Confessions of a Very Unwilling Hannah: Reproductive Disability (AKA Infertility) Part 1

This was a blog that I did not want to write. Ever. Why? Call it pride, call it shame, call it lack of self-confidence. My wonderfully supportive husband balked at my hesitation to share my experiences and assured me that it might help people like me. So I decided to go for it. The title of this blog references the mother of the Prophet Samuel from 1 Samuel Chapter 1. Hannah had a wonderful husband who loved her very deeply yet she desired to have children. Scripture says that the Lord himself prevented her. He had something wonderful in store and a plan for her life. Although she trusted the Lord as we read her tale she was not always rejoicing about it or strong, or happy about her circumstances. I can relate to Hannah. I think most women dealing with infertility can relate to her. You see having Turner’s Syndrome means you are definitely infertile. So infertile in fact that no medical treatments are an option. Being diagnosed at a very young age I was always told this but as a child, and later as a teenager I didn’t really think about it. After all, having kids was far in the future. After several years of marriage and the story was very different. My husband and I knew we would adopt and for years we prayed about it and then forgot about it, being busy with work, ministry, travelling, etc. However, after about 9 years of marriage God pressed upon us that the time had come. That was when the “fun” began. I will share our adoption story in another blog. What I want to share now is the inner struggle that infertile women go through that their friends and family don’t see. I’m a pretty average person so I am making the assumption that my experience is pretty average and similar to most people. I want to say upfront that I have the best friends and family in the world. They are wonderful, supportive, and always pray for me. Dealing with infertility however, there are things we never share or let those close to us know and so we hinder our loved ones from really ministering to us, believing that we are being strong. Particularly as Christians, we feel that we must pull ourselves up, trust the Lord, and give it all to God. It is not always that easy. If you have friends that are living with reproductive disability, as I will call it, let me share what is really going on that you will probably never know. Especially if she is as stubborn as me. Don’t let her get away with it! She will thank you later, I promise. The stages I think cycle through life and are actually very similar to grief. In fact it is a grief, grief for the loss of children she will never have. I have no particular order to these stages, as we are all different.

  1. Anger. There is part of her that is very angry. Angry with God, angry at herself, angry at pretty much everything. Grief often manifests as anger. If she is short tempered, snippy, or irritable that is probably why. Make her talk about it. She really wants to, she is just probably not able to vocalize it and may be embarrassed that she is angry knowing she shouldn’t be. Christians after all aren’t supposed to be angry.
  1. Depressed. If she is a good actress you may never know this one but trust me on some level there is depression. You may have a wonderful time together but she may go home and cry for hours and never tell you. Make her talk about it. She really wants to but again she may be embarrassed. Christians after all aren’t supposed to be depressed.
  1. Guilt. Infertile women often feel very guilty. They may feel guilt that something is wrong with them. They are not able to do the one thing woman are supposed to be able to do. This affects their relationships with their husbands in very strange and often illogical ways. They may feel that they have done something wrong in life and are being punished. They may feel guilty for and ashamed that their husband “got stuck with them”. They may worry that their husbands may leave them or they may want to leave themselves to give their husbands a chance to find someone who isn’t reproductively disabled. Satan likes to inject all sorts of evil lies into the hearts of woman and this area is the worst and easiest for him to play with. Talk to her about it! She really wants to but is probably incredibly embarrassed about this one.
  1. Medical treatments. These treatments are often financially draining, invasive, sterile, and humiliating. Ask her to explain everything to you. (In a future part I will share our thoughts on this topic and what God has taught us).
  1. Being withdrawn from friendships. It is often very hard for a woman dealing with infertility to be around pregnant friends and friends with children. There is this very strange duality that tortures her. She is at once overjoyed for her friends and loves their children, and wants to go to parties and baby showers yet on the other hand she can barely hold the smile she plasters on because she just wants to burst into tears the whole time she is with them. Be patient and don’t let her get away with it. She wants to be part of your lives but it is hard. Be sensitive but be open with her that you know it is hard and you appreciate her being there.
  1. 6. Bargaining. Just like Hannah did they will often bargain with God and make promises to him if he will only give them a child.
  1. Adoption. Adoption is the most wonderful thing that a couple can do. The day we adopted our son was nothing short of miraculous and we are awaiting a second one. There is something you should know about the process though. It is long, it is hard, it is sometimes humiliating, and it is financially draining. Imagine a complete stranger coming to your home assessing your finances, looking at your taxes, reading references people had to write for you, doing invasive criminal background checks, questioning your marriage, questioning your discipline policies, questioning your friendships from high school, and your grade point averages and then deciding if you and your home are deserving of children. Needless to say it can create a lot of resentment and humiliation. You often get angry and think how unfair it is when you see so many who have tons of children and abuse them, don’t care for them etc., and no one questions it but you have to prove yourself in every way possible. Then you wait, and wait, and wait, and wait. Never knowing when it will happen or if it will happen. Although it is a wonderful thing the process is draining. Unless you have gone through it yourself you cannot understand the way it can make you feel at times. So if your friends are adopting be aware of what is really going on. Make her talk about the process in detail and how it makes her feel and how it affects her marriage and her husband.

Even after adoption the feelings never go away. Part of the reproductively disabled woman will always feel different, lesser than others, bared from a life experience that comes so naturally to others. As you pray for your friend I encourage you to pray with her. I wish I had been more open about my need for people to just pray with me for all these feelings. My pride and shame kept me from being open to them. I knew so many people were praying for me but it is different to have them pray with you. Also, just to cry with your friend. Through the years dealing with infertility I cried everyday, alone, except for once. It was freeing to just have someone to cry with who didn’t say a word, no friendly advice, just as Job’s friends sat with him in silence for a time. As infertility continues to increase, for many reasons, which I will share in a future blog, it is important to understand what goes on in the heart of the infertile woman. You will encounter more and more as time goes on. When you read 1 Samuel 1:1 Hannah displayed many of these feelings. She was provoked to anger by the other wife, she wept bitterly and a lot, she bargained with the Lord and I’m sure felt guilt. As Christians in the West we are taught to subdue these negative feelings and to suppress them because they are bad. This, I believe, keeps many women from reaching out and getting the support that they need to properly deal with them. I hope this helps give you some good insight if you are not infertile and encourages you that you are not alone if you are.

Blog 4 pic