Monday, August 17, 2009

::what to say to a friend who is dealing with infertility::

A friend sent me a link to this post written by a mom who wants to know how to relate to the infertile woman.
I've thought about this post all morning....there is much I want to say, but there are two specific things the blogger addressed to which I want to respond. I so appreciate her attitude of compassion, wanting to treat her infertile friends with tenderness but not knowing how to do so without flaunting her overflowing quiver of blessings. I guess I can start by addressing that very issue.
When we first began dealing with infertility, I think I had this crazy expectation for the rest of the world to stop reproducing until I could get pregnant. Needless to say, that didn't happen. Not even in my own circle of friends. Despite month after month, year after year of disappointments, people kept getting pregnant and delivering beautiful children. It was a ridiculous notion, of course, and one I never realized I had until I dealt with the bitterness towards my fertile friends that I had allowed to take root in my heart. It wasn't their fault they had no trouble having babies! What I ultimately had to deal with was God's sovereignty over my (in)fertility. Once I got to a place where my wrestling was with the Lord's plan for my life and not how He chooses to bless others, I was able to truly see the blessing of children in the life of others as a wonderful thing for them. My fertile friends shouldn't feel badly about their large families. I hope they know that!

Before adopting Isaiah, however, the constant "mom-talk" was the thing that wounded me so often. As is natural for women when they get together, the talk often goes to parenting (and bragging rights on their littles!). This is perfectly understandable. But, I cannot tell you how many times I felt completely isolated with absolutely nothing to contribute to the conversation. More times than I can count, I often wanted to flee the scene and cry my eyes out. The talk of children, parenting, and especially those who complained about parenting were like a continuous pouring of salt on my openly wounded heart. I can think of a few specific times where my eyes were filled with tears and I surreptitiously backed out of the circle of women.
This is NOT to say that you can't ever talk about your children! That would be absolutely absurd. You should talk about your precious babies! However, if you know an infertile friend is present, keep in mind that the constant mom-talk is a knife to her broken heart. Consider changing the subject from time to time. And whatever you do, don't complain about wanting time to yourself around her. What she wouldn't give to be caught up in the chaos of a house full of children!! Even after becoming a mother to one child, I still long for the chaos of a quiverful!

The other issue that's very close to my heart: adoption. Let me say this loud and clear: Adoption is NOT a cure-all for infertility. It's just not.

Adoption is a totally different, emotionally packed, heartrending, difficult experience. It is not a band-aid for infertility. And while I am an adoption advocate and want to encourage all families (not just infertiles) to at least consider adoption, it is not for everyone. Some people have histories or health problems that will prohibit them from adoption. For others, it is a financial hardship they may never be able to overcome (although that is not the case as often as people tend to believe).

I can't tell you how many people told us to "just adopt". As an adoptive mother, I can tell you that you never "just adopt." It is a purposeful, difficult decision...and one that involves many other people.

When someone who is fertile decides to have a baby, you just make the decision once. Get pregnant. Wait 9 months. Have a baby.'re a parent. With adoption, you decide over and over and over and over again that you will parent a child. You decide with paperwork, you affirm your decision with personal interviews and questionnaires, you decide again when you are put on a waiting list, when you sign loan papers, you decide again when an adoption plan falls through, again when you relist yourself on a waiting list, when your heart breaks after meeting the woman who wants to place her child with you, when you are placed with a child you are not sure you will be allowed to keep, when you give your heart to a child you didn't bear, when you wait out termination periods, when you finalize in court, when you finally allow yourself to believe that you are this child's adoptive parent. The decision to become an adoptive parent is not one you simply make once. You make it over and over and over again.

I'm definitely not out to make adoption seem insurmountable. It's not. I definitely want to encourage families to pursue adoption. We plan to pursue it again in a couple of years, Lord willing. But, it doesn't heal your infertility. It's not meant to. It's meant to provide a home for a child who needs it. I am still infertile even though I have a beautiful 14 month old son. And on that note, I wouldn't trade him for all the biological children in the world. Had we been fertile, Isaiah wouldn't be my son. Sometimes it's easy to see God's purpose for infertility. Sometimes it's not. What I should make clear is that though adoption seems like the logical step for an infertile couple (from the vantage point of the fertile couple), the two aren't really related. Adoption doesn't exist to make infertile couples parents. It just so happens that infertile couples are often chosen as adoptive parents because adoption does exist. I hope that makes some sense.

Let me break it down for you: don't be quick to suggest adoption to an infertile couple. Chances are they've already thought about adoption. And if the Lord leads them down that path, then so be it. But I can say for myself, that I had to settle some things in my heart before beginning the paperwork. I needed to be able to give my heart completely to the adoption be able to set my pregnancy dreams aside at least for a little while. No amount of recommendations to "just adopt" is going to make it easier for your infertile friends. [A caveat: I should say that I write all of this from a woman's point of view, obviously. For my husband, it was much easier to just dive into adoption. But, he didn't have to deal with visions of pregnancy, delivery, etc. as I did.]
If you have had many conversations with a close friend about her infertility, perhaps you will have the opportunity to ask her if adoption is an option for her. But, don't let it be your first bit of wisdom to pass to her.

This next point was not one addressed in the blogger's original post, but it's one that I have mentioned before. When you, the fertile woman, have a pregnancy announcement, write your friend a letter. That is my first choice. The next would be a phone call. Then a private face-to-face. Never in public. Why, you ask? Because I needed privacy to be able to handle my emotions. If I got "the news" in a letter in the privacy of my own home, I can cry and deal with the ache in my empty arms alone. Then, after gathering myself together, I can call or meet you and find a way to truly rejoice with you as I am called to do in Scripture. But please, take seriously the other call from that same verse in the Bible: weep with those who weep. Looking for something to say to a broken-hearted infertile friend? Tell her how sorry you are that she can't achieve her dream. Hug her. Tell her you will always listen, always pray, always love. While the infertile woman doesn't really want to be treated with kid gloves, sometimes a little extra compassion can go a long way. I have one close friend who has given me a card every Mother's Day for the past several years. With tears in her eyes, she handed me a card telling me how she prayed that this would be the last year to endure Mother's Day with empty arms. I was so pleased to not receive a card from her this year but instead a hug of rejoicing!!

Let me close this with a letter I received from a very dear friend several years ago. She and her husband were married about 4 months after my own wedding. We were bridesmaids in each other's weddings and lived mere blocks from one another. She was pregnant within 6 months of marriage. With twins. And then had another baby. And another. She was put in the difficult place of being extremely fertile and yet close friends with infertile me. She put up with distance from me, bitterness, apologies. She prayed for me often. She asked how I was doing. She cried with me. In closing, let me share her words of encouragement with you. What a balm they were to my wounded heart:

Dear Glenna, I just wanted to let you know that you are my mind this morning. I have been praying for you. I do want you and William to know that we are faithfully praying for you both during this you trust the Lord and His timing. Glenna, I pray that the Lord would bless you with a child! I pray this deeply--I don't know how else to say it. My heart longs for that for you my sister. I don't have the right words to say and I have no idea how to encourage you--but know that I love you and that I am before His throne making my request known to Him on your behalf. You are precious to me! Love, Carla (dated March 16, 2005)
Now that I have meditated on all of these thoughts and emotions, my heart aches. My eyes are full of tears as I remember the many years of hope and despair mingled together. My burden of infertility has been one filled with brokenness and weeping. And has been other people, the gift of communion with brothers and sisters in Christ who have helped me to bear this burden--who have gladly come around me and held up my arms in Moses-like fashion, so to speak. God can and does use infertility to make me more like Christ. And He can and will do the same for you other infertile believers. His plan, though hard, is good. He can also use your infertility to break down thick walls around your heart...walls that were erected at the beginning of your infertility diagnosis. He can use it to teach you to let others who might not completely understand to still be a soothing balm to your soul. Let Him! Trust Him! He is GOOD!

I can say now, with tears streaming down my face, that as a barren woman, an adoptive mom to my beautiful Isaiah, blessed wife of William, and totally unworthy follower of Jesus Christ that infertility has been for my good. It has been a while since I really lived these deep seated emotions that infertility has wrought in my life, but it is good for me to remember the faithfulness of God to me through many difficult years.

I hope that this has been of some encouragement to you whose quivers are full, and for those of you dear ones who continue to long and wait with empty arms. The Lord is faithful.



Marlene Lockhart said...

I just found your site after you posted on FB. I love what you had to say. It makes me more aware..and my heart goes out to you. thanks for sharing!
P.S I know you from xanga - Lockhart2

Deirdre said...

Hi Glenna,
I wanted to address something you said about wanting to be pregnant. For me, I guess adoption was easier to consider because I didn't want to be pregnant, I just wanted a baby.

Just wanted to say that in case someone else is feeling the same way.

Thank you for posting this. I know this series will have a good effect on someone's life. there is so much hurt out there. I feel like we are going to spend the first 200 years of heaven just distributing hugs.

erin said...

Glenna, this post made me cry. You expressed yourself so well, and I learned a lot from reading this. I know it can't be easy to bare your heart and soul in such a manner but know that this blog and your spirit are blessing people and glorifying Christ.

melanie said...

glenna, thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic. i have been thinking of you of late. i so appreciate your perspective--i know it was hard-won. it is good to have the reminder that God is sovereign, even when it is hard to understand our circumstances. you have been very helpful...

Glenna Marshall said...

Thanks for your comment. In earlier posts, I have addressed my coming to the point of having to reconcile my desire to be a mother over my desire to be pregnant. Motherhood wins hands down over pregnancy if I have to choose. I totally agree with you, although I do still long to experience pregnancy. I'm just trying to debunk the myth that adoption makes the hurt of infertility obsolete. While the sting of infertility is greatly lessened after adopting, it IS still there. While our adoption wasn't as difficult as many, it still wasn't what I would classify as "easy", and we are ones who have a good relationship with our son's birthparents. I just wanted to point out that it is not the end all of infertility, if that makes sense.
Thanks for stopping by. I, too, hope that many will gain some understanding from this series.


Allison said...

i don't even know what to say. i read of a majority of this from my blackberry, in my car, in a dark parking structure, crying my eyes out.

all i can say is...i feel honored to know you and privileged to pray on your behalf. CCEF does a counseling series about fear, and how to really rely on God's grace in our lives despite things we fear, aka, infertility for an indefinite amount of time. and you truly embody a faithfulness that Christ calls us to have, and frankly, astounds me.

your ministry to others is exponentially compounded because of your struggles and your joy despite them all.

i can only imagine how many (countless) times the Lord has heard your name, spoken from the lips of those who love you and share in your desire for you to conceive.

all that God does is for our good, but it's rare to find a believer who clings to that and BELIEVES that even when the tears fall. it is the clearest way for the world to be pointed to Christ. the Lord is so clearly glorified in and through you, glenna!

i am so thankful you are now a MOM!!! isaiah is so blessed! yet i will continue to pray, as always, for the expansion of your family!!!

this post was incredibly moving...

Rach said...

Glenna, Wonderful post! I have many friends who are experiencing infertility and pursued adoption. Thanks for reminding me that adoption isn't a fix all, though it is a joy. Love, Rachel

MrsSpock said...

I love this post.

We have one child after 2 years of infertility. We are making another attempt now, but know adoption does lie in our future. There truly is no "just" to adopting, even when you do feel called to do so.

And you have a wonderful, understanding fertile friend.

Red Hot Momma said...

Fellow Friend of Infertility,
Reading your note took the words out of my infertile mouth. You have touched me today and reminded me that God truly does sharpen me through my journey to parenthood.

Faith said...

Glenna, this what my heart longs to say but just doesn't always know how to say it. Beautiful post and so very true.

I hope you don't mind, but I would love to link to this post on my blog...

Thanks again for sharing your heart!

kcmarie122 said...

Thanks for sharing this Glenna! I posted a link to this on my blog. I hope that's ok. It brought tears to my eyes because you described so accurately how I have felt so many times. Thank you!

Marian said...

Like others who have posted a comment, your words touched deep into my soul for you wrote what I so often experienced. You are right, our God is good and does us good for HIS glory!! Thank you for expressing so honestly!

Find joy in every journey said...

What a beautiful post about infertility. It is such a complex journey that you completely captured. Thank you.

Sarah B said...

Tears are flowing here! Thank you for writing, for being willing to mediate on the emotions of your story. Such good truths for this heart!

PS - It makes me super happy to see two of my favorite bloggers linked up!

Mandi said...

Beautifully written, Glenna! I saw this same post on It's Almost Naptime and have thought about doing a post's as if you spoke the words that were on my heart. You have offered some great advice!

Mandi said...

Also, I added your blogs to my blog roll...hope that's OK?

Linda Cumby said... well written! I love you sister! Linda

Anonymous said...

Well said, Glenna!

This_Cross_I_Embrace said...

THANK YOU! Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!!

I think you articulated the adoption/infertility point PERFECTLY, and it is really important for people to know that, as you pointed out, some of us may not be able to ever adopt due to various reasons. And the more times we hear "just adopt," when we're already struggling with possibly not being able to, is SO HARD.

I saw a link to your blog on "Becoming a Different Person"'s- I've never read your blog before, but I am so glad I read this post, on a day that I truly needed to read these words. You write so beautifully. I am so happy for your new baby, too!! Congratulations!

Ashley said...

Glenna, my friend Sarah LeNoir referred me to your blog. What a touching, beautiful post. I am in the first stages of figuring out that pregnancy might be difficult for me, and it was so very encouraging to hear how you have trusted God and worked through all that He has given you. Beautiful post =)

Roo and Wren's Mama said...

I just found your blog via It's Almost Naptime... and I feel like you articulated so many of the same things I felt/learned/experienced in our infertility & adoption journey. "Hope and Despair Mingled..." that sums it up so perfectly.
I now have two beautiful baby girls, and while the pain of infertility has faded, the lessons God taught me are still very much a part of me.
And now, I am truly very grateful for our 5 yrs of infertility, because as a result of that long wait, God gave us our girls (long story - adoption and then a surprise pregnancy... girls are 6 mo apart!). I wouldn't change a thing now.
Anyway - thanks so much for sharing. It was an encouragement to me. Infertility is a lonely journey, and even though I'm a Mommy now, I feel a real kinship with others who have walked that road. :)
By the way - your son is ADORABLE!


Anonymous said...

Thank you, this is wonderful. I am on the infertility journey and starting the long decision process of adoption. What you wrote captures so much of what I feel. I am tempted to send this out to all of my friends. :)

loki photography said...

Thabks for sharing! Your take on adoption was very enlightening.

Carla said...

Oh, Glenna...I'm sitting here crying...and even more as I scroll down and see that beautiful picture of you smiling holding Isaiah in your arms. I remember sitting on my couch writing that letter struggling for the right words to share with you. And, wow!, the work the Lord has done in both of our lives in the past 4 years. How I love you, dear friend. I rejoice, again, for the precious son the Lord has given to you and William. We LOVE him!!!

BrieanneVanessa said...

Oh girl, you know how much I love you. This was so incredibly moving. Your words described everything perfectly. Infertility is so hard. We experienced 5.5 years before we got pregnant with Johanna, and are now almost back at 2 years since having her. I can totally relate to what you said about adoption not being a bandaid for infertility. When you want a house full of kids, you want a house full of kids. Even though we've been so blessed with Johanna, I have always dreamed of 4 kids, and it's so hard to have to wait and wait, and not know if it will ever come to pass. I feel you, girl. And I feel even more for you since you still desire to experience pregnancy even though you are mom to sweet Isaiah. I was praying for you this afternoon while doing dishes. You were just on my mind as you often are. You are not forgotten. I love you. Brie*

Camille said...

thank you so much for your post. it's SOOOOOOOOO true, i've experienced so many of these emotions lately. You express it all so well. Thank you.

Charree said...

This post is so true. My DH an I struggled with infertility for a couple of years and I know the different emotions you mentioned. I really like your advice about sharing the news with a friend and giving her time to process it before expecting her to jump for joy for you. Thanks for sharing from your heart.

Have a blessed day!

Silya said...

Beautiful post. Thank you.

Hannah said...

Great post, really appreciate it.