Tag Archives: infertile couples

Worth the Journey

My husband pointed out something interesting in scripture yesterday, and I realized there’s a parallel in the infertility journey.

As the Israelites were heading toward the Jordan River and into the Promised Land, Moses reminded them that there would be specific geographic boundaries for this new homeland.  It would be bordered by certain rivers, seas, gorges and hill country.  It wouldn’t be just anywhere — someplace they’d call good enough.  “Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon,” he told them, “and from the Euphrates River to the western sea. “

What’s so interesting about that?

God’s people were being led to a specific destination, a particular future chosen for them by the God who’d planned and overseen every step of their journey.

How is that like the infertility journey?

You may not feel as if you’re headed anywhere specific.  You may not sense yourself making forward progress at all.  But there is a precise destination, already seen clearly by the God who guides your steps, out there on your life’s horizon.  Of course, you can choose to quit traveling any time.  You can choose to pitch a tent at any point on your journey and announce, “I’ve had it.  This is it for me.  I’m stopping here.”

But, that’s not where God’s leading you.  And His very best won’t be waiting there.

In fact, if you choose a stopping point outside the parameters of His perfect will for you, you may end up settling somewhere that was never meant to be your future.  Of couse, God won’t stop you from making a life for yourself there.  Some of the Israelites chose not to cross the Jordan – even though they were a stone’s throw from their promised future.  Just like them, you have free will.  So, it’s your choice.  But, He’s definitely leading you to a very specific destination.  A very best future.

Moses told God’s people, “… the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.”  It was their destination.  He wanted to remind the weary travelers that their journey would end in abundant blessings – but only if they followed God’s lead and made a life for themselves within the boundaries of His perfect plan.

The same holds true for you.

This journey may be nothing like what you expected.  It may seem as if you’ve been wandering in the wilderness, searching for the future you thought God had planned for you, forever.  It may seem as if you’re further and further from the dream that your heart has clung to — as if it’s past time to take charge of this endless journey and bring it to a close.  You can… but I hope you won’t.

You are not lost to God.  He has been guiding your steps all along, leading you toward the future He planned for you.  Don’t insist on following your preconceived ideas about how long this should take, or which route will get you where you want to go.  Trust that God knows what He’s doing – and why – and that He’s working in and through your circumstances, even now.

Don’t let impatience keep you from His very best for you.  The Promised Land of parenthood is not as far off as you think.  More importantly, the Lord knows exactly where it is — and exactly when you’ll get there.   Trust Him enough to keep pressing on, anticipating the joy of reaching the destination He’s always had in mind for you.

When you reach your Promised Land — when years’ worth of effort, and countless hours worth of worry, finally come to an end — you will know it was worth trusting God’s perfect plan.

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For more encouragement and cause for hope, read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.  Click this link to order a copy today.

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The Best Defense…

It doesn’t happen often, but when someone willfully violates my boundaries and I am struggling to respond constructively (or just to hold my ground), it takes a heavy toll on me – and my body pays the price.

I’ve learned recently that many of us absorb our feelings deep into our bodies.  Rather than resolving issues that may require us to confront people we’d love to avoid, we push the hurt down, away from our thoughts to a place deep in our spirits, and we tell ourselves that we’re handling it well.

But we’re not.

A book I’m reading now makes clear that our health (and fertility) is profoundly affected by our thoughts and feelings.  When we feel helpless and hopeless – or when we push our emotions so far from our consciousness, we can’t even say what we feel – negative physical consequences often result.

How?  Research has shown that anxious, worried, stressed, frustrated, anguished, hostile thoughts and feelings have the power to alter our immune systems, making it hard to fight off sickness.  They can undermine our sleep, making it harder to recover through rest.  They can affect our concentration, making it difficult to think clearly and make good choices.  And much, much more.

Bottom line, they can become the enemy within.

Literally.

That was the epiphany for me.

I’ve realized that when I allow negative thoughts and feelings to dwell in my spirit, I open the door to all sorts of bad consequences.  The chain reaction starts off simply enough.  My skin breaks out, or my shoulders ache.  I narrowly avoid an accident or somehow provoke an argument because I’m tired and distracted.  I’m not hungry, so I don’t eat.  Without the energy to exercise, I skimp on that, too.  Soon, good self-care falls by the wayside.  And before you know it, I look bad and I feel worse.

Without realizing it, my dark mood – and all the negative thoughts and feelings it procreates — propels me toward poor choices that reinforce my sense that everything’s coming against me.  It becomes self-fulfilling:  Bad leads to worse, and worse, and even worse….  Then, someone says, “Are you sick?  You don’t look good.”  The vicious cycle accelerates and within hours – or even minutes — my perception is altered without my realizing it and it affects my ability to see things clearly.

An emotional death spiral begins – and soon, it becomes a spiritual one, too.  God feels very far away.

Sound at all familiar?

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The enemy is always seeking a stronghold in our spirits – a place of anger, fear or self-pity that will enable him to set up camp and attack us from within.  It is an opportunistic assault launched when we feel vulnerable (helpless, hopeless) and alone.

We opened the door.  And we can close it.

How?  By asking God to fight our battles.

That’s what I did recently.  I affirmed my right to healthy boundaries, backed away from the person who set off my downward spiral, and asked the Lord to work in his spirit – to convinct him, show him the damage he’d done, and free me from the burden of either defending myself or engaging in an unwelcome “battle” over whether he did me wrong.

I’m confident my body will thank me… as soon as my hands stop shaking.

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Filed under Battles, Peace, Perspective, Speaking Up

It’s a Blessing…

Once couples who’ve battled infertility reach the goal of parenthood – whether by conception or adoption – it’s tempting for retroactive amnesia to take hold.  Who wants to remember the heartache of the journey?  Why would anyone hold on to memories of loss, grief and suffering?  After all, given the time, money and effort it took to become a family, why do anything but enjoy it?

Because it’s not just about you.

Everything God does has a purpose.  Every difficulty He allows into your life is for a reason.  And very often, His reason extends beyond the impact of this journey on you and your faith life.  He also intends to use your experience, and its life-changing effect on you, to bless others.

As scripture says…

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

The temptation to focus on a hope-filled future, while intentionally forgetting the faith-challenging past, is just that:  a temptation.  It is a common one, a completely understandable one, and one you should resist.

Why?

Because part of our calling is to be the body of Christ for one another.  “…To comfort those in trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive.”  The infertility journey doesn’t end with parenthood.  Instead, we graduate to the next stage of the journey – one in which God calls us to set aside our former need for privacy (secrecy?) and openly witness to God’s goodness and faithfulness in order to give hope to those making the journey behind us.

Kristi and her husband, Carlos, kept his male factor infertility a secret from their family and friends.  But they confided in me, asking that I pray for their decision-making process, and for peace in the midst of uncertainty about the outcome of their journey.  [For more on their story, click this link].

Recently, Kristi got a call from a close friend who confessed that she and her husband were struggling with infertility.  In a split second, Kristi had a decision to make:  should she protect her privacy and the perception of an effortless conception, or should she share her story?  Kristi felt God nudging her to tell the truth.  She did.  She also talked about Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples, and about this blog.  “It was a spiritual lifeline for me,” she assured her friend.

Kristi’s friend hung up, immediately ordered a copy of the book and went online to read recent posts.  She called Kristi back in less than thirty minutes, and “we cried together over how good God is, and how everything happens in His perfect timing.”

Kristi shared this story with me so I would know how much the book and blog helped her — and by extension, her friend.  I pointed out that Kristi’s now taken on the role I played during her journey — of comforter, encourager, faithful witness, and Spirit-filled friend.

You can do that, too.

Do you know someone who’s struggling to find hope in the midst of the infertility journey?  If you’ve become a parent, share your story.  If you’re still making your own journey, it’s not too soon to help someone else.  Pass on your copy of Pregnant With Hope.  Send a link to this blog with a verse of comfort.  Risk exposing your need for God’s help and allow Him to use you to deliver a message of hope.

You will experience the joy that proves the axiom “It is a blessing to be a blessing.”

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Searching for Answers: Male Factor Infertility

A woman wrote to me recently asking for scripture-based wisdom on dealing with male factor infertility.

Expressing both frustration and anxiety about the lack of answers, information and guidance for Christian couples facing this problem, she said, “There is no [Bible-based] paradigm to study.  As far as I can remember, every case of infertility other than Elisabeth’s and Zechariah’s shows evidence of originating with the woman.  Male factor infertility spawns a set of questions quite different from ‘ordinary’ female infertility.

“For example:  Does God not acknowledge my infertility because it is my husband’s ‘problem’?  What solace can I take from Scripture since my circumstance is not mentioned?  How can I get the help I need when doctors keep putting us through IVF cycles without proper diagnosis beforehand?  How do verses such as ‘He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children’ pertain when I am not, in fact, ‘barren’?  And how should a fertile woman married to an infertile man curb herself so that she does not unintentionally undermine his masculinity?”

That’s a lot of questions, but Christ has promised, “Seek and ye shall find.”  So, let’s try to tackle them one at a time….

1) Where can I look for a Bible-based paradigm?  It depends on what constitutes a paradigm for you.  Are you looking for the story of a man accurately diagnosed as having male factor infertility who goes on to father a child after God intervenes?  That story is not in scripture.  There are, however, several stories of childless men becoming fathers extremely late in life (when, we can safely assume, infertility was statistically likely).

Recent research shows that volume, motility and structure of sperm all decline with age; meanwhile the odds of fathering a baby with Down syndrome or schizophrenia increase dramatically.  So, overlay that state-of-the-art medical knowledge onto Bible stories of late life fatherhood, and a paradigm does begin to emerge…

Statistics don’t matter when God is fulfilling a promise.  His purpose and timing supersede all universal “laws” as we understand them.  No doctor ever has the final word.  Only God does.

2) Does God not acknowledge my infertility because it is my husband’s problem?  Of course He does!  We are told, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  Therefore, infertility is not “his” problem; it is your burden to share.  It is a challenge God has allowed you to face – together — which, like all things, will lead to His best for you if you trust and obey Him.  That is what scripture teaches.

So, pray for your husband, and ask him to pray for you – very specifically naming your respective needs:  patience, endurance, longsuffering, joy, insight, perseverance, trust, peace, hope, etc.  Work together to prevent “his” problem — and the many challenges of the infertility journey — from driving a wedge into your relationship, and threatening to separate the “two become one.”  This proactive response to your struggle will strengthen your partnership in anticipation of the child God has in mind for you.

3) What solace can I take from scripture since my circumstance is not mentioned?  Plenty.  For example, this morning, I happened to be reading Isaiah 37-38.  In it, Isaiah describes two key events during Hezekiah’s reign.  In both of them, this God-honoring king found himself humbled by (feelings of) impotence in the face of circumstances beyond his control.

In both cases, he turned humbly to God, praying for Him to “hear… see… listen… remember…” and honor Hezekiah’s faith and trust with divine intervention.

In both cases, God did the impossible; He wiped out the enemy and blessed Hezekiah in the process.  The same can happen for us when we honor God, acknowledge our limitations, and turn to Him for help and hope.

4) How can I get the help I need when doctors keep putting us through IVF cycles without proper diagnosis beforehand?  As a doctor’s kid and a doctor’s wife, I’d say, “Start by saying, ‘No.'”  No, I will not undergo a procedure that is not preceded by a clear understanding of the problem.  No, I will not spend money on doctors who do not respond energetically to my need for help/answers/information.  And no, I will not blame others for my feelings of powerlessness if/when I fail to take responsibility for my choices.

Beyond that, I’d look to God for discernment.  Ask Him to keep His promises – to comfort you, to guide your steps, and to show you the way.  He has promised to draw near to you when you draw near to Him… so draw near, and ask Him to help you in ways that will further His will for you (which is His best).

5) How do verses such as ‘He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children’ pertain when I am not, in fact, ‘barren’?  In the most literal sense, this verse is not speaking to you if you’re not barren (meaning unable to conceive due to female infertility).  However, this verse does pertain to your circumstances in the following ways:  (1) It demonstrates God’s concern for the infertile, and (2) It demonstrates God’s willingness and ability to make possible what seems impossible to those who face infertility.

If you’d like to spend more time digging into this verse and its meaning for infertile couples, read this post.

6) How should a fertile woman married to an infertile man avoid unintentionally undermining his masculinity?  Great question, and one that is virtually never discussed publicly.  Why?  According to Peter Schlegel MD, Urologist-in-chief at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/ Weill Cornell Medical Center and president of the Society for Male Reproduction and Urology, “The role of the male in infertility has been grossly overlooked by lay[people] and professionals alike.”  Ditto for the pulpit.

No one EVER talks openly about male infertility… except when they feel safe.  That’s the purpose of PregnantWithHope groups.  They provide a haven for couples to share their struggles, fears and concerns openly – without fear of ridicule, criticism or emasculating pity.

Is it difficult for you or your husband to find a PregnantWithHope group near you?  You could start one (find information on How To at PregnantWithHope.com).  Or, you could have your support group of two, using Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples as your resource and discussion guide.  The book walks infertile couples through ten stages of the journey, and also gives readers a chance to “meet” ten couples who made the same journey and are now parents.  Their stories could give you great insight into how spouses can help one another, as well as how important it is to give grace when we fail to meet each other’s needs.

Does that help?  I know it doesn’t answer every question she had completely.  Nor, I’ll bet, does this post answer every question of yours.  Is there something specific you’d like me to address or explore further?  Email me at susan@pregnantwithhope.com and I’ll do my best to offer you cause for hope rooted in God’s word.

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Don’t Be Fooled…

Today, it may look like infertility is a permanent road block preventing you from ever reaching your desired destination.  It may seem as if every prayer you pray goes unanswered, God is silent, and all the news is bad.  It may feel like no one cares, there is no cause for hope, and all is lost.

But that is an illusion.  A false perception.   A lie.

In Hebrew the name Satan translates “the deceiver.”   In scripture, he is also called “the father of lies,” and it’s for a reason.  He specializes in whispering disheartening words.  Convincing you that every closed door is a sign of failure.  Every difficulty a prelude to defeat.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Life in Christ does not mean immunity from difficulties, but it offers peace in difficulties.  It doesn’t mean that victory is always visible, but it is always God’s plan.  One day, you will look back and see the wisdom of God’s ‘no’ at each fork in the road that would have led you away from His best.  You will see that His goodness led you to where you are now.  And you will thank Him for every time He said, ‘I love you way too much to answer that prayer.’

But how do you get from Now to Then?  To that moment when it’s clear that God is good and all is well?

First, realize that infertility is not happening to you, it’s happening for you.  Whatever the Enemy may tempt you to believe, the truth is that God has a purpose for your infertility journey.  There is a reason you are walking this path toward your future.  God intends to strengthen your faith, to demonstrate His faithfulness, and to mature you into the steward He intends you to be for the child who is coming.

The Bible says that:

“’No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.  This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,’ declares the LORD.”

Another translation concludes, “’…I’ll see to it that everything works out for the best,’ says the LORD.”  That means, if you trust God, you don’t need to worry.  In fact, you should thank Him for everything — even apparent trials and hardships.  Why?  Because what looks like opposition leads to opportunity.  What seems like difficulty strengthens determination.  What feels like a battle is actually a blessing.

Appearances are deceiving.

So where should you focus?  On what you see?  Think?  Feel?  Or, on what you know to be the truth from the God who keeps His promises?

Let God direct your steps.  He knows what He is doing.  Get in agreement with Him and nothing can stop your destiny – so long as you continue to step out in faith, rather than fear.  So long as appearances don’t deceive you into thinking you’re already defeated, and get you to give up before you get to where God’s leading.

The key to seeing past the illusion of predestined failure to the blessing that awaits is to stay in faith.  Tell God, “I may not understand this plan, and I may not like what I see or think or feel, but I will trust you.  I will believe that the promise ‘all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose’ is for me – and the child you have chosen to come into the life of this family.”

Pray those words as often as you need them.  Put them on your bathroom mirror.  Tape them to your dashboard.  Tack them on your cubicle wall.  Keep God’s promises in front of you, put the lies of the deceiver behind you, and walk confidently into the future God has planned for you.

It’s waiting.

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Prayers That Work

What do you do make of the verse “The prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective” when you’re seeing nothing but failure?  Does it mean you’re not in good standing with God?  That you’re unrighteous, and so your prayers are destined to be powerless?

I wrestled with this mightily when we were trying to conceive.  At the time, no one had the courage to confront the question with me, and the result was a lot of suffering and guilt.

I got an email this week from a woman requesting prayer.  She and her husband are about to start IVF – following six failed IUI’s and a miscarriage at 16 weeks.  She has prayed for a baby throughout her journey, but she sees no evidence that God is listening.  What does that mean — especially in the context of the promise, “The prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective”?

The answer is in the first infertility story in scripture, found in Genesis 15.  God promised a very elderly Abram “A son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.”  Despite any guarantee that this promise would be kept, the Bible says, “Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.”

Even though he knew the fertility statistic — not many wives conceive in their 80’s, Abram chose to believe God.  And God knew it.  The decision to trust God, despite what Abram knew about the present and expected in the future, delighted God – and God declared him righteous, by faith.

Not by action.

Soon afterwards, Abram decided to father a child with his wife’s maidservant.  As best we can tell, it was Sarai’s suggestion – but Abram went along with the plan because he, too, wanted a child.  Impatient to get the show on the road, they took matters into their own hands rather than waiting for God… and they gave birth to a mess of ruined relationships, resentment and hostility.

Not very righteous action.  Pretty profoundly lacking in trust.

But, that’s not the end of the story.  In the end, God’s grace led Him to forgive their impulsive decision to play God.  Once they made peace with the consequences of their actions and humbly accepted their failure to be God, He blessed them with a son – conceived by Sarah, against all odds.

What am I saying?  We’re all tempted to play God when we’re faced with infertility and the urgent need to conceive.  We may not take things into our own hands quite the way Abram and his wife did, but we understand the temptation to hurry things along when we don’t see evidence that God is at work.

Thankfully, God’s ready to forgive us, too.

If we choose to trust Him, then even if our actions sometimes betray our desire to believe, He is full of grace.  He declares us righteous by faith, not by perfect choices.  And, as the Bible promises, “The prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective.”

You’ll see.

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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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