by Elizabeth Chen Shiling
The season of Advent is approaching once again. For most Christians, this marks a period of anticipation and preparation, a time of hope and joy, as we prepare for the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ and His coming into our lives.
Ironically, Christmas is a time of deep anguish for a distinct group of people, couples who bear the invisible cross of infertility.
Infertility affects 1 in 6 couples, and most of us have either experienced it at some point in our lives or known someone who has gone through it. Yet, this cross is hardly spoken about, much less understood.
Today, my husband and I have our son. But it was not so long ago that I was curled up in bed on Christmas day crying my heart out while my husband could only look on helplessly.
My heart was breaking again, and it seemed as though my desperate pleas to God for the gift of a child have gone completely unheard and unheeded for yet another year. How much more pain and heartbreak could one bear?
The cross of infertility is one of silent pain and private shame. Hidden beneath the layers of carefully constructed smiles and air of nonchalance is a tumultuous blend of anger, shame, envy, despair and other conflicting emotions.
Questions such as “why me?”, “am I not good enough?”, “why can’t I be happy for them?” often torment couples struggling to conceive. During festive seasons such as Christmas, these confusing and conflicting emotions often escalate and break through the hardened layers of defence.
Why is that so? Two simple reasons.
First, the constant and unrelenting reminder of the gift of children; a gift that seems so out of reach for some.
In the malls, on the streets, on the TV and the radio, we see and hear families with little children, discussing their Christmas shopping, their holiday plans and enjoying the festive cheer. This is all right and well.
But for couples struggling to conceive, these very joyful activities and chatter are painful reminders of our hearts’ desire which seems so unattainable and far away. Living in a constant cycle of hope, disappointment and grief is incredibly tiring. Learning to get up and try again with each new cycle requires immense strength.
Guilt is also a familiar emotion associated with the struggles of infertility.
Couples trying to conceive know that Christmas should be about Jesus. We know that every child given to our friends and family are miracles from God which ought to be celebrated.
But knowing and accepting are two different matters. As hard as we try to share the joy, that hollow feeling remains deep within and we wonder if we are being hypocritical.
Second, the reminder that the year is coming to an end. Again.
The start of every year symbolizes a new beginning for most people. For couples struggling to conceive, there is often an added sense of anticipation and a subtle renewal of hope. We secretly wonder if this could be ‘the year’. That perhaps (just perhaps) it may finally be ‘our turn’.
But as the months go by, anticipation turns into disappointment, and hope morphs into despair.
When December approaches yet again, reality hits once more – but with greater force. It is yet another “fruitless” year and one more piece of us dies with the end of the year.
The desire to grow one’s family and bring forth new life is deeply embedded in our human nature.
The yearning for a child to love and to hold, can be so intense and ingrained in one’s being, that it may actually never leave you, not even for a moment. Someone once said that living with infertility requires one to learn how to live with a constant ache in your heart. How true that is.
Christmas will never be the same for me again.
As I hold on tight to our son this Christmas, I know I will be filled with immense gratitude for the gift of this precious little boy.
At the same time, my heart will continue to ache for the couples who are still awaiting this elusive gift of life.
To my brothers and sisters who are on this journey, I wish to say “I know your pain and you are never alone.” I feel your longing and your pain. I understand only too well the searing heartache and the unrelenting tears.
This Advent and Christmas, I will be praying fervently for every single one of you.
Wish to share your story with someone? Email Shiling at firstname.lastname@example.org. All stories will be kept confidential.