Thursday, December 22, 2011

No Platitudes Please

plat·i·tude [plat-i-tood, -tyood] noun
1. a flat, dull, or trite remark, especially one uttered as if it were fresh or profound.

I have been very open about my struggle with infertility over the past three years. In that course of time, I have heard every platitude imaginable: "just relax and it will happen", "God's timing is perfect", "when you stop wanting it so much, it will happen", "you can always adopt", etc.

Platitudes used to make me angry, but I have come to realize that people just don't know what to say sometimes, especially if they have not personally walked the path you are walking. People are uncomfortable with pain and unanswered questions and they just want to "fix" it and make it better. The most comforting words I've received are, of course, from people who know this struggle personally--they have been a balm to my weary soul. Of course, the "I am so sorry" and "I am praying for you" responses are helpful too--just to say, "I know you are hurting and I am here" is really all that needs to be said (just a hint to those who may be looking for things to say to anyone who is grieving).

Since we found out our first (and probably only) round of IVF was unsuccessful yesterday, people have offered me all kinds of grace. There have been platitudes too--some that stabbed at my heart because they were too painful in their simplicity--including an email encouraging me to "relax and it will happen in God's timing"; I am just going to pass those off as well-intentioned, and am grateful that people try their best to offer something. I know it means that they care.

I have come to regret sharing this IVF journey so publically, not because of what people say, but because others became emotionally invested in the outcome--not to the extent that Joe and I are invested, but still invested. People who love us are broken-hearted on our behalf. If they feel even a fraction of the pain I feel right now, that is too much to ask another to bear.

We speak about this as a "failed IVF"--as if a process did not work. Really, it is a death...or in our case, 7 deaths. We implanted 2 embryos and there were 5 others we hoped to be able to freeze and use for another attempt, but they did not make it. I have always been a pro-life person, but watching those tiny little cells develop daily, I believe more than ever that life begins at conception...and I feel like I lost 7 little lives that I loved the instant they were created. I am not sure what the technical term for IVF failure is. I don't know if what happened would be considered a miscarriage, but that is what it feels like to me. There were two living beings--half me/half my beloved husband--inside my body and now they are gone. The past two days feel like a funeral procession that will never reach the actual funeral.

My in-laws took us out to dinner last night to cheer us up. It seemed like a good idea to get out of the house and focus on something other than my sad thoughts. At one point during the meal, I saw my husband look up at a picture on the wall: a picture of a dad and a little son following behind him, imitating him. Joe looked like someone had punched him in the gut and I knew instantly what he was thinking: "Why can't that be me?". I started sobbing when the entrees came. I don't know why. Joe held me and I heard my step mother-in-law say to Joe's dad, "What happened? Did we say something wrong?" They were nothing but gracious and kind and upbeat but, for some reason, it suddenly seemed cruel that life goes on as normal--eating, breathing, talking--when your whole world has been forever altered. Isn't that the nature of grief, though? You are normal one minute--thinking, "yes, this hurts, but I will be make it through this"--and then WHAM! a huge wave washes over you, instantly knocking you off your feet, and you wonder how you'll ever be ok again.

I am mourning the deaths of our little Fox babies, but I am mourning something else: a dearly held dream. This was the only round of IVF that we can afford. We will, after we have grieved, start looking into adoption. We always wanted to adopt and feel it is the Biblically mandated duty of every Christian to care for the orphans, aliens and widows. But I had always dreamed of still having a baby of my own--just one; a baby that was part me and part Joe...with his tender heart and wry humor and keen intellect and piercing green eyes. I want that more deeply than I can express in mere words. People tell me that it is not God's time yet. The truth is, I have no assurance that God will give me that desire; actually, it does not seem to be His Will for me at all. I turn 37 in a week and have had actual babies placed in my uterus and it still did not "work". All the vacations and relaxing in the world are not going to help me have baby. This very clearly seems to be the end of the road for me in terms of having a natural child--though I still trust that God can work a miracle if that is His Will (and that is what it would be: a miracle). I think I will be a mom, one way or another, but I believe the time has come for me to release the dream of giving birth to a child. That is a painful, gut-wrentching, terrifying release. There is some intense anger also--that what comes so easily to an unwed teenager in the back seat of a car will never be mine. It is unjust and unfair...but that is my reality.

I re-read C.S. Lewis's book "A Grief Observed" last night. It is the journal he wrote after his wife died from an agonizing bout with cancer. His brutal honesty and courage to wrestle with the darkest questions gave me hope. I know an awful lot about God (have a theology undergrad and spent 4 years in seminary). I have studied the Scriptures and immersed myself in the spiritual disciplines. None of that knowledge means anything when your heart is broken. I know the answers, but I don't FEEL the answers. C.S. Lewis told me last night that it is ok to get angry and to hurt and to cry out to God--and maybe even normal to feel His absence during a time you most long to feel His Presence. Great men and women of the past have wept and questioned and perhaps even yelled at God in the wee hours of the night and He was big enough to take it. Even my precious Jesus quoted the Psalms during his Agony: "Why have You forsaken me?". I have no doubt I will come to the end of this season of mourning, knowing my God more deeply and intimately for the struggle. Perhaps, I will be grateful some day for the struggle itself, knowing that all suffering produces Christlikeness, if we allow God that room to work in us.

C.S. Lewis asked a question some may consider blasphemous: Is God a vet or a vivisectionist? Is he caring for us (though we may not understand the "treatment") or is He experimenting on us in a cruel and malicious way? When you are hurting, you ask those kind of questions. Lewis said his deep fear was not that He would begin to doubt God's existence, but that He might begin to doubt His nature. Thank you, C.S. Lewis, for letting me know that those questions are part of grief and not a lack of faith. Thank you, C.S. Lewis, for letting me journey with you through your pain and loss and see you "come around" at the end--giving me hope that though weeping may endure for a night, joy comes in the morning.

Lewis also posited that perhaps God is like a great surgeon, getting to the root of an illness. If He were to stop the surgery--no matter how painful it is to the patient--before the problem were fixed, that would be the most cruel act of all.

I trust God has a purpose. I know God uses all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose--to make us into the image of Christ. I don't FEEL that right now, but I do KNOW it. There is one thing that I do feel in the midst of all this: that my pain, my questions, my doubts, my anger, my inability to understand, my uncontrollable weeping...none of these things can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus my Lord. I am clinging to that truth, whether I feel it or not...trusting that one day I will feel it again.


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Steve Finnell said...

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Anonymous said...

So true, I understand your pain. I just lost my 7th embryo and the loss is very painful.