Everyone has a story to tell, but some stories are never told. You see, the stories we know how to handle are those that end well. Whether told from the pages of a book or preached from a pulpit, we love the stories that offer answers and insight and resolution. But when the story you’re living is messy and shitty and too scruffy for church it’s often easier to just stay silent. I believe that’s where the story of childlessness fits, it’s a story that’s being lived out by 1 in 6 couples in the UK, but it’s one that’s rarely told.
A couple of weeks ago we launched a course in Liverpool Cathedral for couples who struggling with infertility. We met as a group to plan what we would say and who would say what, we spread the word about the course, we prayed and we asked others to pray. United by our stories and our passion to help others in similar situations we gathered in the Cathedral set up the room, laid out the food and watched the door. No one came. The second week the same thing happened, no one came. Of course there are probably loads of reasons why no one came, we’ve been talking about it and thinking about it ever since – the publicity could have been better, should we have made more contacts before launching it, is the name of the course right, how do we show people we can be trusted to talk about such a difficult subject? But I think there’s also another reason – no one really talks about infertility. Statistics tell me that course should have been full, instead, no one came.
I tried to think back to six years ago after our first miscarriage, wondering whether we’d have gone to a course like this, I don’t think we would have. Firstly, I didn’t want to be childless, I hated the thought of it, so I doubt I’d have gone to a course talking about it, as far as I was concerned I just wanted to be pregnant. Secondly, I’d never heard anyone talk openly about infertility or miscarriage, I thought it was something you just didn’t speak about. I definitely didn’t want to talk about it, I hated that part of my story.
What do you do with the parts of your story that you hate, that don’t fit in with the life you’ve dreamed of or the life that everyone else seems to just effortlessly have? There can be parts of our story, like infertility, that we simply don’t want. But that doesn’t mean that not talking about them will make them go away. For years I thought the way to show strength was to be quiet. I believed that healing could only be found by focusing on the good and ignoring pain. I saw tears as weakness, discarding words of grief and struggle as deficient. I lived a heavily edited version of my life, chopping and hiding bits that I thought didn’t fit with the life I wanted or would make people feel uncomfortable. But the thing is, the more you chip away and hone a version of you and your story that you believe will be acceptable, the more you end up losing yourself and the more isolated you become as a result. Talking about infertility doesn’t mean you’ll defined by it, but not talking about it can.
Then there’s the language of struggle,a vocabulary that few are familiar with, associating it with weakness and failure. Some Christians even go so far as to proclaim that certain struggles aren’t part of God’s will for your life, implying that somehow you’re living a story that’s outside of God’s reach, His presence, even His concern. But what if you can’t easily change the story you’re living? What if you can’t quickly shake off addiction, or simply step out from under that cloud of depression or just have sex and get pregnant? Does that mean your life is beyond God,that it’s outside Him, that your story is beyond His help?
I don’t believe that the only God-worthy stories are the ones where everything in life is going well. Look at the Bible, it’s full of stories about people who’s lives don’t go to plan – who were weak, treated as outcasts, unskilled, depressed, infertile. Their stories weren’t edited out of scripture, they were written into it purposefully, retelling the story of God and His people and that story continues now, today, through people like you and me. The ones who live the struggle but allow God to be part of it, inviting others to join us along the way – that’s where redemption happens.
I know what it’s like, I’ve been in that place, unable to speak, not knowing where to start or how to tell people about what’s happening in my life. But by living that way I wasn’t living my whole story and to be honest I wasn’t really living at all. I didn’t want to be labelled as childless and I believed that talking about it would mean that’s who I would become. But it was a lie. Sharing my whole story, the good bits as well as the times when I’ve lost babies and struggled to get pregnant have helped me move forward, shaking off a life defined by loss and introducing me to a life where joy and pain can exist side by side, the bitter and the sweet, the saltwater and the honey.
Don’t worry, we’re not defeated, we’re going to run the course again, we’re going to keep talking about childlessness. We’re learning from our mistakes and have new ideas, but we’d love more ideas. If you’re one of those people who could benefit from support please share your thoughts, what you need and what you’d come along to. And if you’re someone who’s struggling in silence, then take on a challenge this week to tell one person, someone you trust. If you’re not sure who to talk to then you could start with God.
There’s not a Godforsaken person on this earth, and that includes you.
I’m sitting here with tears down my face as I read your words. My life is also a messy one with joy and pain mingled side by side every day. Beautifully uplifting and encouraging words. Thankyou. My one suggestion may be as an intentional group, offering one to one meet ups over coffee initially as it may be too much straight away to come to a group event. May you and others be blessed through this. Xx
Thanks so much Clare, for your honesty and your ideas. I like your suggestion about initial one to one meet-ups. When we re-launch things that will definitely be something we’ll keep in mind. I think at first we still need to find ways to help people to trust us but I’d love to meet with people and support them in any way. Sending lots of love to you and encouragement to keep on living your story, even though it’s messy. xxxx
I was signed up to the course and pulled out. Happy to discuss if you want to get in touch by email.
Thanks for your comment Fiona, I’ll email you. xx
I totally wanted to shout out at this. It is unusual to get a reaction from me like this about a blog. I think I have found the opposite where sharing has helped my pain, I have appreciated infertility being part of my story as it has connected me to people I wouldn’t of been connected with. Also God has given me a story to understand, help and encourage others.
I am in Liverpool and had no idea about the course. Not sure where or how you advertised it. If you put another one on please can I be on your contact list?
Hi Helen, thanks so much for your comment. It’s so great that you’ve found it such a positive experience to share your story with others and I hope this will encourage others to do the same. I’ve definitely found it a really healing and freeing experience to talk openly, I suppose if we all keep talking hopefully it will make it easier for others. I will definitely add you to our list, we have some more plans for the future so I will email you to let you know. Thanks again for your comment and for being an inspiration to live openly with those around you. xx
Really lovely. Thank you.
Hi…a bit of a late reply I know, but thanks for writing this. One of the big challenges of recurrent miscarriages for me is reminding myself what I believe. Culture tells us that a baby is not a baby until it’s viable, so that some of those ‘grey’ areas are a little easier to cope with.
So when we lose babies, at 6, 10, 15 weeks, they’re not babies, they’re pregnancies. And somehow people don’t understand the grief that goes with them. We’re told to keep pregnancies secret until 12 weeks because talking about miscarriage is too hard, and somehow it seeps into our subconscious, it’s not really a pregnancy yet, it’s not really a baby yet, it’s not really a life yet.
But I believe life begins at conception, so loss of a pregnancy is loss of a life, loss of a child, loss of a family member. If we view it in that light, pregnancy loss is easier to understand and those going through it are easier to support. So keep talking about it, one way or another, keep it as an open subject. Keep demonstrating Gods love for all living things and do not be conformed to a pattern that belittles life, in whatever form!
Hey Becca, thanks so much for your comment. I totally agree with you, that life begins at conception and yet somehow, people don’t think the loss is very significant when the life is so new. You’re right, we need to keep talking about our losses as babies and not just using cold medical terms. Only when you experience this loss do you then realise how significant that life, no matter how young, was and only by talking about it can we help other people realise they’re not alone in their grief. Thanks again for your words, it’s a real encouragement to hear other people acknowledge this too. xxx