Focus on the Family

Infertility

by Focus on the Family

Pressures can mount and questions develop when a couple decides to have a baby. If you're a parent, you may have asked: How can we afford daycare? Is our insurance adequate to cover the costs for the delivery? Do we need a bigger house? Where should we send our child to school?

However, if you've discovered that infertility is part of your story, the pressure to conceive can be even greater as another set of questions emerge: Does God hear me when I pray? What other options are there for a couple who can't conceive? When is it time to give up and when should we look for other alternatives?

We don't take your questions lightly. Here at Focus on the Family, we're sensitive to the pain you may be experiencing because you haven't become parents like you hoped. That's why this series of articles is designed to help you navigate your way through infertility and relieve some of the pressure.


Infertility Causes and Treatments

There is no 'typical' infertility patient, and the causes of infertility vary widely.

byChristi Bear

Infertility is commonly defined as the inability to conceive after at least a year of unprotected sex, or the inability to carry a pregnancy to a live birth. Infertility is not the same thing as sterility. According to MSNBC, one-third of infertile couples who seek treatment are able to have children.

According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine:

Causes of Infertility

There is no "typical" infertility patient, and the causes of infertility vary widely. According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, there are several common reasons why couples may find it difficult to conceive.

Men:

Women:

Age also plays a significant role in a woman's ability to conceive. According to MSNBC, female fertility starts to decline in the late 20s. While a 30-year old woman has a 20 percent chance of pregnancy, the probability decreases 3-5 percent per year. By age 40, a woman's probability of achieving pregnancy drops to 5 percent.

Treatment

The vast majority of infertility cases are treated with drugs or by surgically repairing the reproductive organs. In vitro fertilization (eggs are fertilized outside of the body then placed directly into a woman's uterus) is the method of treatment in a small percentage of cases. Still other couples choose adoption when they are unable to conceive.

Although the causes of and treatments for infertility are primarily physical, infertility is not simply a matter of biology. For many couples, experiencing infertility is a life crisis that evokes emotions similar to those associated with miscarriage or the loss of a child by other means. Often, the pain of not being able to have a child is compounded by a sense of failure and inadequacy.


The Grief of Infertility

Grief is a real part of infertility. It may be heightened in miscarriages or stillbirths, but it is just as real when a couple cannot conceive.

by Brad Nelson

As we entered the one-room country church, my dad reached to steady my mom. The explosion of color, the thick scent of lilies and the face of my grandfather in a bronze casket had knocked her off balance.

At 9 years old, I was too young to fully understand what was happening, but I could feel my mom's anguish. The closer we got to the casket, the more violently she wept. Her legs faltered under the weight of her grief. There was nothing I could do to ease the pain.

Nearly 20 years passed before I again encountered such physically intense grief from a loved one. This time, the deep pain came as my wife, Kerrie, explained through tortured sobs over the phone that a medical lab had confirmed that we were unable to have children. Once again, I could do nothing. I remember thinking, It feels like someone died.

Grief is a real part of infertility. It may be heightened in miscarriages or stillbirths, but it is just as real when a couple cannot conceive. The sorrow Kerrie and I experienced the day we received our lab results was as deep as the grief we would have felt if she had called to tell me her parents had passed away.

Scripture confirms the close connection between the two losses. Proverbs 30:15-16 tells us the grave and the barren woman are two things that are never satisfied. The sense of loss from infertility will frequently resurface whenever life situations — such as a menstrual cycle or the birth of a child to another couple — trigger painful feelings of the opportunities lost.

Journey Through Pain

We must not be afraid to grieve and allow these responses to run their course. We should, however, guard against allowing our heartache to slide into despair.

Grief is complex and usually accompanied by a myriad of other emotions. Because of its intricacy, grief can take considerable time to work through. The "normal" length of mourning, however, is difficult to define.

During our grief journey, Kerrie and I found two crucial actions that allowed us to mourn our loss without slipping into despair.

  1. We recognized grief as a process and identified where we were in it.

    C.S. Lewis once wrote, "Sorrow . . . turns out to be not a state but a process." The key is to keep moving forward. When stymied by sorrow, we risked slipping into despair.

    We see evidence of this in the life of Hannah (1 Samuel 1:7-11). Because of her infertility, Hannah plunged into a state of hopelessness that lasted for years. Finally, she cried out to the Lord and found new hope. It is critical to make choices that keep us from getting permanently bogged down in mourning.
  2. We focused on the right things.

    Growing up, I was a track sprinter. I learned to focus on what was in front of me and ignore the runners in the lanes next to me and behind me. To win, I needed to fix my eyes on the finish line. Grief can also be navigated more successfully by keeping focused on the right things: Jesus and the race He has for us to run.

A Full Life

Physical barrenness is beyond our control, but Kerrie and I can take steps to ensure we don't suffer spiritual barrenness. By focusing on God, we can enjoy a life that is neither "barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:8, KJV).

Even though we've been blessed with two wonderful adopted children, Kerrie and I still experience feelings of loss and the sense that we're missing out on something. But ultimately, we realize God is on the throne, and we have decided to focus on Him rather than our grief.


Coping With Infertility

Here are ways to make infertility — the emotional roller coaster — a little easier.

byLisa Brock

Trying to get pregnant can be an emotional roller coaster — especially when you're struggling with infertility. Not getting pregnant when you really want to can cause depression, anxiety and grief. While the ride can be an emotionally difficult one, there are some ways to make it a little easier.

Acknowledge Your Emotions

The feelings of grief, despair, envy and failure are real, even if you're grieving for a baby you've never conceived. The desire to have a child can become overwhelming for any couple, including those who have had children previously. Don't ignore your emotions or avoid dealing with them because you feel like you're somehow responsible for being infertile. A healthy life — and a healthy pregnancy — start with a healthy outlook. Be realistic about what you're feeling. That's the first step to coping.

Seek a Support Network

No matter how alone you feel, you really aren't. Ten percent of reproductive age couples struggle with infertility. Through online and local support groups, you can meet others who have had the same emotional struggles you're experiencing and benefit from their wisdom gained from living through the ordeal. As an added bonus, most infertility support organizations offer resources to help you decide whether infertility treatments are right for you and, if so, what kind would suit your budget and fit your emotional and ethical boundaries.

Deal With Your Depression

Nearly all infertile couples eventually become depressed. Studies show that untreated depression and stress can cause lower fertility rates, even in women undergoing fertility treatment. So rejuvenate with a relaxing soak in the tub, listen to your favorite music or spend some time enjoying nature — whatever helps you to get the most out of life. Reducing your stress and feelings of despair can give you some hope. If you still struggle with depressive feelings, consult a professional therapist.

Make Wise Choices

The pressure to conceive can make it difficult to determine the right path in pregnancy planning. Carefully consider the decisions you can live with. While the advances of science have made it possible for more than 80 percent of infertile couples to become pregnant, many of those options lead down roads filled with ethical dilemmas. Weigh in with your religious and moral considerations before you make a decision. If possible, seek the counsel of someone whose opinion you respect as you contemplate the ethical issues. Conceiving a child — no matter how it takes place — is just the beginning of a lifetime commitment to making the best possible decisions for the welfare of your family.


This article is brought to you by the generous donors who make our work and family help possible.



How Could He Still Love Me?

Infertility is an insidious monster. It eats away at your life, your self-esteem and your relationships.

by

As told by Becky, age 40

Infertility is an insidious monster. It sneaks up on you, taking a bite here, a nibble there. It feeds on your life and on your relationships.

For a long time I didn't recognize the monster. But one day I saw it in my reflection in the dresser mirror. There it was, staring back at me through the dullness in my eyes, the stress lines around my mouth, the droop of my cheeks. I hadn't always looked like that.

My eye caught a photo on the dresser. My husband and I grinned from the silver frame. John's arms were looped around my shoulders in a casual embrace. Behind us, the ornate doors of Notre Dame rose to the top of the picture. Paris. It had been beautiful that May. And we were two young lovers walking its streets hand in hand as we celebrated our first anniversary. We were so happy then. Innocent, in love, and looking forward to a future filled with the promise of giggling children and vacations that would take us to Disneyland instead of Paris. Those were the good days. I could see it in the shine of my eyes, hear it in the laughter that would spill from my lips a moment after the camera shutter clicked. I could remember how easily John and I use to laugh together, how he would tease me when I wanted to take just one more photo. I would chuckle and skip away from him to ask yet another stranger to snap our picture. But that was BI — Before Infertility — and those days were gone.

I sighed and traced my finger over the image of my face in the picture. I seemed so vibrant, so alive, so different from the way I felt now. I looked again into the mirror. Who was this woman?

Gone was the beautiful young wife my husband married. Instead, I felt like a baby-making machine that didn't work. As a result our love life had become sterile and mechanical. The purpose of intimacy was no longer to share our love, but to produce a baby; not to enjoy each other, but to accomplish a goal. We scheduled our time together based on the reading of an ovulation predictor stick and according to the instructions given by our doctor. On the magic day when the stick read positive, I would call my husband and say, "Today's the day," and later that evening, whether we felt like it or not, we would do our "duty," our thoughts focused on the baby we hoped to conceive. No more romance, no more spontaneity, no more passion.

Slowly I turned from the dresser mirror, walked downstairs, and pulled a photo album from beneath the coffee table. I sat on the couch and flipped through its pages. Photo after photo revealed the joy of our life together: John making a face at me from behind a glass of sparkling cider. Me grinning from the top of a tall boulder, where I had climbed during a summer hike. The two of us dancing at a friend's wedding. A snapshot of me, hair rumpled, sipping a cup of coffee at the breakfast table.

As I looked at the pictures, I realized that it wasn't only our love that had changed; our daily interaction was also affected by the infertility beast. Once I had been a normal, even-tempered woman. But the monster had nibbled away at me, leaving a person who constantly teetered on the brink of anger or tears. When John was late for our appointment at the infertility clinic, I accused him of not caring. When he tried to tease me like he used to, I called him callous. When he said it would be okay if we never had children, I burst into tears and refused to speak to him for days. In my sane moments, I knew he was doing his best to understand me. But somehow it just wasn't enough.

As I sat there studying the difference between the woman in the photos and the one in the mirror, the thoughts I'd been fighting for months flooded through my mind. John should have married someone else. He could have had a family by now. How could he still love me? Did he regret saying "I do" so many years ago? Could we ever recapture the love we once had? Would we ever feel normal again?

It seemed like every week that passed, every month that proved I still wasn't pregnant, the monster grew stronger. Every day it consumed a little more of the love between John and me. Somehow we had forgotten each other in this pain-filled journey through infertility. We'd forgotten how to really see each other, to rejoice in what we loved about the other. Instead, we had become so focused on the goal of having a baby that we were blind to everything else.

We needed a change. I needed a change. Somewhere inside, an attractive, fun-loving woman was hiding. I just had to find a way to let her out again.

A week later, when the ovulation stick read positive, I was determined to make things different. That night I dressed in my best black velvet gown, did up my hair, carefully put on my makeup, and wore the special sapphire earrings my husband had given me three years before. I bought a bottle of wild new perfume and dabbed it on my wrists and behind my ears. Then I looked in the mirror and smiled. It was a forced smile at first, but at least it was a start, a beginning to recapturing the woman of fun and romance that I'd once been.

As the first stars started to peek from the evening sky, I set up our back patio table with a tablecloth, candlesticks, and our best china. My husband's favorite meal was bubbling in the oven and light music drifted from the stereo in the family room when John arrived home. I still remember the look of surprise on his face.

I lifted my chin and offered the smile I had practiced earlier. "Because I love you, and I love us," I replied. "Tonight we're celebrating each other."

John raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure you're my wife?"

I grinned and pointed to the camera I'd placed on the table. "How many pictures do I have to take to convince you?"

He laughed. "Oh, only a hundred or so."

I picked up the camera and snapped his picture. "Now go up and change your clothes and hurry back. It's a date night."

"Whatever you say." He jogged upstairs to our bedroom while I finished preparing the meal.

As we sat down to homemade lasagna and glasses of sparkling cider, I realized something. I felt attractive again. I felt alive. And I noticed how handsome my husband was, more so than the day we were married.

For the next hour we talked and laughed and reminisced about our favorite memories as a couple. Then when we'd finished our meal, John stood and extended a hand toward me. "Care to dance, m'lady?"

I nodded and placed my hand in his. There, under the moonlight, we danced with my cheek on his shoulder and his mouth near my ear.

"We're going to make it through all this, you know," he whispered.

And for that moment, I believed him. Beneath the stars, with my husband's arms around me, the monster of infertility grew weaker, until I thought we might be able to survive the pain, disappointment, and sorrow — if only we could remember to love each other.

After that night, we planned a special date night whenever the ovulation stick read positive. The next month John brought me roses and took me to my favorite restaurant. The following month we snuggled in front of the fireplace and roasted marshmallows over the glowing coals. They were simple things, but they reminded us to listen to each other and to care. These dates soon became times we cherished, as we focused on appreciating each other, on listening to one another, and on hearing the other's heart. In doing so, they took the pressure away from performance, away from the goal of producing a baby, and instead gave us time to pay special attention to our relationship.

To my surprise, after a few months we began to find it easier to enjoy each other during the "regular" times, like doing yard work together or washing the cars or folding clothes. Soon, we found ourselves planning more trips together. With the expense of infertility treatments, we didn't have the money for vacations to Paris anymore, but we could take a walk on the beach, or see a funny movie, or take a drive to the country to watch the sunset. On Saturday afternoons we started to enjoy picnics in the park like we had in our college days before we were married — anything to help us remember how to laugh again, to remind us why we fell in love.

'll admit the pressure of trying to have a baby still haunts us, and sometimes I feel the monster still nibbling at my heart. But now I know that at least once a month John and I will tell each other how much we love the other, and we'll take time to laugh together like we used to. And for that one day the monster will be held at bay. For that moment, at least, I know I'll be able to remember the woman God made me to be, the woman who once smiled into a camera in front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame.


Am I Less of a Man?

I thought my self-image was unshakable. But then the test results came in.

by

As told by Greg, age 30

I thought my self-image was unshakable. I thought I could handle anything. After all, I was a man's man. A tackle-football, monster-truck, built-Ford-tough type of guy. But then the test results came in.

The phone rang, and I answered it with my usual "Hey, this is Greg."

The nurse from our infertility clinic was on the other end of the line. "Hello, Mr. Smith, this is Jean," she said. "I have the test results for you and your wife."

"Oh, uh, okay." I swallowed. "What's the scoop?"

"Everything looks fine for Claire, but your numbers are, well" — she paused — "quite low."

I felt my stomach twist. "Low? What do you mean by low?"

"Your sperm count came in at three million per milliliter. Normal is between twenty and one hundred and fifty million."

Three? Only three million? "But, but," I sputtered. "Are you sure? Maybe there's been a mistake."

"We're very careful with these tests, Mr. Smith."

"Still ..."

"Have you been sick with a high fever in the last few months? Or perhaps you've been in a hot tub."

"Uh, no." My grip tightened on the receiver. Slowly I lowered myself to the chair near the phone. "So"—my voice wavered—"what do we do now?"

"Well, we can test you again in a couple of weeks, if you'd like. Other than that, the doctor will be happy to discuss options at your next appointment. You're coming in with Claire on Monday, aren't you?"

"Sure, I guess so." I barely muttered the words. Three million. Only three. The number pounded through my head. I was okay when I thought it was something with my wife that was keeping us from having children. But this, this was different. I was the one with the problem. It was my sperm that were lacking, my fault we weren't able to conceive.

I hung up the phone quietly.

"Who was that, honey?" my wife called from the other room.

"The clinic."

"What did they want?" Claire walked into the room and tossed the towel she was folding onto the kitchen counter.

For a moment I didn't answer.

She looked at me and raised one eyebrow, just like she always does when she thinks I'm acting strangely.

I rubbed my hand over the counter top and glanced away. "The test results are in."

"And?"

"Low sperm count," I mumbled, too quietly for her to hear.

"What?"

"Low sperm count," I said again, just a little louder.

"Oh. Did they say anything about my tests?"

"Yours are all okay."

"So now we know what the problem is." Her eyes caught and held mine. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Absolutely not, I thought. But I only shook my head, turned, and went into the garage. "Got some work to do," I called behind me. "I'm going to Sam's Hardware." A trip to Sam's was just what I needed to gather my thoughts. If I could hold a few wrenches, try out a couple of power tools, I'd feel fine again.

So I took my trip to the hardware store. I strolled around the tool aisles. I even bought a new table saw. And slowly the implications of those disturbing test results receded to the back of my mind — until Claire and I attended a party at a friend's house a few weeks later.

We were casually chatting with friends. Claire was on the couch with a group of women and I was standing by the TV when I overheard what she was saying.

"Greg's got a low sperm count," I heard her say.

Maybe it was my imagination, but the room seemed to fall silent. Quickly I looked around, hoping the other guys hadn't heard. But my best friend, Jerry, patted me on the shoulder and gave me a sympathetic look. "Hey, that's too bad, man. Sorry to hear it."

"What's up?" Adam walked over with a Pepsi in his hand.

Jerry turned to him. "Greg's got a low sperm count."

I felt myself shrinking.

Adam took a swig of his soda and made some remark that I'd rather not repeat.

I tried to fake a chuckle, but it seemed to get stuck behind my tonsils and came out like a choking cough. I cleared my throat and turned toward Jerry, hoping to change the subject before it got any worse. "So how's the job going?" I asked. "Heard you were up for a promotion."

Jerry dropped his hand from my shoulder. He seemed nervous. "Job's going great. I'm looking at getting that raise and promotion any day now."

"Bet Margaret's glad to hear that."

"Yeah, she's pretty excited about having a few extra dollars every month."

The conversation stayed on Jerry's job for a few more minutes before we turned to everyone's picks for the upcoming Super Bowl. I breathed a sigh of relief. Football was a safe topic. Talking about quarterbacks and pass plays kept the conversation from turning back to more personal issues. Still, for the rest of the evening, I pasted on my fake smile while becoming more and more angry with Claire for sharing our private information.

On the way home from the party, my anger boiled over. "What were you thinking, Claire?" I said through gritted teeth.

My wife glanced at me with a confused look on her face. "What are you talking about?"

I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel and glared at her before turning my eyes back to the road. "Oh, come on, you know what I mean. Telling everybody about my sperm count! Don't you think that is a little private?"

"What's the big deal? Ann asked me if we'd found out what was wrong, and I told her."

"You didn't need to mention my low sperm count." I couldn't believe she didn't think it was a big deal.

From the corner of my eye, I saw Claire looked somewhat amused. "If we'd found out I had problems with my ovaries or had a blocked fallopian tube, you wouldn't have any objection to my telling Ann about that."

"That's different."

"What is different about it?"

I slammed my hand against the steering wheel. "Look, my sperm count is private. I don't want you telling anyone about it. No one. Especially our friends."

"Okay, then, what am I supposed to say when someone asks? Lie?"

"I don't know. I don't care. Just don't talk about my sperm count!"

Claire shook her head and turned toward the side window. "All right, all right, I didn't know you were so sensitive about it."

I stared out into the rainy night. The only sound was the sloshing of the windshield wipers. I didn't really know why I'd reacted so severely. Of course, I was a little embarrassed. But Claire was right. If it had been her problem, I wouldn't have thought twice about telling friends the test results. But I felt differently about it when it was my problem. How could she not understand that? How could she not understand that a low sperm count was something that hit a man hard, something you just didn't share in a group?

Now that the sperm issue was out there, I did what I figured any real man would do — I ignored it. Oh, I swallowed a few extra vitamins, took cooler showers, and stayed away from the hot tub, but other than that I simply refused to think about it. But my friend Jerry changed my mind.

I hadn't seen him since the party, so I thought I'd stop by and surprise him at work. But I was the one in for a surprise.

I opened the glass door and stepped up to the receptionist's desk. "Hi, I'm here to see Jerry."

The woman glanced up at me and frowned. "Jerry doesn't work here anymore."

I stepped back. "What? Of course he does."

She shook her head. "Jerry was laid off two months ago."

Two months ago? That would be a month before the party. Surely if Jerry had lost his job he would have told me. Something strange was going on, and I needed to find out what it was. I mumbled "thanks" to the receptionist and hurried out to my car.

I finally tracked Jerry down that night in his garage. He was lying beneath the chassis of his 1967 Mustang. "Hey, Jerry!" I called.

He slid out from under the car. "Greg! Good to see you, man. I didn't hear you come in. What's up?"

I crossed my arms. "I don't know, buddy. Why don't you tell me?"

Jerry wiped his hands on his overalls, then stood up. "What do you mean?"

"I stopped by your work today."

An awkward silence fell between us. Jerry turned away to finish cleaning his hands on a rag. He refused to look at me. "Guess you know then."

"They told me you were laid off two months ago."

"Yeah."

"So what was all that talk at the party about a promotion?"

He shrugged and turned back to me. "I just couldn't bring myself to tell you guys that I didn't have a job."

"Does Margaret know?"

Jerry twisted the rag in his hand. "No."

"No?"

"I leave every morning and come back in the evening, same as I've always done. Only instead of going to a job, I'm looking for one."

"You're kidding me."

"I wish I were."

He looked like a dejected puppy. I draped an arm around his shoulders. "Gosh, man, you should have told me. I could have tried to help, or at least prayed for you."

"What? And have you guys think I'm a loser? No thanks."

"Come on, Jerry. You are not a loser because you've lost your job. Our self-worth is found in God, anyway, not in our job. You know that as well as I do."

"Yeah, I guess I do."

"Hey, I hope you find something real soon. And remember to let your friends know the next time something important happens in your life, huh?"

Jerry's eyes locked with mine. "Yeah, like you told us about your sperm count being low."

"Well, that's different," I mumbled.

"Yeah, right."

We stood there for a moment without speaking. "Look, I gotta go. I'll stop by tomorrow and see how the job hunt's coming."

As I drove away, Jerry's words haunted me. I had to admit the truth. The low sperm count made me feel less of a man, just like his job loss made him feel. And while those reactions may be perfectly natural, they showed how we were finding at least part of our identity in something besides our relationship with Christ.

For the next several months I considered what it meant to be a man in God's sight. I thought about how Jesus proved himself through obedience to God. I also thought about the great price that Christ paid for me on the cross. I thought about how a man should be measured by the greatness of his faith, not by his sperm count. But it wasn't until I stumbled on the words of Isaiah 56:3 5 that I really began to understand that my identity doesn't come from my ability to procreate, but from the God who made me the man that I am: "Let not any eunuch complain, I am only a dry tree.' For this is what the Lord says: To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant — to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off' " (Isaiah 56:3 5).

If God didn't think less of me because I had fewer sperm than other guys, what right did I have to think less of myself?

These days I find that I'm much more at peace with my condition. While I still don't want my wife talking about my sperm count at parties, I find that I can accept the fact that our fertility problems lie with me. It's God who makes me who I am, and by his grace I am content with that — no matter what the numbers read.


Adoption: Heaven's Gift

Looking back on the heartache of infertility, I see that through all the pain and disappointment, God hadn't forgotten us.

by

As told by Vanessa, age 47

"Surprise! You're infertile!" my gynecologist said to me one day when I was in for my yearly exam. Well, she didn't actually say that, but she might as well have.

I was lying in that most uncomfortable position, while the doctor poked around with her cold instruments. I stared at the ceiling and gripped the thin tissue sheet that was supposed to cover me.

"So do you see anything odd down there?" I asked.

The doctor glanced up. "Everything looks fine," she said, then looked at me more closely. "Why? Have you been experiencing anything that I should know about?"

"No, not really," I answered. "It's just that Steve and I have been trying to get pregnant."

She gave a thoughtful "hmmm" and continued her prodding.

I tried not to squirm.

She held up a long stick that looked like an overgrown Q-tip. "You can sit up now."

I breathed a sigh of relief and pushed myself up, being careful to grab the pink tissue sheet and tuck it in around me.

"So how long have you been trying to get pregnant?" she asked, as she pulled off her thin rubber gloves.

"Oh, about a year and a half."

She paused and examined me for a moment with her eyes. I could tell what she was thinking. I felt a little colder and tugged at the tissue again.

"You know," she said finally, "infertility is defined as a year of unprotected sex without conception. You may want to consider having some tests done."

The tissue tore in my hand.

Infertility? Tests? I swallowed. "Uh ... but, oh, are you sure?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "You said it has been over a year?"

"Yes, but—"

"But?"

"Maybe our timing has been off."

"Maybe," she answered, but I could tell she didn't believe it. I cringed.

"Still, if you're serious about getting pregnant," she continued, "I'd highly recommend the tests."

I swallowed again, hard, then took a deep breath before answering. "Okay, if you say so. What do I need to do?"

She picked up her pencil and scribbled something on a sheet of paper. "Not just you, Steve too."

I grimaced. Steve was going to hate this.

The doctor watched me for a moment. When I didn't say anything, she nodded once and continued writing. "I'm ordering the preliminary tests. How does next week sound for you?"

A Chance for Adoption

And so began the journey that would last for the next eight years. During that time we had enough tests and procedures to make me feel like a human pincushion, as well as two miscarriages and numerous heartbreaks.

We were about to consider in vitro fertilization when a call came from my husband's 22-year-old cousin.

She asked for Steve, and I handed him the phone. After about forty-five seconds, a startled expression crossed his face, followed by eager anticipation. His eyes met mine. "We'll take the baby!" he nearly shouted into the receiver.

My hand flew to his arm. "What's going on?" I mouthed the question.

He put his palm over the lower half of the receiver and quickly whispered, "Shanna's pregnant. She says she doesn't want the baby. She was planning to abort, but she'll have the baby if we want to adopt it."

My mouth fell open. "Is she serious?"

He nodded, then spoke into the receiver again. "Yes, yes, absolutely. That'll be no problem. Just send us the bills." He paused while Shanna spoke on the other end of the line. Steve grabbed my hand in his and grinned. "Okay, then, we'll talk to you again later," he said into the phone. "Take care now. And thank you. Thank you so much." He hung up.

"Can you believe it?" he said to me as he turned, grabbed me, and swung me into the air. "We're going to have a baby at last!"

But I wasn't so sure. After two miscarriages, I knew how attached a woman could become to the baby growing in her womb. Still, I laughed with him and wondered, Could this be it, Lord?

In the following months as Shanna grew larger and larger, so did our hopes. Steve's family was so excited for us. They began buying baby clothes and planning a party for the new arrival. Shanna was pleased, too. Despite my doubts, she continued to reassure me that everything was going to happen as planned. She called every week with updates and always told me about her doctor visits. I went in with her to her 22-week ultrasound appointment and saw the baby for the first time—a little girl. The sight brought tears to my eyes. Will that be my baby, Lord?

The baby was due in September, and somewhere around mid-July I started to really believe that this was going to end happily for us, that we would finally have a baby of our own. I began to plan the nursery and buy pink little girl things to decorate it.

Then, three weeks before the baby was due, Shanna called again. When she asked for Steve, I knew something was wrong. He took the phone, and immediately his features hardened into a look of pain. After a minute he hung up the phone and turned to me. "She says she's keeping the baby."

Crying Heartbreak

The words dug into my heart like talons. Steve gathered me in his arms. We stood there, too hurt to cry, too stunned to speak, with the morning light pouring through the kitchen window to make a rainbow of colors on the tile counter top.

In the weeks that followed, as the baby was born and Shanna took her home, no one seemed to understand our pain. Steve's family couldn't see why we would stay away from family gatherings where the baby would be. From their view, we were overreacting. After all, the family still got a new baby. All the gifts they bought were given to the baby just the same. It was only Steve and I who felt the loss. We were left to grieve alone.

After the failed adoption attempt with Shanna, we continued infertility treatments and also tried to find another baby to adopt. So the waiting started again, along with the hoping, the disappointments, the wondering if it would ever happen for us.

"Doesn't anyone care? Doesn't anyone understand?" I cried so many times during those years when I felt abandoned by God and forgotten by him. Little did I know that He really did care. He understood. He had a plan. But I wouldn't find that out for another three years.

By that time infertility treatments had eaten up our savings. Steve had recently lost his job and was now working as a Kelly temp. I was a substitute teacher. And, to top it off, we'd sold our house and moved to a rental in a nearby town. In other words, not only was the possibility of continuing treatments looking grim, but we weren't exactly what an adoption agency or birth mom would be looking for. All my hopes for a baby came crumbling down around me. I felt there was no way I'd ever be a mom.

But just when life looked the bleakest, another call came.

I was working a Christmas job at the mall when my friend Sally handed me the phone. "It's Steve," she said. "He says it's important."

A dozen red and green ribbons in my hand, I took the receiver with the other. "Hey, hon, we're pretty busy here right now," I said, as another customer approached my booth.

"Would you like a brand-new baby boy?" Steve blurted out.

"Call me back in ten minutes."

"Oh, okay."

I hung up the phone, then stopped. Did Steve just say what I thought he said? Something about a baby? I grabbed the phone again, turning to my customer. "I'm sorry, I need to make a call. Sally will help you." I quickly dialed home again and waited. The phone rang and rang and rang. Finally I hung up.

The next ten minutes dragged by like an 18-wheeler going up a steep grade. Finally the phone rang. I snatched it up. "Steve, is that you?"

Steve laughed. "Did you even hear me the first time I called?"

"Not really. Did you say something about a baby?"

"A baby boy. Shelley from next door called about him this morning."

"Tell me more."

"Well, his mother's a 14-year-old rape victim who chose to go ahead with the pregnancy and place the baby up for adoption. Shelley's sister was going to adopt him, but she just found out she's pregnant, so Shelley called us."

I was silent.

"Did you hear me? They want to know if we want to adopt the baby."

"Are you sure it's for real this time?"

"Pretty sure. Shelley says so."

My mind spun around the possibility. A baby? For me? For us? I cleared my throat. "You said yes, didn't you?"

Steve laughed again. "I said I'd talk to you, but I was sure you'd agree."

"Of course I do!" The customer at the counter gave me a strange look as my voice raised an octave.

"Well, the mother's in the hospital tonight and is supposed to be induced tomorrow morning. I'm five minutes from there now. Can you meet me?"

"I'll be there in ten minutes." I slammed down the receiver, grabbed my coat, and headed for the parking lot. "I gotta go!" I yelled to Sally. "I won't be back until tomorrow. Cover for me?"

"Sure," she shouted back. "But this better be good."

"It is!"

Hope Ahead

I reached the hospital in record time, met Steve and hurried up to the room. The moment I met Missy, I knew she was a special girl. She looked up at us from the bed and smiled. "So you're the family Shelley told me about?" She extended her hand. I took it in my own. "I'm so glad my baby's going to such a good home." She closed her eyes.

I leaned over and squeezed her hand tighter. "Thank you. You don't know how much this means to us."

Her eyes, deep brown and innocent, opened and looked up into mine. "It was the only way I could think of to make good come from the awful thing that happened to me."

I nodded, as any words I would have said clogged behind the lump in my throat.

For two hours we sat with her and talked until visiting hours were over. "Come back tomorrow," she called as a nurse showed us out of the room. "You'll want to be here when he's born."

That night was the longest of my life. The next morning we went to the hospital and sat in the waiting room. Casey was born at eleven minutes to seven that evening. The nurse ushered us into the birthing room.

Missy sat up in the bed with a baby in her arms. Her mother stood beside her. Missy looked from the baby to us. A smile lit her face. "He's perfect," she said. "Healthy and perfect."

I held my breath, fearing what else she might say, hoping for what I had thought was impossible. Slowly she lifted the baby and held him toward me. She whispered as she placed him in my arms, "My gift to you."

Amazing, Precious Gift

At that moment, as I looked into Casey's tiny, scrunched up face, I knew that the tests, the pills, the lunch hours with no lunch were all over. I was immediately enamored and fascinated with the small bundle in my arms and amazed that God and Missy were granting us this precious gift.

When we got home, my sister was waiting for us with packages of onesies, sleepers, blankets, wipes and over two hundred diapers. The next day friends and family brought over a bassinet, a stroller, a car seat, cans of formula and all kinds of miscellaneous baby things. By the time we brought Casey home, we had everything we needed.

The next day my parents came to visit. When they'd first heard about Casey, they immediately brought up a dozen objections. "What if they take him away?" "What if she changes her mind?" "What if this turns out like the last one?" They were determined not to get attached until everything was finalized. But as soon as they came through the door and took one look at the tiny baby in my arms, they were instantly transformed into Casey's grandparents.

On the day of my shower for Casey two weeks later, my mother wept when I introduced her to Shelley. She gave her a big hug and said, "Thank you for my grandson!" I was filled with wonder at what God had done for all of us.

Then two years and ten months later another call came, and to make a long story short, a baby daughter joined our family.

We're in our late forties now, and the kids are eleven and eight. Today I can look back on the heartache of infertility and see that through all the pain, through all the disappointments, God hadn't forgotten us. Despite my doubts and questions, God knew what he was doing. And though I may not have believed it when we were going through the tests, procedures, miscarriages and failed adoption, God's plan was in operation. In fact, everything turned out just right.


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