Monthly Archives: May 2010

Giving Voice to 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.

Why?

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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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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Infertility vs. Optimism

“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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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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Infertility & the Great Physician

(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?

Nothing.

What doctor will take this case?

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

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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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Obsessing During 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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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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Infertility and the Reason for Hope

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” [I Peter 3:15].

For most of my life, I wouldn’t have been able to give a good answer to the question, “what makes you so hopeful?”

Prior to infertility, I probably would’ve said:  because I’m an optimist, because my life has always been good, because things work out like they should.  Those shallow answers would’ve been honest — but they would’ve mirrored a life with very few challenges, and very little spiritual insight.  A sleepwalking life.

God wanted more for my children.  He wanted a spiritual role model with a servant’s heart and a sense of stewardship.  So, He used infertility (and a host of other heartbreaking challenges) to capture my undivided attention.  Once He had it, He pulled the rug out from under me.

Over and over and over.

My father died.  My mother died.  I miscarried twins — one at a time.  Our baby might have Down’s Syndrome.  Our baby had a hole in the heart.  Our baby needed open heart surgery.  More miscarriages.  No money; no rest; no time with my medical resident husband.  Five months of bedrest  (stressed & stir crazy) following another miscarriage.  Premature delivery.  A cardiac emergency in the delivery room.  Massive transfusions.  Cancer and chemo with a newborn.

On and on and on it went….

But, we survived.  And to our great joy, so did two babies.  Through it all, I learned to cling to the only One who had the power to bless us, protect us and sustain us through the constant onslaught of tragedy and trauma.  I learned where to find shelter in the storm.

“… like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built” [Luke 6:48].

The storm finally passed.  I realized I could stop holding my breath, stop anticipating the next crisis.  Slowly, I recovered a sense of Normal and emerged from my hiding place with a new appreciation for God’s faithfulness.

What is the reason for hope that is unshakeable?  The goodness of God.  It is completely reliable.

One day, you, too, will have a compelling answer when  people ask, “How were you able to sustain your hope?  How did you keep believing a baby would come until yours finally did?”  Lean into believing there is a reason to hope.  Honor God with your trust.  He will reward you with blessings you can only imagine.

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

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*Please note: Summer reruns begin next week.  Look for your favorite blogposts and share them with someone who needs to support your journey, or to find hope for their own.

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Infertility and Acts of God

The power of the infertility Bible study group, and the infertile women’s prayer group, is hard to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced infertility.  What about it is so life-changing?  So awe-inspiring?  So hope-renewing?

A few days ago, I saw a print ad in a magazine that captured the essence of what we’re doing – and why it matters.

In the ad, a woman is walking down a dirt road looking at the devastation wreaked by a tornado.  There is nothing identifiable around her; everything has been destroyed.  The copy reads, “We combat natural disasters with acts of God.”  As soon as I saw that ad, something deep inside me resonated.  I thought to myself:  that’s what we do… we combat heartbreak with acts of God.

We share stories that give hope.  But more than that, we draw on the power of God to drive away the darkness that accompanies loss and grief.  We combat experiences that look like disasters with the news that God is hard at work.  He is the light that will end the darkness.

What makes that claim believable?  Couple after couple after couple affirming the truth of this promise:

“He gives the childless woman a family, making her a happy mother” [Psalm 113:9]

All through scripture, God turns negative situations into blessings-in-disguise, impossibly long odds into certainties, and unimagined possibilities into reality.  He makes woman after infertile woman the mother of a child of destiny.  He is the God who makes the impossible possible – and we are the people who are called to testify to the truth of what He has done.

For the past six months, I have poured my heart and soul into testifying on behalf of God’s goodness, faithfulness and purposefulness.  I have done my best to affirm His deep desire to bless those who seek Him, trust Him, and turn their future as parents over to Him.  I hope that this blog has been helpful and inspiring.  I hope that it has glorified the God who can do anything.  And I hope that it has given you hope.

Will you let me know if it’s made a difference?

Blessings always,

Susan


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Infertility’s Place in History

A local pastor, Jentezen Franklin, likes to ask people:  “Are you racing ahead or being led?”  That question captures the inherent tension in the choice between pursuing our own plans and waiting for God’s.

When you’re ready to start a family, racing ahead sounds fabulous.  It implies conceiving quickly and effortlessly, being the first to have baby showers, and the first to buy maternity clothes.  It means life is on track, and your dreams are becoming reality.  Right spouse.  Great wedding.  Good job(s).  And now, perfect family.

Go, go, go!

But something’s missing.

Where’s God in that story?

For some people, it’s tempting to say, “Who cares?”  If the dream is unfolding the way they want, why change anything?  Or, some might say, “He’s with us” – meaning, He’s obviously blessing us because we’re getting what we want.  So, it’s all good!

But what if God wants more – for us, or for our children?  And what if infertility is the path that leads to “more”?  Are we willing to be led rather than racing ahead?

Peel back the veneer of The Seemingly Perfect Life and you will often find a story with self at the center.  Self-gratification is the goal of this life – and the more instant the gratification, the better.  Effortless success is the Holy Grail:  succeed at everything and make it look easy.  It’s a Type-A-for-Achiever life lived at “race ahead” speed… with very little time for silence, submission or sacrifice.

So what happens when “race ahead” types are not the star of the story?  When it’s not all about us?  What happens when we are intended to fulfill a supporting role in the lives of our children?  Or, when there is a place in history for our child?

Laura voiced this thought when I interviewed her for Pregnant with Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.   She said, “Mainly, what I think I carried away from this  [infertility] experience is that God has a timeline for your child, too.  There’s a place in history for that child.  And just because we want something right now and can’t wait doesn’t mean it should happen that way.”

The subtext of Laura’s point is that it’s not all about us.  It’s not about fulfilling our wishes or meeting our need for instant gratification.  It’s not about ending the suffering we experience when everyone else conceives effortlessly and we can’t.  If God has a timeline for our children, then forcing a “solution” to our problem just creates more problems.

Think of Sarah’s story from Genesis.  She wanted a child so desperately, she pushed her husband into a semi-surrogacy with her servant [Genesis 16:2].  Her helplessness and impatience wouldn’t let her wait.  The servant conceived – and resentment was born.  Racing ahead did nothing to solve her problem; it only gave birth to new tensions and bigger problems.  Only when Sarah let go, stopped pushing, and waited for God did the child He had promised become her reality.

God sometimes allows infertility to enter our stories in order to slow things down.  Slowing us down makes time for silence – so we can listen, submission – so we can follow His lead, and sacrifice – so we can/will put someone else first.  When we realize we can’t race ahead, we are often more open to being led.  This makes room for God in our stories.

And, it enables Him to slowly shift our focus from the obsessive, race ahead self-centeredness of “when will You…?!” to a God-centered, God-led: “when You….”  With that shift in focus comes peace.  And with peace, patience.  And with patience, endurance.  And with endurance, hope.  And with hope, joy.

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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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