This post comes a bit late (although still within the liturgical season of Christmas) because my husband Andrew and I received some bad news during the Christmas season that has set us back on our heels. We have been trying for a baby for three years. This Christmas we discovered that not only do I have endometriosis, but I have a severe case requiring complex surgery. My gynecologist gravely informed us that he may not be able to save my ovaries.
We have been grieving, we are grieving and, to be honest, the season of Christmas is a crappy time to contemplate childlessness. Christmas is about a pregnancy. A miraculous pregnancy. Christmas is about a baby. Not only that, but our society has made Christmas into a season that is directed primarily at children. Almost every Christmas commercial contains a wide-eyed child waiting for Santa, or an excited child ripping into a gift. Christmas movies inevitably contain cute kids oozing “Christmas Spirit.” Believe me. I know. TV is no place to turn for distraction at Christmas – not if your problem is infertility. Nor is facebook a place of refuge these days. I have so many friends who are pregnant, or who have recently had babies, that sometimes all my news feed seems to contain is baby news. I’m happy for my friends. I really and sincerely am. And I want to hear their baby news. But for now, just for a time, I’m taking a bit of a break from their joy.
I can’t, however, take a break from the joy of Christmas. From the celebration of the Christ child. Not if I want to continue my journey through the Christian calendar. So my question this Christmas has been: “how do I celebrate the baby Jesus in the midst of potential barrenness?”
As I began to wrestle with this question (and believe me, although it sounds nice and clear and cold at this point – it started out as an emotional mess… and continues that way), I realized that there is something very wrong about the way in which we celebrate Christmas. It’s not actually about kids at all. Or, at least, not to the degree that we make it about them. Just because Christ came first as a child does not mean that Christmas is only for children. In fact, I think our focus on kids at this time of year has led us to sentimentalize Christmas. To make it less than it is. We somehow feel that, because the story contains a baby, it must be a simple one. A story easily explained to a child.
Don’t get me wrong – you should tell your children about baby Jesus in the manger every single Christmas. You should see your kids glow in anticipation of their favourite day of the year. But Christmas is not primarily about kids, and it’s not primarily for kids.
On the surface, it may seem like a simple thing to conceive a child. (Girl meets boy. Girl “lays with” boy. Girl gets pregnant. Girl has a baby.) But if we delve below that surface, something we tend to do only when we have difficulties, we find unimaginable complexity. There are hundreds of little bodily functions that need to fall in line for an egg to be fertilized and implant on a uterine wall. If even one of those functions fails, conception (let alone the birth of a healthy child) becomes unlikely, maybe even impossible.
On the surface, the Christmas story might seem like a simple thing. (Mary meets Joseph. Mary and Joseph become engaged but don’t “lay together.” Mary becomes pregnant. Wait. What?) It’s funny how we’ve learned to read this story by rote – skipping blandly over miracle after miracle, and seeing it as primarily a story for kids. Really? Try to explain the virgin birth to a three year old!
This story is anything but simple.
Mary is not representative of all other mothers. She alone had the experience of bearing a child that would also be her Saviour. King of kings. Lord of lords. God with his people at last. For the Christmas story, in its full telling, explains to us that God, the baby Jesus, is Friend to the weak and oppressed (the shepherds); that he is Messiah to those who have waited (Simeon and Anna); that he is King to the excluded (the wise men); that he is Trouble to the comfortable (Herod); and that he is Glory to the unremarkable (Mary). This baby is, in fact, God. God reaching out from his internal Trinitarian relationship, and welcoming the whole of the human race into that unity.
We rejoice, not just in the birth of a baby, but in God becoming part of his creation. We rejoice, not just at the swaying of a tiny fist in an animal’s feed trough, but at the chorus of angels proclaiming – at last – peace to humanity. We rejoice, not merely at the tiny stirrings and noises that a baby makes, but at the song of God that shakes creation. The song that will, one day, make all things new.
This is something I can celebrate. This is a reason to lift up my pain and rejoice.
Stacey, I too have severe endo, had my ovaries attached to things they weren’t supposed to be attached to (bladder surgeon had to participate in my second surgery). And, you well know that we decided (after six years of having some “bitterness” towards this young teenage virgin) that family would take on a different meaning. It was about six months later (we started fostering after 3 years of infertility – both of us with infertility issues) that we were asked to adopt the 3Ss and Claire. I never expected it to happen. And, I surely had made other plans.
Coming through the grief was the hardest thing I have ever done. I never expected a miracle to happen to us. I will pray for your grief, your loss, your healing. May the surgeon be more skilled than he thinks. Go GF. Use chastetree berry and Avena Sativa. Acupuncture. And I will pray with earnest for hope.
Stacey…tremendously sorry to hear your news, but your response here is amazingly profound. Blessings on you guys.
Thank you for sharing your grieving and your thoughts. They are so beautifully crafted, welcoming and encouraging.
I’m sorry, Stacey. I grieve with you. And I also pray with you. May you feel surrounded by His presence on this hard journey….
Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing this. Sarah and I have not had fertility issues, but are hearts have broken with friends we’ve walked alongside of and it would be so easy to withdraw and cocoon from the pain. I think the brokenness and fragility of the Christmas story sometimes gets swallowed up by Halmark.
Amen to that James. It’s easier to deal with things if we sentimentalize them. Isn’t it interesting that we don’t feel the need to do children’s pagents for any other biblical stories? Maybe it’s because the story is so fragile and unbelievably immense. If we make it into a kids story, we bring it closer and make it tamer.
Thank you for openly sharing. Pray for the peace of Christ in your life.
You are so brave. Thank you for sharing this very real pain and your struggle to rejoice in this season. Know that God uses your words to touch others and declare His glory.
My wife and I will be in prayer for you both. We had a time when it looked like having kids would not happen for us. Now we have three boys. We have a small inkling of what you might be feeling. We will pray. Thanks for sharing. You have a gift with words; you express deep truth so very clearly.
My heart goes out to you and your husband during this difficult time. I have not had fertility issues but I did lose a baby to miscarriage 3 years ago on Christmas Day. It was a hard time for us and I can relate to your sentiments of seeing all the pregnancies and baby news I everything around me. Take time to grieve your loss, and when the time is right look to God for guidance on what your next steps might be. In the meantime we will pray for the Gleddiesmith family.
I weep as I read your story, then rejoice as I read ‘the song of God that will . . . . one day, make all things new.’
Thank you for showing us the richness of your relationship with God, even from such deep sorrow.
Stacey, Profound words out of profound heartache. Praying for you both and thanking God for your gifts of writing and wisdom. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you all for your kind words, and especially for your prayers. I’m glad the post was meaningful. Christmas, with all the cultural weight of perfection that it carries, is a very difficult time for many.
Stacey, I feel like I could write a book in response to your post…I will pray for you as others prayed for me when I was diagnosed and had my surgery 7.5 years ago (hard to believe it’s been that long!) as I was getting ready to leave Regent and I pray that you will experience the unexplainable peace of God that he will be with you no matter what happens–whether you keep or lose your ovaries.
I too have found this a very difficult season as we troubleshoot why we are not getting pregnant in the midst of the birthing story and found your words and reflections a comfort. Thank you for writing about something so deeply personal.
Peace be with you,
Thank you for this, Mollie. I’m so glad my words were a comfort to you, and thank you for your prayers. I’d rather not walk this path – but if I have to, I’m glad I have such good company. Blessings as you continue to troubleshoot.
Thank you so much for your vulnerability Stacey. We have had quite a few friends who have struggled through infertility and I know that for them it is/was such a painful experience. I can only imagine it is intensified during the Christmas season. Know you are both in our prayers!
Stacey, thank you for articulating your situation and the pain it brings, especially in the season the news was received. I am thinking that the last Christmases since you have been hoping to conceive have been somewhat troubling for the reasons that you discuss. The result of your visit with your surgeon, the day after your birthday, has given you the need/courage to put those thoughts up front and in writing so that they could be sorted. This is a huge event in your grieving this potential loss. It calls so many more of us into your prayer circle. Uncle Pete and I grieve with you and Andrew. Know that we are praying for a miracle(s) that will bring peace and joy to your hearts.
Love Aunt Bette
Oh, Stacey. Hugs and tears and prayers.
Thank you Stacey… in the midst of your deep pain you have articulated so well the heart of Christmas. I am reading James M. Houston’s Letters of Faith through the Seasons. Here is part of a letter written (edited slightly) by Charles de Foucauld… he wrote it as though Jesus were writing to him. I was born, born for you in the cold, homeless, in the middle of a night, in the unheard-of-poverty of the extremely poor, in solitude, in an abandonment unique in this world. What, my children do I want you to learn from my birth? To believe in my love, to believe that I have loved you until now. To hope in me, who have loved you so dearly.
Beautiful. Thank you for sharing that Lucille. “An abandonment unique in this world.” What a powerful phrase – and what a God in which to place our hope!
[…] me to use a personal example. I am currently, as mentioned in a previous post, struggling with the possibility of infertility. Viewing lament and praise as opposites would lead […]
Beautifully written. We too have been on this journey nearly three years and were told last week that there is very little hope. But with Christ as our King not only is there hope, there is the surest promise hat one day there will be no more tears and no more pain ( Rev 21). Many blessings to you x x
Thank you Rachel. And may God work out your call to parenting one way or another.