"There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage."
--Martin Luther

Monday, 9 March 2015

Advocating for the Infertile: When Church Hurts

I don't know about others, but I have a hard time talking about my infertility, and I suspect I'm not alone. It's personal. It's painful. It's somehow an invitation for unsolicited advice and pat answers. Yet.... if no one talks about infertility, it remains taboo. If no one talks about it, how can I expect others to become comfortable with the subject. I'm torn at how to respect my own privacy and yet open the doors to conversation, but I'm hoping to write a few posts on the topic and see where it goes.

I had an awful time at church yesterday. For the past few months, crying at church has become the new normal. I get in there and start singing, and the waterworks just flow. "Because He Lives" is the absolute worst. When the second verse starts up with, "How sweet to hold a newborn baby," there is just no stopping the tears. Up until now, however, I've managed to hold myself together, at least a little. I've never had to physically leave. Yesterday was a turning point, and the worst part of it was, it did not have to be this way.

We've been going through this prayer guide for Lent, and every Sunday a few members of the staff go up and lead prayer on that day's topic. Yesterday's topic was children. There were three men on the platform and they invited a friend of mine, a staff member and the mother of a toddler, to come up and join them. The last words I heard was, "Because there's something so special about the heart of a mother," and then, without thinking, I stood up, left Gil sitting on the pew, and hightailed it to the washroom. I wept in the stall for a few minutes, thought I was done, went out to the lobby and just couldn't hold it together. Both my boss and our custodian saw me wailing. Not my finest moment.

The thing is, I don't expect everyone to constantly watch their words because there may be an infertile person among us. I really don't. This is church, however. It's supposed to be the refuge for the heavy-hearted, the place I go to for comfort, not a place that drives me towards needing comfort. Why is it necessary to talk about the "heart of a mother", as though only mothers have compassionate hearts?

Eventually, I went back in, sat through the sermon, and went home to grumble to my husband. Typically, I would have stopped there, but I didn't want to. Why? Because people need to know that their word choice hurts. People have to understand that glorification of motherhood in the church is deeply painful for childless women and men... not to mention those who are longing to marry, those with difficult relationships with their parents, those who have given up a child to adoption, etc., etc. It's not okay to just brush past it. So I did what I could: I wrote a firmly-worded comment to the church, letting them know that this kind of word choice is hurtful and alienating. We'll see where it goes, but I'm glad I took a moment to stand up for the infertile among us. Someone needs to speak for us. Maybe that person is me.

4 comments:

  1. Oh, I just ache for you reading this. Church has been so terribly hard so many times. I know the song "Because He Lives," but I don't think I've ever heard the 2nd verse about a newborn baby. That probably would've sent me over the edge, too. And it is so difficult when it seems like motherhood is glorified. I pray that future services would be encouraging instead of hurtful to you. Hugs.

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    1. Thank you! I didn't know about that verse until we sang it a few months ago, and it was like a punch to the gut. Now I know, so as soon as we start the song, I can prepare myself a little.

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  2. Maggie,
    I know for me, sharing is difficult because it is very personal and painful. And there’s the fear of unsolicited advice, which is probably one of my biggest fears! I am the emotional one too and I found myself in your shoes many times.

    A few months ago, my husband and I decided to share our personal struggle with infertility with the church my husband is pastor at. The sermon was on blessings and at the beginning, he asked people if they were blessed and if yes, to write down how you know that you are blessed. He went on later to guess that list of blessings included house, family, safe community, food, etc. For me, there are days when I don’t feel blessed as tests come back negative, months continue to roll by (we’ve been dealing with this for almost 4 ½ years), or the question, “so do you have kids?”.
    My husband closed his message with this, that blessing has to do with your relationship with God and that you are blessed, because God knows who you are.
    ~Jenn

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  3. Hi Maggie,
    I just came over to check out your blog after your post on Amateur Nester. I relate to this so much. I think church can be the most difficult place sometimes when going through infertility. I've also experienced it as being the place where I'm most likely to hear platitudes or to be questioned about my lack of offspring. I don't take it when if I'm promised miraculous healing in a blaise, what are you so upset about kind of a way. Nor do I take it well if people respond by telling me that maybe God doesn't want me to have kids. The best response is just to be there with each other in our pain. That's what Jesus did when He came down to earth. I don't go to church on mother's day and I can't even imagine going. That's because at the church I go they call all the mothers out to the front and applaud them and have celebration music. Like you, I don't expect everything in church to revolve around those of us going through infertility, but I can't help feeling that there's a better way to celebrate mothers without making it so exclusive for those of who aren't mothers but probably do a lot of mothering in other ways. Well done for writing to the church. Probably they hadn't even considered how it could come across. It's only as we speak out about it and share that people can learn. That's one reason why I started blogging. Well done for being brave.

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