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“Clip in!”

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.

God doesn’t have favourites

September 2021

I stood in our hallway, clutching my friend and sobbing into her shoulder.
“God doesn’t have favourites” she whispered into my ear, soothingly. I’d just
received another second baby pregnancy announcement and this one hit home so
much closer than many of the others that have been trickling in recently. Another good friend had left a message earlier in the day telling me that out of the blue she found herself pregnant again. Our firstborns are both IVF babies and over the years our timelines of miscarriage and childbirth have comfortingly mirrored one another. Until now. Her new pregnancy is wonderful news. It also happens to be my ideal scenario and my deepest longing: an unexpected, natural conception. What could be better after so many years of intentional sex, negative medical diagnoses and interventions than getting pregnant without thought or effort the good old-fashioned way!?

“God doesn’t have favourites”.

Are you sure?

Yet, that’s actually not the statement that troubles my heart the most. I’ve
blogged about this subject before and still find, to my disappointment, that
I’ve not progressed very far in better managing pregnancy announcements and
their accompanying feelings. What they always seem to unsettle within me is
what I can only assume to be my deepest insecurity, my deepest wound: does God really love me?

Why is it so very hard to hold onto the belief that God loves us when other
people around us receive what we’re repeatedly and desperately crying out to
Him for?

The struggle to conceive and bring forth children when we know God can bring
about anything easily often makes us feel overlooked, forgotten and insignificant. And for me, I think it leaves me feeling that the idea that God knows me better than I know myself cannot be true, because if He did He’d understand just how much certain things matter to me. Loving well leaves us feeling seen, heard and known. Loving well makes us feel that what we value is recognised and championed. Being left without feels like the very opposite of this. I have adored children since I was tiny. I read books to my daughter now, realising that even as a tiny child I loved the stories about babies and looking after them. Children have been my joy to spend time with since I was young. So how can the God who loves me have created me with this passionate mother’s heart, but then deny me the honourable and good desires of the very things he’s planted within?! It doesn’t make any sense.

And when prayers for children go unanswered, it starts to feel as though God
is actively and intentionally withholding them from us because he doesn’t love
us that much. Does that thought (that whispering lie) ring true for you too?

Psalm 127:3 says, “Children are God’s love-gift; they are heaven’s generous
reward”. In the very next Psalm we read, “Your wife will bless your heart
and home. Your children will bring you joy as they gather around your table.
Yes, this is God’s generous reward for those who love him” (Psalm 128:3-4).
These verses leave us in no doubt about how heaven views the blessing of family and
it’s impossible not to consider them a reflection of God’s favour and love
towards us. Or lack of it. We give gifts to the people we love, and we wouldn’t
withhold blessings or gifts from our own children. And so, as we wrestle with
our lack and our waiting, the figure of the good and loving Father is called
into question. How can God truly love us if he doesn’t actually want to bless
us in this way when it matters so much in His own kingdom?

And why does it have to be so hard to feel pleasure for another’s good fortune
when our deepest and preferred wish is that we would be experiencing their
blessing for ourselves? It’s not that we don’t want others to receive good
things. It’s just that we’d rather it didn’t happen at the expense of our own
happiness. I also think it taps into a poverty of mindset, a fear that there
isn’t enough to go around, because if there was, surely we’d be experiencing
all that good stuff for ourselves as well. We fear deeply that we will never
see the fulfilment of that which we long for, but instead we must learn to live
with the torment of everyone around us joyfully expanding their families while
we go without.

And what if we’re making an effort to do all the ‘Christian stuff’ – the
fasting, worshipping and praying, reading our bibles and declaring God’s word,
claiming the promises of healing and fullness of love, sowing into others’
lives and making sacrifices – and still we don’t see what we’re asking for? We
wonder why. Shouldn’t these works be rewarded? Doesn’t it count for anything?
Shouldn’t it move the mountain? “Isn’t that what you say in your word, God?
Or has my thinking gone astray somewhere…..?”

And what about what we hear in church? There are Christian teachings about God’s timing, God’s best for us and our readiness (or not) to receive the blessings God has for us as He works within us. These words can all do more harm than good when thrown at us without compassion, empathy or care. There are many ways that we can be wounded by the very words that are meant to bring us life.

Pregnancy announcements often have nothing to do with the person who is
pregnant and everything to do with the tidal wave of difficult thoughts,
questions and emotions which they provoke within us. And ultimately, I think it
is all rooted in the issue of trust. Do I believe God is who He says He is? Do
I trust in His unfailing love in the face of sorrow, disappointment and lack?
Do I believe that though I’m once again going without compared to those around
me, God can lead me into a life that’s as rich and full whether or not I have
children? Do I believe God wants to bless me and answer my prayers? Do I really
understand what His love looks like?

And as this wrestle played out in my freshly-broken heart that evening in
our dark hallway, unbeknownst to me more pregnancy announcements of second babies would flood in thick and fast over the coming weeks. But also unbeknownst to me, God the Father, the intimate lover of my soul, was setting up an encounter with me which would buckle my knees and blow open a vista so wide that six months later I’m still taking it all in…

“Then the Lord came down in a cloud and
stood there with him; and he called out his own name, Yahweh. The
Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out,

“Yahweh! The Lord!
    The God of compassion and mercy!
I am slow to anger
    and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.
    I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.”

(Exodus 34: 5-7 NLT)

To be continued…

Looking Beyond my Longing

How are you doing? It’s been a while! I’ve thought of this space often. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to write; I have. So many things have fought for this precious place over the last couple of years including the thought that now I have a child, perhaps my voice on this subject is no longer valid. But today, as I find myself once again surrounded by the familiar strains of infertility, I find I’m back with that cathartic compulsion to unburden myself here once more.

Because these days, I find myself returning increasingly to feelings that were far more familiar before my pregnancy with Hope three years ago. You might think that having a child after so much wanting would bring a sense of closure to our story. Who am I to think I get to keep talking about this stuff when I now have what I dreamed of, right?! Let me ask you something: are your dreams small? Are they limited to the very least that you hope for? Mine aren’t, nor have they ever been based on seeing the answers to my prayers occur just once. Although there are times when I’m made to feel to the contrary, just because I’m no longer childless (and words cannot express my gratitude for that), it doesn’t mean I’m free now from the burden of infertility or the heartache for more babies. And to my shame and regret, I now realise how little I understood this or had compassion for mothers when my arms were empty.

My biggest hope for 2021 was that it might make room for us to celebrate another pregnancy, though I remember the faltering hollowness in my voice as I confided this desire to a friend last autumn. Instead, I’ve spent months chasing, waiting for and attending gynaecology appointments. Oh, how weary I am of the sinking displeasure in discovering that yet another medical problem has been found and that the ongoing fight to be seen, heard and treated will remain. Don’t get me wrong, I’m insanely grateful for such easy access to excellent, safe, free medical care and I’m grateful the issues aren’t life-threatening. I’d simply rather not be needing the help at all, especially while our medical experts are struggling to cope with the aftershocks of a global pandemic.

But it’s so much more than the misery of medical investigations. Infertility is such a disempowering state. At its very root is a continual sense of feeling out of control – of one’s body, one’s life and plans, and one’s emotions at times. And don’t we just love feeling in control of our lives!? Isn’t that something that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light for so many people who have been totally side-swiped by enforced limitations on lifestyle and plans over the last eighteen months? I’ll be honest, I felt a little smug as I dusted down my imaginary and well-worn ‘This is out of my control’ T-shirt and shoved it on, for at least such lessons for me and my infertility buddies aren’t especially new. ‘Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be broken’ is the mantra of the wise in such times. We’ve all been subjected to a prolonged lesson in how to come to terms with circumstances beyond our control over this last year or so, and generally it would seem that the desperate cry remains, “Get me out of this!” Infertility is no different, but for many there is no cure and no answers.

There’s also the constant waiting which infertility brings, and man, I haven’t missed that! I might be a little more patient now thanks to the schooling I’ve had here, but I don’t like to wait any more than I used to.

There’s the growing sense of being left out and left behind, and of suspicion, resentment and bitterness towards any other mother who is lucky enough to succeed in growing her family. Slowly but surely peers and good friends are moving on again without me and those old feelings of loneliness and jealousy are growing stronger, creating distance within friendships that had been safe, supportive harbours. I’m back in the brace position, wondering which friend is going to gut-punch me next with their unexpected good news, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but…”. I know what’s coming at the throat clearing and loaded pause, long before these all-too familiar words are tumbled forth apologetically.

There’s the knotty, exhausting, clenching of faith in God to remain the good, faithful and wide-awake Presence that I know Him to be. There’s a beautiful sense of just how very good motherhood really can be and the longing to do it again. There’s the repeated, determined knock to confidence, identity, hope, marriage, self-worth, joy and peace that requires constant refilling to try to ward off any sense of lack, when a monstrous sense of lack seems to be daily snarling in my face, “I’m here. You can’t ignore me, sweetheart!”

I’m so weary again already, and I sense we’re only just beginning.

I had hoped, like many women before me, that having birthed one beautiful baby, this time further pregnancies would come swiftly and easily. So many people assured me it was likely. Several friends who struggled to conceive the first time have gone on to fire out a big brood with ease. Statistics for successful natural pregnancies after IVF are fairly encouraging. One close friend is now enjoying this fact for herself. But there are also the more solemn stories from other friends. Those who longed for more children but for whom it didn’t happen. Those who are still mourning very recent miscarriages and navigating the all-consuming grief of dashed hopes and physical loss. Infertility is never predictable and doesn’t neatly follow statisticians’ charts.

And for us… yes, we have a beautiful blonde flame of a daughter now, who cheers us daily and thanks to whom my grateful heart knows that anything is possible. I do not take for granted the utter, life-transforming joy that she is here, for there were days when we wanted to give up hoping that we’d ever become parents. It is not at all the same to be back in this place of disappointment, longing and frustration when one’s life is filled with the busy beauty of parenthood. But once again I’m sobered by the knowledge that children – and for us now, siblings – are not a right or an entitlement. And as I navigate the phone lines and corridors of hospitals, hating the waiting to secure appointments and results, trying to remain calm as I wonder what might come next and how long it will all take, I am battling the hideousness of feeling powerless all over again.

Because powerless is how all this makes me feel. It’s how it’s always made me feel. And when I feel powerless it distracts my eyes away from the joy around me and disturbs my peace. Suddenly I can’t find my focus. I can’t breathe. The chuntering of worried thoughts cranks up several gears and fears buzz loudly around like persistent, suffocating flies. My problems loom larger than all the promises of God that usually keep me grounded, paralysing me and preventing me from seeing the daily beauty which underpins everything. And most of all, my powerlessness reminds me that I cannot fix things.

How I wish I didn’t long to be self-sufficient. How I wish I didn’t need to rely on other people for help. How I wish that the experiences of infertility didn’t still leave me feeling scarred, scared and cracked wide open. I am having to remember all over again that powerless does not mean defeated. Being surrendered does not mean I have to cave to despair. I am revisiting old blog posts, turning over the ground I now stand on, reminding myself that there are good solid foundations of hope, peace and God’s faithfulness. More than ever before I know I can say I’ve seen prayers answered and expect to see more bear fruit.

But I’ve also learned, the hard way mostly, that certain seasons cannot be rushed no matter how much I want to kick against them or use my hands to push things along. Though I want to be pregnant again and settle back into that delicious time of growth and gathering, I have to look beyond my own longing to what God is asking of me at this time. And it’s hard, especially when other women seem not to need to walk this same path. It’s so difficult not to compare.

And so all I can do is show up each day, putting one foot in front of the other. I had hoped this was all behind me now, but apparently it isn’t. My resolve this time is not to fight. My inclination will always be to find glimmers of hope. My longing is to not be here for long again. But I am here. And I see you if you’re in this waiting room too. I promise that there will be blessings in this messy, mournful middle bit which leaves you with more questions than answers.

Courage, dear heart. Do not give up. Keep looking beyond your own longing to the One who knows it all. Though we may not understand His ways and His whys, we can be sure that His Word stands true, and He will have the final say.

Baby Loss Awareness Week 2019

I’ve written a fair amount about our personal experiences of miscarriage. For today, during Baby Loss Awareness Week, as I think of so many women and couples who know this reality, here’s another voice saying it just as it is in this article in The Guardian…

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/07/12-week-pregnancy-rule-miscarriage-shame-failure?CMP=fb_gu&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook#Echobox=1570452364

It’s a…

As I sit in the almost-darkness of the nursery cradling the baby back to sleep, I can’t quite believe I’m here. I study the walls now decked with a rainbow string of fairy lights and pretty pictures and ponder how in years gone by these walls were covered in frantic prayers, Bible verses and prophetic promises. My prayer room. My war room. My refuge. All those squares of scribbled paper were leading up to this moment and I sit now in wonder and awe that this day has come. The room has been painted a different colour to mark this new beginning but the echoes of so many prayers of praise and petition still linger in the atmosphere.

On the evening of Wednesday 13th March 2019, Olivia Hope Promise Monck made her beautiful and miraculous way into the world. These last nineteen weeks have been a colourful whirl of joy, delight, frustration, anxiety, fun, gratitude and sleep-deprivation. It has been everything I hoped it would be. My heart is so very thankful to be here. Each day feels like a present which my hands eagerly unwrap as I pull back the covers from my sleepy, dreamy child in her crib. She smiles up at me and so often tears fall from my eyes at the kindness and faithfulness of God in giving me my heart’s desire at long last.

Yet these past years of longing still feel close by. I spent my pregnancy feeling like I straddled two very different worlds – the old and the new, the familiar and the uncertain, the barren and the swollen-bellied. And as I pace my way slowly into this new season of life, I find I’m still very much shaped by the years of waiting. I turn up to mother and baby events but feel like an imposter, clutching a child that I struggle to believe is mine because although I believed it would eventually happen I can’t quite believe it has. There’s been no melting away of what went before. There’s no forgetting of how it is to be childless. There’s no desire to turn away from the reality faced by those still hoping and yearning for their own families. It still hurts.

And that doesn’t mean I’m not savouring every second of my precious answer to prayer. Nothing of the sort. Every moment with our little girl Hope is one that is cherished and acknowledged as the gift that it truly is to be a mother now and to have a much longed for child. She fills my heart to bursting and my song is one of thanks to her Creator. But finally being able to have a baby hasn’t erased in an instant all that went before – not for me, anyway. What I’m finally beginning to realise, as I take my heart to God in these days, is how very hard I fought to have a baby.

I fought with everything in me.

I squared up to the physical abuse of IVF and miscarriage. I stared down every strangling emotion, pulling in as much hope and peace as I could muster when it all felt like it was going wrong. I leant hard on every caring arm offered in friendship to pray, have faith, declare and stay anchored in the promises we believe we had been given. I ran to God with all my might as much as I often railed at Him.

I’m realising now that I fought for Hope long before she made an appearance on this earth.

And now I don’t have to fight any more, there’s an inevitable unravelling at work. There is still a biting rawness to all that went before. There are wounds still healing. There are fraught emotions that the holding of this wonderful miracle will ease. There are new thoughts emerging that I didn’t even know were there until now, and they need recognising, processing and releasing in order to find freedom. And what I’m starting to understand is that time and space is still needed. Even after all this time.

I’m having to work out how to lose the armour I’ve worn for so long and let it thud to the floor, no longer required. I’m trying to relax my way into this new season after such a long time of eyeing up the possibility of it never coming to pass. I’m learning not to pick a fight with a future that I can’t bear to think of because the future I longed for is here, praise be to God! I’m trying to work out how to let my heart really feel all that it needs to feel at last. And I’m working on truly trusting in the goodness of God in the land of the living as I see it with my own eyes.

I have wondered over and over again in recent weeks why I have not been able to articulate how I feel since Hope arrived. Sure, there’s been the onset of ‘baby brain’, but just as I had to navigate the unhappy, changeable terrain of every place our infertility journey took us, so I’m now having to learn how to make myself at home in this wonderful new land I’ve entered. Often I can’t get past the disbelief that I’m even here. It is truly wonderful but also rather surreal.

But it’s also so much more than that. Finally holding my beautiful baby rubs raw the wounds from the past again because I’m realising just how very sweet it is to have her here. I hurt afresh and deeply for those wanting a baby of their own, or a second baby that isn’t coming easily, or those who have miscarried, or those who are going through IVF. I understand a teeny tiny bit more now of what it might be like to lose a child because I can’t bear the thought of losing mine. I’m reminded intensely by every easy pregnancy that I continue to hear of that for some, family comes reluctantly and with such sacrifice and/or pain. And the wounds of the battle to have a family are felt for a very, very long time… In fact, I suspect they are scars that will never fade completely.

My repeated prayer in these weeks has been one of deep, wordless thanks, but my mind wanders at times down avenues of guilt that I have my answered prayer when others do not. I look at Hope and ponder even now whether God might yet take her from me. I consider how much I adored pregnancy and am enjoying motherhood and wonder whether I’ll ever have the privilege of doing it again. Old habits learnt by loss and fear are hard to release.

But this I do know – every day I give thanks for a miracle that lives in our home. Every day I gaze upon a child whose life was formed by the partnership of prayer, faith and the power of the living God. Every day I’m reminded that despite my human frailty, God can make a way when there seems to be no way. And every day I’m invited by my Heavenly Father to pursue the impossible for myself and others because of all that has been made possible for me.

This little girl was absolutely worth fighting for. I am hoping I’ll begin to accept that the battle always did and always will belong to the Lord.

“Be still and know that I am God. I will be honoured by every nation. I will be honoured throughout the world. The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress”. Psalm 46:10-11

A few thoughts on IVF

Despite every success story you’ve ever heard (and thankfully there are lots of them), statistically there are actually many more tales of IVF (In vitro fertilisation) not resulting in a positive conclusion. Recent statistics state that on average IVF fails 70% of the time and it takes almost four-and-a-half years to conceive using it. The highest success rates are for women under 35 where one-third of treatment cycles are successful. The landscape is actually far bleaker in reality than the common-held assumptions that I have come across in conversations over the years. Before we embarked on IVF ourselves, I knew very little about what the medical process involved, but I was well aware that the odds of success of IVF were very much not guaranteed so we took our time deciding whether it was the right path for us to follow. Being honest with you, when I come across the common perception that IVF “just works”, I find myself rather irritated because such ignorance has allowed for a fallacy to evolve that it’s an easy solution to infertility.

IUI (Intrauterine insemination) or IVF, like adoption and fostering, are not necessarily the right answers for couples struggling to conceive, and anyone daft enough to flippantly suggest IVF as the guaranteed solution to a couple struggling to start a family needs to get a reality check. If you haven’t been through IUI or IVF yourself and you want to encourage someone to consider treatment, please do so with caution, knowing that it’s not the equivalent of recommending a trip to the GP for a prescription for a sniffle. You only have to do a little googling to learn that IVF services on the NHS are grossly oversubscribed and painfully underfunded which makes it a stressful and difficult system to infiltrate – and the treatment process itself is anything but a walk in the park!

Whatever your Christian views on the subject, medical interventions for infertility are a brave, bold step into difficult, uncertain territory with the possibility of failure looming like a mountain. Even as I write this, my heart hurts for the couples I know who courageously invested their time, hearts and hope in IUI and/or IVF and had no success. I have absolute respect for those who decided it was not the answer for them and chose a different path to have a family. Our own time in the IVF process has been a hugely challenging, emotionally exhausting, rollercoaster ride. I commend any couple going through it right now and any considering it in the future. I salute your bravery and I wish you every success. Be kind to yourselves and surround yourselves with those who will be your cheerleaders in this time. It is good to have all the TLC, prayer and positivity you can get.

I can’t comment on IUI because I have no personal experience of it, but I can tell you about IVF, and the reality is that IVF is an incredibly stressful process for a couple to navigate – often full of twists and turns. It’s also an insanely intense physical process for the woman. The treatment plan for IUI and IVF is usually tailored to the needs of each couple, depending on the issues at hand, and all sorts of tests may be conducted to establish what is required. Here begins the invasion of privacy and the subtle erosion of one’s dignity. The self-administration of injections (and there are a whole range of them) can feel anywhere from hugely daunting to simply inconvenient. The medications fiddle with one’s hormone levels which in turn tinker with usual bodily functions. Suddenly headaches or hot flushes, tingles and insomnia can become the new normal (amongst many other more unpleasant symptoms), not to mention the emotional ups and downs.

A couple’s relationship can seriously feel the strain. The sense of loneliness or potential failure can intensify (even as it mingles with the hope and excitement of possible success). Sexual intimacy often evacuates the bedroom. The partner can feel like a spare part (nothing more than a specimen pot presenter after a visit to the ‘cupboard of shame’). Hospital visits take over, carefully slotted around work or personal commitments as the battle to keep life as normal as possible takes hold. Internal scan after internal scan becomes common place when they really aren’t for most women only used to putting up with a smear test once every three years.

Then there are all the pre-treatment investigations into all sorts of bodily functions, the blood tests and paperwork, the technical talk about drugs and hormone levels which can be presented too swiftly and clinically to be fully understood. There are discussions about follicle count and size, monitoring blood tests and embryoscopes, endometrial scratches and a whole host of other drugs and options which may or may not help. Statistics are thrown around about age and success rates for pregnancy and live births. Along the way, there could be good and / or bad news, and the impact of both creates a constant whirlwind of adjusting and absorbing, readjusting and re-evaluating. So often couples find themselves out of control and simply at the mercy of a distant medical team and their own bodies’ responses.

Once the treatment to stimulate hormones and ovaries has taken place, the process for egg collection and fertilisation usually commences, followed by a second procedure for embryo transfer. Some couples sadly never get this far – a massive blow for anyone hoping that IVF might provide the answer they’ve been longing for. It is heart-wrenching to be met at every stage with uncertainty, fear, disappointment or test results that have turned from good news to bad in a matter of hours. The process on paper can seem straight-forward, but the reality is that each individual couple will not be able to predict what their journey will look like or how long it might take.

Throughout it all there’s the relentless, endless, nail-ruining waiting – for appointments, for test results, for follicles to grow, for phone calls from the clinic or lab, for embryo development updates, for pregnancy test results. And then there are the risks, such as OHSS (Ovarian HyperStimulation Syndrome) and other complications when the medications or treatment plan go awry, not to mention last-minute cancellations of procedures when bodies don’t perform and the whole thing has to be abandoned.

I don’t mean to sound melodramatic now, but descriptions of IVF as brutal are not under-estimating the process. No form of medical intervention for infertility is for the faint-hearted, whether that’s an initial appointment with a consultant, to the medical options trialled before IUI or IVF, to these procedures themselves. It is a huge emotional and physical investment. And all the while in the background is the nagging, fearful question, “Is this going to work?”.

And all of it – all of it – threatens to erode one’s faith constantly. From the first appointment and the beginnings of discussions around why one is sitting in front of a medical expert and what they might be able to do to help, the fight to keep choosing God’s truth as the benchmark is a very real one. Proverbs 29:25 came to be constantly in my mind in the early days of our hospital visits, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe”, as I refused to allow any doctor to overtake God’s authority on the matter of our fertility. We place so much respect and a near-reverence in the power of the medical profession – and with very good reason. God most definitely uses medicine to heal and restore and medical staff are incredibly knowledgable and capable. We’d be lost without them. But as we underwent investigations and considered options for our future family, the need to fix my mind always on God having the final word no matter what the doctors said had to be my priority. And sometimes I walked out of appointments or received telephone updates that left my faith in shreds as my natural circumstances presented situations which were so at odds with the heaven-perspective I was believing in. Medical interventions shake every element within us to the core and the battle to keep the promises of the Bible at the forefront when things are falling apart before our eyes is one that requires repeated strength – and in my opinion, an army of supportive pray-ers!

So is medical intervention really worth it? Wouldn’t it simply be better just to see what God brings in His own time and way? To be honest, this second question is not one that I intend to answer here. It’s far too personal a subject to give a catch-all answer to and requires personal prayer and consideration. Simply put, many who go through fertility treatement would say it was worth it – us included. I would rather have gone through these challenging years of IVF than have never tried it. However, we sought out and kept to two pieces of vital wise advice throughout the process: (1) set your own limits with how much treatment you’re willing to go through at the very beginning and don’t be tempted to go beyond what you have decided; (2) a second opinion may well be worth it before you’re pushed into the next treatment option.

My Christian faith, though tested in the hottest fire I have experienced so far, was given the opportunity to be refined as I clung on to God in it all. Furthermore, I maintain that this precious pregnancy is not the result of a bunch of clever doctors “finally getting it right” (though they were brilliant, expert, attentive and so kind) or something we achieved through our own actions, but is my mighty and majestic Father bringing His power and goodness into our circumstances for His glory. I trust that He and He alone holds the keys to life and death, even though I understand so little about His ways and whys.

If you’re reading this and considering going through IVF – give every careful thought to it and don’t be put off. It can and does work and I pray your endeavours are blessed with success. But go in with your eyes as wide open as you can and know that nothing will prepare you for the experience – not even the doctors who see it every day, because some seem to have forgotten that gentleness, compassion and patience are needed for every single couple walking through their door; and others that are kind may still discuss the medical implications of it all without paying much attention to how you might be feeling. You will simply need to take it one step at a time, ask lots of questions at each phase and go at a speed that works for you and where your faith is at, knowing that how you thought it might be and what it ends up looking like could require constant flexibility and resilience on your part.

If you’ve been through IUI and/or IVF and it didn’t work for you – know that my heart aches for all the effort, energy and emotion you invested and I mourn with you that the outcome was not what you longed for it to be. I’m aware that many couples for whom fertility treatment didn’t work go on to conceive naturally which is hugely encouraging. For those who are still waiting for family life to take shape, may God give you the comfort and assurance to trust in the bright, hope-filled future that lies before you.

I am aware that we are incredibly fortunate in the UK. At least one round of IVF is offered for free on the NHS to most couples. The fact that this service is available is amazing. But the truth is, medical intervention of this kind is unlikely to be considered a primary life choice by anyone who decides to embark upon it. No couple that I can think of had put infertility treatment on their bucket list of ‘Things To Do Before Turning 50’! And herein lies the real strain, the real crux of it all: for those considering infertility treatment, if we could conceive without help, my goodness we’d choose the ‘traditional’ route every single time!

And so behind the squaring of shoulders and matter-of-fact approach to medical intervention that is required, the truth is that the desire to be anywhere but here is why this is so very much harder. Reluctantly, couples face a decision they never wanted to make, entering a process that few friends and family really understand and which is hampered with challenges and low success rates. Thank God for every beautiful baby born via this incredible treatment. But I find myself thinking today, please God, hold every couple steady as they go forth into the confusing, daunting, unknown and lonely world of infertility treatment. It’s not normal, no matter how ‘normal’ we try to make it – or how normal it can become as the process starts to feel more familiar (as we found).

It is impossible to understand the world of infertility treatment without going through it oneself, and it’s far too complex and individual a medical process to try to explain to ‘outsiders’, so for that reason I understand that often general assumptions are based on the success stories. Moreover, it’s unlikely that couples will be quick to share the pain of failure. Speaking from personal experience – as I have done throughout this blog – it is totally and utterly devastating. But for that very reason it’s not ok for us to make general assumptions about the challenges and outcomes – or lack of – that couples might experience along the way. We are unlikely to ever understand what it’s really like to go through something unless we live it ourselves. Therefore, let’s see people as they deserve: with compassion, with love, giving a listening ear and a tender heart to the bravery they’ve shown and the hopes they carry in their hearts. IVF can and does work, but my experience is that for most couples it can be a path littered with disappointment, anxiety and agonising curveballs, and we need to acknowledge these as we journey with them as best we can. Absolutely, we must hold onto the stories of victory and success, but we must also consider (without judging) the cost and sacrifice made by those willing to risk their hearts, their bodies and their futures for the hope of holding babies of their own.

Infertility and mental health

It was World Mental Health Day earlier this week and as I studied the various articles appearing in the media, I found my mind going over and over the impact that infertility has had on me mentally over the years. Would I say I had a mental health “problem”? I guess it depends how you define that particular word. It doesn’t feel like a very kind word in many ways and it suggests to me that a ‘problem’ should be clearly defined. But has infertility impacted me mentally over the years? Yes, absolutely.

I felt I had to address this on social media this week; to be another voice illustrating the many ways in which our circumstances affect our mental health. I’ve shared my post here as a marker that mental health and infertility do very much go hand-in-hand and that there should be no shame in admitting the personal toll it takes on us. At the bottom of the page are some links to useful websites for anyone who may wish to access further support.

“I’ve been reflecting a lot over the last 24 hours on World Mental Health Day. I didn’t realise how much our struggle to start a family and all that we had been through medically and emotionally had impacted me mentally until I got ill and had to be signed off work this time last year in order to say yes to external support and begin the process of being pieced back together. Over the years I’ve realised that infertility and miscarriage strike at the very heart of our identity – as humans, as women, as people of faith, as members of society. It is brutal and can leave one feeling totally lost, isolated, inconsolable, depressed and hopeless. If you are going through infertility and wondering how to keep going, please don’t suffer in silence – the bravest thing you can do is to tell someone that you’re hurting. And if you know someone going through infertility – please don’t leave them to go through it by themselves. Chances are they won’t be quick to tell you that on the inside they’re curled up in a ball and are simply pretending to be fine. Living it out demands a brave face every single day. And undoubtedly the daily brave face takes its toll (as I found to my own cost). Struggling with mental health affects us all in one way or another. I’m so grateful that we are beginning to talk more about infertility and more about how we look after ourselves and each other as we explore ways to better wellbeing and good mental health as a society”.

Some useful websites which offer support:

Mental Health Foundation – https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/

Counselling services – www.nhs.uk/conditions/counselling or www.counselling-directory.org.uk

Infertility Counselling Service – https://www.bica.net/about-us

The Miscarriage Association – www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk

Baby Loss Awareness – www.babyloss-awareness.org

Samaritans – https://www.samaritans.org/

The Baton of Breakthrough

I have contemplated this moment for such a very, very long time. And finally, though we’re still rubbing our eyes in awe and disbelief, here we are.

I picture every woman I love and know, as well as those I don’t know, who are waiting for their babies or who are recovering from loss and disappointment right now. How do I do this without causing pain when I have had to sit through so many moments like this one myself and know how much it hurts?

Like every other woman-in-waiting, I have imagined this moment so very many times over the years: the birthdays, Christmases, family occasions, wedding anniversaries, surprise speeches or quiet moments of revealing our exciting news. I have daydreamed about how this might take shape and wept as the seemingly never-ending cycle of disappointment made a mockery of my plans.

I have been on the receiving end of announcements-without-consideration which have wounded us deeply (for we can be a sensitive bunch in this uncertain time), as well as the unexpected gentleness of those who have gone out of their way to soften the blow of their good news. I have done myself proud and rejoiced with others, and I have cried bitter tears of longing and jealousy. I have spent hours with friend after friend contemplating how to embrace the news of another’s pregnancy with a heart full of pure joy, and yet right to the end of our waiting I felt I never really cracked it completely.

I published my first blog post in 2015, two years after we started trying for a baby. I had been writing ‘offline’ for over a year by then and started to feel a growing need to give a voice to quiet or hidden couples, bravely enduring this struggle without knowing how to explain their experiences. For me, this first post is still the one that encapsulates the deep chasm of infertility the most clearly. These experiences have made me who I am today, even as my heart is filled with a different clutch of emotions now.

So many, many women have gone ahead of me in this, many of whom have done their own long years of mourning, waiting and hoping. I’ve watched countless women come and join me for a time before finding themselves pregnant and leaving me behind again. As I leave the waiting room behind me and find myself in the sweet, unchartered territory of pregnancy and impending motherhood, I keep my thoughts on every woman still waiting her turn. I see you and I am cheering you on. I may have become part of what some call the “it’s alright for you now” group as I have crossed over to the other side, but it doesn’t change my view. I have faith for your children just as I have clung onto faith for my own, and needed those around me to breathe their words of faith on me when I faltered. In Psalm 145 it says, “The eyes of all look to You in hope” and I stand with you, I pray with you, I glorify God with you, as we place our hope in Jesus for our miracles, for our healings, for our future families. He is so trustworthy.

It might sound strange, but I decided to draft parts of this particular blog post while we were still waiting to get pregnant. I know that might seem odd, but I felt I needed to locate this moment in a place which recognises the deep, deep pain of yearning – a yearning that has marked me – scarred me, even – for life. I understand that for some women, putting these difficult years behind them is the best way to move forward. For me, infertility has changed who I am and my relationship with God so completely (for the better, I think) that I would not choose to forget all that we have been through. It might be “alright for me now”, but I shall never behave like a woman who conceived easily or who takes this amazing gift for granted because that is not my heart nor my testimony. And I pray I never become insensitive to the longing of those still waiting.

I also wanted to write in the waiting as a prophetic act, a faith act – to remind myself and anyone reading this – that anything is possible, not just for me, but for you too, because it really is true: nothing is impossible for God. I wanted to make that declaration of trust once again, even as I waited and hoped and believed that my time was coming. As our hopes and dreams turned suddenly into reality recently, we have seen even more how true it is that nothing is impossible with God. He heard the cries of our hearts and He has answered with this miracle, and we are in awe and wonder of His faithfulness, mercy and goodness.

This baby belongs to so many faithful people who have been praying for us and standing with us over the years. We will never have enough words of thanks to offer those who held up our arms through the dark days and who carried on believing God’s promise for us when we wanted to give up. I know who you are and I pray God blesses you as you have blessed us over and over again. When I think of all the hours I have spent with sermons, books, podcasts, Christian music and time spent listening to wise voices urging me on, I know this is a collective victory – a victory in which some will never know the part they have played. This is heaven’s hallelujah. This is a team celebration. And what a joy to celebrate at last!

In the days after our IVF embryo transfer in June, God led us to these verses below from Isaiah 41:

“I will open up rivers for them on the high plateaus.
I will give them fountains of water in the valleys.
I will fill the desert with pools of water.
Rivers fed by springs will flow across the parched ground.
I will plant trees in the barren desert— cedar, acacia, myrtle, olive, cypress, fir, and pine.
I am doing this so all who see this miracle will understand what it means –
that it is the Lord who has done this, the Holy One of Israel who created it.

We have been through enough over the last five and a half years to recognise the careful, compassionate, unmistakable fingerprints of the Father all over this beautiful miracle. “All the promises of God are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through Him, our “Amen” is spoken to the glory of God”.

My announcement here today is my baton of breakthrough and I am passing it to you now. Grab faith and run towards your promises. He will not fail you.

baton2 jpeg

 

What I have learnt since our last miscarriage

This time last year our world was imploding for the third time in six months. We had already had two miscarriages at the beginning of the year and despite a positive pregnancy test after our IVF embryo transfer in May, by June the early scan showed that the pregnancy wasn’t viable and we would miscarry again. For three precious weeks we had held our breath and enjoyed the tentative daydreams of our miracle moment. But what followed instead have been some of the most painful, soul-searching times that my husband and I have ever had to walk out. We forced ourselves to confront what a life without children might look like. We felt betrayal and despair at God seemingly answering our prayers before breaking our hearts again. We found ourselves exhausted by the struggle to become parents, all for giving up whilst unable to fully let go of the desire and dreams that seem to run through our very DNA.

I look back on the last twelve months and wonder once again how it is that I can feel so whole as I sit here writing this, after such grief, anger, confusion and loss. I’ve talked in recent blogposts about many of the key moments since that scan where God has broken into the darkest places of our hearts, refusing to let us stay desperate and disappointed. I’ve shared the conclusions we have come to about the possibility of a life without children and our conviction that we can be as full and satisfied in life and in God without family as we can with the answer to this particular persevering prayer. In many ways there is no need to go over old ground in detail. Yet it seems to me that there is wisdom in reflecting on the lessons that I have learned, the treasures that have been bestowed upon us, and the nuggets of gold that I can take away from this last year. If nothing is a waste to God, then wouldn’t I be the biggest fool to ignore how He has used this time for His glory and to my benefit? So here is what I have learnt since our last miscarriage as I go forth once again with bold hope and courage.

My identity is not to be defined by failure: In the days between the scan and my actual miscarriage I lay in bed at night with my husband feeling strangely comforted by the familiarity of the loss and disappointment we were tasting once again. The dark thoughts, aching hearts and negative outlooks we were wrestling with had come rushing back in again so quickly, and somehow felt comfortable and commonplace compared to the tentative excitement the day the pee stick had turned positive and my period had stayed away. We knew how to do grief. We recognised ourselves in the barren landscapes of infertility. The sadness we were experiencing again felt part of who we were perpetually made to be, and so revisiting that space after a brief foray into impending parenthood felt like navigating our way around the norm. We simply knew how to be in this space and we settled back into the pain as though we were slipping on comfy clothes and bedding in for the long-haul.

But what I know now is that although grief needs to be acknowledged, given space and worked through, for us in this time it has not been right to allow it to become the definition of who we are. I would gladly have labelled myself “permanently infertile”, “hopeless”, “a lost cause” at this juncture, but I know now that even in the worst situations, I must choose to contend for an alternative view of myself. And sometimes contending – really fighting to see ourselves not as our circumstances define us – takes a huge amount of courage, resolve and practice. Father God has made it perfectly clear to us again and again that failure is not the way He sees us or our situation. Your circumstances might narrate to you a certain story, but the God of heaven has a different perspective and a plan that sits above the situations that play out for us day by day. Can I urge you, if you are wrestling with the grief and loss of infertility, give it the time it needs – burying the pain can do more harm than good – but when you are done, do not choose to set up camp in disappointment and failure as though this is your lot in life. These are not the trademarks of our faith, and if you are not living from hope and the belief that God is faithful to your heart (whatever that ends up looking like), then I believe that God will pursue you until He has changed your mind! I see now that I have been given the opportunity to fight for a God’s-eye-view of my circumstances and my very self. I have been given the right to establish who I, Helena, really am beyond the things that I can see or have experienced. It takes courage, persistence, intentional time studying God’s word, the desire to really absorb the truth of the Bible instead of the daily hum of the world we’re living in, but it matters. Who you are matters. How you choose to see yourself matters.

God is after our hearts: Being totally honest, for a while after the scan day I just didn’t want God, who could so spoil our joy as it seemed, to love me. I felt so betrayed, so let down, so disappointed by God. I read verses about him being near to the broken-hearted and keen to comfort us and felt it all to be a big, ugly joke. The idea that God might be crying with us felt like an insult. The God that overcame death on Easter Sunday had allowed the death of our children and our dreams and I felt justified in my rejection of him now. How and why would I let such a God near me if he couldn’t be consistent and always good? And yet I ached to be comforted. I longed to share my grief. I wanted so much to not feel wretched any longer. In this darkest of places I relied for a while on the love of those that I could see and touch – my husband, my friends, my family, my colleagues. It felt like a much safer bet. And yet one day I found myself feeling more alone than I had ever done before. I woke the next morning with a verse from Psalm 61 in my mind – God as refuge and strong tower – and I knew that I needed the steadfast comfort of the One who never gets it wrong.

Over time, alongside the restoration of my body, my dreams and my faith, I have sensed God’s love holding and pursuing me. What I am learning is how to let him love me. It sounds corny, but I wonder how much you allow him to do that for you too? For me, it’s been about learning how to hang out with Jesus just as I am when I pray; of getting a deeper revelation about what love really looks like; of knowing that I am cradled on the lap of my Daddy God and enjoyed simply in that most tender and steadfast of embraces. He loves it and I love it. We read in Zephaniah 3:17 that God delights in singing over us. We learn in Psalm 121 that the Lord himself watches over us all day and all night. He know from our salvation story that we are worth dying for. There are many times over the last year where I have felt my life to have had such little value or joy because I’m not busy being a mother as I would wish. And yet I now see that if I use each day to invest in an intimate relationship with God, it will have been the most precious, rewarding and enriching time of all the days I get to live. “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere….”

Hope can be renewed: Truthfully, I never thought I would get back to a place of hope. For so very much of last year, hope had simply vanished and even when small moments reemerged, the disappointment and feelings that God had betrayed us and was in no way for us, quickly snuffed out those flickers of warmth. I was too weary to hope anymore. It felt like such a waste of breath, a waste of time, a waste of prayer. Friends kindly gathered around us, promising to have faith and hope on our behalf, but I was indifferent to their efforts. It felt as though faith for the impossible wasn’t enough to make a difference. It hadn’t made a difference so far. We continued each month to try naturally for a baby and each month nothing happened. I felt totally abandoned by God.

So what changed? I think two things repositioned our perspective back towards hope. The first I can only assume was God’s determination to draw us back to himself as the source of all hope. He surrounded us with songs, prayers, people of faith and words of love. And the second was my awareness that I was living a half-life and I didn’t want it to stay that way. I couldn’t work out how to line up the loyal and compassionate Jesus I read about in New Testament stories with my unanswered prayers, and this made me deeply unhappy. I knew that as much as my skeptical heart told me he must love only those he blessed with children, I couldn’t be outside of that love and compassion. And I knew that if He’s “the same yesterday, today and forever” then I couldn’t believe him to be one thing for others and not the same person for all, including me. I needed to get back to a place of believing that he is who he says he is. I’ve explored this in detail in my blogpost The battleground of faith. At the heart of my rediscovery of hope is the simple decision to trust that God is who He says He is; to take what the Bible says as the benchmark of truth over my circumstances and experiences; and to choose to risk everything I’m hoping for by placing it inside of God’s character of faithfulness and goodness.

Blessings come from unexpected places: My scan appointment took place only days after I had just started at a new job. I had hoped that things would line up beautifully – settling into a new position for a number of months, a blooming pregnancy followed by maternity leave. Instead I found myself battling deep grief amongst strangers and I didn’t know how to push my pain to one side and be fully present at work. During the days and weeks that followed I yelled at God incessantly about the horrid ridiculousness of the timing of this new job (which I wanted and had prayed for!) and the craziness of trying to deal with two massive changes: a fresh start at work and a fresh loss at home. It took everything within me not to hand in my notice and crawl back to my bed. I would have jumped on the first plane out of the country if I had felt it possible! But God surprised me with what he had lined up in the colliding together of these two situations. I discovered to my deep surprise that my small team consisted of two hugely caring, supportive and sensitive women, not oblivious to the pain of life. I was offered counselling as part of my employment benefits, and encouraged (pretty much forced, if I’m honest) to take the time off work I needed to get well again. I was allowed to negotiate the terms that I needed to put healthy self-care practices in place and championed by my amazing boss to find my place when I returned to work a few weeks later. Even now as I look back, I cannot believe the kindness I was shown. It is not the norm (but it should be!).

Sometimes we cannot make sense of the way circumstances line up. I would never have chosen for life to play out as it did last year at work. And yet the opportunities I have been given to be vulnerable and loved for who I am in the middle of the mess, as work and home life blended, has been quite remarkable. I could never have imagined how God could bless me in it all and yet He has, and I am so glad that I didn’t run away because I would have missed out on so very, very much.

If He can do it once, He can do it again: In the last twelve months I have heard from more women than ever about their hopes and fears as they try to start a family. Infertility shows no signs of disappearing any time soon. I have received a steady stream of pregnancy announcements – the majority from women who have had no trouble conceiving; the occasional message triumphantly celebrating a long-awaited miracle. I’ve heard of the struggle and success of adoption. I’ve also mourned with women who have miscarried. The route to family meanders in many different directions. To move forwards from last year I have had to revisit stories of breakthrough to rebuild my faith. However much we struggle with another’s pregnancy, somehow we have to put our envy and fear to one side and celebrate, believing that what God can do for them, He can certainly do for us. As I have come to recognise that a bitter heart will never benefit me, I have tried to position myself more and more in a place of thanks for the miracles that have happened and an expectation that my own – even after all this time – will come. I have been encouraged over and over again by stories of God redeeming truly broken or impossible situations. I know that despite my propensity towards doubt and cynicism because of what life has thrown at us, I must not let this attitude cloud my perspective. What God can do once, He can do again – He does do again!

We are already mother and father: Even as I write this I can feel the effort that this shift in my perspective has required. It has been the hardest place to get to because in some ways it seems silly. But when God asks us to dream, imagine and believe from a place of hope and faith, it means allowing ourselves to think about who we are becoming, not who we were or who we are. I believe that God sees where I’m moving forward to – and that means I can’t be stuck in a place of where I’ve been. I’ve been amused and surprised by the number of children in recent months who have either asked me if I am a Mummy or told me that I’m like a Mummy. In the past I’ve shrugged these comments off because they have felt so painful compared to reality. And I’m surrounded by actual mothers all the time. I’m not delusional – I know I’m not the same as them. Or am I? Don’t I nurture with as much grace, wisdom and kindness as them? Don’t I look out for another’s needs with as much attention to detail as them? Don’t I welcome another’s child for embraces, play and teaching as if I would my own? Aren’t I in every way the essence of a mother, even though I don’t have my own brood yet? Don’t my miscarriages count as children now safely in heaven? How long am I going to tell myself that I’ll forever be stuck on this side of the fence? Don’t I believe that my place is on the other side with all the parents? Can’t I see with hope’s eyes that I will become a mother? These are the deep questions that I have had to give time to lately. I believe my God-given identity is one of ‘mother’. It is deeply part of who I am and who I was made to be. It’s a role I believe I will play on earth as in heaven. And so I will proudly go about my business now with the eyes of faith, living out the plans of heaven to be the mother I am called to be, because I refuse to deny that part of myself any longer.

Hope don’t let me go…

If you haven’t already come across the beautiful voice of Kirby Kaple who sings with the American Christian band Housefires, here’s the perfect introduction. Kirby wrote this song about her struggle with infertility (have a Google to find out more about her story). For me, this song perfectly summarises the pain and grace that those going through infertility walk out daily as we continue to seek God in the midst of it all.