A quick Google search will tell you that one in eight couples struggles with infertility. I never imagined we would be one of them. And, once diagnosed, I never contemplated this leg of my life’s journey would take years.
This is our fifth attempt at in vitro fertilization (IVF). The first was a canceled cycle, where my body didn’t respond to medication. In the second we lost four embryos—three of them after they were transferred into my womb.
The third cycle, like the first, was canceled. In the fourth, we were filled with hope at the prospects of our sole embryo. I was convinced we would defy the statistical odds. Instead, we got another negative pregnancy test.
The disappointment has become familiar. We have been TTC (“trying to conceive”) for nearly four years. And here we are, still hoping, still coping with the hurry-up-and-wait of treatment.
If all of this sounds exhausting, it is. Especially when hundreds of injections and dozens of ultrasounds are juggled around two professional lives and a beautiful family where we get the privilege of helping to raise and mentor young adults and little children that are not biologically ours.
Wrestling with infertility through my faith.
For women and couples coping with infertility—particularly those of us who are people of faith, but whose only physiological option is IVF—finding a safe place to share our stories can be daunting.
In church, I wonder if “children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalms 127:3), what did I do to lose our reward? Sadly, no amount of choir singing, Holy Yoga, Scripture reading, or prayer has extinguished the shame that on my worst days makes me wonder if some behavior in my youth made me barren.
When the shame subsides, I wonder if my issue is unbelief. If “by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise” (Hebrews 11:11), how strong is my faith if we turn to science for help?
Online communities can become a rabbit hole we fall into when we get trapped in the “why?” and “what if?” questions that feed our fears.
Feeling drained, rather than energized, by small talk at social gatherings for the first time in my life, I crave the company of the kind of friends that aren’t uncomfortable with the complicated or sad me, and instead invite her in—offering a cup of tea or a glass of wine and a willing ear.
With many friends, I opt for brief interactions, like social media posts that focus solely on the things for which I’m grateful. The truth, if not always my whole truth, is that even on hard days, I am #grateful and #blessed. It’s hard enough to be on the fertility treatment roller coaster. Having spectators along would only make it harder for me.
My biggest battle is me.
The two women I have relied on most over the years I’ve been struggling with infertility don’t share my story. One doesn’t want children. The other is a mother of two teenagers. But they see me, hear me, love me, and meet me right where I am—they are God’s hands and feet.
As I shared my fears with one of them recently, she said, “That’s what I love about you. You are all brain and all heart. No wonder you’re exhausted.” Then she paused, held my hand and simply offered, “Be gentle with yourself. Get some rest, my friend.” As a wellness enthusiast, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I desperately needed the reminder to rest.
My brain and heart are in a constant battle, one calculating the statistics in the science, the other clinging fervently to the hope of meeting the beautiful child I know God can create. The battle is just under the surface of my busy schedule. My packed agenda is part and parcel of a lifelong “work hard, get results” mindset.
I know full well there are areas of our lives where no matter how hard we work, we don’t dictate the outcome. This, I’m finding, is as true of reproduction as it is of relationships.
And I am absolutely convinced that this is exactly as it should be. Human beings are so much more than sperm + egg = baby.
Most days, my optimism survives the battle.
Gratefully my husband, the one God encourages me to rely on in the trenches, is a realist. His very real faith is what I lean on when mine fails me.
In the messy middle of the struggle, the Spirit nudges me to remember that words are my gift, not numbers. So I put away the calculations of how my particular diagnosis affects my chances of motherhood at 41. I look up my word.
Fertile, as defined by Webster’s is both “capable of breeding or reproducing” and “characterized by great resourcefulness of thought or imagination.” God constantly reminds me of my resourcefulness and imagination—through loved ones, students, even strangers.
“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:10). I know this to be true. Isolation rooted in shame breeds defeat. So, I return to my extroversion with this article, as I continue to pray my husband and I will have biological children of our own.
You are not alone is this.
Whether or not this next attempt succeeds, if the struggle that led to this writing results in one other person knowing they are not alone, they are loved by God, and they are not doomed to or by infertility, then God will have answered my prayers. He will have made me fertile.
As I contemplate that possibility, I take a deep breath. And in that instant, my go-to hashtags #grateful and #blessed become my whole truth.
If you happen to be in a position to be a willing ear for someone on the fertility journey, recognize that you don’t have to have the right words. Simply reminding them that they are equipped with the grit and grace to keep going and that it’s okay to stop and rest along the way, just might help them redefine fertile.
For more encouragement from strong women like this, check out:
Infertility Is an Interruption, but Not the End
When You’re Desperate to Know the Reason for Your Pain
What Your Grieving Friend Really Wants You to Know
A Life Full of Hardship Has Made Me Joyful
When Others Minimize the Pain of Your Miscarriage
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