Monthly Archives: February 2010

Panic or Peace During Infertility

Information is power.  That’s the presumption that drives the incessant desire to gather facts and statistics when couples discover they’ve entered the realm of infertility.  But what happens when the data is conflicting and the messages contradictory?

This week, one group of experts announced IVF babies are no more likely than naturally-conceived babies to suffer chronic health problems later in life.  The same day, another study declared women’s fertility drops off at a much faster rate than previously imagined, as does egg quality [By age 30, 88% of a woman’s eggs are gone; by age 40, only 3% remain – and are likely to contain a higher proportion of abnormal eggs].

So is the news good, or bad?   Should we be encouraged, or disheartened?

This is a particularly difficult question for Type A women.  The same vigilant monitoring of relevant information that makes us a success at work, causes tremendous stress during infertility.  Each bit of news forces us to adjust our perception of reality, so we can factor the newest variable into our calculations.  It’s tiring, but we keep pushing because we tell ourselves it’s critically important.

The problem is, the onslaught of good news-bad news-good news-bad news keeps coming.  And the clock keeps ticking.  Over time, the constant uncertainty about how this will end – and when – becomes increasingly destabilizing.  With each day, the emotional roller coaster seems more and more likely to careen out of control – taking us with it.  It’s crazy and exhausting… but what is the alternative?

Rest.

Stillness.

Quiet.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”  Jesus spoke these words as he promised the presence of the Holy Spirit to those who trust him.  “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” [John 14:27].  How can we possibly experience peace in the midst of infertility?  How can we hear statistics and read news reports and not be filled with fear that our dreams won’t be realized?

The apostle Paul provides the answer, “It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life” [Phillipians 4:7].  That new center enables us to focus on whom we trust, rather than what we fear.  And from that center, “peace that passes understanding” can radiate in all directions.  Faith can gain the upper hand on fear, if we choose this new focal point.

So, what will you choose to think about today, and what will it bring you:  panic, or on peace?

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Find resources and more cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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A Dream Alters the Course of Infertility

What does it mean when something more-than-coincidental happens?   Two nights ago, a friend had a dream that altered the trajectory of her infertility story.

Nancy dreamed that her reproductive endocrinologist was out of town, so another physician from the practice performed the retrieval.  He put her eggs in a glass container, added water, then dumped sperm into the glass.  When she discovered what had happened, she was hysterical and had to be moved to a different room where nurses tried to console her.

It would be easy enough to write this off — an infertile woman, stressing prior to her last IVF cycle, continues to worry during sleep – except that the next day, the dream proved prophetic.

Nancy went to her appointment.  Sure enough, her physician was out of town.  A colleague would see her.  It was the man from her dream.  Laughing, she told him, “I had a dream about you last night.”  She shared the whole story, and he decided to pull her chart.  The chart said IVF, but no mention of ICSI.  Just as her dream had shown her, sperm and egg would be combined, but not using the right protocol.

Was God in that?  It’s easy to stand outside the story and say, yes, of course.  But it’s harder to be in the middle of the story – in the midst of infertility – and believe that God is actively participating in how it unfolds.  Why is that?  Maybe because our expectations can limit God.  We’re not sure He shares our dream of parenting, or we’re not sure He cares enough to get involved in our story, or we don’t believe He actually talks to anyone any more.  Whatever the reason, our lack of faith limits our ability to perceive His presence.

The Bible says, “…God does speak—now one way, now another—though men may not perceive it.  In a dream… he may speak in their ears…” [Job 33:15].  Nancy did not initially perceive her dream as a warning, but still, she shared it.  Her substitute doctor did not initially sense a problem, but still, he checked on it.  By responding to the message of the dream – and the possibility that it held meaning – they invited God to alter the trajectory of the story.  That led to another discussion which opened the door to another blessing.  The doctor told her about a new, experimental protocol that could further increase the odds of success.  Nancy qualified; was she interested?

Would she have told her regular doctor about the dream?  Would that doctor have double-checked the chart?  Would the mistake have been caught in time?  Would anyone have noticed if it hadn’t?  Would the experimental protocol have been mentioned?  Would all of this (or any of it) have happened without the dream?

Nancy doesn’t know… and she’s still waiting to see what the outcome of this IVF cycle will be.  Maybe there will be a baby, and it will be clear in hindsight that God willed this series of events into being.  Or, maybe there won’t be, and she will have peace that everything scientifically possible was done correctly on her last IVF cycle.  Then, she and her husband will turn confidently to adoption.  Either way, she knows she is moving in the direction of God’s best, and she’s confident that He is part of her story.

Listen, and He will speak to you in yours.

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To Everyone Who Doesn’t Understand Infertility…

On September 27th, a baby boy was born to a Catholic couple in Ohio.  Why was that news?  Not because their baby boy was conceived using IVF, but because the implanted embryo wasn’t theirs.  It belonged to another infertile couple whose fertilized eggs were mistakenly implanted.

With all its inherent controversy, this story – which received national coverage — invited readers to stare in disbelief at the terrible collision of two families’ dreams, just as we often do at a horrific highway accident.  Look at that tragedy, we were prompted to think.  How devastating for the families.  How heartbreaking.  And then, having seen all there was to see, we were expected to accelerate past the suffering and get on with our lives.

Why not?  Was there a more appropriate response?

Actually, yes.  Unlike gapers who block roads for no greater purpose than to satisfy morbid curiosity, when we slow down to look carefully at this story, we learn important things about the challenge of infertility and the powerful witness of those who face it.

Infertile couples are all around us.  One in every six couples of childbearing age is currently struggling with it.  Because of the perceived social stigma, and society’s tabloid fascination with other people’s suffering, most of the struggle goes on silently and secretly.  Infertile couples crave community to fight off isolation and compassion to offset grief, but rarely do they find it.  Even at church.  So, they cling to their spouses and hope that God hasn’t abandoned them.

When the Catholic couple discovered they were pregnant with another couple’s child, they faced a terrible choice:  abort, or carry a stranger’s baby to term.  An impossible, gut-wrenching decision no longing-to-be parent should ever have to make.  What did they decide?   “At the end of the day, there’s a life coming,” said Sean Savage, the surrogate-father-to-be.  “Even though it’s in an unusual way, it’s still a gift.”

Despite their deep desire to have a baby, they chose to trust God’s purpose over their need.  They decided to live into their faith in God’s goodness in the midst of their nightmare.

On the surface, that’s a shocking response to a head-on collision between the dream of parenting and the reality of a fertility clinic error.  “Why me?!” seems much more likely.  But, the struggle with infertility can be a blessing-in-disguise when it tests – and strengthens — our faith, and when it gives us an opportunity to live what we believe.

The Savages faced an impossibly difficult situation and chose to rely on grace, one day at a time, for nine painful months.  According to the news coverage, they made it.

Other infertile couples can, too.

How can you help them?

First, remember that childlessness can be – but isn’t always – a choice.   Even those with children sometimes struggle to conceive again.  And, infertility stories are painful.  So, as with a multi-car accident, get involved only if you plan to offer help.  If you have nothing to offer, keep moving.

Second, encourage your local church and community leaders to provide support for infertile couples.  It’s possible to educate, extend compassion and build community at virtually no expense – and with great results.  Be a part of bringing blessings into the lives of those who long for them.

Third, if you know a couple struggling with infertility, remind them that they are not alone.  Encourage them to talk with friends, family, counselors or other congregants.  Do whatever you can to give them hope and help them heal.

That’s a much better response than just driving by.

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Do All Things Work Together for Good with Infertility?

Periodically, someone asks me if there is a single Bible verse that gives hope when nothing else can.  For me, there is.  I clung to it through what seemed like something out of the book of Job.

In the span of a few years, my parents died tragically.  I miscarried twins – one at a time.  Our baby had a hole in the heart.   There was another miscarriage.  A cross-country move.  A demanding residency.  A fragile pregnancy.  Five months of bedrest.   A premature birth.  A cancer diagnosis.  Chemo with a newborn….  And so much more.

It was relentless.

Wave after wave engulfed us.  We were constantly in survival mode.  Crisis was our “normal.”  Surely, no one would’ve chosen to live our story.  And yet… our marriage grew stronger.  Our daughter survived open heart surgery.  Our premature baby thrived.  The cancer was misdiagnosed.

Every time we felt our heads going under water, we found our feet under us.   Whenever we felt we couldn’t go on any longer, we’d get a moment of unexpected rest.  God was keeping his promise, “Don’t be afraid, because I am with you. Don’t be intimidated; I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will support you with my victorious right hand” [Isaiah 41:10].

So is that verse from Isaiah my favorite?  No, because God gave us more than just the strength to withstand.  He transformed our struggles into these valuable lessons:

1)      Take nothing for granted – Not life, not health, not prosperity or safety.  Not a baby’s heart beat, or a family’s support.  It’s all a gift.  We realized we are not entitled to joy, and it is never guaranteed.  So when those amazing moments come, we should pause and give God our thanks.

2)      Value each other’s contributions – Neither of us could have survived the onslaught of stress and grief alone.  We needed each other’s love, humor, grace, and tears.  Every trial strengthened our commitment to protecting our relationship at all costs.  That forged a solid foundation for our family.

3)      Learn to trust God’s plan and purpose – We would never have written our script; we would have made everything come easily.  But in hindsight, we see that the struggle made us stronger – our faith, our marriage, our passion for parenting, our sense of purpose.  Everything is more focused, concentrated, purposeful.  It has surprised us… but not God.

So, given all that, this is my favorite verse:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” [Romans 8:28].  Our journey gave us the proof.  We now know the power of this promise, and the peace that comes from claiming it in the midst of any circumstances.

Don’t be afraid of the hard road.  It leads you to God’s very best.

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Exceedingly, abundantly… Despite Infertility

I met Kirsten and Mike when they were well into their infertility journey.  They’d had a spontaneous miscarriage at 18 weeks.  “When you go through a miscarriage that’s further along in a pregnancy,” Kirsten said, “a big, huge hole opens up in your life.  You feel like you’re completely isolated.  You know in your mind that other people have gone through this, but you never expect it to happen to you.”

When they felt ready to try again, they had four unsuccessful IUIs and an IVF cycle that resulted in no embryos.  Their doctor, a well-known infertility expert, told them they had infertility “of unknown origin” – and then dropped a bomb.  As Mike recalled, “The doctor actually said to us, ‘You will never have kids.’  It took every bit of emotional strength to try to get through it.  Kirsten was nuts.  She was hitting herself and saying, ‘I’m worthless!’  It was really tough.”

Their doctor pushed them toward egg donation.  Mike was willing to think seriously about international adoption.  But Kirsten felt a need to try IVF one last time.  “I needed a period at the end of the sentence that said, ‘It will not work.’”  They found a doctor at Cornell who was trying a new IVF protocol.

When Kirsten woke up from the retrieval, they’d recovered ten eggs.  “Now, there was hope,” Mike remembered.  A couple days later, there were five embryos.   After the transfer, they flew home and waited for test results.  The call came.  She was pregnant.   “I didn’t relax the entire pregnancy,” said Mike.  “It was horrible – I was so anxious something would happen.  I didn’t exhale until the babies came.”

Two of them.  A boy and a girl.

“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! [Eph 3:20]”

Their dismal track record indicated no chance.  Their doctor said, not possible.  Their common sense told them, not realistic.  Their fear repeated, not happening.  But their faith affirmed, I still believe.  And God breathed life into their hope.

The story doesn’t end there.

They brought their twins by to visit me recently.  Laughing as they shared the news, they told me, “We’re pregnant again.”  This time, it’s completely natural.  Unplanned.  Definitely unexpected.  A total gift from God.

He can do anything.

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Rabbits, Pickles and the Fight to Control Infertility

I just heard from a woman who adopted years ago, and is now watching close friends struggle with infertility.  She wrote:

“They are desperately trying to have a child…even eating tons of rabbit meat…someone told them rabbits are prolific so maybe eating them would help…not joking.”

Okay, what the heck?  Except… we tried all sorts of crazy things, too.  Someone told me I should eat lots of pickles, since that’s what pregnant women crave.  So, for weeks, I choked them down.  Never having been a fan before forced consumption, I learned to hate them in a whole new way when my next cycle started right on time.

It’s laughable now.  But it wasn’t then.  We were dead serious about getting what we wanted, and if pickles were the path to parenthood, so be it.

When we can’t have what we desperately want, our common impulse it seize control. That’s human nature.  The behavior can seem ridiculous – eating tons of rabbit meat, choking down jars of pickles.  Or, it can appear rational – buying ovulation predictors by the case, scheduling major life events around doctor’s appointments.  But bottom line, it’s all about the fight for control.

Part of the purpose of this infertility journey is to help us realize we are not in control.  We can’t be, no matter how desperately we want to be.  That unwelcome realization brings every couple to a fork in the road where a choice must be made:  resist the truth, or embrace it.

Resist it, and you doom yourself to a lot of heartache.  Control is an illusion.  A mirage.  An unattainable goal.  If you commit yourself to gaining control of this situation no matter what it costs, you will pay a very high price.  And you still may not have a child.

But, embrace the truth and you make room for God in your story.  You stop investing energy in pretending you know the answers, and recognize the wisdom, power and authority of the only one who truly does.  Instead of worshipping the illusion of control, you worship the one who has it – and you humbly acknowledge your need for his help.

It’s the only choice that makes sense.  And it’s the path that leads where you want to go.

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Infertility and the Price of Pride

A few days ago, I heard a woman in a radio commercial say:

“I can’t afford pride.  I’ve got bills to pay and obligations to meet….”

I started thinking, what price do we pay for pride?  And why do we do it?  As we’re going through infertility, what does it cost us – and is it worth it?

Every year, advertisers spend billions trying to convince us that if we don’t buy what they’re selling, we risk becoming social outcasts – judged by the world, and found lacking.  It’s easy enough to see through the strategy, but there are times when it’s difficult to resist the underlying message.  Essentially, that message is:  “you are the star in the only story that matters.  The one everyone is watching.  If you don’t meet or exceed expectations, instead of feeling proud of all the attention, you are going to feel shame.”

That’s a very toxic message, and one we receive hundreds of times a day.  Without realizing it, with enough exposure, we start to believe it’s the truth.  Our egos only serve to confirm it:  yes, I’m important.  It’s all about me.

So, to avoid public humiliation, we focus our attention on protecting the secret that, for some reason, we can’t have a baby.  This choice adds tremendous pressure to the already-stressful infertility experience.  It enables us to avoid the imaginary spotlight – but at the cost of separation, isolation, and the loss of support and encouragement we so desperately need.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

God says the opposite of pride isn’t shame; it’s humility.  It’s acknowledging that we aren’t the center of the universe, and life isn’t all about us.  Although that realization may be a slight bruise to the ego, it’s also a great relief.  It means we don’t have to be perfect; God already knows we’re flawed.  We don’t have to earn our blessings; God already intends to give them to us.  We don’t have to explain our childlessness; God has a plan and a purpose for this journey.  All we need to do is trust Him.

“To you, O Lord, I life up my soul; in you I trust, O my God.  No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame….” [Psalm 25:1-3].

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