Will I ever be a mum?
Joanne Kwok & Sara Koh // May 10, 2017, 12:37 am
As Singaporeans, we know the drill by the time we’re in our teenage years. Get married young, enjoy your first few years as a couple, work hard at your jobs and have children when you’re more settled.
That was Lijia’s plan all along. She had a stable job when she married in her late 20s and looked forward to the first years of marriage with just her husband. She had always loved and wanted kids – when the time was right, of course. Three kids, to be precise.
So the couple started trying for their first child a few years into their marriage. No kids came. They’re into their late-30s now.
“We both got checked up and the doctors could find nothing wrong with either of us,” Lijia shares, her tone even, a picture of calm despite the difficult subject matter.
Nobody has been able to offer them a clear reason on why they have been unable to conceive. So they turned to artificial methods of conception – first the less-invasive IUI, then IVF, hormone injections and all. None worked; with each test that came back negative, there was more heartbreak, more disappointment.
You can hear the lingering frustration from years of questioning in Lijia’s voice.
“It was tough not to have thoughts that maybe we had done something wrong. Or that maybe God had plans for us not to have kids after all,” says Lijia.
“I haven’t gone to church on Mother’s Day for a while.”
SO WHAT IF I’M A PASTOR’S WIFE?
The initial years, as the new reality sank in, were the worst, she says.
“I felt very shortchanged and overlooked. I looked at other women who were getting pregnant with no trouble at all and felt like He had forgotten about me.”
She was angry and embittered. She couldn’t bring herself to talk to God or pick up her Bible. At the peak of her depression, Lijia even considered taking her own life.
Her husband was a pillar of strength at home, managing his own grief as he gently reminded her to cling to God’s promises. “Well, he is a pastor,” Lijia muses. “And all the other pastors who were praying for us kept receiving words of prophecy that we would eventually conceive.”
These were words Lijia struggled to believe, but she started to have dreams involving children. In one, she saw herself holding the hand of a small girl and telling her, Let’s go find Daddy.
“I want to believe that was my daughter.”
“I haven’t gone to church on Mother’s Day for a while.”
Added pressure came as she watched those close to her get pregnant. Unable to stem the jealousy that flooded into her already hurting heart, Lijia distanced herself from them.
“It was really bad. Sometimes I would even stop speaking to that person. I shouldn’t have done that – it wasn’t their fault at all.”
As she wrestled with her faith, she chanced upon Resurrection Year, in which author Sheridan Voysey documents he and his wife’s journey through 10 years of infertility and how they found healing in the disappointment and broken dreams.
“His words were all the words I struggled so hard to express. And I slowly started opening up to people,” Lijia says. “As my husband constantly encouraged me, it wasn’t about them being able to understand my pain, but about them being able to journey alongside with me.”
WEEPING MAY STAY FOR THE NIGHT
In their tenth year of marriage, after more futile rounds of IUI and IVF, Lijia and her husband conceived for the first time. “I wasn’t on IVF treatment anymore, so it didn’t cross my mind at first that I could be pregnant.”
Their friends and family went wild. It was the miracle everyone had been waiting for – until they went for their first ultrasound.
“The doctor couldn’t find the foetus. It was just an empty sac. We had lost the baby within 8 weeks,” she says, her eyes betraying no emotion.
“I had to undergo surgery to remove the sac. While waiting alone outside the operating theatre, I decided to send a long text out to thank everyone for their prayers.”
A tear rolls down her cheek. A full minute of silence hangs in the heavy air.
“When I sent that text out, I wanted closure. I wanted to focus on God and I’m thankful I didn’t blame him. There was this sense of peace I hadn’t felt in a long time. I knew He wasn’t responsible for all that has happened. In fact, He grieves for me. It pains Him to see me in this state of suffering.”
BUT JOY COMES IN THE MORNING
Something changed after that season of great sadness. Now, hearing from couples sharing their joy of getting pregnant doesn’t affect Lijia quite as badly anymore.
“I’m genuinely happy for them. Yes, I still want to be a mother. But motherhood cannot dictate my self-worth or my identity. Even if I never have a child of my own, that doesn’t mean God loves me any less,” she says.
“People think that a breakthrough would mean finally having a baby. But what is a breakthrough in God’s eyes? Is it about getting what you want? Or is it about pleasing Him at the end of the day?”
She even shared her painful journey with the members of the cell group that she leads, allowing them into the darkest parts of her experience.
“I was a mess when I took that first step to share. I was crying so hard. But there was definitely a shift in cell culture after that.
Group sharing moved to a deeper level and you could tell people were more forthcoming about the issues on their hearts. That’s a breakthrough to me.”
“What is a breakthrough in God’s eyes? Is it about getting what you want? Or is it about pleasing Him at the end of the day?”
As we prepared to wrap up the interview, we ask Lijia if she has anything she’d like to say to people who are going through a similar struggle. She takes a while and you know she’s asking herself the same question, but finally finds the words.
“I just want to assure them that the truth is motherhood doesn’t define them. It doesn’t define their self-worth, their identity. God has given them this life and it’s supposed to be an abundant one. Even if it doesn’t feel like it now, it still is because God said so.”
“I hope that they will cling to God as their anchor in this time. To run to Him. Cry to Him. And find strength in Him alone.”
She will be returning to church this Mother’s Day.