Monthly Archives: August 2010

Mother Teresa & Infertility

This is the last of the “summer reruns.”  That means all new insights and words of hope beginning Wednesday.  But first, here is the most popular post I’ve ever written, based on the volume & content of emails received in response….

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Not long ago, I discovered a book by Mother Teresa, You Are Blessed.  I walked past it as I was leaving a bookstore, and God could not have spoken to me more clearly if the book had leaped off the table and into my hands.

I am blessed, but sometimes – especially when I’m not getting what I’m badly wanting and desperately praying for – I forget that.  I lose sight of my glass half-full.  All I can see is that it’s partly empty.  As I look around me, “everyone else” is already enjoying the blessing I want.  That’s when the negative self-talk starts:  it’s so unfair, why them and not me?  A minute later, I’m caught in a psychological death spiral… down, down, down… into a dark hole of worry and gloom, until I feel so far from God that I can’t possibly hear Him.

Does that sound familiar?

Maybe it doesn’t happen so fast for you.  Or, maybe it’s such a blur, you can’t even describe the stages of descent – just the fact that one minute you’re fine, the next minute you’re losing it.

It’s those death spiral moments that make infertile couples ask, “Where is God in all this?”  He can seem so distant, unresponsive, and unmoved by our trauma and drama.  But, He’s not. We’ve pulled away – out of fear, a need to control, repressed anger, and so much more.  Meanwhile, God is busy blessing us.

How can we see that more clearly?  What would that change?  And why is it hugely important to our infertility experience?

When we focus on what we do not have – and those who already have it, we open the door to resentment and jealousy.  We foolishly invite darkness into our hearts, our minds, and our spirits.  We unconsciously push God aside to make room for His enemy, and then give ourselves over to despair.  We choose a path that cannot possibly take us to joy.

Unbelievably, this is our choice.  It is our decision to marinate in toxic emotions that make it virtually impossible to hear or see  God.  But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

If we shift the focus from self to God – from “I want but don’t have…” to “He’s already given me…” – we find cause for renewed hope.  Even more, we experience a restored confidence in His faithfulness and compassion.  It is choosing to see the glass half-full (thanks to God), rather than half-empty.  And it makes all the difference in how we experience the infertility journey.

So, when you want a child and can’t conceive one, can’t carry one to term, can’t imagine another cycle but can’t imagine giving up… how exactly is the glass half-full?

If you have a loving, supportive spouse, you are blessed.  If you have found a doctor you trust and respect, you are blessed.  If someone outside your marriage is encouraging you, you are blessed.  If you’ve ever gotten a good test result, you are blessed.  If you’re healthy enough to try again, you are blessed.  If you can afford ART, you are blessed.

If you’ve found a community of infertile couples, you are blessed.  If you’ve read an uplifting message, you are blessed.  If you have a friend who understands your struggle, you are blessed.  If you continue to hope despite losses and grief, you are blessed.  If you still believe that God hears your prayers — even if you don’t sense His answers — you are blessed.

You are blessed.  You are blessed.  You are blessed.

And all of it – every bit of it! – was put in your path by the God who loves you and longs to bless you more.  He intends to give you His very best, in His perfect timing.  It’s hard to be patient – especially when you don’t know the details of His plan – but you can trust the God who’s proven Himself faithful throughout scripture.

Mother Teresa’s book reminded me today that I am blessed.  I took several minutes, right in the middle of the bookstore, to think of the ways God has gone before me to prepare a path strewn with blessings – too many to count.  Recalling those blessings was a blessing in itself.  I felt a surge of gratitude for the God who knows and loves me.

Do you have a thankful heart for all that God has already done for you?  Tell Him so.  Thank Him.  And, trust that He is not ignoring your pleas for the blessing of a child.

Mark 11:24 says, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

What greater blessing could there be than this promise?  Claim it, choose to see that the foundation is already being laid, and give God your “thank offering” of a grateful heart.  The change in your perspective will alter your trajectory.

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

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Spiritual Support for Infertile Women

Why, if her own infertility journey is over, would a woman choose to work with infertile women?  Lisa Graham does it because she has a servant’s heart, and because it is a joy to watch God work in the lives of women who entrust their stories to her.

Seven years ago, after her own journey made her aware of the profound lack of spiritual support for women battling infertility, Lisa was urged to start a prayer group for infertile women.  A friend told her, “You should get women together, share your stories, and pray for one another.”  At first, Lisa felt intimidated by the idea of being the leader.  But another woman agreed to partner with her, and the two of them launched a unique ministry.

“We meet once a month,” Lisa explained.  “We go around the circle and everyone shares what’s happened to them since we last met:  test results, where they are in their cycle, the next doctor’s appointment….  Sometimes, there are losses to share.  And almost always tears.  Then, we anoint each woman with oil and pray for her.  Every month, we say, ‘Jesus is in the house!’  You can feel his presence in the room.”

Talking about infertility makes many people very uncomfortable.  Unfortunately, that includes those who are expected to embody the love and compassion of Christ during times of struggle and heartache.  According to E.W. Carter of the Regional Council of Churches, “Clergy don’t know how to talk about infertility in the 21st century.  So, when faced with the unfulfilled longing for a child, they are often silent.”

That silence can make infertile couples – especially women – feel judged, marginalized and neglected.  Lisa Graham’s prayer group models one simple solution to this problem.

“It’s amazing to me that there aren’t more churches doing this, but we are the only group like this in Atlanta.  Every month, Christians, Jews and non-believers gather together to honor God, to share their burdens, and to support one another.  It is a simple ministry, but it’s very powerful.  We see so many miracles – women getting pregnant after their doctors have said they can’t, women conceiving naturally after IVF has failed… we know God is at work.”

Luke tells the story of the Pharisees insisting Jesus rebuke his disciples for calling out praises to God for the miracles they’ve seen.  Jesus’ response is “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

That is how “alumni” of Lisa’s prayer group — who are now mothers — feel about acknowledging God’s role in their stories.  Many of them return to the group every month to pray with and for other women.  They feel compelled to share the good news of their own experiences with those in desperate need of hope and inspiration.

“We praise God for what He does, and we claim His promises for one another,” said Lisa.  “The rest is up to Him.”

Might you — or someone you know — benefit from a group like Lisa’s?  If so, consider forwarding a link to this blogpost to your ministry team or your doctor.  Let them know there is a simple way to deliver meaningful support.  If you prefer to protect your privacy, feel free to send their contact information to me (susan@pregnantwithhope.com) and I will  send them information information on how and why to start a prayer group.

Remember:  The God who is so generous and faithful that He must be praised or “the stones will cry out” is ready and waiting to help all those who call on Him.  What are you waiting for?

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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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One Man’s Very Personal Infertility Story

What if one of the blessings of infertility is that it exposes our infertile faith – and motivates us to draw near and rely on the God we’ve been taking for granted.  Would it be worth the heartache?

Joe thinks so.

When he and his wife joined our infertility bible study, they’d already faced cervical cancer, several failed IUIs, failed IVFs, surgeries (for both of them), and a miscarriage that occurred shortly after they shared news of their pregnancy with a dying parent.

How did they deal with it all?  Prior to these challenges, said Joe, “I was a passive Christian.  I didn’t read the Bible.  We were going to church, but for me, it was at a very superficial level.  I’d go, leave, and put it behind me until the next Sunday.”

Recently, USA Today featured the results of a major survey of young adults.  Among those who consider themselves Christians, 65% said they rarely/never pray with others, read the Bible, or worship.  The article summarized, “They’re mushy, in-name-only Christians.”

Joe embodied the trend of spiritual sleepwalking – mushy, in-name-only faith that’s nothing like a genuine relationship with God.  It’s pointless and largely useless.  But, that didn’t matter to Joe until infertility — and all the challenges that came with it — entered the story.  

“I had this experience that I’d never had before,” he recalled.  “I was in the shower upstairs and I lost it.  I was crying.  I literally could feel God, hear God, and He said, “You have to be strong.”  That’s when I realized I needed God on a more-than-superficial level.”  Soon afterwards, Joe and Nancy joined our infertility Bible study.

When couples seek out our group, they’ve often reached their limit.  Whether that limit is psychological, emotional, physical, spiritual, or some combination of these – their circumstances have become unbearable.  They’ve made as much progress as they can under their own power.  Now, humbled by their lack of success and painfully aware of their human limitations, they realize it’s time to try something new.

What can I possibly offer them?

This promise:  God uses our circumstances as a “spiritual refining process” to prepare us.  Rather than ignoring or punishing us, God  is allowing our experiences to mold us in anticipation of the blessing He has planned.  The gift that is coming.  The child we long for.

It’s human nature to feel desperate when we reach our limits.  But when we stop relying on our own ability to bring our dream to fruition, we open the door to a new kind of hope, based on God’s promise and His faithfulness.  The same promise-keeping God of scripture continues to work today in the lives of couples who invite Him into their story.

I’ve watched Him work miracle after miracle in the lives of couples who’ve joined our group and chosen to proceed in God-honoring ways.  They replaced spiritual sleepwalking with conscious, intentional trust and faith-full decisions.  Did it change anything?  Yes.  It changed everything.

Was it worth the effort?

When I interviewed Joe, now the father of a two-year-old son, for Pregnant with Hope, he summarized his experience this way:  “At the end of it, if all that happens is that you become closer to God, it’s worth it.”

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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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Choosing Thoughts that Inspire Hope

This is the last week of “summer reruns.”  This week’s posts are some of the most popular ones I’ve written, based on comments & emailed responses.  I hope you find them helpful and inspiring.

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My husband runs with an IPod Shuffle.  It plays whatever he loads, randomly.  So, he can’t control which song plays — but it’s always something he’s chosen for his personal collection.

It’s a lot like the way we play the same words over and over in our minds as we struggle through infertility.  We choose the playlist, but then go through life thinking we have no control over what we’re hearing.

When test results come back and they’re nothing like what we wanted, it’s as if someone pushes Play and one of our sad songs begins:  “Why Is It Always Someone Else Who’s Happy?” or “Every Time I Turn Around, More Bad News,” or “Feeling So Alone and So Heartbroken.”  It’s deeply discouraging.  And, it’s easy to tell ourselves we have no choice but to listen.

That’s a lie.

You know who told us that lie?  It wasn’t the voice of Truth.  All through scripture, God tells us not to be afraid, not to worry, not to doubt.  Over and over, He tells us, “Trust me.  I have a plan and a purpose.”  Jesus reaffirms these promises throughout the New Testament.  So, why isn’t that the voice we hear?  Because we’re busy listening to something else.

“Fear is the false expectation appearing real.”

I saw those words on a sign outside a tiny church not far from my home.  I got thinking… “The false expectation” is the thought that this infertility journey will have a negative outcome.  That when we reach the end of this, it will have been for nothing and there will be no baby.  When that thought appears real — when it’s another failed cycle and another round of heartache — fear feels overwhelming.

When we give in to that fear, we open the door to a cascade of negative thoughts that flood our minds with despair and doubt — leaving little room for God’s truth.  It’s a terrible choice.  It’s one most of us make unconsciously, as if we can’t control the thoughts we think, or the words our minds speak to our hearts.

But we can.

Here’s what we need to do: take these negative thoughts captive, and replace them with hope.  How?  By rejecting the false expectation that our stories will end tragically, and instead, building our hope on a foundation of faith.

How do we do that?  By claiming the promises of scripture as our own.  After all, they are God’s promises to us.  As Joel Osteen’s congregation says every week, “This is my Bible.  I am what it says I am.  I have what it says I have.  I can do what it says I can do.”  By loading these promises onto our mental Shuffle and pushing Play whenever we need to hear the words of our faithful, promise-keeping God, we affirm their truth and power in our lives.

What are the promises of scripture that speak most meaningfully to infertile couples?  Here are my nominees for “Greatest Hits” and I recommend you add every one of them to your playlist:

1.  “I have not given you a spirit of fear” [II Timothy 1:7]

2.  “Cast all your cares on me, because I care for you” [I Peter 5:7]

3.  “Count on me to give you wisdom through Christ” [I Corinthians 1:30]

4.  “What is impossible with men is possible with God” [Luke 18:27]

5.  “I will direct your steps” [Proverbs 3:5,6]

6.  “I will give you rest” [Matthew 11:28]

7.  “I will never abandon you” [Hebrews 13:5]

8.  “I will meet all your needs” [Philippians 4:19]

9.  “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose” [Romans 8:28]

10.  “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” [Mark 11:24]

When the moment looks hopeless and you’re tempted to call up a collection of self-absorbed, self-pitying songs, choose these verses instead.  Keep them in your mind and heart.  Put them on your fridge, your dashboard, your bedside table and your screen saver.  Ask God to breathe power into them, to infuse you with hope when you speak them aloud, and to fill you with peace when you remember them silently.

Fill your thoughts with the words of the only One who can do anything; it will change everything.

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Got a favorite verse?  Share it with other infertile couples by leaving a comment.

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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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Tired of Living Like Lepers?

“As Jesus was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him.  They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’  When he saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’  And as they went, they were cleansed.”

Why do these verses matter to couples struggling through infertility?  Because they provide a template for the transformation from suffering outsiders to blessed & favored ones.

Interested?

At the start of this 4-sentence story, a group of outcasts – set apart (literally and figuratively) by their affliction – call across the gulf of separation.  They’ve been driven out of their community by an affliction they do not fully understand.  They’ve realized they cannot heal themselves.  And they won’t be welcomed back by society unless they are “normal.”  They know that only a miracle can heal them and pave the way for their return.

So, they intercept Jesus on his way to minister to the community that rejected them.  From a distance, they call out to him.  Their words – “have pity on us!” – reflect the truth of their pitiable condition, and their understanding that only compassion can overcome the typical response to their affliction:  fear and judgment.  Please, they beg, let your compassion overwhelm any other emotion… and then, do something to help us.

Jesus hears them, and he responds.  Not by running in the other direction, as most people do when the lepers announce their presence.  Jesus responds by telling them how to change their circumstances by faith.  He says, “Go, show yourselves to their priests.”  In other words, go to those who will confirm that your suffering has ended.  You are no longer a victim.  Your affliction is gone.  You are healed.  It’s over.  What he doesn’t say – but what they sense – is that by the time they get to the priests, they will be “normal” again.

And it happens.

They head for the priests, still lepers.  They arrive, healthy men.  They respond to Jesus’ instruction in faith, and Jesus heals them on the way.  They don’t wait for evidence, and then depart.  Jesus says, “Go” and they hit the road, trusting that He will transform them.

That’s the template.

Too often, infertility makes couples live like lepers — set apart, judged, condemned and forgotten.  They sink into isolation and despair.  But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

If we want our suffering transformed by a miracle, we need to step out in faith.  We need to trust that a miracle is in the works before we see the evidence.  We need to claim God’s promise that all things are possible, and believe that the lepers’ story can be our story, too.

Will it be?  Scripture is full of stories of suffering people whose circumstances changed in an instant; repeatedly, Jesus told them, “your faith has healed you.”  He meant, your willingness to believe opened the door for me.  You invited me into your story when you believed I would come.  When you called for help and believed I heard you and cared.

Don’t think of yourself as a helpless victim.  Don’t live like a leper.  You can call for help any time.  The one who healed the lepers – simply by willing it to be so – is ready to respond to you, too.

Are you ready to believe that he will?

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

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Who Wants to be a Surrogate?

What kind of woman says “giving up a baby was the most thrilling moment of my life”?  Ask Pam MacPhee.

Nine years ago, doctors diagnosed her cousin Henry’s wife with aggressive cervical cancer.  Treatment was likely to cause infertility, so the couple froze eighteen embryos prior to the start of radiation.  Curious about their options, Pam researched surrogacy.  The more she learned, the more she became convinced that she should offer herself as a gestational carrier to Henry and Lauren.

“It was a leap of faith,” she explained.  “I had such a desire to give them hope as they were battling cancer.  I asked myself whether I had the mental, physical and emotional strength… and decided I did.”

How did she explain her choice to her husband and children?  “I told my children, ‘Lauren is sick and her tummy doesn’t work right, so I’m going to put her baby in my tummy until it’s ready to come out.  Then, I’ll give it to her.’  They were fine with that.  The truth is, it’s not that complicated.  My husband was totally supportive.  He wanted to help, too.”

Once the cancer was defeated, “with a foundation of honesty, trust, and open communication,” Pam said, “we found our way through the anxieties, challenges and awkward moments of the surrogacy process together.  The day after Mother’s Day (2001), I was thrilled to deliver a beautiful, healthy baby girl for them.  They were speechless with awe when they first laid eyes on Hope.”

What were Pam’s feelings, as the woman who had carried this baby for nine months?  Did she find it difficult to think of baby Hope as their child?  “Not at all,” she said.  “Intended parents fear that surrogates will bond with the babies they carry.  But a stable, mentally-healthy surrogate never feels like the mother; we are more like nurturer-protectors.  We connect with the baby, but we don’t form a mother-child bond.  Our bond is with the parents.”

Any regrets?  “No.  It was the most fulfilling time of my life,” said Pam, “watching my cousin become a father, and seeing his wife embrace life and hope again after the devastation of cancer. It was a privilege to share that moment of joy and wonder with them.”

Is that how all surrogates feel?  “The main motivation of surrogates is wanting to give joy.  They are women who want to help, who enjoy being pregnant and realize that they can give the gift of a life to someone else.  Whether or not they get paid, money is not the primary factor.  It’s a desire to give hope.”

Pam approached her role as a surrogate with a servant’s heart, giving selflessly out of love. That perspective enabled her, and the baby’s intended parents, to move through the journey with healthy boundaries.  “We focused on clear communication, mutual trust and sharing the pregnancy.”  Their experience models the ideal approach to surrogacy – one based on a foundation of love as scripture describes it:

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”

Pam’s advice to infertile couples considering surrogacy?  “Trust that the surrogate is there for you.  She is not attention-seeking or self-serving.  She is a loving person who wants to help someone who’s hurting become a parent.  Focus on the miracle that is happening through her body, and the joy of anticipating the baby – rather than fear, or the need for control – and it will be a fulfilling journey for both of you.”

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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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Infertility’s Impact on Parents’ Commitment

“Men are spending more time with their kids.  Young dads are  now spending more time each day with children than mothers between the ages of 29 and 42 are.  Which is staggering! Astonishingly, married men are now feeling more torn over balancing work and family than their wives are.  Norms have shifted.  Taking care of a child is now part of what it means to be a father.”                                                                                      – Newsweek, 4/19/10

This encouraging report on the news that men are becoming involved fathers is most interesting for what it doesn’t mention.  Concurrent with the rise in involved fatherhood, the U.S. is experiencing a steady rise in infertility.  It’s getting harder to get pregnant.

If infertility is resulting in great numbers of fathers with a deeper gratitude for the opportunity to parent, that’s a blessing.  Admittedly, it’s not one any of us would ever choose — but it’s a blessing, nonetheless.  And not to pick on the guys; I’d say the same thing about women becoming passionately committed mothers.

If God converts couples’ gratitude into motivation to be “astonishingly” committed parents, then infertility has served an important purpose.

It’s tempting to say we would have been deeply-invested parents without infertility.  Maybe we would have.  But truth be told, many of us value things much more when we’ve had to work hard for them — and becoming parents is no exception.

“Does infertility teach you something?” asked Mike, formerly a member of the group and now the father of two boys.  “Yeah.  If it takes this much effort to have a child, you cherish them more.  If it takes longer to get pregnant, you appreciate it more than if you had a baby the first time you tried.”

Brent,  a father for three months, agrees.  “I had a life plan.  But now, I don’t feel the rush on the career side.  It doesn’t bother me.  If it happens, it happens.  I’m not going to force it.  I’m focused on being a father.”

In my experience, infertile couples go on to become incredible parents — whether by conception or adoption.  Not only are they deeply grateful for their child(ren), they are also deeply committed to stewarding them in the best possible way.  I believe that commitment is what God’s after.

Sometimes, the commitment is tested.

James, the father of twin girls, says, “Not having children seemed like the hardest thing.  But then, we had one kid who needed heart surgery and they  thought the other kid might have Down’s Syndrome….”  Difficult as it was — “We only had five minutes to enjoy becoming parents!” — James and his wife faced their new challenges head-on, and they continue to work as full partners raising their incredible girls.

That was my experience, too.  Our daughter required open heart surgery when she was just four-weeks-old.  Our son was born prematurely a week before I was (mis)diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and began chemo.  Of course, we recoiled at the thought of more suffering, hard on the heels of infertility.  But my husband had that “astonishing, staggering” commitment Newsweek talks about — so did I — to our children, and to each other.

Not that we would have wished for it, but the challenges of infertility prepared us — individually, and as a couple — for what would follow.  With faith in each other and trust in God’s purposefulness, we got through it all.

That’s one of the great blessings of the infertility journey:  You and your spouse discover strength, passion and a depth of commitment you never knew you had.  And, as best I can tell, they last a lifetime.  As does the desire to continue to grow in the faith that sustained you.

That may be part of how God’s setting the stage for your future — as a parent, as part of a forged-solid relationship, and as a believer whose faith has been tested, renewed, and proven.  May it be so.

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

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