Tag Archives: God

Sisters in the Struggle — Sharing Hope

It’s so easy to feel isolated and alone when you’re struggling through infertility.  Somehow, it helps to know that other women (and men) are struggling, too.  The community that’s built through sharing stories is invaluable — which is why I consistently urge you to set aside secrecy in favor of finding others who understand.

Of course, understanding doesn’t always translate into the kind of support or sympathy you need in the moment (that’s what inspired my last post), but it’s worth the risk.  As one reader commented,

“As one who has been through many trials, it is so much better doing it transparently. There will always be those who look at you with pity, but there will also be those who LOVE you and know you just need a shoulder to cry on and a hand to hold.”

Yesterday, I discovered that hundreds of SingaporeMotherhood.com readers made their way to this blog in search of community and understanding.  They were following a link in a chatroom post that read, in part…

“Dear sisters, I am touched by the care which you have rendered to support one another.  I have been married for 12 years and am dying to have a baby of my own.  I have been praying to God to answer my prayer, and in the midst of searching for God’s voice, I chanced upon this blog last night. As I was reading it, my emotions were greatly stirred! I felt a strong urge to share this blog with sisters who have been through a tough, roller coaster ride in their hope of becoming parents.”

It is both thrilling and humbling to know that my blog posts can inspire people struggling through infertility half a world away.  The Lord knows the glory is His.  But here’s what was most exciting to me….

In 2010, the fertility rate in Singapore was the third-lowest in the world.  That makes for lots of community if you want a baby but can’t seem to conceive and bring one to term.  The problem is not quality of care.  Singapore has the lowest infant mortality rate in the world.  So, what’s the problem?

And, at least as important, when those statistics define your experience, where do you turn for help and hope?

In a country where the predominant religion is Buddhism, one woman had the courage to say to others, “I found hope.  There is hope in Christ.  And you can read more about it at PregnantWithHope….”

That is God’s incredible grace.  He plants a seed of hope, meeting one need, and it generates a great harvest.  One woman in Singapore found hope – and she risked sharing it with others hungry for the same kind of hope.  One online forum post led to almost 200 new readers for this blog.  That’s the awesome goodness of God in action.

So, are you feeling alone?  Can’t find community?  Don’t worry.  God can.  He’ll lead you to it, and then use you to guide others there.  All so He can give you the love, compassion, mercy and grace you need to make the journey through infertility to parenthood – and the future He’d always planned for you.

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There is Nothing Wrong with Hope

In his book, Love, Medicine & Miracles, Dr. Bernie Siegel writes, “In the face of uncertainty, there is nothing wrong with hope.”  How often has your infertility specialist said that to you?  How about your family or friends?  There is something in Siegel’s unconditional assertion – “there is nothing wrong with hope” – that implies a confidence infertile couples often crave, but do not feel.

Dr. Siegel, a cancer surgeon, discovered years ago that a subset of those patients who came to him for help were able to live lives of meaning and purpose in the midst of uncertainty.  These “exceptional patients,” as he called them, experienced something during their journey that they shared repeatedly with him:  attitude is everything.  As they explained, the belief(s) that guide your thoughts will determine the quality of the life you live.

The same is true of the infertility journey.

Couples who learn to trust God’s plan, release their grip on (the illusion of) control, and lean into believing that there is a purpose in their struggle, invariably go on to become parents.  Some by conception.  Some by adoption.  A few by foster parenthood.  But all of them get there.  I have yet to see a couple give their dream to God and forever remain a twosome.  It’s a matter of how – not If.  A question of when – not Whether.

“… There is nothing wrong with hope.”  Siegel’s words are a great reminder that there is no great risk in hoping that God is faithful.  Hoping that His promises hold true for ALL believers.  Hoping that He will elect to bless those who trust Him – His purpose, His plan, His timing.  There is nothing wrong with hope!  It is not irrational. It is not delusional.  It is not unfounded.

It is faith.

And we have been called to walk by faith, and not by sight.  We have been taught to trust a God we cannot see, but who hears our prayers, knows our thoughts, and shares in our suffering.  It is this God who alone is able to realize our deep desire to become parents.  It is His will that makes it possible.  And when we are in the flow of His will, “there is nothing wrong with hope.”

I know several couples who will be finding out in the next few days whether their recent IVF’s have resulted in Christmas conceptions.  I hope that they have.  But even more, I hope that the God who knows their hearts, feels their longing, and intends to bless the seed of hope He has already planted will give these couples nothing less than His very best.  ‘

I know from experience — it’s worth waiting for.

Emmanuel.  God with us.  There is cause for hope.

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Transition Time

I’ve spent the last several weeks — maybe longer — trying to get a clear answer from God about whether to keep investing the time and effort required to write posts for this blog three times a week.  I realize it takes only a minute or two to read a post of mine.  But typically, it takes 2-3 hours to write one that will be worth reading.  That’s because I take this commitment very seriously.  If I’m going to talk to you in the midst of a journey as emotionally-charged and completely exhausting as infertility, I don’t want to waste your time.

You may be tempted to laugh when I tell you I haven’t been able to get an answer.  Sound familiar?  I’ve written quite a few posts on the silence of God.  Now, I guess, it’s time to remember my own advice.

I tried waiting.  That didn’t get a response.  Then, I waited some more.  Still nothing.  I tried asking for a sign.  No sign came.  I tried consulting people I think of as spiritual mentors.  Conflicting advice left me running in circles.  Finally, I consulted my friendly neighborhood psychiatrist (aka my husband).  His wise words did me a lot of good.  He said simply, “Maybe God’s letting you decide.”

Wow.  God trusts me to make a good decision?

All right then.  Here goes….

I’ve decided that writing 3x/week if I have nothing to say is pointless.  Forcing a message is the equivalent of expecting you listen to ME — because if I’m working hard to come up with something new to say, the Holy Spirit isn’t speaking through me (Trust me, I can tell my voice from His).

It may be that I’ve told you everything I’ve ever understood about how God works through infertility.  Or, maybe it’s time for me to spend a season at the feet of the One who loves to reveal Himself, so that I can bring you something new when I understand it more fully.

In any case, I’m making no promises about when or how often I’ll post from now on.  But, that doesn’t mean you can’t find help or hope!  There are literally hundreds of posts here for you to read.  Search them by categories or tags to meet a specific need, or just start reading and work your way forwards or backwards.  Print out whatever’s helpful — be it an entire post or a particular phrase — and keep that on your bedside table, share it with your doctor, or pass it on to a friend who’s making the same journey.

This blog is for you.  This library of promises and insights is a gift of the Spirit, who is with you always.  Use it to give you strength, courage, and cause for hope.

blessings always,

Susan

p.s.  If you haven’t already read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples, it will walk you through ten stages of the infertility journey — from hopeless despair to peace-full anticipation.   It will also allow you to hear ten couples’ first-hand narratives about their own passage through heartache to joy.  Read it, and find the inspiration to keep believing in the God who never fails those who trust Him.

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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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Community Benefits Infertile Couples

Harvard Medical School recently completed a study indicating that a woman’s chances of conceiving improve by more than 50% with involvement in an infertility support group.

That would seem to simplify the decision process – should I/we join a group? – fairly substantially. But the truth is, pride and a longing for privacy can be hard hurdles to clear. Even if Harvard’s right, are those increased odds going to be enough to alter the outcome of your story? And if not, is the public exposure of your private struggle worth the downside risk?

Author Barbara Brown Taylor thinks so, and her reasons are worth considering. In her new book, An Altar in the World, she writes, “At the very least, most of us need someone to tell our stories to. At a deeper level, most of us need someone to help us forget ourselves … [because] the main impediment to living a life of meaning is being self-absorbed.”

Anyone who’s experienced infertility can tell you that self-absorption is par for the course.

It’s human nature to be self-absorbed. We’re all  inclined to see ourselves as the stars of our own story – and everyone else as the supporting actors, bit part players and non-essential walk-ons. Social media like YouTube and Twitter reinforce that perception with their subliminal message: “It’s all about you.”

When infertility strikes, our story takes such a dramatic turn, we become hyper-aware of the spotlight. Anticipating social scrutiny, we instinctively seek privacy (or, at least, internet anonymity). We don’t want  our “audience” to see anything other than our success; this uncertainty feeds our fear of failure. We want applause, not pity or patronizing advice; this vulnerability fuels our desire for secrecy.

Ultimately, we want the public perception of us to match our highly-prized self-image. We are successes, not failures. We are good people destined to become great parents… aren’t we? Afraid to expose our feelings honestly, we struggle alone — doing all we can to hide the truth of our long, difficult journey.

Taylor makes clear that there is a better way:  seeking to share our true selves with others who are also struggling. “Encountering another human being is as close to God as I may ever get – in the eye-to-eye thing, the person-to-person thing – which is where God’s Beloved has promised to show up.” In other words, if we are to find God in the midst of this journey, it may well be through others making the same journey.

“Paradoxically,” she continues, “the point is not to see Him. The point is to see the person standing right in front of me whose heart holds things for which there is no language, whose life is an unsolved mystery.” Can we set aside our own struggles long enough to be fully present for someone else? Someone who also needs to sense God’s presence — through us?

If we are to benefit from community, we must. Otherwise “the moment I turn that person into a character in my own story, the encounter is over. I have stopped being a human being and have become a fiction writer instead.”

There’s the valuable insight.

Community gives us an opportunity to share our stories and be heard. It also requires us to set aside our tendency to think of everything in terms of our selves. Rather than being fiction writers, we can offer the very real gifts of presence, compassionate listening, and sincere support. If we do, an infertility support community will not only increase our odds of conceiving, it will enable us to help others increase theirs, too.

All in the presence of God.

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Surviving a “Tsunami”

Sometimes, it’s hard for self-reliant women to admit their limitations — especially if they think they’re addressing them successfully. It can take a true tsunami event to knock them off their feet and force them to cry out for the help they need.

That’s what happened to Cindy.

Five and a half years ago, she and her husband began trying to conceive. The only sign of hope was a single chemical pregnancy. At 35, Cindy knew they couldn’t wait indefinitely. They needed to find a fertility specialist. So, they got a referral and met with their new doctor right away.

Meanwhile, Cindy realized she was going to need support. Her escalating stress level would not help their relationship or contribute to their success conceiving. She found three sources of support:  one clinical, one peer/social, and one spiritual.

Her clinical support came from a therapist recommended by her RE. In the therapist’s office, Cindy noticed a RESOLVE newsletter; a few months later, she sought out their local support group. And through RESOLVE, she heard about a prayer group for infertile women and began participating. She thought her proactive response to her circumstances would be more than enough to counter the ups and downs of the infertility journey.

But, she was wrong.

At lunch with a friend, hoping to confirm a pregnancy very soon, she suddenly began bleeding. “I wanted to crawl under the covers and cry all afternoon,” she recalls. She rushed home. Instead of finding quiet and privacy, she got more bad news from her husband, “Your cousin Casey just died from an overdose.”

That’s when the tsunami hit. It was a tidal wave of grief beyond anything she’d ever experienced. She lost it completely. Frightened by her reaction and unsure how to help, Scott called the therapist in a panic. What could he say to help her? What should he do?

As the therapist was advising Scott, Cindy had realized she couldn’t take any more. “That’s when I knew I had to give it to God. I told Him, ‘I can’t do this on my own. I need you to take over!”

Cindy looks back on that moment as a critical turning point.

Now the mother of a little girl and pregnant with twins, she says, “IVF worked for us, but I know it doesn’t work for everyone. The thing I’ve realized is that, even though it can last for years, infertility is ultimately a temporary situation. It’s not the final word. I know people who are using donor eggs, donor sperm, surrogates…. I know people who are adopting. There are so many ways to become a family.”

How did Cindy’s tsunami moment change her perspective? “My faith in God was renewed. I asked Him to take the wheel and be the pilot, and He did. I promised that, at some point, I’d help other people through the emotional aspects of this. I’ve kept that promise and led a peer group through RESOLVE for two years now. I preach to everybody. I tell them, “There is a light at the end of the tunnel. There will be a happy ending for you!’ And I believe it.”

What did infertility teach her about relating to other women struggling through infertility? “First of all, we have an instant bond because even though no two stories are alike, the struggle to become a parent is the same. Infertility has also taught me to hold my tongue when I can’t relate to someone else’s struggle. I just say, ‘I’m sorry you’re going through that.’ And, it’s helped me find a voice I didn’t know I had.  I’m not political by any means, but I was asked to speak about IVF rights at the state capitol. That’s an important legacy for my children. One day, I’ll tell them, “I fought for you twins to be born, and (to my oldest) for your right to be a big sister.”

Having survived her own “tsunami,” what advice does Cindy have to offer? “Remember that God is at the wheel and you are in good hands. And remember that you are not alone as long as you seek support from others going through the journey.”

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For more information about RESOLVE and peer-led support groups, please visit www.resolve.org.

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Coaching Infertile Couples

What does a fertility coach do?  Who uses one, and why?  Even if you don’t have — or want one — can you learn anything valuable from one?

Meet Anya Sizer, a fertility coach for three years and, as of yesterday, the Fertility Support Coordinator for London Women’s Clinic.  Her role is “to help couples look for ways through The Maze,” and to help them maintain their equilibrium in the process.

If you were considering working with her, and were meeting her for the first time, she’d start by sharing her story.  “Infertility was one of the toughest battles of my life,” she says.  “I really struggled in every way.”  Now the mother of two children conceived through IVF, she is certain “God is the one who got me through my struggles — and now, He’s put me in the position of being able to help others.”

As an infertility “alumna” with life coach training, she brings both compassion and empowering wisdom to each unique relationship.  Because of her experience — both personal and professional — “I’m in a good position to support others,” she says.

The role she plays in each couple’s infertility journey is rooted in scripture:  “I believe we should comfort others with the comfort we received.”  That pay-it-forward mentality derives from II Corinthians 1: 3-4, but Anya doesn’t necessarily say so to her clients.  “My faith is completely essential to every area of my life, and my work is simply a part of that.”

Anya’s primary role is to help couples look at the big picture.  “Together, we look at what is needed, what will help, how to build a strong support team, and what unique resources they can bring to the situation.”

Ultimately, her goal is to equip couples to deal with infertility in healthy ways that respect the participants, their relationship, and the need for emotional and psychological balance throughout the journey.  Personal experience has taught her that’s easier said than done.

“One client decided some very negative things about herself and her body after failed IVF cycles.  She was thinking it was all over… that her body was faulty.  We looked at the truth, rather than the emotions.  Ultimately, she decided to carry on with treatment, but far more importantly, she stopped berating herself and her body for not doing better.”

What messages does Anya hope every infertile couple will internalize?  “That God loves you and hasn’t forgotten you.  That it’s okay to feel angry, sad, frustrated, and everything in between.  That God is big enough to deal with that.  That you can keep going.  That you’ve got to get support, and that you are NOT alone.”

How does she communicate those messages?   By embodying compassion, modeling grace, and encouraging forgiveness (of partners, and of selves).  She guides couples through the infertility journey in God-honoring ways, whether she mentions God or not.  “Ninety percent of my clients aren’t Christians,” she explains, “but I know God still cares and loves them.”

What’s the most satisfying part of her work?  “I worked with one client for about two years,” she recalls.  “She faced such a huge battle… and yet she fought on, and now she has a beautiful little girl.  After her daughter was born, she invited me to meet this little miracle.”

How was that moment?

“Amazing.”

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

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