Empty Cradle

When the wedding day finally arrives, amidst the joyous chaos, there is usually one thing many brides and grooms will not openly admit thinking about…. a whole lot. That even as this important day rushes by, as the long boring speeches are being given, as relatives and friends dance in celebration and even as the bridal bouquet is tossed, thoughts of the night are usually lurking around. When the officiant’s foretelling that ‘the two shall become one’ would finally come to pass. When the marriage gets consummated. Especially, here in Africa, blame it on tradition whereby aunties and uncles put so much pressure on how ‘perfect’ the wedding night should go, hence throughout the wedding day, pressure on the newlyweds mounts in the form of curiosity, fear, excitement and what not. To the well-meaning relatives, the night needs to go well because that would result in grand babies coming soon. Well of course, most couples have other plans and so they choose to wait for a while, from a few months to a few years before starting a family. However, whether a couple agrees to start a family immediately or decides to wait, often times most do not foresee the fact that the decision may not utterly be in their hands. They do not psychologically prepare for that.

Hun and I were one of those. Since our joyous wedding celebration in early 2013, weeks have turned into months, months into years and the cradle remains empty. It is a roller coaster of a ride, some days harder than others. The initial months were the toughest for us, when it slowly dawned on us that conception may not happen naturally and that we may need help. A good number of couples who experience infertility, get stuck here. Staying in denial and hoping that whatever the problem is, it will resolve itself. That is a mistake. There are a number of known causes of infertility which are treatable. For example, one of the most common cause of infertility in women is presence of a hydrosalpinx, where one or both fallopian tubes are blocked and a simple non-invasive procedure corrects that. Other causes may not even require any procedures, just recommendation of supplements, a good diet and exercise.

Sometimes though, the journey may get more complicated than a few months on supplements or a minor key-hole surgery can address. It may call for explorations of other options. A couple may explore legal adoption, foster parenting where you take up the responsibility of raising a child and acting as a guardian as long as there is need but without legally adopting the child. Technology now even allows In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) where the woman’s eggs and the man’s sperms are harvested and fertilized externally and the embryo implanted in the woman’s womb or surrogacy which is similar to IVF, except that the embryo is implanted in another woman’s womb. It is important to educate yourselves from the available information resources; to find out what options are there, the pros and cons. Be proactive!

Infertility tremendously affects how a couple relates with each other and sometimes with the outside world. Interestingly usually in one of the two extreme ways. For one couple, it becomes the genesis of finger pointing and so much unhappiness resulting in constant strife. Yet for another couple, it leads to extreme bonding and thus intimacy. Hun and I are lucky to have become closer through this journey. This does not mean that we have it all figured out. We just never allowed infertility to define our marriage. I would like to share some of the things and attitudes that have worked for us, with couples out there that may be going through similar challenge:

1. Keep the faith. Seriously, keep the faith. Keep praying about it. Well, eventually you may stop making trips down the aisle for every alter call that is made in church for those with a ‘special need’, but still don’t give up. Hun and I keep naming and renaming our triplets (that is what I like to call them) We pray over their lives, for the kind of men and/ or women they will grow up to be. God honors faith. However, we have also been careful not to put God in a box. Perhaps our faith children will be adopted or via IVF or surrogacy, normal delivery or caesarian section. That, we have surrendered to God and have learnt to make plans very prayerfully.

2. Talk about it. I suppose, this is a great decider whether the infertility makes or breaks your relationship. Hun and I have never shied away from speaking about it, frank and honest conversations. We have created a safe space where we can each share what emotions we are going through. We explore solutions together. Some options are more palatable to one of us than to the other, and that is okay. Speaking about it keeps us on the same page. It makes the partner with the problem not feel alone nor feel guilty. Assurance and affirmation from the other partner goes a long way. It makes one feel that they are not a ‘broken piece’ after all. That they are whole, regardless. That it is not their fault.

3. Have a Support system. Obviously, as a couple you should be each other’s greatest support. No one else can fully understand what you are going through, even if they have gone through it themselves since dynamics differ from one marriage to another. Hun and I are very lucky to have a strong support system. We have never received any form of pressure from our families nor close friends. They don’t even say those well-meaning-but-hurtful-not-to-mention-useless statements. Our in-laws have accepted us and respected the need to give us space as we continue to deal with it, instead of meddling. Our families and close friends know how Hun and I are 101% children junkies so they give us the privilege of being in their children’s lives. Just this past mothers’ day, a close friend shared a Happy Mothers’ Day craft from one of her adorable children…. “you know you are also their mum” she said! Hun gets just-because handmade presents almost every other Sunday from a certain sweet little girl we know.
Unfortunately I know of many people who are not as lucky as we are and especially the pressure from in-laws becomes very depressing. My take on that is, first of all other people feed from you…… your attitude towards the situation determines whether people admire your grace, feel sorry for you because of the incessant victim-mentality whining, or dislike your company altogether because bitterness spews in every statement you let out. Secondly, as a couple you need to always present a united front. One should always be ready to stand up for the other before friends and family. Third, spend less time with those people who bring you down and more with those that lift you up. At the same time, do not isolate yourself and suffer in silence. You will be surprised to learn that there are so many couples around you going through the same situation. Sharing experiences with people who are on the same journey can be very therapeutic and a source of helpful information.

4. Celebrate the silver lining. As human beings we get caught up with the negative in our lives and get blinded to the good things. The missing tile. And no, it is not the same as denial. Being just the two of you increases bonding time and a couple can use this to enhance intimacy. Hun and I get to do the most spontaneous things. Sometimes we usually just up and leave to wherever. For over three years, it has been just the two of us in the house….. it gets so good we have to just keep checking it doesn’t grow to codependence. Having a lot of flexibility also enables us to serve together. We chose to live a purpose driven marriage, that for as long as we shall live we shall walk with and mentor couples. As much as it may probably not compare to the joy of having children, serving together and seeing marriages transformed has been a great source of fulfilment in our marriage.

5. Be happy for others. Not easy but can be done! Initially when we found out that we may be experiencing some problems in conceiving, I went through a faith crisis, as I like to call it. I tried to blackmail and manipulate God, take him on a guilt trip, be really angry at Him….. I thought Hun and I were more deserving than ‘some parents’: the assaulter, the negligent one, what about the one who did not even want the baby in the first place?….. Yap I went there! But God was clearly not moved by my tantrums, He was interested in the person He was molding me into. He wanted to exchange the self-righteous attitude for something better. And He did. A very old book from my Maid of Honor called “When Heaven is Silent” happened. It changed everything. Coincidentally the sermon series in Church for the next one month, titled “Unanswered”, was about the same, the times when God does not respond in the manner we hoped, or as timely…. then what? I learnt to resist asking why me….. which really means why not the other person; it helped me become genuinely happy every time I hear that someone is expectant because now more than ever I know conception, carrying the baby to term and having a safe delivery, is simply a miracle; it helped me become more compassionate about couples going through the same and now I have a list of ladies I call “Hannah” based on the character from the bible, that I regularly pray for and none of them even know about it….. well after this a few of them might know. I always rejoice whenever I have to knock off any of them from the list because they are with child.

For couples on this journey of hope and faith, desiring to start a family or expanding their families (in the case of secondary infertility), we may not have control over conception or ability to carry the baby to term, but as a couple we can choose whether we will let infertility ruin our relationships or not and whether we shall consider each passing mothers’ day and fathers’ day as the most awful days on our calendars. It does not have to be that way.


PS: This Article was originally posted on Arusi Guru Blog Page

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