How I started to look beyond the pain of infertility

I deeply struggled to accept infertility after my hysterectomy.

Not quite 30 years old, I elected to go under the knife once again. Two cases of colorectal cancer were enough. Although I hadn’t received the “official” diagnosis yet – doctors suspected I had Lynch syndrome which meant the next target for cancer was my female organs. If I could prevent another cancer occurrence, I was determined to do so. The 18-month-old baby girl crawling all over me who we’d adopted just a year prior was major motivation to stay healthy.

Yet in light of, maybe even despite of, the reasonable explanations for the surgery, it hurt. Going in for the procedure brought pain I’d not yet known. Physically, it was one of my easier surgeries. But emotionally, I could hardly cope with the final farewell. It was like facing an invisible grave in a situation that received no condolence cards or quiet procession. My female body would never, ever give birth to a child.

Praying for the Miracle

I’d received the surprising and unfortunate news that infertility would likely be an outcome of my cancer treatment at age 17. I’d undergone a procedure that suspended my ovaries into my abdomen so I could receive radiation for stage III colon cancer. The surgery had saved the natural hormone function of my ovaries, yet it put a wrench in family planning. I knew from that day on, getting pregnant would be a challenge – if not impossible.

But even as a high school junior, I had a strange peace about it. As a child, I’d dreamed of adopting a baby. When it looked like adoption would be my only path to parenthood, I embraced it. I felt fortunate to go into my marriage fully aware of my infertility struggles. But… I’d also been told pregnancy was “possible but not probable.”

I can still picture myself sitting awkwardly in the gynecologist’s examination chair, the paper beneath me crinkling up each time I shifted to make sure my boob wasn’t hanging out of the hospital gown. It was the doctor’s nonchalant comment that found its way into my heart:

“You never know… miracles happen every day.”

I didn’t realize how much I hoped for that miracle until I was in another hospital gown many years later undergoing a procedure that would permanently kill that dream.

Painful Surrender

I could hardly put words to the pain, nor did I find it safe to vulnerably express the emotions that followed my hysterectomy for a long time. I tried with a few trusted friends, but even I didn’t understand the full extent of my suffering for quite awhile.

There’s no way I could have… not with the inner critic in my head telling me to get over it and be thankful I wasn’t dealing with cancer again. The thoughts of jealousy, anger and remorse were afraid to turn into words. The pressure to appreciate our adoption story and cherish the baby in my arms didn’t allow for grief. How could I be sad with such a huge blessing?

So I followed that critic’s demands for a long time. Until one day, I couldn’t anymore. In a moment of total surrender, I didn’t care about the ugly cry. I was an upset, barren woman with no chance of an Old Testament-style miracle. The lump in my throat was painful. The tears burned as soon as they hit the corners of my eyes.

But I’d finally reached my breaking point. I couldn’t stop crying.

Look Beyond

I’d love to tell you that I let myself cry for a little bit and then I stopped, stood up and everything was better. Or that I faced the pain for a few more weeks and then it went away. But infertility doesn’t work like that (or any situation involving loss). Grief is a process that often feels as predictable as Kansas City weather. And let’s just say it recently snowed three consecutive Sundays in April around here.

Yet as I have cycled through the emotions of grief and let myself journey through infertility, I’ve also reconnected with the same peace I first felt when I was told I’d likely be infertile. It’s as beautiful as the springtime tulips blooming this week. How it’s survived, I still don’t know.

Do I wonder what my biological children would have looked like? Sure, sometimes. Do I mourn that I never got that chance to be pregnant? Yes and no. But I do believe there’s a divine reason I’m a barren woman? Absolutely. I have accepted it as my path, and that has brought me peace.

The faith that’s gotten me through this so far says to look beyond what I can see. It draws me into the world of unseen – a place where bad can turn into good, death can mean birth and barren can actually bring forth life.

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