Circumstantial infertility is one of the areas I have found to be a direct cause of harm resulting from the teachings of purity culture.
Since I started deconstructing, I’ve realized that my process sometimes causes other people discomfort because it rattles their own beliefs. Circumstantial infertility is one of those taboo topics society sweeps under the rug, so let’s talk about it, shall we?
Purity Culture Fallout
The dogmatic doctrine of purity culture screwed me, even as one who followed the rules hook, line, and sinker.
I’ve discovered in the beginning stages of my deconstruction—as my beliefs and faith have imploded—there is an ever-growing mess of fallout to sift through, not just from growing up in purity culture but in evangelical Christianity itself. So here I am, picking through the rubble, one area at a time, allowing myself to process the full emotions of each new discovery.
Learning to suppress your emotions as a child poses a problem. Once faced with a loss large enough to uncork the flow of grief both past and present, the tap flows freely. In turn, you awaken to pain you’ve been able to numb for decades as a matter of survival.
Disenfranchised grief is defined as ““grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned.”
It must be held close because it is not understood or widely excepted.
I’ve spent the last year-and-a-half grieving the insurmountable and irreconcilable loss of my sister. Tapping into the messy emotions of that understandable, accepted grief has awakened other areas of raw pain and deep disappointment. One of the most painful areas I’ve found is the disenfranchised grief of circumstantial infertility.
Circumstantial infertility refers to the deep desire to have a baby but being hindered from getting pregnant and giving birth, not by biological infertility but by other circumstances.
For single, childless women suffering from circumstantial infertility, there are few resources to help us carry our pain. Once we reach a certain age, we find ourselves as a minority. Most of our friends are married-with-kids or divorced-with-kids or single-with-kids.
When we try to explain our longings and desires to have a family, some of those friends say they understand. Perhaps they struggled with medical—or even circumstantial—infertility at some point. They attempt to empathize, but that season is now behind them.
Yet, I’m left to reckon with the ever-deepening awareness that my biological clock is ticking like a time bomb.
Tick, tick, tick…
I’ve been drawn to babies, young children, and all things pregnancy my entire life; mothering is carved into my DNA.
As a child, I had a half-dozen dolls that I carted around everywhere. I nursed them, talked to them, diapered them, fed them, bathed them. I could rattle off every one of their names to you today. First and middle. They were real to me, and I was very offended by anyone who suggested otherwise.
The first time I remember seeing a pregnant woman was at a grocery store. I was probably four or five, and when she came around the corner of the aisle, her protruding belly was at my eye-level. I remember staring with wide-eyed wonder at the mystery of the life within her, fascinated.
At eight, I wanted to be a “baby doctor or nurse” when I grew up.
At nine, my mom began babysitting a six-week-old. B was the first baby in whose care I played an active role. I quickly claimed her as my own special baby, which I earned by feeding, diapering, supervising, soothing, and entertaining.
At eleven, a new brother arrived, further cementing my love of babies.
At fifteen, another brother joined our family. I spent the night at the hospital after he was born because Mom was recovering from emergency surgery. When they came home, I slept with a baby monitor on my nightstand, so I could help care for him when he woke in the night.
And on goes my history of enchantment with babies and young children…
I’ve watched many friends and family members get pregnant and have children. And while I have genuinely celebrated with them, my heart has felt the void of my own dreams deferred.
Seven years ago, I received the privilege of aunt-hood from close family friends. They have willingly and enthusiastically shared their two girls, a gift to my soul.
Still, my arms ache for a child of my own.
Front Row Seats
Over the next few months, I’m going to have a seat close to the stage that is the wonder of developing life and the exhilaration of the newborn stage.
And while I, like the rest of the family, look forward to the new arrival with joy and anticipation, the emptiness I carry is sometimes too much to bear. So I avert my eyes, escape my seat, and grieve in the dark shadows of the theater.
This year, I turn 35. This year automatically signals the decline of reproductive health and ushers the status of high-risk pregnancy. That sense of time running out coupled with the stark reality of perpetual singleness* strangles hope and shatters dreams.
My options are so limited, they’re practically nonexistent. (*Another area of purity culture fallout.)
It feels as if it’s a cruel joke to be imparted such a deep, intrinsic desire only to watch it rapidly dissipate with no hope of seeing it manifested. Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but I’m not even sure I know how—or even if it’s sane—to hope in this vein any longer.
Do I accept the hand I’ve been dealt or continue wishful thinking, knowing reality paints a much less hopeful picture?
Neither seems like a good option.