It all began on a sunny spring day in Paris (as most good stories do). My beloved husband and I had been married for 2 1/2 years, and were on the obligatory “Europe before you have kids” trip. Prior to this trip, we had intentionally and carefully avoided getting pregnant. Both of us adore kids, but we are both Type A to the max, so needless to say-- we had a plan. We wanted to spend a respectable amount of time just the two of us, building our marriage (because couples who have babies too soon never really know each other, right? ;)), then save up for an epic Europe trip, then come home and have 3 or 4 (depending on how in-control we felt after 3) perfect little mini-us’s, who mind you, will be exactly 2 years apart each.
So on this most gorgeous of spring days at the onset of our 3-week trip, in the most romantic city in the world, we decided to start “trying”. We excitedly shared daydreams while walking along the Seine River about how giddy we would feel announcing our pregnancy to family and friends in the weeks to come. My Pinterest board with adorable nursery ideas was bursting at the seams. We were tickled at the thought of someday telling our firstborn that they were “made in France”. So many dreams and wishes preceded us into this next chapter. We were so in love, and SO ready to start a family.
That beautiful day in Paris was two and a half years ago. Since that day, the reality of “Unexplained Infertility” (yes, that’s the actual medical term) has virtually crushed us.
The different emotions within the trenches of infertility are countless. Each month brings about the same cycle of hope & loss. It’s like you’re on a roller coaster that isn’t coming to a stop. You’re not sure if it will ever stop. The National Infertility Association describes it like so:
“Infertility is, indeed, a very painful struggle. The pain is similar to the grief over losing a loved one, but it is unique because it is a recurring grief. Infertile people grieve the loss of the baby that they may never know. They grieve the loss of that baby who would have had mommy's nose and daddy's eyes. But, each month, there is the hope that maybe that baby will be conceived after all. No matter how hard they try to prepare themselves for bad news, they still hope that this month will be different. Then, the bad news comes again, and the grief washes over the infertile couple anew. This process happens month after month, year after year. It is like having a deep cut that keeps getting opened right when it starts to heal.” (resolve.org)
As a woman, it’s hard to describe the feelings you feel when your body is not doing what it was made to do. There is a sense of brokenness, a fear that you are not good enough, and a sense that you are failing at something that so many women are able to do effortlessly. It’s hard not to compare yourself to the fertile-myrtle’s that have “oops” babies while they were on some form of birth control, or those who say that their husband just has to look at them and boom, they’re pregnant. I sit at baby showers and hear women complain about pregnancy symptoms, all the while thinking about what I wouldn’t give to throw up for nine months straight if it meant I could have a baby. There have been the days when I was so consumed by sadness and weariness that I cried myself to sleep, the days when I laughed hysterically at how ridiculous some aspects of this process are, and days with every feeling in between.
The struggle of infertility means that making a baby is no longer just a tender moment between my husband and I. It becomes a stressful, scientific experience shared with receptionists, doctors, nurses, ultrasound techs, and the gal at CVS Pharmacy who I’m now on a first-name basis with. It also extends out to family and friends, who now know way too much about our intimate life, and cautiously prod with questions and advice like “just relax, it will happen.” Ironically, no phrase gives me greater anxiety. “Ok, I just need to relax… am I relaxed enough? I don’t think I’m relaxed enough!? Pull yourself together and relax, dangit!!!” (said like a crazy person, because that’s exactly how this reality can make you feel; totally insane). Holidays and special occasions bring about raised anxiety levels, knowing that the questions will come, not sure if you will be able to answer them this time without having to choke back tears.
We have tried everything in the book. And I mean everything. To spare my sweet husband any embarrassment (although, neither of us has much pride left), I’ll just share some of my efforts. From drinking my weight in grapefruit juice, to hanging upside-down, to drinking grapefruit juice while hanging upside-down (Just kidding. But seriously.) I have spent way too much time taking my temperature, peeing on hundreds of ovulation sticks, choking down 9 vitamin supplements a day, spitting into test tubes to check hormone levels, detoxing, having my uterus inflated like a balloon, keeping avocado farmers in business by trying to get 3x the daily dose of “healthy fats”, taking hormone treatments with terrible side effects, exploring any and all holistic treatments, using every kind of essential oil in every kind of way… the list is endless. And at the end of the day, we are told to just “keep trying”. We are currently heading down the invasive and expensive path of IUI’s and eventually IVF. In the infertility treatment world this seems to be the end of the road. I am so afraid of the prospect of arriving at that end and having to ask ourselves “what now?”
This journey has brought about a whole new dynamic in our marriage. Learning to process and mourn the feelings of despair and loss, both individually and as a couple, has grown us in ways that would never have happened without the presence of this pain. There is a refinement that has taken place in our souls that we have come to be deeply grateful for. We have come a long way from the beginning feelings of disbelief that this could actually be happening, evolving into anger (towards God, and at times, one another), and leading to bouts of depression and anxiety. This cycle was stuck on repeat for a long time. But God is faithful, and we have grown closer to Him and closer to one another in the midst of the suffering, and it’s a beautiful thing.
In the past, I felt the need to be strong and invincible to the throws of life (at least on the outside). I now have a vulnerability and a gentleness that has made my relationships deeper and more authentic. It’s true what they say, that your misery becomes your ministry. I now have a soft spot in my heart for women who are suffering in silence trying to start a family, who need to know they aren’t alone. I am also given many opportunities to practice extending grace to people who say well-meaning things, one of my favorites being an older gentleman at our church who, unprovoked, walked up to me and told me that I’d “better start having kids soon, your eggs are getting old”. Bless him, Lord. I am thankful for all of our sweet friends including us in their kids’ things, naming us as Godparents to their child, sending heartfelt texts on Mothers day and Fathers day. I am so humbled by the many amazing people praying for us, encouraging us, crying with us. The risk of opening up my heart to others has been met with such an incredible outpouring of love and support that has flooded my heart, giving me strength in the darkest of times.
I used to feel like I had control over things in my life. Now, I laugh at the thought, and delight in the truth that I have a God who formed me, who knows my inmost thoughts and hears my every cry, who calls me His beloved and says “I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4). I’ve had to surrender expectations and release my hopes and dreams to Him, which has been the scariest exercise in faith. In the end, I’m so grateful that I’m not in control of writing my own story because I would miss out on all of the beauty, wonder and blessings that God wants to write in my life.
I don’t know how this journey will end. I don’t know how our dream of starting a family will come to fruition. What I do know is that in the dark and quiet of the night, my hand gently pressed on my belly as I cry out to God to bring life, I will continue to praise Him and say “You are good, always.” Even when I don’t understand, when I feel so hopeless, I will find joy in all circumstances. I will cling to the promise of Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” We will keep trying, keep believing that good things are going to happen, and keep loving God & each other more every day. Though my sorrows may last for the night, His joy comes with the morning.