I’m writing this from my single room in a retreat house in the heart of Essex. I’ve just had dinner with a nun, a Rector and a saintly old lady from Suffolk. I am a fish out of water.

Going on retreat has been a longing of mine for a while. I’m here for 24 hours after blackmailing Elis into letting me go. I have a dark side to my personality. I’m hungry for rest. For seclusion. For escape. My soul has been yearning for this space. And here I am.

For months I’ve told myself that I will think about ‘that’ when I have time. I will process ‘this’ when I get a bit of space. I will pray through ‘those’ when there is quiet. Avoidance, thy name is Sheila.

This, that and those are not going anywhere. This, that and those will not be clearer with a portion of 24 hours spent on them. This, that and those are one deeply held and hidden aching desire. A desire to have another baby.

This desire has crept up on me gently. It was unexpected.

If we rewind back to 2014 when we were beginning our fertility treatment. It had been a circuitous route there. We were at peace. We were pushing the door of fertility treatment with a donor and seeing if it was the one we were to walk through. Although I was an emotional juggernaut, it was a time of trust. I prayed furtive prayers. “Oh Lord, if we are able to have a child, I will be satisfied. I will ask for nothing else”. (Feel free to eye roll and snort at my naiveté. I do, often).

In all honesty, I truly believed that I would not desire more than the longed for child I was hoping for. I wanted that to be true.

And fast forward to today.

I’m loathe to be honest. To awaken my truth. There is a layer of guilt which I didn’t know I had. A guilty heart which longs for more. For another. For another undeserved gift. And I am struggling to reconcile it all. I guess the closest I’ve come to understanding this feeling is when I’ve listened to or read about secondary fertility. Now, we don’t qualify for that. There is no surprise that we are unable to have another child. We are not encountering infertility unexpectedly. It is our reality. We always knew that more than one child would be a different road.

For those experiencing secondary infertility, it can be a shock. They have had no issues to suggest they would struggle. Then the struggle happens. No second baby arrives. The longer it goes on the more secretive your desire becomes. The guilt arrives. Why aren’t you satisfied? Isn’t your child enough? Suddenly, you notice how EVERYONE is pregnant. How your friends that you were have playdates with are now juggling two changing bags and subsequent children. You’re asked constantly about when you are going to hurry up and have another one. Because, y’know, it is just that easy.

And so, secondary infertility draws you inward. To hide that want. The guilt lays on your heart, making a brittle casing.

Although our secondary infertility is not truly secondary, I know something of this longing. Of the guilty self-talk. How do you explain you want more even though you love what you have?

The paradox is real.

You can genuinely love what you have while still desiring more.

Infertility can rob us of believing in an abundant God. Of a God who lavishes us with love and wants good things for us. Of the God who tells us that His joy is complete in us. That we are worth dying for. That Jesus has reconciled us and we never need be separated.

We are robbed of that.

Instead, we believe that abundance comes in getting the things of the world. The things we desire. We talk of blessings when really we mean things. We have been blessed with the things we wanted. So blessed!

Naturally, anyone who endures infertility is forced to face their pre-conceived ideas of being blessed. Of a good God. Of heart’s desires not being met.

Infertility forces us to reflect and relinquish. To acknowledge and be absolved of hidden guilt. To say, ‘I want this all my heart but I have to be prepared for it not to be mine’. To trust the God who is love when the world tells us we are lacking.

Infertility is a stark and brutal reminder that we live in an imperfect world. That our bodies do not always work as well as we would hope. That there can be questions without answers. Unexplained. Mystery.

So, here I am. In Advent, the time of waiting. The season of preparing to welcome and worship a baby. A baby who came unconventionally into the world. A baby who would eventually die on a cross. Who would overcome death. Who promises that we are with Him. And in Him. And He with us.

I am waiting with my hidden desires. Speaking them out loud to release their hold on me. To rid myself of guilt and bitterness. To sieve through the rubble of thoughts and hopes and dreams and look for the gold. What should remain and what should be discarded. I have no answers or clarity but I know that it will come. I know that part of growth is being able to explain where you are at. We often wait until we can tidy up our story. Where we can tie some loose ends together. Avoiding the messy aspects of life will rob us further of any joy in the journey.

I do not know what road we will travel on. But I know that I will try my hardest to do it with my eyes open, my heart soft and my ears eager to listen for directions.

Oh, and I’m praying furtive prayers again. Thy will be done. In me.