I left my job in 2008 thinking that I’d never return to work as a speech therapist. I planned to spend 2009 doing some hands on ministry training and then be pregnant by the time the year was out.
I pictured myself as a mother, and as it dawned on me that I was not going to become a mother very easily, I realised all that I had attached to that idea and all that I had associated with it. I thought I would not be in the work force, but would be at home looking after my children. I would not be in public ministry, but in ministry in and around the home, looking after my husband and children. I would not be going out to lunch with my work colleagues, but would be packing cut sandwiches to eat at the park with my children and meeting other mum’s. That’s who I wanted to become, and who I had pictured myself as, so when it wasn’t the case, I had a major identity crisis. Who was I? Who is my family? What will I do now that I don’t have children?
Some people may be impacted by the opinions that others hold regarding children and parenthood, and how the expectations of these people can shape their identity. People can assume that all women have a strong desire to have children but this is not always the case. What if I don’t think of myself as being particularly maternal? What then?
The Bible speaks a lot about families. Have you ever noticed how the New Testament particularly drips with familial language? Yet the idea of family is very different to what our society has come to see as family. Our family in the biblical sense is far more than blood. It is a family in Christ, because of our heavenly Father, and our adoption through his Son. But not only are we brothers and sisters with Christ, we are brothers and sisters with each other.
The apostle Paul so often loves others with a parental love even though he himself is a single man. As Christians, our parental love can be made manifest in the church where we have children in the faith…those we can nurture and love and care for in their Christian walk (3 John 4 is a prime example).
Whilst the idea of our Christian family cannot replace the desire to have children of our own, there are certain things that this gathering is able to fulfil for us. In the pain of fertility we straight away turn to ask what should we expect from our church family? There’s no doubt our church family know how to offer support. If someone experiences a death, or sickness, or the birth of a new baby, we know we need bake a lasagna and send it on over. But infertility is a whole other beast. It is usually a very private thing. A couple experiencing infertility doesn’t get printed on the church bulletin under prayer points. No one makes an announcement about infertility’s unexpected early arrival! It is easy to list the things our church family can’t provide.
You can hopefully understand some of the ways that gathering with other Christians can become hard for the infertile. I asked a Christian friend of mine once who was familiar with our situation, “How has your weekend been?” The reply, delivered with joyful exuberance was, “I’m pregnant!!!!” (exclamation points necessary). I was happy for her, but I was expecting ‘Good, how about yours?’ Nevermind the constant presence of families, kids programs, mothers groups, mothers days, mothers bible studies.
At times people can assume that children will come along very easily and so will ask insensitive and intrusive questions. Often these questions come from those within our church family who we expect to be more sensitive and supportive. Who are we to turn to for support then? Well, our church families. We are to continue meeting together even when it is hard. This is where we can be encouraged and give encouragement. And though no doubt there are many graces our church family can provide, it is better still to ask, not what your church family can do for you, but what you can do for your church family.
I find it comforting to know that God hasn’t given me these nuturing and maternal instincts to make my infertility seem even harder, but because that in this way I reflect how he relates to us. Our God is a God who is nuturing, loving, guiding and caring. I hope that even if God does not bless us with children, I will one day be healed enough from the sadness to be able to use these gifts for the benefit of others.
Over time it feels as though my identity has changed. I often respond to people through gritted teeth as they give ill-informed advice, or I smile outwardly when someone announces their pregnancy, whilst screaming inside. I feel like a very different person to my smiley, happy self I used to be. But I know that my true identity is found in Christ, in that I am made in the image of God, saved by his Son, brought into the fellowship of the Godhead with my fellow adopted daughters and sons of God.