When Grief and Faith Collide

About a year ago, OH and I went back to the church where we were married for the first time. I forget the exact date, or where we were on our journey to conceive, but we were definitely making the arrangements. Perhaps we’d just had our first appointment with the consultant, or had booked that appointment, or maybe we were choosing our donor. It was an emotional experience to walk back down the aisle hand in hand and know that soon we would be starting a family.

During the service, a picture came into my head as if from nowhere. I was holding a baby boy in his christening gown. Well, I believed he was a boy, although you couldn’t tell from looking at him. He had blonde hair and blue eyes and a little eczema on his face, and he looked for all the world as if he belonged in OH’s family. I felt sure that this was my son. Had that vivid mental image come from God? Was it prophetic? At the time, I thought it might be. Now I’m not so sure.

So far I’ve resisted blogging about the impact my miscarriage and difficulties conceiving have had on my faith. I’m ashamed, I suppose, of not being a ‘better’ Christian who never doubts or rages or tries to bargain with God. And I don’t want to alienate my non-religious readers, who might not relate to any of this or may even think I’m completely off my trolley. But I feel compelled to speak out about the reality of pregnancy loss and fertility problems, and for me, wrestling with God is a huge part of it. This, then, is a post about what it’s like to be Christian and infertile, and above all a question: what do you do when you thought God was telling you something, but it doesn’t come to pass or no longer makes sense?

In the weeks leading up to our first treatment, I felt exceptionally close to God. I’m struggling to write this paragraph now because it’s painful to remember how happy I was, and because there’s more background than I can explain here. But basically I had trusted God through coming off my antidepressants in preparation for pregnancy, through mood swings and heightened anxiety and the resurfacing of old behaviours, and I remained well. I had trusted God in leaving my therapy group and in looking to Him to help me with my remaining issues. I asked him to teach me how to trust, to relinquish my need for control, to learn to cope with being let down, and I could see real progress after so many months of languishing in therapy. When I faced an issue, I would go somewhere quiet to pray and the answer, the best way forwards, would come to me. It was exciting and I really felt that God and I were on the same page, that we wanted the same things for my life.

When I thought I was having a very early miscarriage, it didn’t affect my faith. I was grieving, but as before in my life, I was able to draw comfort from God. On the Sunday I made an effort to go to church even though we were in another country. The priest introduced a baby to the congregation and I cried and they felt like healing tears. I thought the pregnancy was over, it was sad but very common, and we’d be able to try again soon.

But as the pregnancy dragged on, non-viable and incomprehensible, I begged and pleaded with God to stop torturing me. I didn’t normally ask for specific outcomes in my prayers, just the strength to cope, but surely these were special circumstances? Surely He would hear me and ease my suffering. Yet still, my hCG levels continued to rise too slowly. I stopped praying. I couldn’t even pray for others because I believed God didn’t listen, not to me. And church was torture. I remember having to look happy through my tears at Harvest Festival and singing, “Can we know that thou art near us / And will hear us? / Yea, we can!” I rewrote the last line in my head and it wasn’t pretty.

Slowly, slowly, I came through it. I asked others to pray for me and I prayed to the saints (even though I’m not Catholic). I learned about my condition, pregnancy of unknown location or PUL, and could make a little more sense of things. I read Jennifer Saake’s book Hannah’s Hope on infertility and miscarriage, which was extraordinarily helpful. I let go of what I wanted enough to ask God simply to help me cope, and I began to notice the good things that had come out of the situation: how I was letting OH comfort me (normally I try to be the strong one), how the loss of my baby was miraculously healing my relationship with my sister, how I was softening and becoming more tolerant towards others. And most strikingly, while I was still pregnant I had another vision of that baby boy. This time I could feel him in my arms, the caress of his flailing hands on my face.

Let’s fast-forward a little to our second cycle of IUI. By now I was back to my usual prayer routine, my relationship with God mostly healed, even though we had also suffered further setbacks: a delay in my referral for an HSG and a treatment cancelled when I ovulated too soon. But this time I was filled with hope. On my blog I hedged my bets, saying, “I’m sure God is telling me I will have a child – He just doesn’t say when or how.” That wasn’t entirely honest; it was how I had felt immediately after the cancelled cycle, but in fact I was becoming more and more convinced that this was The One. And I knew I might be being stupid, so I sat down and prayed about it. I let go of all my conviction that I would be having a child in November – that took a lot of courage – and for a moment I was empty and grey, but then I felt hope rushing in, yellow, like the sun. And I was certain it did not come from me.

So what do I make of it all, now that the second cycle hasn’t worked and the third not either?

I realise that I have been trying to control the uncontrollable by looking for signs and imagining I know what’s going to happen. After our second IUI, I raged at God for a bit but I soon relented and prayed for help. I asked Him to help me see the good things in my life, because I just couldn’t. Over the course of that day, they came to me – my OH, my career, my sense of humour, my beautiful niece, even the state of our finances (our budget is very tight because of fertility treatment, but we have enough to live off and won’t be too affected by the government cuts for now). I asked Him to show me the way forwards and I understand I had to just trust in His timing and not try to control the process. No more bargaining with God, no more lucky toilet cubicles in the fertility clinic, no more reading too much into the magpies near our house. That’s why I went into the third cycle of treatment with no expectations and why I was disappointed, not devastated, when I didn’t get pregnant. I still cried and I’m so fucking sick of crying and waiting but at least I’m not being torn apart.

The problem is that since then, I’ve been feeling more distant from God. I’m mostly not angry with Him, just dispassionate. I think one reason for this is that since I can’t control my fertility, I’m focusing on those things I can (mostly) control: our bank accounts and our house. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to stick to a budget or declutter and decorate – in fact, we need to do both those things to prepare for a baby – but it’s all about me, not God. I’m relying on my own resources and setting my own goals precisely because I need to feel in control on this turbulent journey. The other reason is, how can I know what God wants me to do and what he’s telling me? Either that burst of sunshine hope didn’t come from Him, or I misinterpreted it. Was it my imagination, or was he saying there’s hope in the long run? And was the baby in the visions fictitious, or a child I’m going to have, or even (it has occurred to me) the child I’ve already lost? I can no longer trust messages that I think are from God and I can no longer trust my own interpretation, so how do I pray now?

I’m sure there are no easy answers to those questions, and I don’t expect answers. What I wanted to do with this post is simply reach out and share my experience. Maybe others out there have been or are going through something similar, and maybe we can help each other. I haven’t lost my faith and I haven’t lost my sanity (in fact, that’s something else amazing that came out of my miscarriage – not relapsing) but these are very challenging times and I don’t want to walk the journey alone any more.

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12 thoughts on “When Grief and Faith Collide

  1. My heart hurts for you.
    I think that maybe at times like this when your head is full of emotion and confusion then that’s the time that other people take over prayer for you. Intercessory prayer is when those who care about you and are moved to pray talk to God on your behalf, asking Him to hold you, comfort you, bring you hope. I am convinced that God understands that sometimes we have no words and only a mustardseed of faith and He’s Ok with that. It’s not as if He only answers prayer when He is impressed with the words used or the number of times we pray it. If you can’t pray, rest in knowing that other people are.
    Standing with you and praying for you.

  2. Interpreting signs is always hard, because our hope clouds things. I often feel like our walk with God is a walk in the dark, and our hope and faith in him the only light. How to know what God is saying to us is a question I don’t have the answer to, and I often wish that a voice would come from the sky and say, You there! God says do this! He will do that if you do! but that doesn’t happen, at least not to me.
    I don’t have any answers, just that life in this world is uncertain, even a life of faith. And sometimes we can desperately wish, believe something will happen, and things might not happen the way we hope. That’s not to say that I don’t believe God will give you a child, but that anything can happen, and it might come when all hope seems lost.
    Remember that raging at God is not a sin – the Psalms are wonderful to me because we see David pouring out his complaint to God, saying Why are you not helping me? Have you forgotten? Keeping the faith, as David does, affirming that we love and believe in a God who loves us and who helps us, while we still rage at what we don’t understand, is fine. I think God would prefer that we talk to him – even if it is to shout and kick against the pricks, rather that than silence.
    It may seem completely hollow now, but I try to remember that God has a plan for us, to heal and not to harm, a plan to give hope and a future as it says in Jeremiah. I tell myself that even when circumstances mean that I find it hard to believe it.
    You and OH are in the prayers of many, including me. May God hold you in his arms during times of pain.

    • Thanks. I wrote more about uncertainty in my reply to chananth below, so I won’t repeat myself, but your comment has been really helpful too. And I love the Psalms, because I can relate to them so much. Definitely my favourite book in the Bible. I’m trying to keep talking to God. Thanks so much for your prayers. x

  3. At New Year I had emergency surgery for a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. I lived, which I am abundantly grateful for. But my baby is gone, and the skies seem silent. I call that baby “My Little One”, and though others sometimes say, “well I suppose it wasn’t really a *baby* yet”, to me they were mine, my child who I will never know or hold, yet I will love.
    In that pain and loss, the Christian rhetoric only angers me. “God is good!” they proclaim. “God is faithful!”, “God works for the good of those who love him!” and other such biblical misquotes.
    What I’ve come to realise is, God can handle my anger and my doubts and my questions. In fact, I think he relishes it. He – apparently – wants to know me. Well, here you go then, God, because this is me in all my bitter glory!
    Thanks for writing this blog – comfort in numbers, or something.

    x

    • I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve been through pregnancy loss too. They don’t know whether mine was ectopic or not, but it resolved naturally – it must be horrible to need an emergency procedure that results in the loss of your baby.

      I agree with you that God can handle anger, doubts and questions. I feel it would be better if I didn’t get angry with God, but maybe that’s not realistic. Some Christian rhetoric can be really unhelpful, especially if it comes from people who don’t really understanding suffering, or find it less scary to believe that bad things don’t happen to ‘good’ Christians.

      Thanks so much for your comment. I’m glad that I was able to reach out to someone in a similar situation.

  4. My heart breaks for you. While I haven’t had a miscarriage, I know how disappointing a failed cycle can be. I also firmly believe that God is omnipresent. He never leaves us in our times of anger or sadness or sorrow. I do believe that God shows us signs. Perhaps this vision of your baby boy was sent to you as a sign that you will find motherhood in one form or another. I don’t know God’s plans but I do have to believe that he will grant you the child you so desperately seek. As I am going through this same process, hope and faith are all I have left. Rage when you need to rage and cry when you need to cry. Everything is part of the same process. Please know that you both are in my prayers. Wishing you peace and sunshine. Take good care of yourself.

    • Thanks. I hope I will find motherhood in one form or another. At the same time, facing the reality that I just don’t know right now is hard. Thanks so much for your prayers and wishes, and I’m thinking of you on your journey to parenthood too.

  5. Thank you all so much for your comments. I’ve had a really fantastic response to this post here, on Facebook and even in RL. I will respond to you all individually when I can but in the mean time I want to say I really appreciate everyone’s input and support, and I’m thinking of those of you who have had or are having similar experiences. x

  6. I’m sorry that you’re struggling with all this. I think sometimes we can want something so much and be hoping so hard that it can cloud how we interpret things – maybe it just doesn’t quite work like that in terms of messages being quite so ‘direct’, if that makes sense. I guess having ‘faith’ is just that – having faith despite not knowing, not having control, not being sure what is being said, despite the uncertainty. Being vulnerable and just letting that be. Maybe it’s somehow knowing that it will be ok and you will be ok even though you don’t have the answers.

    I’m not sure how much help I can be with things like this – my faith and understanding of spirituality is quite different to yours. I’m trying not to comment on this too directly from my understanding as I’m not sure it would be helpful, it might be too difficult to explain without causing misunderstandings, and despite me seeing the similarities (or perhaps parallels would be a better word) it could easily come across as seeming to be coming at this from perspectives that are too different! But anyway. In trying to keep it ‘vague’ enough I hope it doesn’t lose everything in translation.

    Thinking of you. x

    • Thanks for that reply – obviously this isn’t my post so it’s not entirely for me to say but personally I found that answer helpful, and brave, actually.

      I don’t know if my email address is visible at all but if so and if there was more you would have said if you hadn’t been worried about differences in outlook etc, then I’d love to hear it.

    • That’s really helpful, thank you. I know in many ways our spirituality is very different, but what you’ve said about faith is spot on for me. Faith is not about knowing beyond all doubt, it’s about believing despite the doubt. I’ve always said that when it comes to questions such as: does God exist? are my religious beliefs correct? etc, but I hadn’t thought about how that might extend to my understanding of what God has planned for me in my life. I suppose because that’s such an emotive area for me and as you say, desperately wanting something can cloud our interpretation. And it’s one thing being comfortable with uncertainty in broad theological issues, and quite another coping with uncertainty in a very personal and (currently) painful area of my life. As you know, I hate uncertainty and being out of control – what am I doing with this faith business again? 😉

      Seriously, thanks so much for your comment, and if you want lovefromowl’s email address (I can see them all as the blog owner), just let me know. x

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