Monday, July 13, 2009

forbidden fruit

(Some context: this week is Vacation Bible School at my congregation, which means we have 163 little rug rats running around the building all week long. The nursery is right across from my office, which doesn't impact me much during a normal week, but it will be full all this week with happy, smiley children and their parents, who see me singing songs with them and say helpful things like, "you're so good with children - you should have some of your own!")

I've been trying to get through my Pile O' Books I Ordered All Year and Now Need to Read, which, by summertime, is always quite a large portion of my desk. In the middle of one of said books, in a discussion about the meaning of the garden of Eden story, I found this passage:

We all have something in the midst of our lives that is beyond our created reach. This is something we cannot freely take, something that reminds us that we are not gods who have it all. It may be a dream that will never be fulfilled, a desired relationship that remains only a desire, or a thorn in the flesh that's never removed. What the forbidden tree represents in a person's life is not as important as the realization that we humans were not created with the capacity to take whatever we desire. There can be 999 trees in our garden to which we can freely go and enjoy their fruit, but where do we pitch our tent? Under the one tree we cannot have.*

So. Here I am, surrounded all week by children in every nook and cranny of my workplace. I can shut my door and avoid seeing them, if I choose, but even then, I will hear them screaming and laughing and running through the halls. I'm considering this as I read my last two blog posts, which reflected a deep frustration and growing bitterness about infertility, and I wonder: what does it mean for my life that I cannot make a pregnancy happen for myself, no matter how hard I try? What am I doing here, sitting under the one tree in my garden which won't (pun intended) bear fruit?

I've read numerous confessions from infertile women who say something like, "we live in a society that tells you that you can be and do anything you want if you work hard enough, and so when you realize that you just can't get pregnant on your own, no matter how hard you try, you feel like a complete failure: both because you can't manage to do what so many women do by accident; and because you are failing at the American notion that hard work will always bring results." And I have certainly felt this way. This fertility thing is the first big, major, life-changing, hardcore thing I have EVER failed at in my life. I've had minor failures along the way, but this one - as the high schoolers in youth group would put it - is, "dude, epic fail." Epic is a very good word. This is indeed, dudes, an epic fail. And dude, it sucks.

I've said before, and I'll say it again for good measure, that I absolutely do not believe God is actively making me infertile to teach me some lesson. I have decided to call that sort of thing - the sort of theology which makes you believe that all the shit in your life is being handed to you directly from God as if you had made a really bad order at the drive-thru of life - that sort of thing is now called Monkey Underwear Theology, in honor of brilliant comic-strip-guy Stephan Pastis:(I'm not sure if I'm allowed to reprint this stuff, but to try and make up for it, let me just put in a plug: if you have access to it, you should read Stephan's comic strip, Pearls Before Swine. It is the best thing since The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes went kaput.)

Anyway. While avoiding Monkey Underwear Theology, I do continue to struggle with the meaning of infertility, this unchangeable thing in my life. When I see parents with children, in the grocery store, maybe, or elsewhere in public - when I see them and notice that the parents are not being particularly kind or compassionate to their children, I think (yes, with an edge of judgmentalism), "don't they know that being a parent is a privilege?" Our culture tells us to think of nearly everything in life as a right: you have the right to happiness, or to bear arms, or to make lots of money, or to get married, or to have children. And if you don't currently have the right to a few of those things, then you have the right to protest until you get them. Which, for the most part, I heartily believe in. (I'm not big on the whole 'bearing arms' thing, but that's a post for a different day.)

But being a parent is not a right. And part of my problem, I think, is that I insist on forgetting this. How dare the universe interrupt my personal pregnancy plans? How dare it be that 16-year olds can get pregnant from some awkward fumbling in a backseat, whilst I - a masters' degree'ed, house-owning, tax-paying responsible citizen - can't, even with the most sophisticated science at my side?

The bare truth is, I do not have the right to be a parent. No one really does. And if I insist on sitting under the only tree in my garden which is not bearing fruit, then I am choosing to spend a whole lot of my life on something which may never happen. This is not good news. But it is the truth, and after several years of denying that very thing ("well, I haven't gotten pregnant in 18 months, but surely that's not a problem!"), I can't do it anymore.

I need to start actively making peace with this truth, or it is going to eat me alive. Surrounded by children all day every day this week, many of them with pregnant moms, will otherwise drive me off the ledge.

The hard truth is, I believe there is no purpose behind my infertility. And I may not be able to change it, no matter how hard I try. I do believe that God can help create some meaning and purpose even in this situation, but that is going to be some seriously hard work for both of us: for God, who is going to have to work overtime to convince me of this, and for me, who will have to find some way to listen.

But if I don't do this work, then we have two possibilities in front of us.

The first: that I will never get pregnant, and will spend the rest of my life being frustrated and angry about it, missing much of the other gifted-ness of my life in the meantime.

The second: that I will get pregnant, have a child (or two), and then will realize that long-cherished, worked-for dream is not everything I built it up to be. Kids are hard work. Parenthood is not inherently romantic. And if I dream about cute nurseries and the smell of baby powder all day long, I am not dreaming about the real thing. I am dreaming about Disney Parenthood, which is along the same lines as Disney Marriage - where the movie ends at the wedding, or the birth, and never deals with the reality that follows.

Everybody hits this truth at some point in life: that we are limited, we humans, and the only real joy we are ever going to find is living well within those limits. I'm making an appointment with my RE next month, but even as I look forward to another cycle, the truth remains: I need to learn to live within my limits too. Easier said than done.

*Quote is from The Pastor as Minor Poet, by M. Craig Barnes, page 94.


  1. This is excellent, and so, so true. Thank you. I was telling my husband yesterday that I'm going to have to come to terms with our infertility, and that I don't believe it is something that can be easily solved by having a child.

    Also makes me think of a Barbara Brown Taylor quote that I read recently and love: "Humans do not lose control, we lose the illusion that we were ever in control in the first place." How very true.

  2. this reminds me of the stirrup queen post about finding resolution... i tried to relocate it but wasn't able, it might have been part of a friday roundup. the idea though is that resolving childlessness and resolving infertility are not the same. branches of the same tree, but not the same.

    i do think that you have good odds of having a successful ivf cycle... and i hope that this next month is it.

  3. There are a lot of things here that ring true for me. In particular the difficulty of trying to find meaning in all of this. I'm not sure what is more frightening: there is a reason we have to go through this. Or there is no meaning.

  4. you rock, friend. you speak truth so effectively. you live life so honestly. and that is small consolation, perhaps, but... because of who you are, because of the work you're doing... there will be other possibilities. i know it.

    could you have a margarita every night this week? just wondering.

  5. What an interesting, insightful post. As usual. :)

  6. beautiful post. you touched many issues I myself have been going through.

  7. Very insightful and thought-provoking. We too have been trying for 18 months, and I know just now, I have started to contemplate the possibility of it never happening for us and what that will mean for our lives. In addition, I've been giving a great deal of thought to the fact that all of our focus has been intently directed at creating a life leaving no energy to contemplate and enjoy what we already have. Thank you for sharing your insights.

  8. What a wonderfully honest and insightful post. Anyone who has been through what you have, lost pregnancies, failed at even getting pregnant has felt these things. We wonder, will we have to resign ourselves to living without children or only one? I think the conversation inside your heart is very important, but I hope dearly that you will find out what parenthood is like very soon.

    Huge hugs!

  9. I looooove Calvin & Hobbes. One of the great tragedies was when he decided to stop doing the strip. I need to print out that Pearls strip for my dad (preacher)! :)

    I'm trying to make peace with it, too. I think it's gonna be a long journey.

  10. This is a brilliant post and I wish I'd written it.

    Truly, nothing is a right and everything is a privilege. To know so is empowering, I think.

    I'll be pondering what you've said for the rest of the day.

  11. What an eloquent way to make many valid points. I think its is great that your eyes have been opened to the fact that there are so many wonderful things in life that you do have. Some people live their entire life without ever figuring this out.

  12. Pearls Before Swine is my favorite cartoon. I don't know if it will replace Calvin & Hobbes as my all-time favorite, but it's pretty close.

    I love your right vs privelege and tree of knowledge theories. I'll be reflecting on those...

  13. I think the hardest part of the infertility journey for me (7 years PI, 3 more years SI) was figuring out how God's hand fit into all the heartache. Like you, this was the first really big thing I set out to accomplish and couldn't and I couldn't see how a loving God could leave me floundering like this. In the end He did bring about such growth in my life through the journey, but it wasn't an easy path - I'm just glad He was there each step of the way as I cannot begin to imagine how much more painful it all would have been without Him!
    Praying for you tonight as I read through a bit of your blog.
    Jenni Saake
    author, Seeking God's Heart in the Midst of Infertility, Miscarriage & Adoption Loss

  14. No, I don't think God causes infertility or causes unwed pregnant woman to get pregnant. But I think God can allow all inferfiles to grow through infertility or for that unwed pregnant woman to allow God to walk with them in this journey.