This past week we made public the news that we are expecting again. We gave our families the go-ahead to tell extended relatives; we emailed friends who didn’t yet know; we shared the news on Face.book. Although I’m not quite to the second-trimester-mark, it’s been a rough first trimester, and frankly, we needed a little joy in our January. So we indulged and let ourselves shout the news from the rooftops a week early.
It was wonderful, affirming, uplifting to hear all the well wishes and congratulations. For a couple who waited for months and months through infertility’s uncertainty for their first child to arrive, the astonishing delight of #2 being so simple to conceive still feels like a surreal surprise. We planned, we hoped, and yet we still never dared to dream it would ever be this easy.
But that’s precisely what breaks my heart about the shadow side of sharing our happy news: we know it’s not easy.
When I typed that announcement this week, all I could think was I am going to ruin someone’s day with this news. The cold, hard reality is that unbeknownst to me, someone I know is struggling with the loss of a baby, or the emotional roller coaster of infertility, or the realization that they will never be a parent, and these blissful lines of annunciation are going to crumble their hitherto happy day into that sinking pit of ugh that I remember all too well.
I recognize that is a terrible thing to think, on one level. This is my baby! a new life! a gift from God! a blessing to be celebrated! This is the best darn news we could share, and we’re over the moon with gratitude and expectation. God is so good!
And yet all I could remember were the seemingly endless string of pregnancy announcements we received while we were living through infertility. The worst was when a dear old friend and a close relative both announced their joyful news all on the same day, and we had coincidentally just finished an unsuccessful round of hormone treatment. I sobbed for hours that night, weeping on F’s shoulder, blubbering into a (large) glass of wine, yelling at God that it was an awfully lousy thing to put a desire into someone’s heart and then frustrate its fulfillment at every turn.
Each time I responded this way to a pregnancy or birth announcement, I felt even more rotten for having such a selfish, sorrowful response to someone else’s good news. But I couldn’t help it. The reaction was visceral, immediate, and complete. What they had, I wanted. And there was nothing I could do about it but cry. And pray. And hope that one day it would be us.
After the experience of coming to know infertility so closely, F and I are forever changed in many ways – the least of which being we tread extremely lightly around the topic of children and pregnancy in conversation. One in six couples struggles with infertility, and one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage. The odds are sadly high that one of these sufferings will weave its way into the journey of a marriage. So we never ask our friends anymore, “Are you thinking about having kids yet?” We never joke around that “you two will be next!” Because you never know what they’re going through behind the brave front or the public facade. And even well-meaning words can cause so much pain.
So I struggled this week to make the news public. There was great joy, but a tinge of sadness for its unintended impact on those whose burden is still hidden to us. This is the legacy, the lingering vestiges of our infertility days. As with other experiences of suffering, infertility brought us solidarity, a widened heart, a changed perspective. We – and our family, our parenting, our marriage – will never be the same because of it.
I know some people would counsel me not to worry about this, to focus on the joy, to celebrate our blessing fully so that we can celebrate others’ blessings in turn. I recognize the love and wisdom in this response, and yet I realize that my call to compassion and caring is not reserved for my own joys, my own family. If God allows our hearts to be broken, and remains with us through the pain and the sorrow, then I believe we are called to live differently as we journey beyond. That is dying and rising with Christ. That is the shape of the Christian life.
So this week my mothering spirit is rejoicing and also remembering. Remembering what we went through. Remembering how many others are on that same path. Remembering that this blessing, this baby, is pure gift, not to be taken for granted. Remembering that just because one is no longer innocent of the shadow side that joys can bring, the light does not have to be hidden. God is good, all the time. Then and now; them and us; have and have not. Somehow, way beyond my understanding, God is good, all the time.