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.”

20 questions to ask a friend facing infertility

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Have you ever asked a dumb question? If you answered no, congratulations! You are the smartest person ever – and a big, fat liar.

Posing ignorant inquiries isn’t a practice limited to those whose names end in Kardashian. We all have asked someone a question that was irrational, tactless, ill-advised, or utterly asinine. Circumstances that involve sadness and grief especially trip us up, as we fumble around with insufficient expressions of sympathy and summon common platitudes, meaning well to provide the other person comfort, but perhaps more earnestly trying our darndest to ease our own discomfort.

The situation of a loved one experiencing difficulty getting pregnant provides ample opportunity for insensitive questions and overall awkward conversations. Example: responding to your mom’s courteous inquiry if you’ve tried standing on your head after intercourse.

Aside from the embarrassment factor, part of what makes dialogue with a friend facing infertility so challenging is the helplessness of it all; neither you nor she can ultimately change the situation. And, in your attempt to find ways you could help, you run the risk of sounding trite, nosy, or rude.

Talking with your friend who is longing to be a mother is unquestionably complicated, but it is not futile. When I was despairing over my failure to conceive month after month, one of the things I appreciated most about friends who tried to support me was their willingness to ask me questions and their patience listening to me vent. Having the guts to go deep into your friend’s personal struggles and the tolerance to hear her gripe about her jacked-up ovaries? That’s love.

For this year’s National Infertility Awareness Week – an initiative aiming to educate the public about the disease of infertility and the 1 in 8 couples of reproductive age who are affected by it – the sponsoring organization, RESOLVE, is urging people to #StartAsking how they can support the infertility community and promote better, more affordable access to treatment and various family-building options. I thought I’d chip in to this worthwhile effort and chime in a few questions of my own – 20, plus a few extra – to provide a handy list for those who want to show interest in the infertility issues their loved one is experiencing but don’t know what to ask.

This isn’t intended to be a comprehensive list, as if you should ask all of these questions at once. No need to go all Jack Bauer Interrogation Mode on her. These are simply a mix of open-ended, insight-seeking, emotion-emancipating questions that can help her process her grief, increase your understanding of her situation, and strengthen your relationship.

Before you launch into any query, be sure to affirm your affection:

I love you. I’m so sorry you’re hurting right now. I’d like to help, but I’m not sure what the best way is to do that. Know that I’m here for you, willing to listen, if or when you want to talk about it.

This sets the tone for grace-extending dialogue, demonstrating your heart to support her and giving her space to share hers when she’s ready.

First, a few questions to avoid like [name your food allergy/intolerance.]

1) So, how’s the “not having a baby” thing going?
Seriously?

2) Whose fault is it?
Totes innaprops. Infertility is a medical condition, not a moral consequence, and asking this type of question heaps shame upon your friend who is likely already burdened by guilt. Plus, your friend’s and/or her spouse’s specific diagnosis is private information that only she can decide whether or not to disclose.

3) How did the appointment go?
If your friend has just been disappointed by a discouraging prognosis or yet another negative pregnancy test, she may not be eager to report back and disappoint you, too. Instead of pressuring her to respond, shoot her a text/email/snapchat(?) saying you’re thinking about her and then wait until she wants to talk about it.

4) Have you tried _____?
It’s 2016, people. If your friend wants to learn more about various supposed fertility-enhancing techniques, she can Google it.

5) Why don’t you just adopt?
The ultimate cringeworthy inquiry. Because a) “why” puts her on the defensive, b) she may not be prepared to think about adoption yet, and c) there is no “just” about adoption; it takes time and demands significant financial and emotional investment. As an adoptive mother, I can absolutely attest that adoption is a tremendous blessing, but it is also a lot of work and a major decision that cannot be rushed.

Put your good intentions to better use than displaying your own ignorance by floating a few of these kinder, more gently phrased questions.

1) How are you doing?
Open the door to deeper conversation.

2) Do you want to talk about it?
Extend the invitation to talk while giving her an out.

3) What options are you considering?
Offer her the opportunity to explain the paths she’s pondering and to weigh her inclinations and reservations about them. WITHHOLD JUDGMENT.

4) Can you tell me more about _____? (fertility test/treatment, adoption, etc.)
Seek information and find a friend grateful for your interest.

5) How are you feeling about _____? (fertility test/treatment, adoption, etc.)
Let her let it all out.

6) How are you feeling physically?
Reproductive problems can be painful, and fertility treatments can take a huge toll on a person’s body. Recognize the physical ramifications of what she’s going through and allow her to discuss her health if she wants.

7) How is your spouse doing?
Infertility can rock a marriage. Show concern for her spouse and the well-being of their relationship.

8) What is helping you get through this difficult time?
Find out how she is coping and learn if/how you can aid those efforts.

9) What is adding to your hurt at this time?
Discover her triggers.

10) Who else have you talked to about this issue?
To respect her privacy and deter gossip.

11) Would you consider participating in a support group?
Suggest – but don’t push – the thought of finding a community of women who understand what she’s going through.

12) Are you open to hearing from others who’ve experienced similar issues?
Personal referrals and book or blog recommendations are great, but be careful how you pitch them. Hearing about “success” stories might piss her off more than inspire her, depending on her feelings about prolonging hope.

13) How do you like to be encouraged?
You may be your own Master Self-Esteem Builder, but you can’t assume that role for your friend. Acknowledge that she is the authority on what she needs and take note of her preferences.

14) What do you like to eat [or drink]?
Provide a little consumable consolation.

15) Do you want to build a snowman?
Sorry, couldn’t resist. For reals, though, see if she wants to catch a movie, get a pedicure, go for a hike, or join you in some other fun, stress-relieving activity.

16) How do you like to express your creativity?
The woman who yearns to nurture life within her can nurture life through her by engaging in creative endeavors such as cooking, blogging, gardening, DIYing, etc. Cheer her on in those activities that bring her joy and enrich the world around her.

17) How can I show you I value our friendship?
#somuchsap, yet it reaffirms your care for her and her importance to you.

18) Where are you at with God?
Yeah, I know. This is the one that’ll get me – er, you – into trouble. Here are the caveats: a) if you are close friends, and b) if the conversation is private and already at a deep level, and c) if she is even open to talking about spiritual issues at all, then go ahead and go there. Stripped of Christian clichés, conveyed from a place of grace, this question gives her a chance to process her feelings toward the most important Person in her life and possibly give you a chance to reassure her of the truth of His love.

19) How is [any other aspect of her life] going?
Your friend isn’t defined by her infertility; it is a major part of her life right now, but it isn’t WHO she is. By bringing up other areas of interest, you can validate her worth as a person – not just a person who wants to but can’t yet be a mom – and emphasize the importance of her contributions in other meaningful pursuits.

20) Can I pray for you? [or, better yet] How can I pray for you?
Hands-down, the best question to ask and the best action to take. As much as you love your friend, God loves her infinitely more. And whereas you cannot offer her the one thing she so desperately desires, the Creator of all life can – in His timing, according to His plan. So, once you are done asking her how you can help, ask Him to give her the blessing of a child and grant her strength to wait in the meantime.

Resources:
RESOLVE Infertility Etiquette page
RESOLVE Family and Friends: How They Can Help fact sheet
The Carry Camp For Family and Friends page
Mayo Clinic “Social support: Tap this tool to beat stress” article

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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.

Public service announcement: Some people have trouble getting pregnant

Awareness is such a useless word. Of course, that’s the cynical part of me talking, a part that has grown increasingly larger as I’ve gotten older and the longer I’ve known my husband.

[air quotes] Awareness [air quotes] seems silly to me because of how it’s used/overused in society. Just do a quick Google news search, and you’ll find an exhausting array of topics that the media seems to think we’re ignorant about: autism, sexual violence, infectious diseases, alcoholism, poverty, wildfires, stress, deadly feline toxins, and something called biodiversity.

Gotta admit, those last two I know nothing about, nor do I really care (I’m more of a dog person, and biodiversity sounds like a meaningless concept made up by a pretentious academic). But the rest I’m at least familiar with, and some are such no-brainers that you must be living under a rock to not know of their existence.

The sarcastic part of me also wants to chime in here: Shut up. You mean there are poor people in this world?!?

At one point in time, people didn’t have a clue about breast cancer or racial discrimination or the dangers of distracted driving, but in today’s Digital Age, everyone knows about these issues because they’re continually blasted with information via their connected media devices. That’s why awareness campaigns tend to rub me the wrong way; they come off as buzzwordy gimmicks contrived to make money and/or portray an organization or individual as noble and generous, when in fact they might not have a personal interest in the issue or even know how to spell it.

Ignorance isn’t necessarily bliss, but awareness sure can be asinine.

The preceding rant might not be the best way to introduce the purpose of this blog post: to highlight National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW), observed this year April 19-25.

Launched by RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association in 1989, NIAW aims to “raise awareness about the disease of infertility and encourage the public to understand their reproductive health.” The 2015 theme is “You are not alone,” a message of comfort and camaraderie to the 1 in 8 U.S. couples of reproductive age diagnosed with infertility, according to RESOLVE.org.

Yeah, yeah. I know it doesn’t make sense to start promoting a type of crusade that I spent the first three paragraphs ripping on. While the awareness in National Infertility Awareness Week does make me cringe, I can nevertheless appreciate one simple goal this and other similar movements strive to accomplish: education.

I’m not talking about education as in, “Hey, this disease is out there. You should know more about it.” I mean, “Hey, this disease is out there. You should know how to help those suffering from it.”

During my time of struggling with infertility and waiting to become a mom, I found myself fulfilling the roles of both student and teacher. I put my overachieving tendencies to good use and threw myself into the task of researching reproductive pathologies and diagnoses, fertility treatments, alternative therapies, and the legal, social, and spiritual issues related to the process of adoption.

Overall, I learned waaaayyyy more about female and male anatomy than I ever thought I’d care to know. By God’s grace, after enduring what seemed like an onslaught of hurtful comments and questions, I also learned how to reframe my victimhood status into something more worthwhile and began informing others how to be more sensitive and supportive to loved ones facing infertility.

Through it all, my Lord and Savior taught me about my pitiful weakness, His supreme power, and the incredible ways He can transform awful, gut-wrenching disappointment into beautiful, life-renewing hope.

So, what will be my little contribution to this large-scale national initiative? I’m endeavoring to do something I’ve never attempted before: write a new blog post for every day of the (work) week, covering topics intended to encourage women longing for children and educate those who desire to walk with them throughout their season of waiting.

This will not be easy. I’m a slow reader and even slower writer, due to my stress-over-every-word-and-punctuation-mark perfectionism. But, as stated by Teddy Roosevelt and misquoted by numerous social media inspirational memes, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.”

This challenge is worth it to me. And who knows, this could even be fun, especially if I win my bet with Colin to write all five blog posts without using a single pun.

A big thank you to whomever decides to share this endeavor with me. No judgment to those who drop out over the course of the week or who write me off from this point on. Then again, maybe I will manage to pull it off just out of sheer spite for all the doubters, myself included.

More on infertility
More on NIAW

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.

A New Year

The year 2011 has gotten off to a crazy start. First, the Seahawks upset the Saints in the NFC wild card game. Then, we got a call informing us that a birthmother who had already delivered her baby had selected us as her adoptive family, and we became parents overnight.

Before I launch into the story about how our son, Calvin, joined our family, I want to provide the backdrop for the amazing sequence of events that the Lord orchestrated in a way and at a time I would have never anticipated. I should also forewarn you that this post will be quite lengthy, so unless you have mad speed-reading skills like Colin and Gavin, don’t expect to pound this out in five minutes or less.

In my last post I wrote on Christmas Eve, I stated that my hope in Christ as my loving Savior remained firm, which was and is absolutely true. However, my hope for becoming a mom was pretty much toast. The trials of the past year – all the failed fertility treatments, unanswered prayers, and physical and emotional struggles, in addition to the accumulated disappointments over the course of the past three years of trying to conceive – weighed down on me during the holidays, and I felt totally defeated. Being around my pregnant sister-in-law, Kim, who treated me with utmost sensitivity and respect, for which I will forever be grateful, made my heart ache simply because I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to become a mom; I didn’t know if I’d have a little one to hold and care for next Christmas or any thereafter.

Many times throughout this whole process of trying to expand our family, I’ve felt that I’ve reached the end of the line, that God had dealt me more hardships than I could handle. Last month was one of the lowest of those lows, as I had reached the point that I didn’t want to pursue any more fertility treatments. We had a consultation with a specialist at Seattle Reproductive Medicine, and though it did provide some useful information, which I won’t go into detail about now, it didn’t make me much more inclined to keep trying the fruitless, expensive medical route. And while we knew there were several options still available to us, including embryo adoption and traditional adoption, I didn’t really want to think about any of them. Stick a fork in me, I was done. Done with the disappointment, done with the uncertainty, done with thinking about ever having a baby.

Interestingly, during a conversation with my mother- and sister-in-law over the holidays, I told them about how some adoptive families get matched with a birthmother immediately after she gives birth, that they get a call and have to drop everything to pick up their child at the hospital, going from a childless couple one minute to parents the next. I asserted that that was something I couldn’t ever imagine doing since I’m such a planner and would not feel capable of making that drastic life change in such a short amount of time.

(Insert “never say never” and other applicable cliches here.)

This feeling of hopelessness pervaded my thoughts at the start of the New Year. I even began writing a blog post about the aftermath of IVF and how we’d decided to take a break from fertility treatments. But before I got a chance to finish that post, we got a few e-mails from our adoption agency. Apparently they were having a busy start to the New Year, as they had three birthmothers contact them about wanting to make adoption plans, including one who had already given birth. Colin and I read the e-mails explaining each situation and decided to show our profile to two bmoms, the first time we had elected to do so. With one of those e-mails, I broke my own rule about not looking at baby pictures the adoption agency sent for fear they would make me cry, and I did almost break down when I saw the photo of a sweet, cherub-faced baby boy sound asleep in his hospital bed. There were some health concerns about this baby, but his MRI results came back normal, so we told the adoption agency we still wanted our profile shown to his bmom.

That was Friday, Jan. 7. We spent the weekend praying about the two bmoms, trying not to get too worked up about the possibility of adopting one of their babies. At church that Sunday, Pastor Dave gave a sermon about how Abraham and the rest of the individuals in Genesis who made it into the Faithful Hall of Fame in Hebrews were pretty much all screw-ups. They lied, cheated, stole, murdered, committed adultery, rejected God’s sovereignty, etc., and yet God still remained faithful to them. The sermon really spoke to me, as I’ve felt like a total failure in terms of trusting the Lord throughout these struggles with infertility, and yet He has provided for me and comforted me despite all my shortcomings. So that was encouraging, but I still felt nervous about the bmoms looking at our profiles, and had a hard time getting to sleep that night. I didn’t know it was the beginning of the end for me as far as sleeplessness goes.

On Monday, the day the bmoms were going to look at the profiles, I tried to get some work done, and to distract myself, thought about what we should do with the new hutch we bought on Saturday (only $160 on craiglist!). I carried my phone around with me to the bathroom and everywhere else, and checked my e-mail every two minutes. I repeated Proverbs 3:5 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” – to myself over and over and over again. Colin went into work briefly in the morning, then came home and started to freak out, which is a rarity for him. The impact of becoming a parent instantaneously hit him before it hit me, but after some time to think about it and talk to his bro, he calmed down, thankfully just in time for my freak-out.

In the late morning, I got an e-mail from our caseworker, who said we were a finalist for the bmom of the baby boy whose picture had melted my heart. I gotta say, that was a weird message, knowing that we were finalists for the bmom, as if this was American Adoptive Idol or something. She wanted to verify that we were OK with an open adoption, to which we replied yes, as long as we started out slowly and used the adoption agency for facilitation. We waited for a few agonizing hours after that until 5 p.m., then I resigned myself to the probable fact that we wouldn’t hear anything until Tuesday. We made dinner, started watching the BCS championship game, and tried to relax. Then around 7:30, I got a call from an unknown phone number. It was another caseworker who told me that the bmom had looked at all the profiles and had made her decision. She had picked us.

It’s difficult for me to describe my feelings at that very moment because I was absolutely shocked. My mind couldn’t process what the caseworker was telling me, and I could barely say anything to her other than “That’s great.” What a lame response to the news that you’re going to be a parent! She mentioned a few things about the baby boy, like how there were a few minor medical issues and tests to be run, but overall he was healthy and quite alert, already interacting with the nurses and others who came to visit him. She told us we needed to drive out the next day to meet the bmom and our son. Then she asked if I had any questions, and for the life of me I couldn’t think of anything, other than “What the freakin’ heck is going on?!?” (which I refrained from saying aloud).

At some point during this conversation, I looked at Colin and mouthed the words “I can’t do this.” When I got off the phone, my hands were shaking, and the floodgates opened wide. The emotions of that moment – joy, relief, fear, and surprise – totally overwhelmed me, and my stalwart husband hugged me tightly and whispered soothing reassurances until I calmed down. Honestly I don’t remember much else about that particular moment due to the shock. As you may remember, the last time I was in shock was after I got the call from the doctor that we didn’t get any embryos from IVF. So in the span of a little more than 50 days, I went from one state of shock to another, each under very, very different circumstances.

Once I had regained a semblance of composure, we began calling various family members and friends and telling them the news. I e-mailed my boss and sent her all my work in progress, apologizing for ditching work so suddenly. Then I did what any sane person would do and started furiously cleaning the house, which is one of my foremost coping mechanisms. Colin resorted to his: playing Call of Duty.

As you can expect, I didn’t get much sleep that night. I got up early on Tuesday and shoveled the driveway (it had snowed several inches over the past 24 hours) to help prevent Colin from wrecking his back before our drive and to help us get on the road as soon as possible. We dropped Kaffy off at the kennel and headed out in a snowstorm. En route, Colin downloaded a baby name app on his iPhone, and we started discussing possible names for our baby boy, an experience that was and still is hard to believe that we were undertaking. We narrowed it down to our top three: Calvin, Caleb, and Caden.

Immediately upon arriving at the adoption agency office, we were told that the birthmother and her mom were there waiting to meet us. We walked in and said hello to our son’s biological mother and grandmother, which was a strange and wonderful experience. I won’t go into much detail about our bmom to protect her privacy, but I will say that she is a friendly, sweet young woman who impressed us with her maturity and strength. The grace with which she was handling the whole situation was amazing to me, and I am so, so very thankful for her and for how much love she demonstrated toward our son.

As weird as the scenario was, we actually had a great time chatting with her and her mom, and to me it felt very comfortable and natural. She told us she picked us because of our personalities as illustrated in our family profile, and especially liked how important our family was to us, because her family is so important to her, and they’re all supportive of her adoption decision. Apparently, they had all looked at the family profiles separately, and each of them had picked the “Seahawks couple” for the adoptive family (we had a photo of us in our jerseys in the profile book), which to me is another example of God’s hand at work in this story.

After socializing for a while and discussing our preferences for an open adoption – starting out slowly with pictures and e-mails and occasional visits at the adoption agency – we said goodbye to our bmom and her mom and headed to our next meeting with the attorney. Fortunately that meeting was pretty quick, and our attorney laid the groundwork for the necessary legal steps. As part of the conversation, he had to start a document for the new birth certificate the baby would be given when the adoption was finalized, and he asked us what name we wanted to give him. So right there on the spot, we decided to name him Calvin, representing Calvin and Hobbes, Colin’s favorite comic strip; giving him the same first and last initials as Colin; and providing him with an easy nickname I love, Cal. My bro-in-law John later pointed out that Calvin is a combination of Colin and Gavin – how cool is that!

Finally after all these meetings, we got to go to the hospital and see our son for the first time. Walking into the hospital, I was so nervous I thought I would pass out. I’m not sure why I was so nervous then, maybe for some ridiculous fear that he wouldn’t like us. But in any case, after sterilizing my hands before entering the NICU, I walked into my baby boy’s room as if in a dream. I saw him in his little plastic hospital cradle, hooked up to a ton of monitors, and watched him breathe peacefully in his sleep. Then the nurse asked me if I wanted to hold him, and she handed him over to me, a moment I will remember forever. My first thought when I held him was “This is the most beautiful baby I have ever seen.” My second thought: “This is not my baby.” Not in the sense that I didn’t feel a connection with him, but more in the sense of incredulity. I was completely astonished that this amazing blessing was happening to me, and try as I might, I could not hold back a few tears of joy and wonder. We took several pictures, and then Colin held him for the first time, and I cried again. It was unbelievably precious for me to see my beloved husband being a loving father and cradling our son in his arms.

The next several hours were a blur (well, the whole trip was a blur, but this timeframe wasn’t all that exciting, and thus can be summarized without going into too much detail). We had a quick dinner, went on a shopping spree at Target to get a few essentials like a car seat, and headed back to the hospital to see Calvin. His birthmother was there with her father, and she gave us a gift for Calvin – a little teething toy and a froggie rattle, which she had bought because I’d mentioned that I’d like to do a frog theme in his nursery. They took off, and we got to spend more time watching Calvin sleep. The nurses used this time to inundate us with instructions about how to care for a newborn. They were all so kind and nurturing, and apologetically commented on how “This is probably a lot of info to take in.” It was, and by the end of the evening, my brain was ready to explode. It was exhausting staying there so long, but definitely worth it, as we got to see Calvin open his eyes and watch us intently as he ate, which we’ve now discovered is his absolutely favorite thing to do. Needless to say, it was a long day. We got to our hotel, exhausted from all the day’s emotional activities, and tried to sleep (unsuccessfully).

The next day was no less busy, involving another meeting with the attorney and a long time of kickin’ it at the hospital, waiting for the doctors to finish their business with Calvin. They ordered some tests but didn’t seem concerned about much other than his tiny extremities, which were tightly clenched and lacked flexibility. The working theory is that he was pretty squished in utero, and all the doctors thought he would improve with some physical therapy. They also had him wear some splints that looked really uncomfortable, and after getting home, we ditched them since they were too big and he obviously hated wearing them.

We waited and waited and waited, all the while having nurses coming in and out overwhelming us with more info about what and what not to do. Our caseworker came in and had us sign a ton of paperwork, then finally, the doctor gave the OK to release him. That was around 5 p.m., just in time for us to hit rush hour. Calvin did great on the way back and slept the whole way, even though I kept checking on him every three seconds to see if he was still breathing.

When we arrived home, our friends Chris and Elizabeth were there to greet us with dinner. They said “Welcome home, Mommy and Daddy!” and I wondered who they were talking about. On our doorstep was a pizza and bag of baby gifts from Colin’s colleagues, the first of many gifts and care packages given to us from our wonderful friends. Calvin started to wake up, so we picked him up and took him into his room. That is another moment I will always remember, as we walked into the room that our friends from church had completely furnished, with a crib and diapers and blankets and everything we could possibly need plus more. They answered our desperate call when we let them know we were leaving to pick up our son, and they outfitted Calvin’s nursery in a room that had not been prepared at all, save for the paint on the walls.

On the wall, they posted signs of encouragement, including one with 1 Samuel 1:27 on it – “I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him.” I am still amazed to think that this has happened, that God has answered my prayer. And though there are many issues still unresolved, especially concerning the legal process, and I’m pretty tired, after several sleepless nights even before we brought Calvin home, I am overjoyed to be a mommy to the most precious baby boy.

Our main prayer request right now is for the remaining legal issues. To try to summarize them, the birthmother has signed consents, but the birthfather is undisclosed. According to state law, a notification must be printed in a legal journal as a formality to allow the birthfather to acknowledge paternity. From the date of publication, which will be in a few weeks, he has 45 days to step forward and try to claim parental rights before they are automatically terminated. It is highly unlikely that this will happen, and according to the lawyer, no one ever reads the legal journal. However, there’s still that scary possibility that he could find out, so we’re praying that that doesn’t happen, and that parental rights will be completely terminated so that we can proceed with our petition for custody. Of course, we could also use prayer for us learning how to be parents, and for Calvin’s legs and arms to continue improving in flexibility.

There’s much more I can talk about Calvin and his fun personality, our experiences during our first week of having him, how Kaffy is adjusting to having a little person in our home, and our first court hearing, but Colin and my mom are telling me to go to sleep since Calvin is currently asleep, and from what I hear, all moms know they should sleep whenever their child is sleeping.

So I’ll wrap up this story by emphasizing God’s amazing timing in bringing Calvin into our lives. He planned for Calvin to be born at a time when Colin was still on break from school, when we somehow miraculously had enough money in the bank for the hefty adoption fees, and after we had tried an unsuccessful attempt at IVF. Had we not tried IVF yet, or if IVF had worked, we would not have elected to show our profile to any birthmothers. We would not have taken home our beloved son.

In my post-IVF entry, I spurned any forthcoming Christian-ese comments about how God didn’t want IVF to work because He had something better planned for us. I should’ve known He would prove me wrong, giving me a gift that is far, far better than what I had asked for in a way that I had never, ever expected could happen.