2021 breaks in and our hopes are for the wonder and miracle of pregnancy to delight and expand our family again. With one embryo left in the ‘freezer’ we long to land on the same side of the coin as many of our IVF peers in seeing this remaining little one nestle itself confidently into our future. Only 25-30% of IVF embryo transfers succeed so it is never a done deal.
Geared up and ready to go, in February at a scan appointment I discover, to my disappointment, that once again my womb is harbouring unwanted uterine polyps; small soft growths made of the endometrium, the tissue which lines the uterus. Some women fall successfully pregnant despite the presence of polyps, but this one needs to come out. How, when and where takes some investigating, followed by waiting in line for the wretched thing to be removed. So much of life is filled with waiting.
It feels to me that so much of my life is waiting.
This straggly, soft, fleshy tissue in my uterus seems more like a concrete wall against which my hopes and heart keep slamming. “Bloody polyps”, says the nurse as I pass her in the clinic corridor. Yes, indeed. If ever I felt sex was futile for baby-making purposes it’s right now while some internal obstruction is hampering any chance of a possible embryo finding a welcoming and effective landing pad in my womb. Months of potential pregnancy are written off in that single revelation on an ultrasound screen.
After Hope arrived, I had resolved that despite our medical track record and all the obstacles we’d faced to have her, we didn’t need to return to the battle-weary trenches of faith in our hopes for a sibling (or siblings). As Christians we believe in God’s promises in the Bible, and when He says He will do a new thing, and make a way where we find roadblocks, and break in when we are breaking down, we trust Him. We’re called to anticipate the impossible rather than to focus on our problems. As Christians, part of what makes us a little bit different (we hope) is that we view the world from an other-kingdom, God-governed perspective. I’m fully committed to rolling up my sleeves and digging deep into the knowledge that God can do all things, that healing is possible, that faith says my reproductive system is awake to the critical role for which it has been designed.
Yet, here we find ourselves in 2021 re-living the past all over again. What?
As spring blooms and the polyp operation approaches, God gives me a picture during one of my quiet times with Him. In my mind’s eye as I sit quietly in prayer, I can see myself in rock climbing gear, clipped onto a rock face. In the picture as it plays out, I look to my left and see a sandstorm blowing in, coming towards me at speed. I register that there is no time to go back down and no chance of getting to the top. And I hear God say to me, “Clip in to me”. There’s a storm approaching and the only way through is not to brace for impact in my own strength or get the hell out of this. There’s a storm approaching and the only way to get through is to anchor into the One described in the book of Nahum as “good, a strength and stronghold in the day of trouble; He knows [He recognizes, cares for, and understands fully] those who take refuge and trust in Him”.
Ok, God! This year is not going as I’d hoped or expected, and I don’t like the look of what’s coming, but here we go.
And though the polyp is removed, the storm does indeed roll in, and it’s an ugly raging beast with many faces.
It comes in the shape of a close friend, battered by infertility, who finds on the same day that my polyp is evicted, at her earliest pregnancy scan that her precious, desperately-desired tiny babe has no heartbeat. Her world blows apart. And I see this beautiful woman that I love knocked unconscious amongst the wreckage and ruins of her shattered, courageous dreams. And I can tell, even from a distance, that in the bomb-blast of this awful news, her eardrums have burst and though God holds her, she can’t hear His voice and it will be months before she can see, breathe, feel, hope again. Miscarriage missile strikes her nest and decimates her faith in one overwhelming blow.
And the storm comes in the shape of our IVF transfer cycle finally getting going in August with scans and meds, until at the eleventh hour, when we should be approaching sign off for the transfer itself, the consultant says words that I almost cannot believe I’m hearing: the polyp has regrown. I sit in stunned silence in his office, tears leaking onto my face mask, a million thoughts whirling, but without my husband’s hand to hold. And as the kind consultant pauses for me to compose myself as we discuss new interventions, I recall the face of the surgeon after the polypectomy procedure. She had sat on the end of the bed and seemed hesitant, uncertain, and keen for us to have the embryo transfer swiftly. She must have known that the polyp was likely to return. Or that it had been difficult to remove.
And the storm comes in the shape of a flurry of second baby pregnancy announcements as one-by-one three of my closest friends leave messages on my phone. A hat-trick of hail storms in quick succession, all conceiving around the time that my IVF cycle falls flat on its face. I feel battered.
The storm rages on and I do my best to hold my peace and lean in hard.
In the black, bleak nights, I groan out to God, “Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy”. I don’t know what else to say. Can I make God my strength and my shield in all things, at all times? What does His mercy look like right now? Am I strong enough to ride out three births in quick succession around the time I thought my own belly might be swollen with promise?
“When the cares of my heart are many, cheer my soul with your consolations” (Psalm 94:19)
I keep thinking about this wretched, unwanted tempest, and how I want nothing more than for it to be over. When will the storm end? How does a storm finish? Does it just tire itself out and fizzle to a stop? Does it simply move on to terrorise neighbours and other counties while we sigh with relief and begin rebuilding our lives? Do I have some say in making this cease?
I’ve been told to clip in, but all I want to do is thrash about and find my own way out.
And this brings with it more questions. If the safest place is within God’s care, why I am so reluctant to stay put? If we’re called to consider troubles an “opportunity for great joy” as it says in the book of James, why am I looking for the fastest way out? If I have found from past experience that the roots of my faith grow the deepest and I hear God the most clearly in the painful, grief-riddled stormy seasons of my life, why do I want to pass up the chance to be refined, to find intimacy with God and surrender myself once again? If holy treasures are found in the darkness, why am I so afraid that I won’t find His light as I go searching for Him? Why do I want an easy life so much when the the good, godly gold can only be found when we’ve given it all to God for the sake of His way in our lives instead?
Can you really love me, Lord, when life looks like this? There it is again: that ugly, gnawing doubt churning away in my heart.
I start to sink into misery and despair. I can feel myself falling, shutting down from my husband, getting into bad eating habits and not caring about my appearance. I adore my gorgeous daughter but the days start to feel coloured grey again by the agony of disappointment and delay. She begins to understand why Mummy is crying often, even as she asks me when “the next baby” will be here. My fortieth birthday looms with displeasure, its own thundercloud building as I brood over how different my life-landscape looks from the one I had envisaged. The timeline I had imagined for the last decade is mocked by the reality of pendulum swings between indecision and emptiness. I feel a decade behind where I hoped I would be. I feel stupid for hoping at all. My thirties have been constantly eroded by infertility. I am exhausted by wondering if my life amounts to anything much at all. When will this tornado of mind, body and spirit end?
And then, God reminds me of a well-worn place in my Bible on repeat until I get the message. A story of Jesus rising from his sleep to stand in a storm-tossed boat amongst his cowering disciples and saying just one word to the ravaging winds and waves, “Silence”. I blink back tears and lean in, at last, to find the silence. And there is His reassuring voice as I am driving one day, through the words of Isaiah 49:14-16,
“But Jerusalem says, “I don’t get it. God has left me.
My Master has forgotten I even exist.”
“Can a mother forget the infant at her breast,
walk away from the baby she bore?
But even if mothers forget,
I’d never forget you—never.
Look, I’ve written your names on the backs of my hands”.
Do you really love me, Lord?
“I’d never forget you”, says the One who made you.