Well, here it is, 15 months after giving birth to my second son, my first biological child, and I’m finally getting back into this blogging thing. Who knew raising two kids 2 and under (now 3 and 1) would hinder insightful, reflective journaling about one’s innermost thoughts and feelings?
As it turns out, it’s difficult to be aware of your own thoughts and feelings – let alone write them down – when surrounded by the soft, lilting sounds of children crying, fussing, and screaming to get your attention. So, I’ll use my new favorite go-to excuse and blame my kids for not being able to blog for a while.
But truth be told, there’s a more significant reason why I haven’t updated the blog in a long time: I wasn’t ready. Last year was a big one for our family – Linus was born, we moved from Missouri to Oregon, and I went crazy (husband edit: crazier). I look back at my last post and shake my head in sympathy for poor, naïve Jennifer, who was so thankful for God’s blessing of enabling her to get pregnant and so unsuspecting of the storm that would hit pretty much immediately post-pregnancy. Almost the whole first year of Linus’s life was all shades of awful for me emotionally and spiritually, which is unfortunate given that many good things transpired during that time. Yet that’s the ugly reality that inhibited my desire to share my personal experiences with the blogosphere or most anyone outside my family.
A lesson in restraint
As the Lord began pulling me out of that dark, self-absorbed swamp, He urged me to participate in a Beth Moore study (I heart Beth!) called Sacred Secrets. Out of the many theologically meaty messages I gleaned from the study, two of her little slogans stood out to me:
- We must be authentic with all, transparent with most, and intimate with some.
- Before you can shout on the rooftop, you need to get in the closet with Jesus.
The first catchphrase probably doesn’t require much explanation; you can likely see the value of limiting how much private information you divulge and carefully determining with whom you share that information – in other words, don’t spill your guts to your social network. The second has to do with waiting to tell others about what God is doing in your life until you’ve actually spent some quality time alone with Him, being still and listening to what He has to teach you.
I’ll touch on the second point later; for now, I’ll address what the first has to do with blogging. You see, before I started doing this study, I thought I’d write my next blog post on my postpartum experiences: how I was overwhelmed with panic attacks before I left the hospital; how I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t nurse; how I went all OCD about my newborn’s schedule (yes, I tried to put my not-yet-even 1-month-old on a schedule); how my longtime, forever unwelcome companion anxiety teamed up with debilitating self-doubt about being a mother of two young children and dragged me way, way down into what felt like an inescapable pit of crazy hormones and uncontrollable emotions. But then I realized that in the wide world of those who for whatever reason start reading my blog, very few individuals, if any, would benefit from hearing all about my tales of woe during that period of my life.
Others who have endured postpartum issues much more challenging than mine have written on the subject and probably helped a host of women – for example, my incredible sister shared in her blog the story of how God carried her and my nephew through a difficult pregnancy, bed rest, and subsequent post-delivery struggles. While I don’t mind discussing my postpartum experiences with someone one on one, in the interest of being cautiously transparent and not overly intimate in a blogging context, I’m going to limit that disclosure to the preceding semicolon-riddled borderline run-on sentence and instead focus on the much more important lesson I believe God has been teaching me since I started blogging about my infertility issues five years ago.
Before I launch into the point of this post (yes, I’m dawdling about as much as my 3-year-old does brushing his teeth at bedtime), let me issue a word of warning to those who are currently struggling with infertility: the rest of this post is going to piss you off. You’re hurting, frustrated, desperate for some solution that will result in a child for you to hold and call your own. The last thing you want is for someone who adopted and then got pregnant to get all preachy and talk about how there’s more to life than having a baby.
Some of what I’ll share about my emotions throughout last year might make you think I’m ungrateful for the two blessed boys God has given me, and unfortunately, that has been the case at times. I believe what I have to say is important for women facing infertility, but it is a tough pill to swallow (a heckuva lot tougher than my postpartum antidepressant), and I know I would’ve been less than receptive had I read this, say, right after our IVF debacle.
So if you’re at the point where the next pregnancy announcement on Facebook is going to push you over the edge, you might want to hold off reading the rest of this post until you feel ready to handle some harsh words from someone on the other side of Unplanned Non-Parenthood (cross-ref to previous post for other fun terms). If you’re up for reading more, I pray that this will in some way encourage you to persevere as God gradually reveals His purposes for your trials.
A staggering question
Now, getting to the heart of this already rambling post, let me take you back to last fall, after we moved to Oregon. We had survived the rough couple months of packing, traveling, crashing at various family members’ houses, and finally settling into our new home. Kids were sleeping fine, Colin’s job was well underway, and life in general was stabilizing after half a year of changes and challenges. Although the more severe postpartum issues had thankfully subsided by then, I was still as temperamental as a toddler and as sullen as an Emo preteen, all to the detriment of everyone else in the household, even our poor dog. One day, my wonderful husband, who is so good at encouraging me when I’m hurting and calling me out when I’m being ridiculous, asked me point-blank, “Jennifer, are you happy? Because you don’t seem happy.”
That question floored me. My immediate reaction was whatever the female equivalent is to a kick in the balls. It shocked me because in all the craziness after giving birth, learning to care for two kids, and preparing for the move, I hadn’t stopped to think about being happy or unhappy; I was just trying to survive.
As the shock of Colin’s question wore off, I got sucked into a whirlwind of introspection that ripped open some of the nastier parts of my thought life and revealed a terrible truth: I wasn’t happy. After years of heartache and disappointment, I had gotten what I wanted – two beautiful children, the experience of adoption as well as pregnancy, even the ability to be a full-time stay-at-home mom – and I wasn’t happy. What I thought would be fulfilling and enjoyable instead felt frustrating, exhausting, and tedious. I had wanted so badly to be a mother and devote my time to caring for my children, and now that that had happened, all I wanted was time for myself to take care of my own needs.
I thought being a mom would give my life purpose, satisfy my desire to help others; I thought being a mom would give me joy. While I knew I absolutely loved my kids and was thankful for their lives, I found the day-to-day task of being their mom far from rewarding, and the moments of happiness I derived from my maternal duties seemed so few and far between that I questioned if I should’ve kept working outside the home to dedicate my time to more gratifying endeavors.
Then came the guilt. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just be grateful for the many blessings God had given me and take pleasure in serving the children I once thought I’d never have? Why did I feel like I was losing more of my identity since becoming a full-time stay-at-home mom – the main role I’d wanted to play my whole life, the role I thought would define my identity? And what was wrong with my kids? Sure, they’re stunningly adorable, but they’re also fussy, disobedient, obnoxious, and impossible to control. Why couldn’t they be as happy as everyone else’s kids look like on Facebook, and thus make me happy?
A rewarding revelation
If you’re into numbers and counting like my eldest son is right now, you’ll notice that the terms “I,” “me,” and “my” were used 14 times in the preceding paragraph. Through this self-evaluation regarding my happiness or lack thereof, God convicted me about being entirely too focused on myself and conforming my overall outlook on life according to how my expectations were being met or unmet. In short, I was being selfish and discontent, and I really needed Jesus to help me rearrange my desires and relinquish my need for control.
Beyond the much-needed conviction about my self-preoccupation, the Lord had another vitally important insight for me to grasp, which is where my wannabe BFF Beth Moore comes in again. In the study, Beth drawls on and on about the opportunity and desperate need to meet with Jesus in “the secret” as described in Matthew 6:6: “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
That the Creator of the universe invites me to communicate with Him in a private, intimate way is an incredible truth to try to process in and of itself. Then there’s the fascinating part about a reward. The word “reward” is thrown around a lot in Christian conversations, and it’s an interesting term for me because of how people use it in connection with my infertility “journey” (another term I dislike). Getting pregnant was not a reward for adopting; my biological son was not a reward for my adopted son. From my perspective, neither Calvin nor Linus is a reward; both my sons are gifts given in the same manner as salvation: not as a result of my faithfulness, but by God’s grace alone.
Since I tend to be wary of reward-related discussions, I wasn’t sure where Beth was going with her emphasis on the Father’s reward in Matthew 6:6. But her words struck me so precisely, as to the most important lesson I was missing in the past six years of lows and highs and then lows again, that I feel compelled to repeat this quote from her study guide every day as a reminder of the true source of happiness and contentment:
“The best reward of all isn’t the stuff God has for me. The greatest reward is Him. Oh that I would fully dwell in Psalm 37:4: ‘Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.’ When I delight myself in the Lord, He rewards me with the delight of my soul: Himself.”
Amazing, isn’t it? God gives some pretty incredible gifts, but none as incredible as the gift of knowing Him. And even better – the reward gained from wanting to know Him more is enjoying Him more. This blew my whole quest for inexplicably unfulfilled longings out of the water and cleared my vision to see more of His reasons for the circumstances He had me undergo the past several years.
You see, I thought God wanted me to go through failed fertility treatments and procedures so that He could give me Calvin, and He did.
I thought God wanted me to get pregnant so that He could give us another son and give Calvin a brother, and He did.
I thought God wanted me to endure infertility and experience both the processes of adoption and pregnancy so that He could use me to encourage other women in similar situations through a ministry I would’ve never imagined I could participate in and be blessed by, and He did.
Beyond all these things, I now think God wanted me to walk through infertility, adoption, pregnancy, and postpartum depression so that He could show me that He is my life’s purpose; He defines my identity; He gives me unending joy.
A freeing truth
Finding fulfillment in Christ alone isn’t a new concept for me. Growing up as a church-raised, Christian-school-educated girl, the idea of contentment was hammered into my head continuously, and the value of knowing Jesus was rightfully lauded in various catechisms, devotions, sermons, and praise songs. Colin and I even had “In Christ Alone” played at our wedding. But knowing something to be true and actually experiencing it are two different things; for example, you can know that the Grand Canyon is a breathtaking marvel of nature, but not fully realize its magnitude until you see it in person. That’s how I feel about this Scriptural truth. I couldn’t know that Jesus alone could satisfy my deepest desires until my other desires were filled and I still came up short.
I don’t think this realization negates the pain and disappointment I suffered through infertility, or conversely, diminishes the happiness and pleasure I received from going through adoption and pregnancy. Those were real emotions and real experiences, and God carried me through them all. However, recognizing that He is my ultimate source of joy – my “reward” – helps widen the lens of hindsight to show more of His plans during those ups and downs of my life. This also grants me a fresh sense of freedom – freedom from the pressure I put on myself to enjoy every moment as a mom, and freedom from the pressure I put on my kids to fill my life’s longings – something they weren’t created to do.
This neat, far-from-concise lesson is all well and good now that I have two children and am not currently struggling with any major challenges. As I said before, I wouldn’t have read this post and received the message very graciously back when I was in the thick of hope-dashing fertility treatments. But I needed to hear this truth then and continue to need it today, and I pray that those who are waiting to become parents will have confidence that God will give them much more than what they’re aching for right now. Remember that whole “dating God” phase in recent Christian history, when some well-meaning but kinda silly girls declared, “Jesus is the only man I’ll ever need”? Think of it this way: Jesus is the only baby you’ll ever need. Or, to keep it simple and less awkward-sounding, Jesus is Whom you need.
As for my closet conversation with Jesus, that’s still ongoing. Ask me in a few weeks; I’m sure I won’t have this contentment thing figured out by then. But that doesn’t worry me. All relationships take time to build; all relationships go through ups and downs, and require investment to develop any sort of intimacy. And while I don’t always feel like I can find fulfillment in Christ, I know that He alone satisfies, and I need Him to help me see that and want that.
In his book “The Weight of Glory,” my all-time favorite author C.S. Lewis compares this aspect of the Christian faith to a student who at first submits to Greek grammar lessons only to escape punishment and get good grades, then gradually begins to enjoy his studies:
“The Christian, in relation to heaven, is in much the same position as this schoolboy. Those who have attained everlasting life in the vision of God doubtless know very well that it is no mere bribe, but the very consummation of their earthly discipleship; but we who have not yet attained it cannot know this in the same way, and cannot even begin to know it at all except by continuing to obey and finding the first reward of our obedience in our increasing power to desire the ultimate reward.”
Some may have assumed I found a happy ending to my infertility story once my two sons were born; I know I did. But since the ultimate happy ending won’t come until I’m reborn to a new life with my Savior in heaven, I’ll find joy in the meantime knowing and serving Him here, thankful for and happy with the life He’s given me.