Excerpted with permission from "Empty Womb, Aching Heart."
(as told to Marlo Schalesky)
It had been a hard day anyway. That time of month started again, crushing the wisps of hope I'd been foolish enough to nurture. Despite daily shots of Pergonal and seemingly endless trips to the infertility clinic, and despite the intrauterine insemination performed just two weeks before, I wasn't pregnant. Again. Still.
So, as the sun began to slip over the horizon, all I really wanted to do was forget-forget about cradles and bibs, diapers and rattles, anything and everything that had to do with the baby I couldn't seem to have.
But life conspired against me. With a tissue in one hand and the TV remote in the other, I plopped onto the couch to watch my favorite show. Click, click
. I flipped to channel 3, and there before me popped a cute, cooing baby. I stared blankly into innocent blue eyes set above cotton-candy pink cheeks, while a happy mother told me why Luvs were better than any other diaper. Quickly I switched the station. But there, a baby giggled at me from the center of a Michelin tire. I felt my heart tighten. Not again! Was the whole world against me?
It would have been easier if that night's experience had been unusual. But, unfortunately, it seemed that wherever I went I was confronted with happy parents enjoying their beautiful children. During trips to the store, I watched hurrying mothers push restless toddlers in carts. At church, families gathered at the altar to pray, the children's small heads bowed over folded hands. Even at work, I was constantly confronted with pictures of Mom, Dad, and the baby smiling from brass frames, children's first school photos, a daughter's prom picture, or a son's graduation photo-all experiences I would never enjoy.
"Honey!" I called to my husband in the other room. "Get me out of here."
He peeked around the corner. "What's the matter? I thought you were watching that weepy angel show."
"Take me to dinner. Now."
Tom raised an eyebrow. "What's up?"
I crumpled my tissue and threw it in the trash. "I've just got to get away from all these babies."
"Babies?" He glanced around the room, then looked at me as if I'd lost my mind.
I motioned toward the TV. "Every channel has babies on it," I muttered, then proceeded to tell him what had happened.
He nodded. "A little Mexican food will cheer you up. San Juan Bautista? I know it's your favorite."
In forty-five minutes we pulled up in front of the tiny Mexican restaurant in the small mission town of San Juan Bautista. Once seated, I smiled and looked around me. The setting was perfect. Gentle music drifted over the speakers. A candle flickered on the table. And best of all, we were the only customers in the whole restaurant.
Tom cleared his throat, dumped a teaspoon of sugar into his iced tea, and stirred. I recognized his frown as one he wore whenever he was thinking about how to say something he wasn't sure I'd like. Finally he glanced up at me. "You know, children aren't going to go away. Wherever you go, you're bound to see babies, or at least kids. You can't bury your sorrows in salsa every night."
I avoided his eyes. "I know."
"You're going to have to learn to deal with it. You can't keep letting the sight of a baby throw you into tailspin."
An awkward silence fell between us.
Finally I spoke. "The problem is, I don't know how to deal with it."
Tom opened his mouth to respond, but stopped as he watched the hostess lead another couple to a table directly across from us. "I can't believe it," Tom said in a hoarse whisper. "Don't look now."
I followed his gaze. "Oh no," I sighed. There between the husband and wife, in a car seat, was a brand-new baby. Of all the people who could have come to the restaurant, of all the tables where they could have been seated, a couple with a new baby had to be sitting directly across from me. Just where I couldn't help but see them. It was too strange to be a simple coincidence. It was God.
Apparently Tom agreed. "Well, it's official," he murmured. "Looks like God wants you to face this head on."
I grimaced. "But I don't want to."
"I don't think you have a choice."
"Okay, then, how do I find joy in a world filled with children who are not my own?"
The baby's sharp cry broke through my thoughts. I turned to see her little red face bunch up as another wail escaped her tiny mouth. A moment later her mother looked as if she, too, were going to burst into tears. The woman turned to her husband and whispered loudly, "I told you this would never work. We can't go anywhere anymore." Her voice sounded desperate.
Her husband scowled. "Is she hungry?"
"What about her diaper?"
"I changed it."
"How am I supposed to know?"
With each exchange, their voices grew louder, and so did the baby's cry. Finally the woman slammed down her menu, grabbed the car seat, and rushed toward the door. Her husband watched her go, then slowly set down his own menu, shook his head, and followed her.
As I observed the scene, a lump grew in my throat. "Those people don't know how lucky they are."
"It's kind of sad, isn't it?"
I nodded. "It's downright absurd. You and I understand better than anyone what a miracle child is. Yet people like that have no idea how blessed they are. They have children, and we don't. That's more than sad."
"That's not exactly what I meant. I didn't mean we should be sad for us
"I was sad for them."
"What?!" My eyebrows shot up.
Tom remained calm. "Don't you think it's sad that those people have a baby but they don't seem to be enjoying her, at least not right now? We should pray for them."
"Pray for them
?!" My voice raised an octave as a hundred objections flew through my mind. I was the one who needed prayer. I was the one hurting. I was the one denied the miracle that those people enjoyed. I was the one that Tom should feel sorry for! I, I, I . the pattern of my thoughts struck me and left me breathless. I was thinking only of myself, my own pain, my own loss. And, come to think of it, it was the same every time I saw a baby or a child. My thoughts consistently turned to myself. My eyes invariably looked inward. Now, in a flash of understanding, I saw that this habit had done nothing but increase my pain.
What if, for a change, the sight of a baby caused my vision to turn outward instead? What if I took Tom's advice and prayed for the parents of the children I saw? What if I prayed for the kids themselves?
I decided to try it. After all, it couldn't hurt. And maybe it would help me, too.
"Okay, let's do it," I said.
He smiled, and I began forcing the words out: "Lord, please help those parents to rely on you as they raise their baby. Help them to know what a miracle a baby is and to enjoy every minute with her, even when she's crying. Strengthen them and give them wisdom in the days and years ahead. Be close to them as they make decisions that will affect the little life in their care. And bless the child, Lord." I paused, unable to go on.
Tom took up the prayer. "May she grow up to know you and love you. Protect her as she encounters the evils of this world. Make yourself known to her. Amen." A hand reached across the table to squeeze mine. "I think we've found your answer," Tom said, "or at least part of it."
I managed a weak smile. "Maybe we have."
Since that day, every time I see a baby or a child, every time I feel the grief rising in my chest, I stop and offer a prayer for the parents and the child. Sometimes the prayer is only one sentence, and other times it lasts a few minutes, but always it asks for God's grace and love to fill the family.
I'd like to say that these prayers completely cured my feelings of pain and sorrow when confronted with babies, happy families, and reminders of children. But the truth is, it still hurts. It just doesn't hurt quite as much. Somehow the small act of prayer helps. Maybe because it enables me, just for a moment, to see past my pain and into the heart of God. And that is a vision even more powerful than the sight of a precious child.