When we’ve never experienced something for ourselves, it can be really difficult to imagine what it’s like to be inside the circumstances that someone else we know is going through. I imagine a long term illness such as cancer or chronic pain can be like that. For me, I think infertility is one of those situations that can only be lived to know the many colours of its character. It’s only when you’ve been in that place that you know the triggers that are particularly sensitive or the ebb and flow of particular thought patterns. I’ve lost count of the number of text messages I’ve sent to friends on birthdays and at Christmas, holding their hands from a distance and reminding them that I understand the muddle of feelings as they consider the loss of hopes and dreams even on those days when they are meant to feel especially glad to be alive.
It can be very difficult to put into words what this feels like. Infertility can leave you constantly plastering a smile on your face rather than confessing the truth of your circumstances because it can be downright awkward, let alone agonising, to explain to someone that it’s not that you don’t like children, or don’t want them but simply that “it’s taking a bit longer than we expected” (and those words can feel like the understatement of the century).
Friends of ours have kindly told us not to worry that we’re struggling to get pregnant because we can “just have IVF and so-and-so had it and now they have children”. Bless them completely for their kindness but such words seem so naive. If you’re reading this and you’ve been through IVF already I suspect you might agree with me that there is no “just” about undergoing IVF treatment and no guarantee but God in the outcome. Having gone down that route recently I’m still trying to work out in hindsight whether I felt more buffeted by the physical procedures or by the psychological battering of coming to terms with the fact that IVF didn’t work.
Going into the month of treatment we armed ourselves as well as we could. I bought posh chocolates to see me through the daily injections and we messaged a small select group of friends, asking them to join us in praying. A brave or crazy move you could say – allowing people that far into the mess of life – but we felt protected over the days we were going back and forth to the hospital and I don’t regret a second of that choice to share my vulnerability – and the pain in the aftermath. I am grateful for those close allies who may not have walked through it for themselves but who were each filled with the resource we value most – faith! I am grateful for the prayers for no side effects and good rest – I suffered very little in the way of effects from the injections. Our marriage hunkered down and we stayed close to each other in the daily injections and repeat blood tests and internal scans. We saw God at work in tiny, beautiful details every single day as we watched and waited to see how the medication would take effect. We could see the effects of being prayed for and it was gold.
And when treatment had to be abandoned only eight days in, and we reeled like we had been punched in the face by disappointment and shock, we somehow continued to feel lifted up and hopeful. We maintained an expectation that God would intervene with a miracle. Even when the bleeding started and the pregnancy test that I still had to take anyway (nurse’s orders) was negative, we knew we were in God’s sights. I’m still marvelling even now that in the days which followed as I wrestled with deep, deep disappointment, overwhelming fear, huge loss and such a fearful sense of futility, my friends kept in contact with me to remind me that I was not forgotten. I hid the depths of my despair from everyone but Father God saw and made sure I had what I needed even as I mourned the lack of what our hearts were really, really wanting.
The huge low which followed the hopeful phase of treatment took me by surprise. I was back in that wretched pit, wondering whether I was really anchored by God in this storm after all and I just could not move. And then something happened that really surprised me. So often as Christians we talk about going up the mountainside with Jesus, standing on the heights with Him and looking out at the landscape ahead of us. The local hillside that comes to my mind is where I stood with my husband and shouted into the wind about my frustration and sorrow, my yearning to see our prayers answered. The landscape up there seemed bleak and quiet. It’s funny to me now that as it happens there is a house at the bottom of that hillside and a year on we discovered that the leaders of our new church home group live there. And it was huddled in the warmth of their lounge that we were surrounded not by the wild wind and our pain, but by love and words of promise once again. I found God not on the mountaintop nearby, but in a damp and misty valley. I was reminded of my inheritance and my birthright, my identity and my heavenly Daddy’s nature. Had I known over a year before that as we trekked up that hill to vent and spill we would find a greater sense of His love in the valley below, I would have wondered again at the detail of His planning. And I can’t help but smile at the beautiful sense of timing and redeeming that God excels at.
During my low days recently a friend sent me a song that she wrote a few years ago. How she knew that this is what my heart needed to hear……only God could have told her. So I leave you with Spring – a song that has reminded me that Spring is the season that always follows Winter. And if you’re on this fertility journey today can I encourage you as she sings to hold on, hold on.