Tag Archives: uncertainty

Predicting the Future

Raise your hand if you’d like to be able to predict the future.

Wouldn’t it be nice to know how the story’s going to unfold?  Whether you’re going to conceive – and when?  Or whether you’re not?  Whether you’re going to adopt a healthy, beautiful baby?  Or whether, at some point, you’ll move on to live life without children?

What will happen?

Wouldn’t you give anything to know?

You’re not alone.

A friend confessed to me that she’s begun seeing a psychic.  Her need-to-know overcame her initial unease, and she made an appointment.  Reassured by the predictions she was given, she quickly became addicted.  She’s now a regular, allocating portions of each week’s budget to psychic predictions.

The “need” to know can make us all do crazy things.

This morning, I read about a king turning to his captive for dream interpretation. It seemed crazy to his royal counselors, but threatened by a dream he could not understand, Pharaoh called on Joseph to tell him what it meant for the future.  Generations later, Nebuchadnezzar asked the same of Daniel.

These rulers were used to absolute power.  But, they knew they were at the mercy of an unseen, unknown future.  They needed to know what was coming — and God’s followers knew Someone with the answers.

When Pharaoh called for Joseph to explain his dream’s meaning, Joseph responded, “I cannot do it, but God will….”  Daniel had a similar exchange with Nebuchadnezzar.  He said, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who can….”

The prideful arrogance of both kings made them want to resist God, but their urgent need to know caused them to humble themselves – briefly – and admit, “I need to know what God has to say to me.”

There have been times – especially recently – when sobering statistics have made me want to know the future with certainty.  The doctor has told me the odds of a particular outcome and I’ve felt a surge of fear.  And a need to know.  In the moment, I’m tempted to attribute god-like powers to the doctor so that he can tell me what will happenBut he can’t really.

He can speculate, based on the available test results and those who’ve covered this same ground before us.  He can make an educated guess.  He can even pretend to know (like my friend’s psychic).  But the truth is, he doesn’t know.  Only God knows.

And only God can tell me, if He so chooses.

If He doesn’t?  Then, like my friend, I can create false gods.  I can resort to substitute sources of information — people who believe in their ability to predict my future (especially if I’m paying them).  I can tell myself to trust them, and project onto them a level of knowledge and understanding that they don’t actually have.  I can choose to believe, “now, I know” and put my energy into proving them right.

But experience has taught me, none of that will bring peace.

Or, I can follow the kings’ example.  I can recognize my limitations – and those of the people I typically consult as I try to anticipate what’s coming.  And then, I can give God my undivided attention:  “What do you have to say to me, Lord?  What do you want me to hear?  You’re the only One who knows what’s coming… and I’m listening.”

With those words, I fling open the door, welcoming Him into my story and the future that only He knows.

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The Battle for Peace

“Praise and thanksgiving in all things is a powerful spiritual weapon.”  Those words leaped off my calendar yesterday.  As always, God’s timing was perfect.

Let me explain…

I am currently making my way through the hardest thing I’ve ever had to face.  Like many of the challenges that have come before it, this journey involves living into what I’ve written – both in this blog, and in my book:  trusting God, letting go, patiently enduring suffering, nurturing hope despite discouraging statistics, and more.

It has been a joy to discover that I have grown spiritually since I last covered this ground.  Don’t get me wrong.  Fear and doubt have their moments.  They rush at me like tidal waves and threaten to drag me under a turbulent sea of uncertainty.  But then, I remember what I’ve learned – and what I’ve tried to teach you:  give up the illusion of control, take fearful thoughts captive, claim God’s promises, and speak words of confident hope over your circumstances.

When I do these things, I find myself strengthened and encouraged.  I discover that I’m able to swim to the surface of the anxiety and gain a new perspective – one that sees things very differently and recognizes there is more to reality than what I feel.

Those feelings are deceptive.  I know.  I remember.  They mislead me into sensing God’s absence, or worse, a lack of concern for my struggles.  Of course, that is a lie whispered to me by the one who hopes to deceive me into despair – and ultimately, into a sense of separation from the God who loves me.

That’s why words of praise and thanksgiving are a powerful spiritual weapon.

Jesus’  last words before leaving this earth were, “I am with you always.”  Always.  In fear.  In darkness.  In uncertainty.  In despair.  In confusion.  In grief.  In a sense of separation from the love of the Father that is only an illusion, an attempt by God’s enemy to trick me into grieving something that can NEVER be lost.

God has not abandoned me!  Christ has not forgotten me.  The Holy Spirit has not left me.  “I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’”  That is the Truth.  That is the life raft I cling to whenever waves of fear wash over me.

Last week, I made my own journey to the cross.  I brought my hope for the outcome I want and laid it at the feet of the God I trust.  I poured my heart out, along with my tears, and confessed my deep desire to control things I cannot control and force an outcome I cannot force.  And then, I let go.

I acknowledged the very real possibility that this will end differently than I would have scripted.  I grieved that possibility – and then I opened my hands and said, “Your will, not mine.”  My whole heart has chosen trust and obedience.  I accept whatever is coming with praise and thanksgiving.

I genuinely believe that, even if I can’t see it, God’s will will be His best for me.  And I choose to claim that now.  Confident that He will not fail me.  He will not leave me or forsake me.  He will not forget me or neglect to bless me.  Despite the fear that uncertainty evokes, I believe.  And therein lies peace.  The ultimate spiritual weapon.

Whatever the outcome of this particular medical battle, I have won in the way that matters most.  Thanks be to God.

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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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What That Bible Promise Really Means…

When infertile couples talk about what the Bible has to say about their situation, there is usually more confusion than clarity.  Take this verse, for example:

“Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.”

It sounds simple enough, at least on the surface.  It seems to say that if you like God a lot, He’ll give you what you want.  Sort of like a spiritual Santa.  You friend Him; He blesses you.

Couples frequently cite this verse to one another early in the journey, as if reassuring each other of a momentarily-forgotten sure thing.  God may be moving slowly, they’ll agree, but He’s going to come through in the end.  If you really want something and He knows it, it’s just a matter of time.

But with time, confidence wanes.  They’ve claimed the promise they thought they understood, but they’re still childless – and now, increasingly confused and resentful.   What’s the deal?  Why didn’t God keep His promise?  We told Him we loved Him, but still no baby.  What’s the trick to getting God to “give you the desires of your heart”?

Ask that out loud, and it sounds selfish.  Even manipulative.  But, truth be told, this is the question every couple longs to ask: How do we get God to give us what we want?

I can save you some searching; there is no answer to that question anywhere in scripture.  Why?  Because it’s the wrong question to be asking.  It’s a question rooted in a desire for control, made urgent by uncertainty and fear.  I’m convinced that part of the purpose of this journey is to move us away from that question, toward a deeper, richer faith life.

How do we make that move – away from a fearful, consuming desire for control?

Start with “Delight yourself in the Lord….”  Delighting our Selves in the Lord means shifting our focus away from Self.  Away from what we want, what we lack, what we don’t know and can’t control.  It means choosing our thoughts rather than being at the mercy of them, and making them God-centered rather than Self-centered.

This is the kind of relationship God wants us to have with Him – one where we find joy in everything that connects us to Him, and everything that reveals Him to us.  When we make the shift to this perspective, “perfect love casts out fear” and we begin to experience peace despite uncertainty.

If and when you delight your Self in God, “He will give you the desires of your heart.”  That is the promise of the verse.  This does not mean He’ll hand you whatever you want.  It means, He will place in your heart desires for what He knows is best for you.  He will give you the desire to see His will for you become your present and your future.

If you know God’s perfect will takes all things into consideration and plans for the best possible outcome, why would you want anything less?

Begin to shift your focus away from getting God to do what you want, and toward wanting what God intends to do — in you, through you, and for you.  It’s the path to peace… to joy… and ultimately, to parenthood.

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Needing to Know, ‘Why?’

Knowing why I have to do something, or why something is happening, has always mattered to me.  I guess it’s because I didn’t like taking orders as a kid.  “Because I said so” was my father’s justification for most of the demands he placed on me, and I (silently) resented that.  It struck me as an abuse of power, and it left me feeling powerless.

It seemed to me that if something was important, it was reasonable for me to want to know why, and for whoever was in authority to explain that to me.

Many times, as an adult, that same “need to know” trait has made me hesitate to obey God’s commands, or to trust Him in a particular situation.  Especially when there’s no obvious reason why He’d want things to go a certain way, I find myself dragging my feet, waiting for an explanation.

Here’s why that’s a problem:  when I refuse to budge until I get a satisfying answer, my circumstances don’t change.  Like a longsuffering parent with a willful child, God lets me stew in my situation until I humbly acknowledge that maybe trying things His way – even if I don’t understand why – is reasonable.

Is that an abuse of power?  In the midst of infertility, I sure thought so.  I struggled mightily with anger and resentment at God’s apparent lack of interest in my suffering.

Why wasn’t I ovulating?  Why couldn’t I stop miscarrying?  Why was having a baby so hard for us and so easy for everyone else?  Why didn’t our doctor have all the answers?  And if God had them, why wasn’t He giving them to us?  Like a petulant child, I wanted to know, “Why?!  Why?!  Why?!”  I kept silent only out of fear I’d make Him angry.

In hindsight, all that drama looks like a lot of self-inflicted suffering.  Why?  Because if we truly trust God to keep the promise that “all things work together for good,” then there is always an answer to “why?”:  it is part of His plan for our lives.  Sometimes, in the moment, that needs to be enough.

Either we trust Him, or we don’t.

That, of course, is the great struggle of infertility.  Will I trust Him, or will I fight to retain control?

With that as context, I had a big epiphany recently about the injunction “Pray without ceasing.”  I’d read and heard those words plenty of times before, but always wanted to know “why?”  Really, I think I wanted to know, “What’s in it for me?  I get why it makes you feel appreciated, God, but why should I put in all that effort — especially if you don’t seem to respond?”

A few days ago, in a moment of incredible grace, God showed me why.  Now, I know it’s vitally important for infertile couples to obey.  Here are the reasons:

1)      Constant prayer is an acknowledgment of His role in our story.

2)      It means we recognize and respect His authority, and we welcome His powerful presence — even though we cannot control it.

3)      It keeps us talking and listening to the only one with the ability to change anything & everything about our circumstances.

4)      Constant prayer creates healthy boundaries between us and a constant barrage of negative thoughts, worries and doubts.

5)      It enables us to experience moments of gratitude, even when we aren’t grateful for infertility.

6)      It helps us maintain perspective – God’s perspective.

7)      It helps us tune out the world’s messages about instant gratification, and helps us remember that God’s timing is always perfect.

8)      It grounds us in who we are to God, and who He is to us.

Bottom line, “pray without ceasing” is an imperative command because it’s good for us.  It helps us.  It comforts us, renews us, and strengthens us for the journey.

This command is not an abuse of power.  It is a gift.  An invitation.  A chance to draw near to the one who knows our struggles and loves us deeply.  It is a blessing that is available whenever we choose to make ourselves available.

Is that enough reason for you to pray?  It is for me.

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

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The Season of Discernment

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

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

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

Welcome to a season of discernment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s timing always is.

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

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

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

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

He always does.

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

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The Infertility Prayer God Always Answers

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

The problem is:  we would, and we do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thy will be done.

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

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

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

That’s the hugely important choice we must make.

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

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

May it be so for you, too.

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

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