Several years ago, after we had welcomed our miracle daughter into our family, God graciously revealed a treasured part of His heart to me. It was Christmas and I was, admittedly, overwhelmed with emotion. Our first Christmas with a child. Our child. A beautiful, much-prayed-for, miracle daughter. I wrapped one present for her, wrote her name on the tag and put it under the tree. Crying through the entire thing.
Invitro is a cold, medical, scary process. Before we began, I read a couple of books, and too many articles to count, on the ethics of infertility treatments. Especially the freezing or discarding of embryos. Among Christian authors, there was little debate. An embryo is a life. And as a life, it should be given every opportunity to grow and thrive and live. Embryos were not to be thrown away and treated as trash but should be preserved and transferred.
We believed that as well.
Thus, we began the process of shots and egg retrievals. Our embryologist manually injecting one sperm into one egg, then waiting for those two parts to begin dividing and growing into one human, and we knew. We agreed. We believed, any embryo we created, as long as it survived, we would give it a chance at life.
Obviously, we started out thinking this would be easy. We would retrieve the average 10 eggs and have embryos available for freezing.
But. What if?
What if we got pregnant with twins? What if we got pregnant with triplets? What if we still had embryos frozen? What if we had more kids than we planned, could handle, could afford? What if?
So we started praying. Praying God would only allow the exact number, the ordained number of embryos He had planned for us before He placed a single star in the sky, only those embryos would survive the seven-day long process to freezing.
In my foolishness, I thought that would be the easiest way to get around the whole, “What if” thing. Because if we didn’t have any embryos to freeze, then we wouldn’t have to worry about having six children. We’d have the two we’d always dreamed about and be done with it.
I faced a hard truth in that decision. In those prayers for my embryos to die.
In the weeks following our second, and first full attempt, at IVF, I became incredibly aware of embryos being a life. All the reading and informing and researching I had done in preparation for the process did nothing to alleviate a pain I never anticipated.
Those prayers of asking for a simple, clear, direct decision offered me the opportunity to mourn a life that only grew to three or four cells before dying.
Three cells. Four cells. Viewed only through a microscope and magnified thousands and thousands of times.
And yet, in my heart, those four cells? Life-alternatingly enormous.
God creates mothers at the moment He creates life. Our embryologist took sperm and egg and with a syringe, he forced them together. He physically fertilised an egg and a sperm.
But he, Glenn, our embryologist, did not create life.
Only when God breathed life into that fertilised egg did it begin to divide and grow.
And at that very moment, God breathed that embryo’s life into being, He whispered my new name.
I had no idea that would happen. But after our IVF attempt failed, I knew.
I was a mother.
And those four embryos created for that attempt? My children.
It is an odd feeling to be a mother with no children.
Two growing, living human being embryos were placed into my uterus. Infertiles refer to that period, the time between transfer and the blood test for pregnancy, as, “Pregnant until proven otherwise.” But we were never pregnant. We were otherwise.
And yet, I was a mother. Their mother.
Even now, eight years later, I miss them. Not every day. And certainly, my children here with me have provided healing from the grief. But every now and then, I have an “infertility sensitive” day. A day when I grieve, in oh so small ways, comparatively, the loss of my ten children. The ten embryos God breathed life into but I never held on earth.
Those prayers? Prayers I thought were saving us? From what exactly? Too many children? From making decisions about life and death? From having too many blessings? Foolishness. Blindness. Stupidity.
And I felt the weight of those prayers, the guilt and longing and grieving, so freshly for months and months and months.
Until that Christmas, the first Christmas we were celebrating with our daughter.
I remember meditating on Mary and her heart.
“But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” ~ Luke 2:19
I still cling to those words. Mothers, well, we keep a whole lot of things for pondering. Sometimes because there are no words to adequately express our ponderings and sometimes because our ponderings don’t need to be said. Or written. Some things are too precious to share.
But that Christmas, as I was thinking about all the things I was now pondering as a mother, I began seeing Mary, in that stable, sneezing in the hay (because obviously, she would have been allergic, just like me), holding her son and being blissfully unaware of how his life would end.
We have the gift of perspective and time and a historical account of Jesus’ life. We know that baby in a manager will die a horrific death on a cross. We know He does not become an earthly king, sitting on a throne. We joyfully celebrate His birth anticipating His sacrificial death.
Mary, though. She pondered only the events of His birth. His ten little fingers. His ten little toes. His weight in her arms. His brand new, still-smelling-of-heaven life.
But God the Father knew.
He allowed, ordained, sent His son to this earth. And He knew, as Mary pondered His beginnings, the Father was pondering His son’s end.
I thought about the length of time our embryos lived here on earth. Five days. Six days. Maybe seven for some.
How long were those years of Jesus’ life on earth to His Father in heaven? Five seconds? Six minutes? Maybe seven hours?
We allowed embryos to be created and had foolishly prayed for their death to save us from making a decision. From being a mother to too many children. From being faced with our very real inadequacies.
God chose to send His only Son to earth, to His death, to save us from our own deaths. To make a way to Him. To open the doors of His kingdom and become an adopted child of His very own family.
We prayed for death.
God chose death.
The pain I felt when those embryos, my children, did not survive? The grief was dark and rocked my soul. I became physically sick and spiritual broken.
The pain God felt when His son, His only child, died? The earth went dark. The ground shock. God created a physical change in our world and a spiritual change in our eternity.
God taught me. He knew the pain of losing a child. He created a baby. Jesus as a human baby. Knowing, fully and completely, those ten fingers and ten toes would one day be nailed to a cross. To save humanity from an eternity separated from Him.
We had wanted just two. God wanted every single one of us.
This Easter, I pray, when we look at Jesus on the cross, when we see the darkness fall across the earth, when we read of the veil being torn, of the earthquakes, of the realization of the crowds watching as they say, “Surely, this was the Son of God,” we will allow our lives to embrace the joy and love and relief of those moments. He gave His Son and welcomed millions more as their Father.
I pray, we release the shame and guilt and grief over our mistakes, over our losses, over our stupid, stupid choices. And instead, we let Jesus be Jesus. We let God be God. And we let the blood Jesus shed, the blood God the Father knew had to be offered even as Mary marvelled at those ten fingers and ten toes, we let ourselves be a Child of God.
Even though God showed me so much of His heart on that Christmas six years ago, this Easter, the Easter my daughter turns seven, this is the Day I say, It is finished. I will rejoice in my Father, in His sacrifice, in His loving embrace and let Him wash away my burden He nailed to the cross thousands of years ago.
It is time.
It is finished.