Today's edition of What I'd Like For You To Know is actually by request--several of of you asked to hear from a woman who had struggled with the issue of infertility. It is a painfully private subject, but GiBee of Kisses of Sunshine has shared her own journey below, with her typical gentleness and grace.
If you're new here, the idea behind this series to is to allow women to share something about a specific life challenge or circumstance, addressing some of the misconceptions and (most importantly) telling us all how we can reach out better.
Here's GiBee's story...
First, let me start by sharing a little bit about me, and an abbreviated version of my own story: I am what I like to refer to as a recovering infertile, and through my own personal journey, I have learned to try to bring a sprinkling of humor into daily life struggles, while trying to be a vessel of encouragement, tremendous sympathy, and God's shining love. I’m not always good at it, but I give it my best shot, because I feel that my life’s struggles have led me to a place in my life where I can help others going through similar circumstances. I get goose bumps even now as I write this, because this topic… infertility, and the pain and struggles that other women face … well, it is right in the heart of my heart.
My years of primary infertility struggles were filled with difficult months of “temping,“ three years of (un-monitored) Clomid treatments (which eventually led to PCOS), followed by three IUI's, 3 IVF's, six “recorded” miscarriages, and a lot of pain, sorrow and loss. In total, 14 years of struggles with infertility.
Today, I can praise God and honor his name, because He is faithful to complete the work he began in us. He has blessed us tremendously with our beautiful son – therefore, I take on the term “recovering infertile,” but as recently as February 2007, we were still struggling with secondary infertility. We had our third IVF procedure and had all of our remaining frozen embryos (2) transferred, which resulted in my sixth miscarriage, and our final and painful decision to stop trying to have another child.
Even through all the pain, we found a way to place our hope and joy in the Lord, and we celebrate each and every day with our precious son! The road hasn’t been easy, and through that time, I have experienced my share of painful comments, thoughtless remarks, and words/actions from people who just didn’t know how to offer support or ministry to me and my husband.
There were times when we experienced painful loss through miscarriage, and we hesitated to share with others, because we knew that loving, well-meaning people would end up saying things that were well-intended, but unknowingly hurtful. At the same time, we also had a tremendous support group through friends, family, and pastors that were very helpful, loving and caring during our difficulties, and I know that during my lowest times, one of them would reach out and touch me in ways they didn’t realize was ministering to my wounded soul.
Infertility is a painful, ugly, bitter struggle for women. It can leave them feeling “stripped” of their “rightful passage” of becoming a mother, as well as feeling empty, dark, un-whole, and like a failure. The treatments can be humiliating and uncomfortable, even painful. The mere sight of a young infant in a mother’s arms can set a woman with infertility into uncontrollable bouts of tears. It can come at any time – at a baby shower, a baby dedication, or the grocery store. Infertility is an “equal-opportunity” demon that can rip a woman’s life apart regardless of age, financial status, race, or faith. Just because you are a Christian, saved by grace, does not exclude you from the possibility of struggling with infertility, and you are not guaranteed a happy and large family. Infertility causes sorrow, self-doubt, bitterness, and brings unwanted grief into your life. If you allow it to, it can really harden your heart.
I acknowledge that each person's outcome to their journey of infertility is different, but we each have the same choices on how we can personally “handle” the journey and its outcome. We can either 1) hide our heads in the sand, choosing to ignore the issues, 2) become angry, bitter, resentful and blame God as we slowly harden our hearts towards him and walk away from him, or 3) we can run to God and seek his guidance, love, compassion, joy and peace, trusting all the while that he knows and understands what we are going through, that he has a plan for our lives, and that his ways are always the best way. And, whether he chooses to heal us here on earth, or heal us in heaven (in my case, he gave me a child here on earth, as well as a gaggle of them in heaven), we can find joy in our circumstances, although it may not come immediately.
So … what can you do or say when someone you know and love is struggling with infertility (whether it is primary or secondary)? You can love them. Wrap them in a hug, and tell them you are so sorry for the sorrow they are feeling. Offer to pray that God’s peace will rain down on them. Offer to be their prayer partner, and pray daily for them. Ask them how you can help. If they are fearful of the doctor appointments and their spouse can’t go with them, offer to be their “doctor’s office buddy.” If their spouse has to travel while they are scheduled for a round of injections, set aside any squeamish feelings you might have, and offer to help out with administering them (and take chocolate – you MUST take chocolate). And remember that your friend is on a LOT of different hormones, and emotions can easily do a “180” on them at any given moment. Don’t take it personally.
You might also want to flat-out ask them what they are feeling about the whole issue. Ask questions about infertility. Become informed so when they do talk to you, you’re not in the dark. You will need to understand buzz words like temping, IUI, IVF, daily monitoring, injections, 18 gauge needles (no one will EVER choose to have this in their body except an infertile, and this is where chocolate plays a very large role!), chemical pregnancy (in my opinion, a liberal term for a miscarriage), MTHFR, PCOS, Gonadotropins, FSH, luteinizing hormone (LH) etc. (See what I mean? Lots of terminology!)
Or honestly, just hold their hand, place an arm around their shoulder, say nothing, and let them cry their hearts out, understanding that it may happen more than once. Be available for them.
Some of the things that I found to be incredibly thoughtful and healing to me were prayers, flowers, a card, a heart-felt note, a meal, a phone call to see how I’m doing, an email to let me know they are thinking about me. My sister-in-law allowed me to be very involved in my niece’s life – almost in a motherly role. That went a long way towards healing my heart. To this day, I still have a close relationship with my niece and a special bond that will never be broken. It’s not the same as having my own child, but it was like a soothing balm to my broken heart. I had friends and family offer to clean my home. My previous pastor and his wife constantly hugged me, prayed with me, and offered help in anyway possible. They allowed me to speak honestly, openly, and even cry my eyes out and share my anger. Our candidating pastor and his wife embraced me, prayed over me, and then took back my story and had their small group praying for me… even months before they knew that we would offer them a position in our church! I didn’t even know this until a month or so after they came to pastor our church.
Most importantly, show unconditional love – even when you don’t know what to say. Each gesture someone made, whether small or large showed me unconditional, and unquestioned love. THAT, my friends, is how you can minister to someone that is experiencing the agonizing pain and struggle of infertility.
What should you avoid saying? Well, there are many things I’ve heard that I found to be unbearably painful… for instance: “At least you know you can get pregnant.” Or, “you can try again” or, “well, at least you have another baby waiting for you in heaven” or, “maybe it is God’s will for you not to have children,” or even, “maybe something was wrong with that baby and it was God’s way of taking care of the problem.” Honestly? That did absolutely nothing to help me work through the raw pain, emotions, and anger I was dealing with. Take the old motto to heart: When in doubt, do without. In other words, keep your mouth shut, and don’t try to come up with profoundly witty and spiritual things to say. It just isn’t necessary.
I also found that many people would tell me that they understood how I was feeling; people with two, three children that would get pregnant if they so much as looked at their husbands sideways. Really? They understand how I was feeling? I can’t tell you how that would anger me. So try to avoid saying that unless you’ve really walked a mile in the person’s shoes (empathy being quite different than sympathy).
Finally, not everyone that struggles with infertility will be able to bear their own child, and it is a painful realization when they conclude that their battle is over and it is time to look at other options (adoption, foster parents, etc). Those are excellent options, and make them a complete and whole family just as if they had given birth, but a woman still mourns not being able to bear their one child. Just be there for them. Let them dissolve into a heap. Let them cry, let them scream, let them rage, and let them process. Then, pray with them. Pray that God will begin to heal their heart, bring peace to their heart, and teach them how to rejoice once again.
One of my favorite scriptures is found in Philippians 4:6-7 -- "Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life." (The Message)
Partner with them in bringing their concerns to God ... before you know it ... A SENSE OF GOD'S WHOLENESS will come and SETTLE THEM DOWN. It may not be immediate, but if they trust in God, it will happen.
To read more of GiBee's post, visit her blog, Kisses of Sunshine.