Out of muddy water

My friend Jessica and I went to college together years ago. We lived in the same dorm, and she served as my sister’s RA our senior year.

Since our days as Ballard Babes, Jessi has endured some incredible ups and downs in her family life: marrying her husband, Ryan, giving birth to her first son, Lucas, losing her brother, John, and facing the breast cancer diagnosis of her mother, Cyndi. Earlier this year, she experienced another heartache: delivering and saying goodbye to her second son, Brody, in less than the span of one week.

When someone is slammed with such tremendous tragedy, those of us who have not lived through that kind of loss often find the only words we can utter are an admission of our incomprehension: “I can’t even imagine what that would be like.”

 That is my heart with this post. By sharing Jessi’s story – the story of Brody’s life – I hope to help those of us on the outside, looking in, to imagine and thus better empathize with the thoughts and feelings and daily life motions of one family navigating the loss of their child shortly after birth.

 I thank Jessi and Ryan for courageously sharing their son’s life, granting us a glimpse into their sorrow, and demonstrating how those who know Jesus can grieve with hope.

Boschma family interview infant loss remembrance

Brody was born on February 20th. He was with us for five days.

Those five days were very much up and down. They were doing everything they could to save him, and thankfully, the doctors were making sure he wasn’t in pain. Before his birth, they prepared us that we may not even be able to touch him at first. We were grateful when they told us we could touch him; we just couldn’t caress him. When we placed our hands on his little foot, he would stretch and reach out, craving that touch.

Ryan and I were able to stay in the hospital with him for three days, until I was discharged from my C-section. On Brody’s last night the doctor said we could go home, reassuring us we could call anytime. We agonized over it, and decided to go home. On the way home, we talked, trying to grasp what this was going to look like. Brody was going to be in the NICU for a long time. How would we juggle it?

We got home, showered, called in to check. They told us things weren’t looking good.

We rushed back to the hospital and spent the night in his room. The next morning the doctor told us what they were doing to keep Brody alive was starting to cause irreparable damage. His little heart was strong; he was a fighter. He did not want to give up, but his body just wasn’t compatible with life.

An organization called Forget Me Not came in and asked if I wanted pictures. In their experience, they said, most families appreciated having the pictures, even if they don’t want them taken at the moment.

I didn’t. In my mind, we were praying for a miracle. We wanted a miracle. Everyone was praying for a miracle. When they handed him to me, I was going to hold him, and he was going to be healed.

+++

Two summers ago, in August, we shared the news with family the day we took the pregnancy test.

Our 20-week appointment was the week before Thanksgiving, and there was a huge windstorm. We took Lucas with us.

The ultrasound tech did a couple things and started acting flustered; she didn’t come out saying if it was a boy or girl, which was fine because we didn’t want to find out the gender. The doctor came in and said things weren’t looking right, red flags had popped up. She threw a bunch of possibilities at us, told us we needed to see a specialist. I started bawling.

Ryan was supposed to be leaving for a Young Life retreat, and I was supposed to join him later, but I wanted to isolate myself. He talked me off the ledge. People at the retreat prayed over us. It’s crazy when you’re experiencing pregnancy issues, how many people come out of the woodwork and share similar stories.

The next week we met with a genetic counselor who ordered series of tests. We got our results back after Thanksgiving and everything came back negative. We were ecstatic, and thought that if it was something like learning disabilities, it would be OK; we could handle it.

After two great months of scans, I went for an ultrasound in February. The doctor said there was fluid in the baby’s lungs, and that the point had come where the baby would be better on the outside than on the inside. That brought up the issue of me wondering, Why can’t my body take care of my baby?

The doctor said we needed to do a C-section. I had wanted a natural, vaginal childbirth, but I also wanted what was best for my child.

They brought Ryan in right as they were doing the swipe across my stomach. A team of doctors swooped in to take care of the baby, and another team came to take care of me. Watching those doctors work on my baby – they were so amazing with what they did. The anesthesiologist held my hand the whole time after Ryan left to be with Brody.

Ryan got to announce that it was a boy. Beforehand, we had picked out a couple names.

We decided to name him Brody, which means “out of the ditch,” “out of muddy water.”

+++

After Brody died, when we were driving home from the hospital, Ryan and I talked about how we were not going to get a divorce. We were fully aware of the statistics of how some couples who lose a child struggle in their marriage.

The week leading up to Brody’s service, we didn’t have family in town, so we had to make all the funeral decisions on our own. That helped, though, keep Ryan and Lucas and I really tight together.

We buried him in the same place as my brother. I love the idea of Brody being close to John.

I didn’t go to church for a while. It’s not that I didn’t believe in God; I just didn’t want to be around people or large crowds. They would look at me with sympathetic eyes, scared to say something to me, scared to say his name. But there was one woman – someone who had gone through several miscarriages – she’d ask me all the time, “How you doing, Brody’s mama?”

Right after he died, a ton of people poured out their love on us – bringing us food and flowers and gifts. One set of friends chipped in funds to send us on a trip over the summer. Another friend got Lucas a bike trailer so he could ride with us. We were absolutely blown away by people’s generosity.

When people ask me now how to help someone who lost a baby, I tell them, “Just do something.” We know how much it meant to be on the receiving end. And when people didn’t do something, or seemed afraid to say something, it was really lonely.

I wouldn’t say that anytime, through any of this, we questioned our faith. We know through thick and thin, we may not like what God allows, but that He does love us, and is there with us. We didn’t have a crisis of faith, though there were times we were questioning God a lot about what had happened.

+++

It took us awhile to go back and do more genetic testing. We found out Brody had Noonan syndrome, a genetic disorder that prevents normal development in certain areas of the body. Noonan syndrome is a spectrum – some people can live a full and happy and healthy life, perhaps facing some learning disabilities. Brody was on the other end of the spectrum. He also had fetal hydrops, and those two things together put Brody in a spot that made him not compatible with life.

The five days he was with us, Brody taught us so much: the need to fight, to not give up, that life is short. We don’t know when our last day will be, so we’re not going to do things we don’t want to do.

I have been a high school teacher since 2003 and have enjoyed (almost) every minute of teaching, but we made the decision for me to stop working and stay at home. My heart wasn’t in it like it used to be, and I wanted to be home with Lucas and supporting Ryan. I now share essential oils with people and am able to work from home.

Two words that we have clung to – described in the intro of a devotional called “The One Year Book of Hope” – are manna and grace. Just like when the Israelites were wandering in the desert, and needed their manna, we also need our manna to survive, getting into the Word somehow every day. And grace – we need to show people (and ourselves) grace. Some days are harder than others to do that.

{Ryan}
One day we were pretty upset with each other, and then realized it was the month anniversary of Brody’s due date. When we recognized that, we were much more understanding of why we had bad attitudes.

Every day we have to be mindful of why we might be angry, and to be honest with our emotions. It’s helpful to know the times I am upset because we lost a child, not because someone didn’t pick their shoes up. It keeps me in check to show grace to my wife and son.

{Jessi}
Our immediate family has gotten so much closer through all of this. I am so thankful for Ryan and Lucas.

We have pictures of Brody around the house, and an ultrasound picture of him in Lucas’s bedroom – Luc was insistent we put it there. When we told Lucas that Brody is in heaven with Jesus, it was funny; he’d point up to the sky and say “Brody with Kevin” (not sure if he was meaning “heaven” or a character from “Despicable Me”).

There’ve been times when I’m reading him books before bed, and he’ll look at me and ask, “Momma sad?” and I’ll tell him, “Yea, momma misses Brody.” He’ll run and get a scrap of toilet paper to dab my eyes. Then, he will ask, “Happy now?”

I’m learning to find that balance, letting him in on my grief.

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There’s a place in the hospital called the angel room. It’s where you go after your baby dies, so your family can come say goodbye. You can be there as long as you want with your child.

The Forget Me Not people earlier had recorded the sound of Brody’s heartbeat and put the recording in a Build-A-Bear type stuffed animal. I picked a monkey. It was neat for Lucas – he called it his Brody Monkey.

Lucas Brody monkey Boschma family infant loss remembrance

I was worried about bringing Lucas into the angel room, worried about his little spirit. We decided if he started to freak out, Ryan would take him and leave.

Right away Luc asked to hold Brody. He tried to drive one of his little cars over Brody’s face. The Forget Me Not people took lots of picture, cut a lock of his hair, did footprints – those in-the-moment activities that were the farthest thing from my mind.

It was so hard to call the chaplain. It was late in the evening when we finally did. We gave up Brody to this sweet, gentle old man. I have that memory so clearly – I can see him, holding Brody, standing in the angel room as we walked away.

+++

I want to remember Brody. I want his life to help other people. He taught us SO MUCH about what it means to have true grit.

We want people to hear about Jesus as we tell Brody’s story – because without Jesus, I honestly do not know how we would be facing each day. We had prayed for a miracle – that Brody’s life would be spared – but the true miracle is that we were given five days with our sweet boy.

Years ago, I started the John Eagon Scholar-Athlete Award as a way to honor and remember my brother’s life. I run in marathons and half marathons and raise support for the scholarship. All the money is managed through a local Community Foundation and is therefore tax-exempt. A few weeks ago I ran in the Hayden Lake Half Marathon in honor of John and Brody. It was therapeutic doing something physical to remember Brody. And it brings comfort thinking of Brody in heaven with his uncle.

If you feel led to donate, please visit https://bmcf.fcsuite.com/erp/donate/create?funit_id=1136.

Jessi invites anyone who would like to talk through their losses or ask questions about Brody’s story to contact her at jessiboschma@gmail.com.

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No more miracles

nomoremiraclesblogimage1

Warning: This post will rock you. Not in a way that will astound you with my wit or eloquence. If anything, you’ll think less of me and question my sense of rationality and perhaps even my faith. So be it.

What I mean is that the following post is about as raw as you can get. For some reason, I feel compelled to write my feelings – unprocessed, unfiltered, full of shame, glowing with transparency. It is not intended to be a woe-is-me post, or a self-glorifying look-at-how-real-I’m-being post. It is simply a description of my emotions at present, and if you’re a woman who is or desires to be a mother, you may very well feel these emotions as you read my honest, admittedly melodramatic words. Expect tears and proceed with caution.

You see, I want another baby. I have two wonderful, dynamic children, and I want a third. I have more love to give, a not-quite-depleted supply of energy, and a resolute desire to mother another child. I don’t feel done yet.

My exceedingly patient and loving husband agreed to pursue an addition to the family despite his feelings of being done already. We decided to attempt the “easiest” route and try for one year to conceive again. We tried, and we failed. Again.

I went into it eyes wide open. This wasn’t my first rodeo. I knew the potential for letdown, but figured it was worth it in case God wanted to grant us another miracle. Probable, no; possible, yes. Damn that glimmer of possibility and the inevitable disappointment it brings.

I took my own advice I tell others who are undergoing fertility treatments or otherwise struggling to get pregnant and took it one day at a time, one two-week wait at a time, one cycle at a time. That strategy backfired. Last December – the 12th and final month of trying – the moment I went to the bathroom and discovered I wasn’t pregnant, the weight of the emotions I’d been shoring up slammed into me like a semi-truck and knocked me out of my I’ve-got-this-and-can-totally-keep-it-together façade. And, since it was during the holidays and we were staying with family, I couldn’t allow myself to fully process the depth of my pent-up grief.

So that’s what I’m doing now. And man, does it suck.

I cry at odd moments of the day. I try to avoid going by the guestroom, with its empty crib and closet full of baby clothes and toys that will all need to be disposed of in one way or another. I stare off into space as my kids repeat random questions, which they would do anyways regardless of my melancholy state, but I should nonetheless pay attention to them since one out of every 25 inquiries might actually merit an answer.

I’m also avoiding people, skipping church events and meet-ups with friends. I haven’t felt up to putting on a happy face, acting like I’m OK, like my life hasn’t just hit a major redirection. How could I explain to anyone what I’m feeling?

How could I explain that I’m so grateful for my two boys – both miracles in their own right – and yet feel so hurt that I won’t receive another? I am not despairing, like I was before I became a mother, but I am grieving. Whereas before, although my plans for having child #1 and child #2 didn’t pan out the way I’d expected, in time, I could see that God had something better planned. This time, I don’t see that better thing that God has planned since there will be no child #3. Before, although I felt so beaten down that I should give up the dream of having a child, I didn’t. This time, I have to.

I feel defeated. Bereft. Overwhelmed with that oh-so-familiar, didn’t-realize-I-still-had-it kind of ache. What do I do with this persistent urge to mother a child from infancy? I love my kids. I love other people’s kids. It’s part of who I am – a creative nurturer.

If you tell me to get another pet, I’ll punch you in the face. A pet is great, but it is not a replacement for a child. Neither is a career, hobby, or even a ministry. A loss of one kind in your life cannot be replaced by a gain in another area of your life.

Also, please don’t ask, “Why don’t you just adopt again?” The answer is: “It’s complicated,” and that’s all I can say about that in a blog post. (As an important side note, this is not a question I recommend posing to someone going through primary infertility for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is it implies that adoption is easy, which IT IS NOT. Find more explanation on this note here.)

And this is going to sound bad, but don’t talk to me about how my contentment should be in Christ alone. I already know that and believe it. I realized after an awful period of introspection that having kids wasn’t going to complete me, that motherhood wasn’t the be-all, end-all. Sure, it’s a huge blessing, and rewarding, as well as, at times, the most frustrating thing in the world, but it’s not the best thing in the world – that’s reserved for knowing and walking with Jesus. So I know this to be true, but it doesn’t invalidate the loss of not being able to fulfill this God-given desire.

I feel angry. Pissed, to put it mildly. Mad that my pristine vision of a beautiful family of five is ruined, irreparable. I know God loves me; He has a purpose for this plan; He is good and sovereign and just. But I’ve never understood and doubtfully never will why He sometimes does not enable someone to fulfill a strong, noble desire He gave them in the first place. It seems cruel.

Then there’s the guilt. Why am I questioning God’s intentions, when He has already given me two incredible, unexpected gifts, and allowed me to experience the joys of both adoption and pregnancy? Shouldn’t I simply be grateful for my two kids instead of blessing-grubbing? I tell other women facing secondary infertility they shouldn’t feel guilty, but it’s hard not to succumb to this temptation, especially when you are also working through some major conviction (hello, right here, bigtime). It seems shameful to admit my distress over this intangible loss when others have endured so much more significant heartache in this life. I accuse myself: “You shouldn’t feel that sad about this. Why don’t you just count your blessings, let go and let God, insert another Christianese comment, and get over it.”

I feel confused. What do I do now? How do I reconcile this unyielding desire and view of my family as unfinished with the apparent “no” God has decreed in reply to my prayers? And why the heck am I facilitating a support group for women dealing with infertility and infant loss when I’m acting thoroughly whiny, ungracious, ill-tempered, and lacking in faith and self-control – basically how NOT to respond to this type of trial? Take that as evidence that God appreciates irony.

These questions are all rhetorical. I’m not writing this post to solicit answers to my plight, or invoke clichéd expressions of sympathy, or inspire fabricated reasons for why God allows pain in our lives. Believe it or not, I decided to write this post to impart hope. I’m refuting the lie that I’m the only woman on Earth saddened at the prospect of not having any more kids and affirming a vital lesson I have learned am learning through this process:

You can be disappointed about something that went wrong in your life and still love Jesus. You can trust in His goodness and believe in His promises and still be hurt by His plans. It’s called a paradox. Look it up. The Bible is loaded with ’em.

It’s not that this place of disappointment is somewhere you should linger. I know I’d rather not stick around here. It’s better to fully embrace God’s sovereignty and acknowledge the kindness of His will than to wallow in pity and all things self.

But one of the most unfathomable parts about this relationship we have with our Creator is that even when we’re failing at handling our hardships, He still cares and carries us through them. His faithfulness is not predicated upon my faith or lack thereof.

Defining a “right” way to grieve is impossible, and grieving this kind of a loss – wherein no one has died, thank goodness – but you nonetheless feel empty, drained, like someone stole something from you, something you never had – is difficult to articulate in a way that others can understand. Even more complex is the process of feeling forsaken by God, but believing He loves you beyond comprehension. Jesus knows; He experienced it.

So, without seeing a resolution to my present disappointment, I will cry out to my good, good Father, and be thankful for His grace, and be sad for my loss. For when I am weak, then He is strong.

You are not alone

 

I sat, staring at the backyard.

My eyes perceived the scenery before me – the pale sky, the slender birch trees, the too tall grass – as my mind envisioned children laughing, rolling down the hill, blowing puffs of dandelions, and running to me for a kiss after falling down and scraping a knee.

I cried my heart out.

My yard was empty. I didn’t have any kids; didn’t have any co-workers, since I was working from home; didn’t have any friends, since my husband, Colin, and I had recently moved to the area. He was at work, and I was by myself. I sat alone in our empty house, gazing out the back window like a mental hospital patient, thinking about how I was never going to be a mom.

Later, I learned that the neighbors whose property bordered the back of ours – the ones who owned the fence into which my eyes bored holes during my patio reverie – were also experiencing difficulties trying to conceive. The wife had been diagnosed with endometriosis, just as I had. The two of them had undergone a few unsuccessful rounds of IVF and were prepping for another attempt at the procedure, just as we were.

Around that same time, we joined a church small group, where we met another couple who had fertility challenges and were beginning the adoption process, just like we were.

Then I met another woman who had struggled with infertility for years until finally conceiving through IVF, and now wanted to help other women facing similar issues by starting a support group, just like I did.

When we launched that support group, I met woman after woman after woman who knew The Ache – who desperately wanted a child but couldn’t get pregnant, and was wrestling with frustration, disappointment, worry, and anguish, just like I was.

Through these experiences, I learned that I was not the only one grieving the loss of the ability to bear children; I was not the only one living life with this unfulfilled desire to be a mother.

And once this desire eventually was fulfilled, I discovered that having children wasn’t the only redeeming result of this difficult season. Through infertility, I gained numerous new friendships and deeper, more honest relationships that I never would have experienced if I’d gotten pregnant that first month of trying.

I treasure those friendships now, and certainly appreciated them back then. Because when you’re going through infertility, you need a friend who understands the vicious cycle of hope lifting off at Day 1 and crashing down around Day 28, accompanied by an unseemly obsession with charting various bodily functions.

You need a friend with whom you can swap crazy Clomid stories, or laugh about the embarrassing thing you and/or your husband had to do at the doctor’s office, or joke about how you had to hide all your weapons before the adoption social worker paid a visit.

You need a friend who will stay with you for several hours after a medical procedure, when you are too weak and dizzy to do anything but lie down and talk about your favorite cooking shows.

You need a friend who will encourage you to give purpose to your pain by blogging about your experiences so others know they’re not the only ones struggling with this issue.

You need a friend who will buy your old Barbie collection to help fund your IVF cycle, save the dolls, and then re-gift them to you to pass down to your daughter, as one of my high school youth group pals did to support that friend who inspired me to blog.

Jessica bought a Barbie collection from Heather to help fund her IVF cycle, then saved the dolls to return to her Barbie sister in hopes of her one day having a little girl. Heather’s daughter, Emily, now enjoys playing with her mom’s collection.

Despite your friends doing all these wonderful, amazing things to uphold you, there will still be times when they are unavailable. Your calls will be dismissed; your texts will go unanswered.

You need a Friend who will truly always be there, who is better than all the friends Facebook has to offer, who is better than all the babies you could ever wish to mother.

You need Jesus. He will never leave you, or forsake you. He will carry your burdens, even when you think you don’t care anymore, and revive your hope, even when you feel like giving up.

And, knowing that you have the ultimate friend in Jesus, you can be a friend for Jesus. By that, I mean you can share the love and comfort of Christ with those who are hurting, even when you are hurting. He’ll give you the grace and strength to do it.

You might just be the friend someone needs to tell her she is not alone, either.

In the world we live in today, it shouldn’t be hard to find someone who is going through a difficult time and could use some encouragement. Look no farther than across the fence in your own backyard.

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

10 things I hate about what people say when you’re going through infertility

I once called my brother the root of all evil. He must’ve done something to deserve it – like steal one of My Little Ponies or disregard my stage directions during one of the family skits I wrote, directed, and starred in. Regardless of his actions, it was a cruel thing to say, and I immediately regretted it as I saw how I’d wounded his sweet (albeit mischievous) little 6-year-old heart.

We all know words can hurt. We also know that we can be stupid at times, saying things we don’t mean out of anger or putting our foots in our mouths. It happens. We’re human.

Words can especially bring pain to someone who is grieving a loss, as when someone faces the possibility of not being able to get pregnant and/or carry a child. Any and every little thing can set them off, like that go-to conversation starter: “Do you have any kids?”; or the more invasive: “When are you going to start a family?” Innocent, everyday questions can shoot like stinging arrows, reminding you that your arms are empty and your heart is aching.

During my time in that miserable season I eventually learned I needed to be more thick-skinned and recognize that the vast majority of people weren’t meaning to shiv me in the ribs with their well-meaning yet insensitive comments. I also discovered it helped to tell others what NOT to say so I wouldn’t want to punch them in the face or de-friend them on Facebook.

So I thought it might be fun to put much of my social network on a guilt trip and share some statements and questions that are just not helpful to those who are dealing with infertility. Seriously, don’t feel too bad if you’ve said one or more of these things – remember, we all say stupid stuff, and there’s grace to go around, yada yada. Just take a glance through these 10 items and look forward to my next post on things you can say and do to encourage your loved ones who are trying to grow their families.

1) “You just need to relax.”
… or go on a vacation, get a massage, reduce stress, etc. This type of advice has the opposite effect and creates more stress, making your friend feel like she’s doing something wrong when there’s likely a physical problem – not emotional or psychological – preventing pregnancy. Relaxing never cured anyone of diabetes; neither can it cure a diagnosable medical problem like infertility.

2) “God has a purpose for your pain.”
This statement is true, but to your friend, who is dying to know when or if she will be a mother, it often comes across as a trite attempt to dismiss her sorrow. The pain of infertility is real and must be acknowledged and dealt with in healthy ways. Also, if your friend is a believer, she probably already knows God has a divine purpose for her struggles, and His timing is perfect, and His ways are higher than hers, but that might not be the message she needs to hear from you when she’s smack dab in the middle of that struggle.

3) Complain about pregnancy OR glorify pregnancy – “OMG I can’t stop eating, how am I gonna lose all this baby weight?” or “Feeling these little baby butterflies is uh-mazing #blessedtobeknockedup”

4) “Have you tried _______?”
… acupuncture, massage, meditation, Feng Shui, more exercise, less exercise, gluten-free diet, etc. Chances are, your friend knows how to use the Internet and thus has done a thorough job of researching the many methods people experiment with to get pregnant and doesn’t want or need your suggestions.

5) “Have you tried _______?”
[insert unsolicited, wildly inappropriate recommendations for sexual positions, techniques, or activities proposed by total strangers, or worse, your mom or MIL.]

6) Complain about your kids – “Are you sure you want kids? You can have mine.”
Yes, I’m sure I want kids. No, I don’t want yours; they’re brats, and you’re just as bad for saying that to brush off my disappointments.

7) Emphasize the perks of childlessness – “Enjoy getting to sleep in while you can.”

8) Act like you know what they’re going through when really you’ve got no clue – “I can totally relate to you because of my journey through _______.”
Grief is universal, but experienced in different ways by people in different situations. It’s better to admit that you can’t completely understand your friend’s anguish and that you’re saddened to see her hurting than to compare losses and thus downplay her unique struggles.

9) Quote Scripture out of context – “No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11b)
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Note this verse doesn’t say all Scripture is profitable for comforting hurting people through improper citations that are ill-timed and insensitive under the given circumstances. By all means, go to the Word for encouraging promises and stories of God’s faithfulness; just be careful determining which verses to highlight and when to share them.

10) “Why don’t you just adopt?” or “Just adopt; then you’ll get pregnant.”
As wonderful as adoption is (and I’m a huge advocate), your friend might not yet be ready to process all the emotions and practical issues involved with making the decision to pursue that option. This question also implies a load of negative and/or incorrect presumptions, including the likelihood that your friend has given up trying for a biological child, that adopting a child is inferior to conceiving a child, and that adoption is an easy alternative to biological baby-making. Furthermore, studies show adopting a child does not affect the rate for achieving pregnancy. Adoption isn’t a means to an end of getting pregnant; it’s another way to add a child to your family and a route a couple should pursue only when they’re ready.

See more ideas at RESOLVE’s Infertility Etiquette page and The Carry Camp.

My take on the Parapreggers Phenomenon

I was all fired up to write a pseudo-scholarly critique of recent op-ed columns on the so-called “controversial” themes in Breaking Dawn when I got hit with some news that derailed my social commentary train of thought. You know it’s gotta be important if it trumps Twilight.

The news I’m referring to is a quick succession of pregnancy announcements communicated via a variety of methods, the most recent being the cover of Us Weekly proclaiming that Kourtney Kardashian is expecting baby #2, likely conceived in an attempt to steal the limelight from sister Kim’s botched marriage. This baby boom all but validates my theory about how these things work: Like the celebrity death rule of threes, women tend to get pregnant around the same time – often two, three, or more at once – and in my experience, often at a time when I’m facing a big decision, dealing with disappointment, or just generally having a sh***y day. Maybe this has something to do with how women go to the bathroom together, or how their periods somehow sync up when living in the same place. I call this the Parallel Pregnancy or Parapreggers Phenomenon, also known as There Must Be Something in the Water Effect.

As I digested this news, it occurred to me that I could do the exact opposite of what my internal processor husband would do and blurt out my reaction to the world (wide web). This is not simply motivated by a need to vent my frustrations, although that’s part of it; I want to help others who haven’t been through or known anyone close to them who has experienced infertility understand what someone feels when they hear these announcements. A few recent conversations with some women at an earlier stage in the infertility process than us prompted my desire to continue blogging with the goals of enabling empathy and promoting honest reflection on an emotional issue.

NEON FLASHING DISCLAIMERS
#1: I cannot express how much I love Calvin; how grateful I am for my son and the amazing way God brought him into our family. As I said in my last post, as hard as it has been to go through infertility, I am beyond thankful for the way the Lord orchestrated events so that we could adopt him. Although I haven’t experienced the miracle of pregnancy, I have experienced another miracle through adoption, and my heart is full of joy having the opportunity to love on Calvin as his mommy. That said, there is a definite difference between my reaction to pregnancy announcements and conversations before and after Calvin came into my life, so I will delineate between the two perspectives.

#2: To my friends who are/were pregnant: Please know I don’t hate your guts. Well, maybe just a little, only for a brief period of time. Actually, my beef is usually more with God and (my perception of) His decisions to allow so many others to conceive while putting a deadbolt on my uterus. It’s certainly not that I don’t want you to be happy, or for your family to grow, or for a new life to be created; I just want to experience all of that, too. Which leads me to …

#3: The Bible clearly doesn’t condone envy, and neither do I. Just because what I want is a good thing doesn’t mean I get a pass for coveting others’ happiness and harboring discontentment with what God hasn’t given me. Considering that envy is a “pet” sin worthy of a whole other post, and that I’m already six paragraphs into this one and haven’t yet gotten to the main point, I’ll set that topic aside for now and focus on the raw emotions of what it’s like for a woman who can’t get pregnant when she hears that someone else is.

Pre-Calvin reaction
Earlier on in our journey down infertility lane, a friend of mine who had also experienced struggles but then was able to get pregnant told me she was sad to give me the news because she knew how it felt like a knife in the heart. At the time, I thought this was somewhat of an exaggerated statement intended to express sympathy. I mean, it was hard to hear since it reminded me of what I didn’t yet have, but it didn’t upset me a great deal because I was hopeful that I could personally share the experience with my friend.

As the months dragged on, and tests upon tests were ordered, and fertility treatments were attempted, I began to understand what she meant. Friend after friend after friend got pregnant, and I had to endure countless happy announcements while never getting to make my own. Some of them had difficulties, while others seemingly snapped their fingers and conceived. Whatever the circumstances were, their prayers were answered with a child, and mine weren’t.

To reiterate Disclaimer #2 again, I was usually happy for each friend who got to have a baby, and rejoiced in the new life God created. But sometimes it’s a heckuva lot harder to rejoice with those who rejoice than it is to weep with those who weep.

Hearing announcement after announcement wore me down emotionally. It deepened my grief over the loss of being able to conceive and what often seemed like the loss of friendship, as I began to feel alienated from my friends since I couldn’t relate to their experiences of pregnancy. Sometimes, when I was caught off guard, it felt like a two-by-four to the gut. Other times, when all it took was someone looking at her husband to get knocked up, it irritated me more than my dog’s nose-licking fetish. Each time, I felt a stab of sorrow over not having the gift of life from the Creator of life. In particular, seeing ultrasound pictures on Facebook completely rocked me, and still does hurt a bit, because that’s exactly what I may never have – the opportunity to see a tiny person growing inside me.

Trying to muster the expected enthusiastic response to every announcement required extreme effort, and I’m not proud to say that my congrats were often begrudging. It’s not easy fabricating happiness when you feel like crap. But then you feel guilty knowing that you’re basically lying as you say “I’m so happy for you” when in reality you want to cry your eyes out, or punch something/someone, or cry your eyes out while punching something/one.

Over time, pregnancy announcements became a surefire tear trigger for me. I simply could not hold in the sadness or temper the frustration. My heart’s desire was to be a mommy, and it hurt to watch others be given that joy while I was left out.

Post-Calvin reaction
Now that I’m a mommy, these announcements aren’t nearly as heart shattering as they were before. In fact, I’ve been relieved to be able to talk about baby stuff with friends without having it send me into fits of sobbing. Plus, I’ve been having so much fun with Calvin, watching him learn and grow as I learn the ups and downs of being a parent, I haven’t been obsessing over my cycles as much or paying a ton of attention to others’ reproductive exploits.

But truthfully, it still stings a little. Like a fingerpick blood test, the news that someone else is pregnant can inflict a sharp moment of pain, as I’m reminded of my infertility and loss of something special. Through the years, I’ve realized that I need to give myself a short time to process my reactions and then move on with life. Any attempts to get over it right away or act like it’s NBD are pretty worthless. That’s why I appreciate it when close friends show sensitivity and call or e-mail as opposed to making a big public proclamation without any advanced notice. I don’t expect everyone to do this – it’s not like I’m pissed at Kourtney K. for dishing her news to the tabloids instead of texting me personally – but I’m definitely grateful to those who make that extra effort.

Faithful as ever, the Lord recently introduced a new viewpoint on the issue of handling the news about friends getting pregnant in light of my ongoing desire to someday get pregnant as well. If it ever happens, I’m sure I’ll be excited, but I was also excited to adopt Calvin. God performed a miracle and brought me my son not through my womb, but through another’s, a woman who chose to experience an emotional loss so that her child could have a wonderful life. How amazing is that! (Note: I do not use exclamation marks lightly.)

I am so humbled and overjoyed to be blessed with a child through adoption. Thus, when I think about all the fun experiences I’ve missed out on and may never undergo, I can remember the thrill of getting that phone call when we were chosen to be Calvin’s parents, and the ensuing jubilant craziness of bringing him home without any prior preparation, and be thankful for my own happy announcement I got to share with others.

Many thanks

I know I laid the whole grief thing on a little thick in my last post, and while I don’t need to apologize for being honest about my feelings, I should reassure everyone that I’m doing OK. Not great, but OK. The initial shock is over; I’ve had several good cries and probably will have more. But my soul is not in the depths of despair, as the Psalmists or Anne of Green Gables would say.

The response of family and friends has been overwhelming. We’ve received calls, e-mails, Facebook messages, cards, food dropped off at our door, and offers from family members to hop on a plane and fly out to be with us. Being on the receiving end of such encouragement and compassion is a little strange for me, almost to the point of making me uncomfortable, because I like to be the one to help others and show them love. So this experience has been humbling as well as harrowing, which is a good thing – it’s important to learn how to accept grace without feeling compelled to reciprocate.

While I am wholeheartedly grateful for everyone’s kindness, I have to acknowledge that I can’t repay it. I can’t even respond individually to each person’s message right now, though I hope to do so eventually, because it would take a really, really long time to call or e-mail all those who have been praying for and supporting us. I feel like the arrival of our children, however/whenever that happens, will be the most anticipated event since Brangelina’s twins were born. (By the way, I would not mind if you prayed for us to have twins, as that has been my dream since I read Sweet Valley High in grade school.)

And of course we ask for your continued prayers. After we heard the news that we didn’t get any embryos, I told Colin I didn’t know what to pray for anymore with regard to our infertility struggles. His response was “Pray for the story of our children.”

We don’t have any children of our own to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, but the Lord has given us countless other blessings that we appreciate. In the latest Whitworth Mind & Heart, which is often written with the help of my PR whiz sister Emily, new school president Beck Taylor referenced 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I cannot say that I rejoice in the fact that IVF didn’t work, that I am thankful what might have been our last chance to get pregnant was a failure. I’m just not there yet. But I can give thanks to Him for pouring out His love on us through our family and friends, and I can thank all of you for being instruments of His grace.