I received an email from a blog reader, and have been thinking about her struggle ever since. It's a struggle I know, and so many of us in this corner of blogosphere know, all too well. The struggle of childlessness, and the unknowns. What our future may or may not hold for us, how our past has shaped our hopes and fears, and how to reconcile all of it in the here and now.
As I was quick to acknowledge to this reader, I do not have all of the answers. (I often wonder if I have any.) But her email did get my mind working, in trying to find a way to live our cross without being crushed by the weight. Perhaps the best way to address this is to look at some ways we can easily falter along the path, in the hopes of avoiding those pitfalls moving forward. I'll start with: The Past.
The Past. Our experiences already lived, our choices already made and played out. The past has brought us to where we are today, and it should be there for us to draw upon for support and strength when we need it most ("I survived x, so I'm pretty sure I can handle y, now...") and ultimately to give us the fuel needed to continue into the future. The Past is not always pretty, and with infertility, it becomes an often painful daily reminder that if not addressed sensitively, may never fully heal regardless of how many children one goes on to adopt, foster, or gestate. It is The Past which is the first thing for Outsiders to completely disregard when offering advice to "fix" the problem of infertility ("Try this, Do that, Just relax!") - because if, as they hope, a child materializes soon enough, suddenly, for them, The Past no longer matters. And that is perhaps the biggest problem with the well-intentioned advice. To the typical Outsider, the problem needing fixing is surface level, so obviously if someone expresses remorse over their infertility or childlessness, they must need to either get pregnant or adopt to fix said problems. But the thing about The Past is, it rarely shows itself to anyone on the Outside. It remains, often buried deep inside of us, where no one can see it, but where it is felt intensely. And even if the surface level problem morphs through the years, or disappears completely, The Past is never "fixed."
This can become a major pitfall in our journey. It becomes much too easy to dwell in our Past, especially a painful one, and use that muddied canvas to paint our perception of the future. The irony of a painful Past is that it can taint the joys and hopes of the present, thus making itself grow larger and more painful with every passing moment. We can become stuck in this downward spiral despite our most valiant efforts. How often I hear myself lamenting over my own Past, time lost, sufferings endured, and parlay it into statements about my future: "I will likely never adopt," (based on The Past), "I can probably never get pregnant," (based on The Past), "I may never know happiness in this world," (based on The Past). And yes, that last statement is way overdramatic (I do drama well) and not as logically feasible as the other two statements, but that's the danger of using The Past to project into our future. While it may seem ridiculous to hear someone say they will never be happy, or never be happy again, to them it makes perfect sense - because they are dwelling in their Past.
Not only is this projection of The Past dangerous to our emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being, but it is not as logical as we can quickly convince ourselves it is. "Well, if this happened in The Past, it is sure to happen in The Future..." No. Not so. Especially not if we have faith. God makes all things new. He can move mountains. He can, and does, work miracles in and through us, daily. We need to stop dwelling on our perception of The Past and start focusing more of our attention on faith and trust in God.
About that "our perception of The Past..." bit - that's another very important factor, here. We may dwell in The Past in theory, but we're not actually EVER dwelling in our Past in practice. The Past is gone. We cannot get it back, change its identity, or re-do it. By mentally dwelling on our Past, we are doing it from a different place altogether - our Present. And, as a result, we successfully taint our experience of the Present moments, and all of the blessings God wants us to see go unnoticed, to become a casualty of that painful Past.
However, we should also not jump from one extreme to another. Dwelling in The Past isn't healthy, but neither is completely disregarding it. As I mentioned above, our experiences, our struggles, our sufferings should fuel our journey ahead, making us stronger, never weaker. If we ignore our mistakes and our lessons of The Past, we are bound to repeat them.
This is the irony of not treating The Past sensitively: By those who would choose to dwell in their painful Past, they only manage to taint their hopeful Present and Future. By those who choose to ignore their painful Past, they only manage to find it again... and again... and again.
We owe it to ourselves, and to our Past, to give it the due respect of acknowledging its pain, and working on ways to heal that pain. This is not accomplished solely by the passage of time or by (in the case of infertility or childlessness) pregnancies and adoptions. I know too many women in both my personal and professional life who are YEARS beyond the most painful days of infertility and childlessness, a majority of whom now have many children, and yet still the pain is palpable, just under the surface. We cannot understand many crosses in life, and this is especially true of the cross of infertility which seems to make no earthly sense. But we will not come any closer to that understanding, and to finding joy through the cross, by mistreating our Past. Choosing to dwell only in the pain of The Past, or to run from it into The Future leaves a festering wound which grows more raw with time.
Face your Past. Allow it to "present" to you your Present, without prejudice. Let it form a solid foundation on which to build your Future, without pulling you from its potential.
In the next post, we'll explore the dangers of The Future and its unknowns...