Last month, National Infertility Awareness week passed by in a flurry of surprising cake toppers (yes, they were cake toppers with little sperms fertilising an egg and no, I didn’t hold back in offering people sperm cakes), being mistaken for a lesbian (repeatedly) and surviving a pretty incredible night of vulnerability.
After NIAW [insert jingle and awkward dancing], I was struck by a couple of things.
- Getting uncomfortable and talking about big issues is awesome. And scary.
- Out there, in the big wide world, hope is for sale. And people are queuing up to buy it.
So, let me explain.
As part of NIAW, we hosted a #awkward evening where we discussed how the church can begin to think about the issue of infertility and childlessness. Lizzie shared so eloquently about her experience of multiple miscarriages, our husbands talked about their personal stories and the impact infertility has had on them, Jane (one of the Tent leaders) gave examples of how liturgy can be used to help people express the emotions they have no words for and I kind of acted as an infertility stand up comic for the night.
It was amazing.
It was amazing because the room was packed with people who wanted to hear our stories. They wanted to lean in, listen, learn, love and be different. The beauty of the night for me was that the room was filled with a range of ages, experiences, backgrounds and knowledge of infertility but we were united in the hope that we can make it better for others. If we break down some of the awkwardness around these taboo topics then we can begin to really reach out to people. We can acknowledge that sometimes life gets really tough. And sometimes the church does not make it any easier. In fact, quite often, church is the last place we want to be when we are hurting. When we are broken.
The discussions that night were significant. They ranged from practical ideas for telling someone who is infertile that you are pregnant (my top tip was to lovingly tell them by e-mail or text to give them space to be sad for themselves so they can be happy for you but everyone is different) to how church leaders can lead with vulnerability.
The legacy of the night is that the discussions are still going. Our community is still learning how to love each and every one of its members. It isn’t easy. It is tough stuff and it takes an awful lot of love and learning to be uncomfortable with people’s pain. But it is so vital we continue the conversations.
Finally, the second reflection I had was after attending the Fertility Show during NIAW. I had a great time. Yes, Lizzie and I were mistaken for lesbians (a lot) and yes, I picked up a giant sponge sperm toy (I named him Siegfried) but it wasn’t all gifts and giggles. Lizzie and I mainly went to attend the seminars and they were mostly brilliant. Really realistic, informative and helpful.
However, it was an overwhelmingly sad weekend. Walking around the exhibition we were struck by the heaviness of the room. A couple were in the lift with us on the way down and the woman was quietly weeping before even entering the room. I know that feeling. More men than I had expected to see were there, they held their wives/girlfriends close and looked like they were trying to be strong. They looked lost. I know that feeling.
But the saddest part of the weekend was the row after row of fertility specialists selling hope. One clinic had a slogan: ‘We make babies. We make your dreams come true’. There was one stall selling vitamin supplements that we couldn’t even get near to – the doctor who created them had given a seminar about how her supplements would make you fertile. You will get pregnant if you have these. Who wouldn’t want a quick fix pill? I think she sold a lot of vitamins that day.
Now, I’m not suggesting that these places and experts aren’t helpful. That they are somehow bad. That would be hypocritical since I hope to benefit from the expertise of the fertility clinic we are going to. But what scares me is the look in people’s eyes. The desperation to have their hope fulfilled in one easy step and the promises that these places are making.
Hope is good. Dreams are good.
But what if we are holding on so tightly to one hope or one dream and we miss the multiple opportunities for other dreams and other hopes? What if the fertility clinic doesn’t make my dream come true? What if they can’t make me a baby? I guess a slogan of: ‘We hope to be able to responsibly help you achieve your dream of having a baby but cannot 100% assure you of this but will support you either way’ isn’t really all that catchy.
And I guess, for me, I’m learning that my hope isn’t in anything of this world. My hope is in God. That he will fulfil me. That with a baby or without, I can have life in all its fullness. So, I’m resisting the quick fix and making myself comfortable with being uncomfortable. With waiting. With hoping.
‘but those whose hope is in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, the will walk and not be faint’. Isaiah 40:31