As Shirly and I have gone through the labyrinth and challenges of infertility, we have encountered many wonderful souls over the years who have provided us with a measure of comfort and solace. When I shared a link to my blog post on our misadventures with foster adoption on Facebook, one kind sister responded, “Good article. thanks for letting us into your world. sorry for all the grief.”
Well, I hadn’t thought of it in those terms. I mean, yes, there’s definitely grief and pain, but there’s also a degree of peace in it as well. Because you know what? There are blessings to be had from being childless.
Before I go any further, let me be crystal clear: we are beyond ready to have kids. In the wake of the near miss from last week, some kind LDS sisters in our ward have bequeathed to us a whole bunch of baby stuff, including a bassinet, a carrier and a plastic bin of gently used clothes, among other things. We’re in the process of rearranging some furniture and clear out a suitable bedroom (we have lots of space for just the two of us, trust me) for a baby. We’re more than looking forward to filling this void in our lives. So please don’t interpret what I’m about to say as some sort of ambivalence on my part, okay? Okay.
Back in 2010, I found this article by Kathryn Kidd on Meridian. And it got me to thinking about some of the advantages that come with being childless. She mentions the opportunity serve in the temple. At the time, Shirly and I were enjoying serving as ordinance workers in the Houston Temple, an opportunity that is one of the richest spiritual memories of my life and one that I likely would not have had if we had had children.
Kathryn mentions other advantages – she calls them “compensations” – to being childless. There are a few personal ones that I have come to appreciate:
- I’ve had the opportunity to overcome some personal challenges of my own. I have a pretty checkered past where my family of origin is concerned. Having a few years to really address those issues, and not worry nearly so much about transmitting those same issues to my children – has certainly been a blessing.
- I am blessed with a lovely, wonderful, fun marriage. As Kathryn says:
When two partners in a marriage start drifting apart, it is easier for the husband and the wife to focus on the children, rather than on fixing their marriage – or even recognizing that the problems exist. It is only when the last child has left the nest that the wife turns to her friends and says, “We don’t have anything to talk about anymore.”
If there are only two of you in the house, you know there are problems as soon as the problems arise. Because you diagnose the cancer early, it is easy to cut it out without a fatality. And even if there aren’t problems, the fact that it’s just the two of you against the world makes you rely on one another more than other couples are likely to do. People who have only each other to lean on are far more likely to work hard on the relationship.
In the absence of children, we’ve had some time to really work on ourselves and our relationship, and I think the overall results are pretty cool. This is not to say, of course, that our marriage wouldn’t have turned out wonderfully under other circumstances, or that married couples who have children earlier somehow suffer. I’m simply focusing on what has happened, which is that we have been able to focus on our relationship pretty closely and have been blessed as a result.
- I have had increased latitude to make some career mistakes. Look, everybody makes a bad career move or three at some point, and I have no problem saying that I’ve pulled some boneheaded stunts in the workplace. As it has just been the two of us, those mistakes have merely been headaches or hassles, rather than the possible meltdowns or disasters that they might have been had we had children to feed. The extra lead time to establish myself professionally has been a real blessing. I’m sure I’ll make a few more bad career moves before my time in the workforce is over, but getting (hopefully) the worst of it out of my system is a heck of a lot easier to pull off in the absence of children.
- Increased financial stability. Kathryn alludes to this somewhat, but I’ll just come out and say it: not having children relieves one of a major financial burden. As a result, we’ve been able to enjoy some domestic and international travel, much more than we likely would have been able to do with children. Paying for college has also been vastly easier: we were able to finance our respective bachelor’s degrees with no student loans. (We are having to incur some debt with my MBA at the University of Texas at Austin, but we anticipate that the increase I’ll see in my salary will help us pay it off fairly quickly.) Bottom line: that extra lead time to establish ourselves financially means we don’t really have any major financial concerns regarding children.
- Increased spiritual maturity. Shirly is not the same woman I married 16 years ago. Nor am I the man she married. We have both changed, and I believe largely for the better. I think the trials of infertility have certainly shaped us, but I think we’ve been fortunate enough to have been humbled and refined rather than hardened.
This really is the single biggest blessing of all: I have come to appreciate the Atonement on a level that I might not have otherwise. Christ understands, intimately, the pain of not fitting in, of not having the righteous desire of one’s heart in spite of years of faithful obedience. If we let Him, Christ can heal us. And it isn’t just limping along spiritually: He can make us spiritually fit and strong, in spite of our infirmities.
I understand the pain of sin. If we’re going to be honest, all of us have felt that sting on some level. But there is the pain that comes from the afflictions of mortality. When I came to understand that the burden of infertility is something the Lord meant for us to struggle with, I came to realize he didn’t mean for either of us to carry it alone. Shirly and I joined together to help one another carry it; I helped her, and she helped me. As we ministered to each other, the Lord stepped in to help us in our efforts as disciples. And so we were bound even closer as an eternal companionship.
It took years of struggle to be willing to open my heart to the healing power of the Savior’s sacrifice. But it is through these trials that I have come to understand why he has earned the title of Savior: because he truly, literally saves. It is the natural condition of man to suffer. Everyone has their trials. I have found, therefore, great wisdom in the call of King Benjamin to “put off the natural man” and seek for something greater. For this, I must thank our trial of infertility.
To repeat: we want very much to be parents in Zion. But I am grateful for what we have had the opportunity to learn and experience as we have waited, and continue to wait patiently, upon the Lord.