Archives for posts with tag: barrenness

Black Hole, part 2

Living with infertility means having something you can’t quite diagnose. All you know is that your body is failing where everyone else seems to function as it should. To drive the stigma in further, many of us fall into the category of Unexplained Infertility: there is no reason for not getting pregnant. Boxes of ovulation kits, routine measurements of basal body temperature, malodorous herb tablets, and fancy yoga poses offer nothing for the loss month after month after month. My husband and I have never felt the thrill that purportedly comes with seeing two pink lines.

How do you move forward when there is no clear path? Is there any way to know what is going on?

On a good day, I am learning to see myself as a fragile ecosystem waiting for new life. I listen to what my insides crave (beets usually top the list), try to move when the muscles are feeling creaky, and sit down to read and write when the brain gets bored. In theory, I am to treat each month as though I’m pregnant by eating good food, exercising just enough, and keeping the stress down. Right. Have you seen Groundhogs Day? When we cannot move on we go a little crazy. Admittedly, in real life, I have fallen into the pattern I shall refer to as, Here we go, Again. It starts with a manhattan (the cocktail) on day 1 of my cycle. During the first week I have a couple small prayer tantrums with God before taking a deep breath to face the month ahead. The next couple weeks I do the things I’m supposed to do, try to hold off on feeling anything, say a few prayers for conception, and generally attempt to be a decent human being at work. The last week is the most difficult as I vacillate between hopefulness and despair. Every cramp, every stomach ache is scrutinized, then found utterly inconclusive. As the final days tick by, I prepare for the cycle to end and, sure enough, like clockwork, the blood flows and a new cycle begins.

Recently, we visited family in Denver. Having only been there a few times now, it is still a foreign place to me. In one direction there are the mountain peaks, jagged yet comforting in how they break up the horizon. The other direction is a straight line to eternity, which I find exceedingly unnerving. With little water and thin air, I can’t help but wonder how people survive, let alone go jogging and cycling and skiing. On the flight home at the sight of Mount Rainier I become acutely aware of having the sense of holding my breath for days. Back at sea level, I drink the air like one who swore off booze for Lent and is taking in an aged scotch on Easter Sunday. How blessed are we to live in creation’s luxury suite. Family visits are both great fun and a sharp reminder that we have not been able to contribute much but ourselves to the gatherings. There are no baby introductions, no generational photo shoots. It’s just us. When questions or comments come up about kids, all we can do is smile, look down, and fake some sort of non-response. God knows… (and he sure as hell isn’t telling us).

We are nearing the end of how long we feel capable of waiting, so I can’t help but think about it more. For so many women, they don’t have to ponder long the question of motherhood, it is simply part of the settlement package: spouse, home, dog, child (often in that order). It is only natural to pass on the legacy of mother-daughter shopping holidays, cupcakes for classrooms, and other family rituals. Yet, for some of us, it is a great stretch of the imagination to place ourselves in the role of parent. Throughout my 20s I was never certain about marriage–if or when I could cut it–so I didn’t dare to think about having children. It is one thing to be a vulnerable, loving, human-in-relationship at a peer/spousal level; entirely other to be vulnerable yet authoritative, loving, human-in-relationship with small, developing human. Do I trust myself to be a (good) mother? Frankly, no. But it seems like an important step to do so.

Each month I have prayed that now would be the time. And each month I feel the air get a little thinner as we journey towards God-knows-what. Barren surroundings appear straight through to the horizon, and the only springs seem to be my grief. But I have this hope:

Happy are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca [weeping]
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
the God of gods will be seen in Zion
~Psalm 84:5-7

Barrenness is unpleasant. When creativity dries up it seems impossible to get it back, to return to a place of nutrient-rich dirt for growing ideas. I find that with writing, it can take time before I start working on something. I start by outlining phrases and thoughts scratched out on paper. It takes a while to mull them over, do some research, and peek at them now and again, before writing in earnest begins. Perhaps it’s akin to gardening. Seeds need a safe place to sprout and grow before they are transplanted. Without that safe place, though, when the dirt is dry, ideas are nothing more than dust.

Three things are never satisfied;
four never say, “Enough”:
Sheol, the barren womb,
the earth ever thirsty for water,
and the fire that never says, “Enough.”
Proverbs 30:15b-16

Barrenness is a terrible space to be in. Surrounded by blogs and websites with creative people doing exceptional things every day, barrenness feels like an aberration. What’s wrong with me? Becomes the consuming question. Trying to conceive a thought, an image, a compelling storyline, is a mysterious and sometimes painful endeavor. These things don’t come when called.

And so, we try to combat the desert with practice. Daily writing times are a must. We use our surroundings as inspiration, taking notes of anything that catches our eye. With the help of phone cameras and a wired environment we can artfully display our session journaling at the coffee shop. Anyone and everyone can (and should) be creative–visually, that is, and in writing, as long as it translates well to digital media. Which leads us back into production, the words on the page, the image on the screen. Just like so, we are no longer wandering in the wilderness. We have brought ourselves out.

Barrenness is not to be taken lightly. Perhaps the death of one dream will lay seeds for the next. Perhaps a season of fallow ground gathers elements needed for the next harvest. Perhaps knowing what it is to be parched increases our capacity or desire to be saturated. ….How can we know?

Three things are too wonderful for me;
four I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a snake on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a girl.
Proverbs 30:18b-19

In college, as part of an experiment in daily practices, I once tried to read through Proverbs in a month. With 31 chapters surely it was made for our calendar. Stumbling through the chopped verses and contradictions was a rough ride. Compared with Proverbs, the gospel of Mark is a smooth read, like a modern novel. We want the Wisdom literature to be instructive and helpful, like a guide book–and it is, in part. Lately, however, I find it most soothing (and troubling and irksome) when I myself am wandering through the desert, though not for its instruction. The Wisdom literature–Proverbs, Job, and Qohelet, among others–is a help in times of struggling because the authors struggled. In writings attributed to Solomon, there is a wrestling with deep existential questions, like what brings happiness and is it even attainable or for whom? Proverbs gives us a vision of Wisdom / Sophia as the one thing to pursue above all else. If you seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures–then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God (2:4-5). Even a disillusioned Qohelet says Wisdom makes one’s face shine, and the hardness of one’s countenance is changed (Eccl. 8:1b). Moses’ face shone after meeting with God…on a mountain, in the wilderness.

A writer who can’t write is like a woman who cannot bear a child. There is angst and strife and discontent until something changes. Conceived ideas may miscarry. There is pain and wandering and aimless circling. This is also a space for deep mystery. Wisdom always points to God the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer. Wisdom literature can teach us how to struggle in the midst of barrenness, or even just to keep walking. Finding kinship with Job and Solomon is one way to continue to seek God when everything around us is dust.