Monthly Archives: March 2010

Infertility and (Finally!) Good News

I met Brent & Cathi the first time they came to the infertility Bible study group.   At that point, Cathi was so exhausted by the emotional toll of infertility, it took enormous effort to hold herself together.   Tears were very close to the surface.  Several times they spilled over and poured down her cheeks.  Brent was doing his best to be stoic-yet-supportive.  It was clear they were struggling mightily.

A year later, when I interviewed the two of them for Pregnant with Hope, they spoke candidly about the challenge of being surrounded by countless fertile friends, all of whom seemed to conceive effortlessly.  They acknowledged having wrestled many times with feelings of anger, resentment, jealousy, self-pity, confusion, heartache and more as they struggled.  They also spoke of the deep desire to join the ranks of the “alumni” (couples who’d completed the infertility course and gone on to become parents), and the fear that made that seem impossible whenever bad news overwhelmed them.

So, it was with great joy that I read the article, “Couple Realize Dream of Being Parents” in the newspaper a few days ago.  Take a minute to enjoy the story, and then remind yourself that the Bible says, “No one who trusts God like this — heart and soul — will ever regret it.  It’s exactly the same no matter what a person’s religious background may be:  the same God for all of us, acting in the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help.  Everyone who calls, ‘Help, God!’ gets help” [Romans 10:12, the Message].

Here’s the story as it appeared 3/28/10….

“When it came to having children, Cathi Hilpert never thought she’d have a problem.  The freelance writer married her husband, Brent, in 2000 and wasn’t in any hurry to start a family.  ‘We were married for some time before we started trying,’ she said.  ‘I always thought I’d pop one out right away, so we took our time.’  But, it wasn’t long before Hilpert realized that having a baby was not going to be as easy as she’d assumed.  After consulting doctors and specialists, she began a rigorous treatment that included test, drugs and needles.  ‘It was pretty intense,’ she recalled.

She and her husband soon found that being infertile absorbed their private lives and spilled into their social circle.  It became increasingly difficult to be around children or to discuss their feelings with friends.  ‘When you’re going through it, you often don’t have friends who understand,’ she said.  ‘It was even hard to go to church — a very hard place to be infertile.  You’re surrounded by children, and there’s a lot of talk about children being blessings.  You start to wonder, ‘Have I done something wrong that I’m not blessed?’

After a year of dealing with the anguish on their own, the couple discovered a class led by author Susan Radulovacki and based on her book, Pregnant with Hope.  In the fall of 2008, Hilpert and her husband began attending regular sessions for infertile couples.  ‘We really wanted to meet other people going through it,’ Hilpert said.  ‘This class was a safe place to share our feelings.  That’s probably the biggest challenge of infertility:  as much as friends and family empathize, it’s really difficult for them to understand.’

Brent Hilpert, a 34-year-old chemistry teacher, described the couple’s two-year struggle as ‘isolating.’  He said, ‘My wife and I looked for any resource we could find and there was very little out there.  The class was especially  helpful because it gave me a place to talk about all of these issues with other men.’

Last November, after nine months of an uncomplicated pregnancy resulting from IVF, Cathi Hilpert, 32, fulfilled her dream of becoming a mother when her daughter Molly was born.  But, she and her husband still attend the class to share their story with other couples.  ‘There are so many people who go through hell to build a family,’ she said.  ‘We want to be supportive of others as they go through the process.’

Hilpert said she knows ‘the whole experience made us different parents than if we hadn’t gone through the infertility journey.  I have a little more patience than I may have had.  I love being a mom and can’t imagine my life any other way than with kids.'”

The same faithful God who brought Brent and Cathi to the moment they longed for, and placed Molly safely in their arms, has a plan that will lead your life to intersect with the life of a particular child who needs you.  That is why He placed the seed of hope in your heart.  That is why He has nurtured and protected it, even as you have suffered through loss after grief after heartache.  He will execute His plan perfectly (if you do not willfully alter its course), as soon as all the pieces are in place.

Until then, trust Him… and visualize that reporter calling you to say, “So, how did your story begin?”

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For more resources and cause for hope, visit PregnantWithHope.com

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Infertility and the Gift of an Egg

What makes someone want to be an egg donor?  It’s a complicated, painful, time-consuming process that is not without risk.  Is it for the money?  For ego reasons?  Tia Swanger agreed to share her story.  If you are an infertile couple considering egg donation, it may give you some peace.

Thirteen years ago, Tia was a preschool teacher on maternity leave.  She hadn’t expected becoming a parent to be much of a change from her role as a teacher.  But, “I was wrong!  Having the baby changed us.  We saw how the miracle of life brings God close to you.”

One day, she noticed a newspaper ad soliciting egg donors.  “I read what it said about infertility, and I  started thinking about how sad it was that someone could want a child and not be able to have one.  I realized I could help someone have what I have – and feel what I feel  – and I wanted to do that.  I felt like God was calling me to do that.”  She talked to her husband about it.  “Jeff said, ‘If you feel led to do this, you need to do this.’”  So, she called the clinic.

“It was a huge process,” she said.  There were tests and screenings, a psychiatric evaluation, two shots a day, side effects (that, for her, would include leukopenia),  “plus, I had to find someone to watch the baby, we didn’t live anywhere near the clinic, and… it was definitely a challenge.”

One day, an unidentified couple requested photos of Tia and her baby.  Then, they requested additional genetic testing.  “I did whatever they wanted, and everything came back perfect,” Tia said.  “There were never names or faces.  No information about them.  But then, I got a letter.  It said, ‘Dear Donor, Thank you!  After 14 years of infertility,…’  It said her father had received a heart transplant, so this was not the family’s first experience receiving a gift of life.”

“I read that letter,” recalled Tia, “and I prayed, ‘Please God, let this happen for them.’  I never heard another word.  I prayed and I hoped… but I’ll never know.  In my heart, I feel it was successful.  ”

Did Tia ever regret giving away a part of herself?  “I had no issues with that.   Ever.  I’m not the mother of that child.  I’m not holding that child’s hand and walking them to the bus; that’s the mother.  I’m not comforting them, helping them when they’re hurt, loving them every day; that’s the mother.  I’m just a way for someone to become a mother.”

Can she understand why someone might worry about using an egg donor?  “Sure, but there’s a bigger picture to consider.  It may not be your flesh, but that baby will call you ‘Mama.’  When you hold that bundle of joy, it will supersede all your preconceived notions.  A baby bonds, and it knows no one but you as the mother.  It doesn’t matter to that baby what the genetics are.  It just knows love.”

What advice would Tia offer infertile couples considering egg donation?  “Look inside yourself.  Ask, ‘Why do I want a baby?  Is it to have a part of me walking around in the world, or to share a life?’  It shouldn’t matter to you whose genes these are.  Once you love this child as your own, that won’t matter.  This child will be yours.”

Tia will never meet the child(ren) her egg(s) helped conceive, and she has complete peace about it.  “I think about it every now and then, but not a lot.  What I did was God’s will, not mine.  I was obedient to the calling, and what a privilege.  I never felt afraid, just like – a job’s got to be done, so you do it.  End of story.  Some people might question my decision, but if I know it’s God’s will, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do.  Nothing.”

The Bible says, “… serve the Lord with gladness” [Psalm 100:2].  Tia did, and through her, God gave the gift of an egg to a couple longing to steward a soul.  Might He intend to bring a child into the life of your family the same way?

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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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Strength to Overcome Infertility

“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…. ” [Philippians 4:12]

How many people experiencing infertility can make that claim:  “content in any and every situation”?  When the end of a two week wait comes suddenly… still content?  When there are no eggs to harvest, or when IVF doesn’t work – again… still content?  When everyone  – everywhere! – seems to be getting pregnant.  When it’s time to attend another baby shower, and once again, it’s someone else’s.  When money’s running low and emotions are running high… still content?  Really?

Okay… what’s the secret?

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me” [Philippians 4:13].  What does that mean?  How does this verse give help and hope to couples struggling through infertility?  How can we lay claim to this strength?  And how might it transform our infertility experience?

Mike discovered the answer when he and his wife lost their baby at 20 weeks.  He described his experience  in Pregnant with Hope.  “I remember standing out in the hallway feeling very dizzy.  One of the nurses got a chair for me.  I didn’t think I was going to recover.  But somehow, a feeling of calm came over me and I heard a voice in my head saying, ‘Go to Kirsten.’  One moment I was dizzy… but then one second later, I was clear-headed and able to function.  I tell you, that’ll make you believe in divine grace.”

That divine grace is available to everyone; there are only two requirements.  First, we must acknowledge our need for help.  The voice of pride tells us to be self-reliant, but as Mike said, “When a nurse grabs you and puts you in a chair, it’s because she doesn’t think you can stand.  I was spiraling out of control.”  In that moment, there was no energy for pride or pretense.  Mike was literally knocked off his feet by their loss.  His spirit cried out as his body failed him, and God answered.

The second requirement is simply that we recognize who is helping us, and trust the source.  “We had so many God-works-in-mysterious-ways moments,” Mike remembered.  “Like, I had a ‘eureka’ moment realizing I could love a girl from China as my daughter, and I felt calm.  Or another time, Kirsten began spotting and someone said to me, ‘Everything’s fine,’ and it was like a prophet telling me.  I was inspired by God.”

Was Mike content in every situation, as the Bible verse says is possible?  Not even close.  “Those were the worst two years of my life,” he said.  “It took every bit of emotional strength to get through it.”

Does that mean the verse isn’t true?  No.  “I have learned the secret of contentment…” means “experience has taught me.”  Mike learned through his experience that peace can be found amidst anguish, calm can be experienced despite uncertainty, and faith can be renewed by messages God sends to those He loves.

The hardest parts of the journey are what led to Mike’s confidence in the promise, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  The secret of contentment?  Mike’s learned:  God-reliance.

Trust him… You’ll see.

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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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Infertility and Words of Hope

One of the great blessings hidden in moments of desperation is unusually intense focus, an almost superhuman concentration that enables us to see and hear things we would miss on a “normal,” sleepwalking-through-life kind of day.  Even though we would never wish for circumstances that force us into crisis mode, we are wide awake – and God uses these moments of hyper-clarity to speak to us, if we will listen.

My five-and-a-half months of bedrest ended suddenly when my water broke at 34 weeks.  We raced to the hospital.  “Don’t have the baby yet!” the nurse commanded, and she sent the NICU team into the hospital room to hurriedly explain everything that might go wrong, even if the baby survived.  A few hours later, I was in labor.  Partway through the delivery, I began to bleed out.  Suddenly, I couldn’t see; my brain was shutting down non-vital functions to protect my heart.   Over the sounds of doctors yelling and nurses scrambling, I heard the intercom calling for blood to transfuse:  stat.

There were so many people talking to me at once:  “Can you see anything?  Do you feel this?  What do you mean ‘it hurts’?  Where does it hurt?  Has this happened to you before?”  I kept asking, “Where’s my husband?  Where is he?”  They didn’t tell me they’d made him leave the OR.  Instead, they called to each other:  “Who’s got vital signs?  Where’s the blood?  We need a transfusion!  What’s happening with this heart rhythm?!  She can’t still be feeling pain!”

It was crazy.  Totally chaotic.  I was in complete darkness, at the center of a tornado of activity.  The last thing I remember is wondering if I would die without seeing the baby.

Thankfully, I survived – and our baby did, too.

The next morning, I woke up in a hospital room, with a nurse reading the newspaper at the foot of my bed.  On the front page, there was a photo of a McDonalds sign that said, “God can do anything.”  I remember thinking, “What a crazy thing to put on the front page.”  But somewhere much deeper, I affirmed, “Yes, God, I know it was you.”

It’s happened several times since then, God finding ways to speak to me in the midst of a crisis.  Most recently, yesterday.  My son fell and hit his head.  The doctor sent us straight to the hospital to determine whether the concussion included a skull fracture or internal bleeding.  As I began to fill out paperwork for xrays, I noticed a postcard tacked on a bulletin board:  “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind.  Is anything too hard for me?”  [Jeremiah 32:27].

I’m primarily a visual learner, which means I register things best by seeing them.  Do I think it’s a coincidence that God “speaks” to me with visual messages?  I don’t.  He knows how my mind is wired; He knows how I’ll “hear” Him best.  Do I think these stories are coincidental?  No.  There have been times in my life when I’ve desperately needed to know God was present and in control, and He’s found ways to reassure me, “I am with you always.”  He has heard my prayers for help before I’ve even prayed them, and He’s answered.

He will do that for you, too.  It’s likely that He already has.  Were you listening?  Or watching?  Did you grab onto His message, clinging to His words for dear life?  Or did you rationalize, “it’s just a coincidence.  That could’ve happened to anyone”?

God speaks to those who want to hear Him.  If you cry out, He will answer.  The Bible promises us, “Everyone who calls, ‘Help, God!’ gets help” [Romans 10:12].  Are you listening?  Watching for Him?  Expecting Him to respond?  The God of the universe knows what you need.  Open your mind, heart and spirit to His words of hope.

He will speak.

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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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Infertility & Finding What We Need

Too often, the resources available to infertile couples segment the infertility experience into categories:  practical/medical, philosophical/spiritual, and personal/individual.  Despite the fact that all these component pieces are parts of the experience, no one seems able to present a comprehensive picture:  here’s what it will be like, and here’s how you get through it.  Not the “experts,” not the church, not family or friends.

As a result, we’re forced to compartmentalize our search for understanding, gathering whatever information we can from whatever source seems appropriate.  Most of us respond by talking to every authority, researching every possibility, investigating every option, exploring every theory, considering every alternative, looking for every possible answer… all while trying to meet the needs of our bodies, minds and spirits, and trying to be good partners to our spouses, and trying to keep from losing our minds.

It’s exhausting, stressful work.  But the alternative, we fear, is to miss a critical piece of information that could have been THE answer.  The one piece of the puzzle that could have made the whole picture clear to us, gotten us through this, and moved us closer to our dream of becoming parents.  So, we gather every scrap of information that could possibly be relevant, evaluate and synthesize it all, and try to figure out how it applies to our particular story.

It’s the only way to get through this… isn’t it?

Thankfully, no.  It’s actually possible to identify an area of overlap where  all these categories intersect, and where the most meaningful questions are answered.  It is where our infertility struggles encounter God’s promises in a powerful, life-changing way.

How – and where – do we find that area of overlap?  Not by looking where we’ve been looking.  As Albert Einstein said, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  If we want to change our experience, we will need to change what we’ve been doing.  We will need to stop chasing information as if that, alone, could transform our experience.  It can’t, nor can it guarantee control.  And that’s what we’ve really been chasing.

Without realizing it, we’ve been pursuing a mirage – a vision of ourselves as sufficiently informed to have control over this situation.  No matter how hard or fast we chase after this image of ourselves, we will never catch it.  It is an illusion.  Our inability to do the impossible is the source of our frustration and hopelessness.

Instead, we need to follow the advice, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him” [Psalm 62:5]. 

How do we follow that advice?  What does that mean we do?  The answer is found where God’s promises  speak to our struggles.  When we find those places, and claim His promises, we  can  find rest and hope that are not dependent on our circumstances.

We find rest in God when we stop chasing control, come to a stand-still, and shift attention from the obsessive quest for answers to His trustworthy omniscience.  He, alone, knows how to make all things possible.  He, alone, knows how to produce a miracle that defies all odds and confounds all experts.  He, alone, knows how this story will end and why this journey will have been a blessing-in-disguise.

How does that relate to finding hope?  It transcends what we can know or understand.  It makes room for what we cannot explain or control.  It invites the miraculous into our story – and that possibility is great cause for hope.  It is bigger, better, and more powerful than any information we can find or any moment we might want to control.

What we need is not more information, but a hope that will not disappoint us. That is the very thing God promises to give us [Romans 5:5].  Claim His promise, lean into it, and find what you really need.

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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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Infertility: Hurry Up and Wait

Years ago, on a vacation to New Mexico, my husband and I decided to take a short hike in the Sandia Mountains.  We were told that the popular trail was well-marked, and so we set off feeling confident.  Several hours later, as the sun began to set, we realized we’d made a serious mistake.  We’d lost sight of the trail, but kept going — certain we could find it again.  Instead, we were now miles from the trailhead with no food or water.

No one knew where we were.  It was getting cold, and we were getting scared.  So, we began to walk faster.  Soon, we were almost running through the darkening woods.  I suggested, half-seriously, that we could spell out a rescue message with rocks.  My husband pointed out that no one was looking for us, so we’d be wasting precious daylight.  We were struggling mightily  to control a rising tide of panic.

Not a bad metaphor for the infertility journey.

We set out on what we believe will be a short, safe and enjoyable journey to parenthood.  We’re with the one we love, and we trust this is going to be simple, so enthusiasm is high.  We’re going to have a baby!  But then, we discover we’re off the beaten path.  The route everyone else finds so easy to follow has somehow taken us somewhere else entirely.  How did we get so lost?  We realize we’re ill-equipped for what we’re suddenly facing.  What do we do now?  Can anyone help us?  No one knows exactly where we are – us included.  So, how do we find our way out of here?  The instinctive response to all this uncertainty is a rising tide of panic.  And with panic, comes irrational acceleration.

Peter Block, in his book The Answer to How is Yes, writes that “We treat urgency like a performance-enhancing drug, as if speed will hasten change….”  We want to change our circumstances, escape suffering and reach our desired destination, so we accelerate, thinking, “Go faster – it’ll be over sooner!”  That impulse led my husband and me to make some reckless choices as we tried to race through infertility.  We were rushing, half-blind, through darkness – so intent on escaping the wilderness of infertility, we hardly stopped to think.

“Wait,” the Bible says.  “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” [Psalm 27:14].  That’s the answer… the solution… the way through this wilderness to the desired destination.  We need to realize, the voice saying “Hurry, hurry!” is not God’s.  And if it’s the only voice we hear, we’re definitely lost.  But, we are not lost to God.

We are never alone or abandoned in the wilderness of infertility.  We are constantly under the loving protection and guidance of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Jesus counsels us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” [John 14:1].  This is the greatest challenge, and the great invitation, of the wilderness journey.

God already knows the precise day and moment when the journey will end.  He knows what will happen, and why this experience will have been a blessing-in-disguise.  The outcome is assured.  Seen from this perspective, we realize the journey is an opportunity for Him to mold us – making  us more like the people He longs for us to be by the time we reach our destination:  trusting, grateful, God-reliant people.

Can we trust Him?  Can we be still and wait with confident hope – focused not on the depth of our fear, but the goodness of our God?  The first step to saying “yes” is slowing down and waiting.  Only then can we hear the voice that whispers, “…This is the way; walk in it” [Isaiah 30:21]

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For more resources and cause for hope, visit PregnantWithHope.com

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Luck and Infertility

Today’s playful devotion to all things Irish raises the topic of luck.  Who’s lucky – and why?  We jokingly say it’s the Irish, thanks to four-leaf clovers and leprechauns.  But in all seriousness… why are certain people so lucky, and others not?  Does luck play a role in ending infertility?  If so, how?  Does it affect finding the right doctor?  Choosing the right treatment?  Sustaining a pregnancy?  Having a baby?

When confronted with the challenge of persistent infertility, couples often develop a new fascination with luck.  They can’t help noticing other couples’ luck conceiving effortlessly.  They ask, “what worked for you?” – as if the good luck might rub off on them.  They frequently express a desire to change their own luck, and to make it work for them (rather than against them).  They’ll come into the infertility group saying things like, “we don’t want to jinx ourselves…,” or “we’re crossing our fingers…,” or “if we get lucky this time….”

I know they just mean to hedge their bets; it’s a form of psychological self-protection.  But it’s also more than that.  Their behavior reveals an unconscious response to deep fear, rooted in the loss of control.

Fear is a predictable response to not knowing who, or what, is determining the course of events.  When those events are negative, and ongoing, their uncontrollability is frightening and destabilizing.  Is this just bad luck?  Or something worse?  Is God in this?  Playing what role?  Is He for us, against us, or a dispassionate observer?  There is an aspect of randomness to this experience.  Does anyone know what’s happening?  Can anyone do anything about it?

Couples don’t realize that – in the absence of answers to these questions – they’re tempted to default to superstitious, let’s-cover-our-bases thinking:  “If we do everything right and nothing wrong, and we cross our fingers and don’t tell a soul, maybe it will work… if we’re lucky [knock on wood].”

For millenia, God has watched people respond to uncertainty with superstition, worshiping whatever they believe will enable them to control their destiny.  When He sees us turning to luck and superstition as if they have power, He knows we don’t actually trust Him.  Not His love or His motives.

Maybe we don’t believe He hears us and cares – at least, not about this.  Maybe we don’t feel safe in our relationship with Him, and so we don’t confront Him for fear that bad will get worse.  Maybe we feel lost to Him, or forgotten.  Maybe we feel punished and angry.  Maybe we are afraid.  Maybe all these things.  Maybe more.  Whatever the reason, we have chosen to struggle on in fear and uncertainty, rather than claim His promises and trust His faithfulness.

Is there any real alternative?  Yes – and Job, the Bible’s poster boy for suffering, shows us the way.

After a horrific series of tragic events, Job had an epiphany.  He realized that his circumstances did not destroy his faith; it was the growing, obsessive focus on his own perspective (rather than God’s) that blinded him to the truth of God’s goodness, rapidly undermining his trust and crippling his faith.

The same is often true of us.  We trust what we see from our perspective:  other people are lucky but I’m not, I’m a tragic victim in a heartbreaking story.  Meanwhile, from God’s perspective,  it looks completely different.  From His vantage point, there is cause for hope because He is at work laying the foundation for the miracle He has planned.  The facts don’t change — only the perspective.  But that changes everything.

We can cling to lucky charms, whisper superstitious phrases and cross our fingers before each set of test results.  Or, we can hand our fears to the only one who knows how the story will end, and give ourselves over to peace.  Our hearts can only have one most trusted source of hope.

Which will it be:  hedge your bets, or trust your God?

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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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