Dear Sweet Infertile Friend
I wrote this letter, first on my old website “The Sophia Collective, “ and then later revised it for a proposed book by the same name.
I wrote the first draft at 21:03, October 1, 2013. It was five months and seven days from our first big adoption placement failure. There had been another one two months and five days before too, but it felt like just where we were—losing. I was hurting, unsure, angry, and without hope that we’d ever become parents. That happened a lot during that time.
This letter is special to me because I wrote it broken and raw. It’s my love letter from my not-yet-a-mama heart to anyone else’s heart that longs to shepherd a little through life toward love of themselves and others and God. This pain was do deep down and real that even after our girl showed up, it took my heart years to catch up and embrace that I’m really hers and she’s really mine. We belong to each other. By what joy did that possibly ever happen?
Dear Sweet Infertile Friend,
Today is a bad day. A really bad day where I am sure that any light I see at the end of this Tunnel of Infertility/Failed Adoption Mess is really just my eyes playing tricks on me. Today is the sort of day where I think about saying, “No more.” Today is a day where I am weary of having my hopes dashed and my dreams delayed. Today is a day where the world feels cruel, unfair, and determined to run me over with as many Mack trucks as it can find. Today is a day where God—even in her beautiful feminine manifestations that will comfort me when nothing else will—seems like a figment of my imagination or flat out plotting against me.
I want to write to you from here—this place of deep personal pain and longing—and tell you as one sojourner to another that it is ok when you absolutely want to quit fighting to have a baby. Lots of people will tell you about not giving up hope and that you just have to believe it will happen, and the subtext will be that the reason you are not a parent yet is because your hope has faltered and you have not believed. Other people will tell you that if you stop wanting it so badly and have less attachment then that will be the magical moment when you will get pregnant, match for your adoption, or win the lottery to pay for all of the in-vitro you need but cannot afford without that million dollar payday.
Becoming pregnant—of the body and of the heart—is crazy simple for some people. Teenagers—children really—cannot even know the names of their body parts and do it successfully. Trying to adopt? You will hear all about babies falling from heaven into someone’s lap, and maybe even that will be someone you find a bit ridiculous and off-putting. Nine out of ten people will have it easy whether they want to be parents or not. There may have even been a moment in your own life where you thought you might be pregnant and when the stick did not turn pink you did a little dance of joy. Or you were pregnant, and you cried and cried and cried and then went to a clinic. None of that makes what you are going through today any easier, only harder. I know. I was once pregnant and had a miscarriage that left me relieved and sad but mostly relieved. Wrong boy. Wrong time. Wrong situation.
It is also the only time I have ever been pregnant in my whole life.
I know you want to believe that if you do it just right and play by the rules you will have a baby. Me too. But guess what? There is no fucking rule book that if you do all the right things, and none of the bad, you get a healthy baby at the end of it. Does it sometimes work that way? Yes. Lots of times even, but not always. Never always. Sometimes totally unhealthy people who have lost their way get pregnant, and by some crazy grace end up with a beautiful healthy super-smart kind emotionally stable wonder child. Sometimes totally healthy people have their sweet baby die. I know. I have met them and been with them when it happened, and they could not make sense of it that day and often spend a lifetime trying to.
Infertility, my darling friend, is a bitch. I’m not a fan of that word, but really, in this case, it’s the only one that fit. Infertility is a bitch if you are straight, married, rich, and well-educated. It is a bitch if you are a lesbian, gay, cool, hip, too fabulous for this kind of trouble. It is a bitch if you are poor or living pay check to pay check. It is a bitch if you believe in God or if you don’t. It is a bitch if you speak seven languages or barely one. It is a bitch if you are black, white, purple, or striped. It is a bitch if you are twenty-two and have to have all your lady bits cut out due to some terrible disease, or if you are sixteen and have testicular cancer. Infertility is a bitch even after you grieve that your parts and your partner’s parts are not going to make a bio kiddo, and you open your heart and pocketbook to adoption. It is a bitch when you imagine your life with one child or another and it does not work out. It is a bitch when you look around and everyone can have a baby but you (and me). It is a bitch when people judge the ways you are trying to make a family, especially when they think it is their business to tell you that it is only ego and sin that drives someone to donor eggs, donor sperm, gestational carriers, or shady infertility treatments half a world away but at half the cost.
I wish it was not this way, I really do, but it is.
That is a whole hell of a lot of bad news from someone whose middle name is Hope. I know. Some days, like today, I would like to wrest that middle name right out of me and put in Mara—which means bitter—instead. In the Hebrew Scriptures the Book of Ruth is really about her mother-in-law Naomi. After losing her husband and sons, and without any grandchildren, she returns home and tells the townspeople of Bethlehem to call her Mara because of all the ways God has forgotten her. I relate to her more than any other woman in the Bible. She is pissed. You can hear it steaming off of the page. She is pissed at life, at God, at dumb luck, and at being a woman in a man’s world where she has no status beyond what a male heir can bring (at least that is how I read it). She is ready to utterly give up and basically is left destitute and resigned to her fate. She and Ruth are beggars. In essence, she has returned home to die.
Yet right there in fucking hell she gets an idea into her head about Ruth and her kinsman Boaz. Could there be a love connection? And somehow her creative scheming—and an obviously desirable daughter-in-law—renders her a new “son” and a grandchild. She gets her do-over right at that moment where she has basically given up and told everyone in town that she is the meanest bitterest broad there. And, this is not just any grandchild. It is Obed. Obed who is the father of Jesse, and Jesse is the father of David. As in King David—the greatest and most important king of Israel. Ever. She is his great-grandmother.
I really connect with Naomi and her journey into wanting to be called bitter. She is a woman who is rendered infertile by great loss, which is what all infertility is: Loss. It breaks your heart, and often your body. I sometimes think about giving up and just walking away, but then the thought of dying and never having a child call me “Mama” becomes even more than the pain of the moment.
I stand on that liminal edge between what my life is and what I deeply desire it to be. This is not a place of pity or self-indulgence. This is a hard life edge where I literally lack the parts—the physical body parts—to make the baby I so deeply desire. It is not just up to me and my dear husband. It is up to adoption consultants, adoption attorneys, adoption agencies, expectant mothers and their families and partners. It is up to our bank account and the generosity of our family and friends. It is up to luck and chance and timing and a bit of divine intervention I cannot quite trace out just yet. This hard edge of creation is bitterly difficult. It comes with no guarantees or promises. It requires imagination in the face of the most devastating losses of my adult life.
So, I get Naomi and her bitterness, but even more so I get her gumption. Dear friend, have gumption. Surrender to it. Surrender to not knowing how or if it will work out the way you are hoping, praying, or begging for it to work out. Surrender to the divine mystery that all children—bio or not—are utter strangers and a complete mystery that must unfold. Surrender to your infertility. Surrender to not holding the world in the palm of your hand and making it do your will. Surrender to a God who does not force the world either. Surrender to unfairness. Surrender to bitterness when it comes, and it does or will. Taste it on your lips and tongue and like bile in the back of your throat. Let it burn there. Dip your fingertips in the cup of your own tears and suck off the salt.
In this place of unknowing and loss surrender. Throw up your hands and give it all up, for in the giving up the sweetness of hope rushes in like water on a parched land. The hope is that things will be different—for you still want a sweet child in your arms. And really, how could you not? The hope that things will be different means that whatever comes you will meet it. Whatever losses await you, you will surrender to them just as you are surrendering now. Surrender and then let your imagination run wild.
Every devastating loss on this path for me has been met with these words: “I guess I can go back to praying for twins.” Every. Single. One. It is my tiny white flag of acceptance at how it is and not how I want it to be but am still hoping it might turn out.
Every guru, mother, Pastor, Rabbi, Imam, uncle, friend from Junior High, and fifth cousin twice removed will offer you advice. This is not advice. This is me at the bitter edge of yet another loss telling you that the only way I have found to make peace with this place of creation between my losses and my hope has been to surrender to the truth of life…to surrender to the truth of my infertile life. And somehow in the surrendering I find the strength to face what my life is head on, tears streaming down my face, gut wrenched, and also certain that I have absolutely no idea how this story ends.
Will you join me? This is an edge that needs the solidarity of those living on it. I am here if you need me. And who knows? We could end up being the grandparents of royalty!
Your faithful friend.