My Infertility Journey
The First Four Years
My husband I both grew up in Christian homes. We met at church in our late twenties and fourteen months later we were married. I came from a family of six siblings and numerous cousins, so we didn't think fertility would be an issue. Being practical and feeling young and invincible, my husband and I figured we could just enjoy being married for three years or so before starting a family. I can’t say that is was something I prayed about – it just seemed practical. I wanted to plan when I would get pregnant and start a family. That was back when I still thought I had control of my life. I had waited so long to get married, which was not what MY plan was, that I figured once I got married I would have control over when we would have kids.
I am a planner and my husband laughs at me when I talk about all my plans and reminds me of the saying… Know how to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans! I thought I had some amount of control over my life. After all, I have been surrounded by people who just up and decided it was time to “start trying,” and were pregnant just a few months later! I learned quickly that God has a plan for my life and it is not the same as mine.
Before starting my own journey, I grieved for one of my brothers and his wife because they were dealing with infertility. I sympathized with them every time I heard a then-popular song on Christian radio that dealt with the pain of infertility; I cried not only for my brother’s loss, but also for that of the imaginary couple from the song! I was so confident in my fertility (after all, my mother had 6 kids and no miscarriages) that I even had the bright idea that I could carry my brother’s baby! Not very practical, I know, but I am a people-pleasing problem solver.
In May 1998, my brother and his wife adopted a baby. When my husband and I first saw Zach at the hospital, my biological clock kicked in full gear. I was ready. We had been married for almost two years; we had a spacious house that we had made sure we could pay for on only one income; and I was ready to scale back from work. Everything was just as planned! I felt that this was the perfect time.
So, we were ready to start trying. I had everything planned out…even how I could do my current professional job at home. We decided to go into “active baby-making mode” in December, but we got so excited that we moved it up to November. We were in a Sunday school class full of young married couples just beginning to procreate, and we planned to be the next ones to get pregnant. One of my husband’s friends at work was also trying, so we considered ourselves to be in a secret competition to see who could conceive first. We didn’t tell anyone that we were trying because we wanted it to be a surprise. Nearly every month, we planned how and when we would make the big announcement to our families.
After six months without success, I started to feel that something was wrong. Being very proactive in nature, I was determined not to be “one of those women” who tries to conceive for 10 years without seeking medical help. Again, I cannot say that I committed this to prayer and asked for God’s direction. We (I) just continued to make plans and expect things to happen. I mentioned the matter to my regular doctor at my next annual checkup. She told me that an infertility diagnosis could not be made until we had been unsuccessful for at least a year; she sent me out the door with what tools she could give me – temperature charts and information on ovulation, cervical mucous, and other telltale indicators of fertility. I was discouraged and not in the mood to sit and wait another six months, but at least I had some information and, more importantly, something to obsess over during that time. Thus begun my infertility journey and eight years of taking my basal body temperature every morning before I got out of bed and eight years of watching that temperature drop on about day 28, indicating that I was not pregnant and menstruation would soon start. The only thing the temperature charts did for me was let me know that we had failed again without having to wait for my period to begin. In fact, it eventually became so stressful that I couldn’t sleep the night before day 28 because I feared what my temperature would be the following morning.
Once we had reached the one-year milestone and achieved the official label of “infertile,” we were able to begin the battery of testing. Each test seemed to reveal a different indicator or non-indicator of our problem… One test, a hysterosalpingogram (abbreviated HSG – a procedure that involves injecting dye through the fallopian tubes), showed blocked fallopian tubes; another showed that they were clear. One test indicated a low sperm count; the next showed that it was perfectly normal. We endured test after test and tried non-invasive trick after trick, but nothing worked and I was getting discouraged. During this time, my job became very stressful and unsatisfying. I knew that getting pregnant would be my valid reason for quitting, so the pressure was on all the more. It was difficult watching our friends and coworkers become pregnant while we were left behind. Each month’s “failure” became harder and harder to swallow. My husband encouraged me to quit my job and my mother encouraged me to come to work with her ministry on a part-time basis. This did not fall into my “perfect plan” and would involve a huge pay cut, but if it helped us get pregnant, I was willing to do it. In February of 2000, I left my downtown office job and went to work for the ministry. It was about this time that we began to admit to our family our struggle with conceiving.
In March of 2001, my husband, was laid off from his engineering job. Having been unhappy at work for some time, he was glad to have a chance to start over with a new career and was excited to find out what God had in store. God saw us through this period. He provided for all of our needs and we survived financially through August. This development kept me from obsessing too much about infertility although we did remark that it would be just our luck to get pregnant at this point. During the summer, God provided an opportunity for my husband to enter the teaching profession. It represented a large pay cut, but he loved his new profession.
Later that year, we discovered I had a large fibroid tumor in my uterus. Not only was it affecting my fertility, it was causing very heavy bleeding for weeks at a time. My doctor recommended not cutting it out, since doing so could potentially damage my uterus, so I attempted to shrink it naturally. I went on an all-organic diet for several months, avoiding hormone-injected meats, eggs and milk in hopes of shrinking the fibroid. Unfortunately, by substituting soy for meat during that time, I increased my estrogen levels and aggravated it! After it became increasingly large, my regular OBGYN referred me to a fertility specialist – a surgeon – who would remove it. The risk of the surgery was that my uterus could become damaged (thus preventing us from having children), but I could no longer tolerate the problems it was causing. A successful surgery may actually increase our chances of conception, so after much prayer, we left the outcome up to God and in September of 2001 I underwent a myomectomy (surgical removal of a uterine fibroid tumor).
My surgery was painful and recovery was rough (laying in bed, still groggy from the anesthetic, with nothing but the events of 9/11 unfolding on TV before me), but worth it. My symptoms vanished and I felt like I could finally have a normal life. They did discover a problem during surgery -- my fallopian tubes were completely blocked. The surgeon tried to clear them during my procedure, but was unsuccessful. After I recovered, he ordered another HSG; this time my tubes were not blocked. What a miracle!
This opened the door to new, more invasive procedures. We did 4 inseminations from December 2001 to March of 2002, but none of them were successful. By now, we were really discouraged and out of money. We had endured three and a half years of trying, tests, surgery and procedures, and we still were not pregnant. The doctor finally diagnosed us with unexplained infertility and told us our only option was in vitro fertilization (IVF).
This was devastating news. Our research had revealed that IVF was very expensive - about $18,000. There was also no guarantee that, after spending all that money (as if we had that much money), we would still not get pregnant. We could go through the most expensive part – egg retrieval – and find that my eggs were not good. There were just no guarantees, and this was too costly a procedure to not be 100% certain.
I began looking into insurance companies and researching grants for IVF. I registered with an online infertility message board and asked if anyone knew of a scholarship or grant for IVF. I checked other fertility clinics. I explored adoption through a local agency. I briefly checked into embryo adoption through an agency in California. Each option seemed to be expensive, stressful, and full of roadblocks.
It just became too much. I had invested so much of myself and now, after four years, we were emotionally and financially exhausted. I had spent all this time striving toward a goal and was disappointed with God for not blessing me with what I wanted. It just seemed as if God did not care. He seemed silent during this time and I took that as Him not caring about our situation. I understood that He had a plan for my life, but I had a hard time trusting someone who didn’t seem to care about our situation.
It was during this time that I began a Bible study by Beth Moore, “Jesus, the One and Only” and it changed my perspective. Through this study and my study of Jesus’ life in the New Testament, I was reminded of Jesus compassion on His people time and time again. God was silent for 400 years before God told Zechariah about the coming Messiah and his own long awaited son, the forerunner of Jesus. God’s silence did not mean He didn’t care – it just wasn’t the right time. During Jesus ministry, He healed many people – some from afar and some He physically touched. Through this study, I was reminded of God’s love and compassion for me. I was so convicted by Luke 13:34, “…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” I finally surrendered my plan and accepted God’s plan for my life. I accepted the fact that we might never have children.
Radical Step of Faith
As I was dealing with this loss, a friend mentioned that she knew of a couple that had done IVF and had some frozen embryos left over that they wanted to donate to a good family. At first, we were not interested -- it seemed too weird and complicated. But God kept directing us to consider embryo adoption. My friend put me in touch with this couple, and although that situation did not work out, God opened another door. We found out about another couple that had anonymously donated their leftover embryos and wanted them to be adopted. We prayed as we weighed the cost, advantages and disadvantages of embryo adoption. Eventually, we believed that this little-known route was to be our path to parenthood.
Even though they did not know very much about embryo adoption, our families were very supportive of the idea. When we mentioned it casually to other people, though, we got strange reactions. Because of the newness of the technology, we decided to keep it within our family and see how it turned out. We adopted the embryos and transferred them to my uterus in October of 2003. Our transfer was successful and after a smooth pregnancy, our son, Jared was born.
Although I am still barren, God allowed me to carry, birth, and nurse my own adopted son. This journey was not one that I would have chosen, but if not for this experience, I would not have the relationship that I have with Christ now. Embryo adoption was not something I ever would have dreamed of but it was God’s perfect plan all along.
Being parents has been a blessing and challenge. We often thought of how we would tell Jared about his origins. We wondered how he would feel about it. Only our immediate family members knew how we had gotten pregnant. We told everybody else we had simply done “a procedure.” We had decided that it would be Jared’s secret to tell if he wanted to, so we continued to keep it under wraps. We kept it so until July of 2007, when God encouraged us to take our story public.