God has both blessed and carried Daniel and me through 10 years of marriage. Most of our close friends and family know that the first few years of our marriage were difficult.
Our marriage started with a ceremony on Mount Magazine that was a convenient location for no one but really a lovely place. Most memories of the ceremony are like a sepia slide-show, but a few stick out.
I remember loosing my earrings the morning of the wedding so that my “something borrowed” ended up being my mom’s earrings she was to wear that day. I remember on the drive to the top of the mountain giving a whisper of thanks to God that the dogwoods were blooming early. I remember seeing my Gran and grinning because below her beautiful dress, she wore some ratty black sandals, the only shoes that would fit after she dropped a frozen ham on her toes. I remember trying impress the great significance of the oaths we were taking on my untried heart. I remember eating cake. I remember making a great introverted effort to hug and thank all our guests for coming. I remember a young guest who came with a stuffed skunk:)
Then there was a wrapping up, a rush, and Daniel and I were headed down the mountain in his old blue truck, waving goodbye. The week before I had specifically warned Daniel that I was not going to cry during the wedding, but that I did plan to have my cry when it was over. Now that it was over, I took the opportunity to have my cry. I think it was the leave and cleave cry combined with the overwhelming sense of starting a new life with a husband. We were 22 years old. Babes. I cried the whole time down the mountain, the whole drive into Fort Smith, and all during our first dinner together as newlyweds.
Those tears were a harbinger of grief.
Right after our honeymoon, which was on spring break of my senior year of college, I returned to school, Daniel to his new job, and us to our new life. We bought a tiny bungalow we could barely afford and attempted to renovate it with no money. We fought all the time. Big fights, little fights. I started grad school and was pressed down by my caseload. Daniel’s daily commute was horrible. Not unlike the Israelites wandering in the desert, it took us three and a half years to find a home church. There was nothing obvious that we could even pinpoint to work on. Things were just bad. Our marriage was not what I had planned. It was like it had some kind of illness.
And then there was marriage counseling.
Marriage counseling through the Joshua Center was such a literal God-send. The process of marriage counseling reminds me of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when Eustace stole some enchanted treasure and was turned into a dragon. Eustace is horrified and also humbled by this transformation to a beast.
Then Eustace is visited by Aslan. Aslan leads him to a pool where Eustace infers that he is meant to bathe. Eager to be cleansed, Eustace begins to scrape his scales off as well as his thick skin which came off “beautifully, like it does after an illness.”
Eustace then turns to get into the water to bathe but first catches a glimpse of his reflection and is dismayed to find another layer of scales and skin. So he scrapes himself clean again, only to see his reflection which reveals yet another layer of scales. After Eustace’s third attempt to cleanse himself, Aslan tells Eustace that He will have to remove the scales. Eustace is scared, but desperate at this point so he lays down. He submits himself to be cleansed.
Aslan uses his claws. The “very first tear was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off…and there I was smooth and soft as a peeled switch.”
The layers of sin and sin-infused marriage habits had to be peeled off with help, and sometimes painfully. But what was left was soft. God healed our marriage and softened our hearts through counseling.
We then found a home church and settled into healthy patterns of life, like praying together. Things felt stable. We thought we were ready to start our family. Just as our excitement began to grow about the thought of parenting a newborn, our hearts were pulled in a different direction. The Biological Baby Plan was put on hold when I met Eva on a mission trip. Meeting Eva was like being caught up in a crosswind that blows you off your intended course. Meeting her led to the beautiful, difficult, and unexpected process of adoption. Our cup overfloweth and our vision changeth: we experienced a glimpse of redemption through Eva’s adoption and knew we couldn’t be done adopting. When Eva had been home with us two years, we began the adoption process again. Enter and welcome Audrey Mae, who continues to change our lives for the better.
Fast-forward two years.
We wanted a bigger family and thought it was time to revisit the Biological Baby Plan. I was happy/anxious (that is an emotion) to return to this Plan. Babies are wonderful, but I had a feeling that we might have twins-which is intimidating. We have loads in my family. So, happy/anxious.
Unfortunately, this spring, Daniel and I reached the point where we had been trying to conceive for a year and a half with no positive pregnancy tests. I wasn’t super worried, in fact I knew that sometimes it takes couples a while, but a doctor appointment was made-just in case-and labs were ordered. When the results came in, my nurse called and told me that most of my results were totally normal, but one value was significantly off. In a gentle voice reserved for the worst of news, the nurse told us that our next step would be to see a Fertility Clinic, where our best option might be to arrange for donor eggs.
This was so very unexpected and definitely not part of the Biological Baby Plan. I couldn’t process it at all. In hopes of getting more information, Daniel and I made the drive to Tulsa to see a reproductive endocrinologist (RE). After an exhaustive evaluation (interviews, lots of blood work, a brain MRI (free and clear!), ultrasound, etc.), we found that we are indeed infertile. Like, Infertile with a capital I.
Our RE told us that the infertility is due to my having an Alpha-Gal allergy, which is an autoimmune illness caused by a tick bite. Use Deet, my friends. My nurse was right all along; the surest route to carrying a child would be to arrange for a donor egg. The results of many tests was that my scores for egg retrieval were so low that they indicate: a very poor (or no) response to stimulation, likely cycle cancellation, and that IVF should likely not be attempted at all.
Our RE was not a doomsday nay-sayist. She told us that despite my test results, at age 33, time is on our side and that we could still try a couple of different treatment protocols. Those protocols include lifting restrictions, daily injections, and frequent visits to Tulsa with the understanding that chances for success are slim, and ultimately, if the therapies were effective, we would be faced with some weighty decisions. Decisions about quality of life for a child and how damaged can an embryo be before it should be put aside. I do not feel strong enough to bear the burden of those decisions.
Isn’t that a lot to process for a couple who thought they were both pretty healthy, young, and average? We like our RE and we’re not saying “never,” but we’re currently not ready to seek that level of treatment. I have a very, very deep respect for couples who have gone through similar processes in order to try to conceive a child. What amazing, steadfast, resilient people you are.
After weighing in the results and our options, this was my summation: We are infertile and we’re not ready to seek the treatment it would require for us to conceive. I still felt shocked, but now I also felt stuck.
As reality slowly settled in, shock took a backseat to anger. I was so frustrated that the notion of conceiving, which I had taken for granted, would not be a ready option for us.
Then there was another emotional whiplash from anger to a sense of loss. A deep and profound loss of what could have been. A loss I couldn’t exactly plumb.
Then I hopped back on over to denial. I thought that maybe we could do loads of research and find some magical pill that could fix things, even if the data said ‘not gonna happen.’ I read so many protocol outlines from fertility clinics and research articles that my head swam.
At that point, I stepped back and saw that I was drunk driving my way through the stages of grief.
My brain was exhausted. Sure, it’s okay and even therapeutic to work through the stages of grief, but my underlying theme of grief was to fix the unfixable, to do damage control, key word being control. It’s so futile. Why don’t I immediately give my savior this burden and lean into Him? So finally I prayed. And I blessed the Name of the Lord. Because, as I tell the girls nightly, God is good on our good days and good on our bad days. He’s good all the time. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
And Daniel, who has surrounded me with great patience and loving kindness, even in my frantic grief, told me to remember that I am loved by God. Our God is completely in control, knows about this situation, and can be trusted. God has carried us through hard times before and we trust Him to carry us now. Amen.
I don’t type this with fluffy or even very comfortable feelings about God. Our triune God who spoke the world into being, in His baffling loving mercy, has more thoughts for me (and you) than grains of sand on the beach. Our Holy God who cannot abide sin gave us commandments to help us live in peace. He knew we who are bent on sin couldn’t keep those commandments. Couldn’t live in peace. All along He had the rescue plan to send a part of Himself, his Son, to humbly be born to an unmarried virgin teenager; live a sinless life; teach and show radical love; and die an undeserved but CHOSEN death on the cross for you and for me. He paid the penalty for our sins so that we can have freedom in Him. We cannot earn more love or “do good” enough for justification. It’s given! Jesus is the only way to salvation and right-standing with God.
When my thoughts are short-sighted, it’s hard to trust God and be still. But when my thoughts are slowed and focused on my Creator, I trust Him. Someone who knows me completely, including all my ugliness inside that’s not yet refined, and still chose to die for me-I trust that kind of love.
We’ve shared this news with some family and close friends. Thank you to our loved ones who listen with patience and compassion and point us to the Lord.
I also reached out to a handful of girlfriends whom I knew had been to fertility clinics and asked about their experiences. They were so kind and gracious to share information about the process, expenditures, and procedures they and their spouses went through. Through visits, emails, and phone calls I laughed and cried with my friends who have already gone through this valley. Thank you so much for your generosity and vulnerability.
We are obviously advocates of adoption, and that just might be our next step. We’re not at all sure what that will look like, in fact I’m hesitant to plan, but we’re getting ready for another adventure. I guess we’ll see what the Lord brings.