You may or may not know this: October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. I didn't know until March of this year. I didn't have a reason to know. For the month of October, Natalie Brenner Writes will be hosting a few precious and ever so tender stories about families who have lost babies, whether through pregnancy loss or infant death. My heart and hope is to shed light on the reality, to let others know that they are not alone, and to also *hopefully* reveal some tips on ways to support someone who has lost their so loved and so wanted baby.
The first two weeks/posts, I will be sharing parts of our own story and why this is so important to us. From there, you will have the honor of hearing from a few others.
[I am about to share with you a most precious and personal story that I possess. Why I would do such a vulnerable and risky thing is because I know there are many sufferers, many victims of this, many grievers and mourners, and momma's with empty arms and broken hearts. And they, we, tend to remain silent. For a number of extremely valid reasons, we silently suffer, isolated. There is this thing within me that drives me to share my brokenness, my precious stories that are my actual heart, and point you towards He who loves and He who cares and He who sees it all. Feels it all. Weeps and mourns and grieves right next to me. Right next to you. So please, if this is for you, read it. Soak it in. Know you are not alone. If this is for a friend or a loved one...pass it along. Please. During the fresh time of raw grief, I read a few posts over and over and over again. Because there were not many that hit the home of my heart. I pray that this would hit the home of many hurting hearts.]
[Part One: Empty Womb] Written March 2015
My dear husband and I have been dreaming of growing our family in numbers since before we were married. We talked about it over skype and in letters, bringing babies into this world ourself to raise and to parent, and also adopting a few. Before marriage, I was honestly a little wary of being a Momma - what if I hurt those precious and innocent lives, without realizing it? But as we wed and our hearts and bodies entwined into one, a growing desire to create something together that only we could create grew within this soul of mine. My heart was more fertile than my womb will ever be. We knew it would be difficult, impossible some said. But over the years I have had many women share victorious stories of their endometriosis, their radiated ovaries (seriously, why is this my story?), their Protein S Deficiencies and their Factor V Leiden. None of these women had all of these issues combined as I do...but I know that God is bigger.
Months (calculated by cycles) turned into a year and then two, and negative pregnancy tests remained negative, as I tossed them into the trash cycle after cycle. So many tests purchased and pitched, as I blinked back stinging tears and again submitted my deep desires to tell my beloved husband he was finally a dad.
Infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant despite having frequent, unprotected sex for at least a year for most people and six months in some circumstances. So however long this lasts, however long this waiting tests my patience, we have been launched into this category being placed under the title by professionals: infertile. For now or forever? We will see. There is no on or off switch, it's a medical diagnosis; but we do believe that all babies are miracles.
Friends and cousins and sisters and non-friends and church people and strangers were all receiving this gift of plumpness, planned and unplanned, of little lives healthily growing within their very own bodies. I watched and died to my self over and over and over again. I reminded myself, "This is not about you. The world does not revolve around you. Jesus is near and He feels your anguish. He will use this pain of infertility, this barren brokenness. Let your Hope be bigger, Hope for His presence and will above all."
So I swallowed and took yet another step forward.
Fighting dangerous jealousy for those who carried a life inside of their womb was a struggle I wasn't willing to forfeit. That doesn't mean it was easy. Envy was nothing near the heart of God and deeper than my desire to carry a child, to mother miracles, was a desire to pursue His way. His will. His heart. His goodness. I knew that, no matter how painful it was to die to myself, His way was best. His way, in the end, was most freeing and beautiful and whole and pure and peaceful. I clung, and continue to cling, to that Truth. But it hurts a lot of the time.
I am a part of a few infertility support groups...but I am the minority in the sense that I fight the urge to bash and criticize and despise those who have the gift, the blessing, of pregnancy and motherhood. I fall into this temptation in my heart, but I do my best to swallow that pride and see them with clear eyes of love. When getting pregnant is talked about as though it is so easy that it is even maddening, (maybe you feel you have 2 too many children), there is a tendency for The Infertile and The Waiting to loathe you. It feels like you're shoving it in our face how terribly broken our bodies seem to be.
Part of my denying myself and choosing to love those who I could have so easily hated was becoming a birth servant. A Doula and Birth Photographer. This has been the most humbling and often times humiliating journey in my small life. But in serving those women who I wanted to be jealous of, I found myself running to Him. Sprinting to Him because He was the only source of safety, hope, joy, protection. I found myself understanding Paul (a biblical author) on a more intense level when he says, "When I am weak, then I am strong." Or when Jesus talks about denying our self completely.
I did not want to become obsessed with infertility; I did not want to let it define me and rule me and become me. I want(ed) my primary identity to be that of a follower of Jesus Christ. Not a wife struggling with infertility, so please pity me. I did not and still do not want this to become all that we talk about in our marriage - our goal is not pregnancy and babies, our goal is Jesus. But this is becoming a major part of our story and there is no denying the pain that is deepening the caverns of my soul.
Last fall multiple of My People were able to announce that they were expecting #2 or #3. Bless. In the time we have been trying our best for Baby Brenner 1, our friends have made and brought into the world 2 or 3. In the quiet and isolation of my bedroom, I broke in half and in half again until there was nothing left. Tears were shed and I believe will forever remain on the floor of this apartment dwelling. This suffering and isolation burned through my bones. My husband recommended that we finally go see a fertility specialist. It was time to own up that this is our journey, these are our cards, and we don't get to accidentally get pregnant and be surprised and shocked.
The first doctor appointment was in October. Oh the prayers and the submission and the ache to please the Lord! I fasted to be sure I was not sinning in this decision to pursue family growth; my heart ached to be in line with His. December 2014 was the beginning of fertility treatments. (We began fertility drugs that wreck you up, in addition to but not limited to: drastic diet changes, exercising regularly, acupuncture, supplements, OPKs, temping and the list goes on). A drug that gives me hot flashes and hunger like a menopausal woman; a drug that increased the intensity of my nightmares; a drug that made me lose sleep, but by golly it was a first step into making me ovulate good eggs. I did my best to keep this in my daily conversations with Jesus but to also not let it rule those conversations. My heart was to continue submitting this desire and doing what we could, but trust Him all the same that no matter what, He is good.
January arrived. More pregnancy announcements. And another cycle ended for me with a negative pregnancy test. But joy was real and I knew that Jesus has good things in store, whether that be on earth or mainly in Heaven. I knew that He is present and that this was not my entire life. I still had my jobs - my Doula work, my photography, my church leader position, house cleaning. I was still a home maker and a neighbor and a youth leader. I was still me: a young wife pursing wholeness despite the brokenness. As I began my second round of the fertility treatments mid January, I prayed to Jesus as I always do. "Take this painful cup; but not my will...yours."
Loren and I then began researching adoption again and what that would look like for us to pursue sooner rather than later. We searched up and down the scope of the internet and we landed on Christian Adoption Consultants. Our hearts were being transformed and hope was rising, but we were also hopeful with this January cycle of treatments. Maybe we could have two babies in one year, we joked and giggled at the crazy possibilities. We thought, hey we aren't getting pregnant as quickly as we thought we would, and we know that we have always wanted to adopt, so why not begin the process of finding one of our babies through adoption?
About two weeks into this cycle I couldn't hold myself together anymore - I sobbed big tears of honest grief and pain and isolation. "Every time I go to text or call a friend about how lonely this life of not conceiving is, I can't. Because they don't understand. They are either pregnant and/or chasing their little ones. They don't get it. They just tell me 'my time will come.' This is so lonely. I am so alone."
The agony of that night was real and I will never forget it; I wept so freely into loving arms and they held me and prayed over me and begged Jesus nearer. Monday rolled around and for the first time in two weeks I felt the spark of hope. Something within said, "You can do this. You have Him and He is near and He is strength. That doesn't mean this doesnt hurt and is not lonely, but it does mean that He is always here and that this will be used for His glory. This will be used to further His Kingdom."
I began talking with a consultant through CAC, Susan, who was walking us through what it would look like to work with them in pursuing our baby through adoption. We were scheming of ways to rally our community around us to help us grow our family, to love outside of our bloodline. It was thrilling, exciting, adventurous. It wasn't going to numb or bandage the pain of the present infertility, but it would bring us closer to growing our family and loving like we never had before. We told our friends Ben & Bethany, we told Mike and Heather, Kathleen and Brett, Jesse and Daniel. We had plans to tell our family this exciting step.
We agreed: if we are at least six months into this thing of adoption and we get the two pink lines, we will continue both. We are answering the call to adopt and we will not ignore it. Pregnancy is not our goal, so why would we stop our adoption? I still hoped and believed that one day I would carry a life in my womb just as much as I began carrying a life in my heart.
I wrote this post that week - the Lord had been working into my heart the song lyric, "Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well with my soul." Those words aren't easy. They aren't arrogant. They are not about me - those words are humbling and submissive and whole and difficult and agonizing. They are difficult but they are my anthem cry. I began nesting like crazy that week. Hormones were surging and I was cleaning and selling so many things in our small home. I began ridding of junk and garbage and seeing what hoarders we are. I began carefully plotting how we could make room for a baby, a baby adopted and ours to love until death do us part. Dreams and envisions I have been holding off on letting loose because of many reasons. But as I nested and cleaned and had more energy than I had in months..a fleeting thought that frequently passed through, sparked my heart, "Maybe I'm pregnant."
But no, I quickly pushed it away because I know too well the deep disappointment that comes with the negative pregnancy test. With the one line staring at you so loudly. With the bright blood that says, "I'M HERE AND YOU'RE NOT PREGNANT, MUAHAHAHA." I pep talked myself, "Do not get your hopes wrapped around those two little lines." Nesting can happen with a surge of excitement for adoption, I was sure. Could it be both?
A particular Monday was cycle day 28 for me. If you know anything about (in)fertility things, it is that you know your cycle like you know the back of your hand, freckles and wrinkles, creases and all.
CD 28, 12 DPO. That day had arrived. I thought I was brave, I was definitely nervous, and I whipped out one of those First Responses. The visit of the flow normally greets me in the evening (sorry to any males reading this) but I knew that the first pee of the day was the most concentrated (again, sorry not sorry). As I peed into that clear plastic cup and dipped that small little litmus like test into my very own urine, I prayed a familiar, "Jesus, we see Loren's parents this week..and it would be QUITE the visit to finally be able to tell them they can expect a grandchild. You can work miracles Jesus. Let this be our year. But Jesus, whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well with my soul."
To be continued.