If my husband and I had gotten pregnant when we started trying for a baby, we would have become parents five months ago. We were optimistic then, filled with starry-eyed expectations and a limitless supply of hope. As we unpacked cardboard boxes in our new, baby-friendly home, we discussed which spare room would become the nursery and dreamed about the tiny child we’d shower with unnecessary Christmas gifts the following year.
But that was 14 months ago. Things have changed. The days between those moments of naïve joy and today hang limp like a slackline, weighed down with prenatal vitamins, worn-out lists of baby names, doctor’s visits, tests, vials of blood, uncomfortable exams, painful injections, hospital parking tokens, and entirely too much money spent on plastic sticks to tell me what my heart already knows: not pregnant.When we find ourselves in a period of limbo, we may reframe our situations to make us feel in control, but the truth is, we’re powerless.
This past August, I learned the identity of the culprit plaguing me—an endocrine disorder called Stein-Leventhal Syndrome, also known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. My initial reaction to the diagnosis was not great. Hearing words with so many syllables applied to the one body I’ve been given was overwhelming, and a little terrifying. It was nowhere near a death sentence; while there’s a risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease down the road, as long as I pay attention, take my medication, and care for myself, I’ll be fine. But the words “treatable, not curable” hung over my head for several weeks. I wasn’t prepared for needing pill-reminding apps at the age of 25. I wasn’t prepared for the possibility that I’ll most likely never experience the classic “we weren’t even trying!” pregnancy. For every child I bear, I will have to work and wait with purpose.
And I’m terrible at waiting.
Before Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway smash hit Hamilton, most people only knew Aaron Burr as a brief sentence of unimportant history, an afterthought remembered only for his connection with Alexander Hamilton—he was “the damn fool that shot him.” He challenged the first United States Secretary of the Treasury to a duel over a matter of personal honor and won. Well, survived.
Despite my own obsession with the past—I once read a U.S. history textbook cover to cover on a family road trip, for fun—I never learned more about this famous duel in a formal setting. I always assumed their disagreement was over a slight that one or the other refused to rectify, as was common during the period (and all of human history, for that matter). But Miranda’s award-winning, hip-hop inspired musical about “the ten-dollar founding father” sheds more light on the possibilities behind Burr and Hamilton’s adversarial relationship. While Miranda’s account strays from the truth at several turns, there is one point he gets right: rather than a random act of indiscretion, the duel that claimed Hamilton’s life was the culmination of a long rivalry with Burr, a bitter series of one-upmanship spanning several decades.
Throughout the show, Miranda’s Burr watches from the sidelines as Hamilton, a plucky immigrant upstart, rises from obscurity to gain social and political power surpassing Burr’s own. Despite Burr’s several advantages—established wealth, good breeding, and valuable connections, to name only a few—Hamilton is always one step ahead of him. This imbalance stems both from Hamilton’s ambition—“he will never be satisfied”—and Burr’s prudence—“I’m willing to wait for it.”
But as often as they “go toe to toe,” the two men are more similar than they realize. They are two sides of a coin, action and bellicosity pitted against inertia and passive-aggression. Hamilton’s tactics bring about more immediate results, but by show’s end both strategies have tragically failed, leaving one man dead and the other with blood on his hands. It’s easy to see why Hamilton’s modus operandi ultimately failed him; stubbornness, haste, and conceit have been the ruin of more than one man. But what of Burr? On the surface, his approach to life—or at least that of his fictional, ballad-singing counterpart—is worthy of imitation. He’s “willing to wait” for what he wants; isn’t that the definition of patience? His inaction is not rooted in laziness, apathy, or fear, as Hamilton often insinuates; rather, it is a coping mechanism, a line of defense between his heart and the cruelty of the world.
Or so he wishes us to believe. Despite what he says, there’s more to Burr’s caution than initially meets the eye. When he visits Hamilton to congratulate him on his recent marriage, he’s taken aback by his self-appointed rival’s warm welcome and commendations for Burr’s recent promotion. But instead of receiving Hamilton’s genuine well wishes with grace, Burr shrugs them off and redirects the conversation to his favorite topic—Hamilton’s own rise. When the spotlight returns to Burr, and by extension his married lover Theodosia, he grows increasingly uncomfortable. Hamilton advises him, “If you love this woman, go get her! What are you waiting for?” Burr takes this as his cue to leave.
In Burr’s mind, his caution is not without reason. A public pursuit of Theodosia would ruin her and endanger him. He’s “willing to wait for it” so as not to cause further pain to himself and those he cares about. But as his iconic ballad “Wait for It” draws to a close, Burr reveals the restlessness lying beneath his patient façade. His frustration lies in Hamilton’s success. Despite lesser status and experience, he’s already attained two things Burr would give anything to have—the ear of George Washington and an open, socially acceptable marriage to the woman he loves. Hamilton’s achievements have deprived Burr of nothing, but they’re enough to incur Burr’s hatred. Rather than heed Solomon’s warning—“A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot” (Proverbs 14:30, ESV)—he succumbs to the temptation of bitterness and jealousy.
At war’s end, the two men find themselves on more or less equal footing. Burr has married Theodosia, and both men are now fathers and lawyers in the burgeoning union. But still Burr keeps careful watch over Hamilton, noting every movement and success in a jeering tone while Hamilton doesn’t seem to notice, too focused on his own work. In a moment of rare humility, Hamilton approaches Burr for assistance writing the Federalist Papers, an offer Burr declines with characteristic vagueness. Rather than use this opportunity to share Hamilton’s spotlight—the very thing he’s been longing to do since the two crossed paths—he attempts to frustrate his efforts, instead.
Burr’s continual descent into bitterness evidences itself in the series of informational monologues he gives throughout the show. His delivery moves from neutral to annoyed to angry as Hamilton’s rise continues, unimpeded by scandal and adversity. When Hamilton’s endorsement of Thomas Jefferson costs Burr the 1800 presidential election, he finally resolves to confront him. By this point, decades of resentment and bitterness have hardened his heart, and Hamilton’s stubbornness and pride are strong as ever. Their mutual aversion to negotiating peace leads them to the point we’ve known they’ll reach all along—“Weehawken, dawn, guns drawn.”
Until recently, I didn’t know why I listened to “Wait for It” on repeat almost every day. Of all the songs in Hamilton, it seemed a strange choice on which to fixate—a ballad from the villain’s perspective, justifying adultery and maligning the eponymous hero? Shouldn’t I have been rocking out to the fun, catchy notes of “The Schuyler Sisters” instead? But as I scheduled yet another series of doctor’s appointments and prepared to pick up yet another round of fertility medication, my love for Burr’s anthem clicked into place. Of course I sympathize with Burr, bitter and vengeful though he is. I sympathize with anyone whose circumstances dictate waiting.
In the long run, my diagnosis has made our walk down the path of infertility much easier. In knowing the cause, we know the remedy. We are blessed to have this affliction in a time and place where medical knowledge and pharmaceutical availability are accessible and affordable. Month by month, the treatments I undergo help my body become a more hospitable environment for our future children. Measuring and charting bits of information helps me see how things are improving and gives me a goal to work toward, rather than floundering in the darkness as we did before. Before our answer, before we knew what was preventing us from becoming parents, it was harder to face the world. Harder because I, a control freak of the highest order, had not an ounce of control over our situation.
My reaction to my own sense of powerlessness was irrational and unbecoming. Pregnancy announcements, particularly those accompanied by statements like, “This was a complete surprise!” or “We weren’t even trying for another!” left me breathless with rage. Rounded bellies of teenagers coaxed judgmental ugliness from my soul. I allowed myself to fall into a trap, the same one Aaron Burr finds in “Wait for It”—I took every pregnancy as a personal slight, as if every single one was depriving me of my own happiness. If I couldn’t have a baby, neither should anyone else—not if they hadn’t first paid their dues.
Such a mindset makes for a lonely, depressing existence. Luckily, I found my way out before I’d gone too far—before my heart hardened past the point of softening. Burr is not so fortunate; until he watches his bullet “strike him right between the ribs,” he does not see how illogical his bitterness and anger toward Hamilton is. As his adversary is rushed back across the Hudson, he realizes with sick, numb horror how wrong he’s been. He mourns, “Now I’m the villain in your history, I was too young and blind to see . . . I should’ve known the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me.”
Waiting is not a choice we make, so there is no inherent virtue in it. We wait because the things we want are outside our control. When we find ourselves in a period of limbo, we may reframe our situations to make us feel in control, but the truth is, we’re powerless. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t have to wait for anything at all. All we can do is choose how we will wait. Oddly enough, this is the one thing Burr gets right—“I am the one thing in life I can control.” How proudly he asserts this truth; how tragically he fails to follow it through.
In her book Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, Tish Harrison Warren explores the concept of waiting in the context of a Christian life:
But the reality is that I do not control time. Every day I wait. I wait for help, for healing, for days to come, for rescue and redemption. And like all of us, I’m waiting to die. And I wait for glory, for the coming King, for the resurrection of the body. Christians are people who wait. We live in liminal time, in the already and not yet. Christ has come, and he will come again. We dwell in the meantime. We wait.
And indeed, as a follower of Christ I am but one in a long, historical tradition of delayed gratification. Sarah was an elderly woman before she bore a son, the first in the nation of descendants Abraham was promised. Their grandson Jacob worked and waited for 14 years before he could marry his beloved Rachel, who in turn waited for her son, Joseph. After being wrongfully accused, Joseph waited to be released from an Egyptian prison. And long after Joseph rose in power, redeemed his family, and died, his ancestors waited for freedom from the bonds of slavery. And long after they fled Egypt, they finally reached the promised land. For centuries, they groaned in anticipation of the Messiah, just as we now wait for his return.
My own season of waiting has been difficult. There have been countless tears, moments of despair, and angry one-sided shouting matches in place of prayer. But as I look back over the past 15 months, I can’t help but see the positive changes made in my spirit. These days, I find myself sobbing, not in despair, but in gratitude for all God has revealed to me during this time. Without this trial, without this uncertainty, I would not have drawn so near to God’s heart. I needed to be broken down so I could be put back together, this time relying more and more on Him.
Infertility has been my crucible, a refining fire God used to work some of the ugliness out of my heart. I have discovered a shadow of the truth Paul referred to when he wrote, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3–4, ESV). Hope has replaced my bitterness, anger, and fear. The world is wide enough.
I don’t know how much longer it will be before my prayers are answered. I don’t even know if biological children will be the way God chooses to bless me. But however motherhood comes to me, I’m finally able to say, without a hint of bitterness, that I’m willing to wait for it.
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