Sunday, January 30, 2011

faith and infertility

I have been tossing around the idea of writing this blog entry for a while, but I have been hesitant to do so. I tend to avoid topics that may cause controversy because, in all honesty, I am not really a confrontational person. I definitely stand up for what I believe, but I am not one to seek out a heated argument/discussion. I do not thrive on such discussions, I find them horrifying and try to get out of the as soon as possible. That being said, I am really not trying to start a debate by writing this post. Instead, I just have some thoughts that I need to put down and this is the best outlet for that. Now that I've hyped up this post far more than I intended...

The topic that I have been wanting to write about is the idea of God having a plan for my life or, more specifically, the idea of infertility being a part of that plan. This has been a huge discussion point in my Master's class lately and it really stirs up a lot of emotions for me. You could say it all started when I saw a counselor following my layoff and simultaneous infertility diagnosis in June/July/August 2009. I decided to see this particular counselor because the company for which I worked would pay for up to six sessions as a part of my layoff package and because all the other "benefits" were so pitiful, I decided to take advantage of some free counseling. Because I worked for a Christ.ian organization, the counselor they provided was also Christ.ian. Going in to counseling with her, I was excited to see what it would be like to muddle my faith with my mental health. I had high hopes for our sessions. The first two sessions were mainly background info and assessment results, but on our third meeting we were able to get into the "meat" of what brought me there. I talked a little about my feelings regarding being let go from my job and the unfairness of that, but I wanted to focus primarily on my new reality; that MBL and I were going to struggle to get pregnant. I needed to talk through my fears and anxieties related to IF and how it was affecting my relationship with MBL. Not even five minutes into the topic change this counselor said to me, "Well, maybe you need to consider the possibility that God didn't mean for you to have children." Typing that sentence brings up all the emotions of that day, my heart has simultaneously jumped into my throat and fallen out of my body. I don't remember my response, but I'm pretty sure I mumbled my way through the rest of the session and then cried all the way home. I vowed never to return to her. Even if she believed that God didn't want me to have children, is that really something she should say to a new client during their third session?? Probably not. Her statement fueled a new search for me; a search to see what scholars and other Christians had to say about bad things happening to good people (and, yes, I believe that I am all in all a pretty good person and that infertility is a bad thing that happened to me).

I suppose I should be thankful that her ignorant and out of line statement caused me to dig deeper into my own faith, but I'm still pretty pissed about her response to my infertility. What I have found since then, however, is that she is not alone. Mel, over at Stirrup Queens, has written about this a few times. That when people don't know what to say or how to respond to a painful situation, they sometimes say what they think would give them comfort. Now, I don't know what the motivations were behind that counselor's statement, but I do know that infertility is awkward. Most people do not know how to respond unless they themselves have been through it or know someone who struggles with it. I cannot honestly say that before my own journey with IF, I would have had the perfect response, but I sure as heck would not have said what she said. I think what bothers me most is how often our response to other people's difficulties is, "It's all a part of God's plan." Or some variation of that. I have heard that said to someone who lost a child at birth, to a fellow IFer diagnosed with cancer right before TTC #2, and to a former coworker who discovered her husband was cheating on her with her sister in law. And, truthfully, I have a problem with that statement being used in those situations. And I have a problem using it for my own situation and struggle with infertility.

As I finish up my Master's in Counseling at a university, use of that statement has been brought up for discussion twice over the last three weeks. My classmates have discussed whether or not it is appropriate to say it in a counseling session and through several dialogues with them I have figured out why that statement bothers me so much. Like I said earlier, I do not think that people say it to be malicious, I think they do not know what to say and they think bringing "God's plan" into it will comfort the person who is suffering. The problem with that assumption is that telling someone what is within "God's plan" is just plain presumptuous. I have absolutely no problem with someone sharing a difficult time in their OWN life and then concluding that they realized how it was a part of God's plan for their life, but I do have a problem with someone dictating to me what God's plans are for my life. Maybe I will reach that conclusion on my own, but maybe I won't. Maybe I will instead conclude that sometimes absolutely horrible things happen to perfectly wonderful people and sometimes really fantastic things happen to perfectly nasty people and that I am too finite to understand it all. And the fact that I believe that latter should be okay.

Kelly over at this blog put my thoughts on it into a beautiful statement. She said, "...because I truly believe that God has a plan for my life. I do not believe that God plans out miscarriages, loss, and infertility, but I do believe that He sees us through them if we give him the reins." That is my personal belief on infertility in my life, but I would never force that on someone else. I think we all need to come to our own conclusions about the hard things we face. I have no problem with how other people view their own difficulties, I just think that when responding to other people's pain/suffering we need to be extra cautious and sensitive. Sometimes we may not know what to say and that is okay, a simple "I am so sorry" goes a long way. I think as humans, and especially as women, we want to have the perfect response, but that's not always possible. We need to accept that and work from there. And I guess that's all I'm really trying to say.

(I want to say that this post is not directed at anyone in particular--well, except for that counselor--I have been blessed with people in my real life who have allowed me to process my emotions in my own time and come to my own conclusions without judgment...I can only hope that all my IF friends out there have been given the same.)


  1. Wow - beautiful post. Beautifully written, beautifully articulated. You just said everything that I believe to be true. We never know what God's plan is until we've lived through it... it might take days, weeks, years, decades to be able to look back and think, "okay, I see how the plan executed within in my life." You can choose to be happy or bummed about it, but it's all a plan that's way out of our hands.

    Thanks for such a lovely post.

  2. wow, great post. As you know I am a therapist and, although I am not christian or trained in spiritual counseling, I am having a hard time figuring out how any counslor, let alone person, would say that. In my training as a psychologist, we learn that you always need to ask yourself why are you say or doing something and need to make sure that your words/actions are in the best interest of your patient. Those words were not in your best interest and i am sorry they were said to you.
    I am not a very spritual person and living in a world where bad things happen to good people all the time (and good things happening to bad people) makes me spiritually more confused.
    thank you for sharing your thoughts with us....

  3. Amen.

    I have thought of a similar post as this to try to answer the "why" of my infertility. Is God mad at me? Did I do something wrong? Is this His "plan" for me? I sure hope not, but I really don't like it when people tell me that it might be "the plan". Like they have any idea.

    Thanks for bringing this up. You are not alone in this. And that counselor should have thought twice.

  4. You are an inspiration. I've nominated you for a blog award! Check it out!

  5. I am so happy that there are women and men who will seek out a Christian counselor and will find you.

  6. That's exactly how I feel about it. One time I was laid off, and my boss said that it was a hard decision for her, but that she had prayed about it. It was just not in God's plan for me to remain at that job.

    And while it may or may not have been God's plan for me to stay there, I just felt like invoking "God's plan" for my life is my prerogative, not hers. It felt like it was very arrogant of her to say it that way, like she's not taking the responsibility for laying me off. She prayed about it, and God told her... But how does she know what God had told me, you know? Maybe he told me it was His plan that I stay there. And why would God be revealing His plan for me to someone else, without even talking with me first?

    That said, I think that your counselor, even if she thought it was God's plan for you not to have children, you'd think she'd lead you there and have you say it. I think you're right that telling someone else what they assume is God's plan for your life is arrogant, presumptuous and almost never well-received. It just feels like the cheap way out.

    I think after praying and thinking about something for some time, it's fine and reasonable to say that God has told you what the plan is for your own life. Or that you feel like God is leading you in a certain direction. But to tell someone that God has made a plan for that other person and you know what it is and the other person doesn't, nah, that's just wrong.

    It's very cool that you talk about stuff like this in counseling classes.

  7. This is a great post--it brings up a lot of things I have been thinking about lately. I've been holding off posting about it, but I think I will soon.

  8. I have a somewhat similar post written (though not yet posted). I'm so sorry that was said to you; I think that would probably be one of the most upsetting things that anyone could say. I totally agree with you and I'm glad you didn't believe that.