Tag Archives: surrogacy

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 Story Most People Never Share

Have you ever lost a pregnancy?  How did you ever recover?  Did you ever feel hope again?”

Sadly, despite the frequency of miscarriages, there is virtually no public discussion about them.  When you lose a baby, there is so much you want to know… but who can you ask?  Who is willing to be that open and honest?  That patient with deeply painful questions?  And who cares enough about you to see past the fact of your loss to all the fears and feelings behind it – and your need for help and hope?

Meet Amy & Trey.  They tell the story of their infertility journey in Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples.  Here, they answer a few of the questions a miscarriage makes you wish you could ask:

Q:  Have you ever lost a pregnancy?

Amy:  “I had three miscarriages and two failed IVF cycles before conceiving triplets. Then, I started bleeding and we found out I’d lost two of the three.  But we still had “Baby B” holding on tightly.  It was a very rough pregnancy with lots of scares and bleeding along the way.  At 19½ weeks, my water broke and we were forced to deliver the baby, knowing that it would not survive.  We went to the hospital and delivered a little baby boy.”

Q:  How did you ever recover?

Amy:  “We didn’t have any friends who had gone through anything like this, but the [Pregnant With Hope] class introduced us to people going through similar circumstances.  You want to compare stories and almost – as bad as it sounds – sometimes misery loves company, you know?  Instead of being at a baby shower with all my friends who were experiencing blissful happiness while I had a fake smile, I could talk to people who understood what I was going through.  It was a room full of unconditional love and support.”

Trey:  “When we went to the first class, we went around the room and everyone told their story.  Amy and I were craving other people’s stories.  I didn’t have any friends who’d ever opened up about infertility, so I didn’t have anyone to talk to.  It was so refreshing to be led by someone who had been through it.  We immediately knew that this was genuine.  And it was encouraging to talk to someone who had gotten to the other side of it.”

Q:  Did you ever feel hope again?

Amy:  “We did, but it would have been a lot easier if God had told me, ‘Hold on tight for three years, because the baby’s coming!’  It was the not knowing that was crushing – the starting over with no idea when it would happen.  I needed to know that God had a plan and that a baby was supposed to be ours.  To be able to hold on to that hope, we needed to focus on God’s faithfulness and on scripture.  That’s where the messages of the class really helped.”

T:  “It was helpful to talk about ‘Where is God?  Why is this happening?’  I didn’t understand.  Were we doing it wrong?  Was it not God’s will?  We were at a complete loss.  One thing that resonated with me was hearing, ‘You are pregnant with hope.’  That really helped me.”

Amy and Trey went on to conceive and deliver a healthy baby boy.  A year later, he had a brother.  Now, they lead a Pregnant with Hope group – welcoming infertile couples into a community of support, sharing their inspiring story, and delivering messages of hope rooted in God’s truth.

The Bible says that God walks with us through difficulties – and then, He brings us alongside people facing similar challenges so that we can be there for them, just as He was there for us.  That is the ministry of Pregnant With Hope.

If you have lost a baby and need the kind of love and support Amy & Trey sought — and found, read the inspiring stories in Pregnant With Hope, visit the website, and keep reading this blog.  You will find the help and hope you need.

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Want to hear more inspiring stories from formerly infertile couples, all of whom are now parents?  Click this link….

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A Surrogate’s Story

What kind of woman says “giving up a baby was the most thrilling moment of my life”?  Ask Pam MacPhee.

Nine years ago, doctors diagnosed her cousin Henry’s wife with aggressive cervical cancer.  Treatment was likely to cause infertility, so the couple froze eighteen embryos prior to the start of radiation.  Curious about their options, Pam researched surrogacy.  The more she learned, the more she became convinced that she should offer herself as a gestational carrier to Henry and Lauren.

“It was a leap of faith,” she explained.  “I had such a desire to give them hope as they were battling cancer.  I asked myself whether I had the mental, physical and emotional strength… and decided I did.”

How did she explain her choice to her husband and children?  “I told my children, ‘Lauren is sick and her tummy doesn’t work right, so I’m going to put her baby in my tummy until it’s ready to come out.  Then, I’ll give it to her.’  They were fine with that.  The truth is, it’s not that complicated.  My husband was totally supportive.  He wanted to help, too.”

Once the cancer was defeated, “with a foundation of honesty, trust, and open communication,” Pam said, “we found our way through the anxieties, challenges and awkward moments of the surrogacy process together.  The day after Mother’s Day (2001), I was thrilled to deliver a beautiful, healthy baby girl for them.  They were speechless with awe when they first laid eyes on Hope.”

What were Pam’s feelings, as the woman who had carried this baby for nine months?  Did she find it difficult to think of baby Hope as their child?  “Not at all,” she said.  “Intended parents fear that surrogates will bond with the babies they carry.  But a stable, mentally-healthy surrogate never feels like the mother; we are more like nurturer-protectors.  We connect with the baby, but we don’t form a mother-child bond.  Our bond is with the parents.”

Any regrets?  “No.  It was the most fulfilling time of my life,” said Pam, “watching my cousin become a father, and seeing his wife embrace life and hope again after the devastation of cancer. It was a privilege to share that moment of joy and wonder with them.”

Is that how all surrogates feel?  “The main motivation of surrogates is wanting to give joy.  They are women who want to help, who enjoy being pregnant and realize that they can give the gift of a life to someone else.  Whether or not they get paid, money is not the primary factor.  It’s a desire to give hope.”

Pam approached her role as a surrogate with a servant’s heart, giving selflessly out of love. That perspective enabled her, and the baby’s intended parents, to move through the journey with healthy boundaries.  “We focused on clear communication, mutual trust and sharing the pregnancy.”  Their experience models the ideal approach to surrogacy – one based on a foundation of love as scripture describes it:

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”

Pam’s advice to infertile couples considering surrogacy?  “Trust that the surrogate is there for you.  She is not attention-seeking or self-serving.  She is a loving person who wants to help someone who’s hurting become a parent.  Focus on the miracle that is happening through her body, and the joy of anticipating the baby – rather than fear, or the need for control – and it will be a fulfilling journey for both of you.”

 

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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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Sisters, Infertility & Baby Wars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And on, and on, and on….

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

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

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An Egg Donor’s Perspective

What makes someone want to be an egg donor?  It’s a complicated, painful, time-consuming process that is not without risk.  Is it for the money?  For ego reasons?  Tia Swanger agreed to share her story.  If you are an infertile couple considering egg donation, it may give you some peace.

Thirteen years ago, Tia was a preschool teacher on maternity leave.  She hadn’t expected becoming a parent to be much of a change from her role as a teacher.  But, “I was wrong!  Having the baby changed us.  We saw how the miracle of life brings God close to you.”

One day, she noticed a newspaper ad soliciting egg donors.  “I read what it said about infertility, and I  started thinking about how sad it was that someone could want a child and not be able to have one.  I realized I could help someone have what I have – and feel what I feel  – and I wanted to do that.  I felt like God was calling me to do that.”  She talked to her husband about it.  “Jeff said, ‘If you feel led to do this, you need to do this.’”  So, she called the clinic.

“It was a huge process,” she said.  There were tests and screenings, a psychiatric evaluation, two shots a day, side effects (that, for her, would include leukopenia),  “plus, I had to find someone to watch the baby, we didn’t live anywhere near the clinic, and…  it was definitely a challenge.”

One day, an unidentified couple requested photos of Tia and her baby.  Then, they requested additional genetic testing.  “I did whatever they wanted, and everything came back perfect,” Tia said.  “There were never names or faces.  No information about them.  But then, I got a letter.  It said, ‘Dear Donor, Thank you!  After 14 years of infertility…!'”  It said the father had received a heart transplant, so this was not the family’s first experience receiving a gift of life.

“I read that letter,” recalled Tia, “and I prayed, ‘Please God, let this happen for them.’  I never heard another word.  I prayed and I hoped… but I’ll never know.  In my heart, I feel it was successful.  ”

Did Tia ever regret giving away a part of herself?  “I had no issues with that.  Ever.  I’m not the mother of that child.  I’m not holding that child’s hand and walking them to the bus; that’s the mother.  I’m not comforting them, helping them when they’re hurt, loving them every day; that’s the mother.  I’m just a way for someone to become a mother.”

Can she understand why someone might worry about using an egg donor?  “Sure, but there’s a bigger picture to consider.  It may not be your flesh, but that baby will call you ‘Mama.’  When you hold that bundle of joy, it will supersede all your preconceived notions.  A baby bonds, and it knows no one but you as the mother.  It doesn’t matter to that baby what the genetics are.  It just knows love.”

What advice would Tia offer infertile couples considering egg donation?  “Look inside yourself.  Ask, ‘Why do I want a baby?  Is it to have a part of me walking around in the world, or to share a life?’  It shouldn’t matter to you whose genes these are.  Once you love this child as your own, that won’t matter.  This child will be yours.”

Tia will never meet the child(ren) her egg(s) helped conceive, and she has complete peace about it.  “I think about it every now and then, but not a lot.  What I did was God’s will, not mine.  I was obedient to the calling, and what a privilege.  I never felt afraid, just like – a job’s got to be done, so you do it.  End of story.  Some people might question my decision, but if I know it’s God’s will, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do.  Nothing.”

The Bible says, “… serve the Lord with gladness.”  Tia did, and through her, God gave the gift of an egg to a couple longing to steward a little soul.

Might He intend to bring a child into the life of your family the same way?  If so, may the story of Tia’s selfless gift — given in response to God’s tug on her heart — bring you peace.

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Find more resources and cause for hope at PregnantWithHope.com

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Celebrity Infertility: Their Struggle is Our Blessing

Less than six months ago, Bill and Giuliana Rancic made headlines when they publicly acknowledged their attempts to conceive through IVF.  They didn’t wait until they had good news to share.  Instead, they chose to cast a spotlight on the struggle that’s so rarely openly discussed.

When their story appeared in an October 2010 issue of People magazine, I called it a paradigm shift for the publication that’s often considered a social barometer for America, saying:

“Typically, People magazine stories reinforce the myth that celebrities conceive effortlessly – implying that those of us who don’t and can’t are somehow ‘less than.’  That false narrative causes pain and reinforces feelings of failure among many infertile couples.”

Well, now it seems as if the dam has truly broken.  More and more of the stories behind the baby announcements are being shared publicly:

– Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban announced the arrival of their second daughter, born via surrogate, and implied that struggles with secondary infertility had led them to a gestational carrier.

– Celine Dion openly discussed her five failed IVF’s, and her decision to keep trying to conceive despite her Catholic upbringing and the Pope’s condemnation of assisted reproduction.

– Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo fathered a boy via surrogate, revealing his international sex symbol status did not equate with fertility.

– Openly gay stars Ricky Martin, Elton John and Neil Patrick Harris used egg donors and surrogates to conceive their much-desired genetic offspring.

Maybe it’s just my enthusiasm for transparency and full disclosure, but it seems like there’s a pattern emerging here:  lots of people struggle with infertility, and more and more of them are willing to say so – or at least, to let us put two and two together.

Why is that so exciting?

Because, in hindsight, I’m convinced Bill & Giuliana’s story in People magazine did more than unveil the truth that conceiving isn’t always easy.  Their revelation signaled the beginning of the end.  The end of secrecy and stigma and shame.  The end of fearing judgment and rejection, of doing everything possible to avoid exposure, and of lying about the real story behind the façade of effortless conception.

Have celebrities’ normalized the very common experience of infertility?  Not fully.  But with every story, there’s a little less gasping and pointing, and a little more compassion.

How do I know?

Well, look at letters to the editor of magazines like People.  If theyre any indication of the public consensus, the vast majority of Americans understand the desire to create families, and they feel genuine sympathy for those who struggle to do so.  Celebrities’ open acknowledgements of the reproductive hurdles they’ve faced – and the joy they’ve experienced in surmounting them – is making this taboo topic less and less taboo.

I think that’s a blessing that’s long overdue.

There’s a wonderful verse in Isaiah that promises:  “I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”

Who knew we’d be claiming this promise, in part, through the likes of Celine, Elton and Nicole?  Truly, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

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Infertile Sisters and Baby Wars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And on, and on, and on….

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

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

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