Struggling with God and Infertility
Over the past three years, I have struggled with God. At first, when we started trying to have children, I didn't know anything was wrong. I was excited and I would pray to God to help us conceive, but I was not terribly worried. I was only 27 after all; it would happen when it happened. After nearly two years, I thought it was time to see a doctor. My doctor said all the tests she ran showed nothing was wrong, but as I wasn't pregnant, I should see a fertility specialist and they would probably put me on an ovulation stimulating drug. I think I cried; I was terrified and angry. If nothing is wrong why should I need drugs? What are the consequences of these drugs? Am I going to be sick and moody all the time? Am I at risk for multiple birth? What's wrong with this country that we just drug all our problems instead of finding the root cause...? Apparently, personal anger had turned into a critique of the whole country's psyche.
Of course seeing the doctor was easier than the prospect of needing a doctor. It was simple: you should have gotten pregnant by now and you haven't; something's wrong even if we haven't been able to diagnose it yet. So we started on the saga of doctor-assisted reproduction. Every time we failed I was devastated. Why, God? Every time we started another cycle I found it more and more difficult to find hope, optimism, and prayer, and certainly to find comfort in prayer.
I looked to our bible stories of infertile woman, the matriarchs of our Avot v'Imahot prayer. But these stories made me so angry with God. Sarah was kept waiting until she was 90 because Abraham had more tests to pass, and of course he had already had a child with Hagar. Rachel was kept waiting in the hopes that Jacob would learn to love his fertile wife Leah, though again he did not suffer from a lack of fertility. Was I being tested? Was I not sympathetic enough? Empathetic enough? Had life been too easy? Did I need a lesson in humility or in the frailty of our own planning? For me, I could not imagine the purpose of life without children. Why did God command us to "p'ru urvu,' be fruitful and multiply, and then make it so difficult to accomplish? I learned from our Torah that infertility has been a part of life from the beginning of humanity. And for this I hated God.
But what choice did I have but to pray - there was too much in God's hands. So I prayed from the bima looking at our ark doors, "l'dor vador." "Please God, permit me to fulfill Your commandment and bring another generation into the world." And I prayed from bed, and from doctors' tables, "Please God, help us to fulfill Your commandment of p'ru urvu, that we may bring children into this world to know You, to find love in Your ways, to help us all make this world what it can be." I prayed for God to make my body work as it was intended, to help the doctors know the proper treatment. I prayed that this child-centered and doctor-centered world I was living in would not tear me and my husband apart but would enable us to be stronger and more committed to life together. I prayed to a God I sometimes hated, but to my God nonetheless.
This I believe: God did not cause MY infertility, but it is a part of the human condition. This I believe: God is there in the doctor's hands, in the research that permits medical advances, and in the very nature of human curiosity which leads to research and innovation. This I believe: life does not start at conception; only the potential for life begins there. We saw six fertilized eggs/dividing embryos fail due to "arrested development," and we do not know how many suffered the same fate internally. The doctors only can guess at why they do not create pregnancy, and in this I see God. The doctors gave us a 40% chance at each IVF cycle, but they do not know why it works this time for this person or not; they can only compile the statistics. In this I see the hand of God.So here I am with twins on the way, an original fear having become only a blessing. My anger has abated, but I know there are many more spaces for God's work now, in the miracle of creating life, than there were even just to get here. And so I pray that God will help me to grow healthy twins, who are born with health at the proper time. I pray God will give me the stamina, patience and love to care for these children I prayed so hard for, and to watch over them for all the days of their lives (and pre-life). This I believe.
Cantor Joanna Alexander is the cantor at Temple Rodeph Torah, Marlboro, NJ.
We want to hear your story! Learn more about the Sacred Conversations project and add your voice.