Prologue: The years in the desert

I have had many opportunities to share our family’s story at remembrance events, workshops, coffee shops, and grocery store checkout lines. Ethan’s life, death, and the beautifully devastating aftermath and the ways God has shaped my heart through both have usually remained the focus. I often begin with the day that we discovered that I was pregnant with Ethan.

The truth is, the story begins years and years before this. There is a prologue to our story that has shaped so much of the proceeding chapters. There were three years of pain, longing, and expectation that led up to that day.

Our pregnancy with Ethan was a long-awaited answer to prayer and I savored every moment, each ache, every sick morning, and every contraction. I loved and cherished my pregnancy, despite how turbulent and risky it ended up being. Each day I marched forward feeling the full weight and reverence that comes with years of longing. Not one moment was wasted on me.   

I felt the weight of the countless times I had slipped to the bathroom to cry after yet another woman had announced her pregnancy.

I remembered the countless times I had smiled and desperately tried to brush it off when someone had innocently asked me when my husband and I wanted to start a family.

I remembered how helpless I felt when the doctors continued to poke me with needles and run countless tests, only to find that I was “healthy”.

I remembered the feelings of guilt and failure when the doctor told me that I would not likely become pregnant without costly fertility treatments.

I remembered the feelings of inadequacy as a wife and a lover.

I remembered the nights I felt like failure. I remembered the disdain I felt toward my body. 

I remembered how lonely it felt to walk through life appearing completely healthy, yet feeling so broken inside.

I remembered hearing about a friend’s miscarriage and feeling heartbroken for her, while simultaneously wishing that I could trade places with her—if only to know what pregnancy felt like for a few days, even if I were to experience heart wrenching pain later.

Today I still feel the weight and the reverence that comes from the years that served as the prologue to our story. Today I still feel such gratitude for the sacred experiences of carrying, laboring, and delivering Ethan, despite the heartbreaking ending that would follow. I am thankful for each day I carried him inside of me, each minute I had with him in my arms, and each moment of physical and emotional pain that came with it. It was an experience that I so desperately longed for. It is an experience that I so dearly cherish. Ethan gave me the gift of motherhood. He is the most beautiful and special person we’ve ever met.

It’s National Infertility Awareness Week and I’ve wanted to say something, but have been at a loss for words. My sisters with empty arms have been heavy on my heart because I know. I know the weight and the depth of a yearning heart.

August will mark two years since I first held my son in my arms and said goodbye to him 93 minutes later. Since then, we have said goodbye to two more babies. Once again, I have found myself at the receiving end of a diagnosis—this time, more severe than the first. At times it feels as if I have been led out of the desert, only to be led back again to wander.

I’m no expert, but there are some things I’ve learned over these last few years that have equipped me to reenter this season with hope. Hope looks much different than it did before—it is not hope in a physical healing, although I do believe that God can do this. It is hope and confidence that God has led me to this place for a purpose. He has chosen me, just as he has chosen you, to live in this place—this desert place—to have the greatest impact.

I’ve shared this before and I’ll share it again because it has been one of the most powerful pieces of encouragement I’ve ever been given. Shortly after we found out that Ethan's health conditions may be terminal, a mentor figure wrapped me in a tight hug and said, “No matter what happens, I promise you that God will not leave you empty handed.” In that moment she encouraged me to cling to hope that God loved me, despite how terrifying this journey was. She reminded me that He had good things for me, even if they did not come in the form of healing. This was the truth that I needed to hear. Not an empty promise that Ethan would "be just fine". I needed to be reminded that in this world, I may lose everything—but if I have Christ, I have everything.  With Christ, my arms are full.

Matthew 7:11, Jesus says,  “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Our Heavenly Father loves us. Like a loving Father, He will provide. He will satisfy. He will fill our arms with good things.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that God will provide us with an open womb, with biological children, or with physical healing. I confidently believe that He can—but I also know that he may have other plans that are still so good and so loving. He may fill our arms with something else—something so different than we could ever imagine, but still so very good.

For the first time in my entire life, I genuinely feel peace in the realization that I may never raise biological children. It’s not that I don’t care anymore—I do care. There is a corner of my heart that will always ache over all we’ve been through and all that is missing. There is a natural longing inside of me that will not die. But for the first time, I have such joy and excitement over a future that may not include another pregnancy. I have a sense of purpose and belonging, despite how unconventional my life has turned out. I know that I can still have a ministry and an impact, even if it is in ways that I never would have imagined. I know that my heart is exploding with love for my children, and that love has begun to multiply and spill out onto the world around me and I don’t want it to stop. If I never become pregnant again, I’m going to be okay—we’re going to be okay. 

Five years ago, I never in a million years would have imagined myself saying this. Today, I truly mean it.

If you’re finding yourself here today, know that it’s natural to desire pregnancy and there is no shame in joining Hannah and so many barren women in the Bible who cried out to God for children.  It’s okay if it hurts and it’s okay to question. It’s okay to cry when you see a newborn baby or to unfollow the friend who posts daily pregnancy updates. But when it gets really hard, I want you to remember that you have not been forgotten. You are not alone. Your Father loves you and will fill your arms with good things. You have purpose and have been placed in this very moment, in this very chapter, and in this very season for such a time as this.