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Those April Fool's Jokes

Anna Hornbostel

More than likely you've seen a meme imploring some variation of  "Pregnancy is no joke! Please be kind on April 1" floating around on social media. “So?” you may ask yourself, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a harmless prank, right?”  Or maybe “Well, they just shouldn’t BE hurt by something that’s just a joke!” NOT being hurt is impossible.  Those struggling with infertility and loss ALREADY hurt because of what they have gone through, and the announcement- be it real or fake- just serves to highlight or spotlight what they long for and do not have.

    Infertility is a disease of the reproductive system. It impacts millions. Estimates are 1 in 8 couples suffer from it. 1 in 4 confirmed pregnancies will end in loss. The odds are very high that everyone knows someone who has been impacted by infertility and/or loss. When a pregnancy announcement or sonogram photo is posted on social media, those millions – those 1 in 4 and 1 in 8- go through a different reaction process than others do. They think of the baby they lost and how old he/she would be right now, and what they might be doing. They think of how quiet and empty their homes feel to them. They think of how much money they have spent on IVF, or how long their profile has been with the adoption agency, and yet they have empty arms. They think of the baby they fostered who was reunited with their birth family, which was beautiful and painful all at once. They think of how much they long to give their only child a sibling but have not been able to. They think of a hundred hurts and losses. And then, often times, they sit up straight and decide to offer congratulations and support, because they believe that pregnancies and babies are wonderful and that the infertility club is full enough and hallelujah, here’s one less member.

   So they go through all of this… and then it’s fake. It’s a joke. All of those feelings that were brought up? They now don’t have anywhere positive to go, because there’s no friend to be happy for, no family member to support. There’s just…. Hurt. And it doesn’t feel right to hurt because it was a joke… but it hurts all the same.  It hurts because all of what they’ve gone through was shoved aside and the thing that they long for most is being casually thrown around as a joke.

    So- does this mean no one should ever post a picture of a pregnancy announcement? Of course not! But..., be aware that people are hurting and decide if there is a way to proceed with kindness. Decide if that prank is really worth making, or if perhaps there might be a better joke to play. Decide if that person you know is hurting might need a little TLC as you announce your TRUE pregnancy.  When my sister in law was preparing to announce her pregnancy, she sent me a kind and considerate email, giving me time to process my feelings privately before being bombarded by Facebook. What touched my heart was that she took the time to UNDERSTAND that I would hurt and gave me permission to hurt. Her empathy and care took time and effort on her part, and it’s something I will never, ever forget. It didn’t heal the hurt I felt, but it bolstered my strength and courage. Because she took the time to love me enough to validate rather than minimize my pain and losses, I was able to rejoice with her. THAT kind of care and support is what the infertile and loss communities are asking for when they say “please don’t post fake pregnancy announcements or sonograms” -either on April Fool’s or any other day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Father's Day Superheroes

Anna Hornbostel

As we head into this weekend, my heart is heavy.

For my husband, who yet again faces this weekend with the knowledge that there aren't any colored cards or sticky kisses for him, no one yelling "Daddy, play with me!" or running up to show him found treasures. We don't know what the future holds, but we do know that we have faced many Father's Days like this and may face more. We sit in trust that God sees us and knows, but we also sit in uncertainty as we wonder what the future holds.

And so my heart hurts...

For the other men out there who are facing the same empty yearning and wondering "Why me?" and "when will it be our turn?"

For the men who are ashamed to open up about this hurt, afraid that they will be mocked and disparaged for their "lack of ability" in producing children. 

For the men who understand longing to see a belly grow, to feel a baby kick, to go to the hospital to meet a wondrous miracle.

My heart hurts...

For the men who carry their wives heartache above their own, struggling to support her and unsure of what she needs, pushing aside their own fears and insecurities to hold her while she cries, to hold her hand while she endures yet another prying exam, to listen while she screams about the unfairness of it all. And maybe to scream along with her. Or maybe not, feeling that he needs to "be strong" for her.

For the men who will go to the mall, to restaurants, to churches and see and hear things like "Dads are the greatest!" and "Dads are superheroes!" and they will feel neither great, or super, but rather like an outsider.

For the men who are asked "Haven't you figured this out yet?" with a suggestive laugh or wink, as though anyone has a right to come into their bedroom.

 

My heart hurts for these men who are stoic in public, because we don't invite them to be honest.

Who put on a brave face, because we don't invite them to admit feeling weak or confused.

Who  soldier on alone, because we don't offer to walk alongside them.

 

There is no simple answer to infertility, but there is a simple answer to hurt: Love.

So, if you know a man who is hurting and struggling along this path of infertility I invite you to reach out in love this weekend and ask "How can I be here with you?" and if the answer is "I don't know" then simply sit there- and be with him- and be a superhero for him.
 

 

 

My Thoughts on Mother's Day Church Services

Anna Hornbostel

 

 

  I know a lot of amazing moms. I HAVE an amazing mom. Mothers deserve to be celebrated. But, what, then do we do for those who experience Mother's Day like a sword to the heart?

 

 I love moms, I love the moms I know and the moms I see caring and struggling and sacrificing.

I love the way that my sister in laws try to give their children the best childhoods they can full of adventure and lessons and love. I love the stranger I see in the grocery store, struggling to get the shopping done with three kids under 5 and yet still managing to share their kids’ excitement over a cookie or a balloon.

I also hate infertility. I hate the resentment it brings, the anger and bitterness it can harbor, and the loneliness and isolation it carries with it like a shroud.  I hate that it strains relationships and distances people from family and community. I hate that is a sorrow that is carried every day, unavoidable and inescapable. 

And thus I love and hate Mother’s Day.  It’s THE DAY that all of this is held up and revered in a way that it ought to be, and yet in a way that makes me feel small. It makes me feel ignored. It makes me feel unheard, both by God and by the church. Because I want to be in this club so desperately but I can’t find the admission key. So when all of the moms are celebrated, I celebrate for them and ache for me.

And I ache alone. My pain is often not seen. We celebrate the moms. We hold up this IDEAL of Godly women, that motherhood is the ultimate expression of God’s favor. And those of us who struggle thus are excluded from His favor. We may not explicitly say it but we heavily imply it. 

I know that it is no easy thing to hold happiness and sorrow together. I know this because I experience both emotions, together, every day of my life. So I know that what I am about to ask of both the fertile and infertile alike isn't a simple or easy request. It requests that both sides come together and help each other celebrate and grieve in concert. 

 

So… How do we do this?

  •   Celebrate the moms you know. Don’t stop. I don’t want them to be uncelebrated, they are amazing and deserve to be honored. Acknowledge the important role they play and the multitudes of ways they love and sacrifice.

 

  • Celebrate the WOMEN you know. I know many women who aren't mothers who do amazing things in other ways. Take a moment and tell them “You matter. I see what you do and you MATTER” It doesn’t need to be flowers, or a parade. Just a simple, heartfelt “I see you.”

 

  • Acknowledge the HURT. Whether it’s infertility, estrangement or loss, acknowledge that there is hurt and brokenness. Give a hug. A hand on a shoulder. Say “I am sorry today is hard for you”

 

  • Offer help and support. Mother’s Day isn’t the only day that’s hard. The day before is hard. The day after is hard. The week after is hard. The month after is hard. Check in periodically.  Pray often. Ask often. From my experience infertile women aren’t used to being vulnerable ( and women in general seem to struggle here!) so ask often. “How are you today? How can I pray for you today? What can I do to support you?” Most often the answer is probably “The fact that you care enough to ask is enough” I know this is true for me. What means the most to me isn’t perfect prayers or perfect speeches, it’s the people who tell me “I don’t know what to say. I wish I could help more. I am sorry you hurt.” It’s honest, it’s real and it touches parts of my soul that nothing else can. 

 

 

What can the church do?

  • Support support groups!! Nothing helps a hurting person like realizing they aren’t the only ones in this pain. Don’t have a group? Pray that God will raise up a leader! Encourage, encourage, encourage! And advertise support groups. Let women know there are places for them to go as they are dealing with this hurt.  We need community.

 

  • Encourage women to reach out. Have people available outside for prayer during and after the service. Have people available during the week for those women to reach out to again if needed. BE AVAILABLE.

 

  • Don’t shy away from it! We are already broken and ashamed. If pastors won’t embrace it, won’t discuss it, then we feel even more ostracized. Learn about it, find out what sort of resources are in your community and have them available somewhere after the service. A prayer during service is great, but it’s 1 minute during a year or years of pain and grief and loneliness. Resources for the coming days, weeks, months and possibly years will have a lasting impact. Even more than the resources themselves having an impact will be the act of caring and acknowledging that having such resources shows: “I see your pain, I know you are suffering, here is a safe place that can help.” Is there anything more powerful than that to a hurting soul?

 

  • Don’t have the moms in service stand up. Nothing hurts more than longing so desperately to stand and having to sit. It also draws unwanted attention to us by being an obvious sign that we are LACKING somehow.  Rather, have all of the women stand and then speak a blessing over the moms, over the sisters, over the daughters. Or, have everyone applaud for moms while everyone remains seated. Celebrate the moms without isolating or shaming the infertile.

 

  • Don’t have people asking women who walk in to service “Are you a mom?” and handing out flowers. Ouch. And while appreciated, handing a flower to every woman does little to ease the pain; it just makes us more aware of how we are suffering in silence. If you want to have flowers or some other gift for the moms, have them available for them to take as they walk out. It's much easier to opt out and quietly walk by than it is to have some well-intentioned person pushing it at us.

 

  • 1 in 8 couples will struggle with infertility. This is too high of a number to ignore. They are wounded and limping, trying desperately to find solace and happiness in worlds turned upside down by the physical, emotional and financial strain of this disease. I haven't been to a Mother's Day or Father's Day church service in years, because I know that I am potentially walking into a minefield of hurt. How wonderful would it be if instead of avoiding these Sundays the church became a place where celebration and grief could happen at the same time and help and community could be found?