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!’
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.
During 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.