Beautiful, not barren

What follows is a personal reflection that has been in the works for six years and counting. I felt inspired to share it after receiving this beautiful note today at church:

What is important today is that we treasure you, a mother without children. Because that’s exactly what you are, you are a mother, in so many ways. Think about how you serve as a mother to our congregation, the children too, perhaps your friends and family…So even if today you feel sad that nobody is celebrating you today as a mother, I will be happy to tell you that you are wrong. We are.

For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’
Luke 23:29

I don’t know the grief that comes with losing a child. I do know the grief that comes with being so-called barren, having never bore a child. I know the grief that comes with aching breasts with no babe to nurse. Month after month after year after year of being childless. Do I feel blessed Jesus? Hardly!

These days I don’t dwell too much on the fact that I’m barren. I still have moments when I long to hold a Ruth/Jesse creation at my breast. I still long to see Jesse with such a creature sitting on his lap as he draws. I still have moments when I wonder what it would be like to feel a life growing, kicking, somersaulting inside of me, being sustained by the life I offer. I still have moments of wondering, always wondering, what might have been.

Many ask me if I feel angry and even more people assume I am angry. Yes, I’m angry at the money lost during infertility treatments, how medications made me feel, and how some doctors and nurses made me feel. I have felt anger toward people who have said or asked insensitive things to me, often having absolutely no idea that they were being insensitive.

IMG_4087During my trip to Palestine/Israel I paid $7 for some fertility oil. I bought it knowing full well that no oil, for whatever the cost, will open my womb. I bought it because I am now on a new search. I’ll call it a search for fertile ground. I am committed more than ever to nurturing life within and around me. I am committed more than ever to seeing my body, and the bodies of others, including the body we call the church as beautiful not barren.

Two days ago I felt the signs. Those signs I have come to know so well. Signs I used to dread. Signs that often sent me into a tailspin of despair, panic and hope mixed together. Swollen breasts, skin break-outs, cramps, bloating, quick, panic-filled trips to the restrooms, spotting, and then, blood. More blood. Another month of hope deferred. Yes, writer of Proverbs, “hope deferred makes the heart sick.”

For so long blood has been something to fear, the enemy, the sign of failure, maybe even loss of life. But tonight, just like last month and the month before, I have seen this monthly visit as a sign of life and vitality. I am a functioning woman who can and does bear life. I do have a family and most days it feels like a holy family of sorts. And I have families within the church who permit, even invite me to hold and bless their children. I get to watch these same children grow and struggle and learn to hope within the struggle and barrenness. Together as a church I hope we will help prepare one another for those days when it feels like the worst is yet to come, or when it feels as though those days have already arrived. All the while, I will continue to pray, and I will continue to follow Jesus in the world as best as I can, limits and all. I will trust that I have fruit to bear in the world, even or especially when the reality of barrenness threatens to overcome us.

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23 Responses to Beautiful, not barren

  1. pip1943 says:

    For Ruth and Jesse,

    As a current Deacon I have been privileged to learn about many of the private griefs shared by Ruth concerning other members of our congregation, but a few weeks ago when Ruth shared briefly with the Deacons about her own private grief, I was speechless. Now that she has shared with the world even more details than she shared with Deacons, can I find any more words than before?

    As a birth father, then a divorced non-custodial father, then an adoptive father, then a birth father again, then a guardian to a grandson, then a step father and step grandfather, and recently as a great grandfather — how can I even relate to the experience of Ruth and Jesse? I can only think of the adage, it takes a village to raise a child. All of my kids and grandkids and my great granddaughter have experienced different “villages,” and have either thrived or been deprived depending on the details. Another adage, we are all in this together. Some of us are primary care givers, some, secondary, and some are needy and deserve more care than they receive, and have no spare energy to give any care. My hope is that every village can be a good village, and that all the needs and all the gifts are balanced out. Another adage which might apply, paraphrasing: from each, according to their abilities; to each, according to their needs.

    I am so glad that Ruth and Jesse are part of my village. That is about all I can say.

  2. Ed Neufeld says:

    Ruth: I just now read your comments about “Beautiful, not Barren.” I am overwhelmed by your honesty and courage in opening your pain for all of us to see. Be assured that you are cherished for the loving, nurturing person you are! I believe the next time I feel a disappointment about something my children have or have not done, I will think of your aching wishes and count my blessings for the three beautiful children I have, two with no children of their own either.

  3. Keith Jantz says:

    After reading your blog I am crying and stunned. Saddened for your years of pain and stunned that you possess enough courage to open up to all of us the inner feelings of your heart. I feel your frustration as we had infertility issues also. The monthly disappointment as a great buildup of hope just disappears with a minimal event like a fall in body temperature or the appearance of blood. Then more medication, doctor visits, and forcing your head into the mindset to do it again, month after month. I am saddened that such an experience has been a part of your life. Bless you for the courage you’ve shown in sharing all of this with the rest of us. We are all with you, here to support you just like you support us through our difficulties.

  4. Diane Richardson Spaite says:

    Brave. Beautiful. And I completely agree with the note above. I’m so glad someone wrote it.

  5. DebraSY says:

    First of all, I apologize for missing church on Sunday. I’m on the tail end of a virus. I didn’t want to share. At the risk of saying something you dealt with on Sunday, I’ll respond to your blog post. It’s a nerve-hitter.

    Infertility is a unique grief — repeated, hormone-soaked. People are insensitive and ill informed and they seem to pressure you to affirm them for their easy advice. You’re much more clever than I was at your age. Maybe you don’t give in to that impulse. I did. And it made me feel like I’d lied, and I worried those insensitive people would be wretched to some other woman in my shoes, which made me feel even worse and more angry.

    The Bible is less than helpful. I think you may have named the two decent verses. They are grossly outnumbered. The word “barren” itself is troublesome. There were times when I might have described myself in those terms, but I didn’t like reading that in the Bible. It conveys imagery that doesn’t set well. It’s not like you have a desert inside, with sand and rocks and dust. That’s what that word evokes. Setting it in cultural and social context doesn’t seem to help much.

    What you describe above is much more accurate. Much better. It’s a crappy state of affairs, but you’re alive, and pumping blood at 98.6 degrees; I was too. I wish I’d known you then. I will need to hug you the next time I see you (if I’m over my virus). And yes, you are finding wonderful ways to contribute to the lives of children (and their parents) in the church. That may feel sufficient. Or not. You know all the other options too, and whatever you may decide to do, I’m confident we’ll support you at Rainbow.

  6. Duane Graber says:

    Ruth, I don’t have the right words but I just want you to say I appreciate your sharing,
    Knowing it must have been painful for you. Thank you for trusting us. Thank you for showing us how to share our pain with the Rainbow Family.

    • Ruth Harder says:

      These were the right words, Duane. Thank you. I didn’t know if I would ever write or talk publicly about our experience. The outpouring of love we have received in the last 24 hours has added to our healing. Grateful.

  7. Sarah K. F. says:

    Sending a boatload of love to you & Jesse. You’re our 2 favorite canoeing badasses out of all the canoeing badasses
    in the world.

    • Ruth Harder says:

      We live because of you. I’m fairly certain that any offspring of ours would have been equally horrible at canoeing. I trust the boatload of love you send won’t ever have a chance of overturning.

  8. lindagshelly says:

    Thanks for your heartfelt words. The older I get the more I have come to understand that it does me nor anyone else much good when I’m not honest about my struggles. I truly appreciate you Ruth,and your courage to be “real” with our RMC family. Thinking of you today especially.

  9. Sandy Wetzel says:

    Thanks so much for sharing these beautiful words! Your pain runs deep and I’m sure these words are hard to share. You have a gift with your words and God uses them in how you care for and help so many people. You are beautiful in so many ways.

  10. Ruth, this is the most beautiful thing I have read in a long, long time. I agree with the other comments about your bravery and honesty, and I too affirm what all you offer. But I also want to acknowledge your grief and assure you that it is shared. Much love to you both.

    • Ruth Harder says:

      Thank you Sherilyn. There were so many times we wanted to share this with you and Will. For some reason, we could just never bring ourselves to speech… too many other good stories to tell and laugh about. Deep down we have always felt your love and support and I always imagined you praying for us. And that was somehow enough. Your words back to me touch me deeply. Thank you. Can’t wait for the next time we are together.

  11. Holly Kaufman says:

    Beautiful indeed.

    • Ruth Harder says:

      Thank you Holly. I imagine you are one of the many, sensitive doctors out there who know what just to say and what not to say to patients who are not only in physical pain, but emotional pain.

  12. Andrea Enns Regier says:

    Thank you, thank you, Ruth. Thank you for your courageous honesty. Thank you for your faithful heart. The thought of a Jesse/Ruth creation brings me to hopeful, joyful tears. But it is true what you say….you have fruit to bear in the world (and this post is an example). As you say, You are ever so beautiful, not barren.

    • Ruth Harder says:

      Thank you Andrea. Courage has at times been in short supply, but I feel strengthened by this outpouring of love. You, Ben, and Charlie have been bright spots for us on this sometimes barren landscape…can’t wait to sit with you and Charlie next time Ben and Jesse play music together. Pretty soon it’s going to be Charlie playing music.

  13. Linda Graham says:

    Ruth you are such a brave and inspirational woman. I could feel your pain today. I was amazed that you could pray the longings in your heart without breaking down ( which would be okay by the way). Many of the same experiences have happened in our family. Love carries us through even though it doesn’t shield us from the longing and pain. Your role as caretaker of the Rainbow Community is amazing and fruitful. Sending you love and wishes for you to see the sunshine today through the rain. Love, Linda Graham

  14. Amy Kliewer says:

    Thank you for sharing such honest and heartfelt thoughts. That is what being a community truly means – to share and support one another through the joyful and sorrowful times, through laughter and tears, with love, courage and sensitivity.

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