xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#'> Hesseology 101

Friday, April 24, 2015

You are not alone

I sat, staring at the backyard.

My eyes perceived the scenery before me – the pale sky, the slender birch trees, the too tall grass – as my mind envisioned children laughing, rolling down the hill, blowing puffs of dandelions, and running to me for a kiss after falling down and scraping a knee.

I cried my heart out.

My yard was empty. I didn’t have any kids; didn’t have any co-workers, since I was working from home; didn’t have any friends, since my husband, Colin, and I had recently moved to the area. He was at work, and I was by myself. I sat alone in our empty house, gazing out the back window like a mental hospital patient, thinking about how I was never going to be a mom.

Later, I learned that the neighbors whose property bordered the back of ours – the ones who owned the fence into which my eyes bored holes during my patio reverie – were also experiencing difficulties trying to conceive. The wife had been diagnosed with endometriosis, just as I had. The two of them had undergone a few unsuccessful rounds of IVF and were prepping for another attempt at the procedure, just as we were.

Around that same time, we joined a church small group, where we met another couple who had fertility challenges and were beginning the adoption process, just like we were.

Then I met another woman who had struggled with infertility for years until finally conceiving through IVF, and now wanted to help other women facing similar issues by starting a support group, just like I did.

When we launched that support group, I met woman after woman after woman who knew The Ache – who desperately wanted a child but couldn’t get pregnant, and was wrestling with frustration, disappointment, worry, and anguish, just like I was.

Through these experiences, I learned that I was not the only one grieving the loss of the ability to bear children; I was not the only one living life with this unfulfilled desire to be a mother.

And once this desire eventually was fulfilled, I discovered that having children wasn’t the only redeeming result of this difficult season. Through infertility, I gained numerous new friendships and deeper, more honest relationships that I never would have experienced if I’d gotten pregnant that first month of trying.

I treasure those friendships now, and certainly appreciated them back then. Because when you’re going through infertility, you need a friend who understands the vicious cycle of hope lifting off at Day 1 and crashing down around Day 28, accompanied by an unseemly obsession with charting various bodily functions.

You need a friend with whom you can swap crazy Clomid stories, or laugh about the embarrassing thing you and/or your husband had to do at the doctor’s office, or joke about how you had to hide all your weapons before the adoption social worker paid a visit.

You need a friend who will stay with you for several hours after a medical procedure, when you are too weak and dizzy to do anything but lie down and talk about your favorite cooking shows.

You need a friend who will encourage you to give purpose to your pain by blogging about your experiences so others know they’re not the only ones struggling with this issue.

You need a friend who will buy your old Barbie collection to help fund your IVF cycle, save the dolls, and then re-gift them to you to pass down to your daughter, as one of my high school youth group pals did to support that friend who inspired me to blog.

Jessica bought a Barbie collection from Heather to help fund her IVF cycle, then saved the dolls to return to her Barbie sister in hopes of her one day having a little girl. Heather's daughter, Emily, now enjoys playing with her mom's collection.

Despite your friends doing all these wonderful, amazing things to uphold you, there will still be times when they are unavailable. Your calls will be dismissed; your texts will go unanswered.

You need a Friend who will truly always be there, who is better than all the friends Facebook has to offer, who is better than all the babies you could ever wish to mother.

You need Jesus. He will never leave you, or forsake you. He will carry your burdens, even when you think you don’t care anymore, and revive your hope, even when you feel like giving up.

And, knowing that you have the ultimate friend in Jesus, you can be a friend for Jesus. By that, I mean you can share the love and comfort of Christ with those who are hurting, even when you are hurting. He’ll give you the grace and strength to do it.

You might just be the friend someone needs to tell her she is not alone, either.

In the world we live in today, it shouldn’t be hard to find someone who is going through a difficult time and could use some encouragement. Look no farther than across the fence in your own backyard.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Six ways to help a friend face the baby-making blues

Super Bowl 2014. The Seattle Seahawks destroyed Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the franchise’s first-ever victory at the NFL’s pinnacle event. As QB Russell Wilson – aka my husband, Colin’s, man crush – raised the Vince Lombardi trophy in triumph, those few handful of Seahawks fans who had cheered for the team throughout its long history of total suckage experienced long-awaited redemption. Colin declared he could die a happy man.

Later that month, we celebrated our 10-year anniversary. Talk about anticlimactic.

Super Bowl 2015. The Seahawks had overcome many obstacles to make it back, and were battling it out with the Boston Patriots in an evenly matched, fairly called game. Down four points, with under a minute left in the fourth quarter, the Hawks were at the Patriots’ 1-yard line and within arm’s reach of a repeat. Then the unthinkable happened. Instead of giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch to punch it in the end zone, like anyone who knows a lick about football would choose to do, the Seattle coaches called a risky pass that was intercepted, securing the win for the Patriots.

Once the initial shock wore off, Colin wept bitterly, on the inside. I didn’t know what to say or do to comfort him, so I simply whispered, “Sorry hon,” patted him on the back, and left him alone to work through his grief.

Track with me here in this terrible transition from talking about how to console loved ones dealing with sports-induced depression to talking about how to encourage loved ones coping with infertility.

Watching a friend or family member undergo the physical, emotional, and financial hardships caused by infertility can make you feel helpless. If you’re already a mother, you long for your loved one to share the exasperating yet joy-filled experience of having children. But how can you support her, knowing there’s a heckuva lot you shouldn’t say, and besides taking it to the Lord in prayer, there’s nothing you can do to help fulfill her desire to become a mom?

While you can’t erase your friend’s pain, you can seek to understand specific ways to express your care and concern. Realize, though, that even if you say the “right things” and treat her with utmost sensitivity, she might still be sad and discouraged and downright ornery. She’ll also be grateful for your love and companionship as she traverses her difficult path to parenthood. 

Colin urged me to use a photo of hugging cats for this post, so here's what I found. Unfortunately, I didn't come across any great pics of hugging cats wearing Seahawks jerseys.

1) Weep with those who weep
Words often fall short when someone is grieving, but a shoulder to cry on is almost always welcome. When your friend receives news of yet another negative pregnancy test, or an adoption opportunity falls through, tell her you’re sorry, you love her, and that you’ll be there for her if/when she wants to talk about it.

2) Show interest (to her comfort level)
If your friend says she’s open to sharing her infertility issues with you, go ahead and ask her a broad, open-ended question such as “What options are you considering?” Whether she’s pursuing fertility treatments or adoption or taking a break from it all, demonstrate your concern about what she’s experiencing and feeling. When you know she has a doctor’s appointment or a meeting with a social worker coming up, send her a text or email ahead of time and let her know you’re thinking about her. Allow her to decide when/if to tell you how it went.

3) Exercise extra grace on holidays
Mother’s Day is pure hell for a woman having trouble having kids. As well, the vast number of holidays that revolve around giving gifts to children or acknowledging children as gifts can add to the ache. Even birthdays can be painful reminders of that damn ticking clock. Recognize that your friend may be hurting during these celebrations and do something to make her feel special – write her a note, bring her lunch, or take her out for a mani/pedi date.

4) Encourage her to join a support group
Remember the days when you were so pissed at your parents that you ran to your room, slammed the door shut, and shouted with all the self-righteousness of a 15-year-old, “You just don’t understand me!”? A woman who is struggling with infertility feels like no one gets what she’s going through – lonely, isolated, an outcast from our baby bump-obsessed culture. Your friend can combat these lies and experience healing through community by attending a support group for those facing childbearing challenges.

This is, of course, a shameless plug for the ministry I’m facilitating, Graceful Wait, but there are plenty of other great resources out there for finding support groups, either online or otherwise (see list at the end of this post).

5) Tell her you’re praying for her … and actually do it
Ain’t no baby ever came into this world who didn’t have the Lord Almighty breathe life into his or her tiny little body. Commit yourself to pray for your friend, even if she’s given up on it. Pray that she will receive the child she so longs for, that she will have wisdom to know how to walk toward that end result, and that she will grow in faith and dependence on Christ throughout the whole process.

6) Rejoice with those who rejoice
The day we left town to pick up my oldest son, Calvin, from the hospital – less than 24 hours after we got the call from our social worker that we were going to be his parents – we had nothing at our house to prepare for an infant but an empty room and a couple of cute frog paintings I’d bought at a yard sale for my “someday” baby’s room. We returned a day and a half later to find that empty room converted to a fully fledged, well-stocked nursery, complete with crib, changing table, bouncy seat, diapers and dozens of other essentials, toys, wall décor, and a neat little row of onesies hanging in the closet.

Our church small group had come over while we were gone and pulled a surprise home makeover. The friends who had walked with us through months of terrible disappointment, including an epic fail of an IVF cycle, had jumped at the opportunity to minister to us in our time of celebration.

To this day, it is one of the most beautiful things anyone has ever done for me (another being Calvin’s birthmother choosing us to be his parents), and I will never forget the amazement I felt when I walked into that room. Even Colin shed a few tears, on the outside.

Our friends put up signs around the nursery for Calvin's homecoming. Best use of clip art ever.

“Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b) Stay up with your friend now, during this long night of waiting, and you’ll get to rejoice with her that day she finally gets to hold her child in her arms. In the meantime, you’ll watch together how the Creator redeems broken expectation and transforms it into delayed – yet very much worthwhile – gratification.

Support group resources
RESOLVE support group list
Bethany Christian Services infertility and pregnancy loss forum
Dancing Upon Barren Land online support group
The Carry Camp weekend retreat
Hannah’s Prayer community forums

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

10 things I hate about what people say when you’re going through infertility

I once called my brother the root of all evil. He must’ve done something to deserve it – like steal one of My Little Ponies or disregard my stage directions during one of the family skits I wrote, directed, and starred in. Regardless of his actions, it was a cruel thing to say, and I immediately regretted it as I saw how I’d wounded his sweet (albeit mischievous) little 6-year-old heart.

We all know words can hurt. We also know that we can be stupid at times, saying things we don’t mean out of anger or putting our foots in our mouths. It happens. We’re human.

Words can especially bring pain to someone who is grieving a loss, as when someone faces the possibility of not being able to get pregnant and/or carry a child. Any and every little thing can set them off, like that go-to conversation starter: “Do you have any kids?”; or the more invasive: “When are you going to start a family?” Innocent, everyday questions can shoot like stinging arrows, reminding you that your arms are empty and your heart is aching.

During my time in that miserable season I eventually learned I needed to be more thick-skinned and recognize that the vast majority of people weren’t meaning to shiv me in the ribs with their well-meaning yet insensitive comments. I also discovered it helped to tell others what NOT to say so I wouldn't want to punch them in the face or de-friend them on Facebook.

So I thought it might be fun to put much of my social network on a guilt trip and share some statements and questions that are just not helpful to those who are dealing with infertility. Seriously, don’t feel too bad if you’ve said one or more of these things – remember, we all say stupid stuff, and there’s grace to go around, yada yada. Just take a glance through these 10 items and look forward to my next post on things you can say and do to encourage your loved ones who are trying to grow their families.

1) “You just need to relax.”
… or go on a vacation, get a massage, reduce stress, etc. This type of advice has the opposite effect and creates more stress, making your friend feel like she’s doing something wrong when there’s likely a physical problem – not emotional or psychological – preventing pregnancy. Relaxing never cured anyone of diabetes; neither can it cure a diagnosable medical problem like infertility.

2) “God has a purpose for your pain.”
This statement is true, but to your friend, who is dying to know when or if she will be a mother, it often comes across as a trite attempt to dismiss her sorrow. The pain of infertility is real and must be acknowledged and dealt with in healthy ways. Also, if your friend is a believer, she probably already knows God has a divine purpose for her struggles, and His timing is perfect, and His ways are higher than hers, but that might not be the message she needs to hear from you when she’s smack dab in the middle of that struggle.

3) Complain about pregnancy OR glorify pregnancy – “OMG I can’t stop eating, how am I gonna lose all this baby weight?” or “Feeling these little baby butterflies is uh-mazing #blessedtobeknockedup”

4) “Have you tried _______?”
… acupuncture, massage, meditation, Feng Shui, more exercise, less exercise, gluten-free diet, etc. Chances are, your friend knows how to use the Internet and thus has done a thorough job of researching the many methods people experiment with to get pregnant and doesn’t want or need your suggestions.

5) “Have you tried _______?”
[insert unsolicited, wildly inappropriate recommendations for sexual positions, techniques, or activities proposed by total strangers, or worse, your mom or MIL.]

6) Complain about your kids – “Are you sure you want kids? You can have mine.”
Yes, I’m sure I want kids. No, I don’t want yours; they’re brats, and you’re just as bad for saying that to brush off my disappointments.

7) Emphasize the perks of childlessness – “Enjoy getting to sleep in while you can.”

8) Act like you know what they’re going through when really you’ve got no clue – “I can totally relate to you because of my journey through _______.”
Grief is universal, but experienced in different ways by people in different situations. It’s better to admit that you can’t completely understand your friend’s anguish and that you’re saddened to see her hurting than to compare losses and thus downplay her unique struggles.

9) Quote Scripture out of context – “No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11b)
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Note this verse doesn’t say all Scripture is profitable for comforting hurting people through improper citations that are ill-timed and insensitive under the given circumstances. By all means, go to the Word for encouraging promises and stories of God’s faithfulness; just be careful determining which verses to highlight and when to share them.

10) “Why don’t you just adopt?” or “Just adopt; then you’ll get pregnant.”
As wonderful as adoption is (and I’m a huge advocate), your friend might not yet be ready to process all the emotions and practical issues involved with making the decision to pursue that option. This question also implies a load of negative and/or incorrect presumptions, including the likelihood that your friend has given up trying for a biological child, that adopting a child is inferior to conceiving a child, and that adoption is an easy alternative to biological baby-making. Furthermore, studies show adopting a child does not affect the rate for achieving pregnancy. Adoption isn’t a means to an end of getting pregnant; it’s another way to add a child to your family and a route a couple should pursue only when they’re ready.

See more ideas at RESOLVE’s Infertility Etiquette page and The Carry Camp.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Welcome to Loserville

The story of Mary is pretty incredible. An angel shows up and tells this innocent preteen that she’s going to have a baby, though she’s never done the deed necessary to produce such an end result, and that this baby will be the Son of God. Her response to this shocking announcement? “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”

This account of the mother of Jesus should evoke sentiments of admiration, humility, and flat-out awe. Yet after sobbing my way through multiple Christmases without a child to call my own, what were my thoughts on this blessed woman? Stupid Mary. She got pregnant without even trying.

When you’re having difficulty trying to conceive, and your hope falls and rises each month with the comings and goings of Aunt Flow, you can feel like a loser. And when your head is stuck in loser mode, everyone else and everything else sucks, too. Even reading the Bible can add to the gloom, as God seems to neglect or reject your desire for a child, and you get to a verse like Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

The good news is that the Bible directly addresses the topic of infertility, recording stories of couples who struggled to conceive. The word “barren” occurs 24 times in 24 verses in the New King James, according to a quick Blue Letter Bible search. While I’d love to delve into all the implications this raises, I’ll just shoot Beth Moore an email asking her to do an in-depth study on infertility in the Bible and focus right now on the women Scripture highlights as those who wrestled with the inability to get pregnant.

“Wrestled” doesn’t do justice to describe the way some of these women acted. First off, you’ve got Sarah, the wife of Abraham, the forefather of God’s chosen people. She persuaded her husband to sleep with her maid to produce an heir, then basically exiled the maid out of jealousy (Genesis 16). Later, when God Himself came and told Abraham that Sarah would have a son, she laughed and cracked a self-accusatory old people joke (Genesis 18).

In a tale worthy of Real Housewives, Sarah casts out a 
pregnant Hagar after convincing Abraham to sleep 
with her to produce an heir. Painting by Peter Paul Rubens; 
image courtesy Bible Top Ten.

Then there’s Rachel, who hoarded an arkload of mandrakes, the naturopathic fertility cure of the day, and took nagging to a whole ’nother level as she complained to her husband, Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die!” (Genesis 30) And of course there’s Hannah, who was such a wreck when she came to the temple begging the Lord for a baby that the priest thought she was drunk (1 Samuel 1).

How encouraging are these stories? These ladies were as crazy as I was am.

Others handled their trials with more aplomb. We don’t know much about how Rebekah personally responded to her barrenness; just that Isaac prayed on behalf of his wife and the Lord answered him (Genesis 25). The woman who became Samson’s mother accepted the news from an angel of the Lord that she would bear a son who would help deliver Israel, and believed that God would follow up on that promise (Judges 13). Zacharias and Elizabeth, who waited years for their son John to come along, “walked blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (Luke 1). God wasn’t punishing them with infertility; He was planning their pregnancy to come at just the right moment before the conception of His own Son.

Aside from these heartening stories, there’s another verse I want to highlight that’s as mystifying as it is comforting. Hebrews 11:11: “By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.” [emphasis added]

Um, what? Are we talking about the same Sarah who laughed at God, to His face? This chick belongs in the class of Mean Girls of the Bible, not among the great cloud of witnesses listed in Hebrews 11. Yet there it is.

Sarah must’ve had some tiny measure of faith for the author of Hebrews to mention her. Remember, she did accompany her husband without any apparent complaint as they traveled through foreign countries to reach a promised land they never set foot in. She just had a hard time trusting the Lord about the whole baby thing.

Friends who are facing the disappointment of infertility and feeling like you’re not hacking it as a believer in Christ, take courage from these passages of Scripture and recognize that you are not a failure. Let me say it again: YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE.

Your body may not be working right; your hormones might be a mess; you could be giving in to the sinful tendencies we all struggle with and giving up on the faith that God is working all things for your good, but you are not a failure. You are human. You need a Savior – more than you need a baby – more than any of us needs anything in this life.

So cut yourself some slack, sister. Accept the fact that His grace has got you covered for however long your waiting season is and beyond. Put your hope in the One whose love will never fail.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Public service announcement: Some people have trouble getting pregnant

Awareness is such a useless word. Of course, that’s the cynical part of me talking, a part that has grown increasingly larger as I’ve gotten older and the longer I’ve known my husband.

[air quotes] Awareness [air quotes] seems silly to me because of how it’s used/overused in society. Just do a quick Google news search, and you’ll find an exhausting array of topics that the media seems to think we’re ignorant about: autism, sexual violence, infectious diseases, alcoholism, poverty, wildfires, stress, deadly feline toxins, and something called biodiversity.

Gotta admit, those last two I know nothing about, nor do I really care (I’m more of a dog person, and biodiversity sounds like a meaningless concept made up by a pretentious academic). But the rest I’m at least familiar with, and some are such no-brainers that you must be living under a rock to not know of their existence.

The sarcastic part of me also wants to chime in here: Shut up. You mean there are poor people in this world?!?

At one point in time, people didn’t have a clue about breast cancer or racial discrimination or the dangers of distracted driving, but in today’s Digital Age, everyone knows about these issues because they’re continually blasted with information via their connected media devices. That’s why awareness campaigns tend to rub me the wrong way; they come off as buzzwordy gimmicks contrived to make money and/or portray an organization or individual as noble and generous, when in fact they might not have a personal interest in the issue or even know how to spell it.

Ignorance isn’t necessarily bliss, but awareness sure can be asinine.

The preceding rant might not be the best way to introduce the purpose of this blog post: to highlight National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW), observed this year April 19-25.

Launched by RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association in 1989, NIAW aims to “raise awareness about the disease of infertility and encourage the public to understand their reproductive health.” The 2015 theme is “You are not alone,” a message of comfort and camaraderie to the 1 in 8 U.S. couples of reproductive age diagnosed with infertility, according to RESOLVE.org.

Yeah, yeah. I know it doesn’t make sense to start promoting a type of crusade that I spent the first three paragraphs ripping on. While the awareness in National Infertility Awareness Week does make me cringe, I can nevertheless appreciate one simple goal this and other similar movements strive to accomplish: education.

I’m not talking about education as in, “Hey, this disease is out there. You should know more about it.” I mean, “Hey, this disease is out there. You should know how to help those suffering from it.”

During my time of struggling with infertility and waiting to become a mom, I found myself fulfilling the roles of both student and teacher. I put my overachieving tendencies to good use and threw myself into the task of researching reproductive pathologies and diagnoses, fertility treatments, alternative therapies, and the legal, social, and spiritual issues related to the process of adoption.

Overall, I learned waaaayyyy more about female and male anatomy than I ever thought I’d care to know. By God’s grace, after enduring what seemed like an onslaught of hurtful comments and questions, I also learned how to reframe my victimhood status into something more worthwhile and began informing others how to be more sensitive and supportive to loved ones facing infertility.

Through it all, my Lord and Savior taught me about my pitiful weakness, His supreme power, and the incredible ways He can transform awful, gut-wrenching disappointment into beautiful, life-renewing hope.

So, what will be my little contribution to this large-scale national initiative? I’m endeavoring to do something I’ve never attempted before: write a new blog post for every day of the (work) week, covering topics intended to encourage women longing for children and educate those who desire to walk with them throughout their season of waiting.

This will not be easy. I’m a slow reader and even slower writer, due to my stress-over-every-word-and-punctuation-mark perfectionism. But, as stated by Teddy Roosevelt and misquoted by numerous social media inspirational memes, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.”

This challenge is worth it to me. And who knows, this could even be fun, especially if I win my bet with Colin to write all five blog posts without using a single pun.

A big thank you to whomever decides to share this endeavor with me. No judgment to those who drop out over the course of the week or who write me off from this point on. Then again, maybe I will manage to pull it off just out of sheer spite for all the doubters, myself included.

More on infertility
More on NIAW

Monday, March 9, 2015

The story of your life

The other day I heard a fascinating anecdote on the local Christian radio station. I’m not sure if it’s totally legit, and it certainly didn’t sound scientific, but it still intrigued me. Apparently some pastor camped out on the streets somewhere and posted a sign saying he’d pay 25 cents to anyone who’d sit down and listen to his story. No one took him up on that offer. The next day, he changed things up and posted a sign saying he’d pay 25 cents to anyone who’d sit down and tell him their story. People lined the streets waiting for their chance to pour out their hearts to a total stranger for just a quarter.

While this 30-second on-air filler piece might be exaggerated, it makes sense. People like to tell stories – specifically, their stories. It seems part of our nature as humans to want to communicate the events we experience and the emotions we feel in narrative form, complete with background setup, plots twists, and a cast of characters featuring us as the heroes or heroines.

The marketing industry has recognized this human tendency and is riding the storytelling train all the way down Madison Avenue. A recent Forbes commentary put it like this: “…don’t tell me your story; tell me the story that is relevant to me.”

Of course, all this sounds incredibly self-centered, and it is. We are narcissists who love to hear ourselves talk. We assume people want to view an Instagrammed photo of the Paleo broccoli kale lentil salad we made for dinner, rush to re-pin our design for a salvaged barn door turned four-post bedframe, and subscribe to our My Kid Says The Darndest Things Twitter feed. Mark Zuckerberg should thank us for being so egocentric.

But that’s a negative way of looking at it. Our affinity toward autobiographical discourse isn’t just useful for self-importance building; it conveys critical information about who we are, where we come from, and what we’ve lived through, the experiences that shape (but not necessarily define) our identities. This disclosure enables us to connect with others by discovering commonalities through which we can cultivate relationships.

Telling our stories can also provide encouragement, inspire change, and kindle hope. Better yet, it can illustrate the amazing ways God works in our lives, displaying His power, faithfulness, sovereignty, and grace. The Bible itself is God’s love story addressed to us, describing how He cared for us so much that He sent His Son to die while we were still egocentric.

As a writer, I appreciate the value of a good story. I like to tell stories, and I like to think they’re good, though my husband says I have a tendency to ramble and repeat myself. I like to tell stories, and I especially like to tell the story of how God brought our family together. If you haven’t read the previous posts in my sorely neglected blog, which I wouldn’t recommend unless you’ve got a bottle of wine and a good 2-3 hours to kill, the super-condensed run-on sentence version of the story goes like this: We tried for many years to get pregnant and failed; we became parents overnight when we adopted our son six days after he was born; we then became one of those couples who got pregnant after adopting; we now have two energetic boys who challenge and bless us every day.

This abridged version of the story doesn’t adequately portray the numerous occurrences of weeping (on my part) and gnashing of teeth (on Colin’s part) that we experienced along the way. During those difficult times, I was grateful to be part of a group of women with whom I could share my struggles and doubts and fears and trust that they could understand and empathize with me because they were going through the same struggles. They listened to my complaints and angst-y ramblings without judgment, while reminding me of the truth of God’s promises. They felt what I felt and got it, because they knew it.

And as I poured out my longings to them, I got to hear their stories – stories that would break your heart, of little lives lost, and years of futile tests and treatments, and mothers aching to simply hold their babies who barely got to take a breath in this world. Through sharing these stories, we gained comfort to ease our sorrow and confidence to hold fast to Christ. We cried, laughed, and prayed together, enjoying the strength in numbers and the knowledge that we were not alone.

These stories and the need for a safe space wherein they can be shared motivated me to step out and do something – to form a community where women facing similar challenges can “do life together” like all the cool churches are doing these days. The group is called Graceful Wait, borrowed from the name of the group I mentioned earlier. It is a monthly support group for women struggling with infertility or grieving the loss of a baby due to miscarriage, stillbirth, or early infant death.

I’m thankful to have a partner in this endeavor, a friend from church who experienced multiple miscarriages between having her two living daughters. We don’t have a curriculum or much of an agenda besides wanting to invite women regardless of faith background to come; share your sadness and pain and frustration, and take solace in the fact that the other women in this community understand you and desire to walk with you through this hard season.

I seriously buried the lead in this post, but that was intentional. I wanted to end by announcing the beginning of a new ministry I’m hoping will encourage others with the comfort with which I have been comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). I look forward to seeing how God will work through this group, transforming stories of disappointment and despair into stories of redemption and hope through His unfailing compassion and abounding grace.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The post-pregnancy post / Alternate title: How becoming a mom didn’t make me happy and why I’m (now) OK with that

Well, here it is, 15 months after giving birth to my second son, my first biological child, and I’m finally getting back into this blogging thing. Who knew raising two kids 2 and under (now 3 and 1) would hinder insightful, reflective journaling about one’s innermost thoughts and feelings?

As it turns out, it’s difficult to be aware of your own thoughts and feelings – let alone write them down – when surrounded by the soft, lilting sounds of children crying, fussing, and screaming to get your attention. So, I’ll use my new favorite go-to excuse and blame my kids for not being able to blog for a while.

But truth be told, there’s a more significant reason why I haven’t updated the blog in a long time: I wasn’t ready. Last year was a big one for our family – Linus was born, we moved from Missouri to Oregon, and I went crazy (husband edit: crazier). I look back at my last post and shake my head in sympathy for poor, naïve Jennifer, who was so thankful for God’s blessing of enabling her to get pregnant and so unsuspecting of the storm that would hit pretty much immediately post-pregnancy. Almost the whole first year of Linus’s life was all shades of awful for me emotionally and spiritually, which is unfortunate given that many good things transpired during that time. Yet that’s the ugly reality that inhibited my desire to share my personal experiences with the blogosphere or most anyone outside my family.

A lesson in restraint
As the Lord began pulling me out of that dark, self-absorbed swamp, He urged me to participate in a Beth Moore study (I heart Beth!) called Sacred Secrets. Out of the many theologically meaty messages I gleaned from the study, two of her little slogans stood out to me:

  • We must be authentic with all, transparent with most, and intimate with some.
  • Before you can shout on the rooftop, you need to get in the closet with Jesus.
The first catchphrase probably doesn’t require much explanation; you can likely see the value of limiting how much private information you divulge and carefully determining with whom you share that information – in other words, don’t spill your guts to your social network. The second has to do with waiting to tell others about what God is doing in your life until you’ve actually spent some quality time alone with Him, being still and listening to what He has to teach you.

I’ll touch on the second point later; for now, I’ll address what the first has to do with blogging. You see, before I started doing this study, I thought I’d write my next blog post on my post-partum experiences: how I was overwhelmed with panic attacks before I left the hospital; how I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t nurse; how I went all OCD about my newborn’s schedule (yes, I tried to put my not-yet-even 1-month-old on a schedule); how my longtime, forever unwelcome companion anxiety teamed up with debilitating self-doubt about being a mother of two young children and dragged me way, way down into what felt like an inescapable pit of crazy hormones and uncontrollable emotions. But then I realized that in the wide world of those who for whatever reason start reading my blog, very few individuals, if any, would benefit from hearing all about my tales of woe during that period of my life.

Others who have endured post-partum issues much more challenging than mine have written on the subject and probably helped a host of women – for example, my incredible sister shared in her blog the story of how God carried her and my nephew through a difficult pregnancy, bed rest, and subsequent post-delivery struggles. While I don’t mind discussing my post-partum experiences with someone one on one, in the interest of being cautiously transparent and not overly intimate in a blogging context, I’m going to limit that disclosure to the preceding semicolon-riddled borderline run-on sentence and instead focus on the much more important lesson I believe God has been teaching me since I started blogging about my infertility issues five years ago.

Before I launch into the point of this post (yes, I’m dawdling about as much as my 3-year-old does brushing his teeth at bedtime), let me issue a word of warning to those who are currently struggling with infertility: the rest of this post is going to piss you off. You’re hurting, frustrated, desperate for some solution that will result in a child for you to hold and call your own. The last thing you want is for someone who adopted and then got pregnant to get all preachy and talk about how there’s more to life than having a baby.

Some of what I’ll share about my emotions throughout last year might make you think I’m ungrateful for the two blessed boys God has given me, and unfortunately, that has been the case at times. I believe what I have to say is important for women facing infertility, but it is a tough pill to swallow (a heckuva lot tougher than my post-partum antidepressant), and I know I would’ve been less than receptive had I read this, say, right after our IVF debacle.

So if you’re at the point where the next pregnancy announcement on Facebook is going to push you over the edge, you might want to hold off reading the rest of this post until you feel ready to handle some harsh words from someone on the other side of Unplanned Non-Parenthood (cross-ref to previous post for other fun terms). If you’re up for reading more, I pray that this will in some way encourage you to persevere as God gradually reveals His purposes for your trials.

A staggering question
Now, getting to the heart of this already rambling post, let me take you back to last fall, after we moved to Oregon. We had survived the rough couple months of packing, traveling, crashing at various family members’ houses, and finally settling into our new home. Kids were sleeping fine, Colin’s job was well underway, and life in general was stabilizing after half a year of changes and challenges. Although the more severe post-partum issues had thankfully subsided by then, I was still as temperamental as a toddler and as sullen as an Emo pre-teen, all to the detriment of everyone else in the household, even our poor dog. One day, my wonderful husband, who is so good at encouraging me when I’m hurting and calling me out when I’m being ridiculous, asked me point-blank, “Jennifer, are you happy? Because you don’t seem happy.”

That question floored me. My immediate reaction was whatever the female equivalent is to a kick in the balls. It shocked me because in all the craziness after giving birth, learning to care for two kids, and preparing for the move, I hadn’t stopped to think about being happy or unhappy; I was just trying to survive.

As the shock of Colin’s question wore off, I got sucked into a whirlwind of introspection that ripped open some of the nastier parts of my thought life and revealed a terrible truth: I wasn’t happy. After years of heartache and disappointment, I had gotten what I wanted – two beautiful children, the experience of adoption as well as pregnancy, even the ability to be a full-time stay-at-home mom – and I wasn’t happy. What I thought would be fulfilling and enjoyable instead felt frustrating, exhausting, and tedious. I had wanted so badly to be a mother and devote my time to caring for my children, and now that that had happened, all I wanted was time for myself to take care of my own needs.

I thought being a mom would give my life purpose, satisfy my desire to help others; I thought being a mom would give me joy. While I knew I absolutely loved my kids and was thankful for their lives, I found the day-to-day task of being their mom far from rewarding, and the moments of happiness I derived from my maternal duties seemed so few and far between that I questioned if I should’ve kept working outside the home to dedicate my time to more gratifying endeavors.

Then came the guilt. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just be grateful for the many blessings God had given me and take pleasure in serving the children I once thought I’d never have? Why did I feel like I was losing more of my identity since becoming a full-time stay-at-home mom – the main role I’d wanted to play my whole life, the role I thought would define my identity? And what was wrong with my kids? Sure, they’re stunningly adorable, but they’re also fussy, disobedient, obnoxious, and impossible to control. Why couldn’t they be as happy as everyone else’s kids look like on Facebook, and thus make me happy?

A rewarding revelation
If you’re into numbers and counting like my eldest son is right now, you’ll notice that the terms “I,” “me,” and “my” were used 14 times in the preceding paragraph. Through this self-evaluation regarding my happiness or lack thereof, God convicted me about being entirely too focused on myself and conforming my overall outlook on life according to how my expectations were being met or unmet. In short, I was being selfish and discontent, and I really needed Jesus to help me rearrange my desires and relinquish my need for control.

Beyond the much-needed conviction about my self-preoccupation, the Lord had another vitally important insight for me to grasp, which is where my wannabe BFF Beth Moore comes in again. In the study, Beth drawls on and on about the opportunity and desperate need to meet with Jesus in “the secret” as described in Matthew 6:6: “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

That the Creator of the universe invites me to communicate with Him in a private, intimate way is an incredible truth to try to process in and of itself. Then there’s the fascinating part about a reward. The word “reward” is thrown around a lot in Christian conversations, and it’s an interesting term for me because of how people use it in connection with my infertility “journey” (another term I dislike). Getting pregnant was not a reward for adopting; my biological son was not a reward for my adopted son. From my perspective, neither Calvin nor Linus is a reward; both my sons are gifts given in the same manner as salvation: not as a result of my faithfulness, but by God’s grace alone.

Since I tend to be wary of reward-related discussions, I wasn’t sure where Beth was going with her emphasis on the Father’s reward in Matthew 6:6. But her words struck me so precisely, as to the most important lesson I was missing in the past six years of lows and highs and then lows again, that I feel compelled to repeat this quote from her study guide every day as a reminder of the true source of happiness and contentment:

“The best reward of all isn’t the stuff God has for me. The greatest reward is Him. Oh that I would fully dwell in Psalm 37:4: ‘Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.’ When I delight myself in the Lord, He rewards me with the delight of my soul: Himself.”

Amazing, isn’t it? God gives some pretty incredible gifts, but none as incredible as the gift of knowing Him. And even better – the reward gained from wanting to know Him more is enjoying Him more. This blew my whole quest for inexplicably unfulfilled longings out of the water and cleared my vision to see more of His reasons for the circumstances He had me undergo the past several years.

You see, I thought God wanted me to go through failed fertility treatments and procedures so that He could give me Calvin, and He did.

I thought God wanted me to get pregnant so that He could give us another son and give Calvin a brother, and He did.

I thought God wanted me to endure infertility and experience both the processes of adoption and pregnancy so that He could use me to encourage other women in similar situations through a ministry I would’ve never imagined I could participate in and be blessed by, and He did.

Beyond all these things, I now think God wanted me to walk through infertility, adoption, pregnancy, and post-partum depression so that He could show me that He is my life’s purpose; He defines my identity; He gives me unending joy.

A freeing truth
Finding fulfillment in Christ alone isn’t a new concept for me. Growing up as a church-raised, Christian-school-educated girl, the idea of contentment was hammered into my head continuously, and the value of knowing Jesus was rightfully lauded in various catechisms, devotions, sermons, and praise songs. Colin and I even had “In Christ Alone” played at our wedding. But knowing something to be true and actually experiencing it are two different things; for example, you can know that the Grand Canyon is a breathtaking marvel of nature, but not fully realize its magnitude until you see it in person. That’s how I feel about this Scriptural truth. I couldn’t know that Jesus alone could satisfy my deepest desires until my other desires were filled and I still came up short.

I don’t think this realization negates the pain and disappointment I suffered through infertility, or conversely, diminishes the happiness and pleasure I received from going through adoption and pregnancy. Those were real emotions and real experiences, and God carried me through them all. However, recognizing that He is my ultimate source of joy – my “reward” – helps widen the lens of hindsight to show more of His plans during those ups and downs of my life. This also grants me a fresh sense of freedom – freedom from the pressure I put on myself to enjoy every moment as a mom, and freedom from the pressure I put on my kids to fill my life’s longings – something they weren’t created to do.

This neat, far-from-concise lesson is all well and good now that I have two children and am not currently struggling with any major challenges. As I said before, I wouldn’t have read this post and received the message very graciously back when I was in the thick of hope-dashing fertility treatments. But I needed to hear this truth then and continue to need it today, and I pray that those who are waiting to become parents will have confidence that God will give them much more than what they’re aching for right now. Remember that whole “dating God” phase in recent Christian history, when some well-meaning but kinda silly girls declared, “Jesus is the only man I’ll ever need”? Think of it this way: Jesus is the only baby you’ll ever need. Or, to keep it simple and less awkward-sounding, Jesus is Whom you need.

As for my closet conversation with Jesus, that’s still ongoing. Ask me in a few weeks; I’m sure I won’t have this contentment thing figured out by then. But that doesn’t worry me. All relationships take time to build; all relationships go through ups and downs, and require investment to develop any sort of intimacy. And while I don’t always feel like I can find fulfillment in Christ, I know that He alone satisfies, and I need Him to help me see that and want that.

In his book “The Weight of Glory,” my all-time favorite author C.S. Lewis compares this aspect of the Christian faith to a student who at first submits to Greek grammar lessons only to escape punishment and get good grades, then gradually begins to enjoy his studies:

“The Christian, in relation to heaven, is in much the same position as this schoolboy. Those who have attained everlasting life in the vision of God doubtless know very well that it is no mere bribe, but the very consummation of their earthly discipleship; but we who have not yet attained it cannot know this in the same way, and cannot even begin to know it at all except by continuing to obey and finding the first reward of our obedience in our increasing power to desire the ultimate reward.”

Some may have assumed I found a happy ending to my infertility story once my two sons were born; I know I did. But since the ultimate happy ending won’t come until I’m reborn to a new life with my Savior in heaven, I’ll find joy in the meantime knowing and serving Him here, thankful for and happy with the life He’s given me.