Saturday, April 26, 2014

Faces of Infertility: Melissa's Story

In celebration of "National Infertility Awareness Week", I am featuring stories of infertility this week. These are all guest posts that I hope will put a real face on this devastating disease. Please spread the word and share these stories!

One of the big things about “infertility awareness” is the whole idea that we aren’t all completely aware of what infertility is. We may not know how to define it. We may not understand what it’s like. We may have no real idea who is affected by it. And that’s one of the interesting things about my story, my angle on infertility -- at first glance, you may well not think of my story as one of infertility.

And that’s why my story, and others like mine, are told, especially during times like "National Infertility Awareness Week" —- to help open eyes, advance knowledge and understanding, to nurture fellowship and empathy amongst women who so often suffer in misunderstood silence.

This is my story, that God wrote for me before I was created in secret (Psalm 139:15-16)-— the story that He reveals to me chapter by chapter, that I live out before Him by faith, that I don’t completely understand but that I embrace because I know He is good. I recognize that my life, my joys and my suffering, is for the purpose of glorifying Him (1 Peter 4:12-13, 5:10).

I became a mother when I was yet a bride, merely a few weeks after I became a wife. Without me even knowing it or expecting it, God created life within me —- just about five weeks after my wedding, I bought my first box of pregnancy tests. I didn’t even know how to use them, and I recall reading the instruction page very carefully. I emailed a photograph of the pregnancy test to a friend of mine who already had three living children, because I wasn’t sure how to tell if it was positive. I didn’t yet even know what hcg was, or the mantra that “a line is a line is a line.” My friend laughed at my naïveté and rejoiced with me.

The next day, my husband came home to a fancy dinner, a Bible open on the table to Psalm 127, and a gift of a leather quiver with a single arrow resting inside of it. We were parents!

Let me tell you, the last thing on my mind was that I would ever be faced with anything remotely resembling infertility. Then, not even two months into my pregnancy, our baby died. One day, she suddenly burst forth from my womb and we held her in our hands. We were shocked. We had no idea what to do next, how to process our feelings, where to go with the emotions and questions that filled our hearts and minds. We were still newlyweds, we had just become parents, and now we were thrown into depths of grief that surprised us and shook us and knocked us to our knees.

But still, infertility really didn’t cross my mind: everyone told me that having a miscarriage, especially in a first pregnancy, was completely normal, and many people seemed to brush it off as something that didn’t even really matter.

It mattered to us though, as we acknowledged our small baby as a child, and all I knew was that I wanted a baby again -— not to replace my first little one, but to fill the dreams and hopes and expectations that she had given us.

God grew the desire in us to grow our family in number. And so we prayed for another baby, and the Lord in His great mercy did not delay in providing us with not only another pregnancy but an uneventful nine months at the end of which He gave us a living, healthy, beautiful, miraculous baby boy.

We added a second arrow to the quiver we hung on a wall in our home.

And once again, fully embracing these new aspects of motherhood, infertility was not on my radar. I did not know that that chapter was coming in the future of my story.

After falling in love with our son, with parenthood, with all things baby-related, we felt the Lord calling us to grow our family again —- and He filled my womb when our son was just ten months old. But He took our baby’s life from my womb shortly thereafter. And then He filled my womb again when our son was a year old. And God took that baby’s life as well.

That is when I learned about things like progesterone, what hcg is exactly, what a reproductive endocrinologist does, and began to experience the humbling routines of everything infertility related. I still did not know if the label applied to me, but I began to taste that flavor. I learned about “clinic hour” at the RE, and how to grow numb to frequent transvaginal ultrasounds at all various points in my cycle. I learned how to get 32 tubes of blood drawn at one time (from two arms, thankyouverymuch because after 26 tubes my first vein finally collapsed) without passing out, even though it was a fasting draw. I learned about silly socks. I learned about online communities for support groups. I learned what it’s like to have my lovemaking with my husband invaded by doctors, by grief, by physical pain, by painful memories of miscarriages which babies had been given life through that sacred marital act. I learned about cycle days, and how to use something called an OPK. I learned to give myself blood thinner injections, and my husband learned to give me progesterone injections. I learned about various hormones, how our reproductive systems really work, what a semen analysis was, and how painful things like a sonohysterogram and endometrial biopsy can be —- especially when my husband was not allowed in the room with me to hold my hand.

All of a sudden a new chapter of the story of my life was unfolding. It was unlovely and unfamiliar. It felt cold and harsh. Its very essence was isolating and debilitating. I cried myself to sleep so many nights, and found it hard to drag myself out of bed in the mornings. I had a living son —- my womb had managed to produce life before! And, thus far, it had never taken more than two cycles of trying to conceive before the Lord filled my womb. How could infertility become part of my reality?

We continued to plod forward, following the leading of our Lord as we sought His face through prayer and wisdom of His people around us, trying to grow our family. Miscarriage followed miscarriage following miscarriage. It began to feel like an endless cycle of trying, conceiving, carrying a beloved baby for a couple of months, and miscarrying -— three times a year, two years in a row.

Our story confounded the doctors available to us -— labwork and ultrasounds not exactly making sense, babies who appeared completely whole and genetically healthy, with parents who had no signs of physical problems and family histories clear of things like infertility and miscarriage. Why us? How us?

For my husband and me, infertility came to us not in the form of being unable to conceive, but in the form of not being able to carry babies to term.

I was diagnosed with uRPL officially, which stands for undiagnosed recurrent pregnancy loss, but more unofficially diagnosed with immunological disorders that cause my body to attack my own babies. I began to see labels on my ever-thickening patient charts like “habitual aborter” or “grava 9 para 1” or “7SAB”—terms which can feel oddly identifying in a coldly clinical, numbing sort of way.

I had been unknowingly initiated into a club of thousands (millions) of women who longed for children but who continually had those dreams crushed, dashed, shattered. I learned how to overcome my fear of needles as frequent iv infusions and daily injections became part of my reality in this chapter of my life’s story. I had to face my fear of flying as we headed south of the border to Mexico five times in four months for alternative medical treatments. The Lord continually showed His faithfulness in opening and closing doors to direct our steps, in providing finances to cover the crazy medical things we chose to pursue, in sustaining our souls through grief by His Word and through His people. In the world of infertility, I suddenly had a voice. Me -— the young woman who wanted a large family (and hadn’t the foresight to realize I may have no choice in the matter), who conceived shortly after her wedding, who continually conceived “easily” in physical terms -— due to the recurring deaths of my little babies in my womb, I not only received encouragement and empathy from other women around the world suffering infertility in its varied forms, but God gave me the grace and joy in the midst of my own suffering and grief to be a conduit of His love and tenderness in return.

Eventually, having connections in the medical field and spending 2 ½ years not only trying to conceive and carry a pregnancy, but also trying various tests and treatments that a variety of doctors around the United States suggested for us, God gave us a conclusion to a particular chapter. Just as suddenly as He opened the chapter of uRPL, He ended it. Through the aid of a reproductive immunologist and the Western medical protocol he concocted for me, millions of prayers from God’s people, and whatever miraculous interventions He spoke from His own mouth, the Lord saw fit to give us another living son —- born on Thanksgiving morning, right around sunrise.

After seven miscarriages, six having been consecutive, we were surprised by the gift of LIFE, wiggling and crying and cuddling in our arms! Just as surprising as it was to miscarry in the first place was the surprise we felt not to miscarry after so much heartache in our chapter of recurrent loss. Shortly on the heels of our second living son, God granted us the miraculous gift of a living daughter -— using the same medical treatments He had provided and used in the preservation of our son’s life.

Suddenly we had ten arrows in our quiver, and we embarked upon a new chapter of life characterized by the miracles of living children (a plural which never ceases to take my breath away), of thankfulness for Western medicine, of renewed hope in the various ways God brings beauty from ashes.

So we were surprised to suffer an eighth miscarriage when our daughter was about to celebrate her first birthday, while I was on the medical treatments once again that had seemingly saved the lives of two of our children.

This has served to remind us that God’s ways are not our ways, that chapters in the story of our lives begin and end according to His will and not ours, that His glory is paramount over any earthly joy or blessing we could even think of using to glorify Him —- because He in His infinite wisdom knows what is best for our lives to magnify Him most greatly. Whether we are facing another chapter -— or perhaps simply an interlude -- of uRPL in our family or not, we have realized that we just don’t know what the chapters in our story are going to look like; we can’t predict their endings; we may not always understand the storyline as we’re going through it (and maybe not even when looking back). But infertility will always be part of our story, as God has used it to shape us and use us in ways we would not have otherwise been used in His Kingdom.

If you look at my family picture, you probably would not automatically think, “I wonder if that family has ever struggled with infertility? ”—- which is just another reminder for us in the midst of "National Infertility Awareness Week" that we really are unaware of so much about infertility, its effects, its forms, its reach. My arms are both full and empty. I have children on earth, but more children who reside in the glories of heaven. I know the miracle of getting BFPs (that’s infertility-speak for “big fat positive” which is code for a positive pregnancy test), but I also know the depth of anguish that comes from my naïveté being stolen and understanding that being pregnant does not necessarily mean I am having a baby.

You may know someone like me. Someone who may even look like “a fertile myrtle” on the outside, but who may be suffering in silence. Someone who longs to pour out her life into the nurturing of children but whose body habitually fails her in ways far outside of her control, no matter the lengths she may (or may not) go to in order to try controlling things. Someone who beseeches the Lord daily for arrows in a quiver so that she can join the mommy club rather than the infertility club. Someone like Hannah, Sarah, the wife of Manoah, the wife of Abimelech, Rebekah, Rachel, Michal, Elizabeth -— women in Scripture who we know suffered infertility because these stories are recorded for us in God’s Word.

We don’t know the conclusions to our own stories, much less anyone else’s. But that is part of the bittersweet beauty of living in the world that is written by God, spoken by Him, revealed to us as His finite image-bearers only one chapter at a time: we have to rely on Him line by line, page by page, storyline by storyline.

That’s one of the realities of my own chapter of infertility -— it is unpredictable, unrecognizable, unnoticed, unknown. Which, perhaps, is one of the best reasons why my own version of recurrent pregnancy loss is precisely, exactly, best described as infertility. And that is one of the reasons why I feel God calls me to speak out about it, to share in others’ similar journeys, to offer words of encouragement and empathy on this path, so that others can share in the comfort of Christ (2 Corinthians 1:4) which He has offered to me through these locust-eaten years (Jonah 2:25) as well, even as He continues to reveal my own story to me little by little.

Melissa Joy seeks to grow in grace and wisdom alongside her husband Steven, while pursuing joyful domesticity by nurturing her home and family. The joy she finds in her family, homemaking, music, writing, ministering to those in grief, and seeking to be a pillar of loving strength in her home can be seen unveiled at Joyful Domesticity, her contributing posts read at Mommies With Hope, her interactions of encouragement and prayers at Hannah’s Prayer, and her love for women on the journey of pregnancy after loss in her work as a contributing editor for Rainbows & Redemption.

(Please note that all parts of this article are the opinion of the guest writer and not necessarily viewpoints that I personally share)

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