Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The genes mattereth not

Yesterday all three of my big kids climbed up next to each other on the couch and
I put on a video for them
while I fed the baby a bottle.

Their blonde and light brown heads were next to each other.
Big brother,
little brother,
littler sister,
and my baby.

Our dog rested at their feet
emitting his morning sighs as he stretched
and turned on his back
begging for a child to scratch his belly.

And as I sat there watching those three heads side-by-side,
sharing the couch and their juice cups
and a big blanket
with the fire crackling a few feet away ...
I couldn't help but think:

And in that moment of motherhood bliss
(which would inevitably be blurred nearly immediately by poopy bottoms and a spilled breakfast and arguing and noise levels far beyond what one person should be privy to)
I was not thinking I love being a biological mom.
I was just thinking I love being a MOM.

I love the hugs.
and the kisses
and the squeezes
and the cuddles.

I love when they call me Ma
and then Mama
and then Mommy
and then back to Mama again.

All of them.

I love their baby feet
and their chubby thighs
and the little dimples
on the tops of their hands.

I love seeing them learn
to read
and write
and spell
and ride their bikes
and catch a ball.

I love seeing them color
and draw
and then searching to find an empty wall
that they can hang their picture on.

And when I am loving all of this,
sharing amazed glances with my husband,
sending him emails at work to share a funny story,
and recollecting over daily events during dinner ...
I am not thinking: I love that they are biologically mine.
My heart is not discerning adopted and biological.
My mind is not recognizing the difference between blood and not.
My being does not care.

Motherhood does not care.

For any of you today wondering if you can love a child not of your flesh just as one born of your womb, please picture my living room -- with a dog that I love (who isn't even human!)

Picture bowls of cereal
and lining up for baths
and taking turns for piggy back rides
and counting M&Ms.

That picture doesn't include genes or DNA.

It includes love.
I love being a mom.
The genes mattereth not.

People spend so much time contemplating whether the love can be the same.

It can.
It will.
It shall.

You will smile wide when you see a little boy crawl across the room to his daddy's arms.
The same smile that you would smile had he been birthed from your womb.
You will rock him,
bathe him,
kiss boo-boos,
tell stories,
calm fears,
read books,
hold hands,
play games,
and love him.


Wednesday Wee-wind

I thought the video embedded below to be a PERFECT Wednesday wee-wind for many reasons.

This video was taken after our house has been packed out in Turkey. Abigail is just a little older than Hannah is now. Abigail was into EVERYTHING at this stage -- crawling everywhere and getting stuck everywhere.

Yesterday we discovered Hannah could climb up five steps, put a piece of wood (with a nail in it) in her mouth, and stand up holding onto her baby jail gate.

In addition, Sidge is about 2.5 years old in this video. That's nearly the exact age Abigail is now.

Perfect flashback. One extra kid but otherwise it's just military life -- moving from country to country.

No biggie.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The move continues

A few months back, the Thrift Store on Base closed down. When I saw that there were a lot of Americans who had no idea what to do with their "stuff", I got a fundraising idea for Because of Isaac. I started collecting this "stuff" from Americans and reselling it out of a free room in our house (since we had packed out) for a euro a piece.

Well, Saturday, while I was in Sao Miguel, a few of my friends took all this stuff to the monthly flea market on Base and sold it. (How awesome of them to help me with this fundraiser!) They made another $400 bringing the grand total of the April month of this fundraiser to $1,600!!!

Any items that did not sell on Saturday were donated to a local orphanage. I am going to be doing another month of the fundraiser, culminating in a sale in May -- the weekend before we leave the island. In the meantime, that room in our house was emptied out, and it therefore turned into the "suitcase room." JB and I pulled out every suitcase we owned and set them up. We have to be out of our house here in Porto Martins in the next three weeks. This means it is time to start loading this babies up with stuff that will make the flight with us from the island to Baltimore at the end of the month.

I cannot believe we are less than a month away from our return to America. It is always bittersweet, but I am beyond excited to return to America!

I'm also so excited that with this fundraiser, our currently adopting couple is now within $1,000 of their final goal! We are almost there!

We just finished ...

I am pretty sure I bought this at Target for a buck or so a piece. The boys just finished this. A real quick, easy-to-work through workbook.

Faces of Infertility: Tammy'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!

My name is Tammy, and I would like to share a little of my journey through infertility.

I grew up in a happy, bustling family – the oldest of nine children. Infertility was something I had heard of, but certainly not something I ever gave much thought to! And why would I? Perfect strangers would ask me probing questions about my parents’ birth control measures (seriously, people?) and it just never crossed my mind that having children was something that people struggled with.  

Until, that is, my husband and I were struggling with infertility. I viewed our infertility as a closely-guarded secret. Something, which if I didn’t talk about it, maybe people wouldn’t notice. But, people did notice and soon I was getting questions opposite those that I was used to fielding as a young daughter. There was a point in our lives where we were 1 of 8 young couples in our church. We were the 1 who had no children; the other 7 all had children. What are the odds that we would be a living picture of the statistic for infertility? The irony did not escape me.  

For many, the hardest years are actually the first few years. However, my husband was busy in school, I was busy with homemaking and a part time job, and life was pretty good for us. I was patient and not too concerned. As the years rolled by, I became increasingly sad and the burden of infertility weighed heavily. Unfortunately, I didn’t reach out to many. I didn’t think anyone would understand or be compassionate. I wasn’t willing to put myself out there, so I built a solid wall around my heart. The problem with such a wall is that it kept everyone out, not just the ones who may have hurt with insensitive comments.  

Finally, we sought medical help. Through a Godly doctor and his help (including surgery for me and several months of treatment) we were able to conceive our daughter. This was almost seven years after we had decided to start having children! What a blessing she has been to our lives! Waiting was hard but she was certainly worth the wait. She is now five years old.  

When our daughter was just 12 months, we rejoiced to find that we were expecting yet again (with no medical intervention). Our baby, a precious gift from the Lord, and much loved, was born to heaven early in my pregnancy. The graciousness of the Lord to walk through the valley with me is ever so precious to my heart. I miss my wee one so much. There are times that our family feels so incomplete this side of heaven!  

Now, over four years after my loss, I have personally experienced infertility for approximately eleven years. I’ve learned much, grown much, and profited much through it all. A little cautiously at first, I started taking down that wall around my heart. Brick by brick, I cast it aside. I’ve been tempted at times to start building it again and even higher than before but then I realize that comments from unsuspecting people should not have the power to hurt me, when in fact they were not meant to hurt in the first place. I seek to live life joyfully. There are times in my life that infertility is not a joyful burden but I know someone Who can carry this burden for me as He carries me down this road – the Lord is ever present and able to help me as I struggle to live joyfully. 

You can read more about my life by clicking here. 

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

Reader Question on the "Do you have kids" question

I love reading your blog and I have a question I'd like you to answer:  We meet a lot of new people, and during introductions eventually the question of "Do you have kids?" comes up.  What is the right thing to say when your question is answered with a "No." Is there even a right thing to say?  I know there are all kinds of wrong things but how do I fill that awkward silence with something positive or at least something kind?  And what do I say when I find out about secondary infertility?  Most of the time I don't say anything because I really don't want to say anything hurtful. But I'm at a complete loss for what would bring hope/encouragement to the woman/couple. Thanks so much for opening my eyes about infertility and being an encouragement to those women who are going through this and even those who aren't.  Keep up the good work!

Primary Infertility
The quick answer: Avoid the question. It can be a little tricky, but it is really the best way. Usually, if someone has kids, they will provide this information to you. Or, if they don't, you can probably figure out another way to get it (i.e., ask someone they know or check their Facebook etc.) While it can be a difficult question to avoid, even for a veteran IF'er (infertility-woman) like me, make yourself NOT ask it. Think of other things you can talk about and ask about as best you can.

Exception: If the person asks you the question first, then it is sort of "expected" that you ask it back. It is my opinion that if they ask you, you can ask it back. It's only fair and they have to know that that is how it is going to go.

One blog reader shared that she always found the question, "Tell me about your family," made her a lot more comfortable. It is more open-ended and offers different interpretations. I loved her suggestion and definitely wanted to make note of it here.

[A sidenote: If you have lived overseas, you will quickly notice that people don't ask the very personal questions like Americans do nearly as readily. They don't often ask about jobs or kids or things like that. I've tried to take a lesson from them and find other things we can talk about.]

If the question does come out and you are met by awkward silence or by a "no" that appears to be painful, my advice is to take the fault for it. Say something like it, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked that. I have a few friends dealing with infertility and they have all lectured me to avoid that question." 

Secondary Infertility
As for secondary infertility, this is not as clean cut, and it is why secondary infertility can be even more painful than primary infertility. If a mother is out with her child and attending mothers' functions, mom questions are sort of "fair game." I still, however, try to avoid the, "Are you going to have another?" question. Just don't ask it. You'll want to ask it, but chances are, you can find out the information from someone else, or, if you get to be very good friends, it will ultimately come up. 

If it comes up and it is painful, tell her that you have been reading a blog that is educating you. Instead of trying to fix it, say something like, "That really stinks. I'm going to be praying for you." You may also have the opportunity to ask for her input as to how you can make it better. "I know we hang out with a lot of women popping out babies like crazy. Is there any way I can help pad those announcements for you?" I also would always provide that woman a knowing glance or say something like, "I know this is hard," when yet another friend announced their pregnancy. Sending a message on Facebook when there has been another announcement, anything to let her know you are praying and thinking of her and acknowledging her pain is helpful.

Have a comment or question about this topic? I'd love to hear from you -- whichever side of infertility you may be on.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Boys Just Finished

Faces of Infertility: "Lana'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!

I grew up in a small town in the mountains. I was the "go to" babysitter for a couple of doctors' families. As a teenager, I taught Sunday school, worked in my church nursery, & constantly found little ones to love on as often as I could. I wanted nothing more than to get married & have children - God created me to love on children!

I met my husband in our church singles group & we married 5 months later. After 2 years of marriage, we agreed that he would quit work & go back to school to pursue his MA knowing this meant the necessity of putting off starting a family any time soon. We agreed to leave it in God's hands as soon as he had that MA completed. I've just turned 29 & he is 30 when that wonderful day came! My heart was overflowing with joy! We had one night to celebrate & officially start trying to have a baby when he took off on his dream trip for a month to climb Mt. McKinley with friends. I don't know how, but I just knew that fateful night was "the night" I conceived.

When my husband came home from that trip, I was grin from ear to ear & had been singing praises to God so loudly I was certain my husband had heard me all the way up Mt. McKinley!

Seven months later (about 5 weeks early) our first son was born. The joy I felt is still indescribable - my dream of a lifetime had come true! God's blessings poured out abundantly in this precious boy!

When our first-born was about 2 years old, we quit being worried about birth control but weren't really "trying" to conceive. In the meantime, of noteworthy interest, my husband had taken up serious cycling. He rode 50+ miles every day during the week & at least one 100-miles ride on the weekend...a devoted cyclist!

After 2 years of not really trying but not preventing getting pregnant, we became very focused on the issue. I did temperature charts for about 6 months with no success. We were very puzzled as to how one shot in the dark & we had our first pregnancy could lead to this dilema.

When I had my yearly OB/GYN appointment, I discussed this with my doctor. She looked at my temperature chart & cycle history then suggested a post-coital exam. My husbands sperm count was very low & the mobility of those their was not strong. (Quite possibly all the cycling caused this.) There was also evidence that I may not be ovulating every cycle. She suggested an infertility specialist.

The infertility specialist agreed with my OB/GYN's diagnosis. Our first option was to have both my husband and me on clomid for the next cycle then do IUI. We did IUI for about 6 months with no success. My husband's sperm count was not adequate for establishing a pregnancy. Now what? This was 1996 & I am 39 years old. Our options were IVF or we could consider donor sperm. The other option was adoption. We considered private adoption but in the end we were concerned that we'd go through the process & have a birth mother change her mind. (This had happened to 2 different friends.) We discussed donor sperm & decided to investigate this option. Donor sperm seemed to be our best option for our own baby.

We did donor donor sperm IUI for about 6 months while I was also on clomid. The seventh time, I'm on the table while they are preparing for the IUI and bared my soul to God in prayer. "OK, God - this is my last IUI. I'm turning this decision 100% over to you. If we are to only have one son, I'm more than ok with it. He's an amazing boy & we are very grateful for the gift of him! This is all up to you...I'm done with this." I fully expected the same result of the last several years of attempting to get pregnant. I went home, kept my temperature chart as I had always done fully expecting my temperature to drop in a few days.

Amazingly, my temperature didn't drop! Thank you, God!!! The doctor confirmed, we were indeed pregnant. My hormonal level was very high - could it be all 3 eggs seen on the ultra sound had taken? The doctor warned us that was indeed a possibility. We were stunned & were preparing ourselves, albeit with a bit of fear & excitement, at the thought of triplets. An ultrasound a few weeks later revealed we had one baby. We were very grateful for the miracle of this one baby! Yes, grateful! While we may never be certain what happened to the other 2 eggs, one baby is more than we expected at this point and we were thrilled.

At the age of 41, our second son was born four weeks early - our miracle baby...truly a gift from God! He is now 16 years old. We have not yet told either son that we chose the route of donor sperm. Our sons are almost 12 years apart and they both know we traveled the road of infertility. Why haven't we told them the whole story? It boils down to this...1) Kids can say cruel things & we wanted to wait until we felt both were mature enough to handle the discussion (certain family members are aware of the circumstance should anything every happen to us before we tell them). 2) The night before my last IUI with donor sperm, my husband & I made love. I've always wondered which sperm was successful? My husband has resisted DNA testing all these years ("What difference does it make? He's our son!"). My husband's mother says our 2nd son has many traits similar to my husband & he resembles him as well. While I understand my husband's reluctance to know for certain, I have a strong desire to know the answer. This is an ongoing piece of the puzzle.

The years of infertility were certainly trying. But, to be truthful, I couldn't allow myself to wallow in to the grief of failed efforts as long as I had hope. I had to leave my courage & faith in God's hands & know that He was in control. This was partially due to protecting my husband from feeling like he was a failure & the other part was I was unwilling to acknowledge this loss. I had faced tremendous loss of loved ones in my life (both parents & a sister who died when she was 12) - this was not a road I was willing to go down until I absolutely had to. You can call it denial but I choose to call it God's hand of protection & assurance. We are grateful & we are blessed beyond measure! There are times, however, I tell our challenging stubborn, bullheaded, brilliant #2 son that his days on earth might be limited if his attitude doesn't change! He may resemble his father but his attitude comes from me! Definitely our child! I pray our story is encouraging to your readers.

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

Monday K.I.S.S.: Mother's Day Journal

I asked my husband to help my kiddos get me a journal this year for Mother's Day. Each year, they can draw something, tape something, write something, or color something in the journal. That way I have all my Mother's Day memories in one place. 

I thought this was a fantastic idea and wanted to share it with all the dads and moms out there.

But in the same breath, I wanted to touch on the fact that I know Mother's Day is coming up. This is a day that can be incredibly painful for many men and women due to their own life's grievings. 

I wanted to put a link to an article I shared a few weeks back on UK's Mother's Day entitled: The Wide Spectrum of Mothering.  I have sent this article to my pastor and encouraged him to read it (or something similar) on Mother's Day in order to recognize that this day deserves to be properly discussed, especially in church.

P.S. have a K.I.S.S idea? Please email them to me at!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

I am currently reading ...

I just read ...

Click on the image below to go to Jody's website. I have actually met Jody online many times and finally got around to reading her book. I REALLY LOVED IT. If you are thinking of adopting, have adopted, or are waiting to adopt, this book is for you. It's also a great book to read if you are trying to understand what the adoption process is like for someone you love. Get it!

The Big Picture

James 1: 2-4 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Vacation to the Island of Sao Miguel

There are nine islands in the Azores. The Air Force Base is on Terceira, the third largest island. Sao Miguel is the biggest island of the archipelago. More than half of the Azorean population (133,000 people) occupies this island. 

My husband and I just got back from a four day and three night vacation to Sao Miguel. We had an amazing time. This post is simply an "advertisement" for this vacation. I really believe that military members living on Terceira as well as Americans, especially those living on the East Coast, need to take a trip to Sao Miguel.

If I am being honest, there is nothing on our island (Terceira) that you cannot see on Sao Miguel. Therefore if you are coming in from the USA, if you visit Sao Miguel, you basically have no need to pop over to Terceira. 

Sao Miguel was absolutely breathtaking. There are two golf courses. You can ride horses or bicycle or paraglide. You can cliff dive, explore caves, go whale watching, swim in hot springs, surf, body board, or fish. 

Firstly, if you are a military member booking this trip, do it through Top Atlantico on Base. They can book your hotel, rental car, and airline tickets completely for you. They did this for us. Not only was it very inexpensive, but it was super easy. The flight was only 30-40 minutes and so we were at our intended destination in no time at all!

If you live in the USA, you can, of course, use a travel agent. However, if you want to do it yourself, book your ticket using SATA AIRLINES. You will want to book a flight from Boston to Ponta Delgado (the big city on Sao Miguel.) If you do not live near Boston, you'll want to book a separate US carrier to get you to Boston. (Just be careful because if you book two separate tickets, you have to make sure to get there in plenty of time so as to not miss your Boston flight.) If you book these ahead of time, you can get a roundtrip ticket in the $600 range if you are lucky and definitely under $1000 for a ticket.

Secondly, book a rental car. This is truly the easiest way to get around the island. There are a few different rental car services you can book. Here is the one we used. The only thing to note is that nearly all of the cars are going to be standards (stick shifts) and very small. We did the trip without our children. If you are traveling with two people, any car will do. But if you have any children along, make sure to ask for a bigger vehicle.

JB with our very comfortable but very tiny vehicle -- perfect for two people but no room for kids in the backseat if you are 6'3" like us

The tiny roads will need a good navigator but roads are only like this IN the towns; when outside of the cities, the roads are spacious and beautiful.

Driving around the island's tiny city roads can be a little tricky, but because the island is, well, an island surrounded by water, getting lost is nearly impossible. All you have to do is find the water, and you are back on track. 

The top is a typical map of the island. The purple are the roads JB and I took during our trip. We did all of this easily in two half day driving adventures. (The island is not very big!)

I strongly advise the hotel we stayed at in Ponta Delgada: Hotel Do Colegio. It was in a great location with easy access to walking around the biggest city on the island. There is a free parking garage for the hotel but it has limited spots and is hard to get into, but we had no trouble securing other parking spots surrounding the hotel for a very small fee. (You pay at a machine located somewhere on the street you are on and put the ticket in your car.)

Outside pool in courtyard

A view of our room

Complimentary Breakfast is served in this area

The outside of the hotel

For dinner, we decided to pick places based on good recommendations from Tripadvisor. One of the top ranked places was a Wine & Tapas Bar: Reserva Bar. 

This photo of Reserva Bar is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Folks this was one of the best restaurants we have ever eaten at. It was outstanding! Order the meat, cheese, and bread samplers. Absolutely amazing and not nearly as expensive as we thought it might be. (Our entire meal which included those three samplers, two other tapas items, two waters, two glasses of wine, and a dessert was 44 euros (roughly $61 dollars which is a good price for Europe.) Even better is that you can walk to it from our hotel. It can be a little tricky since it is down an alley but you can use maps online or you can ask the attendant at the hotel to help you.

The second night we ate at Colegio 27 Restaurant & Jazz Club. This food was equally outstanding. A little bit more expensive, but we were not on a budget and were ordering whatever we wanted! This restaurant was right next to our hotel making it a fantastic choice as well.

This photo of Colegio 27 Restaurant & Jazz Club is courtesy of TripAdvisor

On the third night we ate at the restaurant in our hotel. Also very good but our least favorite of the three.

We got a couple's massage at the hotel (it is advertised at the front desk) as the cost was pretty reasonable. However, it is important to note that it isn't a true couple's massage. It is one masseuse giving one person a massage and then another. In addition, these are typical European massages -- which I was prepared for having come from Turkey. (This means that a woman's chest is not seen as an off-limits massage part as it is in the USA.) Make sure you speak up if this is not something you feel comfortable with.

While out on our adventures, here were a few highlights. (Just ask your hotel attendant for any help with directions. There are also a ton of brochures and advertisements at the hotel to help you find things.):

(1) A visit the local Tea factory: Plantacoes de Cha Gorrena.  You can literally just walk in, tour on your own, look at anything you want, drink some tea, tour the gardens -- all for free! The people who run this simply allow tourists to view any of their production! What's even cooler is that this island (with its two remaining tea factories) is the only place in Europe that makes tea!

We were driving down the road and saw these bushes. JB literally came to a screeching halt. "That's tea!" he nearly shouted and immediately backed up to get a closer look. I guess getting to sea tea bushes is a big deal!

JB -- so excited to see the tea. He was a bit frustrated with me in this picture because I wasn't grasping the enormity of what we were seeing. So he decided to take his own picture because I had grown a bit bored with tea.

Another glimpse of the tea fields.

All the machinery is from the "olden days" of tea productiom

You can watch everything

You almost feel like you are prying -- we just walked in here to find this woman, who had been working here for 14 years, pulling stems out of the tea near the end of production.

(2) Jardim Antonio Borges is a breathtaking garden-filled park that you can walk to from the hotel. You MUST take the opportunity to do that. Simply beautiful. You definitely don't want to drive here -- much easier to walk to.

(3) Furnas. Furnas is the place to visit if you want to see hot springs. They are a sulfer type hot spring so they don't smell great. (I didn't think the smell was that bad -- well worth it to see it!) This is located on the east inland of Sao Miguel in the middle of mountains and a forest. This is the most famous site of the island and a must see.

First we stopped and walked around the hot springs. These are so hot, people leave meat on a pot and it will cook the meat for you!

You can see all the steam in the background.

4. Terra Nostra Gardens is located right around the corner from the hot springs. It can be a little tricky to find because of one-way streets. But don't give up. The town isn't that big and people will help you make the right turns. This is a must-do! 

We swam in this amazing thermal bath. This was more iron-based, not sulfer so it did not stink. It felt so great! This is not something for the heat of the summer but in cooler temperatures, it was delightful. Advice: bring an old bathing suit and old towels as you will come out orange. There are, however, really nice changing rooms and bathrooms.

After swimming, you can tour the amazing gardens. It is beautiful!

Gingko Biloba trees. So beautiful!

There were black swans here that refused to cooperate for a photo.

Awesome trees!

5. Lagoa Verde and Lagoa Azul were another must see on the island.

There are other things to do on the island too. These were just our favorites (and the more popular touristy things to do.) In closing, let me share with you a few other fun photographs of our time on the island. 

This will truly rate as one of the most amazing trips I have ever taken. I can't believe I have lived so close to this island for two years and never experienced it. I also can't believe we almost left the Azores without doing this trip! It is a must-do for people living on Terceira. And, I really think more Americans need to take advantage of how easy it is to travel from the East Coast of the USA to the island. 

If you have ANY questions, feel free to email me at or leave a comment, and I will help you with details of our trip in any way I can.

When Your Pastor Fails: 5 Biblical Facts

In light of what so many people I know and love are going through in South Florida with the news out of Calvary Chapel, I wanted to post a great article I read entited: When Your Pastor Fails: 5 Biblical Facts. I hope it reminds us all the lure of sin, the pain involved in that sin, and the truth that we are all sinners who are forgiven.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Sao Miguel

Thanks to the most amazing babysitters ever ... (aka John's parents) ... my husband and I just spent four luxurious days on Sao Miguel Island ALL BY OURSELVES.

Okay, so not technically by ourselves. There were lot of German tourists and about 120,000 people live on the island.

But there were no kiddos needing their butts wiped so I think that constitutes "by ourselves" in my book.

We had a magnificent time.

Pictures to come.

But for now, lots of hugs for four of the best little people in the whole wide world whom I missed like CRAZY!

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)

Faces of Infertility: "Shannon'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!

My husband and I married later in life. He was my first boyfriend. We met when I was 37 and he was 47 and married when I was 38. I lived my life right saving myself for my husband only. 

Now, I waited for God to bless my faithfulness with a child. It should be no problem, every woman on my mom's side of the family had their last child at 40. There were no issues of infertility on either side of my family. 

Except that was not my story.  

Our story is a little different than others because it is complicated with adult step-children. My stepdaughter did not want us to have children and has been very vocal about it. She has also been very deliberate and cruel.Being in a place of forgiveness with her has been constant and hard

My stepson is having twins in a few weeks. I have had one suspected miscarriage and one miscarriage with twins (okay, I count embryos as babies; there is a fertilized egg and active cellular division-to me that is life).

When they told us this my heart broke. I am going to be seeing them with my dreams in their arms. My arms are empty and my heart is broken. I try to put on a big smile for them. 

I have to celebrate for my husband. This a joyous event seeing his son become a man.

For me it is a thorn through the heart. I watched the ultrasound with them; well, okay, I watched the door while everyone else watched the ultrasound. My husband was so excited to be included. I grieve my infertility alone.

The thing that breaks my heart as much as my empty arms is not once has anyone stopped to say, "hey, are you okay?" I know you are happy for them but I cannot imagine how painful at the same time this must be for you. Not my husband. Not my step children.

In the midst of waiting for my stepson's twins to be born we had a failed adoption. An adoption that seemed so solid. A 14 year old rape victim. They wanted a closed adoption, they did not want to hold the baby. They wanted the baby to be placed in home out of state. I got the news 1 week before my birthday and 2 weeks before my step son's ultra sound. I was so excited and it all fell through within 2 days time. They decided to keep the baby.

My friends and family all said, "well, at least you can be a grandma" Yes, I can be. I will love the children but they are not mine. I did not grow up saying I can't wait to be a grandma much less a step-grandma. I grew up saying I want to be a mom. I always wanted to be a mom. 

The truth of the matter is there are times when I am with my step grandchildren that I hurt so much on the inside because I realize that I really would have been a great mom. My step children are not mine. They belong to my husband and his ex-wife. They have two loving parents. They are nice to me and I to them but they have never sought to have a relationship with me. They don't need another mother...and I get I understand their point.

I wonder where is God in all of this...why the cruelty of placing the hope of a precious baby girl in my arms right before my birthday, before my stepson's ultrasound, before Easter and Mother's day. I had stopped asking God for a child. I did not seek this little baby girl out ... they sought me out.

I don't have answers. I just hold to His hand knowing He is a loving Father and no Father could watch His child go through this much pain without a very good reason. A lesson I learned in my single years is that I am not saving my virginity to please my one day to be husband but rather out of obedience to Christ. In my infertility, I have learned that I have not saved my purity with an expectant promise that God will bless me for that event by giving me a child. I serve Him because He loves me and for that reason alone

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

Friday, April 25, 2014

Faces of Pregnancy: "Marie'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!

I had 10 years primary infertility, 4 known miscarriages and 1 ectopic pregnancy. I also went through a 3 year stretch without conceiving at all. I also had 9 days of spotting before my period. After my ectopic pregnancy I had a laparoscopy which showed I had moderate endometriosis. I tried 2 rounds of clomid and oral progesterone. We went to a Reproductive Endocrinologist and were told our best chance of conceiving was through IVF. My husband had been accommodating in me trying the clomid and oral progesterone but we decided against pursuing further medical treatment. We started focusing instead on treatments to get my body healthy and working properly on its own. After my laparoscopic surgery, I developed intense pain during my period. It was unbearable. I have since learned this often happens as the result of scar tissue that builds up after a lap. It is often mistaken for returning endometriosis. One good thing about my lap was that my 9 days of pre-period spotting reduced to 4 days.

I started getting pregnant again (after 3 years of complete infertility). But I miscarried. My body was healing but wasn't yet able to sustain a baby.

NEVER under-estimate prayer. When I first found out I was pregnant I went to the doctor right away because once you have an ectopic pregnancy your chances of having another are greater. My HCG levels were so low we were told that this child was either another ectopic or we would miscarry. I asked the church to pray for a miscarriage as I didn't want to go through the drama and hospitalization of an ectopic again. Our elder who prayed, instead lead the church in prayer that God would make sure the baby was in the right spot and would grow healthy. The next day I had my HCG testing redone and we were called the following day with the results. The doctor was shocked. My levels had done more than their usual doubling! They had skyrocketed up there by some...miracle!

Thank the Lord my Primary Infertility finally ended with the birth of a healthy baby girl.

We started trying for number two after my daughter was weaned at 2.5 years old. We were blessed with another pregnancy and I gave birth to a little boy in March of 2012.

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