I know all the right answers. I always have.
God is sovereign. People love you. There are people worse off than you. You still matter to God. At least you have a husband. Of course you’re not invisible. There are always the cats.
But the answers no longer satisfy, and the questions have gotten so big that I can’t even ask them anymore.
I don’t even know where to start my story without sounding like a whining, complaining, never-counts-my-blessings kind of woman. The urge to create this blog comes from the latest trials: infertility. I don’t think the infertility would cause as much pain (but maybe it would) were it not compounded by all the other uphill battles I face: devastating hearing loss, infertility, mystifyingly unsympathetic doctors, an antagonistic mother-in-law, virtually no local friends…everything seems to conspire to keep me invisible.
Like I said, I know all the right answer: that infertility, no matter what religion one professes, is painful; that young mothers don’t go out of their way to exclude the childless; that friendship is a two-way street, and I’ve got to make an effort; that other people have worse things to deal with.
But these answers don’t help. They don’t even begin to address the question of why I have one thing after another thrown at me while my siblings and friends go through life seemingly without major obstacles. These answers don’t help when one of our main social outlets is in our Reformed congregation, full of young couples with young children who only ever talk to other young couples. No answer has yet been able to take the sting out of the fact that in group social situations, I’m dependent on my husband to help me hear anything that goes on around me. No counselor or therapist yet has been able to give me an adequate answer as to how I’m supposed to get other people to talk to me in a way that I can hear, how I can make friends with people who don’t take the trouble of learning to communicate.
If no one ever makes the effort, I will never be a part of the conversation.
I thought that when we eventually had kids, it would help. Even if I was still excluded from social life in my grad program, I’d be able to join that universal and yet exclusive club of Motherhood, at church and in the community. I never thought I’d be facing a years-long struggle to find out why I’m apparently infertile.
Nor did I ever think that the Young Mothers my age would be an enduring source of constant pain. In these evangelical circles in which we move, people seem unprepared to care for or about childless women. Instead, I seem to be wearing an Invisibility Cloak that hides the shame of my infertile existence out of sight of those important progenitors of covenant families. We’ve been highly involved in our church for over five years, and yet I feel isolated, invisible, and unimportant. I’ve taught adult classes in the church on my field of study, and yet the people who learn from me one moment turn around and patronize the next.
There are two events that stand out in stark, bitter relief in my memory:
A young mother three years ago told us, point blank in the middle of a discussion, that neither my husband’s nor my opinion on the subject mattered, since we didn’t have children. I’ve never liked her since; I try to, and I know I should, especially since she’s a gate-keeper to the cliquish world of women my age, but that comment caused a pain that doesn’t seem to heal – especially as the struggle for infertility answers continues to grow longer.
And several months ago – right after my grandfather died, right before I was scheduled to undergo surgery to try to diagnose whether endometriosis was the cause of both infertility and pain (it was inconclusive), right at the beginning of all the depression and panic attacks of this year – a woman with whom I was volunteering in the nursery turned to me and asked, in all seriousness, “You don’t have kids; so what do you TALK about?”
It doesn’t seem to matter anymore that I’m constantly struggling to navigate a Hearing world; it doesn’t seem to matter that I’ve succeeded in pursuing degrees that most women would never even attempt; it doesn’t even seem to matter whether or not I’m an active, dedicated, involved person in my church and community.
Instead, I am the Invisible Outcast – deaf, childless, lonely.
But at least I still have my cats.