Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Is it just me?

...or have you also noticed the positive rash of people who are pregnant at the moment?  I notice it because I live in community and a fair few members of the community are currently pregnant, or have just recently (in the last fortnight) had babies.

This used to drive me nuts.  In my pre-pregnancy days, in my pre not-trying days, I used to feel like I was surrounded by pregnant women.  Or I was surrounded by women who had recently been pregnant, or women who had young kids.  It was crazy. 

Every week I had to run the gauntlet at Moorewomen... "do you have kids?"..."No it's just us"..."any on the way?"..."not at the moment"...

And then if it wasn't that conversation, it was the listening to others talk about their pregnancies; how sick they were (or weren't)...what they craved (or didn't crave)...; their labour/birthing stories...  I was going insane!!!

Now don't get me wrong.  I was happily not pregnant.  I was working, and loving it (for the most part).  

But I know many many women at College (now and in the recent past) who have struggled and are currently struggling with infertility (either explained or unexplained).  I know women for whom Moorewomen was a weekly torture session to which they subjected themselves because they knew it would be helpful in their pastoral careers.  I know many more women who avoid Moorewomen even though they are aware of how helpful it will be in the future, simply because the pain now is too great.  It hurts too much to have people assume you have kids; to see women week after week fall pregnant (apparently) easily, with their 2nd (3rd, 4th...) child while you still struggle through falling pregnant with your first.  I know women who keep their emotional rollercoaster battles with IVF and other fertility assistance treatments a secret.

I have fought hard to try and keep a level playing field (so to speak) at Moorewomen, so that not every topic is related to having kids, so that people without kids (of whom I was one for my first 3 years of College) could feel free to come and learn and grow without feeling like they were missing out (even though they feel like that anyway).  

We at College and in parish ministry need to be more aware of the prevalence of fertility problems.  We need to think through how we talk to couples who do not have kids; perhaps being careful of unspoken assumptions about whether or not they will have kids.  We also need to think through how to pastorally care for those who struggle with infertility in the long term- many couples try for years to fall pregnant before going to assisted fertility treatments, and many more do not believe in those treatments, and suffer in silence.  We need to think through how we place people in Biblestudy groups, how we arrange our creche rosters...etc

In many ways I was lucky.  I was a strong personality who could deal with the baby talk week in, week out.  I was happy in my work.  I was happily not pregnant.  And when we were " not not trying" to fall pregnant, I was ok each month when things didn't happen.  People who knew me at those times will know that I would assert that I didn't really want kids all that much anyway.  

I lied.

I did want kids.  I wanted them so much that I was afraid of having them.  I wanted the security of knowing ahead of time if they would be healthy, and that my pregnancies would go well. If I asserted I didn't want them that much anyway, then if I didn't fall pregnant, it wouldn't matter.  But each month it did matter.  Six months of not not trying and I still wasn't pregnant.  On it went.  More people I knew were falling pregnant...but not me.  And I was still ok.  Had I not fallen pregnant when I did, I may not have been ok for that long really.  But luckily for us, I fell pregnant. 

And then we had to watch the faces of friends (who we knew had been trying much longer than us) fall.  And then the smiles masked the pain.  Another friend pregnant.  Not me again this month.  The hearty congratulations, masking the "why?".  Some of those friends are still trying over a year later.  

We pray every night that they will fall pregnant.  Of course prayer should be our first port of call when we seek to pastorally care for those who struggle to conceive.

What are some other practical ways we can care for those who struggle with infertility?


  1. This is such an important issue, and I'm not sure I have much to contribute at this point except to say that secondary infertility is incredibly common and so we need to be careful that we don't assume that because a couple has had one child that they will have another, or that because they fell pregnant easily, they will a second time.

  2. Thanks for thinking of those who struggle. It really is a tough time. I think that one thing that really impacted me personally was when people asked about whether we wanted kids or when we would be having them, was that they were interested in the answer. Those people who were genuinely concerned for us and our struggles really helped us. Those who gave me the look to say "that wasn't really what i wanted to talk about" weren't helpful. If you aren't prepared for people to open up... don't ask! Some people will be happy to share (as i was and still am) and some are much more closed. But all i can say is please continue to pray for them, it means so much and God is good!

  3. Julia, you are truly amazing. I was so thankful to hear of your loving concern for and awareness of those who struggle with infertility and that you thought to blog about it. It is something very close to my heart even though we have never had to face it ourselves. I am really encouraged that you pray for those you know who long for a child. Thank you for writing this xxx

  4. Wisdom in a t-shirt :) : http://www.zazzle.com/10_things_you_dont_say_to_a_couple_trying_to_c_tshirt-235630764884837150

    There's a lot to say on this topic. I think one of the biggest things is not to assume anything. Be patient and allow people to tell you want they want to tell you. I think one of the hardest things about infertility is that many women and Christian women in particular see eventually being a mother as a huge part of their identity. If you're not a mother then who are you? The best thing you can do for your friend is to listen to them, ask them how they would like you to help them and then follow through.

  5. Thank you Julia for sharing so honestly. This has got to be one of the hardest issues for couples to face - particularly if they are in an environment such as Moore College.

  6. Hey Julia, Great post! I had an experience where I actually hid a pregnancy from a friend for 5 months in the hopes that she would fall with her first before I announced my second. This was done in consultation with her husband, who thanked me for checking before sharing news and thought that really she was not up to another round of "why not me?".

    I think we all need to consider our conversations. There is so much to talk about, not just children. They are great to talk about too, but choose your forum. Remember God's world is wide and vast and He wills us all to love one another in our conversations. Why not just talk more about Him?

    This issue can permenantly impact friendships and break hearts - let's all be very careful to bring glory to God in our conversations!

  7. I have been trying (unsuccessfully) to have a baby for 3 years and 1 month.

    Emma,I appreciate what you say about making more of an effort to talk about more than children. However while it's good to see that you were considerate for your friend and consulted her husband, I'd recommend others be wary before doing the same. As an infertile woman, I find it humiliating when people hide pregnancies from me. I much prefer it when my friends tell me they're pregnant in person and alone, before they announce publicly.

    For anyone reading this, remember too that certain events can be very hard for someone who is unwillingly childless - baby showers, christenings, first birthdays, etc. If you have friends struggling with infertility, invite them to all of these and let them know that you would love it if they were there but completely understand if they don't want to be. Personally I stopped attending baby showers a long time ago, but everyone is different. Recently a lovely friend of mine has made a point of sitting up the back with me in church whenever there is a baptism or dedication on a Sunday morning.

    Over the years I've also had a lot of unhelpful things said to me like. I'll list some here in the hope that it will be helpful to others:

    * "just relax"
    * "have you thought about adoption?" giving up the dream of having a baby myself will mean a huge grieving process. I am not ready to go there yet. Wait for your friend to bring this up rather than suggesting it.
    * "I read something about <>. Have you tried that?" very few people who have never experienced infertility know as much about it as I do. I don't need another expert, I need a friend.
    * "my friend was infertile for years and now she has twins" this only gives false hope. God does not promise I will ever have a baby myself, no matter how many other miracle stories there are out there
    * "have you tried doing it upside down?" someone really did say this to me!

    The best thing you can do for your infertile friend is to pray and to be a good listener.

    For anyone struggling with infertility, I can recommend the forums at www.hannahsprayer.com. Many Christian women find a lot of encouragement there.

  8. One thing which hasn't been discussed yet here is that of miscarriage (early pregnancy loss, as distinct from later loss and stillbirth). Miscarriage, and multiple miscarriage, frequently go hand-in-hand with primary and secondary infertility, although a significant number of fertile couples are also affected. Simply being able to fall pregnant is only part of the equation - even women who already have children can face their own kind of private hell in the face of babies and pregnancy talk, often because so many pregnancy losses occur so early that they have not even had a chance to tell anyone they were pregnant, before they lost their baby.

    So just another thing to keep in mind, really - 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, so chances are very high that women in our lives are suffering in this way too, when it comes to their fertility. I think that just keeping this in mind when we announce and talk about pregnancies, have baby showers, ask about family plans etc can really help us to be sensitive to the depths we might be probing in others.