I just got back from an evening on the farm. My friend Tifah (her real name is Natania) was in town for just a couple of days with her new baby boy and I couldn’t wait to meet him—and by “town,” by the way, I mean “tiny village tucked away in the remote recesses of the Alsacian Sundgau”! I might have crossed a couple of time zones on the way there…
I’ve always been fascinated by babies, and little Nicholas is no exception. He spent much of the evening alternately staring at my face and staring through my face…which left me feeling like a fascinating bore!
From earliest childhood I dreamed of having children, but by the time I reached my teens, my eagerness had cooled. I suspected that my motherly instincts were either crippled or atrophied, and I feared I’d be a child’s worst nightmare as a mother. Those misgivings carried on through much of my 20s, fueled, perhaps, by my inability to get a grip on my own psyche—let alone the psyche of a defenseless infant.
Since my 30s, I’d allowed myself to dream again of having children, not with the certainty that I’d do it right, but with the hope that God and healing would keep me from total failure. I even seriously considered single-parent adoption for a while! And now…now I’m a post-breast-cancer patient on a five-year Tamoxifen regimen. Pregnancy during the treatment is highly discouraged as the drug might cause birth defects. I’ll be finished with the treatment in five years—I’ll also be 46 in five years. And though women around the world are popping babies out at the age of 60 and beyond, this forty-one year old is fairly certain that her childbearing window of opportunity, shortened as it was by early-adulthood misgivings, has shut with a resounding and final click…not that there are any men harassing me with marriage proposals and trying to drag me to the altar!
This was just one of the aspects of “life with cancer” that I had to wrap my mind around in the early weeks of this journey with an unforgiving disease. In a sense, the physical losses I faced paled in comparison with the life-dreams I had to discard once the tests and verdicts were all in. It is more than likely that I will never have children, and part of my femininity is amputated by that reality. But I choose in these circumstances to focus my attention on what I know rather than on what I fear. And there’s plenty that I know!
- I KNOW that all of life is a trade-off, that for every missed opportunity I am offered another one to seize.
- I KNOW that I can be whole and valuable and loved with or without children.
- I KNOW that though we are, as women, created for relationship and childbearing, the world in which we live and the experiences of our youth sometimes prevent us from taking the journey for which God designed us.
- I KNOW that being childless will not kill me, though it does leave me with a yearning I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life. There is a marrow-deep loss there that I will not ignore.
- I KNOW that God will provide for me in my old age even though I may not have children to take me in…anybody know of a cheap retirement center for destitute missionaries?
- I KNOW that remaining single has spared me from some idiotic choices I might have made had I been given the opportunity to marry at a younger age.
- Though my students here should not and will not take the place of my own, I KNOW that I have found in BFA a place where I can use my life to benefit others, where I can let my surplus of affection overflow for these students who are far from home, and where my need to nurture and invest will not atrophy for lack of use! I know that I still get to love, and love deeply, and what a gift that is!
When I think of the person I “should” have become had I not found God and healing in my twenties, I can’t complain about the state of my life today. Based on some of the traumas of my childhood and youth, I should have spent my life as a lost soul, empty, hopeless, passionless, purposeless, possibly promiscuous, destroying relationships and maiming myself in the process. That’s who I WOULD have been had God not rescued me. Instead, I get to be a “found” soul, single and steady, buoyed by His peace and fullness, hopeful, passionate, purposeful, striving to have a positive impact on the young people I love, engaged in healthy relationships and being good to myself by acknowledging the reality of losses and finding comfort in the God who made me. Put all of that on one side of the scales and Tamoxifen on the other, and though I have reason to grieve, I have no cause to complain. God is good. He is my sustenance and comfort. He is the Father of this yearning mother’s heart that will find completion only in Him.