Journey of Infertility (my post for National Infertility Awareness Week)

Photography Credit: http://freedomphotography.smugmug.com/
Photography Credit: http://freedomphotography.smugmug.com/
Quote: Author Unknown

Apparently, this is National Infertility Awareness Week.  Who knew?  Right?  I certainly didn’t until I stumbled upon a few blogs about it.  I kinda find it funny that there is just one week to be aware of infertility.  Those of us who have experienced it, are experiencing it, or, like in my case, lived a life of it, are always keenly aware of the presence of not being able to have a biological child.

I so wish that there would have been attention given to infertility when I was a girl.  Instead, it was a hushed topic.  Some of the reasons why I never had deep discussions about it with anyone while growing up was because of my age.  I mean, what in the world do you say to an eleven-year-old who had a hysterectomy?

Most of the time people would say things like “God must have a plan for you.”  My thoughts after hearing these words often went something like this, “Why yes, I’m sure He does and it obviously doesn’t include biological children.”  Or, I was given the advice of “You can always adopt!”  Again, the thoughts behind my smile went like this, “Oh wow, thanks.  I had not thought of that before.”

Now, I know that sounds a little sarcastic.  Looking back now on my life experience and the pain of growing up infertile, I know that I kept these thoughts to myself.  I could not control what happened, but by golly, I could control how I responded to it.  I know God had a plan for my life, I just didn’t know what it was or if it included children.  Throughout the majority of my life after the surgery, I did not want other people’s advice.  This was my battle to win, my life experience to navigate, and my journey to seek the answers.

One thing that I find ironic about infertility is that it creates a sense of isolation and loneliness, but it also creates an unspoken bond with others going through it.  There have been moments where I felt I could almost read someone’s thoughts by their expressions when speaking about infertility.  I just find that to be interestingly ironic.

Just a few weeks ago, I was speaking to another adoptive parent.  She and her husband spent many years trying to get pregnant.  Although she expressed  great joy and love over her little boy, she also agreed that infertility really is a life-long process to deal with.  Missing out on having a biological child does not go away.  However, the incredible and genuinely loving experience of adoption does not go away either.

I feel like an old veteran of a battle waged many years ago whose wounds have healed and are now a source of strength to carry on.  I feel the need to encourage others, motivate others, and testify about how the Lord does work it all out.  For those of you who are just now experiencing a life different than you expected, hear me when I say this:

  • There will be times when you feel like crawling into a hole where no one can find you.
  • There will be those moments when the words of other’s will sit on you like a heavy weight.
  • God is NOT punishing you.
  • You ARE still able to be a parent; it may just take you a little longer to become one.
  • It is okay to avoid the baby departments at stores (stop beating yourself up over it.)
  • It is normal to be a little envious of your friends who are having babies…ALL at the same time (again, stop beating yourself up over it.  This is a process of healing and does not reflect on how much you love your friends.)
  • Baby showers are the worst when you can’t have one, and going into an ob/gyn’s office is miserable when you are the only non-prego chic in the room.
  • There are others who feel the same way you do.  Find them.  Seek support from them.
  • Most people really don’t know how you are feeling.  This is just a fact that you need to accept.
  • Whether you become a parent through birth or adoption, all of these hard times you are going through will seem like a blip on the radar screen compared to the lifetime of love you will be able to give and receive through parenting.  

Infertility is more than about pregnancy.  It is a sojourn into the pits and valleys of despair.  It is a path where each step taken leads to healing.  Like the quote on our family photo above, we were not separated from our children when they were born.  We had all embarked on a journey that led to each other.  Our journey together really did not end at our adoption.  We began a new one with new stories to be written, lessons to be learned, hopes to be fulfilled, and new revelations of the Lord’s presence throughout it all.

Each Time I Speak

Today I had the privilege of speaking to a class of social work students at a Christian university about foster parenting, adoption, and infertility.  I always enjoy these opportunities to share of the great calling that is foster parenting, and to give a glimpse of my own personal testimony.  It seems each time I speak, I walk away learning a bit more about myself, and about the Lord.

It was a small class, and I really do not know what each of them want to do with their education or who their target population of clients will be.  I don’t know what any of their own life stories involve, but I was thankful to see a group of young persons seeking to learn more about society and the social issues that we face.  I also recognize that they are going to learn more once they actually graduate and dive into the field, than myself, or any professor could ever teach them.

With that being said, I do believe in the power of story-telling, and not just fictional stories.  Human stories are powerful and often help the listener navigate their worlds vicariously through the stories of someone else.  Today, after speaking about the basic facts of foster parenting, and sharing some examples of both heart-break and joy, I was asked to share my personal journey.

I’ve been a guest speaker several times and have told my story of infertility and adoption multiple times.  Each time I start though, I struggle just a bit with how to begin it.  Often, I pause, take a deep breath, then start something like this….

I need to start from the beginning in order for you to understand the full story…

I begin the tale of my journey by explaining that my medical problems started to happen at the age of two years, but that no one ever suspected what would happen at the age of eleven.  I tell of being in the hospital for nearly a week in the dying process before the life-saving decision was made to perform exploratory surgery.  I talk about my hysterectomy, and at times, I catch myself off-guard about how open I am now in talking about it.

After I “break the ice” a bit with my medical history  I meander my way through the steps taken to become licensed as a foster parent up until the moment I first laid eyes on the precious baby we were charged with taking care of.  I tell of the lows (and there were many), the highs, the revelations, the humbling moments, and ultimately, the gift of adoption.  I speak of the relationship built with my son’s birth mother, and the moments where all I could do was kneel in prayer for the child I deeply loved.

I go on to talk about how our son declared we would get a baby sister about 10 days or so before we even became aware of her.  I talk about how her “case” was vastly different from my son’s, and how our children are strong-willed, ornery, and deeply loved.  The Lord’s declaration to me that my journey was never really about me in the first place is something I always share.  It is the most important piece of my story, and something that will always stand out to me as being one of the most incredible gifts through all of this.

On the drive home following my speaking engagement, I was at a place of peace and contentment with life.  I feel this way every time I am able to share my story.  I see how the Lord put all the refining and deeply painful moments together with those “mountain-top” moments in life.  I also think about the adolescent girl and young adult that I once was who barely whispered a word about what happened.  I remember that my hysterectomy was something I hid from others, was deeply ashamed of, and that caused great internal turmoil in my life.  I recall the images of myself avoiding baby departments, struggling through baby showers, and coiling up in a fetal position while weeping my way through the pain of infertility.

I am so thankful for opportunities to share my story with others.  I know others learn from my professional and personal experience.  I believe that a small dose of understanding is learned, and that some may walk away feeling moved to get involved in foster care.  I also feel that I am able to speak for those still struggling through infertility, and to share that there is always hope and goodness that happens in life even when that doesn’t seem possible.

For me though, each time I speak it out loud, I am reaffirmed of His presence throughout my life, His marking of the path that led me to my children, and His ability now to use me in ways I never imagined.

Thank you, Lord, for bringing me to a place where my story reflects Your glory.  I feel You around me Father.  I feel You working on me, and sculpting my life in ways that remind me of who You are.  I also know that You are not through with me yet, and for that, I am excited to see what You have in store.

 

Glass door

Growing up I felt there was this glass door between me and the other girls.  I could get right up close to it, but never go through.  My surgery, being barren, not having a period…all of these things separated me from being  just like them.  This is something I kept to myself though.  It was hard enough being an adolescent.  As an adult, it has been hard work to remind myself that while I may be different, I’m still just as much a woman as any other female out there.

I think hysterectomies are difficult for women to undergo.  Mine happened at such a young age that I grew into womanhood already feeling as if I was not wholly female.  Women of any age might not feel completely whole after a hysterectomy.  If the surgery happens at a younger age, then it is more than just losing some organs.  It’s losing the ones that are vital to a women’s experience in this life.

As I have developed through the years, the recognition of the impact on my physical, emotional, and spiritual health became clearer with each milestone or emotional age.  I could tell that infertility was not going to get easier, but harder, much harder.  I stood by and watched my friends’ life cycle continue on.  From the announcements of their pregnancies, to the first baby bumps appearing, the baby showers, flushed cheeks, and swollen feet…  I was on the side-lines watching.  I often heard them talk about their pregnancies and tried to act like I knew what they were talking about.  But the truth is, I did not know and honestly did not care to know.  It would never happen for me.

Infertility creates such a distinct type of isolation.  People just don’t know how to react when one says “I can’t have children”.  Instantly, there is an awkward silence usually followed by some words of wisdom that may or may not be too wise.  It is sadly refreshing sometimes to be around other women who cannot have children.  The conversations tend to be more driven by genuine empathy and understanding for each other.  We don’t have to “be strong” and hide our emotions about it.

There are also those universal themes that tend to come out while discussing infertility with fellow women who are struggling.  First, baby showers are the worst things to attend when you cannot have children.  They can create a raw and digging pain that is usually held in until after the shower is over.  I venture to guess that a lot of infertile women cry themselves home after baby showers.  I know I did before I adopted.  I actually dreaded going to them.  I would “fake” my way through them, drive home as quickly as I could,  and then curl up on my bed in a sobbing mess.  The rest of the day following a baby shower was usually filled with emotions and apathy.

Second, it really hurts when people say to you “if it’s God’s will, then it will happen”.  Most believers agree that things happen in our lives that are within God’s will, but it does not take away the pain.  It may not be within the Lord’s will for any of us to children – biological or adopted.  Unbeknownst to people who say this, an infertile woman might start thinking “if I can’t have children then God must not want me to be a mom”.  This is an awful place to be at.  I’ve been there.  I’ve thought “perhaps God doesn’t think I will be a good mom”, or “God must not want us to be parents”.

Third, pregnancy and birth announcements are wonderful and sweet unless you will never be the one sending them out.  That may sound selfish.  I’m a little embarassed to admit this, but sometimes I would think “why does she get to have another baby when I can’t even have one?”  This does not mean that those of us who cannot have biological children aren’t happy for our family members or friends.  Sometimes, the announcements and the excitement that follows reminds us of what we cannot have.

Growing up, I always felt that maybe I was the only one out there like me.  In some way, this may have been true since I was so young when my hysterectomy happened.  But, now as an adult, I know my experience, though somewhat different, is one that is shared by many.  Being an infertile woman in a world of baby-bearing bliss is difficult.  It can be socially isolating.  It can cause tension between spouses, friends, and family members.  For those of you who may be struggling with handling your journey of infertility or adoption, don’t be too hard on yourself.   Just know that there are others out there on your side of the glass door.