The Saturday before Mother's Day is Birthmother's Day, the day to honor birthmothers who have given and chosen life. And then there's Mother's Day. Earlier this week I honored Elijah's birthday with a post. Even as I shared of not knowing where I was on the day of his birth, others read this and shared private messages of their current pain and desire to have a child.
We'll honor mothers everywhere this weekend. If you're at church with me, you'll be asked to stand and be recognized as the congregation will applaud moms. But I'm mindful that just 4 years ago I was not able to stand, and while I was seated and blending in with the crowd, I was silently dying inside.
Please don't take offense, but when you're dealing with/diagnosed with any type of infertility, it's not usually the kind of thing that makes the prayer list. Over and over on our prayer requests from church we see requests for surgery, illness, cancer, accidents, sometimes even emotional health. But I have yet to see one prayer request come through that calls for the prayer chain to lift up a couple who are struggling with infertility and the desire to get pregnant. (Maybe this is happening elsewhere, and if it is I'm grateful!)
My point is, it's a very private and personal struggle. And when you're in the midst of it, you feel like you have no one - LITERALLY NO ONE - to turn to.
All I know to do is share my story.
Somehow this idea of becoming a mother pricks the heart of a woman at some point. I wasn't the girl who grew up with this innate desire. In fact, I was rather worried because I didn't share my mom and sister's love and nurturing qualities for children. Even so, after a couple of years the desire came for me too. I wanted to be a mom. I wanted to have a baby. I wanted to raise a child. And so it began...
Even as a teenager I had this "fear" that I wouldn't be able to get pregnant. There were reasons and some medical issues involved that seemed to back this up, so it wasn't completely ungrounded. It started casually. A few months went by, and then I became more intent. Month after month turned up no results so I started to do some reading and research. I charted, I took my temperature everyday before my feet touched the ground, I took over the counter tests, ovulations kits and other predictors, vitamins, exercise and a host of other "natural" things that I will not go into detail here.
What happened as each month turned into another disappointment, was that each day turned into a "number" - I was constantly counting days. It wasn't about what the calendar said the date was, it was about what day of the month it was for me. Every. Single. Month. This would go on for nearly 2 years.
I am going to try to describe this for you. As the days creeped along and approached a "month" cycle, I would wait. I was scouring the internet researching "signs of pregnancy" and I would try to sense any little signal my body might give to indicate that I was pregnant. (Again, not going into detail because you can google this yourself, but suffice to say I had a heightened, maybe even overly stimulated, sense in a desperate attempt to see if I could tell whether or not this would be the time...)
And then it would happen. Every single time. Every single month. I would get the sign. NOT the sign I wanted. The sign that proved yet again I wasn't pregnant.
I can't try to explain the emotions. It consumed me. Literally. NO ONE KNEW. I was always thinking about it. And every time I would think about it, it would turn into anxiety, and then I would try to calm myself because I knew the more I stressed, the less likely it was for me to conceive. I would go from anxiety and stress to excitement and wonder to devastation and heartbreak. And this vicious cycle of emotions accompanied the monthly counting and charting and testing. Over and over.
It was finally time for medical intervention. Testing. Fertility medication. More testing. Uncertainty. And more emotions that usually resulted in more heartache.
All the while, no one knew. Despite living a very public life, this was something I couldn't openly share.
And then it came. The test results and diagnosis that confirmed there was no natural way to conceive. The doctor delivered the news as if she was telling me the weather report. As matter-of-factly as if it had no impact whatsoever on anyone's future, let alone my entire hopes and dreams. I sat across from her speechless and motionless, waiting for her to give me the "but"... but it never came. So I walked myself out of the office and got in my car...and wept. Yes, this was the ugly cry and rightly so. I couldn't even begin to process what I was feeling and how this changed everything.
There was the possibility of surgeries and procedures and injections. There were questions of ethics and finances. There were no guarantees and no predictions. Just a whole lot of uncertainty and emotional whirlwinds that I was certain I couldn't handle.
As time passed, the questions became more superfluous - when would we be having children? I cringed at the question for a long time, silently hiding any effort of trying to conceive without success. But after the diagnosis it became clear I couldn't hide this anymore. So ... I had to figure out how to tell people.
"We can't." This answer brought an onslaught of questions I wasn't prepared to handle or answer. So I tried other responses like "We can't have our own children so we're looking at options." It became apparent people wouldn't be satisfied without details, but it wasn't really their business.
It seemed appalling to me that godly, well-meaning Christian people would say things like "You're just not trusting God, that's why you're not pregnant" or "You must have unconfessed sin in your life". This wasn't some sort of punishment, nor was it a matter of my faith in God.
Then there were the experts - everyone had a "story to share" and an opinion to add. So and so who adopted and then got pregnant, or so and so who tried infertility and had triplets. Listen, people. Let me get on my soapbox for a minute (it's my blog and I'm allowed). JUST STOP. Be still. Be Silent. Listen. But don't feel like you have to do anything other than pray. Oh how this has taught me to just be silent and listen. To not offer advice. To just let the person share their heart and their hurt and offer my prayers and nothing more. Please heed this. You don't have to say anything.
I knew all the statistics and stories. I did all the research. I understood every option and the implications of each. It wasn't for anyone else to decide. AND everyone's story and situation is different.
I remember the person who said to me that I wasn't trusting God...to which I responded, "This has everything to do with my faith in God, but nothing to do with me not trusting Him. Are we so foolish to put God in a box and think He can bless us with a child through only one natural way? I can't wait to see what HIS plan is!"
Here's where I need to speak to those who are NOT going through this. If you know someone who is or has, offer your prayers. Be supportive and encouraging. A listener. But don't ask every month. Don't ask specifics. Don't worry about offering advice. Just pray. We try so hard to fix it and take the pain away from another - I am the biggest offender! But just like the person who can't control their cancer diagnosis, someone dealing with infertility needs to be reminded that God has a plan and He is faithful ... and even more, His plan is not their plan.
For me personally, I did not experience ever getting pregnant. I know many who have experienced miscarriages and I cannot relate to the pain and grief they've gone through. What I can share of my own experience is that it still needs to be grieved.
Much like a death, I had to let myself experience the emotions of grief. I wasn't grieving the loss of life. I was grieving the death of a dream. My desire was to be pregnant and to give birth to a child that would bear my resemblance and shared DNA. Grief is a process so there were moments of denial where I knew surely if God wanted to do a miracle and prove the doctors wrong, HE COULD! There were emotions of anger and frustration and questions of why and how...none of which I could answer or explain. And just like grieving a death, there are moments you think you're "just fine" and moments when the slightest little thing can trigger the emotions all over again.
Infertility involves a whirlwind of emotions and it comes in waves. For the person walking through it right now, you have to let yourself feel.
On The Other Side
There was a long conversation I had with another adoptive mom who said to me "When you get on the other side, you'll see how God worked all of this out." Her words were true and I can now say - on the other side - that I do see how God worked. But at that time, in that moment, I wasn't on the other side.
Just yesterday I had a conversation with a father who recently lost his daughter in a tragic accident. And now, even months later, he's still experiencing waves of grief and emotion that resurface at the slightest memory and sometimes without warning. I shared my friend's same words of wisdom but with my own addition..."When you get on the other side, you'll see God's plan...but right now you're on THIS SIDE so you have to let yourself feel these emotions and go through this process."
That's what I learned. Yes, there is a plan. Yes, there will be the "other side" ... but for now you have to grow where you're planted. So if you're still on "this side" and not yet privy to the details of the plan and how it all works out, you've got to stay put. You've got to feel to heal. Work through the process and all the emotions. And don't try to rush ahead or jump the fence to the other side.
If you or someone you know is experiencing infertility, I can only offer simple words from a heart that understands. I'm not going to tell you what to do or choose. I'm not going to tell you to just relax or have more faith or trust God's timing.
What I have to say is this: First, you're not alone. For anyone who doesn't have someone to talk to or share with, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and know I will offer whatever support and prayers I can. Second, if you're able, find a prayer partner or support group whom you can call on as you're dealing with these feelings and the ups and downs. You feel alone but when you can get to a point where you can share, I promise God's people will also receive a blessing in praying with you and believing with you on this journey. Third, understand that - it is a journey. It's a process. You will experience the emotions in waves. You know the cycle. It comes and goes. Mother's Day will most assuredly be a heart-wrenching day. I know. I've been there. I can now proudly stand and be recognized as a mom but I don't do it without remembering the years when I ached as I sat childless. Feel. It's okay to feel. To hurt and cry. To be upset. (If you're on any kind of fertility treatment, you have an heightened emotional and hormonal state already.) Just don't put it in "park" in any one emotion.
I will say this hoping you hear my heart: turn to the Lord. Because of this private, painful struggle you face, there aren't a lot of people you can turn to. But I can most assuredly tell you it was in this times of desperation and solitude when I truly sought God's face - not His hand - and where I found Him. (Jeremiah 29:13)
I know this post is LONG and won't apply to everyone. But someone needs to read this and if you need me, just know I'm here and I understand.