Allow me to start this post by giving you a few important facts about infertility - facts that surprised me and facts that I think few people realize. Infertility is NOT only a female problem. 1/3 of all diagnoses are male factor, 1/3 are female factor and 1/3 are unexplained (meaning they have no idea why!). Jesse and I were in the unexplained, they-have-no-idea-why, camp. One of the biggest lies that Satan tells you when you're infertile is that your diagnosis is YOUR fault. That if you worked out more, ate better, and stressed less - you would get pregnant. But let's think about all the humans that smoked, drank like crazy, and made a plethora of unhealthy choices and somehow managed to get pregnant faster than you can say "Baby Mama." As if we needed more of a reason to hate ourselves as infertile women - we buy into this terrible lie and head down the rabbit hole of self-hate. Every time we went to the doctor, my specialist would literally place a box of tissues in front of me and tell me (again) to get off the internet and that I didn't have to exclusively eat parsnips and pineapple cores in order to get pregnant. I can't tell you how much I needed his Robin Williams-esque "IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT" speech month after month. So anyway, from one crazy human to a likely less crazy one, here are my biggest pieces of input for a woman who may think she's infertile:
1. Get Tested Early.
My sister went through infertility so I was aware of the possibility of a diagnosis much earlier than most. After suspecting infertility and doing all the things we could do to up our chances - I made an appointment with our doctor and got forwarded to a specialist. Our specialist informed us that "normal" people have a 15% chance of conceiving every month. Couples past a year have less than a 5% chance of conceiving every month. Those are challenging odds. In my humble opinion, it's worth it to get tested and to get answers sooner than later. After all, knowledge is power! If you've been trying for nearly a year - you're not being dramatic to make an appointment and ask for a referral to a specialist. Any fertility doctor would encourage you to go ahead and set up an appointment. It often takes a lonnnng time to get into see a good doctor and then several months of testing before you're even given any sort of diagnosis. So my advice would be to go to the doctors early - it can't hurt anything and it feels a whole lot better than doing nothing.
I wrestled with the idea of pursuing medical advice at first because I wondered if going that route said something about my faith in God's timing. I worried that getting help meant that I wasn't surrendered and that I was "taking matters into my own hands". But again, my sister's wisdom to the rescue! "Do you really think Sarah or Rachel or Hannah wouldn't have used every thing at their disposal to try and conceive?" A fair point. Infertility is a disease. Would you ever criticize a friend for seeking medical intervention about any other disease? Would you really call her "not surrendered" for getting medical advice? Of course not! So why is infertility any different? And even when you look at the seven women who dealt with infertility in Scripture (an incredible Bible study btw) - you see that many of them tried different things to get pregnant. And you don't see God shaming or judging them for trying to get pregnant. If anything, he deals with every infertile woman in the Scripture with incredible patience, compassion, and gentleness. If God displayed compassion as they tried to navigate infertility - don't you think that same compassion extends to you? Now obviously, seeking a medical diagnosis is something that you and your spouse need to decide together and with prayer and advice. However, those are just a few thoughts that helped me, an over-complicated/always guilty/over-thinker, to decide to go to the doctor.
2. Gather Support.
I personally believe that infertility is one of the most isolating things you can experience as a woman. It's an invisible diagnosis and something that most people don't quite understand. Being young and infertile was extremely strange for me because me and my baby face would walk into a doctor's office and immediately feel like a freak. I'm pretty sure I was the youngest woman in every waiting room I entered. I felt like every other woman (even the infertile ones!) were looking at me with judgement for getting married young and like I must REALLY be messed up to have a faulty body "at my age". Now, this doesn't mean anyone actually thought those things -- but I sure felt that way! That said, very quickly into the process I recognized my need for support and encouragement. As you all know, I was pretty open about our journey with people in my life. Vulnerability wasn't a luxury for me - it was a necessity. I had to be vulnerable in order to handle my job, my emotions, and just my day-to-day life. But as our waiting dragged on, talking about it with whoever wasn't always the most helpful. I chose several women - about three - to be completely and consistently raw with and then I was honest with others in my life to a less intense degree. I just couldn't quite bear my soul in the same way (even though I wanted to) with each and every friend. I had to give myself permission to not tell everyone every single infertile thought and emotion and about every single blood test and doctors appointment. I quickly realized that I just couldn't quite handle hearing everyone's opinions or thoughts or even sympathy all the time. As a compulsive over-sharer who is constantly afraid of being inauthentic - this was soooo hard for me. But I realized that I couldn't survive the day by reliving and retelling my latest emotional moment 15 times with 15 different humans. It just wasn't practical. I eventually started a text thread with some of my closest friends and named it "Future Aunties." I would text them updates regularly and send specific prayer requests to keep them in the loop. This was helpful because it allowed me to feel connected with them and they with me without feeling like I needed to call each and every one and explain the same thing every time.
But I also had to realize that I did need to be totally transparent with a few in order to keep my own heart and walk with God in check. As the months dragged on, I had to deliberately choose to let these women influence me, guide me, and even correct me in my particularly dark moments. At one point, I even decided to seek counseling as the process got more intense. And honestly, it was extraordinarily helpful. Being a minister, I had no idea how to talk with someone without asking questions in return. I would sit there like, "Um, so you really wanna know more about me?" But I eventually got over it and those sessions changed my perspective and my heart in very real ways. The weirdest way I found support? Through Instagram. I know, I know - it sounds weird. But there's an incredible trying-to-conceive community on Instagram - known as "TTC accounts"- and these women are all going through different parts of the infertility journey. It ended up being a great place to ask questions and make friends who were dealing with similar treatments at the same time. One of the women that I connected with has become a dear, dear friend and we are due with little girls within 4 days of each other! Her support got me through so many hard days as someone that completely "got it." Support is vital and may come from unlikely places!
3. Recognize the Crisis.
You're not crazy. What you're going through is really hard!! And just because someone has a worse challenge, a harder life, or a circumstance you can't even begin to fathom - doesn't invalidate your pain. This is hard. And it's not wrong to acknowledge your heartache. I eventually learned to anticipate and plan for my hard days. I discovered that days I went to the doctor, that I needed to plan in more time to process and deal. I learned that events where lots of pregnant women would be present would be hard for me - this didn't mean I didn't attend - but it meant that I took the time to pray and prepare my heart ahead of time. I had to acknowledge the crisis in order to endure it.
4. Recognize your Need for God.
Going through infertility can either make you bitter or draw you closer. There will be moments where you stare into the abyss of bitterness and dip a toe (or five) in. Back away from the edge, dear friend. Bitterness will not give you a baby, comparison will not make you happy, and judging other women will not make infertility any more bearable. Pursuing peace, praying deeply, and soaking up the intimacy that only suffering can produce is far more worth your effort. If you question if God is good - study it out. If you wonder if he hears - study it out. If you question his justice - study it out. The word is full of insights for the hurting, the helpless, and the lonely. It will not leave you nor forsake you. My times with God changed over the course of infertility. The room that will one day hold our baby was a battle ground for me many, many mornings. I put on my spiritual music, prayed (when I could get the words out), studied the word, and tried to work through whatever lie Satan was throwing my way that week. Sometimes, I avoided the subject of infertility altogether and focused on other things about God and prayed more fervently for others. Other days, I went on prayer walks and just tried to bask in God's creation. Whatever it was - I needed God and I couldn't handle infertility without him. But that's the beauty of it - I didn't need to.
5. Lean In.
Ok, I know this is going to sound weird and make me sound slightly "over-spiritual," but bear with me: nearly everyday of our journey (especially as it went on and on), I tried to thank God for the pain of infertility. About halfway into our struggle, I realized that one day, I would miss infertility. I would never miss the heartache or the pain of it - never that - but I recognized the way it drew me closer to God and left me needy for Jesus in a way that was beautiful, sacred, and special. That day, I decided to start leaning in to the pain - and allow it to fulfill its purpose in my life. I thanked God for the intimacy it gave me with Him and the way it brought my husband and I closer and led me to friendships that I never expected beforehand. I thanked him for the sweetness of buying a baby substitute - our little Huckleberry - and the sweetness of to-be-answered-prayers and more time to enjoy just J and just our simple, but still-full life. I thanked God for the ability to understand pain in a way never before known to me and a deeper sense of compassion for other women than anything I had ever experienced. This doesn't mean that everyday I accepted the pain with a smile on my face and a bounce in my step - HA, not.even.close (somewhere, my sweet, patient mother is laughing). But on my better days, I tried really hard to fight for this perspective and fight for gratitude. I still thank God for these things as often and as deeply as I know how. Again, not because I would wish infertility on anyone, but because there was something beautiful developing in our suffering. I don't know what God is producing in you during this time of waiting and hurting and waiting some more - but I do know that it's something precious and absolutely worth every minute of perseverance.
"Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."
- Romans 5:3-5
I think that's all the words this little post can handle today and it's by no means an expansive guide! If you're currently dealing with infertility, feel free to reach out - I'd love to pray for you and share more about our story if that's helpful! For those of you reading this that haven't experienced infertility - thank you for reading! I hope that this very incomplete guide helped you understand at least one woman's perspective on a complicated topic.