We wanted a large family. Felicity was born, and within eighteen months she had a brother. Shortly after Duncan's first birthday, we found out we were expecting another baby. Our family was growing. We were happy. We were proud. We congratulated ourselves. And then the dream fell apart when I miscarried our 3rd baby.
I miscarried the next baby, and the next and the next… I acquired a new label: secondary infertile.
Whenever I announced I was pregnant, friends didn’t know whether to congratulate me or not. They didn’t really believe I was going to have a baby. Despite my excited announcement, I didn’t believe either.
At that time, I was a breastfeeding counsellor. All counsellors had to learn something about grief counselling. One day a bereaved mother came to speak to us of her lost baby. As I listened, the tears seeped from my eyes. I slipped from the room and stood outside sobbing quietly. The mother’s story had opened wide my own wound. I was grieving, not only for my four babies that had died far too soon, but also for the future. I was grieving for the babies I’d hoped for but believed I’d never have. I was facing the fact that my dream of a large family was only a dream, it might never become reality.
I felt certain I would never hold a baby of my own in my arms ever again. My baby days had been so short- several years and they were all over. They were finished before I’d realised, before I was ready. I’d hoped for so much more. I wondered if I could adjust to this new idea of what my family looked like.
And then just as I was coming to terms with all these difficult feelings, God blessed us with another baby who, this time, grew and was born and joined our family. Eventually eight more babies were conceived, five more were born full term, and four more came home with us to be loved and nurtured and grow up within our family. Seven living children… God blessed us with that big family after all. No one looking at our long line of children would guess I’d once thought my family would be small.
But I still haven’t forgotten that time when I had to face the fact that two children might be all God intended to give me. What would it have been like if I’d never brought another baby home? Would I have learnt to be grateful for what I had? But would I still have yearned for more despite this thankfulness? That yearning might have remained very strong and might never have quite disappeared, a bit like grief. Actually, I think living with infertility, both primary and secondary, is grief. It is real suffering.
Today I am praying for all women who had dreams of large families but had to accept that this is not what God intended for them. Some of them are my friends. They are courageous women. They smile. They are joyful. They are generous in their love and support of me and my larger family. They are women of great faith and love who probably hide away great sufferings. These friends are blessings in my life.
As I have been writing, I realise I have worked my way back to that old question: "How many children do you have?"
And maybe the right answer, for both large families and small, is, "As many as God intended me to have."
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