Anxiety, Infertility, and Finding Hope in the Darkness
I've been struggling with anxiety for most of my life. That's no secret. I knew that it touched most aspects of my life - mental, emotional, physical. But I didn't understand how deeply entangled I was until my junior year of college. When I talk about this year, I usually refer to it as the dark period in my life. Not because of anything that happened externally, but because of the lies echoing in my own mind, drowning out all reason. I had the privilege of knowing several families who adopted children during my college life. I hadn't really thought about adoption before, but it kept popping up in my life. My junior year started with me contemplating adoption. Taking a child who has no family into your home and making them a part of your own family - that is a wonderful thing to do. Unfortunately, this was what started my downward spiral.
I had been worrying about whether I would be able to have biological children for years. I had a necessary surgery in high school that left me with serious doubts, despite the assurances of the surgeon. These doubts had been at the back of my mind for a long time, but, suddenly, they were all I could think about. And a new worry began to take root in the midst of all this. Even if I could have children, should I? Both sides of my family have serious health issues - heart issues, mental issues, cancer. I don't know many adult family members in my family who have not had the threat of cancer hanging over their heads. I can only guess which health issues I inherited, but what worried me was the ones that may be hidden in my genes that would be carried down the line. This new worry put down deeper roots that any I'd ever felt before. It gripped my heart and squeezed until I could feel nothing but pain. I was obsessed with worrying about it.
I didn't have to look long and hard for an answer. Adoption. That way my children couldn't inherit my health problems. Does that make sense? It got even worse. I still had to deal with my possible infertility. The lie was whispered softly to my heart at first, softly and slowly. If the reason was pure, would it really be that big of a deal to simply ensure I could never have my own children? Looking back, I can see the line of thought that led all the way to having another surgery. Then I could put my fears to rest and focus all of myself on adoption.
I didn't tell anyone about my decision at first. No one knew how long I held the plan locked in my mind. When I began to tell my family about it, I cautiously laid out my reasoning. I don't know how anyone could have looked at me without laughing. The reasoning is simply laughable. As hard as it is for me to talk about that dark period of my life, I can't help but laugh as I think about how easy it was for me to just fall off the deep end. I'm laughing and crying write now as I write this. With each word, I can feel little knots in my heart releasing.
Yes, this is how far I fell. Anxiety wrapped itself around my mind and heart and squeezed as hard as it could. The scary part is, no one laughed in my face or yelled or tried to grab my shoulders and shake some sense into me. There were questions, of course, but there was also acceptance and love. I don't know if my family was focusing on the one good part of my plan - adoption - or if they simply thought I wouldn't be able to go through with my plan. I certainly didn't have the resources at the time to go through with the surgery, but I was fixated on it. It seemed to shine like a beacon promising peace and freedom. It was the answer. I whispered it to myself in the dark when I couldn't sleep. I spent enough time researching my options that I truly believed I would have done anything and wait however long it took to achieve my goal.
But God...As I was going through all of this, I dutifully cried out to Him with my worries. Then I thanked Him for the plan that I saw taking form in my mind. All that time, I truly thought I was doing the right thing. Anxiety pushed me in that direction, of course, but I thought I was finally facing down my anxiety. I was so blind. I couldn't see I was walking further and further into its trap.
I convinced myself I wasn't going to have biological children that I wouldn't even talk about it. I tensed every time the subject of children was brought up, no matter the context. In my imagination, I saw a new reality. My sister was pregnant at the time. I found out later that I had so shaken my family, that my mother chastised my sister for inviting me to be in the delivery room. I didn't want children, so why would I want to be anywhere near that room?
To be sure, I did not want to see my sister giving birth, and I had been acting strangely when the topic came up, but I wouldn't have given up my spot in that hallway for anything. That was my newest "little" - as I call my nephews and nieces. Of course I wanted to be there. It bothered me that anyone would think otherwise. I wasn't anti-baby, after all. I was going to adopt!
I didn't understand the feeling at the time, but I felt little daggers striking my heart every time I looked into my little's faces. I thought I was past the point of no return, but my armor wasn't impervious. When I asked my sister and the rest of my family if they ever shared my worries when they thought about having children, or looked into their children's little faces. Their answer was a resounding, "No!" My tired mind simply couldn't comprehend the strength behind their answer, and so I clung to my plan. That was the only thing that made sense to me.
The next chink in my armor occurred less piece by piece and more as a direct blow. I met my future husband the summer after my junior year. I was still holding on to my plan with all my might. My family continued to gently question my motives...gently, lovingly. This doesn't seem like it'd be something to bring in the first stages of the dating phase, but my new boyfriend was adopted as a baby.
So, hesitatingly, I brought up the subject of adoption. He seemed to take my curiosity in stride until I told him that I was seriously considering adoption myself and he wanted to know why. Needless to say, my future husband did not like my reasoning and he wasn't afraid to argue with me loudly about it. How we didn't break apart from those first conversations about my anxiety about children and my plans, I can only guess at. We both agree this was a growing period in our lives. It was hard, but the eventual result brought us closer together. God had plans for our lives we could only accomplish together.
He forced me to question my reasoning again and again. I can still hear his voice, "Do you know that you are trying to take away God's reason for marriage? His power of creation? Didn't I understand that adoption would not guarantee the physical well-being of my children?" I didn't find out until we'd been dating for several months that his insistence on this last point was as emotional as my own counter arguments. His parents didn't know anything about his medical history when they adopted him. They only found out years later that he had a mild form of a genetic abnormality. My strong husband-to-be wasn't as strong as he appeared to be. I saw adoption as an easy way out, freedom and joy. He saw it the truth of it. Adoption wouldn't be an easy road.
At this point, I can envision God shaking his head and rolling up his sleeves. He kept putting people in my life to question me, but I just wouldn't listen to them. My plan had become a beacon of hope to me, but it was time to shine some real light on the situation. God is light. Before Him, my plan disintegrated.
Not long after I started dating my future husband, my mother invited me to go with her and a group of women from her church to a women's conference featuring Beth Moore. I was invited to examine my life that weekend. I knew I needed some time away from my life to do this. I craved that time, but when I got there, I tried to ignore any thought concerning children or adoption. I wanted to focus on other things: my education, my relationship, my anxiety over small things.
I couldn't ignore it forever, though. When Beth Moore said she was going to spend some time praying for the women in attendance who were having fertility problems, I didn't stop to think. I knew one of the women in our group couldn't have children. A horrible thought flew into my mind. I cringe when I remember it now. If I'm going to undergo surgery, I might as well just trade body parts with her.. I certainly don't need them, and maybe she'll have more luck with them.
I felt like I was physically pushed back into my chair. A fear came over me more, a feeling more real than anything else I'd ever felt before. A physical voice didn't speak to me, but the thought entered my mind, clearly, "How dare I even think about messing with what God willed to be?" He is the awesome creator. He takes care of everyone else. He will take care of me. I had been trying to play God. How dare I even think about messing with my body and God's plan for it. I had no right!
It was like my eyes, although filled with tears, were opened for the first time. The darkness wrapped around me was flung off and I saw my anxiety for what it really was. I almost let this anxiety make a huge decision for me. As I sat there and cried out to God, to save me, to forgive me, to shine his true light on me, these shackles fell away. As sure as fear of the Lord had flooded my heart moments ago, a feeling of peace and love wrapped like a blanket around me. The anxiety was still there - it is still there - but when my attention shifted, I saw that adoption was still written across my heart as well.
Adoption. Adoption was the key. Anxiety shifted my focus to make me think fear should motivate my decision to adopt children, but in reality, I was never supposed to look beyond it. Adoption, for whatever reason, is part of my purpose here on earth. God had been whispering it to me for a year. Instead of bringing anxiety straight to Him, I'd been trying to shout over Him. I made a promise that day, my own covenant in a way. I know He will open whatever doors necessary to allow me to adopt. I know with a surety that I cannot explain that He will do this. When that time comes, I promise to open my heart to these children that I didn't give birth to while, at the same time, keeping my heart open for any biological children He may give me.
My anxiety about children hasn't disappeared. It's still there, but I hold it in perspective now. It's something to overcome, day by day, by drawing lose to God, telling Him my fears, and allowing Him to remind me that no fears can get in the way of His plans.
I went out with my future husband again a few days after I returned from the convention. We really hadn't been going out that long, but all through dinner, I couldn't help but wonder if he was also part of God's plan. I was a woman who wasn't adopted, but I desperately wanted to adopt children. He was a man who was adopted, but always wanted children of his own. In my heart, I wondered if he might be the first person that I got to adopt into my own family. I smile at that thought today. The way God worked everything together.
We're still excited to be newlyweds, nowhere near ready to start a family, but my heart is full with joyous anticipation for the family we will create. A hybrid family, one that God brings together, bonded together with a faith and a love that is stronger than anything we could forge on our own. In my mind's eye, I can see my husband and I, sitting at a table with our children and telling them the story of when their parents used to date. But I might save this story for when they're a little older!