Friday, May 12, 2017

Breaking the Silence - Infertility

I first shared this on 5/12/12. I'm updating and modifying this story but still feeling it's relevant to share, especially as we approach Mother's Day this weekend. 

We'll honor mothers everywhere this weekend. If you're at church like me, you'll be asked to stand and be recognized as the congregation will applaud moms. But I'm mindful that a few 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!) But that wasn't a part of my story. Infertility is a lonely, painful struggle. I've walked through it twice with both support and the opposite. I'll share some of that below. 

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.

My Story
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 in that present situation. Please understand that I choose for this part of the story to remain intentionally vague due to confidential reasons and the fact that it doesn't involve me. I was on the receiving end of the news, yes, but I was not directly impacted physically, only emotionally. The doctor delivered the news as if she was telling me the weather report. It was just she and I in the room, yet again I was feeling all alone, and 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. 

For me in this situation, it took on a whole new meaning of feeling alone and helpless because I felt the need to take on the burden of making it "my" problem. It seemed more "natural" that it would be the female's "fault" but make no mistake, there was no one to blame, it was just certain reality. I had to first get "comfortable" with the news - which was never comfortable. Then I had to get to a point of acceptance of this devastating reality. It had already been a tumultuous two years of loneliness with not much support for my desire coming from my marriage. Now I was trying to triumph a new cause to still see to it that I could become a mother. Just because the doctor's tests said "no" didn't mean my heart heard or accepted that as final. Was there a possibility or surgery, procedures or something else? There was so much to consider. There were no guarantees and no predictions. Just a whole lot of uncertainty and emotional whirlwinds that I was certain I couldn't handle.

Well-Meaning People
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. It was like a knife stabbing my heart each and every time some well-meaning person would ask...

"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 other options." It became apparent people wouldn't be satisfied without details, but it wasn't really their business. And again I felt even more pressure to offer "protection" of those details. Even now it's something I don't and won't share. 

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. STOP THE RIDICULOUS ADVICE!!!! 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!!! And for goodness sake, PLEASE don't say something STUPID!

I knew all the statistics and stories. I did all the research. I poured over it. I devoured it. I wept. I read. I researched some more. 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. 

I'm having to unfortunately add that even after experiencing a loss, I dealt with well-meaning but stupid people. Yet again I heard comments of it wasn't God's will. The baby was better off. We were better off because it probably had something wrong with it. It obviously wasn't meant to be so I just needed to move on. How could I grieve something/someone I'd never met? It wasn't like it was a baby I held. People. FOR THE LOVE. Once again I implore you to SHUT YOUR MOUTHS. No one can tell ANYONE how long or how to go through grief. You just can't. I don't care who you are or what you're facing, we will all deal with it differently. SO PRETTY PLEASE JUST STOP! 

I got slammed for sharing our pregnancy news so early. The rationale, of course, that had I just kept it private then I wouldn't have had to go through such a public loss. As I stand before you I can tell you I have absolutely NO regrets. I don't care if you've been pregnant for one day or one year, you were still pregnant. Having now gone through this, I know there is something about knowing there is LIFE inside you that you will grieve as if you had held that life in your arms. I hold to the belief that life begins at conception so the loss for me was still a loss. No matter how "early" I was. 

Grief
This portion has had to change in the past 5 years to reflect the second half of this journey. I'll share the first part then add to it. 

Part 1. 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.

Part 2. My miscarriage wasn't just a loss of life. It was also the resurfacing of ALL those emotions and the painstaking journey that had come years before. It was a painful time of wondering where was God and why He would even let me get pregnant in the first place if the baby wasn't going to make it. I wrestled with guilt over what I could have done differently. I struggled with outbursts of tears and torment that I couldn't control. I grieved my baby. The life of my child that would never be. I became nearly obsessed wondering if I would get pregnant again then gripped with fear that I would but couldn't handle another loss. It was tormenting. 

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. Everyone grieves differently. Let them. 

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 has worked through all of it. But at that time, in that moment, I wasn't on the other side. These words still ring in my ears no matter what someone is going through. I feel strongly that anyone who is or has dealt with infertility, loss, or any piece of it could share her own journey but if she isn't on "the other side" then she is still walking through it. Just like we can't rush the grieving process, we also cannot force someone to get to the other side. Here's why. The other side is ONLY the arrival of one part of the journey that God is continually orchestrating together. Just because I have held two newborn babies in my arms doesn't mean I even have yet to know the full stories of their lives or my role as their mother. It's still being written. 

Just recently I had a conversation with a dear friend who lost her grown son. We talked of the grief that still comes and the wave of emotions that resurface. I shared about the other side 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. So to say we've arrived "on the other side" is merely a matter of perspective of having walked through a specific part of the journey. 

I will also add that on the other side of divorce and remarriage, with portions of my story revealed, people have also criticized me for wanting to pursue adoption. If I knew my marriage was in trouble why would I have allowed a child to be brought into the situation? I understand. I get the doubts and questions. The only thing I can offer is the reality that even this week as I recounted the story of Elijah's birth and adoption, I cannot for one second think he was placed in the wrong family. I know without a doubt that God chose me to be his advocate, his warrior, the one to cultivate his heart and who God created Him to be. So doubt if you must but please don't question my story just as I won't question yours. 

Hope
Five years ago I wrote this blog because I believe the Lord has not allowed me to walk through this journey without the opportunity to share some piece of hope. The fact that I titled this section "HOPE" and now 5 years later my 1.5 year old daughter bears this as her middle name should tell you about the journey God has had me on. I cannot tell you that I've always held onto well-meaning hope. I cannot tell you that I've counted it all joy. I can tell you, though, that I am here to share this with you so you know there is in fact hope. 

"May the God of HOPE fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with HOPE by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13

That verse hangs in Violet Hope's room. It is the very verse from where her middle name came. The word "HOPE" is etched on a tiny piece of rice hanging from my rearview mirror. The day I started miscarrying I had that piece of rice inscribed and clung to it as I waited the tormenting days and weeks hoping and praying for a miracle, only to experience the devastating loss. I didn't lose HOPE because my HOPE is in the Lord. I can tell you that at times the desire of my heart seemed so excruciating that I prayed for God to take it away if it wasn't His will. There were times when I felt hopeless. I cannot and will not sugar coat it. 

Here's the other thing I need to say. What if God hadn't given me a baby? What if I had never gotten pregnant? What if I hadn't experienced a loss? Or pregnancy? What if I'd never become a mother? Would I still have hope? Would I still be able to raise my hands in praise to a good, good Father? I can't answer the what if's. I can only tell you that what I did's. When I was barren, when I was alone, when I was broken, when I was empty-armed, when I was even abandoned as a wife, when I was unloved and unwanted, when I was truly hopeless and helpless, I can honestly tell you I had no one else BUT God. I had no where to turn except toward Him. No one held me in my loneliness except the Lord. That's all I know. 

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. I won't tell you how to respond or how to get through yet another Mother's Day. 

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 message me 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. I can't tell you how many people count Elijah and Violet as part of their own miracle knowing they played a pivotal praying part in these stories. 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.

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