Laughing at God

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If you’re still in shock over our big announcement, you can get in line right behind me and Colin. Although I’m now in the second trimester and starting to see physical evidence of a baby on board, plus my indulgence in burger and pizza cravings, it is hard for me to believe that this is happening after four years of infertility, including a failed IVF attempt. Saying the words “I’m pregnant” seems like an out-of-body experience; hearing people ask how I’m feeling weirds me out; sitting in the OB waiting room makes me feel like Dorothy in Oz, wondering “How the heck did I get here, in this land of munchkins-in-progress?” Even at our first sonogram, I was stunned to hear a heartbeat and look at the fuzzy dot in the picture, all the while thinking, “Is that little person really inside me?” It has been a surreal and amazing experience, much like when we got the call that Calvin was going to be our son, and Colin and I are thankful beyond words for this unexpected blessing.

To answer the burning question on everyone’s minds, we did not do anything besides the usual birds-and-bees method of getting pregnant. This happened naturally, which in our case means miraculously. Four years of trying to conceive never resulted in a positive pregnancy test, even with several rounds of fertility treatments, including an IVF cycle that did not produce any embryos. We had just started looking into big-time fertility clinics, and went so far as to consult with a top specialist and do some testing, but found out that I was pregnant before trying any treatments. In the follow-up with the specialist to discuss the test results, which didn’t shed much further light on our infertility, his response to my pregnancy news was, “Well, I guess you finally got your good egg.”

Like the fertility doc, many people like to come up with explanations for how/why couples get pregnant after failing to conceive for many years. This is a natural reaction, and it is understandable how anyone can get caught up in the happiness of the moment to propose what seem to be good reasons for such extraordinary occurrences. Interestingly, the opposite is also true – that people like to formulate reasons why a couple can’t get pregnant, just like we all try to do when something bad happens in life, and somehow think that we know the purpose for why God causes/allows it to happen.

In our situation, I don’t know why God enabled us to get pregnant, but I give Him all the glory for answering this long-standing prayer. And while I don’t want to suppress anyone’s excitement or claim logical or spiritual superiority over anyone else, I feel compelled to clarify a few issues that challenge the most frequently stated explanations for why some couples get pregnant after struggling with infertility. The point isn’t to make anyone feel guilty for thinking and/or saying these things, but to enlighten others about the perspective of someone who is living this experience, and who admittedly doesn’t always have the patience to respond to recurring comments in as calm a manner as can be conveyed through a blog post.

We got pregnant because of our great faith
The Bible certainly talks about God rewarding faith – “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6) – but it also clearly states that humans have no clue what God is thinking besides what’s laid out in Scripture – “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?” (Romans 11:34). So although we witness blessings that could very well be given because of someone’s trust in the Lord, we really don’t know if that’s all or part of the reason why God decided to grant it.

Aside from this theological reasoning, I must confess that my faith in God to provide this particular blessing of pregnancy had over time shrunk to a size way more miniscule than a mustard seed. Colin and I had given up thinking that it would happen naturally, and had barely allowed a sliver of hope believing that it could happen if we tried IVF again at a top-rated clinic. We told our friends over dinner one night that there was no way we were going to get pregnant “on our own” – how could we, after four years of complete failure? While I believed that God could do the impossible, I figured He didn’t want to, and there wasn’t much of a point keeping that hope thriving. I didn’t stop praying that it would happen, but I gave up expecting God to answer my prayer with a “yes.”

Others, in the meantime, kept on praying and believing. Just a few months before we found out I was pregnant, my sister-in-law e-mailed saying that she had woken up the previous night and felt a strong and specific burden to pray for us to conceive. It was a good thing she e-mailed rather than called because my initial response was anything but gracious. Instead of being thankful for her commitment to pray for us, I essentially pulled a Sarah à la Genesis 18:12 and laughed at what I thought was a ridiculous waste of time. In my mind, there were millions of other more worthwhile requests to bring before the Lord, and I silently mocked her exercise in futility. Call it being jaded or simply realistic, I was done with believing I could get pregnant without medical intervention, and questioned if even that was possible. So if anyone’s faithfulness is to be credited for this pregnancy, it is those countless friends and family members who continued praying for us year after year, and whose prayers have now resulted in two blessed children.

We got pregnant because we just relaxed
Several people gave us this advice when we were trying to get pregnant – just relax, get a massage, go on a vacation – and now that we are, some people think it was a key to conception. While I’m not opposed to relaxation, and understand why people think a little R&R could help with the babymaking process, I don’t believe this reasoning is legit because it ultimately implies that infertility is either caused by stress or simply “all in your mind,” neither of which are accurate assumptions.

Infertility is a diagnosable disease. Something is going wrong with the sperm, the egg, or both. Even in so-called unexplained cases, fertility doctors assert that there are one or more physiological problems preventing conception from occurring. Stress can complicate or be a result of infertility, but it is not a cause. You would not tell someone with a chronic illness that if they “just relax” they will be cured. I believe the same principle applies to infertility.

That said, stress management techniques can help someone cope with the physical and emotional difficulties of infertility, just as they can help those suffering from chronic pain and disease. It’s not like I’d turn down a massage, even if I knew it wouldn’t cure a darn thing. For the purpose of full disclosure, I will say that I started acupuncture treatments several months before getting pregnant in an attempt to address bad cramps and bowel issues. In no way did I expect it to help with infertility; I just tried it knowing that it was a scientifically proven method for reducing stress and tension and for increasing circulation – all good things that can help with a variety of ailments. And now that I’m pregnant, I can’t say with any certainty that acupuncture was the magic bullet; there’s just no way to prove that it “fixed” the problem, especially not knowing exactly what the problem was to begin with. I guess acupuncture for me will be one of those things that some people assume is lame although they haven’t actually experienced it themselves, kinda like Twilight. My response to this would be: Don’t knock it ’till you try it (or read it).

And one final note about the “just relax” statement: Stress is a part of everyday life. Sure, some seasons of life are way more stressful than others, but does anyone really go a week or even a day without facing pressure or tension? My point here is that just because a couple stops trying fertility treatments and/or adopts a child (which I’ll get to next) does not mean that their stress over infertility or anything else in life suddenly disappears, thus making their bodies more conducive to pregnancy. On the contrary, adding a child to your family can increase one’s stress level, at least temporarily, and some would argue for the next 18 or so years until the kid leaves home. Stress is unavoidable, so assuming that those couples who end up conceiving after infertility were able to because they relaxed presumes that they’re living in fairytale world where worries don’t exist.

We got pregnant because we adopted
This explanation is about as popular as a “Call Me Maybe” parody, and considering the number of times I’ve been told this, is about as repetitive as the lyrics. It does seem that we all know or have heard of a couple who got pregnant after adopting, and now we are one of those couples. Although I can’t refute this claim since I’m living proof of it, I have to reiterate what I said in the previous section about infertility being a disease.

Adoption provides a way to add a child to your family, but it obviously cannot cure the physiological causes of infertility. The evidence to suggest that couples who adopt often get pregnant thereafter is anecdotal and not scientific. My 5-minute Google search on “pregnancy after adoption medical study” didn’t turn up much besides a blurb from The Encyclopedia of Adoption citing a study done by Michael Bohman showing that 8% of adoptive parents ultimately have a biological child. (I apologize to my academic friends for not being able to find the primary source on this.) The text proposed that these instances could be attributed to the 20% of infertile couples diagnosed with “unexplained infertility” and stated that those who suggest adoption is a psychological cure to infertility are sadly misled. The rest of the top results included some variation of the title “myths about infertility,” including this neat little list from RESOLVE. In lieu of these statistics, or lack thereof, I think it is important to remember in the midst of rejoicing with those who get pregnant after adopting that the majority of infertile couples who adopt do not conceive, and may not want to be told that this kind of thing happens all the time – which is clearly not true.

My biggest issue with the pregnancy-after-adoption theory/fable is not the intention of anyone who makes these statements, but I think should be clarified nonetheless to demonstrate the purpose of adoption. Adoption is a means to an end of adding a child to your family; it is not a means to an end of getting pregnant. Both adopting a child and having a biological child are beautiful, Scripturally significant ways of building a family, and one way is not better than the other. Colin and I originally planned to have biological and then adopted children, but God wanted us to adopt a child and then have a biological child. It wasn’t our Plan A, but it was His Plan A, and it turned out far better than I could have dreamed.

As I said before, I don’t know why God enabled us to get pregnant, but I do know why He didn’t allow it to happen before this: so that Calvin could be our son. All the pain, disappointment, and frustration of infertility was more than worth it to hold my sweet boy in my arms and be his forever Mommy. And now there’s another reason why God didn’t want us to get pregnant for the past four years. A friend of mine who also struggled with infertility once told me that it wasn’t until her daughter was born that she understood God wanted that specific sperm to unite with that specific egg and create the embryo that became her daughter. For us, He shut down our babymaking machinery until the right moment when He would create the unique blueprint for this little guy or gal. I cannot say enough how thankful I am that the Lord gave me Calvin and this baby in His timing, even though for years I seriously doubted that His timing was good.

So be careful if you laugh at God. He may forgive your irreverent disbelief and shock your socks off with unimaginable blessings.

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