God is good all the time...and all the time God is good. This is something that I have played over and over in my head for the past few years. For those of you still here, I want to tell you about June 8, 2010. This day will forever ring in my heart as a day of confusion and deep unending sorrow. I remember every detail of that day and for the following days. I had just completed two back-to-back 16 hour brain surgeries on two different deer. I was teaching a summer course at UH, Psychology Research Methods. I was wearing black pants and a blue shirt with sheer ruffles on the sleeves. I had just gotten a haircut to deal with the summer heat. My sister was getting ready to come visit in a couple days. I recall the night before the 8th, that I was organizing the books in my home office, when I had sudden paralyzing back pain until I just had to lay down. The next day I was passing back papers for a quiz my students had taken the day before when I had a sensation like I had wet my pants. I remember thinking “I’m so glad that I’m wearing black pants.” As soon as class was over I ran to the bathroom and knew exactly what was happening. I was losing our first baby. I remember being so deeply sad, so empty and alone in that dingy old bathroom stall. I called the doctor who later confirmed the loss. I remember coming home and sitting on the couch to tell my husband that our first baby would never breath his or her first breath on this earth. We were devastated to learn that our sweet baby had quietly left us to go home to be with Jesus. We loved this baby so very much- our hearts hurt to know that we won’t get to meet our first baby on this side of eternity.
We never told anyone, not our families, friends, or smallgroup at church. The loss happened just 2 days after our nephew was born and we didn’t want to be “Debbie downers” so we waited. We didn’t share it with our smallgroup because I was in the middle of planning a fun cowboy themed baby shower for the next month, and another girl announced she was expecting, and again we didn’t want to rain on someone else’s parade. The timing was just off and timing was everything in our case for comfort. So I did the typical Southern Woman coping strategy and just put on a fake smile and went through the motions until everyone had had their babies. Then it just seemed ridiculous to bring something up that had occurred almost a year ago. Wouldn’t they think I was crazy for still being upset?! Wouldn’t they question why I never brought it up, and why had I waited so long? Would anyone really believe me? Would anyone understand my feelings? Why was I not over it yet? So instead I let it just eat away at me, and my bitterness and grief grew. I read other blogs about miscarriages and babies born sleeping and really connected with their emotions despite never really spilling my guts to anyone. So in the past when I have said that blogging has become a great source of encouragement, I really do not exaggerate. Blogging became a source of comfort and a place of peace for me where I didn’t feel so alone in my grief.
A year went by, June 8th came and left again..still no baby and I was still devastated. I don’t consider myself a great actress either, but I managed to put a smile on with every friend and family member that announced they were expecting. And to be honest, I was thrilled for them, and I really did have genuine joy for their new adventure, but I was so sad for my loss, my inability to conceive, and was often envious of the ease of others to conceive. Why was conception such an issue for me? Why was my body not doing what all the textbooks said it was designed to do? If I lost a baby, I knew conception was possible at one point, but why was this so difficult for me now? Would there ever be another baby, or did we lose our only baby?
While we waited there were some triggers that made infertility so tough for me personally. I would get so frustrated with women that would complain about sleepless nights because of their children crying. This stung so deep because I laid awake many nights crying to myself wishing I could hear the crying of my own child that I could rock back to sleep, but instead only heard my own snuffles amongst the pure silence. Yes they probably would have censored their venting had they known what I was really feeling, but again, I felt like it was too late to express that and I was too frustrated with their complaining. It was hardest when someone else became pregnant. Of course I was over the moon joyful for them, I was just so sad it isn't me. Watching tons of my friends become pregnant with their first and even second child in the same amount of time I had not been able to conceive once was the pits....seriously the stinkin’ pits.
The following 3 years were challenging to say the least. But God is so good. From the moment I told the Mr. that a) we were pregnant and b) we had lost the baby, he was completely supportive. I was overly sensitive to everything. I know I must to have confused the heck out of him, because I remember feeling relief at the very beginning. Please don’t take this to mean that I was joyful that our baby was gone by any means, but I knew deep down that it was not the best time for us and the Mr. and I still had some work to do before we were truly ready. So yes I felt glad that our desires matched God’s, but I still didn’t like this struggle and still desperately wanted that baby. Does that make sense? So with the back and forth and extreme emotions that washed over me at the very site of another woman’s beautiful baby bump, I understood that God had a plan for us. I always knew he had a family for us which may not come in the conventional way, but if we would just wait on Him, in His perfect timing we would receive the best gift of all. So we waited and waited…..and waited. During this period of waiting the Mr. and I grew to be better friends than we ever were. He wasn’t just the man I married, he was the man I depended on for comfort and guidance. He was the machine that kept my heart beating when I thought I could no longer do it alone. He prayed over me as I cried over and over again for the next few years. I know now looking back that the storm God provided us was good for our marriage. He allowed the loss of a child and the loss of ability to conceive so that we could grow together and be a better team for the next step. All of God’s provisions are, and were, for good. Beauty does rise from ashes (Isaiah 61:1-3), and that’s how our story goes. And while we held onto hope that we might have another child, the truth is that it would never replace the one we lost. Still, we knew that beauty would rise from our ashes and sorrow. We knew that He could open my womb and we just prayed that He would. And that while we waited, we prayed for Him to fill us with peace, joy, and wisdom for how we should wait.
We spent a lot of time on our knees praying; Christ was the solid rock we were standing on. We prayed for the doctors and nurses to have wisdom with our case, for our marriage to be strengthened, that our storm would be used to bring Him glory, and that we would find joy in this storm. We were never angry at God. I think a lot of people would say that about my bitterness, but not one time did I ever get angry at God. Yes I was very frustrated with our situation, but anger was not an emotion that I, personally, encountered. While I did not find this experience to be good, I knew that it was for His kingdom, and if nothing else, I should be happy about that. That He would use our story to bring others to Christ.
When we decided to start looking into other avenues to grow our family I was petrified. This was just not how I planned this family-growing process to go (God has been teaching me for decades that I’m not the one in control; I will get this concept one day….hopefully!). Before we were married, the Mr. and I had decided that adoption was something that we felt called to do, but I struggled with the timing on this. We even began the paper work and interviewing adoption agencies in Texas. Adoption is something that we still feel very strongly about for various reasons I will expand upon another day, but after many discussions and lots of prayer we lacked peace with the timing. So we started seeing our fertility specialist. I remember a day in one February when the doctor looked at me square in the face and said, “ Mrs. Hawley, you will never conceive”. She said it so matter of factly; I remember balling in her office, being escorted out of the office, and crying all the way home. I remember that evening telling the Mr. the doctor’s report, and watching his face lose the hope we were so desperately looking for. Those words stung more than any “Not Pregnant” pee stick result. She said that she was willing to work with us despite her prediction, so like most couples who first start fertility treatments, there were a lot of tests that both the male and female have to pass, and some of these tests and procedures are not the most pleasant of experiences. After all of these test my doctor called us in and she said, “Everything looks perfect!” This time she was very chipper. At first this made me very excited, after all, that was exactly what I wanted to hear. But with some more time this made me very frustrated. If we’re so “perfect” then why is this whole conception thing not working? Why are we still waiting? Why do I feel tortured with every baby I see at the market? Why?!?!?!
One morning while I was reading my devotional book, Empty Womb, Aching Heart (which I like to call Chicken Soup for the Infertile Soul), the Lord placed (Matthew 21:21) on my heart. He can and DOES move mountains, and I must believe it. I should not put my trust in a doctor, or charting, or even fertility treatments. The barren woman will NEVER be satisfied (Proverbs 30:15-16) and God knows it. He knows and acknowledges that incurable pain and He is okay with it. This verse made me finally, after years of bitterness and depression, realize that it was okay to be upset, in fact God says it’s okay. He was okay with my frustration and much bigger than my frustration, but He just wanted me to acknowledge it and give it to Him, not to put my trust into something or someone else. He was and is the Ultimate Physician (and Ultimate Fertility Specialist). I should also mention, that during this struggling, my husband gently recommended that I start going to counseling to help me sort out my emotions and deal with my bitterness, grief, and depression. I love that my husband knew that this was something that I needed and brought it up at a time when it would be well received and supported me in this process by not only asking me about it, but even helping me find a counselor that would tend to me while respecting my background in science and relationship with Christ (which in the science world is VERY hard to find).
So we started fertility treatments, but our trust was not placed in whatever the doctors advised, instead our focus was on Him knowing that if He wanted this to work He would make it happen. So when we started on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for infertile women (not to be confused with postmenopausal women; totally different treatment plans), we were relying on Him and looking forward with great expectations (2 Corinthians 8:5). Now I have to be very honest, I really struggled with the idea of using hormones to conceive. Charting, peeing on sticks daily (and sometimes multiple times a day), blood testing, hormones, timing marital time, ultrasounds, pills, injections, really took the romance out of conception. I was concerned that this baby would not be born out of love but out of a bunch of pills and syringes, but now I realize that with every day that passed as we waited, my love for the child we prayed for and desired only grew. The intimacy of waiting has provided this baby with more love than I could have ever imagined possible.
The Mr. and I determined a timeline with HRT, since the hormones were pretty dangerous and do increase the risks of cancer. How horrible would it be if we conceived only to find out that I was diagnosed with cancer?! I was not down with that! If we conceived I wanted to stick around for this thing called parenthood. When we were 3 cycles away from the end of our timeline, the Mr. and I reached a conclusion, that we were ready for this to be over. We were physically and psychologically drained; we were completely worn out and were ready to reach the end of our timeline. We were at peace with crossing the finish line without conception. We gave it our best shot, we prayed, we actively waited, and still there was no baby and we had peace. This was September of this year, and two weeks later, on 9/22/13 we found out that the Lord had blessed us with the gift of conception. To say that we’re excited, and filled with joy really just doesn’t do the Lord justice. There are no words in any language that describe how grateful we are.
So why do I say that God is good all the time and all the time God is good? We know that this is a miracle baby, and we know that God has and is using us for His kingdom and we know that this was all His doing. To see the shock on our doctor’s face when she confirmed the pregnancy and telling her about Christ reminds me that He did have and still does have everything in control. There are no coincidences or trials that go without merit. His works are for good!
So how has infertility changed me?
I know that not everyone’s struggle with infertility looks like mine; I acknowledge that this is still part of our story, that the fight isn’t over, that the anxiety isn’t gone, but for now we find peace. Everyone’s struggle with infertility is different and everyone processes it differently; however, a loss is a loss, grief is grief and it doesn’t matter where you are in your journey, it always hurts. From my personal experiences this is what I’ve learned and this is how I have changed:
- Upon the diagnosis of infertility, you start to wonder why infertility has happened to you, and feel like less of a woman. You get mad at those who undesirably get pregnant (usually those under the age of 18 or on drugs), and wonder why a loving couple like you can’t create the miracle of life. You get jealous, crabby, bitter, and you change.
- You dread baby showers, and sometimes you avoid people who have children because seeing them hurts too much. If it is going to add stress to you, and cause a lot of emotional pain, I say politely decline the invitation. If you still want to send a gift, you don’t have to go to Babies R Us, just order something online and have it sent to her house. You never have to hold the gift or see it in person.
- Just because someone has had a hard road with infertility doesn’t make them any more entitled to sad feelings than you. When you’re doing everything right, I don’t care how many cycles you’ve gone through or how many miscarriages you have had, or how many children you have had born sleeping, infertility is hard. No one has more “rights” to sadness or grief. Grief is grief. Period!
- You aren’t crazy; every single woman you know really IS pregnant. Every friend on Facebook is going to start posting pictures of sticks they have peed on with that magical second line or the glorious word "pregnant" across the screen. A few months later all the ultrasound pictures will pop up followed by beautiful birth stories. You will undoubtedly torture yourself over every announcement and every picture. I wish I could tell you to stop but you won’t. Instead, let yourself mourn each time you read or hear the news of a new pregnancy. One of them will be your sister or your best friend, so get ready for that one. Cry, scream, yell, whatever it takes, do it. But then you have to move on. They are experiencing a joyous occasion in their lives and it’s important not to shut your friends or family out; you need their support. I wish I had learned this one sooner (in fact I wish I had started counseling much sooner so that I wouldn’t have missed out on sharing the joys of others while I was lost and drowning in my own depression).
- It’s okay to be vulnerable and raw with your emotions. It’s okay to acknowledge that some days are bad days. Sharing my story with others that have experienced loss has been so healing for me. It has helped me to feel comfortable in my misery. It has brought peace to my heart, and brought beautiful women into my life that will forever be my best friends and sisters because we share a path of struggle together. Pain and suffering are what makes us grow as people. Through pain, we learn to empathize better. Through suffering, we realize that others too might be suffering and we can relate and share about the difficulties of traversing the day with the weight of pain, failure, and loss bearing down on us. The stronger we become, the more we can stand with others in pain, allowing them to suffer but not to suffer alone.
- Pain changes a person and although the cause of the pain is often a terrible tragedy, the change a person experiences is not necessarily a bad thing. I think back to the person I was before I suffered from infertility and failure after painful failure. As I reflect on the person I was before I had to watch everyone around me get what I wanted while my body continued to fail me over and over again, I realize that I am a better person now because of my struggles.
- Before infertility, it never occurred to me that people may be smiling on the outside but dealing with a painful, soul-crushing loss on the inside until I was one of those people. I am now hyper aware of other’s feelings and forgiving of people’s shortcomings because I realize that they may be fighting a silent battle too. Just like I was putting on that fake smile, many others do that as well, offer them grace and mercy.
- I never thought about how hurtful certain statements could be: this was meant to happen, this was all in God’s plan, it will happen someday, why don’t you just adopt? I think before I speak now. I don’t try to change or justify the pain because this doesn’t help anyone. It actually takes power away from them. I listen more because this is what I learned that I needed during many of my hardest days.
- In the past, I always wanted to stop and fix pain, rather than hug people and to tell them it was ok that they were hurting. Now, when people experience pain I tell them that they hurt because what happened mattered. Having experienced pain that seemed so meaningless and feeling “dumb” for being sad for what could have been but never was, I can understand that sometimes pain just needs to sit because it represents what was important to us but is now gone.
- I feel that I have always been a kind person. I have always cared deeply about others and I have never meant to intentionally hurt anyone. The person I’ve become is a deeper, more sensitive version of this person. I feel more, I cry more, and I love deeper. I’ve maneuvered my own grief, which has opened up my heart to other’s grief. I’m stronger and realize that soul-crushing pain, while it takes my breath away, will not crush me. Suffering breeds experience and something beautiful can come from the darkest experience.
Through infertility I have been changed; I’m not who I was before and I’m glad that I will never be that person again. I’m not thrilled that I have walked so many years through infertility, but I’m happy with the outcome. I’m glad that I depended on the Father to carry me through this storm, and I’m blessed to have had a husband who constantly pointed me back to Jesus. I’m glad to be taking a break with this struggle and while I know that life is so very short and precious, I will try my best to embrace everyday that the Lord gives us with this baby. If you are struggling with infertility, loss, or grief, I hope you know that I pray for you on a daily basis that God would fulfill the desires of your heart and fill you with peace and joy while you wait. You are a very special population that I am proud to be a member of to love on and pray for.