This is a story about a 20-second video. I promise this story isn’t all sad, but it started in deep sadness. After going through months of physical exams, lab tests, blood draws, diagnoses, pills, hot flashes, mood swings, breakouts, and of course, medical bills, it turns out that none of the hard work had paid off. I am, yet again, not pregnant. Not an unusual story for people struggling with infertility, and certainly not the worst. I know couples who have gone through this for much longer than we have, to no avail. How they have the money for that kind of thing is beyond me. Either they have amazing health plans or they have limitless disposable income, both of which are realities that I know nothing about. More importantly, how they have the emotional fortitude to keep going through month after month of trying, only to end up with heartbreaking disappointment, is unimaginable. They are much stronger people than me.
I don’t often get openly emotional about my infertility, but yesterday I must have hit some kind of critical mass. I was sad in a way that I hadn’t experienced in a long while. It was the kind of sadness that came crashing through the gates like a flood, filling me from bottom to brim and then tumbling out of me uncontrollably. I stood at the kitchen counter making hot chocolate, stirring the drink slowly around and around, wondering how long it would take for the chocolate to melt into the hot water, wondering if I would be able to taste my drink through my crying, wondering why I had been singled out by God out of all the women in the world to live with the burden and shame of infertility. Of course, I knew all the answers to my own questions, but none of the answers made me feel better in that moment. Logic didn’t make me feel better. Scripture didn’t make me feel better. In my mind, I never doubted that I was loved unconditionally and eternally, and that this would all be a thing of the past one day, and that I will emerge with a better marriage and a stronger faith from all my struggles, but none of that made me feel better. All I felt in that moment while stirring my cocoa was an opaque, lonely sadness, burning and bittersweet as the drink in my cup.
I sent a text message to my friend Aleah. She has three sons, so she doesn’t have any personal experience with infertility. But she doesn’t pretend to understand, and more importantly, she’s been a true friend to me through this whole journey. Because of this, she is one of the very precious few people around whom I feel safe when the rest of the world is a landmine of family pictures and pregnancy announcements and baby showers and heartache. She said very little, and she let me say whatever I needed to say. I waited for some advice, some other attempt at consolation, but got nothing for a few minutes. And then she sent me a video of her three sons, Peter, Blaise, and my godson Leo. She had simply asked them to “say something to Auntie Renee,” and this is what they came up with. Make sure your sound is on. Leo, the youngest, calls me ninang, which means godmother in Tagalog. Peter is the oldest, and Blaise, the middle son, is sitting in the backseat (you might remember him from this post).
The whole video was 20 seconds and none of it made any sense, but it did more to lift my spirits than a whole hour of internalizing or venting. It made me wonder how these boys know to use the word “babe,” and whether they even know what it actually means in that context, and how hilariously awkward they will feel when we show them this video when they’re in their teens, because we almost certainly will. It made me wonder what the heck “EYEBALL” means, and where Blaise gets his fantastically weird sense of humor. Most importantly, it made me laugh out loud.
Pain is an eventuality for all humans. We’re each entrusted with a cross to carry, crosses which no one else can bear. But we’re given people in our lives to help us through our moments of pain, rarely ever by fixing the problem for us but simply by helping us get through the next 20 seconds. It doesn’t sound like much, but yesterday it was enough to get me to the other side of my opaque, lonely sadness. It was enough time for me to bridge the gap between my broken heart, which was tempted to quit, and my hopeful mind, which knew better. It was as if my friend and those three little boys all took up an end of my cross and helped me keep it off the ground for just a step or two so I could catch my breath, reminding me to keep going, reminding me that I am strong. Twenty seconds isn’t a lot of time, but it was enough. Yesterday, it was exactly what I needed.
If you are someone with a broken heart, whether it’s because of infertility or something else, I hope you have friends like mine. And if you have a friend who is struggling, I hope you can be there for them like Aleah, Peter, Blaise, and Leo were there for me yesterday. It doesn’t take much. It’s not always about advice, or inspiration, or consolation. The best we can do is to help each other through these battles of attrition 20 seconds at a time, one step at a time, one aching breath at a time. If we can see each other through the most painful moments, soon and very soon, strength will find its way through the sadness. It always does. I am living proof.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”