With Arms Still Empty: A Letter to the Woman Struggling on Mother's Day (feat. Amanda)
I wonder if you ever thought you'd be here.
If you ever imagined that such a sweet holiday would conjure up such a bittersweet taste. I wonder if you've walked this path before, full of half hearted smiles that don't reach your eyes and hands balled into fists beneath your sweater. I wonder if you feel invisible as you sit in the church pews and all the mothers are called to the front to receive a flower or a handmade gift from one of their children. I wonder if anyone notices when you slip out the back door to cry into your hands inside the little church bathroom stall.
I wonder who you are. Or where you are. And what we could learn from each other as we both face a day that stirs up such a tidal wave of emotions.
Maybe you're like me, inching closer to the edge of the cliff that represents trying to conceive with severe vaginismus. Your mind is racing as you wonder what new, unseen obstacles lay ahead on this road to a sweet baby to hold. Maybe you're in the middle of months filled with OPKs and syringe kits that cost upwards of $60 with a one time use. Maybe you have another IUI coming up soon, and your stomach knots at the idea of going through the pain and discomfort while the procedure happens for the second, third, fourth time. Maybe you're in your 2nd or 3rd year of physical therapy, still gritting your teeth and working through muscle pains so that a natural conception and birth will be a possibility.
Maybe you wonder if you would've been a mother by now, had vaginismus not been your burden to bear.
I once told a sweet (and well-meaning woman) about my struggle with vaginismus, and her first response was, "Well, at least you won't have to worry about accidentally getting pregnant!" Little did she know that I sobbed over those words on my drive home. The "guaranteed birth control" of severe vaginismus is never a plus; it's never an "up side". Oftentimes it’s one of the deepest, darkest sources of pain.
I'm reminded of that brief exchange today. My mind is filled with thoughts and emotions all wrapped around the idea of children and birth and pregnancy. This is the first time that mother's day has caused such a swell of emotions. I never imagined severe vaginismus would be part of my story. I always thought I'd be a mother by now. Coming to this day on the calendar, still surrounded by treatment plans and physical therapy rather than diaper bags and tiny fingers and toes is a unique type of pain.
For those of us still in the waiting period, with lips pressed tight in unspoken prayer and arms longing to be filled, this day presents a unique chance to lean on the Lord. In the Psalms, David pens, "And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in You." (Ps. 39:7). I have the word "hope" engraved on a gold bar necklace that I now wear every day. It reminds me that hope is indeed real, and that it rests in the hands of the unchanging God. On this day when so much of what we celebrate can remind us of what we still don't have, what a precious thing hope is.
But I know that hope doesn't necessarily take away the pain. The grief still exists. And I do believe there is a holy way to grieve the loss of natural conception or pregnancy in the way/time we wanted it.
In times like these, I try—and still often fail—to meditate on the idea of different journeys. In a time when I feel "less than" compared to the mothers or expectant mothers around me, I need to remember that my journey to motherhood will be different, and that’s OK. The Lord hasn’t called me to have her pregnancy story, or her marriage/childbirth timeline. He’s called me to this path, this motherhood journey.
It’s also in these moments that the Lord reminds me that the hope of all things is in Him. In His words, which were graciously given to us in the form of the scriptures. We see women in the Bible who longed and pleaded and begged for children. We see women who sought one road for themselves but obeyed the Lord’s call when He placed them on another. It’s in stories like these that we not only find a sense of relation, but a sense of purpose and promise. God does not leave us alone in this unique pain. He is present in every tear and every forced smile. He is there when we cry in our cars over seemingly insignificant comments or alone in the bathroom after failed treatments or attempts.
He is with us on Mother’s Day, when our arms ache for children who only exist in our innermost hopes and dreams. And His arms are sanctuary. What a loving King we serve.
Along this rocky and grace-filled journey, I’ve had the privilege of meeting some amazing women. One of whom has already written for the blog, and has a spot here as our site photographer and co-author. Hearing her heart as she also walks through vaginismus and a desire for children has been such an encouragement to me. We went through the “Longing for Motherhood” bible study together and were able to connect and flesh out some of these painful and multilayered feelings that surround vaginismus and fertility. As soon as I knew I wanted to write a post for Mother’s Day, I knew I needed Amanda as a co-author. She’s graciously taken time to write words of encouragement for all of us still waiting, to point us to Jesus in times of struggle and heartache. I hope you benefit from her words as much as I have:
Trust is a daily decision we make. Does the idea that loving God means giving everything to Him make you cringe a little inside? Me too. Psalm 37:4 is a verse often quoted to assure us God has our best interest in mind. Maybe we’ve been told that if we desire a spouse, He’ll give one to us. Or we want a child, so He’ll provide. And we wind up in our 30’s single or childless and wonder where He is and why He didn’t show up for us that way. Why do I have the desire to have a child when, for 7 years of my marriage, that wasn’t even physically possible?
I’m not sure anyone has the exact answer to these questions, but we do live in a fallen world where bad, painful, and unjust things happen. And so, God has asked me to surrender to Him things that I don’t want to give up. It can cause me to strive with Him in an attempt to keep a grasp on what I want because, deep down, I can’t stand the thought of giving up complete control. Psalm 107:9 says that He is the one that satisfies the longing soul, Proverbs 30:15, 16 reminds me that He understands my sorrow. God is able to handle all of it; all the anger, frustration, disappointment. He wants to be the solid rock we can cling to when life’s waves get too high. It can be hard to believe sometimes, but God is good: still good. Still good through the heartache, still good through the tears, still good through the failed attempts, and He can still be trusted. When I need to be reminded, I frequently turn to music. Shane and Shane’s version of “King of My Heart” is my favorite right now.
Allow yourself to be swallowed up in the endlessness that is God’s goodness. He’s got you; He’s with you, and He’s not going to leave you.
Jamie & Amanda