I've tried to write this post about how I'm doing after our loss a few times now. It's tough not because I'm not doing okay (I am) but because the way I'm feeling at any given moment varies so greatly. Should I write when I'm sad? When I'm hopeful? When I'm blasé? Which one would portray most accurately what this week has been like? Probably all of them but in some ways, none of them.
The past 6 days have been mixed with all sorts of thoughts, emotions, and experiences. Some horrible, some wonderful.
Getting that phone call when the nurse from our fertility clinic called with our negative blood results was horrible. I went early that morning to the lab to have my blood drawn after which time John and I waited very anxiously by the phone. I felt sick to my stomach from the nerves. I had a foreboding feeling that it would be negative. That morning I said to John, "I don't know if its because I've never had a positive pregnancy test or if it is a real premonition but I just think it is going to be negative." I had been so hopeful and optimistic during the two week wait, until about three days before my blood test. Then, for an inexplicable reason, a feeling of dread came over me and I felt in my heart it would be negative. Still, I thought positive thoughts, spoke positively about being pregnant and loving those babies, prayed a lot, and visualized the embryos safe inside. I did everything I could to stay positive until that phone rang.
When it did, I immediately knew by the nurse's tone of voice what the results would be. She was full of compassion and empathy but even that could not soften the blow. When she said those words, "I'm so sorry your test came back negative" my heart dropped into my stomach. After we hung up, John and I just sat on the couch and cried. So much hope, dashed.
We spent the next few hours telling our families and, of course, Arie. Talking to Arie about our loss was hard but also healing. His very first words in response to the news were, "I think we should try it again." That made me smile through the tears. Later that night he asked me how this could have happened because "I prayed for them (the babies)!" We had a hard conversation about what it means to trust God even when he doesn't provide in the way we asked him to. That was one of those moments in parenting when you are technically speaking to your child, but really preaching to yourself.
Over the next few days we were met with an absolute flood of support. Hundreds of comments and messages came flooding in over Facebook. My phone lit up with texts and emails. We received meals, flowers, gifts, and so many offers of help that we have nothing left to ask for except continued prayer. The most important thing this flood of support has provided for us is validation of our pain. No one is asking us to pretend we're not sad or put on a happy face and that has made the healing process so much easier. When you are sad there is nothing to do except be sad and trust that "though the sorrow may last for the night, the joy comes with the morning."
In your comments and messages some of you said things like, "Your faith is so inspiring!" It is very humbling to read that and honestly makes me happy. However I do want to share something with you not to disparage myself or my faith but just to show you that my faith is very ordinary and something accessible by anyone: the reason why I'm not having a faith crisis right now isn't because I have such a strong faith, but because I'm basically always having a faith crisis.
From the time I was old enough to understand suffering in the world, I have struggled deeply to make sense of how an all-good and all-powerful God could allow bad things to happen to those he loves. I know I'm far from alone in this struggle. It's never been hard for me to believe in God's power, but it's often been hard for me to believe in his love. I vividly remember learning about WWII and Nazi concentration camps and crying out of my young, devastated heart, "Where were you God? Why didn't you hear their cries?"
The truth is no one knows why God allows suffering in the world. We know suffering can produce good things in us and some might use that to try explain it away... but it explains nothing. We don't know why God allows suffering. The day before that nurse called me to tell me that I wasn't pregnant, I was listening to horrifying counts of victims left dead and children left orphaned due to the ebola crisis. Certainly my infertility hurts me more personally than an outbreak of disease half a world away, but it requires exactly the same leap of faith. If I can believe in a good God when others are suffering I can believe in a good God when I'm suffering too.
One of my absolute favorite ways to talk about this faith/doubt mess comes from something Cornel West said when being interviewed by Craig Ferguson. Ferguson asks him a question about what people mean when they say they have faith: do they have certainly? Is there room for doubt? West replies:
"There is a difference between rational certainty and blessed assurance."
"What is the difference?"
"Blessed assurance is making a leap of faith. Stepping out on nothing and landing on something."
I keep making the leap of faith to believe in God's goodness and his love for me. Sometimes- like with Arie's adoption- I land on solid ground and have no doubts about it. Other times- like with all our failed infertility treatments- I am left with so many questions. It is during those times- when God doesn't show up like I would have wanted him to- that I land on something else: this time, I have see his love through my community. Through all the words and prayers and gestures of kindness offered to me out of nothing but compassion. I am then assured that I am not alone and though God has not granted me what I asked of him, he has not forgotten me or left me alone.
I cry and I lament and I ask my God to please take my suffering away. I'm so glad my faith inspires some of you, but I want you know it's not because my faith is so great or so perfect. It's a real faith with lots of questions. It's not always being so sure of God or his plan for my life. It's sometimes just stepping out on nothing and- mercifully- landing on something.
As the past few days have passed I've also been renewing my strength to try again with the two embryos we have frozen. The process of preparing my body for a frozen embryo transfer was so much more taxing than I imagined. Maybe I was naïve about how hard it actually is to cope with all those hormones and- as you well know from my many complaints- those awful progesterone injections. I had the recurring thought during that month or preparation, "I don't know if I could do this again." However now that I'm looking at doing it again I'm finding a new reserve of inner strength. I know what I'm getting into and will better be able to prepare for it (i.e. clean my house before my butt starts hurting! Make freezer meals. Book lots of playdates for Arie.) I think that will help.
I also have been reading stories and watching youtube chronicles of other women who have done IVF or embryo adoption. It has given me hope to see stories of women who had to do it two or three (or more!) times to be successful. My favorite quote was from a fertility specialist who said, "The majority of children born from IVF would not be here if their parents had given up after the first try."
I am not giving up yet. As a friend who has been down this road before me implored, "This is not the end of your journey." It's not the end.
Dr. Colbert called me yesterday and left a beautifully compassionate voicemail, expressing his condolences. How I love my doctor! He said we would talk more specifically at my next appointment, but he wants to run some more blood tests for me. It's funny, only an hour or so before I got that voicemail John asked me, "Do you hope Dr. Colbert will just say 'try again' or want to do more tests?" And I shrugged, "Either way." But as soon as I heard him say, "More blood tests" I smiled and felt my shoulders lighten. I am looking forward to having those done and seeing if we can't find more answers.
Until then I keep moving forward through the ups and downs. I thank you profusely for all your support and prayers. You hold me up!
What a beautiful explanation of faith! I am certain your words will provide encouragement and hope to many of us who also struggle with doubts and questions.ReplyDelete
So glad to hear this post was an encouragement Lucy. Thank you for your comment! In turn you encourage me. :-)Delete
What a beautiful and honest post! Have you seen all the ads for "Every Bitter Thing is Sweet"? It's by Sara Hagarty, who went through many years of IF and is also an adoptive mom. I can't even tell you how much I underlined and how much it's like God had her publish the book at the EXACT right moment just for me. It's such a beautiful book for those going through heartache. I'm kind of recommending it to everyone right now. :)ReplyDelete
Anyway, hugs to you guys. So glad you're doing well in the ok moments. Praying for you guys!
I have not seen those ads but I will have to check it out! I am just about done my current book and am looking for the next one. I'll look it up. Thanks!Delete
My prayers are with you, this is so hard. I love your candid view of faith. I can identify with that so much.ReplyDelete
I have IVF twins from my very first try. They are 3.5. I foolishly thought since IVF #1 was so easy and successful, surely any future treatments to conceive would be similarly simple. Nope. 14 months ago we started trying for #3. FET #1=miscarriage after seeing a heartbeat. IVF #2=failure. We are currently waiting to do FET #2 in the spring (if we can come up with the money). I said all that to say you're not alone. Our circumstances may be different, but we're hoping for the same goal. Infertility is such a tough road, but it does/can have a happy ending. I agree, this isn't the end of your journey. Its only just begun!
Although I wish you were not suffering I thank you for showing me that I am not alone. It is a comfort. I hope we both receive good news this spring!Delete
Continued prayers for you and your family as you continue this journey!ReplyDelete
I found this post exactly what I needed to hear today. On the way home from church today I was saying the same things to my husband... These times of trial with our infertility cause me to question everything but at the same time I know his planning for our story and life is bigger than we can understand. I continue to pray for your family and can't wait to hear your positive news. Thank you for your brutal honesty and positive messages even in times of grief!ReplyDelete
I love it when the timing of things works out like that! I totally hear you on those paradoxical issues of doubt and trust. Thank you for your prayers!Delete
Oh Jill.... Dr. Colbert really does have a way of softening the blow and helping to relieve those fears. I was ready to throw in the towel on Thursday night. When he called Friday morning with his battle plan for us... well, I knew I was going to be able to do this again.ReplyDelete
Facebook me if you want some freezer meal ideas- I just did 20 over the weekend, and before that I did a batch of soups that were high in protein specifically for after my transfer <3
He is an amazing doctor! :-)Delete
Jill, I am curious. In embryo adoption, the idea is to give life to those embryos who have been abandoned by their biological parents. Wouldn't the ideal situation be for a woman who is healthy fertility-wise to act as a surrogate? I'm just curious how you justify going through with embryo adoption when your body hasn't been healthy enough to conceive and carry a child on its own. I would think if you really wanted to give those embryos the best chance at life, you would find a healthy surrogate who has been able to have healthy pregnancies and carry children to term. I'm just curious how you justify your decision?ReplyDelete
They have not been "abandoned" by their genetic parents. Their genetic parents are not able to parent and have made the most loving and selfless choice to allow them a chance at life. To answer your question, recipients in embryo donation are evaluated for any contraindications to pregnancy. I have none. There is a medical difference between being able to conceive (so far, I can't) and being able to carry (no medical reason to explain why I couldn't). Even with healthy women sadly the embryos do not always implant. I'm looking forward to getting more testing done to see if there is any reason we can find why they did not implant of if we just landed on the bad side of the statistic.Delete
I disagree completely with the last poster's insinuation that you don't have a right to donated embryos due to your infertility. That's crazy talk. But, I'm also a bit uncomfortable with the way you have framed your embryo adoption as though it were pre-ordained by God in some sort of biblical redemption story. That narrative not only puts a lot of added pressure on the treatments to work, but it also opens you up to this type of cruel judgement, and I'm sorry you have to deal with all of that on top of everything else.ReplyDelete
We are spiritual beings. But, here on Earth, we are having a human experience. Yours, mine, and countless others', has involved a deep desire to give birth, and a struggle to accomplish that very personal goal. It's a pain like no other. Biology is very unfair.
From a practical standpoint, embryo donation is tricky, because the embryos available are most likely from a sub-fertile couple, otherwise the couple would not have had to resort to IVF in the first place. Has your doctor discussed their diagnosis with you, or graded their embryos for viability? Typical IVF odds (without pgd) would indicate that approximately 1-2 of the 4 embryos you received would be capable of producing a live birth. I hope and pray that one (or both!) of your remaining embryos is able to bring you to the pregnancy and baby you desire. You seem to be a wonderful mommy!
P.s. My perspective is very hard won. From the 16 eggs that I produced during IVF, My husband and I had 8 beautiful 5-day embryos. The result? 3 pregnancies, including 2 miscarriages, a diagnosis of a blood clotting disorder and autoimmune condition, treatment for those, and (now toddler) twins. I do not believe that God specifically "planned" any of this for us. If this were a spiritual test of some sort, I'm quite sure I failed, as my quest to become a mother remains the single most self-focused chapter of my life. I don't regret staying the course, though. My children are medical miracles, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to be their mom.
For what it's worth, you are fortunate that your doctor is doing more testing now. Mine made us wait until after my 2nd miscarriage before doing more investigations. In a way, I was relieved to find out that there were some red flags in my RPL test results, as being 'unexplained' is the most frustrating place to be. So, while I don't wish any health issues on you, I do hope you get some answers soon.
The road can be very long for some of us. But it is worth it when it works. I wish you all the best, and thank you for sharing your experience so publicly.
Thanks for sharing your story Elizabeth. What a journey you have been on! It is very encouraging to read that you have your miracle babies after all of that. Amazing!Delete
It is impossible to express all the intricacies of my faith on this blog but I wanted to tell you that I don't think my infertility (or yours) is some kind of spiritual test. I believe it is the result of living in a messy, broken world. If it is a test I, like you, would have failed many times. I do believe anytime something good comes out of the brokenness we can call it "redemption" because that is exactly what redemption means. As far as it being pre-ordained... I have no idea how all that works out. I know I do not like it when people say 'it was meant to be.' People say that a lot about our adoption but there is no way I believe God wanted my son to lose his birth mother... that's why I call it redemption. His adoption is something good coming out of something very painful. I don't put any pressure on our fertility treatments to work in order to somehow prove God's love. God needs no defense from me. My goal is to be faithful to the story he has me living. That's it.
Thank you so much for your insightful comment and for your well wishes. Means a lot to me!
I really appreciate your thoughts on faith in relation to this struggle. There is so much magical thinking in our culture surrounding fertility, and there seems to be a collective need to find order in the chaos. I must have put thoughts in your head re: 'God's will' in some of your writing about embryo adoption, but it felt as though you were implying that this path is morally superior to others...which I probably reacted to due to residual guilt over creating new embryos when there are so many (born and unborn) available for adoption. It is so difficult not to read ourselves into others' stories, isn't it?ReplyDelete
In my journey, I crossed lines (e.g. IVF) that I never thought I would cross, and I did worry constantly whether I was living out the life God intended for me. It was very humbling, to say the least. So, the pressure I placed on my fertility treatments was not on God to prove His love, but on me to prove that I was worthy of it...that I was doing the "right" thing. If it was 'meant to be', it would work, right?
In the end, I learned that my problem was a medical one...that it could be traced to simple DNA mutations, and required blood thinners and intralipid infusions. No amount of prayer could have fixed me, in spite of the advice I frequently received from well-meaning fertile friends. Your infertility has a medical cause, as well. I hope you are able to find out what it is.
Me too. I thank God for my doctor and his staff who devote their lives to helping women like us. Thanks again for this comment. I wish YOU blogged! You write well and your thoughts are very interesting to me! :-)Delete