What to Do When You’re Dreading Your Birthday

by | Nov 12, 2019 | Research | 46 comments

Lamenting a Sad Birthday

Sometimes life is just hard. And it’s often birthdays and holidays that mark the passage of time, and remind us when life isn’t going as planned.

I write most of the posts on this blog, but I have a small team behind me. Rebecca (my daughter) writes a ton, moderates comments, and does a lot of the product development. Connor (my son-in-law) does all the technical stuff and the SEO, which is a huge help because I don’t have to panic about it. Tammy (my long-time friend) answers all my emails, books all my speaking, and in general just makes sure stuff is running. Emily does the formatting. Rochelle does some research.

And then there’s Joanna, who is my main researcher, but who is also co-authoring our upcoming book with Rebecca and me. She’s been a godsend to the blog.

She’s also had a rough year, and tomorrow is her birthday. She asked if she could share some thoughts she had, and I thought that these may resonate with some of you. So here’s Joanna, on the last day that she’s 28:

A lot of the time, when we’re ready to talk about the hard things in our lives, it’s nice to have a lesson and tie it up with a bow.

But today, I need to give a bit of a lament, as I’m working my way through the valley.

Lamenting a Sad Birthday

Tomorrow is my 29th birthday! I’m ready(?) to say hello to the last year in my 20s. I love birthdays and Christmas and all opportunities for gift giving and celebration, so I was surprised when I realized last week that I’m, quite frankly, dreading my birthday.

The Paris attack happened a few years ago on my birthday and my husband was out of town so I was alone, watching the news, and feeling hurt that terrorists had stolen my special day from me. It was le crappy.

But this feels different.

Part of it is that I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer on the day after my birthday last year (I then got to watch my favorite show and play my favorite board game with Rebecca, Connor, and my husband, Josiah, so it was better than it could have been). And that anniversary is definitely part of my birthday dread. But I don’t think that’s all, or even MOST, of it.

2019 has not gone entirely to plan, you see.

We’ve had some amazing things – my book deal with Rebecca and Sheila ranks very high, but the biggest joy is our 20 month old who is all sweetness and light and amazes us with how much she is learning and growing.

Joanna with Mari miscarriage

But my big hope for this year was that we’d have our second baby. I’m 20 months older than my brother and I really wanted kids close in age. Plus, I needed fertility help to conceive my daughter, so I didn’t want to wait and regret it later.

We were thrilled in April when we found out we were expecting and everything went beautifully (easier than it had with my daughter) until June 13, when I woke up with cramps in the wee hours of the morning and miscarried. We didn’t know it at the time, but I have a bleeding disorder and so once the miscarriage started, I began to bleed profusely. I knew Keith was around so I considered calling him, but then I suggested phoning 911. My husband told me that if that’s your instinct, you call. I’m so glad the ambulance came because if we had delayed, I could very easily have bled to death or have had severe long term effects from blood loss.

By the time I reached the hospital, I was in hypovolemic shock and I had a bp of 52/26. (Keith and Sheila came to be with us in the ER – Keith showed me where the sick bags are and kept my family in the loop about my care as I gave the doctors a bit of a scare, and Sheila kept me company for hours while Josiah sorted out childcare for our toddler. They were a huge help to us on a truly horrible day.)

We’ve done a lot of healing since then, but it’s been especially hard since I haven’t managed to get pregnant again.

I’m on medication because of my cancer, and that could be causing the problems, and I’ve been referred to a fertility center, but the fact remains that the 2 year-ish gap between kids I’d always dreamed of is simply not going to happen. Hopefully I’ll be able to get help soon, but still, this isn’t the way I wanted it to happen.

It’s been a lot for us to process – the not being pregnant, the miscarriage, the bleeding disorder, the coming scarily close to bleeding to death on the vinyl floor of my foyer… all of it.

Plus, I’d really wanted to have another baby before I turned 30, and I realized that that was getting in the way of my enjoying my upcoming birthday – I feel the clock ticking.

I know what you’re thinking – why does this matter? What’s the difference between 29 and 9 months and 30 and 0 months? The answer, of course, is nothing. But it’s been a very interesting journey to do some thinking about WHY this is bothering me SO MUCH. (Quite frankly, I’m upset more than I ought to be.)

It’s wrapped up in a lot, and I’ve been able to process the whys. And a lot of the time, that helps. But sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes, I just feel very disappointed.

Our daughter is more than enough for us, and our family will be full and wonderful if she’s the only child we ever have. Having one baby is more than many folks who deal with infertility can boast, so I’m trying really hard to count my blessings and to focus on the good things in my life. I’m celebrating with the people in my life who are expecting. I’m doing my very, very best. But I’m still sad about my birthday and I don’t like it.

Here’s the deal – I’m a huge believer in rejoicing with those who rejoice. I believe in doing hard things. I remind myself regularly to “suck it up, buttercup.” But I’m also learning to sort out what is MINE to do and what is NOT. I’m also learning about being honest with myself AND with other people about how I’m feeling. So here’s my plan of attack as my birthday approaches.

Joanna and Josiah and Mari on Walk

A spring walk last year–that’s Keith in the background!

1. Focus on a happy thing coming soon

Right now, that’s Thanksgiving (I’m an American living in Canada, and we’ll be heading back to Pennsylvania for the holidays!)! We’ll be having a friends-giving (35 years running) and then will be hosting a bunch of extended family. Plus, my husband saved up his vacation days so he can take the whole week off, so we’ll have time to relax, visit friends, and get some R&R. Having something to look forward to is really helping me.

2. Be honest with how I’m feeling

It’s okay to be sad. I try to rush through bad emotions because I don’t want to wallow, but I’m learning to make space for the hard things and not to push them aside. This isn’t what I wanted and it’s hard. So I’m going to be sad, if I need to be sad.

3. Count my blessings

Because yeah, its hard. And no, it is NOT fair that I got a cancer diagnosis, a bleeding disorder diagnosis, a miscarriage, infertility, and severe allergies in my baby which forced me to rehome my beloved bunny all in about a year. Not fun. But my suffering is a pittance compared to the difficulties other folks I know are dealing with and they do it with a lot of grace. I’m doing my best to remember how much I have in my life to be thankful for.

4. Remember & be grateful

The big reason I’ve been particular about my age at childbearing is that my grandmother died when I was 10.

I know that’s out of left field, so let me explain. Grandma came to live with us when I was 6 and she was one of my primary caregivers until her death. I’m named after her – she was Joann Amelia (get it? Take the “a” from Amelia and you have my name) and I still miss her a lot. Her death feels unfair to me – she was super sick for 30+ years, right up until her death at 67 and really, I feel like she should still be here. I wish she could have met my baby girl and talked to me about my book. I wish I’d had her wisdom as I grew to be a teenager. I was old enough at the time that I remember it all – her coming to live with us, her illness, her death, everything. I remember. And I’m terrified that my kids won’t remember, that they won’t have their grandparents or their parents for as long as they need them. While I KNOW that isn’t logical or likely, a lot of my emotions swirl around that deep fear.

So when my mom asked me what I want to do for my birthday when we’re home for Thanksgiving, it was pretty easy – I want to see Mrs. Bailey in New Wilmington and I want to visit my grandmother who is still living, who I call Nanny.

Mrs. Bailey is in her mid-eighties and she is a paragon of moral courage. SHE MOUTH PIPETTED POLIO VIRUS TO HELP JONAS SALK DEVELOP THE POLIO VACCINE. She literally risked her life by sucking polio-containing liquid up into a straw so that she could save the world. AND THEN SHE DID. Then she became a missionary and lived in the middle east for decades and taught microbiology in Arabic and she is my hero. Nanny got a job offer to work at a very-important-government-agency but turned it down so she could be with her kids. She had 9 in 11 years – no multiples! She’s a hero and she’s the actual BEST with babies. I can’t wait to see her and to enjoy my daughter’s joy at having some special time with her great-grandmother.

I don’t get to have my Grandma. But I do get Mrs. Bailey and I have Nanny. We won’t have them forever, so this year, I’m so glad that we can make the drive with my mom and my baby so that we can all enjoy each other for awhile. I’ll remember my grandma in heaven, the grandma who is holding my precious baby who we never got to hold, and I know that she and my other loved ones who are with Jesus are looking after our little one. And I’ll be thankful for the gift that Mrs. Bailey & Nanny are to us here.

So now that I’ve made my confession of definitely-not-being-totally-fine-with-this-no-pregnancy-situation let me ask you for a favor.

What I’d really like for my birthday, is for you to help me find women to do our survey on marital and sexual satisafaction. I know, LAME BIRTHDAY REQUEST! Except, of course, it isn’t. I really want for our survey to be as inclusive as possible and have a diverse cross section of women from different backgrounds and experiences – so we need to share it! If it’s just all people who read the blog, that’s a lot less powerful than if we’re getting people who you know!

And yes, I did give myself a treat today while my daughter was napping and let myself calculate one statistic from the survey. It was super fast and *I let myself do it by hand because it would be more fun.* THAT is the depth of my nerd-dom. It’s terrifying. So seriously, if you help me find people to do my survey, I will feel so happy!

Joanna excited about our marriage survey

So here’s my wish list

  1. Take the survey!
  2. Send the link to 5 of your friends (just click through and copy the URL)
  3. Share the link to the survey on social media (


We could easily get to 10,000 responses today (we’re almost there!) if everyone reading this did that. And that would give me something else to smile about for my birthday!

How have you handled milestones that you’ve reached when life hasn’t gone as planned? Any thoughts for Joanna today? Let’s talk in the comments!

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Kim

    I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer also at the same age. I was just pregnant with my fourth. I’ve since had three surgeries but I’ve now been mostly cancer free for 7 years. Praise God! I pray you have a good birthday. Birthdays are a blessing! And here’s some humor i say to my kids that I saw in the gift shop once at the cancer center where I was receiving treatment- “studies show those who have birthdays live longer;)”

  2. nylse

    I know we say “Happy” birthday but it doesn’t mean you have to be happy on your birthday. It does mean we’re happy you are here – the world would be so much different if you weren’t. So enjoy your day, count your blessings, know that God has it all under control and has your best interests at heart. And remember you’re only 29 – God willing you have a whole lot of life in front of you. At some point, you may look back with wonder. Enjoy the day!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I like that, Nylse–“we’re happy you’re here.”

    • Joanna Sawatsky

      That’s a really lovely sentiment! I’m going to tuck that one away for later!

  3. Beckisue

    Happy Birthday! My birthday is tomorrow also. (I am a few years older than you) 😉 I can certainly relate to your lamenting that your life hasn’t gone as you planned. I always planned on getting married young and having a large family. I didn’t get married until I was 33 and have dealt with secondary infertility and multiple miscarriages. I am currently 15 weeks pregnant with what I trust will be my 3rd living child. Even though I am very happy and excited to have this child, starting over with the NB stage at 42 can be very overwhelming to me at times.
    I appreciate your recognizing the hard things but not dwelling there. I trust this next year will be one of many blessings for you. ❤️

    P.S. I already took the survey. 😊

    • Joanna Sawatsky

      Thanks so much for your encouragement (and for taking the survey!) And November 13 is a great day for a birthday (in all seriousness, I’ve found those of us born on the 13th of a month have a special bond over “our” number being so frequently derided. Makes me laugh.)

      Congratulations on your wonderful baby! Will pray your little one arrives safely next year. Miscarriages and infertility are a hard road – may you feel God’s presence tomorrow especially and as you prepare for your new arrival while mourning the ones you didn’t get to hold.

  4. G

    Such a good reminder that our sad emotions exists for a reason. Being thankful is a great thing. Being present with our negative emotions in order to feel them and process through them and learn from them is important also. Grieving and triggers and sadness are all real things. God knows grief and doesn’t just comfort it away, but He also mourns with us and collects our tears in a bottle- He is safe to grieve with. I hope your birthday has happy moments and also freedom to feel whatever you need to feel that day.

    • Joanna Sawatsky

      That’s been my big lesson of the year – the tension between gratefulness and lament. It’s a paradox, but that’s life, I think! Thanks so much for your encouragement <3

  5. Tory

    I wanted to encourage you because I went through something similar. It took me a while to get pregnant again after I had my first child. Like you, I wanted two before 30 (don’t ask me why. Now it seems pretty arbitrary but back then it was super important to me) and like you, I wanted them close in age. When I finally got pregnant, I ended up miscarrying. While my miscarriage was not as dramatic as yours, it took weeks, and things looked touch-and-go, and the doctors were really optimistic, which gave me false hope. After weeks of bleeding off and on, tons of ultrasounds and blood tests, invasive dr visits, anxiety mixed with hope, unfortunately my pregnancy ended. I nearly went out of my mind with grief. Additionally, I felt like my husband had been unsupportive and our marriage entered a period of stress. Not to mention that the following week, five (yes FIVE!!!) out of my close friends and cousins announced their pregnancies. Talk about painful! In the following few months we were also tested in other ways: my car was totaled when I was hit head-on by a drunk driver, my brother-in-law passed away suddenly. When I finally conceived again, I couldn’t relax because I was convinced something would go wrong. But you know what, God wasn’t finished with my story and He isn’t finished with yours. I have three children today. There are large age gaps between them.
    And I had them much older than I planned. But even though they are spaced out, they are still the best of friends. My fifth grader and my first grader do everything together. They play with the same toys, they have the same friends in the neighborhood. They are inseparable. I look back on that year of grief and it’s just a distant memory now. God restores what the locusts have stolen! Your story is still in progress.

    • Joanna Sawatsky

      Thanks so much for your encouragement!

      And I also don’t want you to think that my miscarriage was somehow worse than yours. The scare I gave people was definitely not good, but I’m also grateful that we didn’t have weeks of waiting and stress. That must have been so hard. Thanks for sharing your story <3

      And I'm especially encouraged to hear how close your kids are - I keep reminding myself of sibling groups I know who are close even if they're farther apart in age.

  6. BD

    I want to encourage you with my story…not the same as yours, but I was in a similar place as you, wanting my children to be close in age, not wanting to be having children when I was ‘old.’ My husband and I married at ages 25 and 28. We had our first child when I was nearly 27, already much older than most of our friends (many of their youngest children are the same age as our oldest). I got pregnant again when our daughter was almost 2, and had a traumatic late term miscarriage at 17 weeks (another girl). Our next daughter was born a year and a half later. The next pregnancy ended at 17 weeks again, and this time it was a boy. Two late term miscarriages, both with no obvious cause. My next pregnancy was full of fear and anxiety and was physically difficult. I struggled with postpartum anxiety that began within hours of her birth. And then…surprise…when she was 9 months old, I was pregnant again! At age 35. The Lord was so gracious to me during that pregnancy; my diet had changed significantly, and I had energy to spare. Our sweet boy was born a few weeks before I turned 36.

    Our family looks nothing like what I had anticipated. There are 3.5 years between the first two, 4 years between 2 and 3, and a brief 18 months between the last two. And now at almost 41, I have a 13yo, a 10yo, a 6yo, and a 4yo. Some of my friends will likely be grandparents in a couple of years!

    I was so anxious about the age gaps, but my children are best friends. The gaps have their own unique beauty, and I wouldn’t change anything about how the Lord planned our family. I grieved for what I thought were lost years, but the Lord has poured out blessing after blessing on our family.

    My prayer for you on your birthday is that you may be able to rest in the Lord’s plan and care for you!

    • Joanna Sawatsky

      Thanks so much for the encouragement and for sharing your story 🙂

      So glad you have a wonderful family and that you are able to enjoy them all and see God’s hand as you look back.

      • Wifey

        Joanna! I just wanted to reiterate what a blessing age gaps can be. I have a brother 2.5 years younger than me, then it was 8 years before my next brother was born and 2.5 years after that, my sister! So, to illustrate:

        Brother- 24
        Little Brother- 16
        Sister- 13

        My sister is closer in age to my son (1) than she is to me! We are all, I will add, 100% biological siblings. My parents views on birth control changed as they grew in their walk with the Lord and they chose to open the door to more children, hence my youngest two siblings. I can’t imagine life without them. For one thing, they enabled me to have a ‘trial’ parenting run. I got up many nights to take care of my little bro during his bed wetting phase, or check up on my little sis when she had a bad dream. I wasn’t responsible, but I had the unique opportunity to ‘practice’ parenting without actually being the parent. As a result, I have had so much confidence with my own son. My husband had a similar sibling situation.

        Hubs- 24
        Sister- 22
        Little Sister- 16
        Brother- 13

        God really used our siblings not only to bless us but prepare us! Now, in the spirit of full disclosure,we are already praying for baby #5 (I count our3 babies already with Jesus in that number), and in our limited wisdom we rather hope for our kiddos to be closer together, but we have seen the age gap be a huge blessing, so we’re up for whatever the Lord chooses!

        Also, having basically 2 sets of kids has enabled my parents and my in laws a unique ministry to bless and encourage younger families due to the large gap in their own children. All our parents are now 50 or 51 and they still have young ones at home. They have the knowledge of parenting younger and older children and can pass that along to families who may be in their early/mid 30s with kids the same age as their own 2nd set!

        I hope this doesn’t overwhelm you, but encourages you that God really does plan families beautifully. Thanks for sharing your heart and allowing us to mourn with you. Blessings to you and your sweet family as you grow!

        • Joanna Sawatsky

          Thanks so much for your encouragement! I love hearing these stories of families with big age gaps and how God has used that for each family to bring about all kinds of good things. 😀

  7. Joy

    There is a reason scripture says weep with those who weep. We have a hard time mourning in our culture and we feel we must apologize for being sad.
    I was 28 when I got married, not my plan but oh,God brought the best guy into my life. And then we ended up waiting for our babies too. I had a miscarriage and then surgery for endometriosis. And 6 weeks after surgery our little David was conceived, and our Christine is 15 months younger then her brother. Again, not my plan to be having my children in my late 30’s. But my 30’s have been some of my best years. I have grown in Christ, built a great marriage. Lost a baby, had two babies. Mourned what could have been. Mourned with those who mourn, rejoiced with those rejoicing.
    I took the survey!! Sending it to friends today. Love your geeking out on all this.

    • Joanna Sawatsky

      Thanks so much for sharing the survey AND for sharing your story. And I’m with you – we do really try to rush our feelings.

      I’ve got family with endometriosis and it is an awful condition. So sorry you had to struggle with it. But I’m so glad for all the stories of the Lord bringing beauty from ashes.

  8. Cynthia

    That was a wonderfully written although obviously painful post.

    I had my first miscarriage in Nov. 1998 and my third in Nov. 2001, so this time of year gets me remembering that. I relate to what you and another commenter said about being present and feeling all the emotions. That was a huge thing for me – everything felt far more intense. I tried to ignore and skip over the grief with the 2nd and 3rd losses (they were within a few months of each other), but that didn’t work. My husband and I found that it just came out in other ways. He had panic at the thought of buying a house even though we needed to do so, I had a back ache that resisted all treatment, and we finally broke down and admitted that we were really grieving. The emotional energy of denying it was draining us.

    While I don’t know how exactly your journey will go, I trust that this detour may not be what anyone would want or plan but may still lead to a great place. I remember it being hard when miscarriage #3 was just after my daughter’s second birthday and wondering if she would ever have a sibling, or how big the age gap would be. In the end, her sister came along and they are exactly 3 years apart. Today at 17 and 20 they are really close and think that age gap is perfect. I also appreciated that her birth was just as much a miracle as her sister’s arrival had been.

    • Joanna Sawatsky

      Thank you so much for sharing your story, Cynthia. And I’m so with you – learning to allow ourselves to grieve is so hard. I tend to be a “keep on trucking” kind of a person and letting myself stop and feel is… not my best skill or ability. I’m glad that you and your husband were able to process the grief together and figure out the “why” behind your struggles.

      So glad to hear how close your girls are. We are prayerful that if our daughter is blessed with a sibling that they will have a wonderful bond, no matter what the age gap ends up being.

  9. Lindsey

    I’m sorry for the year that you’ve had. It’s really sucky when our plans for life get sidetracked by factors outside of our control. I hope your next year is better.

    I turn 29 in January, and I am NOT excited about it, either. Not for any of the serious issues you’ve faced – but just because I’m disappointed with myself this year. I have a significant amount of weight to lose, but I’m only about ten lbs less now than I was at the beginning of the year. I know I was capable of more, and I’m upset with myself for not doing the hard work to stay consistent.

    Milestones often remind us of where we wanted to be, and when aren’t anywhere close, they can be discouraging. Thanks for being vulnerable enough to start the conversation.

  10. Arwen

    Thank you for opening up Joanna. And happy birthday! I pray the Lord will grant you many more years to serve Him. We will be the same age except i turned 29 on Oct. 8th! Even though i can’t take the marriage survey i have shared it on all my social media platform. Hope it’s a success!!!

    I’m not ready to open up about my life to the internet just yet, maybe one day on my own personal blog post i might. However i sympathize with you because i KNOW pain and suffering. Most people who hear my life story are dumb founded that i’m even alive. Life hasn’t been good to me, i have gone through more suffering in my 29 years of life than any person i know around me. That’s not to make light of the suffering of others only to say that i daily echo what Job said, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes.”

    And the Lord has given us another year to live! I had the same lament as you when i turned 29. Now that a whole month has passed it just feels like another normal day. I said a prayer for you and i’m glad you’re surrounded by family and friends who love you. In a time of sadness they are so, so important!

    • Joanna Sawatsky

      Many prayers to you, sister, as you journey through this new year. I’m with you – it’s a blend of being thankful and being sad – grateful for the blessings of a new year, of God’s goodness and faithfulness, while still lamenting the many hard things. I’m so sorry for all of the hard things you’ve faced in your life. May you feel His presence in a special way this year.

      Thank you SO much for sharing the link to the survey. We so appreciate it. You are a gem.

  11. Cara

    Infertility is awful. We went through 4 years of it and a miscarriage before welcoming our first baby.

    I’m sorry you’ve had such a rotten year but I’m glad you were raw and honest about it. I’ve been in a bad season and it’s got me all messed up.

    I can’t get the link to send to friends because it just says “you’ve already done the survey”

    • Joanna Sawatsky

      Oh, that long journey of infertility must have been so hard. While my miscarriage was awful, having my daughter to come home to was such a balm to my soul.

      If you share the link with them, it will let them complete it – our survey provider prevents multiple people from completing the survey from the same IP address. Alternatively, if you’d like to sign up for a recruiter link (and be eligible for a bunch of special prizes) you can send me an email at joanna @ tolovehonorandvacuum.com and I can get you your own link to share 🙂

  12. Phil

    Hi Joanna – so sorry you had to go through all that. I have my list of crap for 2019 some of it spill over from late 2018. I am bipolar and I have a form Of leukemia. Been dealing with the Leukemia for a while now but the bipolar thing is still fairly fresh. I think we have it figured out for now but they still impact me. I believe it Was you I had an exchange with a while back about owning a bunny and I Am so sorry you had to give up your friend. My little guy ended up getting a bunny this past July. His name is Rascal. I appreciate your attitude as you stay in gratitude and work through your stuff. I hate life is so hard for us sometimes. I recently have been struggling with depression which is not a norm for me. The way I have decided to get to the other side is give it away. I dont want it so I am choosing not. Sounds simple and it is But sometimes not so easy or fun. I wish you the happiest of birthdays and I did my best and got my wife to fill out the survey. I hope your new book is a smash hit! Take care.

    • Joanna Sawatsky

      Thanks so much, Phil. I’ve so appreciated your encouragement throughout the last year. You are a gift to all of us here at TLHV.

      I’m so sorry for your continuing health challenges – both with mental health and with leukemia and I hope you’re able to get good care for all of it.

      Thanks for your help regarding the survey! We so appreciate you!

  13. RNmom

    Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.
    2 Corinthians:1:4

  14. Elsie

    Thank you for sharing your story, Joanna. What a difficult past year! Praying for you and your family.

    My 34 birthday is coming up soon and it’s also feels different for me this year than past birthdays. In the past, it hasn’t been a big deal but this year feels sadder to me too. I always thought I would have kids by 35. My husband and I haven’t started trying yet but we need to delay a few more years for financial reasons (tremendous student loan debt) and I fear that by the time we are ready it might be more difficult or risky.

    I married at 31 and finished my PhD at 32 (fellow public health nerd here by the way) so it feels now that I have to do everything at once – establish my career, pay off student loans, and start a family at the same time. It feels like I’m trying to juggle too many balls at once and I am running out of time. Unfortunately for financial reasons I have to work and I worry about potential pregnancy discrimination (I’m in a two year fellowship now but will need to find a permanent job after that). People tell me that there is never a perfect time to have a baby but now feels like a particularly bad time. I’m doing everything I can to fix that but there is so much I can’t control. (I obviously should have made some different choices esp in regards to taking on debt for school but I can’t do anything about that now)

    Thanks to all the people who commented with their stories, it is encouraging to see how others have also had their lives not work out according to what they planned but how the story didn’t end there. Also praying for all who have experienced infertility and pregnancy loss, my heart goes out to you

    • Joanna Sawatsky

      Hi Elsie,

      Congratulations on getting your PhD – academia is a difficult world! And public health is a fun field – I love being able to play in so many sandboxes. I’m sorry you’re dealing with student loans and the financial stress while also trying to break into public health as a field.

      Thanks for your encouragement. My husband and I also really appreciated reading through the comments – it made me feel so good to see God’s hand in people’s stories, even if they didn’t get the ending they wanted.

      I’m sorry you’re in the midst of a season that is a LOT. May God give you his peace that passes understanding in this season.

  15. Susanna Musser

    What stood out to me in what you wrote, Joanna, was you thinking that you’re more upset than you ought to be. I don’t believe in telling people (including myself) that they should feel or should not feel a certain way. Besides being useless and unempathetic advice, it just adds an unnecessary layer of guilt to the emotions we’re already plowing through. You shouldn’t have to justify your struggle. You’re a grieving mama. I know the terrible pain of losing children, and I’m so terribly sorry you are having to walk this path.

    • Susanna Musser

      In other words, going through the human emotions doesn’t mean you don’t trust God, it means you’re a mama whose tiny, very-much-beloved baby died. That HURTS. And I’m sorry.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        That’s lovely, Susanna. Thank you.

    • Joanna Sawatsky

      Thanks so much, Susanna! That’s a very good point 🙂

  16. Dana

    Happy Birthday, Joanna! Its my birthday tomorrow too 🙂 I’m so sorry for all that you are going through. As you know, God does not waste any trial in our lives. The older I get (yikes – 54) I see God has a purpose for everything — even the really painful things. We hear that all the time, but as you get older and weather more trials, you see how God has been faithful through the years. I don’t especially love getting older, but as a Christian I can see His faithfulness and that is quite exciting! God bless you — you never know how God is going to use you in this coming year! Give us an update next year, OK?

    • Joanna Sawatsky

      Thanks so much, Dana! And yes – will do! Hope to have lots of fun news about the book to share 🙂

  17. kmmc

    I’m sending you a lot of positive waves but, it’s kinda hard to hear your story. (I’m not talking about the miscarriage or the cancer… which is heartbreaking). I’m talking about the fact that your kids might have a age gap that’s more than 2 years. I’m 33, going to turn 34 in a couple of months. I’m single. The last relationship I had was 4 years ago. There is not even a guy for me to plan having kids with… or to even consider fertility treatments with. By the time I find someone (if it happens), I will probably be completely infertile. It’s hard to hear you talk about mourning the age gap. I have friends that mourn this too, and I try to be there for them (mourn with those who are mourning). But man, it’s hard. It’s hard to see friends who are married to great guys. Who have 1 or more kids and are sad because they are trying to have more kids. And I’ m just alone. Again, I’m not saying you can’t be sad. I’m just saying there’s a lot of single people in their thirties or beyond that are also sad…. I wished there were more posts re: being single. But maybe, that’s not the goal of this blog

  18. Chris

    First, Happy Birthday! Second, as i was reading the first part of this post I was thinking “I wonder how her survey stats are doing? That might cheer her up!” And then i got down to the rest of the post about the survey and just started laughing! Lastly, I worked in a lab in Uni and there were signs everywhere telling people NOT to mouth pipette. And i just couldn’t accept how anyone ever thought that doing that was a good idea. But some folks were really good at it! I had a boss once who said they even would do it with hydrochloric acid. Brave folks.

    • Joanna Sawatsky

      All I ever saw in the lab manuals when I was in microbiology was stuff about not mouth pipetting. But, of course, back in the 1950’s that wasn’t an option… it’s amazing the changes that have happened during that time. Thanks for the encouragement!

  19. Sarah

    I’m honestly surprised Sheila ran a post like this. She even put a comment on the announcement of her grandbaby that she hopes it’s not hurtful to some, but then runs a post like this??

    I don’t want to disparage the pain of the author; it sounds like she’s been through a tremendous amount of pain this year. But at the same time, she comes across as ungrateful when she has SO MUCH that so many desperately long for. She has A CHILD. She has a good HUSBAND. She has a GREAT JOB. She has amazing and supportive FRIENDS. So it’s comes across as pretty ungrateful to those of us who are older than she is, and don’t have even a boyfriend. Who won’t be able to have children at all. Who are stuck in unfulfilling jobs. Who don’t have the kind of support system that she talks about. So yeah, overall, this feels like an ill-considered post. I’m disappointed.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Sarah, I appreciate that you’re in pain. I really do. But can you also appreciate that others are in pain, too? And she was very clear that she is grateful for what she has, but she still hurts. She did almost die; I was there, at the hospital. She did lose a baby. She did get a cancer diagnosis and had surgery for cancer, all while she had a baby. And she works for the blog, and she’s special to me, and she wanted to write about it. And you can see from the number of comments that this did generate a lot of discussion and thoughts and introspection for lots of people.

      The thing about pain is that we don’t need to measure it in order to see whose pain is greater. Pain is just pain. I had a son die at 29 days; is my pain worse than someone who had a miscarriage? I got to hold my baby at least; but that also meant I got to bond with him. So which is worse? Those kinds of questions don’t really help.

      That’s why Jesus just asks us to rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn. It’s okay for Joanna to be sad. She had a year filled with some pretty serious hurts this year, and as an important part of this blog family, I think it’s important for my readers to know what’s all going on behind the scenes, because that does affect our perspectives, and it’s important to share that with people.

      But that doesn’t mean that anyone thinks anyone’s hurt is greater than others. We’re not saying Joanna is hurting more than anyone else. We’re just saying she’s hurting, and that’s okay.

      Joanna has also been awesome at rejoicing over Rebecca’s baby, even though they were both supposed to have babies together. She’s been awesome at rejoicing despite the pain, and I’ve been so impressed with how she’s handled herself this year. If it makes her feel a little bit better to process all of this by writing, then I’m glad to give her that platform.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      I know my mom already commented on this, but I feel I need to add something myself.

      How dare you speak to someone who literally went through all she did and say “it’s not that bad?” Jesus literally knew that he would be raising Lazarus from the dead in mere minutes and yet he sill wept at the pain and suffering of those around him. THAT is what compassion looks like. THAT is what Christian love looks like–not this vitriolic, ill-thought-out, self-obsessed response that you posted.

      I’m sorry you are sad about your own situation. But Joanna in no way is ungrateful–she is simply being honest. It is only when people try to make mourning and sadness into some sort of masochistic competition that mourning a literal NEAR DEATH scare, a MISCARRIAGE, and a CANCER FREAKING DIAGNOSIS AND SURGERY that anyone could see someone being vulnerable and honest about their story the way you took it.

      Yes, she has a child. She has an amazing husband, and I dare say she’s got pretty awesome co-workers, too. So does that mean that she can’t feel pain, or that her pain is somehow less profound than others? NO, it doesn’t. Mothers can feel the pain of child loss as much as anyone else–simply having another kid doesn’t make losing a child suddenly easy. If we can’t allow people to talk about their pain without this sort of response unless they are literally the most down-trodden person in the entire world, there is no way we could possibly have any semblance of Christian community.

      You may not have a husband or have a horrible job, but you aren’t an orphan in Africa with AIDS, so should YOU even be allowed speak about your pain? At least you have a job, you are not worried about being beaten by police every single day for simply trying to find food–by your own standards, you would seem ungrateful for complaining about your job you don’t like because other people can’t even find jobs at all! See how ridiculous that sounds?

      Pain is not a competition. And compassion requires we step out of ourselves and take on the sufferings of others–even if we are suffering ourselves.

  20. Kmmc

    I know it sounds like I’m bitter but I’m not .
    I’m just realizing what other people’s problems are… and blessings are as well.
    It gets a bit hard.
    But to the author: I come from a family of 7 kids. I’m the second youngest. My younger brother is 10 years younger than me (talk about an age gap). And we are very close.
    So, take heart that even if your second child is born 10 years later, he will still be close to your first child

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      My husband is 10 years older than his youngest brother, but the two of them are very close, too.

    • Joanna Sawatsky

      I’m sorry you’re struggling. And while I got married young, I have a number of important women in my life who married late in life and were unable to have children. I love them dearly and they are very important to me and to my family.

      Try to remember what is yours to do. You don’t have to be the biggest emotional support to someone like me, who has a child and who is mourning the loss of the sibling group she dreamed of. That’s TOTALLY fair. Kindness is key, but it’s also a very legitimate response to put up boundaries for what you’ll be facing. There’s a paradox, right? We are called as Christians to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn BUT we also are allowed to say, “sister, I love you and I get you’re struggling. But I can’t be the one to bear that burden for you.”

      Here is the promise that I have clung to since I first started infertility treatment in 2016: God has promised us an abundance. And I don’t mean some airy fairy “get everything you’ve ever wanted” abundance. What I mean is that God will allow us the privilege of loving others and being loved by them, that he will allow us the privilege of being people who announce the kingdom and participate in it both here and in eternity. He WILL turn our desserts into gardens. I don’t know how that promise will be fulfilled for you or how it will be fulfilled for me, but I do hope that you know deep in your bones that God will fill in the gaps for you.

  21. Jess

    Thanks for the honesty in this post. It brought tears to my eyes but made me feel understood by someone. I just had my 30th bday a couple months ago. And in general I’m not someone who minds getting older. But this one was a bit hard. I love the life God has for me. I’m in ministry and I have worked hard to create close community in my life.

    I think singleness is a beautiful thing with a lot of theological implications and meaning and purpose that the church never talks about. We have elevated marriage so much that there essentially is no biblical view of singleness. I don’t view it as a waiting stage or a junior adulthood in the church…even though the church teaches me I should. As a single woman in ministry, it can be very hard to be treated as an adult with giftings and a call equal to my married peers.

    But that is all a side point. Just like marriage has hard and easy spots, singleness does too. And for me, not being able to be a mother is huge. I love kids and have always wanted to have a large family, if God brought marriage. I know I’m living God’s best for me as a single able to fully focus on ministry, etc. But turning 30 and not currently being even in a relationship was hard. Intensely hard. It feels as if 30 is the closing door on enough time to have a large family – short of a miracle and a quick marriage and easy pregnancies in the next year or so. So I understand your ache for another child. And I know you are already married and have a child, but that doesn’t make the pain of a missed dream any easier.

    I know I may have children some day still. But the reality is that I don’t now and it hurts now! Some days holding my friends’ children feels like a priceless joy. Some days it takes my entire focus to keep a smile and not just break down and cry.

    And I’ve found there’s no room in the church for this grief. There’s simply no place for single women to grieve or share. I have mentioned this to very few married friends. Most told me to be more content. This is condescending and hurtful. I love many elements of singleness. I am pursuing Christ as a single and I am sure He has chosen this marital status for me at this time. You can be content and still have hardships. Why won’t the church acknowledge that!? When my married friends are exhausted from lack of sleep and young children, I don’t tell them to be more content! I understand that is a natural hardship and challenge of their phase or life and I support and pray for them!

    So I don’t share this with many people. No one speaks into it in an encouraging or real way. Recently I was honest about how turning 30 had been so hard, because of the “ticking clock” thing. And my married friend with 3 healthy young children 1”and one on the way who turned 30 just before me ever so sweetly told me I that getting older has been equally hard for her. And that married people struggle with age too and that I should mature and stop fixating on my age (I have shared ONE single time in my life with her about this). It was so hard and so painful to hear. I know everyone probably has their own issues with aging. But in the context of women and having children, what this mother of 3/4 said to me was so deeply painful. I had started to wonder if I would ever be able to share this desire or be prayed for in the church. Because it is so painful to be misunderstood on such a deep level.

    So thank you! I resonated incredibly deeply with your post and your genuine pain. It’s real. And it’s not easy. And sometimes it’s healthy just to let someone lament!

  22. Meg

    This was so needed for me! I am struggling with a missed miscarriage that started two weeks ago. It would have been our fourth living child, but is now our third loss. I am a bit older than you, but when I was your age I had just experienced my second consecutive loss after we had one child trouble free. To go from nieve bliss to two unexplained tragedies knocked me completely off balance. I had to reevaluate who I believed God to be. Is he truly good? Does he truly desire MY good? Does he “know how to give good gifts to his children”? The answer of course, is yes, but it took my heart some time to agree with my head. About a year later I gave birth to my second. When he was 9 months old, he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer– an extremely rare form of brain tumor. We went through a year and a half of treatment, and again my faith was tested beyond what I thought was possible! And our son is still with us! God has a purpose for him yet, and I can’t wait to see what it is.
    Meanwhile, yet another trial has surfaced in the last year. My dear mother is suffering from undiagnosed mental illness. We are desperate to get her care, but it’s like trying to get someone to take insulin when they don’t have diabetes. She has zero insight into her condition. And she is not a threat (yet), so we can’t involuntarily commit her. So we pray for an opportunity and for strength.
    Faith is a gift, remember that! We are given exactly the measure we need, exactly when we need it. Keep asking….


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