Infertile Atheist

I’ve been mulling over this post for a while now, wondering whether I should even bother addressing the subject. Even though I identify as an atheist (which I know has many different meanings, depending on who’s reading), it’s not really an important facet of my everyday life. It does, however, have a large influence over how I process grief and give support to others.

I was raised sort-of Catholic: My sisters and I attended a Catholic elementary school, mostly because that was the tradition in my mother’s family. My father’s side was… Lutheran? I haven’t a clue. We didn’t attend church, aside from the occasional Christmas service. We didn’t read from the bible or pray at home. We didn’t talk about god or Jesus or anything religious, not until I was much older. When I was in high school and college, my mom and I had some pretty deep conversations about belief and religion. I was pleased to learn I got my point of view largely from her. “I don’t know if god exists, but I don’t think it matters,” she once told me.

My best friend from kindergarten through high school was the most awesomely outgoing, intelligent, creative, and kind person you could imagine. Her entire family was that way, too. I loved being around them, watching them support and encourage each other, occasionally participating in their crazy family antics. They weren’t exactly a Norman Rockwell painting, but pretty damn close. They were also very devout Catholics. This family prayed all the time. They read the bible together, attended church twice a week, sang in the church choir or played in the church band, volunteered for various church activities, acted in church plays…. You name it, they did it. My fascination with this family and my desire to be part of something so positive was the primary force behind my attempt to be a believer.

I tried–oh, how I tried!–to believe in god. When I was younger, I just assumed that all the bible stories we read were just that: stories. I didn’t know that we were supposed to take most of it literally. In fact, it wasn’t until my best friend gave me the book A Skeleton in God’s Closet that I learned Christians believed in a literal resurrection. In the book, an archaeologist finds what he believes could be the remains of Jesus. Through the entire book, I couldn’t understand why this would be such a big deal. How could such a discovery shatter Christianity? Shouldn’t people be happy to have proof that Jesus existed? My best friend had to explain that finding Jesus’s remains would mean that he didn’t ascend into heaven, and that the central tenet of Christian theology was bunk. I was dumbfounded. I had always assumed that the resurrection was metaphorical.

Soon, I learned that we (Catholics) were supposed to believe that a lot of unbelievable things were literal truth, things I had always thought were meant to be symbolic. That didn’t sit well with me. Still, even through my freshman year of college, I tried to be a believer. Looking back, I think it’s because I wanted to be part of a community that was so accepting of everyone. In high school, our church youth group was a motley crew of students who would have had nothing to do with each other if it weren’t for church. We had so much fun, and we all accepted each other for who we were. No one expected anyone to conform to any one standard (except, of course, to be a Christian).

My best friend and I went to different colleges, so in an attempt to replicate what I had in high school, I joined the campus Catholic church and started volunteering for various things. Before long, however, I noticed how empty the effort felt. I wanted to feel loved and accepted, but it seemed wrong to do it under false pretenses. The truth was, I didn’t believe in god. I never had. I didn’t even really like religion, especially the whole business about not questioning god’s ways. That always seemed like a cop-out to me. If I’m going to have blind faith, I deserve–at the very least–some insight as to why god behaves the way he does. I suppose that’s part of the reason I don’t believe he exists. If he does, he’s more ornery toddler than all-powerful being. I don’t know about you, but I don’t make a habit of giving in to ornery toddlers. But, I digress.

I floundered around a bit, trying to pick and choose the things about religion that I liked (e.g. helping others, being part of a community) and tossing anything I didn’t like to the side (e.g. just about everything else). Eventually, I landed on atheism. Or maybe I was more agnostic. I don’t know. I try not to get too caught up in semantics. What matters is that I finally admitted to myself that I did not believe that god existed. I couldn’t know for sure, of course, but I believed it was very unlikely. More importantly, I didn’t believe that it mattered one way or the other. It didn’t change who I was. I was still a good friend, daughter, sister, student, and citizen. I didn’t immediately start killing people or stealing things just because I believed there was no god to punish me.

So, what does this little journey through my religious history have to do with infertility and loss? Even though I never really believed in god, for a long time, religion was the only filter through which I processed strong emotions like grief. Praying gave me hope that someone or something might hear my pleas and intervene on my behalf, or at least give me peace. The idea of being reunited with my deceased loved ones in heaven gave me comfort. All that went away when I finally embraced my nonbelief. It changed the way I thought about death, life, love…. Everything.

The main thing that changed was that I realized that bad things and good things happen to everyone, regardless of religious belief, and that nothing happens for a reason. That’s how life works. It’s a waste of time to try to figure out why some people seem more fortunate than others, or why god seems to “bless” some people and not others.

After my miscarriage, I sought support online. Much of that support–as well as real life support–is full of religious platitudes. You know what I mean. God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. You’ll see your baby again in heaven. Your baby is playing with the angels. I’m praying for you. One of my biggest peeves in the loss community is referring to our dead babies as “angels.” I get that it comforts many, but it drives me insane. It doesn’t make me feel better to imagine my baby as an angel (or any other form) hanging out with my other dead relatives in the clouds. Actually, it makes me angry. If my baby is going to exist anywhere, it should be here with me. God is invoked all the time in the infertility community, as well. God will bless you with a baby one day. God has a plan for you. 

For the most part, I’m able to gloss over it. I don’t get angry and rail against believers. I know it comes from a good place and a desire to help. I graciously accept support of all kinds, even prayers, but it doesn’t mean much to me. Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate the sentiment behind it, but I’d rather hear something more useful, like how someone faced the same kind of struggle and had the same thoughts. How it got better for them (or didn’t–let’s be honest, not everyone recovers from loss or infertility). When I give support, I never mention god or offer prayers, even if the person I’m supporting is a believer. I offer empathy, sympathy, and honesty. I’m open about my experiences and emotions. That, I believe, is the best kind of support.

Most importantly, as a nonbeliever, I never have to wonder if my miscarriage and infertility are punishment for my sins. It’s not always easy to accept that bad things happen for no reason, but one thing I don’t miss about religion: Wondering what I did wrong to lose favor in god’s eyes. Who needs that? It’s hard enough seeing disappointment in the eyes of our parents and teachers, but the idea of disappointing god to the point where he ignores you and lets your life fall apart… that’s just cruel. No one is testing us to see how we handle hardship or to see how we treat others when we’re prosperous. No one is sitting idly by, watching bad things happen, and not doing anything about it, even though they have the power. That nothing gives me comfort.

I know this post was long and rambling and probably difficult to follow (such are the thoughts that spill forth from my brain!), so thank you for making it this far. Here’s a funny penguin poster to cleanse your brain palate.

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41 thoughts on “Infertile Atheist

  1. I enjoyed this post immensely! I nodded along to the entire thing. I’m like your mom, “I don’t know if god exists, but I don’t think it matters.” I like to THINK that there is a god just because it would be so nice to go somewhere lovely after we die, but I’m quite certain there is not. How’s that for being on the fence? When people ask me my thoughts on god, I just say, “God could be the lord, the big bang, fate, whatever – I don’t know and I don’t really care.”

    Great post!

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    • That sounds lovely! I’ve been told that by many friends. It’s sad that in a country founded (at least in part) on the principle of religious freedom, there is so much pressure to be a believer.

      • It’s funny to hear you use the phrase “founded on the principle of religious freedom”. The way I heard it, it was founded by the Brits that thought Britain wasn’t religious enough (ignoring the Native American Indians and the Dutch of course!). 🙂

  3. Great post! I had been feeling a little lonely lately with reading lots of rather religious-oriented infertility blogs. So I was very happy to find someone with similar beliefs! Thanks!

  4. I found your story very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    I believe in God, but definitely agree with some of your conclusions. I, like you, don’t believe that my dead babies are playing with angels, or even that they are angels (this drives me nuts as well!). I totally agree that bad things happen to everyone, good and bad.

    • I’m glad not all believers are in favor of the angel thing. It actually doesn’t make much sense to me that one would. In Christianity, humans don’t ever become angels, right?

  5. Thanks for blogging about this. I’m also an atheist and find little (or no) comfort in the religious meanings people attribute to their infertility or losses. Sometimes I wish I did believe in God/Heaven– thinking maybe it might help me cope a little better.
    “If my baby is going to exist anywhere, it should be here with me.” My thoughts exactly!

    • I have the same wish, at times. Not so much anymore, but definitely when I first started to identify as an atheist and was having trouble putting my experiences into context. Of course no one likes to think of death as being final…. It’s an unsettling thought, especially when we lose someone suddenly and never get to say goodbye. It’s only natural to wish to see them again, if only for a moment to wrap things up.

  6. Thanks for such a brave post. I think it’s courageous of you to stand up for your own beliefs. I too dis-like the pressure to believe in “God” and do my best to avoid the topic, particularly when discussing IF. I must confess, I’m totally guilty of using “angels” to describe my twins, but that’s only because I’m used to seeing it in the IF forums and for lack of a better term… using the phrase “my dead babies” doesn’t go over too well in conversation.

  7. My thoughts exactly! When I went off to college, I wanted to get that “strong foundation” the church tells you that you will have if you accept Christ. I joined Campus Crusade for Christ, and it was the best decisions I have ever made, for it confirmed that I wanted nothing to do with that faith, and I left Christianity entirely. I didn’t belong, but I think because so many people looked “down” on me, and told me how “sorry” they felt for me that I was going to burn for eternity, made me always want to give it that one last attempt.
    It was only in the last couple of years, that not only have I accepted being atheist, but I am so much happier in my life now, that I know/feel I’m in control, than I had ever been.
    Friends and family still tell me they are heartbroken for me, because they want me to be in heaven with them, and I just tell them I appreciate their concern. When people tell me to “relax, give it to God, God is in control of your fertility, he is the one that makes those babies”. It frustrates me to high heaven (…I know)! I want to ask them, why God wasted a baby on my homeless meth-using cousin who get pregnant (and chose not to keep it at 12 weeks) on accident, when there was a family, right here, who is loving, financially stable and is TRYING for a baby…..
    I have however, been trying to work on understanding the world better, in a more wisdom and science sort of way, and find the words from the Buddhists Dalai Lama and Facebooks “I fucking love science” page, to give me the peace I have always been looking for … (not so much the quote I hear all the time, “Life without God is like an unsharpened pencil…there is not point”)
    Sorry to bombard your blog! But this really has been eating away at me! I was going to write about faith tonight, but was mentally to exhausted to do it, and here you said it perfectly!

    • I appreciate your comment very much! Trying to understand the world is a much better goal than trying to figure out how to please a silent, invisible god. It may not be possible to accomplish either goal, but making the effort to understand the world will at least lead to better relationships with other people, which in turn makes the world a better place over all. It’s a lot less selfish, that’s for sure.

  8. This was a good post. I’m agnostic- open to both ideas. Maybe I’m just noncommittal and confused. 🙂 I’d love to believe in a higher power and sort of do (I think) but I tend to feel that if that higher power exists, it is a more abstract force that doesn’t get involved in the details of our lives. That’s the only way I can reconcile the existence of a higher power with the fact that so many awful things happen to good people. I do enjoy feedback from some of the more religious people and often envy their faith and hope.

    You sound like you might enjoy going to a Unitarian Universalist church. There are people with all kinds of beliefs there- including non-believers. The church is centered more on spiritual exploration and helping other people. Its members tend to be very progressive. I’ve thought about checking it out.

    • I did consider UU just 6 years ago when I moved to a new town where I didn’t know anyone. I never did give it a try, because I ended up not staying in that place for very long. I’m at a point now where I have a large community of friends and family so it’s not as important. Plus, around here, the UU church is mostly made up of pandering local politicians and other high-profile community leaders, who attend just to say they go to church.

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  11. Thank you for this post. I’m tired, too, of seeing so many religious platitudes all over infertility sites. I consider myself agnostic, but I was heavily religious in high school. To me, I can’t see how a god would put the desire for a family so heavily in a woman’s heart, and then deny her that “blessing” for months upon years. To me, that does not sound like a loving god.

  12. I’m so relieved to hear that someone who had experiences similar to mine (infertility and miscarriage) is also feeling the same way about God and religion. I want to scream at people who say that “everything happens for a reason.” What’s the reason, then? Does God think my husband and I would be horrible parents? Many people have told us we’d be wonderful parents. If God doesn’t think so, then either God is a sadistic prankster or God just doesn’t exist. These ideas give me more comfort than “everything happens for a reason.”

    • “Everything happens for a reason” is the absolute worst thing someone can say. Actually, the follow up to that is worse: “We can’t understand god’s reasons.”
      I’m glad you found my post. I’m so sorry for your loss and that you’ve been through the hell of infertility.

  13. THANK YOU. A million times, thank you. I haven’t yet reached a point where I have the confidence to share my unbelief with my incredibly religious friends and family, so I’ve been searching for like-minded infertile women, and there seem to be so few! So thank you for being more brave than I’ve yet been. 🙂

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  15. Excellent blog and thank you for sharing. Everything you said hit home for this old Catholic mother With a beautiful daughter who is infertile and also atheist.

    I especially liked the last couple paragraphs. You gave excellent insight to this old Catholic woman who has a daughter struggling with infertility and who is an atheist.

    • I’m sorry for your daughter’s struggles. I’m sure it’s very hard for you to see her go through it. She’s lucky to have a mom who reads blog posts to better understand what she’s feeling.

  16. Thank you for sharing your story!!! As a person struggling with infertility and an agnostic, I know the feelings you describe all too well.
    I’ve tried to get support with things like how others deal with the frustration and guilt or nothing working, and all I’ve ever come across is the God platitudes. Not helpful.
    One google search and here you are!
    Thank you for making me feel like I am not alone.

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