It wasn’t that long ago that I was writing a small snapshot of our infertility journey. Now I sit with an ever enlarging belly, feeling a constant barrage of kicks from our unborn child, and it all seems so unreal.
Infertility causes you to feel a lot of things, and to question many others. There were moments when the news of other pregnancies caused me to be tearfully enraged, instead of joyful. There were moments when I questioned why God caused it to rain upon both the righteous and the unrighteous. It’s a tremendous roller coaster of emotions, and I thought the questions would end when we got a positive pregnancy test, but they didn’t. They’ve just changed.
We question often whether this is real life. Even seeing pictures on an ultrasound screen or feeling kicks doesn’t change this ever-foreboding feeling that we might just wake up and have this bit of good news be an elaborate dream. We question whether, after all our years of trying, we are actually ready for this big leap. It’s been just the two of us, and we’ve had a great time—will adding a tiny human completely ruin that, or will it change for the better? We ask how we will ever manage the crazy life of bivocational ministry and raising a baby. There is barely enough time to catch our breath now—will we just stop breathing when the baby comes?
But the biggest question is: what about everyone else who is still trying? What about those who have tried longer than us, tried harder than us, spent more money than us? What about those who aren’t balancing two careers and are financially more equipped to raise a family. Why are we pregnant, and they aren’t?
It’s almost like survivor’s guilt. We got out while others are still left wading through the waters and trying not to drown. Remembering all those tear-filled moments makes it hard to celebrate sometimes, and even harder to post belly pics that will cause others a deep pain, hard to send out shower invitations to people you love and want to see but fear the heartbreak such an event will be for them. Because we were there such a short time ago.
I told them congratulations, but that’s not what I wanted to say.
I remember one particularly painful moment when I got the news someone was expecting—someone I thought wouldn’t make the best parent—and I lost it. My shoulders shook with sobs of anger, frustration, and jealousy as I sat in my car in an Aldi parking lot. I remember texting my husband, “I’m just so angry right now. I told them congratulations, but that’s not what I wanted to say.”
A few Sundays ago, one of the Lectionary passages was Romans 12:9-21. It’s all about loving one another, about how to live in community and care for others. Verse 15 says “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” I told my congregation that it is very hard to rejoice with those who are rejoicing when they have what you want; or when you try to serve Jesus your whole life, and people who don’t do that get something you desire. But the reality is, that whole section of Scripture is difficult because living in community is difficult.
I am keenly aware that there are many around me who say congratulations to me through gritted teeth. Not out of hatred of any kind, but out of a deep sense of pain. It is hard to rejoice with those who rejoice sometimes, and I think that’s okay because living in community with others is incredibly messy work, and I am learning that it doesn’t matter what side of infertility you stand on: that work doesn’t magically get less messy. People are going to rejoice over things that we think we should have, and we are going to have a really difficult and painful time rejoicing with them. Yet that is what we are called to do.
This call to rejoice and mourn with others doesn’t just pertain to infertility, of course. It pertains to many things in life. This summer we had to put our dog down unexpectedly, and my husband said, “It’s unfair that we are good dog owners who love our dog, but she gets sick, while other people are horrible dog owners, and they get to keep their dogs.” It is unfair, and it’s incredibly hard. It’s difficult if someone gets a raise you wanted, or gets a position at work that you wanted, or gets a speaking gig that you just know you would have been better at. It is just really hard to rejoice with those who rejoice sometimes.
Still, we are repeatedly called to sacrifice our own feelings, to view others’ joys and concerns as equal to our own, to pray and care for our friends, family, and yes, even our enemies. This is often painful, heartbreaking work, as we desire to throw our hands in the air, throw a tantrum, and not allow anyone in. But the beauty of community is that it is not meant to be one-sided because, while we learn to rejoice with those who are rejoicing, they are learning to mourn with us as we mourn. When community is done well, there is space for our celebration as well as space for grief. We can learn, when we love one another well, to truly care for others with more regard for them than for ourselves.
I’m learning each day the art of rejoicing well, that hiding my joy doesn’t alleviate the pain of others, but also that rejoicing without regard for their grief is not what it means to live in community. We must hold space for each other. Space to celebrate, and space to cry. Space to party, and space to just be present. In the words of Romans 12:10, we must be devoted to one another in love.
It is the prayer of my heart that I learn to love others well. But I also pray that the community of the church can learn to love one another well too. That we can learn to truly be authentic with each other, both in our joy and in our pain. That we may learn to carry that which makes us happy and that which makes us mourn within each other’s hearts. Because when we do that, we not only become a greater community, we also learn to reflect Jesus just a little bit better too.