Saturday, August 27, 2016

What infertility is teaching me grief

I know a good while ago (back in February I believe) I made a blog post about the struggles I have experienced after finding out in September 2015, why my husband and I have not been conceiving for the last 5 years. I know its not just me, my husband and I then and still go through out momentary bouts of grief. Often times it was away from each other. 

I discovered for the first time in my marriage that my husband grieves in a completely different manner to me. And Im sure he had the same experience with me. To use a metaphor, I felt like his grief was like watching a river that is normally energetic and vibrant being dammed up. I've seen dams, in 2014 we took a roadtrip to Eastern Washington and we stopped at the Grand Coulee Dam (which channels the water of the gigantic Columbia river that runs from British Columbia, through Washington then Oregon and out to the Pacific). But the creepy thing about it is that the water is completely still and dark.  Its so heavily controlled its scary and disconcerting to say the least.

I on the other hand grieved like Florida rain. My husband, having lived in Florida for a period in his 20's told me that you could be driving in warm sunny weather one moment, see a strange dark grey curtain up ahead on the road and before you know it, you're in it and suddenly its like Hurricane Katrina. Little to no warning. Its not a constant smitter smatter of drizzly rain - it was sudden monsoon rain and it drowned everyone in its way. Then an hour later the sun would come out again, but you know that won't be the first nor the last time you see that kind of rain.

Imagine two people like that. Reacting like those two weather patterns in their grief.  Thing is, we walked into our marriage knowing that we were persons who grieved like this, we did after all talk about it in our self designed Pre-Marital Course we did ("101 Questions to ask before you get engaged") Of course, talking about it and living it together are two different things. But Im relieved that in a way, I wasn't completely taken aback from his way of doing it. That doesn't mean I understood nor liked it. Im sure he found my bipolar mood swings a bit disturbing himself.

Being in a season of acute grief is definitely not pleasant. Its damned awful. I do not wish it on anybody. For me personally in my general day to goings on at my job, in my church, with my family, with my friends, Im normally the colourful, talkative, extroverted loud one in the room. In my grief, I continued to be colourful (in my choice of swear words), talkative (in a ranty angry kind of way during my prayer time), extroverted (getting weird looks from drivers beside me in intersections at my sobbing and not caring) and loud (I suppose this blog is a good example). Even in grief I don't shut up. Observing my husband's version was mystifying to me and early on I was under the false impression that because he wasn't grieving like me, he must not care about me or our situation. Luckily, I know him well enough to know that this was completely unfair and wrong of me to make such an assumption. Anyone who knows my husband knows how much he adores children. It was one of the main reasons why I married him. It also reminded me to not be angry or resentful with him. He did not choose this. I did not choose this. I haven't always been good at remembering this. 

When we face struggles out in the world we either take flight or fight. But, what the heck do you do when the struggle is within yourself, your own biology? How on earth does one fight or run away from ourselves? 

As a Christian, I know theoretically speaking, it is not helpful to try and find the solution within myself. That is inward thinking. My body is already not doing the thing I hoped and planned for. My emotions are a mess. Im not going to find the solution within myself. Even in grief and pain I can still sin and do stupid things and hurt others. Going inward the risk for selfishness is too high. One of my very first grief prayers came from Psalm 119:

I am completely discouraged - I lie in the dust. Revive me by your Word. I told you my plans and you replied. Now give me your instructions. Make me understand what you want; for then I shall see your miracles. I weep with grief; my heart is heavy with sorrow; encourage and cheer me with your words. Keep me me from every wrong, help me, undeserving as I am, to obey your laws, for I have chosen to do right. I cling to your commands and follow them as closely as I can. Lord, don't let me make a mess of things. If you will only help me to want your will, then I will follow your laws even closely. Just tell me what to do and I will do it Lord. As long as I live I will wholeheartedly obey. (Message Version Ps 199: 25-34). 

That sounds like such a perfect prayer eh? That is honestly what I prayed in the moment, that evening after we got our news from the Doctor. Ive not always gone back to it though. Sometimes I've clung to my bible and the words in it, like the bleeding woman who touched Jesus' cloak. Other times Ive had the temptation of just screaming "WHY God?!!" and throwing my bible against the wall. 

As an individual and a wife Ive slowly come to realise a few things that have helped me through all of this that I want to share with others who might be going through something similar (or just hurting in general).

1. Fix your eyes on Jesus 

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:5-8).   
As a Christian, pain is not evidence that there is no God, rather it is evidence that we recognize that pain ought not to be the norm. How do we know this? By what standard do we judge something to be painful? We judge it by what is good and right in the world. Where does good and right come from? Where did it originate? The reason we know darkness exists is because we see the sun every day. Just because night comes doesn't mean I deny the sun, rather it further confirms my belief that the sun will come back in a few hours. CS Lewis said "Pain is a problem only if you believe in God. If you believe that humans are simply the highest animal, evolved by chance, only protoplasm, going nowhere, wearing down and dying, like all other life forms, you shouldn't have a problem with pain. Life is what it is and there is no God to complain against, as a result there is no moral foundation to exist for injustice." 
Its a hard pill to swallow. But in our pain, God is not there pointing and laughing at us doing nothing. He knows what pain is. He wept when his friend Lazarus died. He grieved and tried to isolate himself when his cousin John was beheaded. He wept and bled blood knowing what he was going to have to do in order for the entire world to be reconciled to the Father. He cried out on the cross. For me, I realised that perhaps in his lifetime, prior to starting his ministry Jesus may have looked at a child and known he was not going to have any himself. Thats not to say he never had joy and friendship with children. That has been a great comfort to me. A second comfort, looking at Jesus' genealogy was that there were women in his family line who struggled with infertility - Sarah, Rebekah, even his Mom's cousin Elizabeth. 
Finally, infertility has really caused me to look at what is the foundation of my identity. Is my core identity in continuing on a family line, finally getting that little blonde haired blue eyed child I always expected would arrive in my life, getting to experience the joy of pregnancy for myself or ultimately living and dying as a servant of Christ regardless of what happens in the middle? Francis Chan makes an interesting point about this:  

All those things I want and still desire - the little blonde mini me's running around, the baby showers, having my Mum and husband be there at the moment I give birth. None of that is bad, its GOOD! But now I've had to hand it all over to him with the expectation this this specific context of parenthood might not be what he's got planned for me. More than anything else is that never ending unrelenting God given urge to be a Mom and a great one at that. It is all good and holy. But its not my overall, be all goal. A baby ought not to be my God, Jesus is.

 2. Grieve together and separately
More than any other time in your marriage, when you're hurting, go back to that overly used bible verse that someone vaguely mentioned at your wedding when you were too blinded in your happiness to listen properly:
Love is PATIENT and KIND. Love does not envy or boast. It is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable and resentful. It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Love BEARS ALL THINGS, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor 13:4-7). 
Please please be gentle and kind and patient.  Acknowledge that your partner will be grieving differently to you. I found this podcast extremely helpful to listen to: 

Also, allow the other person to do their own thing. Do not expect the other person to share absolutely everything with you. There were some deep deep sorrowful prayers that I kept to myself for a good while and I know my husband started journaling or writing prayers or poetry. To be honest I don't know what he was doing except writing, but to me that was a good sign that he was working things out with himself and God. There are some things we just want to keep between ourselves and God and thats ok as long as we still regularly come back to each other as a couple.

3. Comfort one another
Thankfully my husband and I both have Physical Touch as a love language. Early on, this was hard and again I think my husband was worried about stepping over my pain to help me and I him. Our spouses are not mind readers and I think its incredibly nasty and unfair for people to get angry at their spouses for not being mind readers. You often hear women say "He ought to know what to do!" No he doesn't! Especially in grief! Especially when your mood swings are scarier than a roller coaster.  For me, I HAD to tell me husband "Please hold me. Please hug me and let me cry. Please let me express what is in my heart." Also as strange as this is to this Hollywood/Sex and the City saturated world, don't forget to have sex. For many people, we only equate sex with crazy heated passion and never as a form of mutual comfort between two people. The world says, sex is just sex. No feelings are involved. To me thats like playing with matches in a dry forest saying, "Its only a little bit of fire." Sex is for bonding and comfort not just pleasure and reproduction. For the majority of husbands, they need this on a consistent basis even if you as a woman feel it is wrong to have sex while grieving especially when it comes to infertility. Its not wrong. This is when I pull out the duty/submission card and gently ask you the wife to understand, this is likely what he needs right now. There are also women out there in the world who have the same sexual needs as those types of men and they need it too.    

4. Pray and Sing

In another blog post I think I'll ponder over how to pray in grief but for now let me encourage you - go to Psalms and Lamentations. There you will find persons who were so brutally honest in their feelings with God it will make yours look suddenly less strange. God can handle it, he knows what your thinking but He wants to hear you talk to him.  Author Russel Moore makes an interesting statement about the passage of Romans 8:15:

"Up to that time, I had read the Abba cry passages in Romans and Galatians the same way I had heard them preached: as a gurgle of familiarity, the spiritual equivalent of an infant cooing "Papa" or "Daddy." Relational intimacy is surely present in the texts—hence Paul's choice of such a personal word as Abba—but this definitely isn't sentimental. After all, Scripture tells us that Jesus' Spirit lets our hearts cry "Abba, Father!" (Gal. 4:6). Jesus cries "Abba, Father" as he screams "with loud cries and tears" for deliverance in the Garden of Gethsemane (Heb. 5:7; Mark 14:36, ESV, used throughout). Similarly, the doctrine of adoption shows us that we "groan" with the creation itself "as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Rom. 8:23). It is the scream of the crucified." (from Christianity Today).

Scream, weep, cry, yell out to God, he can handle it. 

Finally, if it helps, sing. Not those annoyingly happy songs everyone else is singing. Find the artists that sing about hurting, and pain and if possible, about Jesus at the same time. Listen to the older style hymns, those are good for grief. Right now, contemporary Christian music is going to come off as a bit trite for you. Be patient with those annoying Chris Tomlin fans. For me, there were a few weeks I flat out stopped singing in church, about two weeks I avoided being in church during the singing at all. I couldn't handle it. The only singing I was doing was in my dark bedroom in tears. That was the only kind I could do. I shared this with my Pastor and he was very understanding of this. 

Finally, for me I really found a lot of comfort through two completely polar opposite artists - Lauren Daigle and Nate Feuerstein aka NF. One is soft and comforting and the other, well hes just angry and honest. I needed both of them. I heard NF by accident on the radio, within a day I bought his entire album. I played his music to my husband who I was surprised to find, found it very helpful to his own healing and helped release a bit of the water in his dam.

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