I am busy with an online Bible Study with Proverbs 31 Ministries called Dangerous Prayers. Earlier this week I watched the weekly video where the author Craig Groeschel discusses an aspect of dangerous prayers with one of the staff. The discussion of the week was regarding infertility. After the video, I started reading the next chapter of the book and read how the author encourages us to pray the prayer “Break Me”. I already feel broken in terms of being shaped and bent by my circumstances, so I did not ask God to break me even further. Instead, I asked him what he wants me to do during this time. I asked Him to take my hand and show me what the purpose was with this brokenness.
A few hours later I lay on the couch after an exhausting day of cleaning and laundry and scrolled through Instagram. My feed was flooded with posts related to the National Infertility Awareness Week in the USA, which started on Monday. I felt the Lord telling me “This is what you must do. Share your story.” It felt like my heart was being squeezed in a vice grip and I battled to breathe. This was no easy ask! What if I understood wrong? This was too difficult. Surely this is too much to ask. Later that evening I spoke to Carl thinking he would discourage this ludicrous idea. Instead, he told me that it was my personal decision but that it might be good for someone who reads our story. I didn’t have any more excuses.
I woke up the next morning with the vice still around by heart and started planning how I was going to tell the hardest story of my life. A few hours later the toughest, most vulnerable story I have ever told was out in the world for all to see. It was just a summary of course, but the feedback has been unbelievable. Many women who suffer and have suffered from infertility have come out of the woodwork and friends have reached out after years of being quiet. Not everyone gets it. Not everyone knows what to say. But all the feedback has been out of love and sympathy, and many out of empathy because they themselves went through this crazy journey. So, I decided that this week’s blog post should be the full story. No holds barred.
Please read this with love…
Carl and I got married in December 2011. We weren’t exactly spring chickens but we both agreed that we needed a few years to enjoy married life before we would start expanding our family. We always assumed it would happen quickly, so we were extra careful.
After two years of wedded bliss, we started discussing our timeline and I became excited at the prospect of becoming a mom. In the meantime, we started looking for a larger home and had the opportunity to buy a house that was in the process of being built. Due to the financial and logistical stress, we decided to delay our family planning by another year. I was extremely disappointed even though I knew it was the right decision.
That is how 2015 became The Year! We would finally become parents.
We had hardly any reason to believe that we would have difficulty becoming pregnant, so we naïvely went about preparing our hearts and minds for a baby. Yet month after month we were disappointed. I did not deal with this monthly cycle of hope and disappointment very well. I could not understand why it wasn’t happening. What was God doing? At this stage, I was so arrogant to believe we deserved to have our prayers answered because we served God and had lived our lives according to his guidance. I cringe writing this now. I still had a lot of growing up in faith to do.
After a few months, I decided to schedule an appointment with a gynecologist. It was my first time with this specific doctor, and she seemed genuinely nice. She wanted to start explaining how I should be patient and laying out the statistics about how long it can take for a healthy couple to conceive but stopped abruptly while doing the ultrasound. There was a cyst on my left ovary, and she suspected that I had endometriosis. We scheduled my first laparoscopy during which I was diagnosed with stage 3 endometriosis. After the operation, she warned us that we must be careful because we will become pregnant very fast. When that did not happen, she put me on Clomid (a medication to stimulate ovulation) but did not do much supervision as I went on a crazy hormonal rollercoaster ride for six months. It was hell! I was in pain half of the time and did not know who the crazy person was living in my head. By the end of the year I had had enough, and we started planning our own way forward.
With hindsight being 20/20 I can safely say that this doctor was grossly negligent in many decisions that she made regarding our treatment. Fortunately, she no longer practices in South Africa so naming and shaming are not necessary. But I do feel that she wasted a year of our precious time and for this, I am still trying to forgive her.
At this stage, we decided that Carl should go for testing and we scheduled an appointment with our first reproductive endocrinologist (RE) who came highly recommended. When it was finally time for our appointment, he recommended that we repeat Carl’s testing and that I should go for a full hormonal screening. This was the first time I had gone for any blood tests. Our first gynecologist did not do a single blood test on me! I only realize now how irresponsible that was of her.
Our results were very poor on all levels and proved that we would have to undergo in-vitro fertilization (IVF) with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). This is the process of IVF where one sperm is injected into one egg to maximize the chances of conception. This is the ultimate final tier of fertility treatment with your own egg and sperm. We left the hospital with a mixture of emotions – we were devastated that our results were so poor, but we were encouraged that there was still something to be done.
After a few months of saving up for the treatment, we returned to the doctor to start IVF. We were nervous but so hopeful. We had only told a select few people about our treatment on a need-to-know basis. Unfortunately, the cycle did not go as scheduled and my leave from work and other responsibilities had to be extended to accommodate the longer cycle.
I will never forget the appointment where the doctor had to check how many eggs were maturing. It was a Sunday morning and a festive service on our church’s calendar. I had to ask someone to stand in for me as a conductor just in case I would be late for service. I arrived at the hospital alone because Carl was playing the organ at church, but to my absolute relief and delight my sister had shown up to attend the appointment with me. I was early for my appointment because I wanted to ensure I went in to see the doctor first to make it in time for service. As I sat outside waiting, I read my Bible app for the day which was the text from Luke 1:37: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” Surely this was a sign! My sister was not allowed into the examination room, so I went in alone. Excitedly nervous at what we will see on the screen.
While examining my ovaries the doctor was noticeably quiet. He went to check my file and came back to check the scan again. Eventually, he explained that there was only one egg that was maturing, and we should probably stop the cycle. I was devastated! I tried to leave the clinic without drawing too much attention to myself but when my sister saw me, I just lost it with ugly sobs due to my devastating heartbreak. We went to church even though we were quite late, and I tried to focus during service while my sister held my hand. The word for the service was from Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” Crushed was exactly how I was feeling, but I realized God was reminding me that he was holding me even during this tough time.
After service, I discussed the results with Carl, with one of our spiritual mentors and with my parents. Eventually, we decided to go ahead with the rest of the process even with one egg. If there was even a small chance, it was still a chance. IVF is not for the faint-hearted. The side effects of the medication and the procedures themselves wreak havoc on your body, but the emotional rollercoaster of hoping and doubting day after day can break you mentally and spiritually. Our little egg did become an embryo and developed very well. Unfortunately, our first little emby-baby did not implant, and we did not have a pregnancy. The evening after I got The Call about the blood test results, I had to conduct the choir during a special service. It was the hardest thing I have ever done and just-just made it out of the church before falling apart again.
It took me many months to recover some kind of normalcy after this shattering loss. I started seeing a therapist and did my best to get my body healthy again. To be honest, my body is still not in the shape it was before starting fertility treatment so many years ago.
The journey of faith has been the toughest and most grueling of all. I am embarrassed to say it now, but I was so mad at the Lord. How could He carry us and encourage us all the way through the cycle and then have it all end in such a devastating way? I felt like the Lord let us down. I felt abandoned by Him and that he just did not care about us and our anguish. I had given everything I had in His service and still, he could not answer this one prayer?
The rest of 2017 and 2018 was spent healing our hearts and our souls. The Lord spoke to us through Bible study, books we read, in the church services, and often through those who loved us in the congregation and in our families. He also used 2018 to allow two of my big dreams to come true which I saw as a special sign of love from my Heavenly Father and as a preparation for things to come, as these things would not have been possible if I had had children.
In 2019 we went to see a new RE who specializes in endometriosis and was well known to our family. His bedside manner could not have been more different from our first RE since he loved cracking jokes and told us on the first appointment that it was still all up to “the Man upstairs”. We started our second cycle of IVF in April 2019 and the doctor took his time in ensuring that we had the maximum amount of eggs mature. Eventually, I was on every single medication known to reproductive medicine to stimulate follicle growth and still only had four eggs to speak of. But this was a 400% improvement over the first time! Of these four eggs, three matured and were fertilized. Two became healthy embryos and were implanted. Once again, the cycle was much longer than anticipated but we believed this cycle would be the one. I believed with all my heart that we would become the parents of twins.
This time The Phone Call from the doctor himself regarding the beta-HCG (pregnancy blood test) results was great news! We were pregnant! I had to repeat these blood tests every few days and the levels kept rising as expected. I had a bit of bleeding the week before my ultrasound, but the HCG levels kept rising so all we could do was wait and see. When the day for our six-week ultrasound arrived, we were both frayed at the edges with all the praying and hoping. It was another long, quiet ultrasound. We waited with bated breath and dwindling hopes until the doctor said the dreaded words: there is no longer a pregnancy. The signs were there that we had been pregnant, but it had ended before it could really begin. We just had to wait for it to finally end by itself. Two more emby-babies entered into the beyond.
Once again, our hearts were crushed. But this time was so much worse, which we did not think was possible. The Lord gave us four eggs, two children, and a pregnancy, and took it all away. Why?! Why take us through all of that to have it once again end in absolute desolation?
We were very fortunate to be able to go on a bucket-list holiday shortly after we received the devastating news. We thought this trip of a lifetime was going to be an early babymoon but instead, it turned into a retreat to try and recover from the toughest loss of our lives. I felt like I was wrapped in cottonwool of sadness and could not escape to enjoy our wonderful surroundings. But every day was a bit better and the sadness was lifted more and more. It would take months for me to stop crying at a moment’s notice for no reason whatsoever. I was diagnosed with depression and had to start taking medication to try and recover from the trauma we had suffered. (This is a discussion for another day, but it was a big deal for me to accept this diagnosis. It felt like my final failure.)
It has been almost a year since that fateful cycle ended. I have been for another laparoscopy and tried medicated cycles again, to no avail.
I still don’t understand how God works. I don’t think we ever will this side of eternity, except that we can be assured that his ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). This time I knew the Lord well enough to understand that he loves me and that he is good all the time (Romans 8:28). I know that the fact that I am his child is more grace than I could ever deserve by anything I do in his name (Ephesians 2:8-9). There is nothing that I can do to deserve his kindness, yet he fills my life with it every single day. I trust that He has a plan for me and for our marriage and that his way is always good (Proverbs 3:5-6). I am humbled that He thinks I can carry this heavy cross and that he wants me to learn the lessons I need to learn from this crusade because He wants me to live with Him for all eternity (Jeremiah 29:11). Me! Who am I that He loves me that much he wants to spend forever with me?
All of this does not mean that infertility is now a breeze and that our hearts are healed. It has been the toughest battle of my life. I have always worked so hard to achieve my dreams and when they were deferred, I would crush the next one. Since my childhood, I have been an overachiever, Enneagram type 1, perfectionist, OCD, controller personality that wanted to live a good life and have everything go perfectly according to plan. Yet, this quest has been completely out of my control. I can eat a sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, food-free diet and drink no coffee or alcohol and it would mean absolutely nothing. We can buy all the pills and set timers and go on holidays until we are all chilled out. We can follow all the well-meant ill-conceived advice we get from those who hear our story but have no idea what we are going through, but it would all be in vain if the Lord did not want this to happen for us. There is nothing I can do to make our dreams come true because He is using our deepest natural desire to grow our faith and bring us closer to him, and He will grant us the answer to our prayers if and when the Lord sees fit. Every new cycle and every happy pregnancy announcement on social media is still tough, but I am learning that the Lord’s blessing for one person does not diminish the blessings he has in store for the rest of us. I am also learning to overcome so many sins and weaknesses that have been exposed by this journey through confessing them and begging for forgiveness.
We don’t have a plan at the moment except that we know (at this stage) we will not be doing IVF again. We are waiting for the Lord to tell us what to do. Perhaps he will send us a miracle of our own as we have seen testimonies of over and over in recent times.
We are waiting again.
We are still waiting like we have been for so many years but also waiting differently because we know our Lord, through his Spirit, is doing something in our hearts and souls all the time. We believe that if he can do this work in the depths of our souls, the natural work is actually quite easy for Him.
Today’s song was mentioned in a book I recently read and it touched me very deeply. It’s an old song but it speaks so beautifully about the ache of infertility.
Enjoy We thought you’d be here by now by Wes King.
Please let me know if you found this post helpful and hopeful by leaving a comment below and sharing your story with me.
Thank you for all your love.