In the late summer of 1983, I became gravely ill and ended up needing an emergency hysterectomy. I was just eleven-years-old, and did not fully understand the implications of this type of surgery. That fateful moment in time changed my life in a drastic way. Infertility became the shadow to which I danced around, but could never get away from. Going through this experience taught me some vital life lessons that are translatable to other aspects of life.
Lesson #1 – You really cannot understand what someone has been through unless you have truly walked in his or her shoes. Unfortunately, I learned this vicariously through the things that people would say to my parents after my surgery. For example, my mom returned to her job at a local retail store after being gone for several weeks to care for my needs. A co-worker said to her, “Well, at least you don’t have to worry about her getting pregnant as a teenager.” My mother bit her tongue and kept on working, but I know these words stayed with her for many years. The woman would have been better off by either not saying anything, or letting my mom express her feelings about what just happened to her daughter.
I think about this often, and use this lesson to remind myself that I never really know what someone else has been through. It also reminds me that everyone has a back-story to life. We live in a world of comparison. We live in a world that expects nothing but the best. Behind comparison and ideals are the battles that we all face. Everyone has a story. Let us not forget that.
Lesson #2 – Infertility is a topic that most people avoid like the plague. I was always so amazed at how very little my circumstance in life was talked about. Even medical professionals would ask why I had a hysterectomy, but then the conversation would fall off or end with the statement, “You can always adopt.” I learned that the whole subject made people very uncomfortable, and in many ways, it still makes people uncomfortable. In particular, churches do not offer enough support for church-goers who are deeply struggling with God’s plan for their parenthood.
Within the past few years, there has been an increase in public awareness about infertility. Thousands of bloggers hit their keyboards noting their very painful and poignant journey to become parents. They seek comfort from strangers while feeling completely isolated from those closest to them. My advice after living with barrenness for thirty years is to talk about it with anyone who is able and willing to listen. There is nothing to be ashamed of, so unload your secret struggle on those who will provide you authentic support.
Lesson #3 – Adoption and infertility are two separate experiences. We need to stop blending them together. People used to give me advice on how to handle infertility. Most of the time, they ended up talking about adoption. I never understood the equation of woman minus being able to get pregnant equals adoption. It is true that a lot of couples who are unable to have biological children seek and become adoptive parents.
I, too, am a mother through adoption, but my adoptions do not represent my infertility; nor do they erase the grief I experienced through the years. On the flip side, barrenness does not damper my experience as a mother. If anything, it may just enhance and enrich it. My hope is that society gets to a place where we recognize the authentic and deeply wounding loss of infertility, AND, that we can see adoption as a separate and remarkable experience – not just a band-aid for infertility.
Lesson #4 – Traumatic events that take place in childhood can linger throughout adulthood, but they do not define who you are. Trauma, whether through abuse, loss of significant person in life, or serious medical illnesses such as mine, stays with a person for the rest of life. The flashes of memories while in the hospital, and recovering at home still play in my mind. The reality of the great loss that I suffered has never really gone away, and it probably won’t. I keep it tucked away in a corner of my heart.
I suspect most of us who have gone through traumatic events remember a life in the “before and after”. Yet, (and this was a very important life lesson I learned) my surgery did not define who I was, and it certainly did not declare my future. I encourage anyone who is going through a traumatic experience to please remember that what you are going through does not make up who you are. It impacts you. It changes you. It even sculpts you in a way that is a little different from who you were, but, it does not constitute the rest of your life. Do not give it that much power. Cling on to who you were before sadness visited your life, and celebrate who you will be in the future.
Lesson #5- Infertility is both an emotional and spiritual battle. It is hard, sometimes, for me to express just how much of a spiritual and emotional battle that I have walked through the years. Before I became a Mommy, I dealt with deep loss and confusion about what God’s will in my life was. I wondered why I was born a woman if I could not give the world what is considered to be one of the most precious gifts. I’m not sure if people fully understand what having a hysterectomy means to a female; especially one like myself who had the surgery at a time when every other girl I knew was having a period.
From a spiritual sense, I thought that God must have never wanted me to be a mother. I was taught to trust His will, but when it came to being a mother, I often questioned why the will of God would include infertility. Looking back at the years long ago, I know that I was battling a spiritual battle,
I thought for many years that I deserved what happened, and that somehow the Lord must have known that I would make a terrible mother. I figured that I must not be capable of caring for a child, or that for some reason, I was being punished by the sins of those before me. Hear me when I say this – these thoughts were real, all-encompassing, and took a long time to heal from.
While I went about being a typical teenager, twenty-something, and young adult, I battled the silent war of my own emotions and sense of spiritual longing. I know many others who are battling this secret war behind closed doors, and through unseen tears. It is a very real.
Lesson #6- Women complain about pregnancy….a lot. Now, I don’t mean any disrespect by this, and I’m sure that at times, pregnancy is extremely uncomfortable. Please remember though that while you are complaining about swollen feet, hot flashes, and back pain, there might just be a woman around you who feels a twinge of pain with each of your words.
There is nothing more uncomfortable for an infertile woman than being around a pregnant person. Again, I mean no offense by this. Do you understand what it means to not carry a child? Do you understand that it is a deep longing that may never be fulfilled? If so, then please, stop complaining about pregnancy. I know it is uncomfortable, but at the same time, it is miraculous, beautiful, and incredible. Please treasure the nine months, and understand that there are millions (literally millions) who would trade places with you in an instant.
Lesson #7 – Life is unpredictable, but our reactions are not. Life tends to throw us curve balls. I was born a healthy baby girl and within eleven years, I underwent a hysterectomy. I became the youngest female known to have this surgery. This was the absolute last thing my parents would ever expect when raising me. Honestly, it is the last thing probably any parent of a school-aged girl would think.
It took many years, and there were pitfalls, but eventually, life got back to normal. My parents raged in silence, and grieved even more, but they continued to show me a sense of stability and hope for the future. Their reactions were what I expected – steady, loving, and what I needed.
Initially, when we are struck by incredibly traumatic events in life, we may falter a bit. Our knees may buckle. We may feel like curling up in a ball, and wishing the world away. After some time though, we can choose to get back up. We can choose to react in a way that shows the world what we are made of, and better yet, where our faith is in our lives. This a life-lesson that stayed with me.
Lesson #8- Hope is one of the most powerful human actions. I always wondered with an excitement, and even a little bit of fear, what the Lord had in store for my life. I remember thinking that maybe I could adopt some day, but, I really did not understand it at all. I just knew that eventually life would make sense. Eventually, even if in Heaven, I would come to know the reason why all of this nonsense took place. Eventually, I would know the answer to what my hope clung to. And, do you want to know something? I have found that answer in a two brown-eyed boys, and one blue-eyed girl.
Whatever you are going through in life right now, please do not give up hope. Hope is the confirmation that you declare a brighter future. It truly is an incredibly powerful human experience. It is one that has set many people free.
Lesson #9- Conception and birth are miracles, but the greatest miracle in life is love. I knew that there was something quite special that I would miss out on. I knew that giving birth to a baby was a precious and vital part of being a woman, and that this had been tragically taken from me.
I also remember thinking at age twelve that birth is miraculous, but love is even more miraculous. I found myself immediately defending love as being the most important miracle in life. Without love, life would cease to exist, or at least the life that we all know.
Love causes us to be moved in ways that require selflessness. It asks us to participate in moments that we otherwise might avoid. It calls us to be the one person that makes a difference in another’s life. It pulls us out of empty places, and commands us to re-position ourselves to the benefit of someone else.
This lesson of love helped me to survive the battle of barrenness. I knew that one day, I would be able to pass on the love I received from my parents. Out of love grew the desire of my heart to become a foster parent, to show kindness to my children’s birth parents, and to adopt. And, it was love that called me back to my faith.
Love is truly the greatest miracle of all. Love replaces barrenness.
Lesson #10- God is faithful. I look around my house now as it is over-run by children’s toys, and pictures of smiling kiddos. I enter into my children’s rooms while they sleep and see the love that lies before me. I get up each morning to the sounds of needy and active children. I feel frustration over their messes, bad choices, and just plain hardship of being a parent. I cry at their successes, and their struggles. I live life thinking about how I can make their lives better.
I look at life now as a mother and believe wholeheartedly that the God I believe in is faithful. Of all the lessons I have learned in this unique walkabout, this lesson is the one that I cling to the most. It is the one that delivers me from whatever hardship I am going through, and it is the one that my soul is able to rest on for the future.
These are the life lessons learned while growing up barren. These lessons are ones that molded a life that went from barren to blessed. These lessons are ones that have added depth to my Earthly experience.
In many ways, perhaps, I was not so barren after all.