Tag Archives: faith

Exceedingly, Abundantly, Above & Beyond….

When they opted for IUI  after a miscarriage in January 2013, Julianne and Matthew hoped to conceive and carry a baby to term. The doctors had figured their chances of having a baby as “rather slim.” Then came the news. “When I went in for my pre-insemination ultrasound, the nurse saw two good-looking eggs.” Not encouraged, but not ready to concede defeat, they prayed that one would take.

“God answered our prayers for one… and raised us three!” Their quads were born last Saturday night via c-section, not far from where I live. They ranged in size from a tiny 2 lbs 11 oz to a strapping 3 lbs 11 oz — and all were healthy. Julianne posted on her Facebook page: “Oh my QUAD!”

Ephesians 3:20 says, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly, above and beyond all that we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us….”

What does this verse mean for couples struggling with infertility? As Julianne and Matthew’s incredible story demonstrates, it means that God is well able to answer our prayers with more than we would dare to imagine. He took a couple who prayerfully decided to try IUI once (and only once) — because they could not imagine the heartache of several more miscarriages — and doubled their chances with two eggs. And then, He doubled them again.

He made the impossible possible. One attempt… two eggs… four babies.

It is truly above and beyond what any infertile couple could ever imagine. But it happened — “according to His power that is at work within us….”

You may have tried IUI many times, and then gone on to try IVF and more. Maybe nothing has succeeded. Or, like Julianne, you’ve miscarried and begun to believe you may not be able to carry a baby to term. Let this story remind you that God has the final word. He can make anything possible. And when the time is right, He does.

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Need more encouragement? Read Pregnant with Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

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When the Longed-for Blessing Brings Bad News

Many of this blog’s posts have focused on the longing for a pregnancy that brings a baby safely into the world.  But what happens when that longed-for blessing no longer feels like one?

I got an incredibly honest, heartrending request for prayer today.  It came in an email forwarded by a woman whose friend conceived on her 6th IUI (hurray!), and just discovered the baby has Down’s Syndrome.  You might be tempted to stop reading, since the thought of such a possibility threatens to  undermine your shaky confidence in a joyful future.  I hope you won’t, because the note I wrote in response to that prayer request made me realize the importance of affirming God’s faithfulness in all circumstances

That’s easy to claim when you’ve experienced effortless conception, an uneventful pregnancy, a straightforwarded delivery, and what looks to the world like happily-ever-after.  But what about when it isn’t so easy, and — by the world’s standards — it doesn’t go well?  Where is God in that?  Where is hope?  What good is faith if it suddenly seems flimsy and feeble?  And where can you go for strength?

My husband and I had to face these questions.  And at the time, there was no one to help us find answers.

We’d scheduled a vacation before our baby was conceived.  As it turned out, it was the week we needed to do an amnio if we wanted to be sure the baby was healthy.  We scheduled an appointment with a high-risk pregnancy specialist found through a friend of a friend.  The doctor started the appointment with an ultrasound.  We’d had several already, and we happily anticipated the chance to see our baby again.

But the doctor took an unusually long time with the ultrasound.  I lay on the table watching lines appear in his forehead as he scanned one area over and over and over.  My husband and I sent each other increasingly anxious looks, but no one spoke.  Then, the doctor said, “Your baby has a large hole in her heart.”  The jolt of adrenaline made me nauseous.  “Usually, that means the baby has Down’s Syndrome.  Has anyone talked to you about this before?”

I wanted to scream, and my mind was racing.  Who is this man?  What does he know?  Why wouldn’t anyone have told us?  It can’t be true….  We’d already lost several pregnancies to miscarriage, but this baby was thriving.  She was meant to come into the world!  Why would God say “yes” to a baby, but “no” to all we wanted that baby to be?

When I received Elizabeth’s prayer request today, the memories of that day flooded my mind.  And I knew God had given me an opportunity to speak the truth of His faithfulness out of my own experience.  I wrote to her:

When I was pregnant with my daughter, they found a HUGE hole in her heart during the amniocentesis.  They told us that, if she survived the pregnancy, she would almost surely have Down’s Syndrome.  We waited several agonizing days for results of the amnio.  In the interim, a couple we knew delivered a baby with unexpected Down’s Sydrome.  It was an extraordinarily stressful time.

Ultimately, our daughter’s test results indicated she did not have Down’s, but she did have the largest hole they’d ever seen in a baby’s heart at this stage of development.  It was hard to know how to pray about this.  Still, God was — and is — faithful.  Our daughter underwent open heart surgery when she was only four weeks old, and despite the odds they gave us as they took her into the OR, she survived and she’s thriving.

I realize the details of this story are different from yours.  At the same time, I feel as if I have some understanding of what you’re facing, based on our experience and the experience of our friends whose son has Down’s.  Neither we nor they would trade the children we have for any other.  We consider all that we’ve struggled through with and for them to be a small price to pay for the extraordinary blessing they have been in our lives.  The challenges we’ve faced as their parents have made us that much more passionate about being the best possible stewards of their incredible souls.  And I believe that was part of God’s purpose.

I don’t in any way mean to minimize what you’re going through.  But I can say with tremendous confidence, God is good and He blesses us in all sorts of unexpected ways.  I truly believe this is one of those well-disguised blessings — and some day, you will say so yourself with complete conviction and JOY.”

If “God not only loves you very much but also has put His hand on you for something special” [1 Thes 1:4], take heart in the knowledge that He will not abandon you to make your journey alone.  He has already begun equipping you.  That was part of the purpose of the infertility journey.  And He will not fail to comfort, strengthen or guide you.  Ever.

He never fails.

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For more inspiration and cause for hope, click this link to order your copy of Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.

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Where to Draw the Line

A reader posted a comment today asking me to address the question of how to know when — and presumably where — to draw the line in the pursuit of a diagnosis that can lead to effective treatment and, ultimately, parenthood.

She wrote…

 “I am not searching for information in an obsessive desire to gain control. We need the right diagnosis before we pursue treatment. Don’t we?  I appreciate where you are coming from, but I also wonder if it is misleading to some to imply that we must leave everything — even practical considerations for which we have human responsibility — up to God.  I would love to hear your thoughts on this, as this issue troubles me.  ‘Leave it all up to God’ can be taken too far….”

It’s a great question and a troubling issue for many infertile couples.  Let me address it by sharing a story about my Dad.

My father was an oncologist who treated patients with rare and deadly forms of cancer.  Because he spent years doing cancer research, and because he was a determined perfectionist, he made it his business to know every possible avenue from their sickness to health.  And, he promised to do everything he could to help them reach the desired outcome.

Occasionally, a patient would respond to the recommended treatment with horror — So painful! So taxing!  So prolonged! — and state confidently:  “God is going to perform a miracle and heal me.”  My father, the faith-full son of a minister, would respond:  “That would be great, and I’d love to witness it, but it’s possible that that isn’t God’s plan.”

Then, he’d tell them the story of a man trapped in his home during a flood.  As the flood waters rose, the man’s next door neighbor floated up to his front door in a two-man rowboat.  “Want to jump in?  We can paddle to dry land.”  The man waved him off saying, “No thanks.  God will save me.”  The floodwaters rose and the man was forced to climb up to his attic.  From this vantage point, he could see the water rising quickly over the town.  A local sheriff steered a motorboat toward the man’s attic window and called, “I’ll come get you!  It’s not too late to get to dry land a few miles away!”  The homeowner signaled no, calling out, “I’ll be fine.  God will save me.”

As the water continued to rise, the man was forced to climb out the attic window onto his roof.  All he could see for miles around was water.  No one else seemed to be standing on their rooftop waiting on God to perform a miracle.  A helicopter flew overhead and a voice boomed out of a loudspeaker, “This is your last chance!  We’re going to throw down a ladder!  Abandon your home!  Save yourself!”  The man responded, “I’m trusting God!  He can do anything!”  He waved off the helicopter, and the pilot flew away shaking his head.  The floodwaters continued to rise and the man finally drowned.

When he arrived in heaven, he asked God angrily, “Didn’t You see me on my roof?  I told everyone You’d perform a miracle.  Why didn’t You save me?!”  God answered with a sigh, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”

The point my father was trying to make is that, although God is capable of performing miracles – and sometimes He does, He is also capable of intervening in our circumstances through others.  As Dad often said, “Medical miracles don’t happen every day; that’s why they call them miracles.”

Our unwillingness to avail ourselves of help from any source but God Himself is actually a decision to refuse His help — except on our terms, in ways that fit our sense of how the story should unfold.

So, can “leave it all up to God” be taken too far?

Clearly, yes.

Every once in a while, one of the patients who’d refused further treatment from my father, deciding instead to wait for a miracle, would die — just like the man who drowned on the roof of his house.  It broke his heart.  As he’d share the news with us, usually around a somber dinner table, he would remind us, “It was their choice.”  He would explain that adults sometimes insist that God act on their terms and their timetable, or else.  And they’d wind up with Or Else.

That can happen on the infertility journey, too.  Couples can insist that God help them conceive on their timetable with the treatment they’ve decided to pursue — or else.  Or else what?  Very often, or else they fail to become parents and their anger at God drives a wedge between them and the only One with the power to make anything possible.

Sometimes, patients who elected to pursue my Dad’s recommended treatment would reach a point in their illness when he’d need to say, “There’s not much more I can do for you.”  They would have entrusted themselves to his care believing God could and would act through him.  But, medical science would have reached its limits.  He would have failed to deliver the cure they’d both hoped for, and God would not have performed a miracle.

It was time to make the rest of the journey with an altered perspective.  He would ask them, “How do you want to spend the rest of your life, knowing that your time is limited?  What, and who, is most important to you?  You have the gift of knowing that these will be your last days/weeks/months.  How will you invest them?”  It was never an easy conversation, but it was a deeply spiritual one – and one that many family members tearfully thanked him for having, once the journey was over.

There’s a parallel here, too, to the infertility journey.  Sometimes, having pursued the course of treatment that we believe makes sense, having viewed the science of medicine as a gift from God, we find ourselves at the end of the well-travelled road.  Now what?  Where should we turn?  What should we do?  No one can tell us with certainty how our journey will unfold, if we choose to press on.  No one can guarantee where we’ll wind up, or if we’ll be glad for the choices we made.

No one but God.

He has traveled this far with us, and He has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

It is this part of the journey than can be life-changing.  As we cry out to Him, “Why is this happening?!” we pour our effort into seeking answers to questions we’ve tried hard to avoid:  “What if our dream isn’t your plan, God?  What does that mean?  Why do other people conceive successfully while we struggle?  Why are you so often silent in the face of our tears and pleas?  Where are You?!”

Wrestling with these questions can lead us into a new, deeper intimacy with God.  If and when we trust the relationship enough to let go of our plans and, instead, gratefully embrace whatever God gives, He promises “all things [will] work together for good….”  Our story may look nothing like what we’d envisioned.  But it will be His purposeful, intentional, grace-filled best for us.  I have seen this happen countless times — in my own life, in the lives of Dad’s patients, and in the lives of infertile couples.

It can happen in your life, too.

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If you want to dig deeper into scripture, and into the stories of couples who’ve made this journey and agreed to share their first-hand accounts, I encourage you to read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.  You’ll find wisdom, comfort and hope.

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When the Church Fails

Rightly or wrongly, many of us view ministers/pastors/priests/clergy (whatever you want to call them) as an embodiment of the church.  We unconsciously expect them to exhibit a Christlikeness that the rest of us only aspire to, and to do so – especially to do so – when life is hard, when our faith falters, and when doubt whispers to us, “Don’t believe.”

We look to these men and women to model the obstacle-surmounting faith we want and need to survive the journey through infertility.

But sometimes, the church fails.

My husband had an experience yesterday that reminded us both that even the best, most respected ministers can fall far short of our expectations.  They can momentarily lose sight of God’s will and purpose — and their responsibility to inspire us to follow their example.  When they do, they can profoundly disappoint us.  In response, we’re tempted to turn our backs on what feels like a sham.  A pretense.  An every Sunday dog and pony show that’s actually make-believe.

Of course, Satan loves when church leaders fail.  When they refuse to acknowledge their own limitations, doubts, struggles, shortcomings or uncertainties.  Why?  Because he knows “God opposes the proud” – and it’s pride that keeps clergy from admitting their imperfections.  Whether it’s because they want to maintain a mystique or fulfill unspoken expectations, their unwillingness to admit that they don’t always know how to minister to us cripples their ministry – and sometimes, our faith.

Many infertile couples leave the church as a result.

But here’s the thing to understand:  even when the church – through its leaders and its congregants – fails to be compassionate, honest, transparent or accountable, God doesn’t fail.   He hasn’t.  And He won’t.

The truth is, only Christ can be fully Christlike.  Only He has ever walked in faith at all times, and through all circumstances.  The rest of us?  Feet of clay.  As Scripture declares,  “[We] all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We’re all imperfect – most especially, those of us who stand in the pulpit and preach Christlikeness while failing to walk the talk.

Is that hypocrisy frustrating for infertile couples?  You bet.  Alienating?  Definitely.  Unforgiveable?  No.  Why?  Because that’s the tension between who we all are and who God calls us to be.

It is journeys like the one through infertility that help us grow in faith — in the process, narrowing the gap between who we are and who we can be:  Stronger believers.  More humble, better equipped, growing in gratitude and increasingly ready to parent the children God has planned for us.

That’s one of infertility’s blessings-in-disguise.

So, remember:  Though the church may fail you, Christ never fails.  He has promised to comfort, strengthen, and guide you.  He has committed to pray for you, grieve with you, and give you hope.  He shows you through Scripture what is possible by faith in the God “through whom all things are possible.”  He never, ever fails.

Build your faith upon this rock.

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Struggling with, ‘Is Infertility My Fault?’

Six months ago, the LORD laid on my heart the need to write this.  You’ll know when you read it if God nudged me to re-run it for you….

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In the midst of infertility, uncertainty frequently begs the question, ”Why is this happening?  Why to us?  Why now?”  There is a deeper, much more painful question that many people struggle to avoid:  “Is this my fault?  Is this happening because of what I did?”  It is a worry laced with fear – and often, long-buried guilt.  It is virtually never voiced because the one who is desperate to know the answer is also desperately afraid to hear it.

When Angela and Sean tried to start a family, they encountered a series of unexpected hurdles.  “We thought — like everyone else — you get off birth control, wait six months and ‘boom’ you get pregnant,” remembers Angela.  “But I wound up in the ER with an ectopic pregnancy, then a cyst, then surgery for a closed tube, and then a miscarriage….”

Frustrated and worried about their lack of success, they tried to make sense of things.  Sean admits, “My first thought was, ‘Crap, we were on birth control for ten years.”

Angela’s fears went deeper:  “Maybe we weren’t letting God work in His way and that was why we had infertility.”  They tried IVF and failed.  “Maybe we didn’t let it happen naturally and so this was my punishment,” she reasoned.  She began seeking answers in terms of deserved consequences.  “I was asking myself, ‘What did I do wrong before marriage, or during marriage…?  Why is this happening?’”

She didn’t know it, but Sean was also finding fault in his past.  “I grew up Catholic, but when I was 16, I stopped going to church.  Now, I wasn’t praying.  I wasn’t reading the Bible.  We were going to church, but just going through the motions.”  Was God angry at Sean and Angela?  Was this His punishment?  Does He withhold children from those whose crimes are unforgiveable?  They wanted to know, but they couldn’t bring themselves to ask – even each other.

So, where can the answers be found?  And can they provide any peace?  Any reassurance that there is hope for those who’ve made choices or done things that might have angered God?

I have good news, and it starts with Rahab’s story….

When the Israelites headed toward the Promised Land, it was already inhabited by the Canaanites.  Scripture and archaeology reveal their culture was steeped in some of the most shocking, abominable practices imaginable – including incest, bestiality, institutionalized sexual abuse of women and child sacrifice [Leviticus 18:24-28].  In the midst of this depraved society lived a prostitute named Rahab.

Long story short, she knew the Israelites planned to invade Canaan, destroying everyone and everything, under strict instructions from God.  She agreed to help them take the city – in exchange for her life, and the lives of her parents and siblings.

Timeout. Look at Rahab.  She existed on the lowest rung of a sick society.  She had a family that could have provided for her; but apparently, she chose to pursue her profession with all its inherent risks.  Did her constant sexual activity produce children?  She never mentioned any when she negotiated for her life and that of her family.  So, either she disposed of whatever she conceived (abandonment? abortion? child sacrifice?), or she didn’t care enough to protect the lives she’d brought into the world; the invaders could slaughter them.

Does anything in that profile strike you as potentially offensive to God?  Inexcusable?  Unforgiveable?  Then you might want to hear the rest of her story….

She lied to protect the spies sent by the approaching invaders.  It was a traitorous act, committed to help people whose law called for a prostitute to be stoned.  But she chose to entrust herself to the God who had given that law, and to His people.  What became of her?

The whole city was invaded and burned, but she and her family were saved.  She accepted God’s offer of forgiveness for everything in her past.  Then, she married an Israelite who saw beyond that past – and together, they had a son.  Many years later, their great-great grandson, King David, was born.  And many generations after that, her descendant Jesus came into the world.

Does that sound like the story of a woman who got what she deserved?  Who suffered mightily because God was angry at the choices she’d made?  Not to me.  I see Rahab’s story as evidence of God’s incredible mercy.  He knows what’s in all hearts, He understands all motivations, and He stands ready to forgive all pasts – if we are willing to trust Him, act out of that trust, and receive the future He longs to give us.

Does that sound too good to be true?  Not to Sean and Angela, the proud parents of a boy and a girl.  It’s not too good for you, either. Receive God’s grace, and may the blessings begin to flow. 

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Renewing Hope After a Loss

Nick, a man who bravely shared his feelings about loss, kindly allowed me to quote him months ago when this post first ran.  He and his wife Anna have come a long way since then….

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Dear Abby recently published a letter from a woman whose daughter died:

“I am writing this not only for myself, but for all parents who have lost a child….  I know people mean well when they encourage me to get on with my life, but this is my life.”  Abby responded, “…the death of a child is the most devastating loss parents can suffer and the experience is life-changing.”

Abby’s right.  And that’s true whether the child you lose is twenty years old, as the letter writer’s daughter was, or just a few weeks in utero.  Sadly, Abby stopped there.  She offered compassion — but no words of hope — for the parent who is convinced her life can never know the kind of joy it did before her daughter died.

Can you ever find hope when the one who embodied your hope for the future dies?  Is there anything but grief to be felt when the highly-prized idea of life with a much-beloved child comes to a tragic end?

It depends on what you choose to believe.

Here’s what I mean….

After four years of infertility, Anna and Nick had finally conceived through IVF.  Then, Anna began bleeding a few weeks ago.  They lost the baby.  In a painfully honest blog post, Nick wrote, “What if I want to sink? What if I want just for a minute to revel in my grief, to wonder if I deserve it, to claim I saw it coming because nothing good should happen to me?”

Like the mother who wrote to Abby, Nick was tempted to believe that darkness had a claim on his spirit that was justifiable.  He felt the pull of that darkness and wondered if he deserved it.  Was this the future he should plan on, despite all they had hoped for?  Was this his destiny:  loss, grief, hopelessness?

He wrote, “Like Peter, I know that sooner or later I must stop looking at the waves and call out to Jesus – and Matthew 14:31 tells me His response:  ‘Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.’  I may not know why [we lost our baby], but I do know my Savior.”

That’s what Abby missed completely.

Sinking is never the end of your story if God is the author of that story.  Loss may be the beginning of the story, and grief may be the middle.  Despair may be the end of a particular chapter, but it is never the end of the story.  There is always hope because God always redeems.  That is who He is: our Redeemer.

He is also our Source of strength and our Comforter: “He will lead them to springs of living water; And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  He is full of compassion for the losses that take our breath away and leave us staggering.  Losses He knew were coming.  Losses that plunge us into a darkness that seems impenetrable, and in which we see no cause for hope.

Thankfully, God can see what and when we can’t. “Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.  He will bring me out in the light; and I will see his righteousness.”

Nick knows there is cause for hope even if he doesn’t feel hopeful.  His hope is not embodied in the baby they just miscarried, but in the God who creates and sustains life according to His purpose.

That same God tells us, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God.  I will strengthen and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

When we are sinking – overwhelmed by grief and unable to save ourselves – He will reach out to save us.  Jesus did it for Peter.  And I promise, God will do it for you.  When He does, don’t let go.

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When Infertility & Ministry Collide: One Couple’s Story

Has anyone ever told you that the Bible is full of good advice?  That it has all the answers?  How did that make you feel?

In my experience, infertile couples tend to feel patronized when someone sends them to the Bible for answers.  Why?  I think because it feels like a spiritual brush-off – like a feigned attempt to help, wrapped in an artificial piety.  And why is that?  Because virtually no one seems to know where to find practical advice for infertile couples in scripture.

And why is that?

Because no one – in the church, or outside it – seems to think that the spiritual questions that accompany infertility are much of a priority… unless they find themselves making the journey.  Then, it takes on a whole new urgency.

I don’t think that irony is lost on God.

Here’s why….

A man and his wife joined our support group several years ago.  They were five years into their quest to conceive.  Still, they hadn’t shared their secret with anyone:  the husband was a minister, and the minister was struggling with infertility.

Week after week, as they processed grief and tried to muster hope, he felt compelled to stand before his congregation preaching on God’s faithfulness.  The obligation he felt to preach something he wasn’t experiencing – and increasingly struggled to believe – transformed the pulpit into a crucible.

At his wife’s urging, he finally stepped aside, and they began driving an hour each way to participate in our Bible study.  Free to express the doubts and fears they’d bottled up for years, they asked:  “Why is this happening?  What are we supposed to do?  How do we change this?  What does God want from us?!”

Now, timeout.  Look at this situation.  A minister came to a group of struggling souls searching for answers.  He didn’t have them.  He couldn’t find them in the Bible.  He felt as lost as they were.  But, he had the good sense (finally!) to ask for help.

Here’s the good news:  he and his wife both found answers, help and hope.  They rediscovered the power of God’s promise, “I am with you always.” And their spiritual lives began to show signs of new life.

One day, soon after the class ended, the wife called me.  She said that the weeks spent in our group had helped them find the peace that had been so elusive for so long.  They’d discovered that they were comfortable considering adoption – for the first time.  They’d completed a profile and, almost immediately, gotten a call.  Twins!  Due to be born in a week!

She started to cry.  “All along we were praying for twins, but we never told anyone.  No one knew… but God knew.  When we got that call, and they said ‘twins,’ we knew He was telling us He’d heard our prayers.”

Why did I share this story?  To say that ministers don’t have all the answers?  That the Bible can seem dense and confusing?  That it’s hard to know where to find actionable advice in scripture, especially in the midst of high-stress  infertility?

Yes.

And to say, it’s okay not to know all the answers.  Even if you’re a minister.  It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, hurt, confused and resentful.  It’s okay to express those feelings honestly and to get help dealing with them.  And yes, it’s okay to admit that infertility is crippling your spiritual life.  God won’t be angry.  Instead, He’ll step into your story.

Not sure where to find good advice in the Bible?  Your minister might not know either.  But you can make this journey together.  If you do, I think you’ll both learn a lot about the goodness of God.

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Equip your minister to help you and other infertile couples.  Pass on a copy of Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples or a link to this blog.

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