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The Infertility CompanionHope and Help for Couples Facing Infertility
By Sandra L. Glahn William R. Cutrer
ZondervanCopyright © 2004 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhere We've Been
Your Companions in "the Ditch"
* * *
Sandi's Journey: Knots and Tangles
I am Sandra, daughter of Ann, daughter of Velma, daughter of Ella, all the way back to Eve. But the genes carried down through my ancestors will stop with me.
When I was a little girl, I never dreamed that I might be unable to have children. In my childhood home in Oregon's Willamette Valley, by mid-April the plum trees had sprouted purple blossoms and the whole world seemed to bloom with new life. Foals, calves, and lambs appeared in the fields. By Mother's Day, everything had either given birth or was celebrating hope, and I assumed that I would someday join in that process.
I was the fourth of five children. When I reached adolescence and started babysitting-which I loved-I became increasingly aware that many people have more children than they anticipate. I figured that, if anything, I'd fall into that group.
Fast-forward to age twenty-seven. My adoration of spring turned to dread as I felt out of sync with the rest of the world. While everything around me celebrated new life, I experienced spring more as an injury-almost as an indictment. With tear-stained cheeks, I watched birds build nests and lay eggs in our trees and thought of how children described me as "nobody's mommy." Mother's Day-that dreaded "M-Day"-came as the crowning insult.
My husband, Gary, and I had been married seven years, and he was starting his last year of seminary training (master's degree) in Dallas, Texas. In addition to our jobs-he at a law firm, I as a writer at an insurance company-and his studies, we served as part-time staff at our church, ministering to college students. After working full-time to put my husband through graduate school, I dreamed of quitting my job and staying home to take care of our children. Friends and family were asking when we'd start having babies, and it was finally time to get an "all clear" from my physician.
Dr. Bill Cutrer, my medical doctor, was also a seminary student, and he had a reputation for being a godly man with technical expertise. So I made the new-patient appointment, and after our consultation, he told me everything looked great. The next six months were wonderful. There's something magical about making love with the expectation that you'll produce something as marvelous as a child. The plans and dreams arrived in full force. I mentally picked out nursery colors. For graduation we got a car-a new station wagon big enough for the family we were going to have. I told a few close friends we were trying. We saved up all we could for the day when I could quit work.
Nine months passed with no success. I had expected to get pregnant the first month, but I told myself we'd been too busy. Then months turned into a year. But I wasn't too worried.
Another six months passed, though less quickly, and my sister confided to me that she was going through fertility testing. A pang of concern started gnawing inside me. Mary recommended a book about infertility, and I read it. Afterward I wrote in my journal, "The infertility fear is getting greater. There's a lot of denial on my part. I'm finally having to come to grips with the fact that there's a problem." I cried for the first time when someone asked when we were going to start a family. Three days later I wrote, "I'm facing that we may not have kids. It's tough. But his mercies are there, too." A church in British Columbia interviewed Gary by phone for a pastoral position. A week later I wrote in my journal, "My strong preference would be to stay in my current job until I know I can have kids. The Lord knows."
The job didn't pan out, and we both kept working. After eighteen months had passed, I returned to see Dr. Cutrer for what was supposed to be a belated annual checkup. All went fine until near the end, when he asked me a few questions.
"I think I just need to relax," I told him. "We've been trying to get pregnant, but we've probably been too busy to hit it right."
Looking up with gentle eyes, he rolled closer. "How long have you been trying?"
"About eighteen months." I had believed the myth so many people had told me: "Just relax and you'll get pregnant."
He spoke in a soothing tone. "No. Perhaps it's time to stop 'just relaxing.' There are a few simple things we can try. The pace is up to you." We could take it fast or slow, he told me, starting with the easiest, simplest test: a semenalysis on my husband.
Not a chance. We're not infertile! I thanked him politely and left for another eighteen months.
Threads of Grief
The time passed with increasing emotional pain. It got harder to deny the reality. So I finally returned to the doctor. By that time, I had heard a lot more about "Dr. Bill," as many of his patients called him:
"He stayed up with us all night rather than rush a C-section."
"He came in on the weekend to do our insemination."
"He prayed with us during our rough delivery."
Dr. Bill had a reputation for being a kind and compassionate man of God. I wish I could say we hit it off from the start, but at the time, I resented what I perceived as "doctor worship" on the part of many of his patients, so I determined to be distant.
Gary and I decided to begin the testing process. Dr. Bill began by testing Gary, who appeared to have no problem. Then Dr. Bill ran a lot of blood tests and did some studies to make sure I was ovulating. After that, I had an endometrial biopsy. I began to read everything I could find on the subject of infertility because through knowledge I felt empowered.
My sister called to say she'd had a laparoscopy (the so-called Band-Aid surgery) and her doctor had found endometriosis. Because there is sometimes a familial connection, Dr. Bill recommended that I, too, have a laparoscopy. But he also thought I might have a congenital structural problem. The day he told me that, I drove back to my office, shut the door, and sobbed my heart out. The shock of the news hit like a tsunami. I really might never have children.
I experienced a spiritual crisis. I had to face the fact that I had a mistaken perception of God. My life had gone fairly well up to that point, and I thought it might have something to do with my obedience. I secretly believed that if I continued feeding my "quarters" of obedience into God's cosmic vending machine, I'd get what I wanted. When that didn't happen, I realized that either something was wrong with my behavior or, the more helpless option, that God doesn't necessarily stick to such clear cause-and-effect arrangements. If the latter was the case, as I began to suspect it was, no amount of obedience would solve my fertility problem.
I wrote in my journal, "Waiting. Waiting. More waiting. I can hardly think of anything else. It was easy not to think about it when I wasn't facing the doctor or my charts every day or week, but it's hard to get it off my mind now that I'm constantly confronted with it."
When I stood around talking with other women, I felt somewhat like an imposter. I was incomplete, not quite a part of them, having failed what I perceived as the true test of womanhood: the rite of motherhood.
Monthly we would watch my ovaries on the ultrasound screen to help us "time it right." And I began taking medication for a mild hormonal imbalance. We found ourselves paying for multiple medical bills, having quickly discovered that most insurance policies will cover the diagnosis of infertility but not its treatment.
Dr. Bill prescribed the low-tech ovulation inducer, clomiphene citrate (brand names: Clomid, Serophene, Milophene). Of all the medications I would take during treatment, Clomid made me the craziest. One afternoon when I went in for a sonogram, I sarcastically asked Dr. Bill, "Could you give me more Clomid? I'm only crying at mall openings."
He responded in the schooled "doctor voice" that he has since labeled "vocal anesthesia," "Being the rather sentimental soul that I am, I'd probably cry at mall openings, too."
"I don't mean grand openings," I snapped. "I mean every day at ten when they open the doors."
Gary and I dreamed up a board game called "In Futility," which we patterned after Monopoly, except that instead of buying up real estate, the object was to get a child. We replaced the four railroads with roller coasters. Free parking was reserved for teens who got pregnant the easy way. "Community Test" cards were responses to people who made tacky comments, like the man who asked, "How can you miss something you never had?" We got to move ten spaces for quelling the urge to answer with, "You mean like your brain?" A little lame humor helped.
Then finally it happened. After three years of trying, I had a positive pregnancy test. But then I lost the pregnancy several days later. Soon after that, I had a difficult conversation with Dr. Bill. He told me he wanted to refer me to an endocrinologist. While I appreciated his desire that we find answers to my infertility, I had developed friendships with him and his staff, and I was actually starting to be nice to him. I had grown comfortable. Now I had to start over.
Threads of Patience
We called the endocrinologist and had to wait three months to get in. I became even more aware of how much of life is spent waiting.
I crossed off each calendar day leading up to my appointment. I wrote in my journal, "More opportunities for hope and despair ahead." When my brother-in-law told me I'd make a great mom, I wept. I realized then that I'd been wondering if the Lord was keeping me from being a mother because I'd be a failure at it.
During that time, our church asked us to start a support group for infertility patients, so Gary and I organized one. At the same time, I also served on the national board of a secular support organization for patients and providers. Their local chapter, on whose board I'd served, had been a lifeline. The group asked me to chair a medical symposium for patients, bringing together the state's top doctors and therapists. I said I would.
I had been told that infertility patients are second only to cancer patients in terms of what they will endure for a cure, and I found them to have a pretty high level of sophistication. I asked Dr. Bill to lecture on infertility and spirituality. He wondered if anyone would attend his workshop, but it ended up having the highest attendance of anything we offered.
Then I got pregnant again. Then lost the baby. Then again. Another loss. Pregnant. Loss. Pregnant. Loss. We experienced seven early pregnancy losses. Tests told us nothing. It was a mystery.
After seven years of trying to conceive, we watched as the odometer on our station wagon turned 100,000 miles. We'd stayed in Dallas to continue treatment. But we were getting to the point where it hurt more to go on than to quit. We were tired of it all. Then new tests suggested I had a rare immunological problem for which little could be done. So we took a year off to explore the possibility of never having children and devoting ourselves full time to ministry. Among other pursuits, we went with Dr. Bill and his wife, Jane, to Russia on a medical mission trip.
When we returned, I asked Dr. Bill to prescribe birth control pills. I wanted to stop mentally keeping track of my "cycle days," and I'd had enough pregnancy losses to know that my womb was not a safe place for a developing embryo. I needed to avoid conceiving.
At the end of that year, Gary and I learned that my immunological problem might be corrected with blood thinner and baby aspirin. So we pursued treatment again. It required giving myself daily shots in my thighs or stomach, and soon I was covered with bruises. Then I developed bleeding complications.
I finally reached my limit.
The next few weeks were filled with both mourning and resolution. I wrote: "Part of me wants to party and celebrate that we're through. But I will also grieve as the realization hits me. I feel unmotivated to work and tired from it all. But grief is a friend. I've learned to trust it to take me to the other side of emotional health."
I enrolled in some seminary classes to further my writing ministry. And we checked out U.S. adoption agencies. After the miscarriages, our infertility was pretty much public knowledge. We worked that to our advantage and recruited people to help us find a birth mother.
During the three years that followed, three birth mothers agreed to place their children with us and then changed their minds-either right before or on the day of birth.
How long, O Lord, how long? (Ps. 6:3).
Threads of Hope
"Don't send us any more birth mothers," we told our friends. "We don't think we could handle it." I wondered if I'd ever stop being suspicious that every piece of good news would turn into a disaster. I questioned whether my heart could ever freely love a child now.
Not long after that, I met with a book publisher about a fiction project. In the course of the conversation, I expressed my disappointment in how little helpful information I'd found in the Christian market about infertility-especially on the ethics of high-tech treatment-and he told me to send him a book proposal. I was stunned. I was a magazine writer; it had never crossed my mind to write a book.
After giving it some thought, I contacted Dr. Bill. It seemed that a book about infertility and pregnancy loss would have more credibility with a combination of perspectives. He agreed to work on the project with me. As he put it, a team of the two of us could be "doctor-patient, male-female, sane-insane." So we began to write.
The book gave me a constructive channel for my grief. When the odometer turned to 200,000 miles, Gary and I traded in the first station wagon for another. I pursued finishing my master's degree in theology, choosing to focus much of my research on infertility as a spiritual crisis. And finally, more than a year after we'd started, Dr. Bill and I finished the manuscript.
These activities opened doors to a writing and speaking ministry for me and for us as a team.
I know now that I will never give birth. You'll read snippets of Gary's and my story and our path to resolution throughout the book, though the whole picture of what was medically wrong and all of God's reasons for allowing it will remain mysteries to us.
Yet when I look back on where I have been and what the Lord has done, I can't help but think of a tapestry. For so long, the individual painful situations made no sense. I shook my head as I tried to figure out what God was doing with my life and wondered why he had allowed so much death-whether of embryos or dreams.
Excerpted from The Infertility Companion by Sandra L. Glahn William R. Cutrer Copyright © 2004 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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