In Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility (Chalice Press, 2016), Elizabeth Hagan opens her heart, describing with exquisite intimacy her excruciating feelings of biological failure, human disappointment and divine abandonment. The reader looking for support while living through infertility will find a friend who understands, and the friend looking for ways to offer support will find answers, in this warm and real account of the author’s attempts to have the baby she so dearly wants.
The paragraph above was the “blurb” or endorsement I wrote for this wonderful new book. I had the privilege of reading parts of the manuscript in development as part of a writing group and seeing the process Elizabeth went through in coming to her conclusions about what the experience of infertility really did in and for her life. She is forthright about how hard it was, about the devastation of failed attempts at IVF and the loss of pregnancies. Women who have been through such losses will recognize the emotional pain, sleepless nights, and strain on a marriage.
In the course of their story, Elizabeth and her husband, Kevin, travel the world doing work on behalf of children, offering no respite from their medical and emotional journey. If the reader is a pastor, a medical professional, or the friend of people living with infertility, Hagan gives guidance on how to be present and how not to make things worse. When friends and loved ones really come through, they are treasured. As Hagan told a seminary classmate:
I took a breath and went on, “So I’m thinking that sometimes the only way that real love can go deep down inside of us is for our heart to be cracked open. And through the pain, love has the room to seep into us and live.” (p. 57)
Hagan’s unique writing voice is much like her “in real life” persona: warm, authentic, frank, and funny. She doesn’t sugarcoat her suffering or portray herself as superhuman. She weeps until the snot flows, flips out when she can’t handle things, and collapses in emotional and spiritual exhaustion. On a trip to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, she leaves a prayer in the cracks, declaring to God that although she has not given birth to a child, she is a mother.
I have children . . .
. . .But no one sees them. They are those who have dwelled within me, but decided to take a short, in fact very short, stay. And I wouldn’t have known about them either, except for the signs that pointed to their dwelling. My body spoke of them through exhaustion, nausea, and the cravings of unusual foods. Something new had found its way into me, and my heart counted the days and yearned for them to stay, even – just even – for one more day. (p. 62)
For the reader, her grief feels visceral. I think this makes the book hard to read yet valuable in its humanity. The new friend in the pages surely deserves better than the disappointments she faces. She offers a gift by allowing the reader to go with her right to the bottom of sorrow and see how life is altered by a dream denied again and again. What will come of her grief? What will happen in her life? Keep reading, and see.
I highly recommend “Birthed” to women grappling with infertility, to doctors and nurses, to pastors and counselors, and to women who want to better understand how to be a friend and a support.
Elizabeth Hagan is a longtime member of the RevGalBlogPals’ blogging community; find her website here.
I received a digital copy of the manuscript for the purposes of writing the endorsement, and a copy of the book as a gift from the author.
Martha Spong is the Executive Director of RevGalBlogPals, a writer, and a clergy coach. She stands not quite 5′ tall, knits socks for anyone who asks for a pair, and is an enthusiastic student of the Enneagram. Follow her on Twitter @marthaspong.
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