All too often, I would rather look in other places for the problem. I would rather blame other people - "If that person didn't flaunt her pregnancy, I wouldn't feel so jealous!" Or I would rather blame my circumstances - "Anyone going through infertility has a right to the occasional pity-party!" Infertility is very trying. People who don't seem to understand or care what I am going through are tempting. But my response to those trials and temptations comes from my heart. Those outward influences can't force me into any specific thoughts or actions. In the realm of infertility, people have a variety of ways of reacting and dealing with their inability to conceive (anger, depression, determination, etc.). In my own life, I respond to the same circumstance - like a negative pregnancy test - in different ways (devastation, numbness, godly grief). What makes the difference? The heart.
It's not an easy thing to admit that my worst problem is my own heart. But if I try to locate the problem anywhere else, then I will miss the solution found in Christ. Seeing my heart as the root of all my good and bad behavior causes me to see that I am a worse sinner than I have yet dared to admit. But once I see that, I can see how great a Savior I have, how God has provided a much better solution than I dared to dream. And that brings hope. Even if I remain infertile for the rest of my life, my heart can change from a barren tree to a bountifully fruitful tree.
I plan to take a few posts to walk through an example of the Three Trees diagram in my own life. You can listen here (3/18 & 3/25) to the messages that explain the diagram.
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you."
These are the words that I am clinging to after a phone call with negative results.
I am grieving the end of another hope for pregnancy, but I know that I will not be overwhelmed by these sorrows because of my great and personal Redeemer.
Aaron and I need to decide tonight if we will go forward with IVF*. Please pray for us to be given much wisdom and guidance by the Holy Spirit.
*Update: To clarify, we needed to decide last night if we wanted to go forward with IVF right away, because of the time needed to get insurance approval. After we talked and prayed last night, I called the clinic this morning to ask them to start the paperwork for an IVF cycle. We will probably start the protocol next week.
In a section about the stories of barren women in the Bible, the following quote struck me: "Faith is not so much believing God will provide a child; rather, it's believing that nothing is too hard for him. And that involves believing that his ways, while mysterious, are trustworthy. He is still good, even if we don't have a biological child. If he knew it were the very best thing for us, he would cause us to conceive." (They were writing specifically about Sarah here, who laughed when an angel of the Lord told her in her 90s that she was about to have a child and who was later commended for her faith.) Throughout this trial, I've often wondered what hope and faith look like specifically in the face of infertility. If I lose my optimism that we will conceive, does that mean I am lacking trust in God? This quote helped me to make a better, clearer distinction. I don't know if God will provide a child for our family, and I don't know what means he will use if he does do so, but I do know that nothing is too hard for him and that all that he does is good. That kind of faith inspires me to keep asking for a child, even against the odds, while knowing that my trust in God will not be disappointed, even if I never have children.
After giving very specific details about various infertility treatments (where I learned that 50% of frozen embryos don't survive thaw - yikes! even more reason to avoid freezing embryos!), the authors asked whether we should do any of the ARTs that we can do. They offered both scriptural and general ethical principles for evaluation. In their chapter on biblical principles, I appreciated the recommendation to make your church part of the decision-making process. Another helpful recommendation is to make the commands to love God and to love others the foundation of all our decision-making (Matt. 22:37-39). They also addressed the importance of respecting the sanctity of human life. These are all principles that I want to apply as we consider IVF.
In the chapter on general ethical principles, the authors offered a construct that evaluates four factors: beneficence, nonmaleficence, autonomy, and justice. In layman's terms, that means asking if something does good, does no harm, respects the persons involved, and does what is right and equitable. Application of these principles yielded very specific recommendations for pursuing IVF:
Couples can do IVF while complying with all the ethical principles if they honor life at the one-cell stage. That means deciding that every embryo must get the best possible chance to live. How can couples make sure every embryo gets such a chance? They begin by allowing to be created only the number of embryos that they are willing to carry to term in that cycle in the event that all embryos implant. ... When and if fertilization takes place and cell division indicates that DNA has aligned, all embryos - regardless of "quality" - are then transferred, each having an equal chance at being carried to term (p. 174).
I am comfortable with that recommendation. Though I am still not completely sure that I want to do IVF, this informative book gave me a clearer handle on the practicals and principles involved.
A short, but helpful, resource I found was the chapter "To Have or Not to Have Children: Special Issues Related to the Family (Part 1)" in Andreas Kostenberger's book, God, Marriage, and Family. The chapter begins by saying that "there is perhaps no one who can better appreciate the value of children today than a woman who is unable to conceive and who desperately wants to have children of her own." The section that specifically addresses artificial reproductive technologies (ART) kicks off with this sentence: "In light of the clear scriptural mandate for couples to 'be fruitful and multiple' (Gen. 1:28), one of the more difficult trials a married couple can face is the inability to have children." Clearly, the author has empathy for the infertile, huh?
After a brief description of various ART procedures, he gives some principles for evaluating the ethics of it all. The principles are 1) respect for the sanctity of human life, 2) respect for all human beings as image bearers, 3) respect for the fidelity of the marital bond, and 4) the heart of the one wanting to use ART. As relates to IVF, principle #1 means being willing to transfer and carry to full term every embryo created, and principle #2 means generally not freezing embryos. I agree with both of those applications. Principle #3 indicates that doing IVF with donor eggs or sperm is questionable, but I wonder if it has any implications for embryo adoption? I understand that combining the wife's egg with donor sperm or vice versa could be considered an intrusion into the exclusive bond of marriage, but would carrying an embryo with no genetic material from either spouse be a similar intrusion? Is embryo adoption essentially the same as standard adoption, or does pregnancy - the mingling of that embryo with the wife's body - make it different? We're not actually contemplating embryo adoption right now, but these are still interesting questions to consider. Principle #4 was the most illuminating:
A fourth and final principle that ought to guide the evaluation of whether or not to use reproductive technologies relates not so much to the form of technology but the heart of the one wanting to use it. While the desire to have and raise genetically related children is grounded in the created norms and cemented in God's imperative for us to "be fruitful and multiply," it is nonetheless important not to place one's hope or sense of worth too greatly on one's ability to have children. The final hope of the Christian does not lie in the ability to manipulate human reproductive systems, nor in the ability to have children at all. Whether it be through direct miraculous intervention (as in Hannah's case) or through the technological advancements made possible through the minds God has given us, children are a gift from God. Beyond this, Scripture indicates that our ultimate hope lies not in our ability to have children but rather in our Savior Jesus Christ (p. 147).I need to hold fast to what is said here! As we consider the option of IVF, I need to keep asking myself: Am I looking for my identity in the experience pregnancy and childbirth, or in my sovereign Creator? Am I placing my hope in the possibility of a conception carried to full-term, or in my Savior who will bring me from this vale of groaning to the bliss of heaven? I think we could do IVF in a way that honors life. But if it is to be done in a way that honors God, I must make sure that my desire for a child is not blown out of proportion, and object to be won willy-nilly, but rather that it is in its proper place, submitted to God's good will.
Abysmally low progesterone.
9.3 wupmL (That's whatever-units-per-milliliter, in case you need a refresher on my highly scientific terminology.) While this is still double my natural level of 4.5 wupmL, it is far below the level of 20 wupmL that my clinic wants to see on a medicated cycle. I guess Follistim needed to whisper at my ovaries a little more forcefully. So now I get to start using progesterone suppositories. Can I just say that I dread this much more than giving myself shots? I guess my pain tolerance is distinctly higher than my grossness tolerance. I mean, really, ew. But it will all be worth it if we get a positive result next week.
In case you want to read about something more interesting and less disgusting than progesterone suppositories, go check out Carolyn McCulley's blog, SoloFemininity (link in sidebar). She is starting a series on the topic of suffering, and her inaugural post quotes a chapter that is the best thing I've read about suffering. In fact, I had planned to post some quotes and reflections on that same chapter myself. Maybe I will still do so at some point, but Carolyn probably says it better than I could. Now, why are you still reading my blog? Go, read hers!
*2 cups sugar
*2 cups flour
*2 tsp almond extract
*1 tsp vanilla extract
*1/2 lb butter (softened or melted)
Mix all ingredients together thoroughly. Pour batter into a loaf pan, and bake at 350F for 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 hours. (This really varies by oven. I usually check it at 45 minutes and cover it with foil if the top is browning too fast. It'll probably take a few tries to get it so the edges don't come out dry; you can also use mini-loaf pans to make it easier to cook evenly.) Koek is done when a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Enjoy the tasty Dutch treat!
Aprons (Y/N): Yes! I hadn't been cooking for too long before I got tired of splattering oil or batter or sauces all over myself when preparing to have company. (Or just tired of splattering myself, period. Because that means I have to wash clothes before I've worn them the requisite 5-10 times.) Just ask my husband - I love my apron and wear it almost daily. It keeps me fresh, it gives me a place to wipe my hands other than the dishtowel, and it makes a pretty decoration when hanging on its hook.
Baking (Favorite thing to bake): Pumpkin chocolate chip bars are what I bake the most. Followed in a close second by almond koek (family recipe for a Dutch almond pound cake).
Clothesline (Y/N): Umm, no. But in winter, the steam from our dryer makes a lovely, fresh-scented mist billowing out of our apartment building. That's got similar aesthetic charm, right?
Donuts: Growing up, my family used to have donuts as a special treat on Sundays. Store-bought, not homemade. (Although my mom occasionally made oliebollen, another Dutch dessert.) I've never attempted to make my own donuts, but I often wonder if it is kosher to just take the free donut without making any purchase when the Krispy Kreme "Hot Donuts Now" sign is on.
Every Day (One homemaking thing you do every day): Applying a loose definition of "every," it's a tie between making the bed and cooking dinner.
Freezer (Do you have a separate deep freeze?): No. See reference to apartment life under clothesline.
Garbage Disposal (Y/N): Yes, and we are still grateful for it 3 years after leaving our first apartment which had none.
Handbook (What is your favorite homemaking resource?): Everyday Food Magazine
Ironing (Love it or hate it?): I tend to put it off, so I guess that tips me toward the "hate" side of the balance. But it's not so bad now that we send Aaron's shirts to the cleaners.
Junk drawer (Y/N) (Where?): It's more like a whole junk area, and it is our desk and surrounding floor space.
Kitchen (Design and decorating): Considering that we rent and thus did not have a lot of choice in kitchen design, I like our kitchen. It has tile floor, faux wood cabinets, and is open above the countertops on the side that faces the rest of the living area (I especially like this feature when we have people over). The decorations are mostly contributed by Aaron - a wood-art-thingy depicting the four seasons, inherited from his great-aunt, and a water-color of a pear that he bought in Honduras. Also, the apron!
Love (What is your favorite part of homemaking?): Cooking. I never thought I would like it (I have a distaste for getting my hands messy), but my inner-gourmet fought its way out!
Mop (Y/N): Yes, although Aaron can't tell when the tile is dirty.
Oven (Do you use the window or open the door to check?): Both. I usually try to look through the window, can't see clearly enough, then crack the door for a better view.
Pizza (What do you put on yours?): Pepperoni. Or tomato and basil.
Quiet (What do you do during the day when you get a quiet moment?): Read. Oh, and did I mention that I read? And if I have a little extra time, I'll read.
Recipe card box (Y/N): Yes, but the recipes in there were collected before I really knew what to do in the kitchen, so I never open the box anymore.
Style of house: one-bedroom apartment
Tablecloths and napkins? I really like tablecloths (I have one that matches my apron!), but we don't use napkins too much - just occasionally for company.
Under the kitchen sink (Organized or toxic wasteland?): Decently organized.
Vacuum (How many times per week?): Once. Probably twice if we have had small group or nephews at our house - both tend to leave trails of crumbs.
Wash (How many loads of laundry do you do in a week?): Two or three.
X's (Do you keep a daily list of things to do and cross them off?): Only on Mondays.
Yard (Who does what?): Apartment = no yard. But I like to have potted plants on our patio, and Aaron grills.
Zzz's: We try to go to bed by 10 p.m., but lately 11 is the new 10.
Our IUI this morning went very well. We felt fairly peaceful all morning, worlds away from our first anxiety-ridden IUI. Everything happened according to plan. Aaron's counts were nice and high again - good volume and motility. From our limited human perspective, all the right factors are in place for conception. But we are very aware that "as you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything" (Ecclesiastes 11:5). We're praying that the Lord will see fit to begin a new life today, and we trust that no matter what happens he will be lavishing kindness on us. Let the waiting begin...
Wednesday morning it is. Please pray for all to go smoothly, and Lord willing, successfully!
Last Sunday, Tab continued our Romans series and preached on 6:12-14. He talked about resisting sin by presenting ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness. In light of my recent struggles with fearfulness, I was helped by the idea of specifically presenting my thought-life to righteousness, using my mind as a weapon against the enemy within. When I am tempted to imagine the worst-case scenario, I want to instead try to think on "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable" (Philippians 4:8). When I irrationally worry that Aaron will die before I have the chance to bear his children, or when I start to assume that we will experience all the worst odds of infertility, I am trying to ask myself: "What is true?" The truth is that I don't know the future, and that such knowledge would be too much for me. The truth is that right now is full of blessing, even if it is also full of hardship. The truth is that I have a faithful God who sent his Son to die on the cross for me and who sympathizes with my sorrow and who works all things for my good. My frightful worries are not true, nor are they lovely. Finding shelter and rest in the hands of my Lord is lovely.
In the first one, I had finally managed to get pregnant and gave birth at 19 weeks, and the baby was fine! (Subconscious probably influenced by the story swirling around in the news of the preemie that had survived birth just before 21 weeks.) We were so happy, and I kept my baby boy by my side at all times. At one point, I dreamt that the baby was nursing; I peeked under the blanket covering us and gazed in awe at his little head as I felt him latch and thought, "Wow! I can't believe we're really getting this nursing thing so well!" Flash to a new scene - Aaron & I are driving to meet some friends (mostly people we were RAs with in college) at a coffee shop for a concert. Baby is in a sling with me in the front passenger seat, because his unexpectedly early birth meant that we hadn't had a chance to buy a car seat. We made a wrong turn and started up this mountain road made up entirely of hairpin turns. Since the road behind us was clear, we decided to reverse down the road rather than executing a very tight turn-around. I got out of the car to direct Aaron, and I stood on the side of the road munching a piece of toast. Suddenly, in that weirdly clear dream-logic, I realized that the piece of toast was my baby, and I was half-way through eating him! Panicked, I tried to hide what I had done by shoving the remaining portion of toast back into the sling, pressing it to my body, and praying, "Please grow back, please grow back." I got back in the car with Aaron and we drove on to the coffee shop and met our friends, and all the while I am fearfully keeping secret the half-eaten toast-baby, trying to deftly avoid all questions and requests to see the baby. That's when I woke up, feeling horribly unfit to ever be a mother. Disturbing and vivid, no?
The second dream, I woke up laughing. We were in church, and our friend James was speaking a prophetic word to all the infertile women in the congregation. (Um, that would be me. But in the dream I wasn't the only one.) He was fervently pacing the stage, microphone in hand, shouting, and generally carrying on in a rather disorderly manner - in other words, not like his real self at all and not in a way that would ever be permitted by our pastors! As James hysterically prayed for all the infertiles, he suddenly burst out in a strange language, commanding, "Eine...Nova...Nueve...APPLE!" Which translated, meant, "One...two...three...OVULATE!" At this point, I surfaced from slumber to hear Aaron asking me what was so funny. I wasn't conscious enough to tell him before I fell back asleep, but when our alarm went off later in the morning I told him, barely able to squeak out the last part as laughter prevented normal breathing.
I like the dream behind door number 2 better, don't you?
*Unprecedented! Three posts in as many days! And I'll probably post again tomorrow!
Even though we see this a more of a stop-gap cycle while we make decisions about IVF and adoption, I'm doing my part to make this a success. In obedience to the recent findings that high-fat dairy foods increase fertility, I had a Starbucks almond creme and a bowl of ice cream yesterday. I think I could probably persuade Aaron to trek to Bolingbrook to visit our friends' custard franchise sometime this week, too. You know, for the cause. See the great sacrifices we're willing to make to have a baby?
“Now I know it is sweet and uniquely precious to have children by birth, and that if you can’t, you look sometimes to adoption, so then it can feel like this is Plan B. God did not save you that way. He didn’t say, ‘Now, Plan A is to have lots of kids this way. But they blew that in the garden. So, Plan B, I’ll have to save them from slavery by adoption.’ That’s exactly not what happened. … His Plan A was, ‘I will save them at the cost of my Son that they might understand how much I love them.’ Which means, for our own experience, that we should think in terms of two uniquely precious realities. One is having children by birth. It’s unique; nothing is like it. And having children by adoption is unique; nothing is like it. You don’t need to weigh these off against each other as though one is better or worse. There are unique things that are precious and beautiful about [each]. God uses both terminology to describe how we become his children. We can think of both. And if we are moving toward adoption as our first choice or our second choice, they don’t need to be ranked like one is better or one is worse than the other. God is able to give you the grace to embrace adoption as equal to Plan A. Even if it wasn’t sequentially Plan A, it can now rank as a Plan A, equal to Plan A.”
Adoption certainly isn’t Plan A, sequentially, for us. But seeing God’s intent from the beginning of time to adopt me as his child, that gives me an ounce more faith that I might come to see adoption as a blessed plan for us.
As I listened to the message, I was convicted about my growing fear about the future. Infertility has revealed in my heart an underlying sinful anxiety. Although I think of myself as a pretty optimistic person in general, I have lately felt stuck in a state of expecting the worst. I believe that God is good, but I have managed to twist that belief into a perverse kind of foreboding. It goes something like this in my mind: "God works all things for good, right? Infertility has been really hard, but it must be good somehow. God knows the future, and it is obviously not best for us to have a child right now if he is sovereignly causing us to wait." All okay, so far, huh? But where I get into trouble is when I start playing the mental game of imagining the reasons why we're not supposed to have children. Trying to second guess God's reasoning, I start to wonder if maybe Aaron or I is soon going to die or be paralyzed or something else that would make it really difficult to care for children, or if my sister- and brother-in-law will be in a plane crash so that we will adopt our nephews which would obviously be an easier transition if we don't already have children of our own, or all kinds of other bizarre scenarios usually involving someone's death or debilitation. How do I manage to get from affirming God's goodness to expecting such horrible things to happen? (My sinful heart, that's how!) And once I start imagining those things, I have a hard time taking those thoughts captive. Sunday's message convicted me that those fears are sinful and reminded me that I am not bound to those worries. I am united with Christ and therefore I have hope for change, for growth, for a more genuine trust in God's goodness. Infertility cannot make me a fearful or pessimistic person; it can reveal sin in my heart, but my Savior has paid for that sin and promises to make me more like himself. Instead of looking to the immediate past of our struggles to conceive as an indication of what is to come, I need to look to the far-off but ever-present past of the cross. That's where I see God's goodness displayed, where I see fear defeated, and where I see hope for the future.