A Very Rough Chapter in a Very, Very Good Book

Infertility was a journey I had honestly always feared. As a young teenager I faced a medical diagnosis that was uncommon for a child my age, and I remember the first question I had was "Will I be able to have babies?" The circumstances surrounding this diagnosis changed me. It changed me in a way that I was no longer living as your average teenager, but as a future mother. Then a few years later, when I was getting ready to graduate high school, I remember doing an activity with my church's youth leader where we made a list of the top things we feared. With all my teenage dramatics I scribbled down "They would have to put me on suicide watch, if I was ever told I couldn't have children." To say it simply, I knew that one of the reasons God had put me on this earth was to be a mommy! So the idea of struggling with infertility was beyond scary.

I know many of you can relate to the where April was when she began her infertility journey. Whether your struggle is due to an illness or something else, we can all relate to that moment when your fears become reality. April's journey of becoming a family has happened right along side her journey of faith. In her season of pain and waiting, her heart was crying out "where was God?" Please join me in welcoming our sweet friend April to ONSEL today as she tells us her story of building her family and faith. 

My husband and I were high school sweethearts. We started dating when he was 15 and I was 17. (Yes I was a bit of a cougar!) Six years later, to the day, we walked down the aisle and forever committed to each other. We were then 21 and 23 years old and we had our whole lives planned out! (Ha! Silly younger of myself) We had calculated when we would start having children and even made a chart. Every first of the month, we would sit down together with that chart and, in almost a ceremonial way, we would convert one dot into a heart to commemorate that we were 30 days closer to starting the "trying to conceive journey." When that "magical" month arrived, we were as giddy as any couple would be, but nothing happened. No big deal, right? I mean it was just our first month of trying. So we picked back up and waited for a positive pregnancy sign. But month two passed just as month one had. The month three, four, five and six. We started asking questions and decided, okay, we will adjust our plan to fit in six more months of trying to become pregnant, but to no avail. Getting my period was like having the wind knocked out of me every month and I knew I needed a break! Six more months went by before I was ready to try again.

So again, for the next six months, we tried to conceive. We tried everything, from sex everyday, to every other day, feet in the air for 30 minutes, etc. Everything we heard about, we tried. Nothing changed. We were not pregnant. So, we began fertility treatments. With one round of Clomid alone, three rounds of Clomid with IUI, and one aggressive round of IVF, we had attempted to conceive with three years worth of cycles over a seven month time period; be we were still not pregnant. (For more detailed information on fertility treatments, check out my blog post "Fertility Treatments 101.")

We were now ready, and honestly excited, to proceed towards adoption. I definitely mourned the fact that I would not carry a child, butnever mourned not being able to parent. Adoption was always a beautiful option for us. While covering this part of our story could warrant an entire second part to this post, I will tell you we found great peace in this process. As someone who thrives off of structure, the massive to do list handed to me by our social worker was music to my ears. We had a clear path that would eventually result in holding a child, our child, in our arms. In less than six months we were done with two of the four major parts of the domestic newborn adoption process. We were literally days away from starting the matching process when our lives changed in an instant!

I will continue our story in a bit, but let me back up for a minute and address an issue even bigger than our story. 

We are church going folk. We are Christians. Our faith is the foundation of who we are as individuals and who we are as a couple. During our journey into parenthood, we prayed, and prayed, and prayed some more! But the pain was deep. I knew that God could, and I even believed He wanted to give us the desires of our heart. But as the months ticked by, my heart was hurting more and more. Infertility was a kind of pain, a kind of suffering, I could not wrap my brain around. Which brings me to what I want to talk about today. 

Where was God?

In October of last year, I listened to a sermon podcast that I felt was giving words to the emotions I went through while living with infertility. I am going to hash through the first part of this five part series. If you want to listen to all five, you can find them here through the Hillside Community Church Website in the sermon series led by Pastor Aaron McRae entitled "In the Midst; the Psalms Edition." (*Unless otherwise noted, all the passages below in quotation marks are statements from Pastor Aaron)

Pastor Aaron is no stranger to living through pain. His 10 year old daughter was battling brain cancer for the third time, when he filmed this message. He understood that in the midst of pain, we, as humans, try to make sense of the suffering. In his message he addressed the following approaches that people use to frame their painful experiences:

  1. Moralistic Approach
    • The "karma" philosophy - bad things happen to bad people. One problem with this view is that it implies we have the power to earn life without the pain of infertility by changing our behavior to be a better person, and that our current pain is what we deserve due to choices we make. Talk about a disheartening and spirit crushing point of view!
  2. Self-Transcendent Approach
    • This requires its subscribers to "be strong" - to deny your emotions and to just "get over" the pain. This approach says the pain of infertility is not a response to our behavior, but due to the fact that we allow ourselves to feel that pain. But we know that stuffing our emotions just creates more pain. Additionally scripture tells us that emotions are a gift from God not to be stifled.
  3. Fatalistic Approach
    • Another entity is responsible for pain - whether that is fate, "the stars," "a higher being," or even a twisted view of God.This approach would have its subscribers throw their hands up and just live passively through life because the pain of infertility is simply the cards they were dealt.
  4. Dualistic Approach
    • This view is solely dependent on patience - viewing life as a battle of good and evil; in which good will eventually win.This would mean that if someone waits long enough, eventually they will have to get pregnant, because infertility is an evil to be defeated.
  5. Secular Approach
    • This view says what you do and feel are irrelevant - the world is out of control and suffering is meaningless. Life is meaningless, pain is meaningless and futile. The subscribers of this approach do whatever is necessary to flee pain at all cost.

Pastor Aaron points out each of these 5 approaches, at their core, says "you are in control." They ignore a God who is active, a God who cares, and a God who is in the midst with us. Thankfully there is one more approach.

  1. Scriptural Approach
    • The only view laced with the hope we need while in the midst of pain. The only one that reveals a complete story. With scripture we can see "the fullness of the story so we can see what there is even suffering in this world. And that God will one day fully and finally erase suffering... There are assurances through scriptures, that God gives us, that He hasn't left us, He will not leave us, and even in the midst of the hardest times, He may be doing something. And you can trust Him. You don't have to throw your hands up and resign. You can trust Him. Even when you can't make sense of the situation... Just because times are hard, doesn't mean they have to be hopeless."

Wow! Now that is what I'm talking about! Though I may not have had the exact words to describe how I continued through the pain, this is it. Trusting God leads to Hope

How can we respond to God while in the midst of the painful journey of infertility? 

Did you know that about one third of the Psalms are the Psalms of lament? This means the Psalms of weeping or crying; howling or wailing. These chapters often display the emotional roller coaster the writers are on. One verse they will say "I can't hear you" and the next verse they will say "but I still trust you." Does that sound familiar? If you are anything like me, being on a roller coaster starts to feel like the norm. Identifying these psalms as letters of lament is incredibly important, and freeing, to understand. Pastor Aaron cited a 1930s theologian, Walter Brueggemann, when he very blatantly said "If we neglect to understand that we can cry out to God when we don't understand what is going on, we are left with great guilt and/or denial."

For me, both those those avenues felt natural. The denial came in the sense that I spent way too much time trying to hide my pain. I behaved as if I couldn't be honest that my life was messy. This became incredibly isolating. (Side note: I am not recommending telling anyone and everyone within shouting distance. But find the safe people in your support system. Use the resources you have in friends and family, but even more importantly use the resource you have in God.) You see I didn't have to deny the mess. God already knew what was going on in my life. He was a resource I could have and, eventually did, gleam a lot of strength from.

Then the guilt... oh that guilt. As if I wasn't already battling the irrational guilt of feeling responsible for my infertility, I then let in the evil thoughts that I should feel guilty and ashamed for feeling confused and angry. I felt like I was at fault for having these feelings. But then I met a missionary pastor named Pastor Clyde, who advised me to write an anger letter to God. Yes, you heard that correctly. He basically challenged me to write my own Psalm of Lament. The freedom that brought, the peace that conversation with God brought, was breathtaking. Knowing that I have the freedom to truly express to God what I was feeling in my pain, made me feel so much closer to God.

In Psalms 22, we see David's letter of lament and he cries out to God. He even questions why God seems to answer the prayers of others but not his own. Again, that question sounds uncannily familiar. Through these Psalms of lament we are taught that we can "be real with God. He loves us... We can be real and He still loves us... Be honest, be raw, be vulnerable. Express your struggles, express your questions, express your doubt, express your faith, and also your trust, in the middle of all of this."

How does God respond to our pain?

Scripture does not shy away from dealing with pain. In fact, it even paints a very clear picture of Jesus and his followers dealing with pain when we read in Matthew 26 about Jesus' prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane. Pastor Aaron made an observation that "in the midst of Jesus' suffering, His followers, friends and family might have felt this suffering was senseless. They likely struggled to make sense of this suffering." But then he points out that "because Scripture gives us the beginning, middle and end, the full story from start to finish, we know that Jesus' death on the cross is not the end of the story. It doesn't end on a cross or in a tomb. The story has resurrection." You see the cross isn't God's response to our pain. Resurrection is God's response to pain.

Let's continue on to Matthew 27:46 when Jesus is hanging on the cross and He cries out, "Eli, Eli lema sabachthani?" This means, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? This is the climax of our story! 

Pastor Aaron explains "God did forsake Jesus. When Jesus bore the sins of you and me, the sins of the whole entire world. For a moment God said "I can't look"... Jesus was forsaken for a moment, so that we would never have to be forsaken. Jesus was forsaken so we could be accepted. Jesus was forsaken so that we could understand how much God really loves us. No matter what kind of questions or doubts we have in the middle of our pain, Jesus was forsaken so that we could be accepted. For all of us who have trusted in God, and have surrendered our lives to God, we will never be left alone in the midst. The cross tells us, God is with us. Suffering doesn't have to be senseless."

How can we find hope in God's response?

So with this view of the cross, with the scripture approach to processing pain, God can give us hope! "It takes the suffering and says, "it's not the end of the story YET!" Suffering doesn't have to be senseless, even though we might not be able to make sense of it in the moment. It doesn't have to be senseless. The cross wasn't defeat, it wasn't a failure, it was a great victory!"

If you watch this sermon, you will witness Pastor Aaron giving an honest and authentic statement about finding one's way on to this path to peace and hope. I would now like to take his concluding words, below, and personalize it with my infertility experience (in italics). Here is the great key to hope in God.

I’m not saying that suffering will ever make perfect sense. I really don’t know that there is an explanation that you can give me where I will finally say, “Oh, now I understand why we could not conceive. Why every treatment failed. Why my heart kept getting broken month after month.” I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say “It makes sense now.” But I can say, “I still know that God is God. And I know that he can be trusted even when life doesn’t make sense. God is still God. And I can also tell you, that we, with the view of the cross, can also say God is my God. God is MY God. Suffering is personal. Grief is personal. Yes, there are corporate aspects, but it is still personal. There is a part where we [process our pain] are all alone in this. But our faith is personal. Our God is personal... The cross tells us that God took initiative. Jesus entered into our pain. He came to the rescue. He came to meet the deepest needs of our hearts. He came to save us from this world of pain. We don’t have to throw our hands up and resign ourselves to the fact that what’s going to happen is going to happen. We don’t have to be silly enough to say “well, if I’m good then good is going to come my say.” No, Jesus has already paid the price for that. We can come to a place where we say “I may not ever make any sense of what’s going on, but God is still God. And God is still MY God.” Just because times are hard, doesn’t mean they are hopeless.

Do you see what God has done for us? He loves us and desires us to have hope. When I thought I had nothing left but pain, confusion and even anger, God still wrapped his arms around me and said "I'm here! Your story is not over yet! This is a very bad chapter in a very, very good book." After crying out to God, there was no more shame or hiding. My heavenly Father became the resource of strength, peace and hope He always wanted to be for me. I don't know if you and I will enter parenthood in the same way or not, but I pray you find hope in your journey as well. I hope you turn to God and find hope!

Now back to a lighter note. Back to my journey. Remember, we were on the brink of getting matched with a birth mother and a baby when our lives changed in an instant? Well, we were pregnant! Yep, you read that correctly! After years of infertility, five failed fertility treatments, and big steps toward an adoption, God decided it was time for this miraculous little warrior child to come into our family through a pregnancy my doctors feared my not ever happen! We are now a family of three because we now have our sweet, beautiful, smart, affectionate daughter, Little B! Today I am called Momma. That's right, Momma! The magnitude of that privilege is not lost on me. Today I am Little B's, Little Momma. This miraculous warrior child has been prayed for, waited for, and now she is home!

April is a devoted wife to her high school sweetheart and an amazing mom to Little B. Prior to becoming a stay-at-home now, she used her degrees in Human Development and Psychology in her work running a teen parenting program, where she worked extensively with the parents as well as providing care for the infants and toddlers in the program. April has a beautiful heart for mothers, adoption and those experiencing infertility. She spends her time blogging over at Little Momma Moments to encourage and support those who are parenting, desire to parent, and support parents.