This morning I had the honor to speak to a local Mom's group about pregnancy and infant loss - and infertility. Unfortunately, I am an unwilling expert (by experience only) on this topic. The theme for their year is looking for the light even when darkness is enveloping... which is an opportunity to hope recklessly and to witness God's presence guiding things seen and unseen, comfortable and uncomfortable. Their theme for their meeting today specifically was "hope" - and how we can focus on our faith and hope to get us through even our darkest hours. I sure do hope I was able to provide some faith, hope and love to these lovely mothers. Here is my speech - minus the ad-libs that I really shouldn't attempt while giving a speech as I ALWAYS end up losing my place. Oh well, I'm still a work in progress...
I’m happy to be back here today to be with all of you. The last time I was here, I talked about how our family walked through the tragedies of losing a daughter to stillbirth and a 5 1/2 year old son to a random febrile seizure that stopped his heart.
I’m back today to discuss how, as a Mother, I got through 13 miscarriages. But I also want to talk about infertility as well. If any of you have struggled with getting pregnant - then you know that makes losing a pregnancy that much harder. So basically, I’m back to lighten up the mood a little after my last talk.
But seriously, this is not even a joking matter. So many of us have endured the loss of a child… in one way or another. I am sure if I asked those who have lost a baby to raise their hands, more than half the room would. And you may be learning about a loss for the first time from someone sitting next to you that you thought you knew so well. And I bet if I asked those who have had seasons of infertility to raise their hands, we’d have similar results.
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this.” I uttered that phrase in prayer… out loud… to my parents… to my husband… and to the sky with my fists raised high many times in my life.
If you know what it feels like to watch “everyone else” around you get married - as the calendar keeps turning and your birthdays keep returning and all you want is for your “life to start.” You may have said, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
If you know what it feels like to want to start a family with the person you love, yet it doesn’t happen on the first try… or the fifth… so you get on the internet and look in books and learn about ovulation sticks and monitors, good lubes and bad, what foods to eat and which to avoid. If you know what it feels like to be red flagged at the pharmacy for stockpiling Robittussin during ovulation - or thought very seriously that you would do ANYthing under the sun just to get your stressed out partner to perform before your window closed. If you have had to practice patience with your partner who, let’s face it, doesn’t have the luxury of faking it like we do and is on a precisely timed performance schedule, you may have said, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
If you know what it feels like to realize that, despite your valiant and best efforts, you’re still not pregnant. If you know what it feels like to accept that you need the help of a fertility specialist and you decide not telling anyone is the best worst idea. If you know what it feels like to inject yourself and feel your ovaries swelling beyond the size of your head. If you know what it feels like to experience medically managed hormones that are raging out of control - on top of your own emotions that are trying to fight for a place at the crowded table of rage and fear and sadness and hope and desperation. If you know what it feels like to be inseminated or retrieved or implanted or even to swipe right on potential egg donors that look a little bit like you - maybe - if you turn your head and squint a little. And all this time, the calendar keeps having the audacity to turn. You may have said, “Wow. It really wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
Trying to get pregnant - or needing fertility aid - is often a deep, dark secret. For some reason, many of us are told - or think we need to keep our struggles with fertility a secret. One of the most stressful things you can go through - we often go through alone. Our only ally the nurses we see at our appointments - or the fertility doctor who may have to refresh his memory on your case… or your name… before he walks in the room. And then there’s your partner. The one you need for the most obvious reasons - and the less obvious ones, at least to him. If we’re being honest, the woman endures the brunt of all of this. Much is asked of her body, her mind, her spirit. She is the one who will take her temperature, get injections, put her feet in stirrups, carry - and sometimes lose - a pregnancy. But we can’t forget the men. Their job is hard, too, and we expect them to understand what we go through when it’s hard enough for US to understand what we’re going through. They are on call, expected to perform - sometimes into a little cup with only a door between their most vulnerable moment and a room filled with strangers and an anxious wife. We can’t forget the men. It wasn’t supposed to be like this for them, either.
But then… hopefully… it happens. You get the two lines or the phone call or the ultrasound with the proof. You are pregnant and suddenly you feel like you can exhale. Finally your life can begin. You’re cautious, though, and decide to not tell anyone for fear of the worst - another best worst idea ever.
If you’re lucky, this is it. This is your happy ending. The worst is over and infertility or stressful trying or anxious waiting is all you’ll have to go through to have a baby in your arms. You will count your lucky stars - and thank the one who holds them in place - that you made it.
But one in FOUR - ONE IN FOUR mothers won’t be as blessed. It may be a shocking discovery in the doctor’s office when your labs are too low or the ultrasound doesn’t pick up signs of life. It may be a shocking discovery at home when you feel your hope slipping out between your legs. Or you may make it so far that you are able to deliver and hopefully even hold the baby you’ll never take home.
If ANY of these things have happened to you - whether it was one time or multiple times - I am so, so sorry.
ALL of these things… and more… have happened to me.
I have had quite a journey, no one can deny. I sometimes wonder if I should pitch my life story to Lifetime as a biopic. I’ve also had quite a journey with God. For some time it seemed that I’d be tested with a tragedy - and then lifted out of that deep valley and just getting settled when BAM - tested again - and that went up and down and on and on for years. Especially with pregnancies, motherhood and loss. Many times I would feel like I was stepping on lost futures and broken promises to climb out of the valley of loss. I couldn’t understand what God was trying to accomplish with my life. Often my prayers were angry ones. “What are you trying to prove here? Are you looking to break me? You got that - I’m broken. Why do these things keep happening to me? What is the point? Can you cut me a break - PLEASE?? I’m not a valley girl - I deserve some time up on the hills!”
Maybe you’ve been in that place. Maybe you’ve stood at the bottom of a deep, dark valley and scream/prayed the same angry prayers to God. If you have, I have news for you. God sees you there. And obviously he hears you because you’re “scream/praying.” But the God that is there for you on the top of the hill is the same God that is there for you, too, when you’re flat on your face in the valley. It took me a long time to realize something. If I prayed for something - even if it was temporary relief from heartache - and nothing changed - I felt like it was a failure. A wasted prayer. That God didn’t feel I deserved the happy ending. What I know now is that the answers to my prayers may not have been what I asked for - but they were what I needed in order to live out His story. The story He had written long ago. The answers to my prayers were the strength to stand up - even at the bottom of the valley - and to speak, to share my story and even have the guts to praise Him when storms would blow through.
You see, that Biopic of my life has already been written, casted, produced and directed by God. I may not like parts of it - I may be confused by a lot of it - I may believe that a few years back there could have used subtitles for me to understand them - but like any good and perfect thing from above, it will come together and make sense one day. And that’s true for all of you. You can’t walk out or give up before the end of your own stories. That’s why they call it faith. If you walked into a movie after it started and stayed for two minutes and then left - you wouldn’t be able to “judge” or “review” or even explain the story to anyone. Just from those two minutes, you couldn’t even predict how it would end. Well, that’s how it is with our lives. Don’t get hung up on year 12 or year 27 or year 43. See your “Lifetime movie” through to the end and trust that the Lord has it all worked out already and it’s a blockbuster. I promise.
If you’re in the thick of infertility drama… or you’ve had a miscarriage - or several - and you’re feeling discouraged, alone, forsaken, angry or depressed - I would encourage you today to hold on. I know, believe me, that it is very, very hard to be patient when you’re trying to conceive. But try to take a step back and remember that this moment, as painful as it is - and I know that it is indeed very painful - is just a two minute portion of that movie of yours.
You know, I’ve always wondered why women were so quiet about infertility struggles - or pregnancies - or miscarriages. Is it that they fear being labeled as “failures” because they aren’t getting pregnant as quick as they expected - or at all? Is it that they fear if they share their excitement about a new pregnancy - and then lose the baby - that they would then have to share their loss, their failure, their feelings with others? Well, I would ask you to consider this: What if it’s possible that what you’re going through isn’t really about you at all? God doesn’t waste any of our struggles. At the risk of sounding super “churchy” - I do believe that sometimes it’s the enemy that wants to keep us quiet. Staying quiet in our struggles can test our faith… test our marriages… test our emotional health. But do you know what kinds of things can happen when you speak up? When you share about your struggles with fertility, you may be very surprised to hear a lot of “We’re going through that, too!” or “We struggled and here are some things we did.” You never know when you’ll learn something new - and, as my Dad always said, don’t ever feel you’re so smart that you can’t learn from someone else. Especially those “unexpected” people. When you share about your pregnancy and the excitement of early life - you allow others to celebrate that miracle, too. Life - no matter how short it is - is truly a miracle of God’s. Then, if you end up losing that baby - you already have a group of people that will be there to hold you up for a while and mourn the life that they came to know for even a brief time. The more women talk about infertility and miscarriage, the less stigma there will be… and the more support they’ll receive. It’s really that simple.
If you’ve lost babies, also know that there is absolutely no right or wrong way to handle it. My first miscarriage was before I had Gavin and it was very painful. We decided to go away on a little vacation and shift our focus away from the loss for a little bit. But I was anxious to try again almost immediately. My second loss was drawn out. I lost Gavin’s twin at the beginning of my second trimester and there was nothing they could do but leave the baby in there with his brother. Every ultrasound was bittersweet - and slightly awful as I watched one son grow and the other slowly get inched out into nothingness. But I had to focus on my surviving baby and really didn’t have time to break down. As the numbers rose on my losses, I developed a thick exterior to deal with it and just kept plugging along. Does that mean I didn’t feel the loss enough? Of course not. When Darcy was born still, we had a cherry tree planted, a locket made with her name and date, we have her ashes in our home and bought a book to read to her brothers. Does that mean I loved her more than the others I lost? Of course it doesn’t. Someone else may have chosen to be knocked out and had her delivered and taken away - which was suggested to me. Would that have meant that they loved their child less? Of course not. We all do what we have to do to survive heartaches like these… and there is absolutely no right or wrong way to grieve a miscarriage, loss of a child or even the loss of the HOPE for a child. It is said that “comparison is the thief of joy.” But you know what I feel? I feel that comparison can also be the thief of grief. Don’t look to others to tell you how you should or shouldn’t grieve.
If you’re looking for ideas to help support a loved one or friend through the loss of a pregnancy or an infant - food. Through many of our losses, we had a wonderful neighborhood that would set up a meal train. Now that you know how many losses I had, it’s pretty obvious that I didn’t have to cook for three years. But meals - especially meals in throw away containers that are just left on the porch with no strings attached unless you are specifically requested to visit - they are the most delicious kind of meals. And if you do have the chance to spend time with the Mom - or even the Dad - just listen. There’s nothing parents like more than to talk about their children - or the children they hoped for. It’s not the time to tell your story - you’ll get that chance another day. Just listen. And listen some more. And maybe offer to pray. And food.
I have been outspoken about all of my personal struggles - and our struggles as parents - and it has been one of the greatest and most surprising blessings of my life. I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of support and prayers and encouragement. But I’ve also - even without knowing it - been able to help so many others feel less alone. And I’ve hopefully been able to model what it looks like to trust in God’s plan for my life - even if I sometimes accuse him of throwing in an unnecessary plot twist that really doesn’t feel necessary. I worship a God who I know will use my story for good. I worship a God who I am SURE will give me that happy “fairy tale” ending when - not if - but WHEN I meet Him face to face and get to hold my children once again. And I worship a God who, in the meantime, is the best babysitter anyone could ever ask for. That God I worship is your God, too. He’s holding my babies - all of them. And I know He is holding all of yours, too. And even though they are there and we are here - they will always be part of our "Lifetime Movies."
God bless all of you... and all of our babies.
(Feel free to share your stories of love and loss in the comments - I would be honored to read them.)