills each day, which keep me stable, but have a number of really not-fun side effects.

So what’s the upshot of all of this? It sounds like a lot, right? It is. The only way I can claim any sanity in it all is God. I give all credit to Him. I am not just saved by Jesus through the waters of Baptism and the power of the Holy Spirit and the work of the Cross. Jesus saves me every day, in little ways, when I don’t have the strength to cope, to get out of bed, to tolerate the pain, the fatigue, the grief, the stress.  Jesus saves me. He gives me a peace that passes understanding. He sends me rescuers in the form of family, friends, my beautiful little Godson, trashy novels, Netflix binges, my cat Sophie, white chocolate mochas, thunderstorms or perfect sunny days, poetry and prayer, my church, my clergy, and scripture. He resurrects me from the ashes and reminds me that I am more than what was done to me, more than my failing health, more than the scars that cover my body.

Jesus had scars, too. And they were reminders, not just of the wounds inflicted, but of victory over the pain and death. I like to see my scars that way, too.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. At times it may be difficult, but I hope you see what I see: the beauty from the ashes.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me

because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations…
 Instead of your shame

    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours.

 “For I, the Lord, love justice;
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
    and make an everlasting covenant with them…

I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation.

Isaiah 61