The Scarlet Letter that Led to Community: Infertility as an Expat

The Scarlet Letter that Led to Community

“Thwack-thwack!” Her cleaver severed the chicken on the chopping block as it came down with each powerful swing. We had been going to the same chicken butcher for about six months. Normally the husband served us, but on this night his wife was there. It was nice to finally meet her. As her toned arm worked the cleaver up and down, we began chatting.

I asked her if she had any children. “Not yet,” she responded. I asked her how long she had been married. “Almost twelve years,” she said. Without missing a beat, I said, “We’ve been married for six years, and we don’t have kids either.” Her hand finally stilled and rested as she stopped to look up at me.

At that moment a silence passed between us, and neither of us had to explain anything. Though we were from different corners of the world, and there was so much about each other’s lives that we would never understand, we both understood this grief, this longing, this desire, and this shame.

I asked this older sister, “What am I supposed to tell people here? I feel like they ask me about this all the time.” I wanted to learn from her. I needed to know what the culturally appropriate response was to our shared predicament. I had only mapped out some rude and snarky ones in my mind that were not appropriate or loving. 

She said, “We just tell them that these things take time.”

It certainly is still taking its time.

Loss and longing have bred connection

Waiting in the grief and uncertainty is difficult. The barrenness of my womb has often left my heart feeling barren as well. I never anticipated community and relationships to take root and grow in this barren soil.

I have felt desperately alone in my longing. Initially, it was like a vortex that pulled me into myself for a season. I thought that my childlessness set me aside and apart, and I felt like I was wearing some kind of scarlet letter on my sweater everywhere I went.

I now realize how it has served as a common ground on which to connect. Longing and loss are universal to the human experience. These emotions are fertile soil for growth and community. This path of infertility that I am walking with the Lord has led to deeper relationships and unexpected connections with women in South Asia, expat colleagues, and friends in the U.S.

Unexpected Community

When we were making plans to move overseas, we were anxious about community. Leaving the familiar to step into the unknown, like five-year-old children we prayed constantly for new friends; we asked our friends to pray that we would have more friends! We knew that we needed friends and community to thrive. Though I desperately wanted close friends, I had my own ideas of how these relationships would be planted and fostered.

I never anticipated that my journey of infertility would be an answer to this prayer. There have been difficult days when I believe the lies of the enemy and doubt my worth; days when I thought about how all this could be different if I were someplace with better medical care. There have also been days of unanticipated intimacy: nods of understanding, comfortable silence, and the slight smiles that signify understanding.

My infertility has been many unexpected things. It has been an opportunity for connection, a platform to share my desires and wants, a chance to ask for prayer, an opening for public displays of my weakness and need. A simple, normal question about my life can serve as the beginning of a deep conversation about how God is meeting my needs in the midst of waiting.

Blessing of Community in Adversity

Longing to grow our family and waiting on his timing has also allowed me to relate both to single women on my team who are longing for marriage, and friends in my passport country also struggling with infertility. I am grateful to connect with each of these women in ways that would have set us apart before, but loss and longing have bred connection. I would have never thought that infertility could have brought blessings. As I reflect on the relationships that have grown from my barrenness, I am amazed by how the Lord has worked to bring goodness into my life and answer my prayers for community.

Perhaps there are other things that God is working his goodness into that I have overlooked. Are there ways that you are overlooking his goodness and answer to prayer because it has come disguised in the cloak of adversity or hardship? How is God using hardship to foster community in your life?

Photo by Cristina Cerda on Unsplash

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  1. Laura June 5, 2021

    Thanks for sharing Gwen. I’m single and resonated deeply with much of what you wrote.

    1. Gwen E June 5, 2021

      I am glad that you resonated with me. I am constantly surprised at how similar these feelings are even when I have convinced myself that I am completely alone. Though we all do have unique experiences with grief and longing, there is power in sharing and being vulnerable. I appreciate the ways you connected aspects of this with singleness. Thank you for reading!

  2. Sarah Hilkemann June 8, 2021

    Gwen, thank you for sharing so honestly! While I don’t love the pain and longing of the journey of infertility for you, I’m so grateful for your heart and the way God has opened up paths for community through this. As someone who is single and longing for marriage, my heart also resonates with what you shared. Thank you!

    1. Gwen E June 8, 2021

      Thank you for letting my words speak to you! I feel like the Lord has given me this opportunity to understand grief and longing on another level – these are universal emotions! While I never would have asked or imagined how he would bring about these opportunities for connection, I am so glad that He did. I get to experience deeper levels of connection and friendship because of it.
      Thank you for sharing your heart here too!

  3. Theresa June 23, 2021

    It is so crazy how being vulnerable about something that is deeply painful can actually bring connection and encouragement. It’s happened to me, too, and always feels a little counter-intuitive. Thank you for writing this to give us the chance to relate, too!

    1. Gwen E June 30, 2021

      Counter-intuitive is the perfect way to describe it! Thanks for the encouragement.

  4. Bonita June 26, 2021

    I am very sorry for your grief and how hard the infertility must be for you. However, as a woman who has been married for 12 years with no children (not by my choice so much as God’s) I have been encouraged by how much my husband and I are able to do partly because we don’t have kids. I understand the looks and feeling that people think you haven’t grown up yet but I am thankful for the opportunities as well. Recently I was encouraged by the story of Abram and Sarai who were able to pick up and move, maybe partly because they didn’t have any kids. This doesn’t take away the pain but I hope God continues to give you a rich life in whatever way he sees best for you!

    1. Gwen E June 30, 2021

      Yes, thank you for pointing those freedoms out. As much as I have longed for children, I have still seen God work and bring his glory about in countless ways. I used to think his glory would mean a pregnancy, but I have seen him work in ways that were and are much bigger than I would have asked or imaged.
      Thanks for the encouragement!

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