Infertility as loss of immortality - Nouwen


This is a thought still in formation and perhaps it is a bit premature for me to blog as I process it.  I just read an excerpt from Henri Nouwen's book, "The Wounded Healer," that made me wonder if part of the struggle of infertility is a loss of sense of immortality.  Nouwen writes,
"When man is no longer able to look beyond his own death and relate himself to what extends beyond the time and space of his life, he loses his desire to create and the excitement of being human." 
He also writes, in reference to some thoughts of Robert Lifton,
"And how can a belief in a 'hereafter' be an answer to the search for immortality when there is hardly any belief in the 'here'?  A life after death can only be thought of in terms of life before it, and nobody can dream of a new earth when there is no old earth to hold any promises."

Infertility can cause one to wonder if anything they do now really has any eternal consequence.  If I am not able to bear physical fruit, it causes me to question if my spiritual fruit is even real. 

What does one leave as one's legacy if one can't leave anything that is tangible?  And for those of us who are in the helping profession, we may have antidotes about a small difference we made, but we may wonder if that difference is lasting.  Where as having a child - raising a child - is something where one can see the fruit of their labors far into the future.

So, I wonder if one of the ways of dealing with the emotional quandary of infertility is dealing with the question of "what will last beyond me?"

If we don't have a sense that something will last beyond ourselves, then we experience a lack of ambition which contributes to depression.

It is as if a person in the prime of their life is experiencing a mid-life crisis.  It explains why it hurts so deeply when someone who is past the mid-life crisis articulates his own realization that "the only good thing I've done in my life is my kids."

Not many people realize that infertility can create a crisis in career and I think it is because we miss this idea of immortality on earth.  As Christians we focus on immortality as eternal in heaven, but there is a human need to feel that even once my life is complete here on earth, something of me remains.  So often at funerals we see that what remains are the children and grandchildren.  But what of the infertile?

So, to move forward as a barren couple, each must discover a way to leave a sense of legacy here on earth, which gives meaning to one's work and meaning to one's life.

The timing of reading this excerpt couldn't be more perfect for me as it seams a momentary light of enlightenment has been brought into the cobweb attic of my emotional brain.


Action step: Married couples have a joint sense of creating something that is "immortal" or a gift of joint legacy in giving life to a child.  As a couple discuss how you might work together to leave a joint legacy.

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