Magazine article The Christian Century

Endless Advent?

Magazine article The Christian Century

Endless Advent?

Article excerpt

HERE WE ARE in the midst of December--surrounded by Santa, elves and frenzied children. Due to the intense focus on children at this time of year, the season is often a very painful one for people who are experiencing infertility or who have suffered a miscarriage. I recall that when my husband I were struggling to start a family, I once threatened to create a bonfire if I received one more "here are my perfect children" photo.

For Christians, this is not the holiday season--it's Advent. And the time of Advent may hold special meaning for those experiencing reproductive loss. Liturgically and theologically, Advent is a time of waiting. For people experiencing reproductive loss, life can feel like an endless Advent--waiting for the next test result, waiting for the next cycle, waiting for the next attempt, waiting for the pregnancy results, waiting to pass milestones in a precarious pregnancy, waiting to know what the future holds. Truly, "hopes and fears" press upon us during the Advents of our lives. We long for the waiting to be over.

What will end this wait? Well, it's obvious, isn't it: a child. This kind of thinking is reinforced by the Christmas end of Advent--here you go, a baby. And a really great baby at that!

Certainly some communities adopt this way of understanding Advent. A few years ago, my husband and I were dismayed to read in our parish bulletin that a special blessing would be offered to pregnant women at all masses on the third Sunday of Advent. We didn't object to the offer of a special blessing, but why only for pregnant women? Why not for all expectant mothers--including those waiting to adopt?

Above all, we objected to the implied message of this liturgical innovation: that Christmas is about a baby. It is not. It is about "Emmanuel," "God with us." And infertile and grieving parents-to-have-been need to hear this gospel, this good news. We need to know that God is present with us in our suffering--that God is "Emmanuel," "God with us," not against us, while we endure our personal Advent.

Ultimately, Advent is fulfilled not by a child but through the healing of brokenness and the restoration of hope--and these gifts are available regardless of whether we become parents or not.

Of course, there are obstacles to our reception of such a gift. For me, there was the ever-pleasant trio of envy of others, a sense of failure about myself, and fear about the future. Through conversations with others that have experienced infertility or miscarriage, I know I am not alone. Hence, it is with qualified shame that I share my experience.

"Why do they have what I want?!" Oakbrook Mall, home of middle-class consumerism, was the site of my seething anger, envy and resentment. Envy not of the trendy clothes or the clever housewares, but of the pregnant women and the mothers pushing strollers. I recall feeling anger at pregnant women "flaunting" their pregnancies, envy of their shopping expeditions for maternity clothes and nursery items, and indignation at those pregnant women who seemed less "deserving" of pregnancy than I.

"Is there more to me than my fertility status?" When I was most depressed about infertility, I experienced a pervasive sense of personal failure. The repeated negative pregnancy tests deepened my conviction that I was a failure--incapable of "doing" the most basic, primitive act. (If you watch a nature show on TV in this frame of mind, you feel like an evolutionary outcast!) This conviction spilled over into all areas of life. What did it matter that I was respected as a teacher, loved as a wife, valued as a friend--I can't have a baby and that's all that matters ... right?

"The present holds pain. I fear what the future might bring." The game plan called for three children, two years apart, by the time I turned 32. But when I turned 32 my husband and I were no closer to parenthood than when we'd started trying. …

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