Monthly Archives: July 2011

Teaching the Church to Help Us

Very often, couples who discover that one or both of them is infertile enter a self-imposed exile.  Painfully aware of their “differentness,” they struggle to find solutions to their problem while protecting their privacy and newfound sense of vulnerability.

When questions arise – “What’s wrong with us?  What did we do to deserve this?  Is this a punishment for something?  Is God refusing our prayers and withholding this blessing?” – it can be difficult to know where to go for answers.

As it turns out, infertile couples aren’t the only ones struggling with these questions.  Clergy find them difficult to answer, too.  That results in both stigma and heartache.

When Dr. Stephen Hayner, president of Columbia Theological Seminary, first encountered Pregnant With Hope, he responded to its content with gratitude:  “This is a book for those who are struggling – and for those of us who love them and often don’t know what to say or do.” 

There’s the truth, and it’s a problem:  clergy often don’t know what to say or do.  They want to help.  They recognize that infertility is a painful, heartbreaking, faith-threatening problem.  But they have no idea how to deliver hope in a practical, meaningful way.

As a result, they tend to choose one of two strategies.  Either they address the problem vaguely and conceptually, saying things like “all suffering is the result of original sin.”  Or, they ignore the problem completely and hope it will go away.

Neither strategy helps.

Instead, both strategies make it harder for couples to draw near to the God who can seem to be more a part of the problem than the source of the solution.  So, what happens?  Couples leave the church, no longer able to find a voice that speaks to their needs, or a community that understands their problems.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Faith leaders just need to be educated:  How do you help infertile couples?  How do you support them?  How do you reinforce their sense of belonging when their circumstances make them feel isolated and apart from everything normal?  How do you inspire them to draw nearer to the God who cares deeply about them?

Dr. Hayner recognized this need in his seminary students.  That’s why he responded so enthusiastically to Pregnant With Hope.  The same Bible verses, insights and personal narratives that empower infertile couples can prepare clergy to help them along the journey.

Once they are equipped, faith leaders can confront the stigma of infertility, addressing it openly from the pulpit (not just in private meetings with individual congregants).  They can also sensitize their communities to those who are suffering, and equip people to be sources of comfort and strength for one another.

How can you help bring about this change?  First, recognize that it is difficult to be a change agent when you are in the midst of an infertility journey.  You have a right to feel resentful that you should have to tackle this, along with everything else that’s challenging you.  But remember:  if you do, you’ll be helping yourself – and the infertile couples who come after you.

Second, understand that those who take on the role of change agent tend to do so out of desperation – “We need support!”  That’s a good reason, and a very motivating one.  If you’ve reached that point, what can you do to bring about meaningful change?  Try any one (or more) of these ideas:

Write to your faith leader(s) — Share your story.  Make clear that you are not the only infertile person in the congregation; statistically, 1-in-every-6 couples is struggling or has struggled with infertility.  Ask for private and/or public support.

Send your clergy a link to this website, a copy of Pregnant With Hope, or both — If you want to protect your identity, drop a note in the offering plate or mail the book anonymously.  The recipient(s) will discover that these messages have been unanimously endorsed by a seminary president and numerous religious leaders, as well as physicians, therapists & counselors (both church-affiliated and secular), and hundreds of infertile couples.  Urge them to read with an open mind and a heart full of compassion, and then act as they feel led.

Offer to meet with your faith leader – Share your questions, your struggles, and your needs.  Ask them to start a support group, invite a guest speaker, or provide some other tangible evidence of the church’s concern and desire to help.

Whatever you do, remember that it doesn’t take a huge effort to make a significant change!  Realize that this may be one of the ways God is bringing good out of your journey.  Consider your action – whatever it may be – one of the ways you demonstrate your trust in God’s purposefulness.  And then, do something.

The church can change, but we will have to voice the need and point the way.

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Use the tools below to forward this post to someone who wants your church to change, or can help make it happen.  For more resources & inspiration, visit PregnantWithHope.com.

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The Season of Discernment

Unexplained infertility can seem like psychological torture.  No one can tell you what’s wrong, what will work, or if anything ever will.

Faced with little-to-no information, how can you make decisions?  When the voice in your head is shouting, “The clock is ticking! You’re running out of time!” how do you think clearly?  When the most-likely-to-succeed protocol fails – repeatedly – what should you do next?  Where can you turn for input?  Who can you trust?  And how much more can you handle?

Bottom line:  What does it mean when there’s still no baby?

Welcome to a season of discernment.

When Don and his wife reached this point in their infertility journey, Don made a very wise choice.  He decided to slow down, wait, and listen.  “I’m one who believes God’s touch is very subtle,” he said.  “You’ve got to exert immense patience to understand – and wait for – what He’s doing in your life.  If you jump to a conclusion, you may miss the message.”

After several miscarriages, Don thought, “We haven’t been able to get pregnant.  Is God sending us a message?  I was listening and thinking, is God saying, ‘You shouldn’t be parents?’ or, ‘You should take another approach?’”  He and Robin decided to join the infertility Bible study to spend time with other couples struggling with the same questions.

“When I first went to the class, I was struck by how many people were emotionally distraught about infertility.  But I kept reminding myself:  God has a way of moving things around so that it’s a win-win for everybody.  It sounds formulaic, but you have to trust Him.  Be ready – do your part – but let it come on His time.”

The more they listened to other couples’ stories – especially those of “alumni” who came back to talk to the group – the more they realized, “you have to be patient.”  Speed and a desperate sense of urgency had not made  these other couples parents.  In fact, just the opposite!  Quite a few affirmed Don’s sense that  “you can’t just take over.  God’s got opportunities, messages and subtleties there for you… but you’ve got to be listening.”

Over time, Don and his wife felt a growing, deepening peace about the choice to adopt.  “God understood what I needed to make a decision,” Don recalled.  “We researched our options thoroughly, moving slowly enough to seek God’s guidance at every step.”

To a casual observer, it might have looked as if they were making no progress on their journey toward parenthood.  But in fact, the most important progress occurred when they slowed down and were perfectly still.  How so?  A birth mother tried to put her twin boys up for adoption five times  – but she always changed her mind.  Finally, she decided she was ready.

“If we’d been ready 6 months earlier, this mom wouldn’t have been ready,” Don said.  “And if we’d been ready 6 months later, we might have missed adopting our boys.  I want to recognize God’s timing in this miracle.  It was perfect.”

God’s timing always is.

The words “Be still and know that I am God” are not just a suggestion from scripture.  They are an imperative command for our benefit.  They are also the only way to answer the many unanswered questions on this journey.

When we are still, we make space for God’s voice to be heard.  Sometimes, He may be silent.  If so, we should stay still, but not be afraid.   He has not forgotten or neglected us.  And it is not His desire to compound our fear and anxiety.

We must trust that He is well able to speak clearly when we are ready to listen, and when the time is right. Those are the two key ingredients to forward progress.

This season, give yourself the two gifts that will bless your journey:  intentional stillness, and active listening.  Expect God’s guidance – wait patiently for it – and He will honor your faith with His faithfulness.

He always does.

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For more inspiration and words of hope, visit PregnantWithHope.com or read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

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Sow in Tears, Then Reap with Joy

It can be very disheartening to hear other couples’ success stories.  We listen thinking they may spark our own hope or offer some inspiration.  But more often than not, someone else’s success just reinforces our own sense of having been singled-out for suffering – compounding a growing sense of isolation and despair.

I had no intention of including infertile couples’ success stories when I wrote Pregnant With Hopein  part, because I’d already worked for nearly a year to transcribe the messages from the infertility Bible study.  But also, I anticipated a negative response from the still-struggling couples who’d be reading the book.

God knew better.

During a long walk, He made very clear that I was not done writing.  I needed to find ten couples to share their stories – in their own words, using their real names.  “That’ll never happen!” I argued.  “No one will agree to that.”

God pushed me to try.

Amazingly, ten of the twelve couples I asked said, “Yes.”

Why was it so important to include their stories?  Because they fulfill a promise of scripture  — one  which God intends to fulfill in your life, too:  “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.”

That promise is at the heart of Pregnant With Hope.  It is the common element in all ten of the stories told by the couples featured in the book.

All of them came to our group barely clinging to anything resembling hope.  Most had experienced multiple miscarriages, numerous failed IVFs, and countless trips to doctors’ offices.  Some had also undergone major surgeries, lost family members, battled cancer….  They were completely exhausted by the journey.

Experience had taught them to expect only failure and heartache.  Increasingly, the “experts” agreed:  the odds were not good, and getting worse.  So, they sowed in tears – grieving their losses while continuing to cast seeds of hope.  Some sought new doctors, new tests or new protocols.  Others felt led to plow effort into creating profiles, finding adoption lawyers and scheduling home studies.  All of them chose to trust the God of miracles.

And all ten couples reaped incredible blessings.

They’re all parents now, as are many, many couples who’ve come after them.  Whether by conception or adoption, egg donation or surrogacy, they will tell you with absolute conviction:  this is the baby who was always meant for us.

Why are their stories so inspiring?  Because all ten couples, each in their own way and in the context of their unique story, dramatically demonstrate the power of the prayer:  Thy will be done.  All of them discovered the power of letting go, of trusting God’s timing, and of believing that their infertility was not the end of the story.

On the surface, each journey may have seemed doomed and hopeless.  In the natural, there was no reason to believe joy was coming.  But in the spiritual realm, God was blessing the seeds of hope they’d sown in tears.  He was honoring their faith with His faithfulness.  And they all “reap(ed) with songs of joy.”

Live into God’s promise and you will, too.

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Are you sowing in tears with no sense of hope?  Please let me  pray for you.  Email me:  susan@pregnantwithhope.com.

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The Infertility Prayer God Always Answers

A few days ago, I wrote about narcissistic fertility – the tendency of some “fertiles” to take pregnancy for granted, and to think of a baby primarily as an extension of themselves.  It’s easy to criticize that kind of self-absorption.  And, it’s tempting to think “I would never….”

The problem is:  we would, and we do.

Don’t misunderstand.  After the struggle and heartache of the infertility journey, I don’t believe any of us would take a baby for granted.  But, I do believe that many – maybe all of us – set off on this journey believing we deserve to be parents.  We want it, and we unconsciously believe we have a right to expect it.

We see the people around us conceiving effortlessly and assume, that’ll be me – pregnant and living  happily-ever-after.  We might never say so, but at some level, we feel entitled to that story.

Here’s the problem:  that entitlement attitude puts Self at the center.  It presumes that what we want is what’s best for us — because we want it.  In hindsight, that seems both arrogant and a little ridiculous.  The truth is, it’s simply human nature.

We tend to think of ourselves as able to make perfect plans and control our destinies… until we discover we can’t and we don’t.  That’s when we start to feel confused, frustrated, and even angry.

Now, we see a clear need for God in our story – but He seems to be withholding our heart’s desire.  Or worse, punishing us for something.  Why can’t we conceive?  And why does He insist on thwarting our plans?

Because our plan is not His plan.  It’s not His best for us.

So, now what?  How do we get past our emotional response to God’s “no,” and onto a path that leads to parenthood?  That’s the question I was thinking about recently as I read Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To.

I wondered: Is there a prayer God always says “yes” to when infertile couples pray?  If so, what is it?  What makes it work?  And does it always?

The good news is that there is one prayer God always answers for infertile couples.  And I’m convinced the purpose of the infertility journey is to prepare us to pray it with complete sincerity of heart, mind and spirit.

No one told me about it when we were struggling to conceive.  At that time, the God I’d grown up believing in no longer seemed generous, loving and faithful.  Instead, He seemed distant, silent, and even secretive.  I had some strong feelings about that, but I was afraid to express them for fear of making a bad situation worse.

So, we struggled on in silence (as if He didn’t know my thoughts).

I felt increasingly invisible and lost to God.  Either rejected by Him or simply ignored, all I could see was that He didn’t seem to be working with us.  In fact, He seemed to be working against us.  Rather than breathing life into our dream, He was thwarting our desire to become parents.  He could have made it happen at any time, but He kept saying, “no.”

Does it seem as if God is thwarting your will, too?  Are you doing everything you can to get to “yes” only to sense He’s repeatedly telling you “no”?  Then pray the prayer He always answers:

Thy will be done.

This 4-word prayer has the power to set life-changing events in motion.  It can overpower whatever emotional distress buffets us, whatever circumstances devastate us, whatever fears paralyze us, whatever thoughts terrorize us.  It is the “open sesame” that makes all things possible because it is the prayer that puts all things in our lives under God’s authority – including us.

It is a prayer of incredible power… because it a prayer of total submission.  It acknowledges that God sees what we cannot see, and knows what we cannot know.  It invites Him to accomplish His perfect plan in and through us, with our complete cooperation.

Can we trust Him enough to give Him complete control?  Can we stop obsessing over our own plans and trust that “no” means His plan is better?  Can we set aside our impatience long enough to give Him whatever time He needs to accomplish His purpose?  And will we?

That’s the hugely important choice we must make.

We can continue to insist on our plans and our timetable, giving God room only to optimize what we will for ourselves.  That path will never lead us to His best.  Or, we can let go of “when?” and “how?” and choose to trust Him completely and unconditionally.  That path leads to nothing less than His very best.

How do I know?  From personal experience, and from my front row seat watching the stories of countless infertile couples unfold.  Every single couple who comes to a place of being able to pray unreservedly, “Thy will be done,” finds joy.  Every.  Single.  One.

May it be so for you, too.

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For more inspiration and cause for hope, read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples

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Fertile Narcissism

“The faster someone achieves success, the more narcissistic they’ll tend to be.  Slow & steady builds character over the years.”   – Rick Warren

Although I doubt he was tweeting about infertility, I’m convinced Rick Warren’s absolutely right.

We live in a culture that celebrates instant gratification and effortless success.  The gossip media constantly barrage us with breathless coverage of celebrity pregnancies and baby arrivals.  “Look!  Blissful parents!  Gorgeous babies!  Happily-ever-after!”  For couples struggling to conceive, this cultural obsession only makes the burden of infertility harder to bear.

What if it’s not as wonderful as it all looks?  Could there actually be a downside to effortless conception?  And conversely, could the infertility journey be a blessing-in-disguise?  Warren’s tweet certainly suggests the possibility, as do many verses of scripture.

Think about it for a minute…

We’ve all crossed paths with narcissistic pregnant women.  Rather than being thankful for an incredible gift, they seem to take pleasure in complaining about their uncontrollable fertility, or the inconvenience of being pregnant.  Their words and actions reveal a self-absorption that is disturbing, and it does not bode well for the children they’re expecting.

In a Discovery Health documentary, one woman sobbed when her ultrasound revealed she had not conceived a girl.  A healthy 18-week pregnancy was not enough to satisfy her.  Already the mother of four boys, she said she would “always, always be sad” that she was having another.  Apparently, this woman wasn’t as eager to steward a child as she was desperate to fulfill a vision of herself.

She did not consider how wonderful this boy could turn out to be — or how awful a particular girl could have been — because it wasn’t about the child.  It was about her desire to fulfill her plan for her life.

In another story from the same documentary, a fertile mother (also with four boys) elected to use IVF with PGD — three times — in her quest for a girl.  Her first two IVFs yielded only boys, so she had those embryos discarded. Her third IVF yielded one girl and five boys.  The girl was transferred; the remaining embryos were destroyed.

Once again, no thought was given to what had intentionally been created (this time, through IVF).  The unwanted embryos weren’t donated to infertile couples, or even to research.  They were treated like trash — because it wasn’t about anyone else, only about a woman fulfilling her dream of her family on her terms.

That is narcissistic fertility, and it is nothing like what God intends for us as parents.

He wants us to be people of character and of faith who commit ourselves wholeheartedly to stewarding the souls He entrusts to us.  That’s what I see over and over again in infertile couples who become parents — whether by conception or adoption.  They have learned the hard way that instant gratification is not part of God’s character-building formula.  In fact, just the opposite.

The infertility journey has been a sort of spiritual obstacle course for them.  They have become stronger and more mature as they have navigated their way along it.  They’ve learned how to work together to confront problems, deal with difficult emotions, and struggle through heartaches.

As the Bible says, “… we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  This is the blessing-in-disguise of infertility.  Although we would never wish for suffering, when we put God at the center of our experience (rather than our selves), the hardship of infertility sets off a chain reaction that builds character and produces hope that outlasts any circumstance we will ever face — as infertile couples, or as parents.

Narcissistic fertility sees pregnancy as a means of  self-gratification.  God wants so much more for you — and by extension, for the children He intends to entrust to you.   There’s a purpose to His plan.  Persevere, trust Him, and you’ll see.

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Where is God in That Awful Moment?

There are moments – split seconds even – that can seem to last forever.  When the nurse calls with the news you dread.  When the tech stares silently at the ultrasound image, refusing to speak what you already fear.  When the doctor delivers the baby at 18 weeks, and you know the truth before he says a word.

So many of the couples I’ve worked with have described the feeling of an unbearable moment that goes on and on….  It’s as if time stops.  The past falls away.  The future is unimaginable.  There is only the moment and the realization that everything you’ve hoped for is gone.

Grief begins to form a tidal wave in the distance.  But in the moment, there is nothing.  No feeling.  No understanding.  No faith.  No hope.  No way to wrap your mind around this awful reality.

Where is God in this moment?

The Bible says He is with us.

What is this moment like for Him?  2 Peter says, “With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”  I believe that means that God understands the agony of a moment that seems to go on forever.  But it also means that time expands and collapses, stretches and compresses, with Him.  In other words, time does not limit God in any way, nor what He can accomplish in a given moment.

We may be psychologically paralyzed, frozen in a split second that’s too unbearable for us to experience.  But not God.  He is fully present with us, providing comfort and strength for as long as this “moment” lasts.  It may seem as if He has failed us.  As if He has broken His promise to give us hope and a future.  As if He has been so slow in keeping the promise that He is somehow too late.  Or worse, as if He has abandoned us in our moment of need.

But that’s not true.

God is never defeated by our circumstances.  He is never too late  — to comfort us, to strengthen us, or to deliver joy into our lives.  The problem is that we are unable to see past this moment.  We cannot imagine that this season of suffering will ever end, and so we conclude… it won’t.

The Bible says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness.”  We don’t understand why we have to wait so long, or why God seems to be moving so slowly to fulfill His promise.  We don’t understand His timing, His reasons or His plan.  He has shared none of this with us.

So, we have to trust Him.  And wait.

Thankfully, 2 Peter says, “He is patient….”  with us, with our response to failure and loss, with our self-absorption in grief, with our confusion and our anger, with our depression and our fear, with our temporary loss of faith in His goodness and purposefulness.  He is patient with all of it.  And with all of us.

In the end, the suffering that seems to be lasting forever, will be over “like a day.”  And the joy that comes with the child He has always planned for us — the soul He has already chosen to entrust to us — “will be like a thousand years.”  We will see this journey from His perspective, and the moment of heartache will be a blink… just before life with our child began.

Hang in there.

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For more compassionate understanding and cause for hope, read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

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Barren and Blessed

These words leaped off the page at me when I read them the other day:

“Praise the Lord.  He settles the barren woman in her home as the happy mother of children” [Psalm 113:9].

How often do you hear those words spoken from a pulpit?  Never.  Read to you as part of a scripture reading?  Never.  But what an incredible message this is for infertile women!  Read it again:

“Praise the Lord.  He settles the barren woman in her home as the happy mother of children” [Psalm 113:9].

First, think about what it doesn’t say.  It doesn’t say God condemns the woman and punishes her by making her barren.  It doesn’t say, aware of her infertility, God ignores her pleas for a child; He does not care about her heartache or suffering.

It doesn’t say He intends for the woman to accept her childlessness as permanent because that is the future He has planned for her.  And, it doesn’t say, He may occasionally bless a barren woman, but He’d never do it for you.

It doesn’t say any of that.

What it does say is “He settles the barren woman….”  Not just sometimes; this is what God consistently does.  He “settles” her.  He is not a dispassionate observer of an infertile woman’s struggle, or an unresponsive witness to her deep longing.  He is present and active in her story.

In the natural, she may believe she is the one battling to stay settled in the midst of uncertainty.  Will she ever be a mother?!  But in the spiritual realm, it is God who is actively working to bring her what will settle her:  comfort, peace, hope and a future.

“He settles the barren woman in her home….”  Picture a bird making a nest, preparing to lay the eggs that will hatch at the perfect time.  God is settling the barren woman – nesting her – preparing her for the future she deeply desires.  He intends to realize her dream, and to do so  in what will be her child’s most nurturing environment:  the home.

“… as the happy mother of children.”  I love every word here!  God transforms the barren woman into a happy mother (we all know how unhappy she was when she believed children were not in her future).  Lifelong childlessness was not her dream – nor was it God’s.  His vision is for her to be a mother, and a happy one.  And not of “a child,” but “of children.”

Notice that the verse does not specify that the infertile woman will become a mother by conception.  Does that matter?  Yes, I believe it does.  God’s plan is not for every future mother to conceive.

God’s desire is that some families will be created through adoption.  Others may be created with the consenting involvement of a third party:  a surrogate, an egg donor, a sperm donor… or all three.  Some may be formed through fostering, caring for an extended family member, or a child neglected by its birth parents.

But notice:  these details, though important, will not devalue the fulfillment of the dream.  At the end of this journey, they will not reduce  the woman’s happiness, nor will they make these children any less truly hers.  In fact, these children will be uniquely and unquestionably the loves of her life — brought into it according to God’s perfect plan.

No matter how stymied we may be by our bodies’ apparent inability to conceive, God is never limited in His ability to give birth to His best for us — or for the children He intends to bring into our lives.  Never! This powerful realization is one of the greatest blessings of infertility. 

I agree with the psalmist:  Praise the Lord.

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For more inspiration and cause for hope, read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples and visit PregnantWithHope.com

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