Prayers for the body

Let my body go with its own God.

When I had been trying a long time to get pregnant — long enough to know, deep down, that I couldn’t — I learned just how much others would use my body to uphold their images of God as a miracle worker who was also pretty stingy with miracles for some people.

My success or failure in this realm would prove or disprove the things others had decided were unassailable truths, and I became weary and offended by believers’ desperate need to WIN at religion rather than just model Jesus’ love in daily practice.

Let me tell you — waiting for God’s miracle so that others could shout SEE I TOLD YOU A MIRACLE was a lot of pressure. My body didn’t ask for that. It held its own pressures. Month after gloomy month, my uterus failed to trap a baby. I took my temperature, I took drugs that made me gain weight and feel like I was ovulating nails. I timed intercourse to ovulation, I got familiar with the climate up there (don’t ask), and I had lots and lots and lots of sex.

And, still, I didn’t get pregnant.

My husband’s semen was thoroughly examined. Maroon-faced, he made his trip to the andrologist’s office, and his specimen returned millions and millions of strong sperm. “You’d think one could find an egg,” my doctor said. I had surgery. I had tests. I did my research.

But, had I prayed?, motherly types asked. My husband’s mother added our family planning initiative to her prayer group’s list, and my own mother openly doubted I’d really asked God enough — maybe in the right voice, or at the right time? — to fix my fertility. Everyone said they were praying and would pray for me, like, ‘oh honey, I’ve got connections you don’t have, why didn’t you ask me earlier?’

They made it clear, that what they asked for, God gave.

I am a person of faith. And maybe they didn’t think so. But, even and especially during times of crisis, my faith is a private, personal thing, and I smarted at the the intrusion. To me, faith is a little like our fingerprints: It belongs to one-and-only-one person and leaves behind little smudges of you on the world wherever you go. My God is my business, and so is yours. My God is an internal whisper suggesting kindness for strangers when I’m in a rush, a calm that tugs at me when I want to punch the Prius puttering through traffic, the invisible fingers trying to zip my mouth shut before I can say the clever, cutting thing I shouldn’t.

My image of God, if you must know, is like (stay with me) this giant, warm, reassuring paw, like Clifford’s big red paw (look, just go with it) on my shoulder. That reassurance brings me comfort, confidence and perspective. Sorry, folks — God, in my life, is not some imposing man with a white beard playing a game of Candy Land with my life, and I was and still am completely baffled why women needed to put this on me, over and over.

They were also worried that I would blame God, but for Christ’s sake (gah, sorry), my broken body was enough of a crisis without being a crisis of faith, and blaming God hadn’t crossed my mind. Though I never once mentioned God’s role in my uterus to anyone, people went out of their way to extemporaneously remind me of God’s mysterious working style and stridently defend Him as someone who was ABSOLUTELY NOT to blame for my jacked-up problems.

“No one can know why God does what He does.” Sure.

“We can’t blame God.” I won’t as long as you won’t. Also — we?

“Maybe God doesn’t want you to have kids. Maybe this just isn’t in His plan.”

Wow. The cruelty of Christian women has a bark and a bite. It comes from a hurting and neglected place that I didn’t have time to address because my ovaries were too scarred with endometriosis to release my eggs. That was my priority.

“Remember! God works for the good of those who love him! ROMANS!”

This confrontation from the Word, lobbed at me like a threat, came via text.

Was God living in my uterus, bouncing embryos like racquetballs of my stony endometrium? Out of spite?

Was God dangling a baby over my head, waiting for me to be good enough for Him to drop it from the sky and into my slightly open mouth while I slept, so it could slide down the baby chute to my baby depository? Wait — is that how babies get made? If so, I’d been taking mood-wrecking hormones and forcing my husband to have tons of inconveniently timed, emotionally weird sex for nothing.

I already felt defective, irregular, like the one dud firecracker with a pale green light that barely dances off the ground before dissolving into a black snake of smoke. This idea that I had not loved God enough to become a mother made me stabby and sad. I just thought God had been letting science be science and those scientists would figure this out — if they were believers of whatever religion, their faiths would be part of that; if not, who cares? While they did their work, God would do His, which was helping me remain calm, brave and full of perspective.

It was amid these hurtful, unwelcome admonitions that things became very fraught, and the half-cheerful finger wagging made me question why so often Christian women do this to each other. It is just another way in which we intrude into women’s bodies, this constant governing of us in every way we can. The drive to control and be in control is never stronger than when you feel like you’ve had little governance of your own, when you feel like God has left you out, but you aren’t allowed to blame Him, and you *certainly* aren’t allowed to blame the husband or parent or boss or government entity that is really responsible for your pain. My inefficiencies were competing with their God who was so very good — just not good to me, who knows why? — and these women were letting me know it.

Eventually, it did get hard. I would not be able to just bone my husband for free and make a baby, like so many others. And, I curled not into the prayers of these women, but into the private paw of God. Each day was a moving prayer of my private pain, alone, in the silence, in the dark. In the shower with my hands on my empty belly; on the toilet as I peed on sticks, watching only one line turn pink; as my husband slept, my face on his arm, because it was hard for him, too. When I was five days late and we saw two lines; when four days later, the blood came anyway.

I cried. I cried those times my husband didn’t want to have sex with me. I cried after sex because it was less about fun or love and more about this goal we couldn’t reach — and would never ever, not that way. Then, as I folded baby clothes at a local shelter where I volunteered, snapping footie pajamas up the little crotch, a warm comfort and security visited me, and it brought the realization that I was so, so blessed — I’d just had not been able to pick my blessings. I asked that same comfort and security to visit those dear, forgotten women who needed to get baby clothes from a homeless shelter and lead them to safety and strength.

I prayed to give up, for God to let me quit an IVF cycle when the hormone shots dragged my mind into a room so impossibly dark that I could not even describe it to my husband. My ovaries ballooned to the size of baked potatoes as we used injectable hormones to grow multiple eggs. I endured surgery to remove them, and they were fertilized. The best one was implanted, and I asked, asked, asked for my body to wrap around it and coax this little wad of chemical reaction into a baby.

It was raining when I got the bad news, and I was buzzing like a battery almost dead. I drove, and I prayed, and I was unable to see stop signs or yellow lines, unable to see anything but what I imagined my husband’s face looked like on the other side of town as he processed the news that our tiny upload had struggled to buffer and finally crashed. The due date we’d been so foolish to talk about was now just more appointment my body wouldn’t keep.

“God just didn’t want that baby,” is a thing a human woman who has had multiple children literally said to me when I gave her the news. I put my hand on the picture of the embryo on the fridge and hung up the phone.

A semi-friend said to me, in passing in a grocery store, “Doesn’t it just burn you up how women choose abortion, just throwing away their babies, when so many women would do anything to have one?” She scoffed, rearranging the groceries stacked high in her cart.

No, it did not and does not burn me up. The truth is, it is a terrible feeling to have everyone who does not hold your own uterus behind their belly button tell you how to handle your feelings about its function. I don’t pretend to understand what happens in the dark quiet of any other woman’s life, and more importantly, I don’t think I am supposed to. And I would like, and I would love, for us all to stop telling each other who God should be in our lives and lean in a little bit more to the softness He offers, and the opportunity to offer that softness to one another.

For those women faced with such a painful choice, I would pray, too, desperate prayers that their pain would end soon. I’d pray that the comfort and strength and care they deserve visit them; I’d pray for the paw of God to rest warmly on their shoulders all night long.

***

We did eventually have a baby, a little girl. My husband held her hours after she was born, this little quart of milk wrapped in the ubiquitous blue and white hospital blanket.

“She has a little skeleton,” he said, in wonder at her tiny baby body. “And, she has tiny veins, tiny as threads. She has little baby uterus!” he said, laughing. “How tiny do you think her uterus is?”

I smiled at him. I held up two fingers very close to each other — so tiny, i mouthed. “Teeny ovaries!” he squealed, adrenaline having replaced the oxygen in the room.

I had been emptied and filled again. When they pulled that baby out into the world, they’d pulled me, the real me, into the world with her. Everything before was a memory and the only thing we knew was the magic of survival and all the new things that survival had made us. My gratitude is something for which I’ll spend the next 1,000 years trying to find words.

In those first tenuous weeks of being a new parent, I prayed exhausted, incomprehensible prayers for her. I wasn’t worried about not praying right or trusting right or having enough faith or saying the right words.

God didn’t need to understand them. He could feel their intent.

Because He knows me. And, He knows her. And the rhythm of our life as as a constant offering of thanks is just enough for us all.