Weeping with Those Waiting for a Child

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I’ve often imagined the scene at the tomb the day after Christ’s crucifixion. The world must have seemed bleak. His family and disciples spent that Saturday grieving the loss of the One they thought would free them. They didn’t know He’d rise in victory over sin and death the next day. In the shadow of the cross freshly stained with Jesus’ blood, they couldn’t see the glory of an event yet to come.

Women who suffer infertility experience a similar grief over the death of our dreams about motherhood. Like those who mourned Jesus that dark Sabbath day, we’re unsure when or if joy will come tomorrow or the day after. Our bodies set us on a perpetual roller coaster of emotions, rising with anticipation at the start of a cycle then crashing with disappointment when the test turns out negative. A friend described it well when she called the arrival of her period as a “mini-funeral” she endured month after month.

This comparison to death might not make sense if you haven’t lived through the heartache of infertility. I didn’t understand it until my husband and I struggled to conceive. After years of tests, surgeries, and failed treatments, I learned the truth of Proverbs 13:12: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”

Read full article at Revive Our Hearts.

[Photo courtesy Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash]

Infertility Index: Blogs, books, podcasts, and more

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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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You are not alone

 

I sat, staring at the backyard.

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

I cried my heart out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many thanks

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

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

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

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

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