Not long into our marriage, Rob and I, the two engineers, had carefully crafted this five year plan for our marriage. For 5 years we would enjoy just being the two of us, focus on our careers, travel, and do all the fun things that we wanted to do. Then after five years, it would be the appropriate time for us to begin a family. We had talked it over every possible way and looking forward to living out our carefully crafted life. As that time inched nearer, we began dancing around the subject, spying adorable babies everywhere we went, and generally both grew more and more excited about the next phase of our life. Finally, we had the big conversation... it was time. We were as ready as we were going to be. Let's have a baby!
A year went by and... nothing. No baby bump, no positive tests, just a lot of confusion. But we were young so my OB/GYN suggested we had no reason to worry and just to give it more time. A few more months passed and with little support from my doctor, we switched to a new practice. Because we had been trying for nearly a year and a half, our new doctor ran a few basic tests right off the bat to begin checking for fertility issues. That brought the first wave of shock... and a diagnosis of of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). That pretty much meant that without some medical assistance, I wouldn't ovulate and therefore our chances of pregnancy on our own were very slim. It was certainly upsetting to have a diagnosis slapped on my charts, but the engineers were glad to have some answers and something we could now go figure out how to "fix." So armed with this information, we adjusted our plan and ventured into the world of fertility drugs. Clomid was the entry level drug of choice to try to get my body to respond properly. Six months of that brought us no closer to getting pregnant that we were the day we started. I was not responding to the medicine and since we were already taking the maximum allowed dose, our doctor compassionately suggested it was time to refer us to a fertility specialist.
Fertility Specialist... ugh, that was a big blow to take! Something was, in fact, really wrong and for the first time we really started to worry that this dream of ours might just be crumbling before our eyes. I was terrified Rob might start to resent me as a wife since I felt it was my fault I couldn't give him a baby. Of course he never made me feel like that or even thought it, but it's a very common fear to have to deal with when experiencing infertility. You don't want to let your spouse down, or yourself down.
So we started talking… this time not so much about developing a new plan or how to fix a known problem. But we talked about fears that we had. Deeply, personal fears. We worked through them and worked so incredibly hard to encourage each other and build each other up. This was a very difficult time for us, but we also began facing it with an awful lot of prayer, a lot of encouragement from the few family and friends we had talked to about our issues, and holding on tight to each other.
After a lot of prayer and with great guidance from my doctor, we scheduled a consultation with the ART Fertility Program of Alabama. Right away, we were very impressed - the staff was incredibly caring, upbeat, positive, and most importantly for the two scared engineers facing a decision - their statistics were very favorable. So, yet again, we changed our "plan." Step one with the specialists started us off with a barrage of testing to find any and all problems so the doctors would know how to proceed. Now you're talking our language! Some of the tests were downright miserable, but there were answers coming, so we were happy to do it. Results come back and yes, I definitely have PCOS, and my husband had a slight factor as well that further complicated things. But, the doctors were very upbeat about our chances of success with in-vitro fertilization (IVF), so we made the difficult decision to proceed. At this point, the fun really began... we forked out a lot of money to cover all the procedures and drug costs, I started taking an unbelievable amount of medicines, learned how to give myself multiple shots a day, and started the very regular drive from Dothan to Montgomery or Birmingham that would become just a normal part of life, but it was worth it - we were going to have a baby!
Note: Some of the following procedures are pretty technical and you may have questions. There is a great description on the ART website that explains the procedures well so I won’t bore you with it here (though it is really anything but boring)!
We did try one round of IUI, but it wasn’t the right treatment for us. It did give the doctors some valuable information about how I was responding to the heavy dose of fertility injections without the full expense of an IVF cycle though, so it was worth trying.
In a nutshell, IVF involves a lot of fertility drugs to promote egg development, the “trigger” shot and a lot more medicine to get your body ready to receive an embryo. Twenty-four hours after the trigger shot, we would make the three-hour drive for the egg retrieval procedure in which I would be slightly sedated for the doctors to remove all the mature eggs. They would then fertilize the eggs with the best hand-picked little swimmers from Rob’s side of the process and then we would wait. Five days later, we would get a call from the Embryologists to tell us how many healthy looking embryos we had and if they were strong enough to try to implant. Assuming we had at least one good embryo, we would drive back to Birmingham for the embryo transfer procedure. Again I would be slightly sedated and they would transfer the embryo(s) in an ideal location for them to make a happy home for what we would hope would be the next nine months. Then we would drive back home and wait. A week or so later, we would drive to Montgomery for our first ultrasound to find out if we were. If we were indeed pregnant, weekly ultrasounds in Montgomery would be performed, along with blood work to monitor hormone levels, until we achieved a pregnancy that would be healthy enough to release us back to my regular OB/GYN (usually near the end of the first trimester).
IVF Round One - I get pregnant!!! But, when we went for our first ultrasound and blood work at five weeks, they were not thrilled with what they saw, but had me come back because sometimes the early ultrasounds can be a little misleading. Over the course of the next month, we had countless ultrasounds, but none of them ever looked very hopeful. Our little baby wasn't going to make it. We were going to miscarry our very first pregnancy and were absolutely heartbroken. I eventually had to have a D&C procedure to end the pregnancy that I had wanted so incredibly badly.
I was terrified, heartbroken and feeling so alone as they wheeled me back for surgery. I will never forget my normally funny and witty OB/GYN coming up to me just before they put me to sleep, and with tears in his eyes giving me a huge hug and saying he would take care of me and we would get pregnant again. Then I drifted off to sleep, only to wake up absolutely shattered to pieces. That was by far the absolute darkest moment of my life. The same was true for Rob. Though he didn't have as much of the physical side to deal with, he was left with an overwhelming sense of helplessness as he couldn't fix this; he couldn't make anything better for his wife or his unborn child. We did a lot of crying, talking, and just sitting together when there were no words to describe the emotions. And we did a lot of praying.
It was so hard to pray sometimes. Not long after our miscarriage, I was home alone and was finally honest with God about how I felt – empty, hurt, angry, confused, betrayed. I begged He would show me why He was putting us through this.
That was what He had been waiting on and unfortunately He had to allow our hearts to break to get us to the point that we could be molded. I was sitting alone on the couch in an empty house and had finally poured my heart out to God. As soon as I completely surrendered my plans and dreams, and emotions to Him, I felt literal arms wrap a blanket of peace around me like I have never experienced before. He chose that moment to begin healing my broken heart and to surround me with an incredible compassion and love. He started revealing Himself to me everywhere.
Just a couple days later, I ran into a friend in the grocery store who made the mistake of speaking to me and asking how things had been. To answer her very normal and polite question, I proceeded to absolutely break down while standing in the checkout line. As I caught her up to date on the recent news, she said “Well, have you ever thought that maybe this isn't about you?” Then she went on to say what God had obviously put on her heart to say to me.
It's not about me. None of this is about me. This is about God's plan for our lives and it's about my child. That sweet friend ushered in the first big handful of God's truth that shook my world. I will forever be grateful to her for being willing to lovingly call me out about my selfishness and mercifully point me back towards God's plans. I should also note here that she had earned the right to say this to me because she herself had experienced a handful of miscarriages and knew just how deep that pain can be. Her wisdom came from a place of empathy, care, and comfort.
I’ll tell you, that verse showed up everywhere after that. Daily devotional emails, sermons, conferences, conversations with other friends… God was making His promise clear to us.
From that point on, every time Rob and I started doubting God’s plans, we would read that verse again. I must have read it a thousand times. But it was a true gift from a gracious God that was telling us that He had the plans – we just had to have the faith. It changed our outlook on everything. That miscarriage was the best thing that could have ever happened to us because it was that moment when we finally let go of the grasp we had on our plans and turned our future over to God’s will. When we reached that moment, my prayers also changed and became a prayer for God to show us what to do with this experience. All things work together for good for those who love the Lord so I started earnestly praying that God would show me the purpose for the heartbreak and difficult road He had us on. And my faithful God gave me another verse and gave us purpose.
So after enough time had passed for me to physically recover enough to try again, we began IVF round #2. Everything went well, but it didn't work. IVF round #3 was next. Because it would be our last try, we were understandably apprehensive about beginning. But we knew what we needed to do, so we went into it surrounded with prayer from family, friends, church pastors, and we stepped out in faith and gave all our anxiety to God. Right after the embryo transfer was completed, our sweet and brilliant doctor asked if she could pray with us. So with me laying on the gurney, in the middle of an operating room, with all our hands firmly grasped together, she led us in the most beautiful prayer I've ever heard. She prayed for the embryos that she had just transferred, thanked God for the amazing technology that enables couples to have a greater chance at having a family, but recognizing and asking God for the miracle of life. It was an unbelievably powerful and touching moment. Almost five years after we began trying to start our family, IVF round #3 was the one in which we were blessed with our sweet, healthy, happy, funny, independent baby girl!
Our plans never would have been as wonderful as God’s perfect plan. Had our original plans worked out, our lives would look drastically different. It would have been very difficult for me to walk away from a good paying, career driven, demanding job because I wouldn't have fully appreciated just what an amazing and miraculous blessing a child was. I wouldn't have the chance or heart to minister to women and couples going through fertility struggles now. I have no doubt God gave us this path to walk so that we could bring Him glory, bring comfort to others suffering, and give us the Godly perspective that our “engineered” lives were once missing. What was once full of frustration and intense heartbreaking pain, is now one of our biggest blessings. I cannot wait to see what purpose will unfold in our daughter’s life because I am confident that she was born a just the perfect moment for the journey God has planned for her to walk.