I delight in my daughter. Being her mama is the most precious privilege I've been granted. But parenting can be stressful. Physically exhausting. Emotionally draining. It can bring out my insecurities and drowned me in guilt. It can raise the stakes for seemingly innocuous decisions. It can dampen romance. It can hammer out a cleft in a rock-solid marriage.
When I spend time with my friends who don't yet have kids, I often find myself wondering what it's like. Granted, it wasn't long ago that I was in their shoes. They may be perfectly content in the pre-parenting stage of life, but I wasn't. I was unhappy, pining for a baby, wishing away my childlessness. My current vantage point is so different, and I have to admit that...at weak moments...I even find myself fleetingly envious of friends who still have the freedom to travel Europe...or even just see a movie. I find myself wanting to trade places - just for a day or two - with those ladies who can wear bikinis without having to subject themselves to a three-week juice fast in preparation. I find myself imagining what it would be like to sleep in...like they get to do...twice a week.
The friends that I'm talking about aren't struggling with infertility (as far as I know). But I have many friends who are. And here is the crazy, shameful, painfully honest part. I have to admit that their are times when I - even I with my history of loss, IVF and now secondary infertility - have to bury the impulse to encourage these women to savor their child-free days. In those clouded, worn-out, desperate moments, I forget that becoming a mother didn't take away the freedoms and privileges of child-free living...infertility did. My life changed long before Harriet came into it. Like a ruthless sniper, infertility took out freedom after freedom, privilege after privilege, years before my daughter was in my arms. And the same is true for my infertile friends.
When I long to have a figure that's ever-ready for swimsuit season...I must not forget that many of them have already lost the thin, fit bodies they were used to. Their tummies bloat and pooch from the medications, prompting strangers to ask when they're due. Their breasts sag and leak as a result of late miscarriage. Their arms and legs go soft due to exercise restrictions.
When sex was excruciating for six months after giving birth and a doctor had to burn off scar tissue to prevent permanent damage...I needed to remember that intimacy can be nearly unbearable for infertile women. A doctor is deciding when and how sex happens. It becomes scientific and unfeeling. Something that is meant to be so private has gone public, and they are mourning that loss...lying with their husbands in beds that might as well be housed in procedure rooms, feeling so alone.
When my love for my daughter literally steals my breath and makes my heart feel like it's going to explode, when the fear of something happening to her rises to the level of spiritual warfare...I remind myself that my infertile friends do know that love and that fear. Many of their worst fears have been realized. They love their miscarried and stillborn babies every day of their lives. Many others know the agonizingly ambiguous loss of their dreams. They love the children in their imaginations. It is a real, powerful, mama bear love that should never be dismissed or minimized.
When I find myself fantasizing about having the freedom to go on vacation, have a nice dinner out, or sleep til noon...I cannot forget that infertile women lost those freedoms long ago. The money, time and energy that should be spent on fun and entertainment is now being used for appointments, procedures and medications. They can't take trips because they need to be close to the clinic. Their diets are restricted in order to maximize their fertility. Early morning appointments steal much-needed hours of sleep.
When mommyhood creates distance between my friends and I, when I feel I can't fully focus on them because I have a toddler vying for my attention...I must never forget that the friendships of infertile women suffer as well. Girls nights are replaced with baby showers and birthday parties. Except these events are always about other people...and other people's children. Friends struggle to know how to help so they offer platitudes and unintentionally minimize the struggle of infertility. Infertile women then close in around their pain and their once-dear girlfriends pull back for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.
When my husband and I deliberate over discipline issues or public vs. private schooling...I must remember that infertile couples are agonizing over impossible decisions as well. Should they do IVF? Should they donate their extra embryos? Should they increase their medication dosage and risk multiples? Should they switch clinics? Ask their parents for money? Pursue international or domestic adoption? Foster care? Should they just stop all this madness and try to find happiness elsewhere? Their minds are exhausted. The pros and cons lists litter the kitchen table. They feel stuck in a land of maybes, ifs and shoulds.
It takes only a moment for me to remember what it was like to be traveling that same road. And that's when a sincere prayer - a head thrown back, fists clenched, begging prayer - sprouts in my soul.
Lord God, hand them their dreams. They have already earned their parent wings. They are fully mothering the children they're waiting for. Fill - oh, fill! - their empty arms.