Monthly Archives: April 2011

At Last, 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.”  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.”

Here’s the story as it appeared….

“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.  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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Content, Despite Infertility? It’s Possible

“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation….”

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 has learned:  It’s 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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Lost and in a Panic

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 along half-blind – 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.”   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. ” 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.  This 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 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.”

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Find many more resources & cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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Sisters, Infertility & Baby Wars

What is it about sisterhood that can make infertility so much harder to bear?  According to author and therapist Vikki Stark, M.S.W., sister relationships are naturally fraught with competition and conflict.  Regardless of which sister initiated the rivalry – or when, or why – it becomes extremely difficult to set aside feelings of envy and resentment when one conceives, and the other can’t.

“Research has shown that 10 percent of women have high-conflict relationships with a sister,” Stark reports, “and a much larger percentage have mixed feelings.”  Infertility feeds that friction, and it’s not a new problem.  As far back as Genesis, the Bible records the effect of one sister’s fertility on the other (infertile) sister’s mindset.

Jacob married Leah and her sister Rachel.  The marriage to Leah was forced and unwanted.  The marriage to Rachel – just one week later – was much-desired and long-awaited.  This unequal status set the stage for the rivalry.  “When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb….” and the baby wars began.

The names Leah chose for her first three sons revealed her inner turmoil.  They meant:  “The Lord has seen my misery,” “The Lord heard I am not loved,” and “My husband will become attached because I have borne him three sons.”  Every time her husband spoke his boys’ names, he was reminded of his wife’s unhappiness, and her longing for his affection.  So was her jealous sister.

She couldn’t stand watching Leah deliver baby after baby.  “Give me children or I’ll die!” she yelled at Jacob – and then she demanded, “Sleep with my servant.  She can bear children for me, and through her I, too, can build a family.”  No mention of Jacob, or thoughts of We.  It was now baby wars by proxy, and Me, Me, Me.

The servant’s first baby arrived and Rachel named him “Vindication.”  Then, a second son was born and Rachel saddled him with the name, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won!”  Once again, Jacob couldn’t miss the sisters’ feelings – about themselves, each other, or their ongoing competition.

Not to be outdone, Leah sent her servant as a surrogate to Jacob.  Two boys were born.  Rachel responded by offering Leah an extra night with Jacob in exchange for a fertility-enhancing herb.  Leah agreed… and promptly bore a son, and then another.

The Bible says, “Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb.”  She finally had a son.  “God has taken away my disgrace” she named him, and as quickly as they began, the baby wars were over.

Here’s what I see in all that craziness.  Self.  Self.  Self.  It’s all about me, and how I feel, and what I want, and what she has, and what I don’t.  Neither wife was nurturing her marriage; they were too busy competing.  Neither wife was nurturing her children; they were too busy trying to have more any way they could.  And, neither wife was seeking God’s will; they were just seeking God’s ‘yes’ so they could beat each other.

Why share that story?  Because quite a few of you have confided in me about your own sisters:  “Both my sisters were pregnant at my baby’s funeral,” “My sister was going to be our surrogate, but then she got pregnant with her own baby,” “My sister and I had the same due date, but then I miscarried and she carried to term,” “My sister had the first grandchild the same week I lost my baby,” “My sister announced her baby news at my anniversary party,” “My sister asked — in front of all our extended family — if we were ever going to have a baby.”

And on, and on, and on….

Infertility is already so painful.  It seems almost unbearable to have the suffering compounded by someone who should be loving you through it.  Maybe she wants to, but she doesn’t know how.  Maybe she couldn’t even if she tried her best.  Whatever the story, let Rachel and Leah’s baby wars be a cautionary tale.  Competing with your sister will waste your life time.

So, don’t spend this time focused on her.  Instead, focus on this:  God has a plan and a purpose for your journey, and a child He intends to entrust to you.  Invest this time in being a woman worthy of such an incredible stewardship responsibility.  That is the path to peace.

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Insight from Humility Hill

To all who are struggling with infertility,

I thought about you as I hiked up Humility Hill.  That may sound strange, but it’s true.  As I climbed, I realized that sharing this story might prevent you from making the same mistake I did.  So, here goes….

Two years ago, there was something I desperately wanted.  It wasn’t material “stuff,” it was a blessing – and one I was convinced was absolutely essential to the future I envisioned.  I’d done what I could to influence events in my favor, but the outcome was completely out of my hands.  So, I turned my attention to God and began to pray like crazy.

I would set off on long walks and pray about all the ways that saying “yes” to my desire would be wise on God’s part.  Like a persistent salesman, I showed up at every turn, relentlessly doing my best to show God the wisdom of agreeing with my extensive research, my wise judgment, my logic and reason.  I wanted Him to realize He didn’t need to think this through – because I already had!

All the traits and skills that had made me a successful advertising executive were brought to bear:  positioning, strategic thinking, timing the pitch, compelling arguments, downside risk assessment.  You name it, I covered it.  My prayers were 100% transmit, 0% receive because there was only one thing I wanted to hear from God:  YES.  Until I heard it, I’d keep at it.

So, did I convince Him?

No.

That’s why I call it Humility Hill.

I was hiking up the hill one day on one of my long walks, giving God an earful, when I reached my conclusion:  “… and that’s why I want you to do what I will.”  Those were the words my mind prayed – and they froze me on the spot.  I have no idea what really happened, but it seemed as if I turned to stone the minute I heard myself say, “…do what I will.”  It was if I’d said, “Obey me, God.”  I realized, that’s what I was really praying.  I was telling the God of the universe:  do what I say.

My will — not Thine.

That realization left me breathless.  I don’t know how long I stood there, not breathing.  Not thinking.  Not moving.  Just staring my hubris in the face.  I had spent months pestering God to bend to my will.  Begging Him, pleading with Him, browbeating and reasoning with Him.  I was horrified… and very ashamed.  I stood atop the hill for a long time, having no idea what to say or do.  I wanted to look away from the truth, but I couldn’t.  Then, I realized there was only one thing to say… the words of Jesus:  “Not my will, but thine.”

In that moment, I let go.  I released my grip on everything I desperately wanted to control.  God had revealed my arrogant self-absorption, and I chose to face it.  To humble myself and change it.  I chose – in that moment – to give up the fight for control.

A few months later, I got my answer.  It was as close to “yes” as it could be, but still be “no.”  It seemed clear that God was saying, “I want you to know I heard you – but I have a better plan.”  Not long afterwards, that better plan manifested itself.  It was, and continues to be, so much better than what I prayed for.

Because of that experience, I’ve learned to pray for God’s best in every situation.  I don’t try to tell Him what that is; He already knows.  And I’ve realized, I don’t always know.  The Bible says He “withholds no good thing,” and I’ve come to believe it’s true for those who trust and honor Him.  As a result, I find myself at peace – even in the midst of uncertainty.

If you’re ready to take God at His word, stop praying for your will to be done.  Pray for His best – and then, watch Him delight in giving you more than you imagined possible.

He will.

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

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Devastated by Loss?

The loss of a pregnancy or a newborn is surely the most devastating part of infertility – and it is often the time when couples feel most alone.  Despite being surrounded by family or friends, caring co-workers or fellow congregants, there is a sense of being singled-out for the worst possible kind of suffering.  The loss is so great – not just the loss of a life, but also the loss of all the dreams that went with it, all the hopes it represented, and all the anticipated joy that is gone in an instant… and seems lost forever.

What does a couple need in a time of such profound heartache?

Tenderness.

Compassion.

Grace.

And wisdom.

Aimee Alexander works at Northside Hospital’s Perinatal Loss unit.  Her hospital delivers 19,000 babies a year.  On average, there is one loss per day.  Even though, statistically, it’s a small number, it is still utterly incomprehensible to every couple crossing Aimee’s path.

How does she comfort them all?   “We can’t change the outcome,” she acknowledged.  “We can’t make babies come back alive – or make people feel better when they don’t, and aren’t ready to.  But, we can try to provide outlets for grief, a sense of hope that they will survive this, and the assurance that they are not alone.”

One of the couples I interviewed for Pregnant with Hope, Amy & Trey, experienced a devastating loss midway through a pregnancy.  “I was put on bedrest, and it was a very rough pregnancy with lots of scares and bleeding along the way,” Amy recalled.  “At 19½ weeks, my water broke and we were forced to deliver the baby, knowing that it would not survive.  We went to the hospital and delivered a little baby boy.”

As Aimee said so often happens, they needed an outlet for grief, a sense of hope that they could survive their loss, and an assurance that they were not alone.  They found all those things through the infertility Bible study that forms the basis for Pregnant with Hope.  Amy said one of the most helpful things they learned was that “when bad things happen, God cries with you.  He doesn’t do bad things to you.  That realization helped me because – when we were angry or I was so hurt, I didn’t necessarily think He was doing bad things to us, but I wondered where He was!  It made me feel better to know that God was hurting with me.”

God does grieve with us when our hearts are broken.  He has tremendous compassion for our suffering.  At the same time, He is able to see beyond the moment of grief to the joy that awaits in the future.  The joy that He knows is coming.  We cannot see it, and so we must trust in – cling to! – His faithfulness.  Even when we don’t understand why something has happened, or how we will ever recover, we can lean into believing that He is a promise-keeping God who longs to give us His very best… and intends to.  Our trust will enable our hearts to heal and our hope to be renewed.

Very few people are willing to attempt what Aimee Alexander does every day – to stand with someone who is overwhelmed with grief, pour love into their heart for as long as it takes, and wait patiently for them to realize:  I’ll be okay.  Very few. But God is always willing, and always able.

He alone has the compassion, love and grace to carry you through grief, the patience to walk alongside you toward the future, and the power to make that future full of joy.

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Find cause for hope & many more resources at PregnantWithHope.com

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Panic vs. Peace: Your Choice

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

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

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

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

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

Rest.

Stillness.

Quiet.

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

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

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

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Find many more resources & cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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