Six ways to help a friend face the baby-making blues

Super Bowl 2014. The Seattle Seahawks destroyed Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the franchise’s first-ever victory at the NFL’s pinnacle event. As QB Russell Wilson – aka my husband, Colin’s, man crush – raised the Vince Lombardi trophy in triumph, those few handful of Seahawks fans who had cheered for the team throughout its long history of total suckage experienced long-awaited redemption. Colin declared he could die a happy man.

Later that month, we celebrated our 10-year anniversary. Talk about anticlimactic.

Super Bowl 2015. The Seahawks had overcome many obstacles to make it back, and were battling it out with the Boston Patriots in an evenly matched, fairly called game. Down four points, with under a minute left in the fourth quarter, the Hawks were at the Patriots’ 1-yard line and within arm’s reach of a repeat. Then the unthinkable happened. Instead of giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch to punch it in the end zone, like anyone who knows a lick about football would choose to do, the Seattle coaches called a risky pass that was intercepted, securing the win for the Patriots.

Once the initial shock wore off, Colin wept bitterly, on the inside. I didn’t know what to say or do to comfort him, so I simply whispered, “Sorry hon,” patted him on the back, and left him alone to work through his grief.

Track with me here in this terrible transition from talking about how to console loved ones dealing with sports-induced depression to talking about how to encourage loved ones coping with infertility.

Watching a friend or family member undergo the physical, emotional, and financial hardships caused by infertility can make you feel helpless. If you’re already a mother, you long for your loved one to share the exasperating yet joy-filled experience of having children. But how can you support her, knowing there’s a heckuva lot you shouldn’t say, and besides taking it to the Lord in prayer, there’s nothing you can do to help fulfill her desire to become a mom?

While you can’t erase your friend’s pain, you can seek to understand specific ways to express your care and concern. Realize, though, that even if you say the “right things” and treat her with utmost sensitivity, she might still be sad and discouraged and downright ornery. She’ll also be grateful for your love and companionship as she traverses her difficult path to parenthood. 

Colin urged me to use a photo of hugging cats for this post, so here’s what I found. Unfortunately, I didn’t come across any great pics of hugging cats wearing Seahawks jerseys.

1) Weep with those who weep
Words often fall short when someone is grieving, but a shoulder to cry on is almost always welcome. When your friend receives news of yet another negative pregnancy test, or an adoption opportunity falls through, tell her you’re sorry, you love her, and that you’ll be there for her if/when she wants to talk about it.

2) Show interest (to her comfort level)
If your friend says she’s open to sharing her infertility issues with you, go ahead and ask her a broad, open-ended question such as “What options are you considering?” Whether she’s pursuing fertility treatments or adoption or taking a break from it all, demonstrate your concern about what she’s experiencing and feeling. When you know she has a doctor’s appointment or a meeting with a social worker coming up, send her a text or email ahead of time and let her know you’re thinking about her. Allow her to decide when/if to tell you how it went.

3) Exercise extra grace on holidays
Mother’s Day is pure hell for a woman having trouble having kids. As well, the vast number of holidays that revolve around giving gifts to children or acknowledging children as gifts can add to the ache. Even birthdays can be painful reminders of that damn ticking clock. Recognize that your friend may be hurting during these celebrations and do something to make her feel special – write her a note, bring her lunch, or take her out for a mani/pedi date.

4) Encourage her to join a support group
Remember the days when you were so pissed at your parents that you ran to your room, slammed the door shut, and shouted with all the self-righteousness of a 15-year-old, “You just don’t understand me!”? A woman who is struggling with infertility feels like no one gets what she’s going through – lonely, isolated, an outcast from our baby bump-obsessed culture. Your friend can combat these lies and experience healing through community by attending a support group for those facing childbearing challenges.

This is, of course, a shameless plug for the ministry I’m facilitating, Graceful Wait, but there are plenty of other great resources out there for finding support groups, either online or otherwise (see list at the end of this post).

5) Tell her you’re praying for her … and actually do it
Ain’t no baby ever came into this world who didn’t have the Lord Almighty breathe life into his or her tiny little body. Commit yourself to pray for your friend, even if she’s given up on it. Pray that she will receive the child she so longs for, that she will have wisdom to know how to walk toward that end result, and that she will grow in faith and dependence on Christ throughout the whole process.

6) Rejoice with those who rejoice
The day we left town to pick up my oldest son, Calvin, from the hospital – less than 24 hours after we got the call from our social worker that we were going to be his parents – we had nothing at our house to prepare for an infant but an empty room and a couple of cute frog paintings I’d bought at a yard sale for my “someday” baby’s room. We returned a day and a half later to find that empty room converted to a fully fledged, well-stocked nursery, complete with crib, changing table, bouncy seat, diapers and dozens of other essentials, toys, wall décor, and a neat little row of onesies hanging in the closet.

Our church small group had come over while we were gone and pulled a surprise home makeover. The friends who had walked with us through months of terrible disappointment, including an epic fail of an IVF cycle, had jumped at the opportunity to minister to us in our time of celebration.

To this day, it is one of the most beautiful things anyone has ever done for me (another being Calvin’s birthmother choosing us to be his parents), and I will never forget the amazement I felt when I walked into that room. Even Colin shed a few tears, on the outside.

Our friends put up signs around the nursery for Calvin’s homecoming. Best use of clip art ever.

“Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b) Stay up with your friend now, during this long night of waiting, and you’ll get to rejoice with her that day she finally gets to hold her child in her arms. In the meantime, you’ll watch together how the Creator redeems broken expectation and transforms it into delayed – yet very much worthwhile – gratification.

Support group resources
RESOLVE support group list
Bethany Christian Services infertility and pregnancy loss forum
Dancing Upon Barren Land online support group
The Carry Camp weekend retreat
Hannah’s Prayer community forums

The story of your life

The other day I heard a fascinating anecdote on the local Christian radio station. I’m not sure if it’s totally legit, and it certainly didn’t sound scientific, but it still intrigued me. Apparently some pastor camped out on the streets somewhere and posted a sign saying he’d pay 25 cents to anyone who’d sit down and listen to his story. No one took him up on that offer. The next day, he changed things up and posted a sign saying he’d pay 25 cents to anyone who’d sit down and tell him their story. People lined the streets waiting for their chance to pour out their hearts to a total stranger for just a quarter.

While this 30-second on-air filler piece might be exaggerated, it makes sense. People like to tell stories – specifically, their stories. It seems part of our nature as humans to want to communicate the events we experience and the emotions we feel in narrative form, complete with background setup, plots twists, and a cast of characters featuring us as the heroes or heroines.

The marketing industry has recognized this human tendency and is riding the storytelling train all the way down Madison Avenue. A recent Forbes commentary put it like this: “…don’t tell me your story; tell me the story that is relevant to me.”

Of course, all this sounds incredibly self-centered, and it is. We are narcissists who love to hear ourselves talk. We assume people want to view an Instagrammed photo of the Paleo broccoli kale lentil salad we made for dinner, rush to re-pin our design for a salvaged barn door turned four-post bedframe, and subscribe to our My Kid Says The Darndest Things Twitter feed. Mark Zuckerberg should thank us for being so egocentric.

But that’s a negative way of looking at it. Our affinity toward autobiographical discourse isn’t just useful for self-importance building; it conveys critical information about who we are, where we come from, and what we’ve lived through, the experiences that shape (but not necessarily define) our identities. This disclosure enables us to connect with others by discovering commonalities through which we can cultivate relationships.

Telling our stories can also provide encouragement, inspire change, and kindle hope. Better yet, it can illustrate the amazing ways God works in our lives, displaying His power, faithfulness, sovereignty, and grace. The Bible itself is God’s love story addressed to us, describing how He cared for us so much that He sent His Son to die while we were still egocentric.

As a writer, I appreciate the value of a good story. I like to tell stories, and I like to think they’re good, though my husband says I have a tendency to ramble and repeat myself. I like to tell stories, and I especially like to tell the story of how God brought our family together. If you haven’t read the previous posts in my sorely neglected blog, which I wouldn’t recommend unless you’ve got a bottle of wine and a good 2-3 hours to kill, the super-condensed run-on sentence version of the story goes like this: We tried for many years to get pregnant and failed; we became parents overnight when we adopted our son six days after he was born; we then became one of those couples who got pregnant after adopting; we now have two energetic boys who challenge and bless us every day.

This abridged version of the story doesn’t adequately portray the numerous occurrences of weeping (on my part) and gnashing of teeth (on Colin’s part) that we experienced along the way. During those difficult times, I was grateful to be part of a group of women with whom I could share my struggles and doubts and fears and trust that they could understand and empathize with me because they were going through the same struggles. They listened to my complaints and angst-y ramblings without judgment, while reminding me of the truth of God’s promises. They felt what I felt and got it, because they knew it.

And as I poured out my longings to them, I got to hear their stories – stories that would break your heart, of little lives lost, and years of futile tests and treatments, and mothers aching to simply hold their babies who barely got to take a breath in this world. Through sharing these stories, we gained comfort to ease our sorrow and confidence to hold fast to Christ. We cried, laughed, and prayed together, enjoying the strength in numbers and the knowledge that we were not alone.

These stories and the need for a safe space wherein they can be shared motivated me to step out and do something – to form a community where women facing similar challenges can “do life together” like all the cool churches are doing these days. The group is called Graceful Wait, borrowed from the name of the group I mentioned earlier. It is a monthly support group for women struggling with infertility or grieving the loss of a baby due to miscarriage, stillbirth, or early infant death.

I’m thankful to have a partner in this endeavor, a friend from church who experienced multiple miscarriages between having her two living daughters. We don’t have a curriculum or much of an agenda besides wanting to invite women regardless of faith background to come; share your sadness and pain and frustration, and take solace in the fact that the other women in this community understand you and desire to walk with you through this hard season.

I seriously buried the lead in this post, but that was intentional. I wanted to end by announcing the beginning of a new ministry I’m hoping will encourage others with the comfort with which I have been comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). I look forward to seeing how God will work through this group, transforming stories of disappointment and despair into stories of redemption and hope through His unfailing compassion and abounding grace.

Big day tomorrow

Our retrieval is scheduled for 10 a.m. tomorrow. I don’t have much to say other than that I’m thankful to be moving forward with this process.

We had another GracefulWait women’s meeting this evening, and one of the main topics of discussion was fear and anxiety. If I’m a pro at anything, it’d be that. You name it, I’ve worried about it, especially when it comes to medical issues. Colin thinks I should get some type of filtering software – you know, the kind people use to block porn – and instead use it to prevent access to WebMD and health chat forums.

A ton of people must be praying for us, because as we prepare for the big procedure tomorrow, I am surprised to find myself not freaking out. I’m definitely nervous and concerned about the outcome, and wouldn’t say I’m completely at peace about everything. Yet I feel like I am safe, that I’m being protected and cared for. It’s hard to describe, and I can only attribute it to God’s faithfulness and sustaining grace.

While reading through the Psalms, I recently came across a verse that I’ll be clinging to over the next several days: “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul” (Psalm 94:19). And I’ll keep repeating my mantra that has gotten me through many an invasive and awkward gyno procedure: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Once more unto the breach

Much has transpired since my last post – Colin and I wowed our friends with our super-creative homemade Halloween outfits (more on that later), we had our first GracefulWait couples meeting (much more on that later), Justin got accepted to the University of Washington medical school (yay!), and the Republicans shellacked the Democrats in the mid-term elections (double yay!). Oh, and we got the go-ahead to start IVF again this month.

This news was about as big a surprise as finding out we had to cancel our cycle last month. See, Colin and I had basically surrendered ourselves to the probability that we’d have to wait until January to try again, the reason being that the fertility clinic’s embryologist would be on vacation during the week of Thanksgiving, and it wasn’t that likely that we could get everything done before she left. Considering that she’s the one who’ll be manipulating and combining our eggs and sperm – a reproductive mixologist, if you will – we kinda need her around for the procedure. Because my period took awhile to arrive, probably due to the hormonal assault from going on and off birth control and then taking fertility meds, I figured it would push the schedule back too far and not provide enough time to complete the cycle before Thanksgiving week. And because of Christmas and all the holiday activities in December, I assumed we’d have to postpone ’till January.

Knowing that this was a possibility, Colin and I tried to soften the disappointment by taking the “count your blessings” approach and thinking about the potential benefits of doing IVF in January – how we’d have more flexibility with our work schedules and wouldn’t have to deal with any holidays or trips. So when my period finally came and I called the doctor’s office, I had already steeled myself for the nurse’s announcement that we’d have to reschedule IVF for January. When she told me that I should come in for a baseline ultrasound on Friday, I was surprised the doctor would want to do that at this point. I was also surprised when they said my ultrasound showed no cysts since they had told me last month that I had an endometriosis cyst, which doesn’t go away unless it’s surgically removed. And then I was surprised when the nurse handed me the schedule, which estimates that the retrieval will be on Nov. 15 and the transfer will be Nov. 18, just in time for the embryologist to hit the road for her vaca the following week.

With this unexpected turn of events, I almost don’t know what I should be feeling – excitement, apprehension, or frustration over the constantly changing circumstances and the need to rework our plans for this month, including an academic conference that Colin now can’t attend and a trip to Grandma and Grandpa Hesse’s that we now most likely can’t make. I don’t want to sound ungrateful for this answer to prayer, so I will acknowledge that it is definitely a blessing to be able to move forward with IVF, especially with my baseline ultrasound showing no cysts (my pessimistic side is telling me that there is one there, that it was just hiding during the ultrasound and will wreak havoc later on in the cycle). However, I want to be careful to avoid getting my hopes up too much, or getting carried away with my fluctuating emotions. We have no idea if the stimulation will work better this time, if we’ll be able to do the retrieval and transfer, or if the embryo(s) will implant. It’s all in God’s hands, and there’s no point jumping to conclusions or freaking out about what might happen. So my goal is to take it one day at a time, to have flexible expectations and trust in God’s plans instead of my own.

Now I’m not a roll-with-the-punches kind of gal. I like my Google spreadsheets, iCal schedule, and comprehensive to-do lists. Heck, half my job responsibility is nagging people about turning stuff in on deadline (Colin would say the other half is nagging him about everything). So living life one day at a time without fretting about what I need to do now or in the future is a strange and frightening concept to me. I know I’ll need an extra measure of God’s grace to get through this time of immense uncertainty. This isn’t an affirmation that those who say “Just relax and you’ll get pregnant” are right; rather, it is a recognition that I need to tone down my Type A neurosis.

Perhaps I should emulate the laid-back, carefree attitude of Hungrybear9562, whose YouTube video provided inspiration for our Halloween costumes. This dude exemplifies the “live and let live” mindset and demonstrates how being relaxed and easygoing helps you really appreciate the beauty of creation. Smoking pot probably helps him with that, too.

Our Spooktacular party with our friends was a blast, as was our first GracefulWait couples meeting, inasmuch as you can call hanging out with other couples who’ve suffered the pain of infertility and infant loss a “blast.” Seriously, we enjoyed talking with some friends we already knew and meeting new friends who are all on the same road as we are. We shared our stories and discussed how we wanted the group to be a source of encouragement for our relationships: with the Lord, with our spouses, and with other couples and families and friends. Talking about two verses in particular – John 10:10 and Ephesians 3:20 – reminded us that God has given us abundant life through Christ and that He does abundantly more than what we ask for or imagine, which aptly addresses our needs as couples facing infertility/infant loss to find contentment and peace in Him while asking Him to answer our prayers for a child. We are very grateful for this group and appreciate their support as we try IVF once again.

If you know your Shakespeare, you’ll recognize the title of this post as a line from “Henry V.” Beloved by Covenant High School alumni, this play describes events immediately before and after the Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years’ War. I chose this title from the speech at the siege of Harfleur because in some ways, it feels like we’re gearing up for another battle in our long War against Infertility, which feels like it’s as long and fruitless as the War on Terror. Yeah, I know that’s terribly melodramatic, but cut me a little slack for this English teacher-worthy analogy: To get through IVF and whatever happens afterward, I know we’ll need a band of brothers – loving family members, empathetic infertile friends, compassionate fertile friends – supporting and praying for us. Thanks for your encouragement and patience with my nerdy literary references.

Waiting gracefully

I got a little hyperlink-happy in my last post, so this time, I’ll restrain myself and only include one: the Facebook page for GracefulWait, the infertility and infant loss support group Colin and I are helping launch at our church.

God began leading us in this direction earlier this year when we attended an adoption informational seminar offered by Bethany Christian Services. A couple shared their story about how God blessed them with a daughter and son through adoption and explained how they formed and infertility support group at their church while waiting to be selected by the birthmothers. The group started out small and over time grew into a large community-wide ministry, far bigger than they had initially expected. Leading this group not only helped them pass the time waiting for their children, it also gave them the opportunity to comfort and enjoy fellowship with those who were experiencing the same struggles.

Hearing this couple describe how God used their heartache to console others while also blessing them in the process gave me the greatest moment of hope I’ve experienced thus far during the past two and a half years of not being able to get pregnant. It was an epiphany of reassurance, a spark of light promising a reason for the pain and tears and irrepressible feelings of loss. Realizing that I could do something with my grief, instead of wallowing in it and getting frustrated with my inability to fulfill my desire to be a mom, gave me purpose and a sense of relief that my life wasn’t meaningless. (I know this sounds awfully melodramatic, about as angsty as something you’d read in Twilight, but that’s how I felt at the time.)

So Colin and I introduced ourselves to this couple, Don and Pam, at the Bethany meeting and asked them for advice on starting a support group. Since then, Pam has called and shared tips, mailed us some great materials they used at their meetings, and emailed encouraging notes. We are so thankful to have another couple who has walked the same road we’re on support us in getting this group off the ground.

To further aid our efforts, I ordered a booklet from Stepping Stones (Bethany’s ministry for infertility/infant loss) full of helpful suggestions on starting and promoting a support group. The authors emphasized the importance of choosing a suitable name for the group to make people feel welcomed and comforted. This turned out to be a challenging undertaking, as I couldn’t for the life of me come up with anything but inappropriate, borderline-crude names, such as:

  • Fertile in Spirit
  • Unplanned Non-Parenthood
  • We’re Not Drunk; We’re Infertile (see 1 Samuel chapter 1)
  • WTFF (Waiting To Form a Family)
  • Families Under Construction … I’ll leave out the abbreviation

Fortunately, the task of naming the group wasn’t mine to fulfill. Coincidentally*, while we had been talking with one of our pastors about starting a couples infertility/infant loss support group, another woman at the church had been working with the care ministry to form a women’s infertility/infant loss support group. Also coincidentally*, she had previously been involved in a Bible study with one of the women from our small group. (*coincidentally = God was obviously orchestrating this)

Kelly and I met for lunch and discussed our ideas, sharing our stories and explaining what had brought us both to this point of wanting to create a ministry for this group of people we identify with. That was a few months ago, and at this point, we’ve had two women’s meetings and will be holding a couples meeting in two weeks. Already, it is clear that people are being blessed through this ministry, and I pray that it will continue to bring together women and couples so that we can carry each others’ burdens and share the love and comfort of Christ.

Our group is called GracefulWait. Kelly, who has been a huge Godsend to me personally, came up with the name and created the Facebook page as a resource for those who want to get involved. It’s a much better name than anything I could come up with, and it poignantly captures the purpose of the group: to help one another as we wait for the Lord to build our families. The problem for me is only He knows how long that wait will be, and I’m not a particularly patient person.

Interestingly, one of the topics at our college Bible study leaders meeting Thursday morning was about having an eternal perspective and believing in God’s promises of a future life with Him. Then in our college small group we’re leading, we covered the chapter in A.W. Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy about God’s eternity and how He exists outside of time. So He’s certainly not beating around the bush with this lesson about the importance of recognizing our trials are temporary and the need to trust Him during our sometimes seemingly endless wait.