When hope turns to despair: One woman on her decade-long (and counting) wait for a child

Via Salt&Light's Malaysia desk

Michelle Chun // May 27, 2024, 8:26 pm

Through her painful wait for a child, Joy Gracia Liso realised that

Through her painful wait for a child, Joy Gracia Liso realised that "God was transforming me to be the kind of woman that He wants me to be". All photos courtesy of Joy Gracia Liso.

Joy Gracia Liso has always wanted children of her own.

But a decade after getting married in 2014, the 34-year-old is still waiting. 

From struggling through a tense marriage to an emotionally draining health diagnosis, the wait has been tough on all fronts. Yet, she shares that she has experienced purpose and restoration in her journey.

“This season is training me to have a shift in mindset. Instead of being angry, I now ask myself, ‘How can I be faithful in other things He has given me while waiting?'” said the Malaysian.

“This (mindset) shift has humbled me, and I have also become more gracious and kind to those around me,” she added.

A clash of priorities

Joy met her husband, Paul, at a national student conference in 2010. Four years later, they got married. He was 27, while she was 24. 

Though they both loved each other deeply, the first six years of marriage were not easy. Paul’s temper and insecurities clashed with Joy’s hyper-independence and stubbornness. 

They had both agreed on wanting children. But after marriage, Paul said he wanted to wait for five years before trying for a child as he wanted to focus on his career.

Joy felt betrayed and resentful.

“We were fighting all the time. Things would get thrown around,” she recalled.

Joy in Ba’kelalan, Sarawak, the land of her mother’s ancestors.

To cope, Joy threw herself into her work. At the time, she was working for a non-governmental organisation that ran programmes for children at government-run shelter homes in Malaysia. 

As she cared for children whose parents had abused, neglected or abandoned them, she struggled to understand why God would give other people children and not her.

“A drug pusher gave birth to 11 children and I took care of her three youngest children at one shelter home. I wondered: Why are these people blessed with so many children and here I am, without children and (instead) taking care of these broken lives?”

Hit after hit 

Five years into their marriage, Paul agreed to try for a child. At the time, the couple had managed to sit down and sort out the issues in their marriage.

“Instead of being angry, I now ask myself, ‘How can I be faithful in other things He has given me while waiting?’”

“Throughout the pandemic, God broke our hearts to reveal our brokenness so that, as individuals and partners, we could be restored,” she said gratefully, adding that the Lord also helped her to work past her resentment towards her husband.

With her marriage on the mend, Joy was hopeful that she would finally conceive. But as the months went by without a positive pregnancy test, hope turned into despair. 

“Both of our families would always ask when we’d have children. Paul is also the eldest son and grandson on both sides of his family, so every Chinese New Year was difficult,” Joy remembered. 

Pregnancy announcements by friends were also very painful. 

“Back then, I would force a smile, congratulate them and pretend I was happy, but when I got into the car or back home, I’d cry and be angry at both God and Paul,” she shared honestly.

The couple with Jimmy and Yvonne, their mentors in marriage and life.

A doctor’s visit in 2021 yielded more heartbreaking news.

Joy was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a chronic condition that affects fertility in women of childbearing age. Though common, there is no cure.

Due to PCOS, Joy suffers from insomnia and bouts of anxiety. She also finds it difficult to lose weight. 

She was prescribed birth control pills to regulate her menstrual cycle, but suffered through the side effects of feeling depressed, anxious and angry, which triggered past self-harm habits.

At one point, she even contemplated taking her own life. 

Birth control pills can cause mood swings, including depression, in women as estrogen and progesterone (the hormones mimicked by the medication) affect brain function.

She has since switched to Traditional Chinese Medicine and has noticed an improvement in her mood.

God’s hand in the wait

Today, it has been about 10 years since Joy got married, and five years since the couple have been actively trying to conceive. They are still waiting. 

Looking back, however, Joy realises that, while painful, there has been beauty and restoration in the wait.

As she wrestled with her longing, God revealed that her desire for children had stemmed from a place of insecurity and desire for love. 

“I (realised that I) wanted children so that I would always have people who loved me and would not leave me,” she admitted, as she looked back on a childhood marked by fractured relationships in a troubled home.

“My heart was not in the right place. I realised that God was transforming me to be the kind of woman that He wants me to be.”

The couple at Mulu Pinnacles in Sarawak last year. Although still childless, they are learning to embrace the life God has given them and take things one day at a time.

She is learning to trust that God’s plans for her are good (Jeremiah 29:11) and that He did not make her “broken” but fearfully and wonderfully (Psalm 139). 

“Can I still praise God in the midst of my suffering and pain? Am I faithful and available for Him to use me for His glory?”

With this is mind, she no longer strives and hopes in her own strength. Instead, she surrenders to God daily and yields to His sovereignty.

Her marriage, too, has blossomed. The couple now enjoy each other’s company and recently renewed their vows after completing a marriage course. 

Nevertheless, there are still times when Joy feels like giving up on hope simply because it is too painful. Often, she wishes God would just let her know if she would ever become a mother or not, instead of letting her wait and wonder.

“Do I struggle with envy and with feeling broken every time my friends tell me that they are pregnant and having babies? Yes, I still do. But over time, I’ve gotten better at celebrating their joy and rejoicing in the blessings He has given them,” she shared. 

On the days she struggles, God sends people at divine moments to bolster her faith and remind her of the why.

Led by Ben and Renee (second and third from left, seated), Paul and Joy’s cell group has covered them in prayer throughout the years.

“Ultimately, I know His higher purpose: It is (for me) to understand His heart and to perfect me,” she reflected, adding that her prayer now is to have enough faith for each new day.

“Can I still praise God in the midst of my suffering and pain? Am I faithful and available for Him to use me for His glory? That’s the purpose of this season, to glorify Him.”


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About the author

Michelle Chun

Michelle believes in the power of the pen (or keyboard) to inspire conversation, influence change and impact people. She believes that everyone has a story, and her prayer is for every heart to discover the joy of knowing God.