by Rachel Whaley Doll
The Emerging Muse Press, Wilmington, N.C. 208 pages
REVIEWED BY CASEY W. FITZGERALD
Rachel Whaley Doll wants those who struggle under the weight of infertility to feel known. She creates a space for them in this book. Doll reminds readers that they are not alone — sharing with grace and vulnerability the story of her own infertility and its effect on her relationships with God, family, friends and, yes, church. “Beating on the Chest of God” is honest — sometimes using “not-suitable-for-work” language to lament what seems not-suitable-for-life. Doll says her book was considered too raw for Christian publishers and too Christian for secular publishers — and I can see why. She does not pull back from the realities of what it means to struggle with infertility and faith. Yet, this book is obviously a reflection of a deep and abiding faith. With her honest prose, Doll gives voice to the many who suffer silently.
The book includes excerpts from the journal she kept through her four-year infertility battle, theological reflections, prayers to close each reading and opportunities for one’s own written reflections. In the spaces throughout the book (even the lines of prose are given large spaces), readers get the sense that there is also space for their own unique story. But this book is not just for those who are experiencing infertility. It is for anyone who knows someone struggling under the weight of infertility, which is to say: This book is for everyone. For those who have not experienced infertility, the book provides a sacred look into the life of that struggle as Doll teaches us how to love, support and witness.
In my years of ministry I have walked with many who’ve fought hard to conceive and bear children. What a holy space it is when people allow pastors, family and friends to witness to their struggle and pain. Opening up in this way, of course, can be extremely painful. Attempts to be comforting often lead to insult and injury despite good intent. This book is helpful for those of us trying to understand how to be supportive. For a number of years I sat alongside a woman who struggled through multiple miscarriages and failed fertility treatments — during which time I got pregnant twice and gave birth to two children. We navigated that period as best we could. I wish we had had this book.
“Beating on the Chest of God” reflects that desire to pair our stories with God’s stories. After reading the draft copy of the book, I brought it with me the following Sunday to read it from the pulpit. It was the Sunday before Mother’s Day, but the sermon was not about mothers — it was about worshipping a God who is willing to listen to our pain, who gives us space to voice our grievances and who abides with us still. “Beating on the Chest of God” reflects this truth, and it would be money well spent to keep a few copies on your shelf.
CASEY W. FITZGERALD is the associate pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Alexandria Virginia.