Archives for posts with tag: infertility

Today was my day to present in our seminar on Augustine’s Confessions; somewhat nerve-wracking, since everyone else had already taken their turn. Presentations this late in the semester are always problematic. On the one hand, you’ve had all this time to work on the material. On the other hand, you’ve had all this time filled with myriad other assignments and responsibilities. It isn’t like I would have been able to do this earlier, though, seeing as I presented on Book XI, Augustine’s musings and theorizations on time and eternity. Fitting.

I chose the topic of time because, as a procrastinator, it is not my friend. In recent years I have become more wary (and weary) of passing days, weeks, months. Studying time is a little like engaging in the art of war with a much larger and dispassionate foe. I know I won’t win, but I sure as hell won’t go down without fighting.

What I found refreshing in studying time with Augustine is that he asks me to get out of my own contemporaneity. It is impossible to understand him through the digital clock. Instead, I have to put the phone down, close the computer, and simply watch the sun pass overhead, the shadows change on the building, note the difference in air temperature as the day progresses. For him, too, music becomes a teacher of time and measuring time.

Long before treble clefs and 4/4 time signatures, Augustine reflected on measuring time by recounting hymns and songs of the church. Here he had Ambrose’s liturgical renovations in mind with imported tunes and chanted psalms. By inhabiting the song to God, Creator of all things (Deus Creator omnium), Augustine notes, we can know that one syllable is shorter than the next, we can perceive that this phrase is half the length of the one that follows. In this way, we measure time. The breath in our lungs as it pours over the larynx and resonates through the cords is running in time.

Our class discussion picked up on the challenges of defining time over and against its effects. Time is not defined through its measurements because it exists ever only in the present outside of measurement. Once a song slips through our teeth, it becomes past. We can repeat the verse, the line, the song–but to repeat is not to delete and redo.

This got us thinking about the periodization of time. Scores of music are broken into bars of time. Syllables denote length and frequency, forming patterns and periods. Waves of sound have cycles. None of this is purely linear, even when we graph along a straight line. Of course, this prompted our professor (also my advisor) to recount the experience of pregnancy and labor, when pain comes in waves.

I wish that I had thought then of infertility’s counterpart, where pain comes in monthly tides as, yet again, the blood flows. But I am in the habit of letting references to pregnancy wash past me.

The experience of time changes with waiting and non-expectancy.

I learned yesterday (Thursday) that this is National Infertility Awareness Week. I had seen penguins for World Penguin Day, and (daily, multiple) invitations to protest at the People’s Climate March, but infertility is one of those things that is simply difficult, if not impossible, to celebrate. I myself feel conflicted about speaking up. What are we inviting people into with Infertility Awareness? What would come if I were to say in class, ‘Well, actually, I will never know what it’s like to be pregnant. And I am in this class at this time because I could not get pregnant.’ Personally, I am not interested in pity. However, I recognize that the experience of barrenness, the fact that I cannot conform to normalized womanly identity, does in fact drive certain lines of theological inquiry for me. But, how do I insert such snippets into conversation so that others might understand, when I myself am still wandering in the wilderness of non-expectancy?

There was a time when I cried, How long, O Lord? That time is gone.

Near the end of Book XI, Augustine states, “without the creation no time can exist.” I know that time and creation are interlocking concepts, yet my bodily response is ‘yes, but, How?’ Apart from any signs of life within my organs, my follicles are sputtering toward death. So, what is the creation that will bring music to my soul, and help me measure the seasons with joy? For now I must lean on my old friend, Augustine, and pray with him:

You are unchangeably eternal, that is the truly eternal Creator of minds. Just as you knew heaven and earth in the beginning without that bringing any variation into your knowing, so you made heaven and earth in the beginning without that meaning a tension between past and future in your activity. Let the person who understands this make confession to you. Let the person who fails to understand it make confession to you. How exalted you are, and the humble in heart are your house. You lift up those who are cast down, and those whom you raise to that summit which is yourself do not fall. (Confessions, 11.31.41)

 

Black Hole, part 7

A year ago I could not have imagined this vista, it’s barren cliffs and wispy grey skies. The quiet is astounding. Though there are no clouds a storm is about to break, the kind with lightning flashing in the skies but no rain. Rain signals growth, triggers seeds to sprout and reach for sun. But there will be no wet drops pummeling the earth in this storm. Only the howling cry of a life not conceived.

It is time for my husband and I to talk about life without children. Just us, to have and to hold, in weakness and in strength. It’s a conversation we have been avoiding month by month. There’s always something else to worry about at work or home. We have plans to go away for a weekend, to our favorite city, and let go. We just might cry.

Life feels a bit surreal when the thing you thought would never come to pass ambles into view. It’s as though the world flattens, or constricts one’s depth of field. Imaginations are less full, slightly duller, though not so much as to draw a complete blank. There just always seems to be something amiss and, like those hidden images puzzles in Ranger Rick, it’s hard to know if you’ve circled everything. Meanwhile, others lives around yours take some very different paths and some wind out of view entirely. You can’t relate to much of what’s going on around you because stories revolve around children.

Twice I went to strangers for prayer. The first experience was confirmation that strangers can be untrustworthy when it comes to praying about infertility. The second left me humbled with gratitude. I suppose if nothing else, I should praise God for balance. What haunts me is that I hadn’t expected to hear a church leader (whom I’ve never met) pray over the crowd for God to fill us with life, particularly we who have been barren. I felt exposed yet somehow relieved when we were invited to receive prayer with others. That was six months ago, after two years of waiting, wondering.

 

There’s a garden shop near my work, and I remember thinking that if I don’t have to trail after small feet or drive anyone to soccer practice or attend any school plays, I would like to cultivate a garden. Of course, that was when I didn’t really take that threat seriously. Now, as the days lengthen along with the months and years, I find myself considering soil textures. Perhaps I could learn something new about God through seeds, death and soil.

Black Hole, Part 6

My first application deadline arrived. Clicking on the ‘Submit’ button last Monday was terrifying. In the naive optimism of a procrastinator, I thought I would have completed my essays weeks ago. Yet, even as I was sending them out in the final days for review to a few readers (arguably one of the most difficult steps), I got back the most wonderful thing: encouragement. Through the wrestling and questioning, the debilitating moments of panic, I can say, with God’s grace and more than a little help from friends, I have made it to here. The first one is done, now it’s time for the rest of them.

However, what I cannot think about is the life that is not (yet?) to be. The slightest whisper brings costly tears that I do not have time to let spill. I stopped going to acupuncture, stopped thinking about timing, stopped wondering. I certainly have not been watching what I’m eating, unless you count the cookies and sips of wine as they head towards my lips.

 

What does watching entail, anyway? I find it fascinating that we have these different words for taking in the world with our eyes: watch, see, look. They are active verbs even when noting a fairly passive scenario. To see something, like a rainbow, is to denote hiatus or pause long enough to observe an external phenomenon. Then there’s the dynamic of looking–the person does all the work in looking, scanning to see or recognize something on the other end of the gaze. To watch for indicates activity combined with waiting, expectancy. The latter two verbs require completion: looking towards, watching for, waiting… wondering…

The Advent narratives are filled with waiting and wondering. Luke’s gospel begins with a couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, who waited for years and wondered if they would ever have a child, only to see the years pass by with no blessing while shame and disgrace piled high. Their barrenness parallels that of Israel, who for hundreds of years had waited for the Messiah and wondered if he would ever come. Then there’s Mary, Mother of God, who had to wait for her expectancy to show, and wonder if she would be accepted by Joseph and his family. In these stories, the characters only know to watch for something after a significant interruption, which brings in another sight word: appeared.

Divine messengers appeared to Zechariah in the temple, to Mary in her home, and to the shepherds in the field. These are fully God’s action upon humanity. Then suddenly there appeared… Had the characters prayed for such a shock? Had they been looking towards, watching for, God? How do we take this for ourselves? Once upon a time, God sent…but that was then, this is now. Yet now is the time when we talk about miracles, even in our post-Christian, consumer culture. What were Zechariah’s prayers in the weeks and months before the angel appeared? Did he continue to pray for a child?

I am wrestling with a question that emerges when we do believe in miracles. When we expect God to act, to interrupt because he has done it before, in the person of Jesus, born from Mary, and in our own lives, at some point. How do we expect? How do we watch and wait? How do we anticipate interruption? Jesus would close parables with, those who have eyes to see… Yet, what if we don’t know what we’re looking for? Our eyes take in a lot, especially this time of year. Further north, our eyes are adjusting to shorter days, which means, in part, the displays of Christmas lights are that much more brilliant. It’s easy to miss the smallness of our Savior, born in Bethlehem, even with all the illuminated replicas around town. The manger almost blends in with all the other lawn dioramas. So, how do we see something that is before us? How do we look for the God of the Impossible?

 

God’s timing is not our own (just ask the Israelites). But if we are to be people of Advent, we must anticipate interruption. We must want God to mess with us, really. We must long for the sake of longing, desire a deeper capacity for desire, and expect to be interrupted.

Do we have eyes to see God’s handiwork this Advent? Are we looking for grace and joy? Watching for love? I hope so.