Grieving Infertility at the Wailing Wall

Post Author: Elizabeth Hagan

Adult hand holding a child's hand

holding hands

In the midst of our darkest days of navigating our way through miscarriage, failed IVF treatments, and trying to decide how we felt about adoption, an opportunity arose for my husband and me to travel to Israel on an interfaith delegation of peace with three other Northern Virginian clergy. One of the first stops on our trip was the Western Wall. We’d visit one of the most sacred sites in Jewish history. The following, an excerpt from my upcoming book from Chalice Press entitled Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility, is the tear-stained prayer I placed in a crumbled piece of paper in the Wall and an account of what transpired afterwards. I wrote:

I am a Mother.

Yet in my house there are no stray toys rolling around on the floor. There are no sippy cups with apple juice residue piled up by the sink. There are no schedules of what child goes where and when on our refrigerator. There are no school papers stacked on our kitchen table or science project parts strewn across our countertops.

I am not identified in any communities of mothers. I am not invited to forums of mothers who work outside the home. I’ve never read What to Expect When You’re Expecting, or gone to a play group with girlfriends and their kids. I cringe when I am asked by strangers: “How many kids do you have?” Why? Because I always have to say, “I have none.”

Rather, my home life is as adult-centered as it comes. Almost never do you find my husband and me sitting at the kitchen table at mealtimes. You wouldn’t find child-protective devices on our electrical outlets or wine cabinet doors, nor do we sketch out our weekend activities around nap times or soccer games. And there are empty rooms in our home, two of them. Though we’ve planned big, it is still just the two of us.

But, I am a Mother. I have children…

…But no one sees them. There 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 cravings for 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. I loved them, each one of them.

And when they were gone, making their way out of me like disgruntled houseguests, I wept. I cried tears so big they ran from my cheeks to my navel. They poured like an upstream river out of my being. I didn’t know when or if the intense pain would ever stop. I couldn’t believe that such a good gift could be so cruelly taken so soon. Yet, these children were never gone from my heart. I was still their Mother.

Yet, there remain in this time and space children of mine who I do not mother alone. Some have blonde hair, some have dark skin; some are very young, and others are much older than me in years but alone in their own way. Each is searching for spaces in this crazy world to call their own and for someone to recognize who they really are. They cry out and, even though my own pain sings a loud song, I do hear them. It is my honor to see them. I fiercely want to protect them from any more of life’s deepest pains. I love them and weep for them too—not because their life has gone from me, rather because it has come and stayed close. They have come into my heart and they are now part of me too. Our bond is undeniably good.

So, no, I may never be able to attend the innocence of the average baby shower with other mothers-to-be, or be invited to a mother’s support group, or even be able to talk fully about my mothering pain and joy in public. I am learning to accept that the gift of mothering I have been given may never be understood by most. And I might never know what physical life coming from my womb is like. Such is the cost of unconventional motherhood: loneliness.

Yet, no matter how I feel or what others say or even what the future may hold for me, there is one thing I know: I am, and will always be, a Mother.

As I emptied my soul of these words, a great sense of relief came over me. Though my instinct was to take the prayer out of the wall and cherish my words again, I just couldn’t. The prayer sat in the cracks of the Wall. It was no longer my burden to carry. My worries belonged to God.

Soon after this prayer-surrendering process, I felt a strong need to cover my head with the floral red scarf I’d brought along while I sat in one of the white plastic chairs close to the wall. There was no official who asked me to cover my head, as had been the case with the site we visited the day before, but it seemed like the right thing to do. To cover my head allowed me to take in what being at a site full of so many hopes, so many sorrows, and so many worries meant for generations before me right then at that very moment.

As I looked with tears rolling down my cheeks at the crowd of my sisters that surrounded me, I was truly glad that no men were present. Maybe someone was crying tears from a font similar to mine? Who knew? There are unique sorrows in what it means to be a woman, and it felt right to be able to grieve alongside those who could understand me the most.

I saw an African woman kneeling, leaning toward the wall, praying with a rosary. I saw a Euro-American woman kissing the wall as if it were her long-lost lover. I observed a woman with Down syndrome embracing a teenage traveling companion, so overcome by sadness that she could hardly stand, weeping into her arms. I saw a Jewish woman, prayer book in hand, rocking back and forth with more devotion toward a holy book than I’ve ever seen by my peers toward any Christian text.

And I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay and cry and cry and truly invite any sadness in me to come out and be gone. I was tired of it. Yet the longer I sat in the chair, the more I felt the Spirit saying to me, “Get up. Go in peace. You’ve grieved enough.”

Elizabeth Hagan is an ordained American Baptist minister currently serving churches through intentional interims in the Washington, DC area. She’s the author of Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility with Chalice Press in October. You can follow her adventures in non-traditional mothering over at

Image by: Jonathan Cohen
Used with permission
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