Monthly Archives: June 2010

Infertility & the Illusion of Control

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 is  to 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 worshiping 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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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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Pride and Infertility

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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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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A Lesson in Fertility Fundraising

What if instead of keeping your infertility a secret you actually told everyone?  I mean EVERYONE.  Before you say, “Never!” read this excerpt of a story from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Molly and Brian Walsh were in their mid-30’s when they married.  They wanted to start a family, but Brian has Marfan’s syndrome, a connective tissue disease, and they did not want to pass it on to their child.  They needed $25-30,000 for IVF with PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis).  They saved $10,000.  Then, they did what is to many infertile couples unthinkable:  they went public.  In a big way.  The decision to go public was not easy, but ultimately, this was a race against the clock.  They used email, Facebook and Twitter to invite friends to a “Makin’ Whoopie” wine tasting party, at $35 a head.  Not only did 100 friends agree to attend, they also donated trips, tours, art and wine for a silent auction.  Many also offered up stories of their own struggles with fertility to encourage the Walshes in their pursuit of a healthy, successful pregnancy.

Funds raised:  $8000.  Hope renewed:  priceless.

What do you think?  Outrageous?  Inspired?  Unimaginable?  Whatever you may think about the idea, I think there’s a lot to learn from the story.  Here are some examples you could follow:

  1. Face the truth – For Molly & Brian, inheritable genetic defects indicated IVF with PGD.  And that required a big budget.  Money was tight and time was short.  The facts weren’t encouraging, but facing them squarely gave them a starting point.
  2. Set pride aside – The one variable they could control was their insistence on privacy.  Once they realized they needed assistance to reach their goal, the choice was clear:  forget pride, get help.  All that required was humility.
  3. Come out of hiding – The party invitation read:  “You can’t help us in the bedroom, but you can help us make a baby.”  Pretense was pointless, as was secrecy.  They sent invitations to hundreds of people – some of whom they hadn’t seen or talked to in years.
  4. Ask for help – Their request for help explained their situation and invited people who cared to be part of the solution.  The humility inherent in their appeal was irresistible to many of those they contacted.
  5. Invite openness – After publicly telling their story, the Walshes experienced an unexpected blessing:  “Our friends shared amazing stories with us on Facebook – successes, as well as struggles and challenges.”  The Walsh’s willingness to share their story opened the door for other couples to do the same.
  6. Build community –  Before this, Brian Walsh said, “we had felt like a private island in no-man’s land – surrounded by friends who have kids.”  Knowing about other couples’ struggles “made it easier.”  The Walshes formed new bonds with old friends whose success conceiving had seemed to create a wall of separation; now, they shared a common foe (infertility) and a common goal (parenthood).
  7. Encourage investment – The Walsh’s friends literally invested in the outcome of their infertility journey.  But even figurative investments translate into ongoing support & concern, instead of perceived judgment or unwelcome pity.
  8. Leave a legacyThe Walsh’s creative campaign not only raised funds, it also created a huge network of loving future godparents – each of whom is deeply invested in breathing life into the dream of a Walsh family.  What a legacy… for this newly-strengthened community of friends, and for the Walsh’s much-anticipated child.

I believe the example the Walshes set is relevant to every infertility journey.  Not the party, necessarily… but the logic behind it.  The Bible teaches that we are one body [I Cor 12:22-27].  We need each other.  We are intended to bear each other’s burdens, and share each other’s joys.  How can that happen if infertile couples refuse to share their secret, ask for help, build community, or invite others to become invested in their success?

Party or no party, I think the Walshes are onto something.

What do you think?

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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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Fertility: Pay It Forward

Here is a unique story with a great outcome.  I was able to use our experience to help Kendra’s mother get comfortable with the biological and ethical issues of the process….”

This is part of an email that landed in my inbox today.  It’s from a man who went through the infertility Bible study I taught for several years.  He and his wife shared their inspirational story in Pregnant with Hope, and they continue to “pay forward” the blessings of God by reaching out to other infertile couples.

He jokes that his wife can’t run an errand without meeting someone who happens to be going through infertility – “she’s like a magnet!”  She takes these encounters very seriously – believing God has pre-ordained them because of her own experience – and so she prays over each of these new friends.  As much as he teases her about it, he seems to be doing his part to pay it forward, too.

Here’s the story he played a small part in, excerpted from a recent newspaper article:

When Kendra Allen lay in a maternity ward at Baptist Hospital in Nashville two years ago, giving birth to a son whose heart had stopped beating, her friend Nita was there. Kendra’s doctors told her she would never be able to have another child. She had developed a serious condition requiring weeks of bed rest and intravenous fluids with her first pregnancy. This pregnancy was even worse, and doctors warned she might not survive a third one.

So, Kendra and her husband began thinking about finding a surrogate mother. Kendra asked Nita and other friends to pray for her.  Nita supported the idea but never thought of herself as a viable candidate. For one thing Nita was almost 49. She also had difficult pregnancies in the past, ruling out a normal delivery. When another surrogate candidate dropped out, though, Nita volunteered.

In January, the two friends were back in the maternity ward. This time, Nita was giving birth, as surrogate mother for the newborn son of Kendra and John. No money ever changed hands; this surrogacy was about faith and friendship.  Both couples believe they have experienced a miracle and are “reveling in the graciousness and generosity of God,” said Kendra. “God is dancing with us and celebrating the life of this child.”

It’s hard to see the blessings in our own seasons of suffering, and hard to imagine that our suffering can be redeemed.  Truth be told, if we were offered a choice between accruing blessings amidst suffering or sidestepping suffering altogether, we’d probably take the latter.

Give me what I want now, and I’ll forgo the blessings later.  That’s the selfish, me-centric perspective that is part of our human nature.

But sometimes, God has a plan that incorporates our current suffering into a miraculous larger story.  The challenge, of course, is that we aren’t told how – or when – the story will unfold.  So, we must trust the author of the story and the promise that “all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose” [Rom 8:28].

Brian, the email’s author, would never have chosen to struggle through infertility.  But, his experience of God’s very real presence in and through it equipped him to talk with Kendra Allen’s mother.  To testify to God’s faithfulness, and to explain what Kendra was contemplating through the perspective of his own journey.  That helped her to be supportive – which was one piece of the larger puzzle that came together to create the picture of a new family.

Why does this matter to you?  It means that nothing you are experiencing is pointless.  It is part of the story that is unfolding in, through, and around you.  A story that is not just about you – but also about God’s faithfulness, purposefulness, and desire to work all things together for good.  He wants to work a miracle in your story, and then, to give you a role to play in other couple’s journeys.

One day, you, too, will have a chance to pay it forward.

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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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Thoughtless Remarks Meet Infertility

For infertile couples, part of the frustration – and a major source of heartache – is other people’s cluelessness.  It may be rooted in ignorance, inexperience, a lack of social skills, or pure self-absorption.  Whatever the reason, the words of others can cause deep, lasting pain to hearts that are already fragile.

Just after I miscarried twins, we called my husband’s brother to share our heartbreaking news.  We had no idea that he and his wife were also planning to start a family.  His reaction?  “That’s too bad… but now we’ll have the first grandchild!!”

I was speechless.  It took everything I had to get to the end of the phone call.

Thankfully, it’s not always that bad.  But people can be incredibly insensitive.  Has that been your experience?  People you think of as loving family or supportive friends suddenly seem incapable of saying anything helpful?  Instead, their words slice right through your spirit and take your breath away?

It’s a common problem for couples going through infertility.

People you trust and care about will be thoughtless enough to ask, “why haven’t you two started a family?”  Or, they’ll hand out gratuitous, unsolicited advice like, “just adopt – you’ll get pregnant right away” or, “go on vacation – that’s how we got pregnant” or, “stop worrying about it – it’ll happen sooner or later” – as if tossing these tidbits is all it takes to help you.

Surely, they don’t mean to be heartless.  Or patronizing.  Or dismissive of the challenge you face.  But, all too often, they pour salt in your wound.  When the tears threaten to pour down your cheeks, you may wonder, am I being oversensitive?  Too defensive?

I don’t think so.

It is hard to explain this journey to someone who hasn’t made it – the stress… the fear… the tension… the uncertainty… the worry… the anger… the grief… the sense of being far removed from everyone and everything “normal”… the inability to get on with your life because you’ve put everything on hold.

How do you say all of that in the middle of a phone call?  Or a church hallway?  Or a restaurant?

You can’t.

But, here’s what you can do:

Set some boundaries – Recognize that you know better than anyone else what helps you now – and what doesn’t.  Set firm, healthy boundaries that will protect your vulnerable heart.  Make choices that fill your spirit with hope and surround you with people who truly understand how to help.  Say “no” to people and events that leave you empty, discouraged, or afraid.  Remember, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power….” [II Tim 1:7].  Use that power to enforce good boundaries.

Give some grace – It’s hard to imagine trying to muster compassion for someone whose remark has just reduced you to tears.  The temptation is to focus on the pain they’ve caused.  Don’t do it.  Release it, reclaim your hope, and let God heal your wound.  As Jesus prayed, “…forgive them, they know not what they do” [Luke 23:34].

Find some community – You may be looking to the wrong community for encouragement and hope.  If family and friends have failed to offer meaningful support, seek out other couples who understand this journey.  Meet with a counselor or clergy member who is not afraid to confront your feelings.  And claim this promise, “…hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” [Romans 5:5].  When no one else stands with you, God delivers His hope to you through the Holy Spirit.

Make some progress – There is no greater satisfaction in this journey than sensing forward progress.  Instead of measuring it just by test results or egg harvests, learn to measure progress this way:  “… let us throw off everything that hinders us… and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” [Heb 12:1-2].  Hurtful remarks hinder us.  So does dwelling on them.  If we are to run with perseverance, then this isn’t likely to be a sprint.  We must pace ourselves – and applaud every bit of progress we make.

The Finish Line is waiting.  Don’t be distracted by the voices of the crowd.

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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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Men, Pressure & Infertility

We were a mess.  Why was God doing this to us?!  I got angrier and angrier. I was definitely in the mode of trying to figure out ways to fix things.  It was so hard for me that I couldn’t fix this — I wanted to!”

These are the words of a twenty-something husband who shared his infertility experience with me as part of the book, Pregnant with Hope. Trey’s honest assessment of his frustration and uncertainty was mirrored in the comments of the other nine men I interviewed – and many others I’ve met in years of working with infertile couples.

Like their wives, these men frequently feel helpless and hopeless.  The anger that results has a profound effect on their relationships – with their spouses, and with the God they thought they knew.  It also undermines their sense of themselves as Doers, Fixers, and Providers.

Our society expects men to be confident, capable, and even stoic in the face of difficulty.  To see a need, and do something.  To identify a problem, and fix it.  Whether genetically or culturally, they’ve internalized the imperative:  Find a solution!  That expectation creates tremendous pressure when a couple is going through infertility.  As James described it:

“The pressure built as we started to find out about possible complications and options.  The more it built, the more I felt like, “What’s happening?!” I sure came close to being angry at God.  I didn’t understand at all.  And you come to that point where you think it can’t get any worse.  I mean, what is going on here?!  When I felt too pressured, I pulled away.  That’s when a lot of stress built up in our marriage.

Would you believe it if I told you this point in the infertility journey is very common?  And that it’s a well-disguised blessing?

Well-disguised, maybe… but a blessing?  How?

Infertility forces couples to confront the head-on collision between their dream of parenting and their current reality.  In the process, it forces them to make a choice.  They can allow their feelings to drive a wedge into their relationships (with each other, and with God), or they can find a constructive way to deal with those feelings and strengthen those relationships.

The couples who ignore their feelings, and put realizing the dream ahead of strengthening their relationships, pay a high price.  The unrelenting pressure of infertility causes fault lines to crack wide open, increasing the sense of frustration and separation.  Not only are the relationships weakened, but couples get caught in a vicious cycle in which everything seems to be coming apart.

By contrast, those who deal with their emotions and put relationships first uncover many blessings.  They revisit their expectations and realize some were faulty, unhealthy or simply incorrect.  As they make adjustments, they discover passageways to renewed peace, greater trust, and grace-filled compassion.

They come to see that the pressures of infertility can actually serve to “…refine them like silver and test them like gold” [Zech 13:9].  In the process, these pressures can seal a deeper commitment to the future that is coming, and the relationships that will sustain its promise.  Couples begin to see that God can use infertility to forge firmer bonds – between future parents, and between God and His people.  As a result, they can actually find cause for gratitude.

My advice:  Don’t become so obsessed with the outcome of this journey that you lose sight of this well-disguised blessing.  Work through your feelings, nurture your relationships, and trust God’s purposefulness.  It beats the alternative.  Just ask the dads, Trey and James.

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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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Faith’s Effect on Infertility

In a recent study of 200 women, a high correlation was found between those who said they were religious and those with low rates of anxiety/depression during fertility treatment.  Lower rates of depression and anxiety correlate to higher pregnancy rates.  So, it stands to reason that spiritual women should have more pregnancies.

Newsweek, 3/24/08

In the beginning, when couples walk through the door to the infertility Bible study, the men look apprehensive, and the women, fragile to the point of tears.  But that changes.  Over the course of the study, they come to realize the wisdom of letting go of (the illusion of) control.  They learn the value of being still and listening for God.  And with that understanding comes peace in the midst of uncertainty.

I can literally see the change occur.  Body language goes from self-protective – arms crossed, gazes averted, huddled close to their spouse – to open, relaxed, and receptive.  The real change is occurring in the spirit, but it is reflected in the unspoken language of the body.  That change indicates God’s growing presence, which creates new possibilities.

So, is the study right in its prediction that these increasingly spiritual women have more pregnancies?  I’d have to say, yes.  And no.  Yes, because experience has shown me—again and again and again—that those who see infertility as an invitation to draw nearer to God, and who respond to that invitation, are likely to become parents.  But no, because sometimes the result is not a pregnancy; sometimes, it is an adoption.

Here’s the important thing:  that is no less a miracle.

I don’t say that as a Pollyanna.  I’m not advocating, “be happy about failure,” or “suck it up and compromise.”  I’m saying, make a paradigm shift.  Recognize that, sometimes, God calls couples to steward a soul who comes into their life in a different way than they might have expected.  That’s not defeat; that’s a different plan for victory.  And it is no less a gift.

Are those couples disappointed?  Truthfully?

“Alumni” couples often return to the Bible study to talk to current participants about their experiences.  One entire class is devoted to hearing from adoptive parents.  They speak with conviction about their certainty that their particular child belongs with them:  “God chose him for us,” “We knew as soon as we held her that she was meant to be our daughter.”  In some cases, they also share stories of the effect the adoption had on the birth parent(s).

With loving grace, I suggest to you:  let go of your vision of how this story will unfold, and when.  Give God as much room as possible to work in your story.  He wants to give you His very best.  He wants to create a pinwheel of blessing, and it may touch souls you don’t even know.

Will you make way for that possibility?

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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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