On, May 19, 2017, I wrote these words in my journal:
“For a brief moment of quiet, when the only sound was the cars driving through puddles as they passed our street, I remembered my barrenness and cried. There’s something strange about grieving something like this. There’s no burial. No ceremony. No moment of closure. People keep saying words like, “We’ll keep believing for a miracle.” But I don’t want to keep believing for a miracle. I want to lament then move on. I want to not cry anymore. And for that brief moment, as I felt a tear stream down my face, a thought occurred to me: Am I depressed? Will this profound, dark feeling ever completely go away?”
(Before I proceed, I want to say that the words that follow do not come from a desire to compare the severity of the pain I’ve experienced with anyone else’s or to belittle what others have gone through. Pain is pain. It’s not a competition.)
In the months that followed my final “failed” pregnancy test, I had to navigate a lot of awkwardness. I didn’t have a miscarriage. It’s not that a miscarriage is any less painful—walking with friends who had miscarriages taught me that—but it’s different. In a miscarriage, there is a specific event that people can recognize as the starting point of grief and a tangible someone to grieve. So people know when to start giving comfort and why.
But with infertility, things are more vague. Something didn’t happen; something simply didn’t happen. And what’s more, grief makes little sense when the object is not a tangible someone but an idea. But though this grief may not seem to make sense, it’s still very real. In fact, the lack of concreteness and tangibility makes it much more difficult to recognize and label, thus making it more difficult to face.
Though much time has passed and a lot of healing has happened—including many intense conversations with God, some counseling sessions, coffee with friends who have been down the same road, writing pages and pages in my journal, and a myriad of other things—I still feel this grief from time to time.
There are the times when I’m scrolling through social media and see it: “We’re having a baby!” Don’t get me wrong…I’m sort of like Pinkie Pie from My Little Pony. I love celebrating with people—high pitched squealing and all. So when people in my life have wonderful news, I genuinely get excited. I lose nothing by celebrating with others. But for every, “Yay! You’re having a baby!” I’m also confronted with the reality that I am not. Celebration and grief are not mutually exclusive. This is the tension I live in.
There are the times when I stroll through Target. I’ve gotten pretty good at staying away and averting my eyes from baby and children’s stores. But at Target, the baby stuff is right there in the midst of everything. It’s across from the men’s section (where I find myself when I’m shopping with my husband) and right in front of the books (I LOVE books!). No matter what it is that brings me into Target on a given day, it’s inevitable that there will be a moment when, from a distance, a tiny, little outfit catches my eye. Maybe a little, pink dress with ribbons. Or a tiny ensemble, complete with a bow tie and suspenders. I’m a sucker for cute things, itty bitty outfits included. But after the initial swooning, it hits me. Grief.
And then there are the moments when I remember the baby Winnie the Pooh sitting in my closet. I bought it years ago when my husband and I started our journey of trying to have a baby. I was on a work trip to Disney World. I know that sounds like a dream, but I was chaperoning seven high school girls with seven very different personalities, so yeah, it was not bliss. Anyway, If you’ve never been to a Disney theme park, then you should know that the end of every ride spits you out into a gift shop based on the theme of whatever ride you were just on. It’s genius. Me and the girls had a special bonding moment when we were on the Winnie the Pooh ride and it broke. Workers actually came and got us and let us walk around a bit before leading us out to—you guessed it—the gift shop. That’s when I saw the little Pooh Bear wrapped in a detachable, baby blanket. The moment I saw it, I knew I wanted my baby to have it, so I bought it and held it in my arms as I walked all over the park.
That was the only gift I bought for my baby. I still have it in a box of dead dreams along with my favorite jeans that no longer fit. I think about it from time to time. I think of it every once in a while when I’m reaching up to grab items at the top of my closet. Or whenever one of my friends gets pregnant, I think about passing it along to them. What a special gift it would make, I say to myself. But something inside of me just can’t let it go. Maybe I never will.
I know that the child of my imagination isn’t real, but the love I had for them is. I prayed real prayers for them so many times. I prayed for them to be healthy. I prayed that my husband and I would be a good father and mother to them. I prayed that they would love God and follow Him with their whole heart. I prayed for their future. I prayed for the person they would one day marry. I prayed for God to use them to change the world. And the more I prayed for them, the more my love for them grew. Oh, sweet baby, how I wish you were real!
So the pain of never getting a chance to hear their heart beat, to hold them in my arms and touch all their little fingers and toes, to hear them laugh, to read them a bedtime story and tuck them in at night, to talk with them about their first love and college and big dreams—this pain is very real.
Real love. Real pain. Real grief.
All for an imaginary child.
“You have kept count of my tossing;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?”
Questions for Contemplation & Conversation
With a topic like this, there are no easy answers, no easy fixes. But I write about these things because I want to break down the walls of awkwardness that keep so many people hidden and unseen. It’s my hope that together we can provide places where conversations infused with empathy, compassion, and dignity can thrive.
1. Is there someone or something you are grieving? Why is grief so important? What are tangible ways you can grieve well?
2. Does the Church have a place for women (and men) who are married but don’t have children? What are things the Church can do to help people navigate this kind of grief with dignity?