Listen up: Let’s make the world less crappy for those struggling to have a baby

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The world is a lonely place for couples having trouble getting pregnant. It’s hard to feel like you fit into a society where everyone and their giraffe is knocked up, posting pics of their bumps like they’re the universal outfit of the day.

Instead of further isolating those who are struggling to grow their families, you can support them by following this advice: shut yo mouth and open yo ears.

That’s my snappy adaption of the theme for this year’s National Infertility Awareness Week, an initiative to inform the public about the 1 in 8 couples of childbearing age affected by the disease of infertility. RESOLVE, the organization sponsoring this movement, is throwing back to the old school catchphrase – “Listen Up!” – to help people understand the infertility community’s needs and promote access to a wide variety of family-building options.

During the long and grueling process it took to expand my family, I appreciated those who asked me thoughtful questions and stuck around as I spilled my guts about my screwy lady parts. On the flip side, those who didn’t give me the time of day to listen to my frustrations made my misery and feelings of being an outcast that much worse.

To educate others how they can “listen up,” I wanted to call out specific groups of people who – armed with knowledge and a better grasp on tactfulness – can support someone facing the devastation of infertility in important and distinct ways. And, because this topic is near and dear to me, I’ma preach. So all who have ears, let ’em hear:

Listen up, preggo ladies: The child you’re carrying is a blessing, and a miracle. All babies are, really. While you should celebrate this little life, remember there are many people out there (15 percent of U.S. couples, according to the CDC) who are still waiting on their miracle. If you know a loved one is struggling in this way, don’t dump salt on her wound by talking excessively about your pregnancy. Focus your conversations around non-baby-related subjects you both enjoy, and extend her the courtesy of an invitation to your shower, as well as the grace to bow out of it. And, for the love of Mark Zuckerberg, don’t post your announcement on social media until you’ve shared it with your loved one privately ahead of time.

Listen up, OB/GYNs: As hard as your job is, reaching up uteruses all day long, consider how degrading and defeating it is for a woman who can’t get pregnant to visit your office. She first must wait interminably long in a room surrounded by ballooning bellies, submit to the stirrups for various uncomfortable exams, and talk about her sex life plus other embarrassing topics with a physician who might not even know how to help. Please treat your patients with respect. Don’t downplay the problem – acting as though her irregular periods or ovarian cysts are run-of-the-mill female troubles rather than sources of extreme anguish. And, for Hippocrates’s sake, switch out the clocks in your rooms to ones that don’t tick so damn loud.

Listen up, fertility specialists: Don’t take this personally, but no one wants to see you. Couples who are facing the crushing disappointment of not being able to conceive naturally must reach a level of desperation to seek your help. Don’t make this humiliation worse by either speaking in a condescending tone or behaving in a dismissive manner. One in eight couples are humans – not just a number that could boost or tank your success rates. Show some compassion as you communicate, and treat your patients’ minds and spirits as well as their bodies by supplying resources and contact info for local support groups, psychiatrists, and counselors.

Listen up, alternative therapy providers: You guys are weird. You should probably own up to that. While couples who pursue your line of treatment would do almost anything to have a baby, they don’t need you pushing various get-fertile-fast items that would further bust their budgets or making unfounded promises that could further dash their dreams. Be honest about the strengths and limitations of your services, and don’t look shocked if a client asks you to turn off your hippie background music.

Listen up, adoption caseworkers: While you get the joy of helping bring parents and children together through the beautiful and redemptive process of adoption, you also have the task of drawing out the pain that might have motivated both the adoptive and birthparent(s) to seek this option. Please do NOT tell your prospective parents they must “get over” the disappointment of infertility before they can adopt – as if that grief is different than any other loss that takes time to process and perhaps continues to hurt even after resolution has been reached. You must know that all the adoption paperwork is exhausting, and the undertaking of preparing for a home study feels like a Fixer Upper reno, minus the assistance from Chip and Joanna. So handle your clients with care, and give them continuous status reports as they wait on pins and needles for the call that will change their lives.

Listen up, pastors: If you’ve already preached on the topic of barrenness in the Bible, well done! (There are at least six women in Scripture who struggled getting pregnant – including three of the founding mothers of Israel – so the odds are in your favor here.) You play a critical role in comforting those who have to muster the courage every Sunday to gather in a place dominated by families with children. Lift up the “least of these” in your congregation by researching good books and blogs that you could recommend, and support the efforts of those who facilitate infertility support groups in your community. On Mother’s Day, consider marking the occasion in less ostentatious ways than doing standing ovations or flower presentations, and/or mention the need to appreciate ALL the important women in our lives. And lastly, I beseech you, quit cracking procreation jokes from the pulpit. Not everyone in your church is “good at making babies,” and saying so will ostracize those who might already feel like church is a place where they don’t belong.

In whatever context you encounter those who are facing infertility, the way you handle your interactions can either uplift them or drag them down. We can make the world more compassionate through the simple gesture of listening to those who are hurting.

And all God’s people who are tired of hearing “just relax and you’ll get pregnant” said: “Amen.”

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#HonorAllMoms

Hands

Mom. A word that evokes…

So many labels:

Biological. Adoptive. Foster. Expectant. Bereaved. “Real.” Birth. Legal. Spiritual. Single. Working. Stay-at-home. Soccer. Helicopter. Teen. Grand. Great-grand. God. In-law. In-love.

So many descriptions:

Sleep-deprived. Stressed. Worn out. Exasperated. Caring. Strong. Selfless. Gracious.

So many emotions:

Grief. Bitterness. Worry. Disappointment. Joy. Pride. Gratitude. Love.

So many seasons:

New. Veteran. Challenging. Fulfilling. Full house. Empty nest. Waiting; waiting; waiting: For the positive test. For “the call.” For the paperwork to go through. For them to come home. For them to leave home. For you to go Home and see them once again.

Whichever your type, whatever you’re called, however you’re feeling, wherever your place…

You are important. You are worthy. You are loved.

Your Heavenly Father is carrying you, His precious child, as you carry yours in your arms, in your heart, in your clinging to Him.

#HonorAllMoms

The post-pregnancy post / Alternate title: How becoming a mom didn’t make me happy and why I’m (now) OK with that

Well, here it is, 15 months after giving birth to my second son, my first biological child, and I’m finally getting back into this blogging thing. Who knew raising two kids 2 and under (now 3 and 1) would hinder insightful, reflective journaling about one’s innermost thoughts and feelings?

As it turns out, it’s difficult to be aware of your own thoughts and feelings – let alone write them down – when surrounded by the soft, lilting sounds of children crying, fussing, and screaming to get your attention. So, I’ll use my new favorite go-to excuse and blame my kids for not being able to blog for a while.

But truth be told, there’s a more significant reason why I haven’t updated the blog in a long time: I wasn’t ready. Last year was a big one for our family – Linus was born, we moved from Missouri to Oregon, and I went crazy (husband edit: crazier). I look back at my last post and shake my head in sympathy for poor, naïve Jennifer, who was so thankful for God’s blessing of enabling her to get pregnant and so unsuspecting of the storm that would hit pretty much immediately post-pregnancy. Almost the whole first year of Linus’s life was all shades of awful for me emotionally and spiritually, which is unfortunate given that many good things transpired during that time. Yet that’s the ugly reality that inhibited my desire to share my personal experiences with the blogosphere or most anyone outside my family.

A lesson in restraint
As the Lord began pulling me out of that dark, self-absorbed swamp, He urged me to participate in a Beth Moore study (I heart Beth!) called Sacred Secrets. Out of the many theologically meaty messages I gleaned from the study, two of her little slogans stood out to me:

  • We must be authentic with all, transparent with most, and intimate with some.
  • Before you can shout on the rooftop, you need to get in the closet with Jesus.

The first catchphrase probably doesn’t require much explanation; you can likely see the value of limiting how much private information you divulge and carefully determining with whom you share that information – in other words, don’t spill your guts to your social network. The second has to do with waiting to tell others about what God is doing in your life until you’ve actually spent some quality time alone with Him, being still and listening to what He has to teach you.

I’ll touch on the second point later; for now, I’ll address what the first has to do with blogging. You see, before I started doing this study, I thought I’d write my next blog post on my postpartum experiences: how I was overwhelmed with panic attacks before I left the hospital; how I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t nurse; how I went all OCD about my newborn’s schedule (yes, I tried to put my not-yet-even 1-month-old on a schedule); how my longtime, forever unwelcome companion anxiety teamed up with debilitating self-doubt about being a mother of two young children and dragged me way, way down into what felt like an inescapable pit of crazy hormones and uncontrollable emotions. But then I realized that in the wide world of those who for whatever reason start reading my blog, very few individuals, if any, would benefit from hearing all about my tales of woe during that period of my life.

Others who have endured postpartum issues much more challenging than mine have written on the subject and probably helped a host of women – for example, my incredible sister shared in her blog the story of how God carried her and my nephew through a difficult pregnancy, bed rest, and subsequent post-delivery struggles. While I don’t mind discussing my postpartum experiences with someone one on one, in the interest of being cautiously transparent and not overly intimate in a blogging context, I’m going to limit that disclosure to the preceding semicolon-riddled borderline run-on sentence and instead focus on the much more important lesson I believe God has been teaching me since I started blogging about my infertility issues five years ago.

Before I launch into the point of this post (yes, I’m dawdling about as much as my 3-year-old does brushing his teeth at bedtime), let me issue a word of warning to those who are currently struggling with infertility: the rest of this post is going to piss you off. You’re hurting, frustrated, desperate for some solution that will result in a child for you to hold and call your own. The last thing you want is for someone who adopted and then got pregnant to get all preachy and talk about how there’s more to life than having a baby.

Some of what I’ll share about my emotions throughout last year might make you think I’m ungrateful for the two blessed boys God has given me, and unfortunately, that has been the case at times. I believe what I have to say is important for women facing infertility, but it is a tough pill to swallow (a heckuva lot tougher than my postpartum antidepressant), and I know I would’ve been less than receptive had I read this, say, right after our IVF debacle.

So if you’re at the point where the next pregnancy announcement on Facebook is going to push you over the edge, you might want to hold off reading the rest of this post until you feel ready to handle some harsh words from someone on the other side of Unplanned Non-Parenthood (cross-ref to previous post for other fun terms). If you’re up for reading more, I pray that this will in some way encourage you to persevere as God gradually reveals His purposes for your trials.

A staggering question
Now, getting to the heart of this already rambling post, let me take you back to last fall, after we moved to Oregon. We had survived the rough couple months of packing, traveling, crashing at various family members’ houses, and finally settling into our new home. Kids were sleeping fine, Colin’s job was well underway, and life in general was stabilizing after half a year of changes and challenges. Although the more severe postpartum issues had thankfully subsided by then, I was still as temperamental as a toddler and as sullen as an Emo preteen, all to the detriment of everyone else in the household, even our poor dog. One day, my wonderful husband, who is so good at encouraging me when I’m hurting and calling me out when I’m being ridiculous, asked me point-blank, “Jennifer, are you happy? Because you don’t seem happy.”

That question floored me. My immediate reaction was whatever the female equivalent is to a kick in the balls. It shocked me because in all the craziness after giving birth, learning to care for two kids, and preparing for the move, I hadn’t stopped to think about being happy or unhappy; I was just trying to survive.

As the shock of Colin’s question wore off, I got sucked into a whirlwind of introspection that ripped open some of the nastier parts of my thought life and revealed a terrible truth: I wasn’t happy. After years of heartache and disappointment, I had gotten what I wanted – two beautiful children, the experience of adoption as well as pregnancy, even the ability to be a full-time stay-at-home mom – and I wasn’t happy. What I thought would be fulfilling and enjoyable instead felt frustrating, exhausting, and tedious. I had wanted so badly to be a mother and devote my time to caring for my children, and now that that had happened, all I wanted was time for myself to take care of my own needs.

I thought being a mom would give my life purpose, satisfy my desire to help others; I thought being a mom would give me joy. While I knew I absolutely loved my kids and was thankful for their lives, I found the day-to-day task of being their mom far from rewarding, and the moments of happiness I derived from my maternal duties seemed so few and far between that I questioned if I should’ve kept working outside the home to dedicate my time to more gratifying endeavors.

Then came the guilt. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just be grateful for the many blessings God had given me and take pleasure in serving the children I once thought I’d never have? Why did I feel like I was losing more of my identity since becoming a full-time stay-at-home mom – the main role I’d wanted to play my whole life, the role I thought would define my identity? And what was wrong with my kids? Sure, they’re stunningly adorable, but they’re also fussy, disobedient, obnoxious, and impossible to control. Why couldn’t they be as happy as everyone else’s kids look like on Facebook, and thus make me happy?

A rewarding revelation
If you’re into numbers and counting like my eldest son is right now, you’ll notice that the terms “I,” “me,” and “my” were used 14 times in the preceding paragraph. Through this self-evaluation regarding my happiness or lack thereof, God convicted me about being entirely too focused on myself and conforming my overall outlook on life according to how my expectations were being met or unmet. In short, I was being selfish and discontent, and I really needed Jesus to help me rearrange my desires and relinquish my need for control.

Beyond the much-needed conviction about my self-preoccupation, the Lord had another vitally important insight for me to grasp, which is where my wannabe BFF Beth Moore comes in again. In the study, Beth drawls on and on about the opportunity and desperate need to meet with Jesus in “the secret” as described in Matthew 6:6: “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

That the Creator of the universe invites me to communicate with Him in a private, intimate way is an incredible truth to try to process in and of itself. Then there’s the fascinating part about a reward. The word “reward” is thrown around a lot in Christian conversations, and it’s an interesting term for me because of how people use it in connection with my infertility “journey” (another term I dislike). Getting pregnant was not a reward for adopting; my biological son was not a reward for my adopted son. From my perspective, neither Calvin nor Linus is a reward; both my sons are gifts given in the same manner as salvation: not as a result of my faithfulness, but by God’s grace alone.

Since I tend to be wary of reward-related discussions, I wasn’t sure where Beth was going with her emphasis on the Father’s reward in Matthew 6:6. But her words struck me so precisely, as to the most important lesson I was missing in the past six years of lows and highs and then lows again, that I feel compelled to repeat this quote from her study guide every day as a reminder of the true source of happiness and contentment:

“The best reward of all isn’t the stuff God has for me. The greatest reward is Him. Oh that I would fully dwell in Psalm 37:4: ‘Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.’ When I delight myself in the Lord, He rewards me with the delight of my soul: Himself.”

Amazing, isn’t it? God gives some pretty incredible gifts, but none as incredible as the gift of knowing Him. And even better – the reward gained from wanting to know Him more is enjoying Him more. This blew my whole quest for inexplicably unfulfilled longings out of the water and cleared my vision to see more of His reasons for the circumstances He had me undergo the past several years.

You see, I thought God wanted me to go through failed fertility treatments and procedures so that He could give me Calvin, and He did.

I thought God wanted me to get pregnant so that He could give us another son and give Calvin a brother, and He did.

I thought God wanted me to endure infertility and experience both the processes of adoption and pregnancy so that He could use me to encourage other women in similar situations through a ministry I would’ve never imagined I could participate in and be blessed by, and He did.

Beyond all these things, I now think God wanted me to walk through infertility, adoption, pregnancy, and postpartum depression so that He could show me that He is my life’s purpose; He defines my identity; He gives me unending joy.

A freeing truth
Finding fulfillment in Christ alone isn’t a new concept for me. Growing up as a church-raised, Christian-school-educated girl, the idea of contentment was hammered into my head continuously, and the value of knowing Jesus was rightfully lauded in various catechisms, devotions, sermons, and praise songs. Colin and I even had “In Christ Alone” played at our wedding. But knowing something to be true and actually experiencing it are two different things; for example, you can know that the Grand Canyon is a breathtaking marvel of nature, but not fully realize its magnitude until you see it in person. That’s how I feel about this Scriptural truth. I couldn’t know that Jesus alone could satisfy my deepest desires until my other desires were filled and I still came up short.

I don’t think this realization negates the pain and disappointment I suffered through infertility, or conversely, diminishes the happiness and pleasure I received from going through adoption and pregnancy. Those were real emotions and real experiences, and God carried me through them all. However, recognizing that He is my ultimate source of joy – my “reward” – helps widen the lens of hindsight to show more of His plans during those ups and downs of my life. This also grants me a fresh sense of freedom – freedom from the pressure I put on myself to enjoy every moment as a mom, and freedom from the pressure I put on my kids to fill my life’s longings – something they weren’t created to do.

This neat, far-from-concise lesson is all well and good now that I have two children and am not currently struggling with any major challenges. As I said before, I wouldn’t have read this post and received the message very graciously back when I was in the thick of hope-dashing fertility treatments. But I needed to hear this truth then and continue to need it today, and I pray that those who are waiting to become parents will have confidence that God will give them much more than what they’re aching for right now. Remember that whole “dating God” phase in recent Christian history, when some well-meaning but kinda silly girls declared, “Jesus is the only man I’ll ever need”? Think of it this way: Jesus is the only baby you’ll ever need. Or, to keep it simple and less awkward-sounding, Jesus is Whom you need.

As for my closet conversation with Jesus, that’s still ongoing. Ask me in a few weeks; I’m sure I won’t have this contentment thing figured out by then. But that doesn’t worry me. All relationships take time to build; all relationships go through ups and downs, and require investment to develop any sort of intimacy. And while I don’t always feel like I can find fulfillment in Christ, I know that He alone satisfies, and I need Him to help me see that and want that.

In his book “The Weight of Glory,” my all-time favorite author C.S. Lewis compares this aspect of the Christian faith to a student who at first submits to Greek grammar lessons only to escape punishment and get good grades, then gradually begins to enjoy his studies:

“The Christian, in relation to heaven, is in much the same position as this schoolboy. Those who have attained everlasting life in the vision of God doubtless know very well that it is no mere bribe, but the very consummation of their earthly discipleship; but we who have not yet attained it cannot know this in the same way, and cannot even begin to know it at all except by continuing to obey and finding the first reward of our obedience in our increasing power to desire the ultimate reward.”

Some may have assumed I found a happy ending to my infertility story once my two sons were born; I know I did. But since the ultimate happy ending won’t come until I’m reborn to a new life with my Savior in heaven, I’ll find joy in the meantime knowing and serving Him here, thankful for and happy with the life He’s given me.

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.

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.