Monthly Archives: January 2010

Infertility: Prison or Classroom?

“If we see painful situations as threats, they become prisons for our souls.  Like inmates in medieval dungeons, we languish…wishing the problems would just go away.  Or, we try frantically to get out any way we can.”

–       Zig Ziglar, author/speaker

I doubt Zig was thinking about infertility when he talked about a prison for our souls.  But, it seems like a pretty good metaphor:  trapped in seemingly inescapable confines…. separated from the rest of the world and everything normal… feeling punished, isolated, forgotten, and afraid… forced to join a subset of humanity no one wants to join… wondering if it will ever be possible to escape and rejoin the ranks of those enjoying life on the outside.

It’s easy to see the parallels.  And, it’s tempting to give in to the despair that beckons as a result.

But we can have a different perspective, “one that sees problems not as prisons but as classrooms where God gets our attention, transforms our character, and gives us strong hope….”

Who couldn’t use strong hope while waiting for IVF transfer results?  Or a heartbeat on an ultrasound?  Or a phone call with the news:  yes, or no?  We all could.  So, how do we escape the prison of fear and negative thinking, and enter that classroom where God changes us?

We choose to walk out the open door.

Amazingly, we can leave this prison whenever we’re ready.  As in scripture, where God repeatedly frees those He loves by opening prison doors, He has swung this door wide open.  We are not condemned.  We have not been judged and punished.  We are not forgotten, and we need not be afraid.  We have unconsciously chosen a prisoner’s perspective, but the good news is: “God sets prisoners free” [Psalm 146:7].

Consciously choosing to walk out the open door and leave prison behind, we can seek a different place for our souls to dwell as we seek a new perspective on infertility—one that enables us to be transformed, and gives us strong hope.  Impossible?  “What is impossible with (wo)man is possible with God” [Luke 18:27].

The door is open.  And the only One who knows how your story will end is waiting to teach you, encourage you, and help you.

Care to join me in the classroom?


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Infertility and Surrender

What does it mean when prayers for a pregnancy don’t get answered?  When a baby doesn’t make it to term, even though you pray for its health and beg God for its life?  When an adoption doesn’t go through, even though every step in the process has seemed like answered prayer?

There is no public dialogue on questions like these.  Maybe they’re too difficult, or too emotionally-charged.  Maybe they force people to think about things they’d rather not consider, or confront truths they’d rather avoid.  Whatever the reason, the absence of answers leaves us alone with our thoughts.  And those can be devastating.

“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”   What are we supposed to make of these words of Jesus’?  They used to submerge me in despair.  I was praying.  I was believing.  And instead of a baby, I had miscarriage after miscarriage – leaving me with the question:  What am I doing wrong?  Why don’t my prayers get answered?

Are you wondering the same thing?

Here’s what I’ve come to understand:

At first, my will wasn’t aligned with God’s. My will was:  give me a baby now.  It was, to be perfectly honest, an infantile kind of willfulness that was too obsessed with gimme!  to consider God’s purpose or His timing.  I wasn’t praying with a servant’s heart; surrender was nowhere on my radar screen.  My prayer was more often, “why not?!” – and sometimes, I didn’t even wait for an answer.

My prayers were more about entitlement than obedience.  Without realizing it, I presumed that I knew best.  That a child now was better than a child later; that this pregnancy would trump a future one; that the sooner I got a “yes,” the happier I’d be.  It was all about my plan (now!), not God’s plan.  It was about satisfying my intense desire (entitlement), not about serving God’s purposes (obedience).

My impetuous neediness wasn’t all that mattered to God.  Despite my sense that I couldn’t hang on much longer without getting the baby I wanted, God knew I could.  He resisted my pleas with patient  wisdom, despite the fact that my suffering broke His heart.  Over time, my broken spirit became a malleable one, and God made me more of the steward He wanted me to be for the soul He’d always planned to entrust to me.

Then, I learned to pray for God’s best.  Instead of trying to wrestle with God over whose will should prevail, I finally began to demonstrate my trust by letting go of my desire to control.  I chose to trust that God intended to make me a parent – in His way, in His timing.  With that choice to surrender, came a wave of peace.  And with peace, came a pregnancy… that went to term… and brought into the world the baby intended for me.

“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”   For a long time, I didn’t believe that I had received anything.  Where was some evidence?  All I could see was that I hadn’t received what I wanted.  But, when I learned to pray for God’s best – His best timing, His best plan, His best reasons, His best outcome – and trust that I had received a “yes” in response to that request, everything changed.

Surrender was the secret to victory.

Imagine that.


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Temporary [Infertility] Insanity

Infertility causes temporary insanity.  At least, that’s what I think.  I say that not as the wife of a psychiatrist – who would vehemently disagree with my armchair diagnosis—but as someone who experienced it first-hand.

What’s my evidence?  Let’s start with the single-minded obsession.  The compulsive checking, tracking, monitoring, documenting, and comparing.  The inability to concentrate on anything else.  The mood swings.  The drama.  The tears.  Should I continue?  It would be easy to blame it all on the meds… but probably not accurate.

If you’ve been there—or if you’re there now—you know what I mean.  There’s really no alternative, right?  That’s just part of the deal when you’re going through infertility.  Well… not so fast.

“Do you still not see and understand?  Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?  And don’t you remember?”  Jesus asked these questions of the disciples when they seemed to miss the point of his lesson.  Essentially, he was saying, “Do you still not have my perspective?”

He could just as easily be asking us.

What perspective is he talking about?  See what?  Hear what?  Remember what?

In the midst of infertility, it’s easy (and common) to feel as if we can’t see or hear or remember anything… unless it’s related to having a baby.  That’s all we can think about.  Constantly.  It’s all we can see:  pregnant women everywhere.  It’s all we can hear:  everyone (but us) saying, “I’ve got great news!”  It’s all we can remember:  it hasn’t happened for me.

Our intensely-focused desire is all-consuming.  But somehow, that focus doesn’t seem to help us get any closer to the goal.  In fact, the obsession with getting—and staying—pregnant is actually making it harder to think clearly, see the big picture, and hear the good news.

Wait a minute.  What good news?

“Do you still not see and understand?  Are your hearts hardened?  Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?  And don’t you remember?”  The good news is that God is eternal, unchanging and faithful.  He is a promise-keeper who longs to use our circumstances for our benefit.  The opportunity exists.  And, the Bible says He will—if we will let Him.  Trust that He is at work, and claim His promise:  “…I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’”

It’s the only real antidote to infertility insanity.


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Less is More – Even with Infertility

“Taking the 5 loaves and 2 fish and looking up to heaven, Jesus gave thanks…” [Mark 6:41].

My friend, Toni, is jokingly referred to as “the one egg wonder” by the staff at her reproductive endocrinologist’s office.  Having crossed the imaginary line between fertility and infertility on her 35th birthday, she was told to get busy getting pregnant.  “When we talked to the doctor about statistics,” she says, “we realized we’d better try to do something, or it might be too late to do anything.”

Many failed IUIs later, after extensive soul-searching, she decided to go forward with IVF.  The retrieval resulted in one egg.  Toni was ecstatic—until her doctor explained that one egg was statistically dismal.  Not easily discouraged, Toni chose to cling to the hope that one egg was all she needed.

“The doctor told me, ‘you may want to consider adoption.’  Before even trying the IVF she was already expecting a negative outcome!  I remember saying, ‘I know you can only do what you can do, but there’s another factor involved here.  I didn’t want to say, ‘God is doing the work’ because I didn’t want to offend her, but that’s what I was thinking.”

Everyone at the doctor’s office regarded Toni as mildly delusional—until her son was conceived and delivered.

What did she know that they didn’t?  What gave her the sense that something virtually impossible was perfectly possible?  And how did she hold on to that confident expectation, even when the experts thought she was crazy?  According to Toni, she prayed with a thankful heart.  “I’ve always prayed ‘thank you’ for everything.  I learned the scriptures that were relevant to infertility.  Once I had that going for me, I just felt really confident.”

Jesus modeled that same confident expectation just before feeding 5,000 people with just 5 loaves and 2 fish.  Everyone around him saw lack, but Jesus saw plenty.

In the midst of infertility, it is our tendency to dwell on insufficiency.  We become obsessed with numbers that aren’t high enough, follicle counts that aren’t large enough, options that aren’t plentiful enough.

One egg?  Get serious!

We need to remember that the gap between our “realistic” perception of insufficiency and God’s knowledge of plenty is enormous.  And there’s only one way to bridge it:  by faith.  We aren’t given the gifts of foreknowledge or control; those are God’s territory.  But, we are invited to believe that “very little” can be “more than enough.”

It worked for Jesus.  It worked for Toni.  It could work for you.


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Music Matters for Infertile Couples

Have you noticed that there are days when you’re unable to control negative thoughts?  When your imagination turns against you and floods your mind with “I can’t…,” “I’ll never be able to…,” “What will we do if this doesn’t…?”

Have you noticed that brushing these thoughts aside does no good?  They’re back in a split-second.  Discouraging.  Intimidating.  Harassing.  Acknowledge them and they just seem to multiply, metastasizing into other areas of your life.  In no time, the darkness that accompanies these thoughts can envelope you—causing you to feel helpless and hopeless.  Demoralized and defeated.

Do other women experience this?  Is this part of the infertility journey—this assault from within?  Is feeling under attack and unable to defend yourself from your own thoughts normal?

Yes.  Yes.  And yes.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t fight back.  You can… and you should.  How?

By shifting your focus from what you fear to whom you trust.

If that trust is rooted in your own power and control, the fear you feel is the realization that you have limitations.  Your abilities and resources are finite, and that’s not reassuring.  But if your trust is in the God who promises, “…Do not fear; I will help you,” then you have cause for hope.

How do you shift your focus to God’s faithfulness when all you can think about is test results, counting days, scheduling procedures….?  Try this.  Download and listen to “I Will Praise You in This Storm” by Casting Crowns:

I was sure by now, God, that You would have reached down
and wiped our tears away, stepped in and saved the day.
But once again, I say amen.  And it’s still raining.
As the thunder rolls, I barely hear You whisper through the rain,
“I’m with you.”  And as Your mercy falls,
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives and takes away.
I’ll praise you in this storm, and I will lift my hands
for You are who You are no matter where I am.
And every tear I’ve cried, You hold in your hand.
You never left my side.  And though my heart is torn,
I will praise You in this storm.

If that helps, try their song, “The Voice of Truth.”  Or, try “Tunnel” by Third Day.  Or, “If You Want Me to” by Jenny Owen.

Consider assembling a collection of songs that acknowledge your struggle, but also express your faith in the God who walks with you.  Then, the next time you feel that familiar surge of anxiety and hear the voice of negative self-talk, take a couple minutes to reclaim your sanity and reaffirm your trust.

Listen, and regain perspective.


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Infertile, and Smart Like Sheep

According to an ABC News investigative report, sheep may not be as stupid as previously thought.  Conventional wisdom says sheep are the ultimate metaphor for unthinking, instinctive behavior.  But apparently, not so.  Researchers developed intelligence tests for sheep and—surprise!—they can actually learn to make good choices and work with their shepherds.

We can, too.

Infertility spurs a fair amount of unthinking, instinctive, sheep-like behavior.  For my husband and me, that meant trying to do whatever seemed to be working for absolutely everyone else.  No luck there.  So, next up:  old wives’ tales.  Still no luck.  So, we started buying ovulation predictor kits.  Did it ever occur to us that no result meant no ovulating?  Well…. truthfully?  No.  We’d stand in the bathroom staring at that stick.  “Can you see anything?”  “What does it mean if it doesn’t match the picture on the box?”  “What should we do now?”

Very sheep-like.

Not knowing what to do, we kept looking for the flock.  What was everybody else doing?  What was everybody else trying?  Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be an “everybody else.”  As far as we could tell, we were the lone lost sheep—the only ones who’d somehow wandered way off the beaten path.  We felt “…like sheep without a shepherd.”  Like there was no one to show us where to go.  What to do.  How to get answers.

Those words—“like sheep without a shepherd”—come from scripture.  They are actually a description of Jesus’ assessment of a crowd that gathered to see him.  “They were like sheep without a shepherd” [Mark 6:34].  Clueless.  “He had compassion on them,” the story continues, and “so, he began teaching them many things.”

That’s the good news.  Sheep can learn.  When they are motivated and paying attention, they can absorb relevant information.  That’s what the ABC News story reported—and many, many years prior, that’s what Jesus knew.

When infertility makes it impossible to think clearly, to find the path, to catch up with the flock that seems to be having no trouble, the shepherd is available to help.  He can teach things that enable the sheep to make good choices.  They can learn to recognize the sound of his voice, to respond when he calls, to seek him when they are lost, and to expect his help whenever they are in trouble.  They can learn to trust him.

It’s not too much to hope that we can be smart like sheep.


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Shatter the Silence Around Infertility

Conceiving and carrying a baby to term is difficult for some of us—but not all.  So, what does it mean to be singled-out for suffering?  The church is oddly silent when it comes to addressing this question.  Not just my church.  All churches.  They are all failing to provide insight… compassionate support… even just overt grace to those struggling to build a family.  Instead, they offer silence.


In her review of Pregnant with Hope, E.W. Carter of the Regional Council of Churches writes, “Clergy don’t even know how to talk about infertility in the 21st century, [so] many of our faith communities are silent when confronted with the unfulfilled longing for a child.”  Essentially, she’s saying the church is silent because the clergy are clueless.

Harsh?  No offense intended, but she says it quite clearly, “They don’t even know how to talk about infertility….”  Why would that be?  There are few, if any, other topics on which the church—and those who speak for God through it—have nothing to say.  What’s the problem?

Old habits die hard.

That’s part of the problem.  For centuries, the church has been run by men.  And, for just as long, infertility has been considered a woman’s failure.  Only recently has medical research discovered that infertility is just as often caused by an issue with the prospective father’s health as with the prospective mother’s.

Now, women are in the pulpit and infertile men are in the pews.  But the church hasn’t metabolized this new reality.  No one’s teaching “How to Talk About Infertility” in divinity school.  What’s stopping that change from coming?

Supply meets demand.

That’s the other part of the problem.  No noise.  No clamor for change.  Until the silent give voice to their suffering, inertia will maintain the status quo.  So, if we want messages of hope for those struggling with infertility to make their way to the pulpit, and from the pulpit into the hearts and minds of all those who don’t yet understand the good news of God’s faithfulness—even in the midst of infertility—we’ve got to speak up.

Are you with me?


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Hope > Optimism During Infertility

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams”

– Henry David Thoreau

This is how every infertility journey starts, isn’t it?  Full of confidence, we set off in the direction of the perfect pregnancy.  It will happen effortlessly.  At most, within a few weeks of trying.  We’ll tell everyone the good news, buy lots of maternity clothes, enjoy baby showers with friends and family, have an easy delivery, and poof… have the perfect baby.  What a plan!

Sort of like the perfect wedding, we’ve unconsciously come to desire — and expect — the perfect path to parenthood.  Unrealistic?  Infertility makes that pretty clear.  Unreasonable?  That’s harder to answer.

Clearly, some women do sail through pregnancy and delivery.  Too often, we see them on the cover of People magazine, smiling blissfully as they enjoy their moment in the spotlight.  It’s hard to look at them without wondering, “Why her and not me?  Why is she blessed and I’m…”  What?  Cursed?

Not so fast.  Maybe this detour is for a purpose.

Consider these words from Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church:  “Optimism is psychological; hope is theological.”  This one sentence from his recent sermon got me thinking….

Optimism is what Thoreau advocates:  choose to be confident, and set out.  It’s the favorite advice of all Type A’s:  Go for it!  You can do it!  But that you-can-do-it confidence is rooted in the belief that you can do it.  Infertility teaches each one of us:  No, you can’t.

But God can.  That’s why hope—real theological hope that is God-centered and God-focused—is more than optimism.  It’s more than believing you can if you just try hard enough.  It’s admitting that you can’t, but trusting that God still can.  It’s acknowledging that your limitations are not His, but your dream of becoming a parent… is.

Ground yourself in this kind of confident hope, and wait expectantly.  Trust that this detour is for a purpose—part of which may be teaching you humble God-reliance.  God will honor your trust in His perfect timing with His very best.

Wait and see.


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So, Now Infertility’s a Disease?

(Nov. 30, 2009) BioNews, London – The World Health Organization (WHO), in conjunction with the International Committee for Monitoring Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ICMART), has formally recognized infertility as a disease in its new international glossary of Assistive Reproductive Technologies (ART) terminology.

Why does it matter if experts label infertility “a disease”?  What does that change for those of us who are struggling with it?

A disease connotes diagnose-ability.  Treat-ability.  Even, cure-ability.  What if you fall in the 10-20% of couples whose infertility can’t be explained?  For whom treatment doesn’t work?  For whom there is no apparent cure?  Does calling it a disease just rub salt in the wound?

Too often, infertility settles into a couple’s life and spirits like a cancer — with an unnerving sense of permanence.  The misery brings with it a profound sense of isolation. There may be millions of others battling the same “disease,” but they are nowhere to be found. Rarely do they choose to self-identify; the social stigma is too powerful. So, even as our spirits crave companionship, we feel increasingly apart, chosen for suffering we do not understand.

Separated from everything “normal,” we seem to be drifting further and further away from anything familiar. Where to? And why is God allowing this to happen?

When life is unfolding according to plan, most of us prefer to side-step the broad philosophical question of why people suffer, as if suffering—like a disease—could be contagious. But infertility propels the question to the forefront with desperate urgency.

The question becomes much more personal—“why me?”—and insistent when the suffering is our own.

In the beginning, all thoughts and feelings about infertility spring from the big, central question: “WHY?” With time, and without conceiving, the “why?” multiplies and metastasizes. Its offshoots begin to spring up everywhere. Why us? Why me? Why now? Why not? Why them?

Anxiety feeds the questions. Doubt does, too. Jealousy poisons many thoughts with toxic envy. The “why?” spreads to cover all aspects of the struggle to get pregnant, sinking its roots deep into the spirit: Why does everyone else…? Why haven’t we…? Why did they…? Why, if we…? Why, if they…? Why not us?!

This state of constant emotional turbulence is a disease.  A “dis-ease” that makes it impossible to recover a sense of equilibrium.  And this “dis-ease” seems even harder to treat than infertility itself.  What can possibly cure it but having our heart’s desire?


What doctor will take this case?

Only the great physician.  He alone can diagnose, treat, cure… and bless.  He alone.


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Obsessing Over Infertility

AP news release (11/09) – Doctors have long worried about a link between fertility drugs and ovarian cancer.  But, Danish researchers recently analyzed medical records of 54,362 women and found that, over a 13-year follow-up period, those who took fertility drugs faced no greater risk of ovarian cancer – even if they’d undergone 10 or more treatment cycles.

Why is it that obsessing over when we’ll get pregnant isn’t enough?  We have to compound our suffering by worrying over other things we can’t control—like whether the fertility drugs we take now will bring on some new kind of suffering later.

“Fear and faith seem like opposites,” writes Joel Osteen, “but both ask us to believe something we cannot see.  Fear says, ‘believe the negative.’ Faith says, ‘believe the positive.’”  Why is so much easier for us to embrace fear?  And if we hate feeling fearful, why do we choose fear as our response to uncertainty?

The truth is, it doesn’t feel like a choice.  Loss of control flips a panic switch somewhere deep inside us.  Our instinctive fight-or-flight response takes over:   Hurry!  Fix this!  Solve it!  Now!  We don’t want to feel afraid.  We hate it.  So, in response to fear, we fight for control—struggling to maintain a steady course down an unfamiliar road toward a destination we hope we can find.

Parenthood.  Is it just up ahead?  We want to believe we’re on the right road… but something tells us we’re lost.  And alone.  In growing darkness.  Uncertainty compounds our panic and, before we know it, we’re careening down a dark road at top speed – scared to death, and hoping to make it in one piece.

Is there any other way to make this journey?  Yes…, but it requires us to do the unthinkable:  relinquish control.

Letting go in the midst of infertility is completely counterintuitive.  It feels like giving up.  But it’s not.  It is simply a humble admission that we are not in control.  We desperately want to be, but we’re not.  Unconsciously, we’ve resisted facing this obvious truth.  Why?  Out of fear that we’ll be overwhelmed by despair.  We’ll see how small and helpless we truly are in the face of intractable infertility, and heartbreak will become defeat.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

When we admit we are not in control, we make room for God to enter the story.  Will He help us?  Will He care?

“Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

Those were Jesus’ words to a panicked father when he heard his daughter had died.  Jesus understood the man’s instinctive response was fear and grief.  But Jesus told him:  don’t choose fear… choose faith.  Trust me… not what they tell you, or what you see.

What is your visceral response to bad news?  Do you rush to embrace grief and fear?  Or do you believe (“walk by faith…”), despite what you see (“…not by sight”)?

It’s your journey.  And it’s your choice.


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