Category Archive: Fertility

Our Story of Raising an Only Child

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I’ve often thought that God made babies so darn cute so that their parents continue to take good care of them. I’ll never forget holding our first foster baby from 3-6:00am one night, her giant brown eyes following me in the dark, and my two competing thoughts were, “WHY AREN’T YOU ASLEEP?” and “Gosh darn it, you are SO CUTE.” The world tends to adore babies, and when you’re up in the night for three hours straight with a newborn, those compliments you receive on social media might be the only thing keeping you going. Well, that and coffee. But babies grow. The compliments fade. And eventually you have a kid with gawky teeth who is taking awkward school pictures that even retake day can’t fix. Everyone loves a baby, but not so much the elementary kid whose has teeth five times too large for his mouth. Mama, Grandma and your BFF still love that one.

I don’t get asked childrearing questions very often anymore and I think it’s because I have one child who is now 12. Oh, and maybe it’s because I do a lot of my living alongside someone who blogs about parenting. She’s a professional question-answerer so that makes sense. A lot of my parenting experience, however, is hidden and no one can see it. I did the math recently and realized that if God had answered many of my desires for children with “yes’s” rather than “no’s” Jeremy and I would have six children. One privately adopted, one biological, and the final four adopted from foster care. For sure we still have those six in our hearts, with only the first one being the child God has given us to raise for good.

Our plans, as hopeful as they were, didn’t turn into our reality. I’m still coming to terms with this truth. I allow little daggers to enter my heart, to pierce those old desires and entice me to “what if’s” and “if only’s.” I let the memes and defensive lines from large families hurt my soul. I wanted to be one of those large families. I read about people who have more children because they value sibling relationships greatly, and I struggle to not to be filled with regret. As capable as I am, providing a sibling for Livia was not something I could arrange. I hear jokes about only children, about how spoiled they are, and allow these asides to fill me with irritation. I didn’t plan on one, I want to shout. I had hoped for more.

There was Livia. And a baby miscarried. And a very temporary foster daughter. Two foster sons gone home by a judge’s changed orders. And a beloved foster baby reunified with his beautiful family. Six total.

But that’s only the six that reside most deeply in our hearts. There were more.

There was the baby boy we got incredibly close to adopting, only to have his parents choose the other couple. There was the teenager we prayed over, raised in absolutely horrific conditions who, in the end, required much more than we could give. There was the toddler we spent the day with a small town nearby, the one we bought a stuffed animal for and fed Runza fries to, the one given to another family within 24 hours of coming to live with us permanently. There was the three year old girl who needed a family, the one who the state placed elsewhere with no reason whatsoever given to us. And in between those cases there were calls upon calls with hours upon hours of waiting for information, prayers of all kinds being raised up for wisdom and perfect timing.

So when I read a meme supporting large families or see beautiful pictures of siblings loving one another, I think of our story and have to draw a conclusion. Here is the one I’ve settled on:

God has created my family. And he is pleased to give me one child.

One daughter. One twelve year old now in middle school. No siblings older than her, and no siblings younger. But this is our one, and she is enough. I felt God asking me that question, the question of, “What will satisfy you?”
“Will another child make you content?”
“Why is one not enough?”
“When will you be satisfied?”

In my tears and sadness I had to admit that one is enough. ONE IS ENOUGH. Though I’ve been a mother to many and will carry them forever in my heart, one is what he’s given to me to care for daily and that. is. enough.

We all have different stories and no two stories are the same. No one’s story can be read entirely via a Facebook status or a picture on Instagram. We all have hurts and we all have joys, and to compare our stories will never bring us satisfaction. At the end of the day I cling to God’s promises and the knowledge I have of his character. He is good, he provides for ALL my needs, he is never asleep on the job, and I will only find my hope and joy in him. Not in babies, as cute as they are, and not in big kids in all their awkward glory. No job can complete my spirit, no spouse is perfect like God, no amount of travel or fine dining or hobbies or education can ever fill up my heart. It’s a real challenge to keep my eyes on the Lord and trust him, but that’s the goal, that’s MY goal, and He is where my soul will always be refreshed.

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**Note: Each image above represents one of the other children God has given Jeremy and me, for short periods of time. I carried a baby in my womb to the Grand Canyon upon our visit to Arizona. I remember getting carsick as we drove mountain paths and more than once I chose vegetables over french fries even though that was not my norm. I now feel incredibly grateful for such an eventful short pregnancy as I recall the little life I carried at that time.

The black and white image shows Livia with her first foster sister. What a joy she was even as I was stretched by sleeplessness! The second photo shows Jeremy and one of the little boys we had the privilege to love for five weeks. We anticipated a much longer journey with them, and I believe this image was captured the night before they went home. It was a stunning departure. The final image shows Livia and me on a train ride with our last foster baby. This little guy had lots of people in his life who adored him and we got to walk through that experience with his family, which was a privilege all its own. I still count his reunification as a huge joy.

God Hasn’t Healed Me AND He is Still Good

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Last night a pastor from a church in Fremont preached at Redeemer. In these four weeks of Advent our pastor Michael Gordon has been preaching a series on the “mothers” of Jesus, the women listed in Matthew’s genealogy. The series has been excellent (you can find the sermons here). Last night’s preaching on Ruth brought up a point that I had never noticed before—that Ruth in her first marriage never had children. In Ruth’s marriage to Naomi’s son, which the bible tells us lasted about 10 years, she was barren.

If you go on and read the entire book of Ruth you’ll learn that Boaz eventually marries Ruth and together they give birth to Obed, who is the grandfather of King David. Jesus is born in this same line, many generations later.

This weird thing happens anytime someone mentions the word “barren” in a sermon. I get hot. I feel like everyone must immediately be thinking of me with sorrow in their hearts. Yes, that is a very self-centered way to think, but it is also true that my dear, wonderful, beloved friends think of me when they hear a hard story of infertility. It’s the story that—for me—continues and does not end with biological offspring as many other stories do. If you’ve studied the bible or been listening to sermons through the years, then you’ve heard of Sarah, Abraham’s wife, as well as of Hannah and Ruth. Infertile women, all of them. God opened their wombs, all of them. And furthermore, God did great things through the children he promised them.

I itch and sweat in the pew as these women’s stories are told. I get uncomfortable. I want to hide. Because my story is not like theirs; my infertility has found no resolution.

So hear me loud and clear as I get something off my chest:
God has not healed me AND he is still good.

Do you believe that? Can you believe that? Can you see something and want something so badly, can you pray for something for years and years and years, can you see your friends receive the gifts that you are not getting and can you still believe that God is good?

YES. Yes, you can. And you should.

I believe in the promises of God listed in the bible.

I believe he is good and withholds nothing that I truly need.

I believe he adores me the way that no human being can ever adore me.

I believe he catches all my tears in a bottle, that he holds me in the palm of his hand, that he shelters me under the shadow of his wings.

I believe I can be barren, infertile, not have the tidy ending of a biological child and that at the end of the day I am the recipient of God’s goodness.

THAT is what I believe. My story is the perfect one written for Rebecca Tredway. It is not Hannah’s, nor Sarah’s, nor Ruth’s. It is mine. The ending is not told, but the hope of the ending is not found in fertility. It is not found in adoption either (as profoundly grateful as I am that adoption made me a mother!). The hope I have is found in Jesus who gave everything to make me his. It’s that kind of love that gives me peace, that lets me rest, that forces me to take a deep breath in the middle of a sermon that deals with a barren womb. All is not lost. I am healed in all the right places.

Thoughts on Having the Last Baby

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After Baby Boy came to our house last summer, I began to embrace the idea that this was our last baby. As he grew out of items like the infant bathtub or changing table pad, I passed them off. I gave away the infant carseat. My house appreciated the decluttering, but so did my mind. Making a decision to not have any more babies was simple to make as we had a baby living with us. With a full heart and full arms, I was satisfied.

As it turns out, deciding when your family is complete is a thought process every set of parents has to go through. Whether it’s considered at age 37 or 47, it’s part of living really. Jeremy and I hold loosely to our plans but we make them nonetheless. We’re aware that God is the Author of our story, so if he calls us to be parents to a new baby in a few years, well then, that’s what we’ll do. I have a long-running joke (nightmare) that I’m going to have a Tami Taylor baby, which means we’ll magically procreate a little punkin when Livia turns 16. Don’t laugh; I can totally see that happening, can’t you??!

In the depths of parenting a very busy early walker, I fantasized about having time to myself. Small children can be SO busy—ours certainly was—and time alone was so very limited. Taking a shower felt fairly epic and not at all mundane, and having lunch with a friend became a test of wills and patience as little hands grabbed at our food and threw his own Cheerios on the floor. I kept meaning to make a list of things I’d enjoy doing once he was gone. Though I never did, I’m still amazed at how easy it is to prepare dinner for three instead of three plus a baby. My evenings are now much more relaxed with no visitation workers dropping by twice every night, no baby needing bedtime prep, and would you look at all that free time in which I can shower! Amazing really. We took dessert to a friend’s house a few weeks ago and sat with them until long after the sun set while my big kid entertained herself. Life without a baby has felt remarkably free of time constraints!

In the days after the Baby’s reunification, our friend Sarah and her daughter Rosie came to visit town. Rosie is half a year older than Baby Boy but her very presence reminds me the sweetness of having a little person around. As I prep dinner she squeezes her body between me and the countertop. She says “hold you” and puts her arms up so I can grab her. She sits nicely on my hip and is a gentle hugger. She’s excited to see me (“Bucka!”) and her laughter is infectious. Jeremy and I hear her voice and smile at each other—that’s how cute she is.

The reasons for not having any more babies holds firm. I still have old lady elbows that aren’t going to miraculously heal themselves. We’re now 37 and 44, for anyone who’s keeping track, and that’s on the older side to start over with an infant. And perhaps the biggest reason of all, our daughter turns 11 this week. While she’s a fantastic big sister, the age gap of 10-11 years is nothing to sneeze at. The last nine months we’ve often operated as two families… The daytime grouping of mom + baby while Liv was at school and the evening pairing of mom + big kid while Baby was at visits.

As I work through the emotions of reunification—happy, sad, up and down, back and forth—I am realizing that I’m also grieving this life milestone of having the last baby. It’s a weird one, I can’t say otherwise! But even as I see the end of our family-building years as it pertains to babies (big kids are another matter entirely) I know there are always children for me to love. I’m still a foster mom and goodness knows this world is full of children who need a bit more loving. I have nieces and nephews and I have millions of children at church to enjoy. Literally millions. (Redeemerites love them babies!) I want to be a woman who nurtures children well throughout the rest of my years and I’m reminded that I don’t have to be their mother to do that.

Remembering

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If you’ve been reading the Prairie Box for some time now then you’re well-acquainted with the fact that I have one daughter and that Jeremy and I are foster parents. If you’ve been reading for a really long time, then you know that we want more kids in our family. Featured on A Musing Maralee today is a tidbit about the baby we wanted and lost to miscarriage in the fall of 2006.

Writing a letter to that dreamed-for, hoped-for baby was not an easy task. But it was a really helpful, cathartic exercise. I’ve lumped the loss of that baby in with the subsequent years of infertility and it’s become a giant ball of yucky grief that I shove to the back of my mind. Remembering the miscarriage and writing a letter reminded me that my pregnancy involved one particular person at a particular point in time. I was pregnant! And it was great! I won’t say that one letter will relieve me from the giant grief ball, but it’s nice to have it unravel a bit more over time and, in doing so, lose it’s power over me.

**The flowers featured here were given to me by my awesome husband. I should write a post sometime about how he loves physical touch and I love gifts, and how I keep bringing him little presents from the store and he wants to hug me a lot. Fifteen years of marriage, folks, and we’re just now starting to figure out this love language thing.

The Struggle

Livia came out of school empty-handed. Children had poured out of the building before her, one even proclaiming, “Look, I have four bags!” I could smell the steaming hot popcorn and knew she had taken a quarter to school to buy a bag on Spirit Day. When she finally appeared, empty-handed, she sadly explained that they ran out, and I couldn’t help but feel kind of angry towards the kid who got four bags while my kid got none.

Sometimes, oftentimes, always—life isn’t fair.

While my mama defenses were on high alert for this very small injustice, and while my hackles were raised, I knew in my heart that popcorn wasn’t a huge deal and Livia knew it, too. I can’t remember, but in all likelihood we probably went out and bought ice cream cones instead. It all worked out.

Still, I’ve been reflecting lately on how life really is not fair.

I’m going to hand our foster baby, this teeny small child of amazingness, to her future family on Sunday. (At least we’re all hoping they are indeed her future family. Fostering is never a sure thing; adoption is.) After waiting to adopt for over six years, after becoming foster parents, after praying and praying and praying and praying and praying, I am going to hand over this child that we brought home from the hospital last month.

Now, we knew what we were getting into. The situation was presented to us and we jumped in with both feet. We knew it was a short-term gig and we’ve explained it that way to everyone we’ve met along the way. We’ve met and genuinely like this baby’s future family and it’s been so good to be a support to her future parents. There is goodness, yes. Fairness? Yes. And no.

In my struggle to find fairness I look into this baby girl’s face and I’m reminded that life is absolutely not fair. Fair would mean she was born into a mother’s arms and could stay there forever. Fair would mean she’d have a mom who would call her sweetheart and soothe her when she cried and wipe her tears and bandage her knees when she trips and falls. Fair would mean a home that is safe, food that’s always on the table, and a childhood free from fear and worry.

This life is unfair. It’s hard. And sometimes I want to cry FOUL! from the rooftops and demand justice until I am satisfied and complain loudly and without pause because THIS IS NOT FAIR.

It hurts. Oh goodness, the unfairness hurts.

I took my little foster baby to my monthly mom’s group today and looked around the room knowing that every other mom there would still have their infants next month. Mine is a loaner. (Did you know you can laugh and cry at the same time? I highly recommend it.) While I was taking this little girl home from the hospital—an incredible privilege as we didn’t get to do so with Livia—I was doing it with the knowledge that I could not keep her, that she doesn’t belong to me.

Today I am sad, for many reasons. I’m sad that I can’t make babies and thus have to deal with the twists and turns of adoption and foster care. I’m sad that God hasn’t answered our prayers for children in the affirmative. I’m sad that we have to wait and wonder some more. I’m sad, deeply sad, that I can’t give my daughter a sibling. (There is great grief in this fact.) I’m sad my foster baby wasn’t born into a simple situation and I’m sad that her future family couldn’t take her right away. I’m even sad they have a longer road to walk before being able to adopt her.

A day is coming when all will be made right and the tears and sadness and general fist-shaking of this life will all fade away. Jesus will one day heal every wound and right every wrong. Would I look forward to heavenly glory if I didn’t experience injustice today? Probably not. Does the knowledge and expectation of heaven make me feel less pain right now? No. There is hope. There is beauty. But damn, sometimes the unfairness just plain sucks.

December 12

It’s a curious sight to see newborn diapers and baby wipes on my office bookshelf, but there it is: we are preparing for our first foray in the world of foster care. People, I am tremendously excited, honored and anxious about what we’re doing and I am certain that I am the most ill-equipped woman for the job. Some of you know how long we’ve been praying for more children and yet, here we are prepping for short-term foster care. We’re going to take in a little one (who is oh-my-goodness-gracious the most charming thing you’ve ever met) and we’re going to hand her off to her forever family after a short time.

Why in the world are we doing this?

Because we think God wants us to do this. We have the space in our house, we have the love to share, we are incredibly blessed. Also, there were people that cuddled and fed and loved Livia in the seven weeks before we adopted her and words can’t express how much their care means to us still. We have the opportunity right now to bridge the gap for another family. So we’re going to do that.

Those who know me understand that I’ve cried over this situation. I’m sure I’ll cry again, and that’s okay, too. Doing what’s right sometimes comes at a cost.

Keep on praying for more kids for my family. I’m grateful.

On Fertility, Part 2

To be honest, I felt like the air was knocked out of my lungs after I blogged about fertility. It was kind of scary, and I wondered why I had just posted things about my uterus to the entire world. Uh, hello! Sure, we all know that dudes have boy parts and girls have lady parts, but did you need to know that much about me?

Yeah. You probably did.

You see, we live in a fertile world. Hallelujah, this is a good and right thing! God created us so we can procreate. If you know the details about how a human life is made, then you know how amazing this process is. Thank God most folks easily make offspring. But… when you can’t make babies, this fertile world becomes overwhelming.

As it turns out, there are pregnant bellies and babies everywhere.

You know how, when you’re shopping for a new car, you start noticing that same vehicle everywhere you look? Dealing with infertility is kind of like that. Except way worse. There are, in no particular order:

  • Negative pregnancy tests for you.
  • Positive ones for your friends and family.
  • Facebook announcements (giant groan).
  • Baby showers.
  • Baby showers you are asked to host.
  • Commercials for diaper ointments.
  • T-shirts that boldly state, “I’m so crafty I make people!”
  • Cute tops in Target that you didn’t realize were maternity (whoops!).
  • Aisles upon aisles of baby items that you carefully avoid.
  • Conversations about pregnancy.
  • Conversations about pregnancy food cravings.
  • Conversations about labor and delivery.
  • Conversations about diapering choices.
  • Conversations about breastfeeding.
  • Etc.
  • Etc.
  • Etc.

Here’s the thing, fertile friends. I don’t want you to stop enjoying your pregnancy because of me. You should never feel guilty about getting pregnant, about being pregnant, or about having a baby. Never ever ever. Even on my darkest days, I believe that pregnancy and childbirth and beautiful squishy babies are gifts from God.

But here’s the other thing: I don’t have to join the conversations about stretch marks and midwife visits and nursery decorating. Sometimes it’s a matter of self-preservation and I will quietly remove myself from a potentially painful situation. Ask any gal dealing with infertility about how she feels about Facebook announcements and you will learn that she will write her congratulations directly on someone’s wall rather than on a thread. Because even if she’s thrilled for the new mother, she knows better than to join a thread where she’ll be reading, “Congrats on the baby girl!!!” for the next five days straight. It’s just too painful.

So what can you do to love and care for your friends struggling with fertility issues?

You can, in private, get to know them. With a gentle and understanding spirit, ask them how they are feeling, how they are doing, and what is and isn’t difficult for them. (For example, a friend of mine doesn’t want to know anything about a birth story whereas I would join you in the delivery room in a heartbeat if you’d ask me.) Listen carefully and don’t push for answers. If your friend is uncomfortable talking with you, switch subjects and honor her desire for privacy.

You can respect their choices. Invite them to the baby shower, but be respectful if they need to opt out. If you have mercy meals at your church, allow them to sign up to deliver one to a new mom rather than asking them to do so.

You can practice empathy. Try to put yourself in their shoes and imagine how it might feel to not be able to conceive month after month. Consider that type of suffering and amp up your prayers for this friend. Send a compassionate note or an encouraging email. A little cheer, a little hope, a little good word goes a long way.

You can share in their sadness. If you are close friends, let them know you have a shoulder to cry on at any hour of the day. While you can’t have this depth of relationship with many people, you need to offer yourself to the friends you already have. Make sure the shared suffering part is a two-way street though. No one ever wants to be the only crier, the only soul-exposing one in a friendship!

**To those who have dealt with infertility, what did I leave out?
**To those caring for friends dealing with infertility, what did I leave out? Was this post specific enough? Would you like more questions answered?

More to come.

On Fertility

Infertile might be one of the worst words I know. Whether you’re referring to soil or to a person, infertile doesn’t describe a place where goodness is occurring. Some folks don’t mind labels, thinking “Well, if the shoes fits…” But my soul won’t allow me to work with the word infertile. In fact, being unproductive in any way is not something I want to embrace. So, infertile? Forget it.

Perhaps I’m only playing word games, but guess what? This is my blog and I can do what I want to here. Bear with me because I’m going to write about fertility. Some of you at this point might want to avert your eyes because the very thought of blogging about fertility makes you cringe. And that’s totally fine, too.

Jeremy and I have been married almost 13 years. We have one daughter who might at first glance (and second and third) look like she’s the fruit of our loins. But she’s not genetically ours; we adopted Livia at 7 weeks old. When I was a kid, my parents talked about both fostering and adopting, so I think my heart was prepared for adoption early. I always wanted to adopt, and not just after I had my “own” kids (don’t ever say that to me, by the way—Livia is my own). After Jeremy and I finished college and seminary, we moved back home to Nebraska and, within a year, began the adoption process. A lot went into our decision to adopt, but fertility never played a role.

We threw caution—and birth control—to the wind when Liv was one and just waited to see what happened. When we didn’t conceive within a year, I figured we wouldn’t be able to get pregnant. But I was only 27, I wasn’t hugely concerned, and I knew that between fertility treatments and adoption we’d be able to have more children easily. (Cough cough, some of you may now laugh at my naïveté.) A funny thing happened in the fall of ’06: I got pregnant.

Joy! Happiness! Blessing! God’s timing! God’s blessing! He smiled upon us!

For several weeks we lived as an almost-family-of-four and I contentedly carried a little life in my womb. We heard a heartbeat. It was beautiful. And then, it was over.

A fast and wrenching cramp nearly keeled me over in Target. I went home and the spotting began. And there was absolutely nothing I could do to keep that little life within me. It was the first time I’d felt an utter loss of control related to fertility, but definitely not the last.

Joy? Happiness? Blessing? God’s timing? God’s blessing? He smiled upon us? I don’t think so.

My pregnancy ultrasounds revealed giant ovarian cysts which, crazily enough, would have required surgery around 18 weeks gestation for removal. Since I miscarried, I ended up having surgery a few months later and this is how we discovered endometriosis. Going into surgery I thought I might have ovarian cancer, so the endometriosis diagnosis was no sweat. It was small potatoes, really.

To this day, I just don’t care much about endometriosis. When you have other major autoimmune disorders, you tell the endometriosis to fall in line and it will be dealt with in order of importance. Day to day, it’s not a concern. Month to month is a different story, however.

A lot of months have passed between losing that baby and now. Over 48, if we’re looking for a number. All of those months have included Jeremy and I being open to adopting more children. In fact, for most of the past five years, we have pursued word-of-mouth adoption and followed every lead, every potential adoption situation. A few of those 48+ months included fertility testing and fertility treatments. Many of those months included emails, prayer requests and support group meetings to deal with the frustrating reality of my fertility.

People don’t really talk about fertility. It makes us uncomfortable. It’s awkward. We like to say things like, “I just look at my wife and she gets pregnant” so we can laugh a little and go back to the odd-yet-comfortable pattern of saying nothing about infertility. But the reality is the infertility involves grief and loss. By its very nature, infertility is uncomfortable and sad. It sucks. But that is life, and just ignoring the issue doesn’t make it any less real. Staying silent about it won’t solve any problems and it won’t fix matters of fertility or of the heart. It’s a real issue, of real concern, to more men and women than you might imagine.

If you’re struggling with fertility issues yourself, how do you keep on keeping on? What do you think about Joy! Happiness! Blessing! God’s timing! God’s blessing! He smiled upon us! when you’re not getting pregnant? And if you’re not dealing with this topic yourself, how do you support your friends who are?

Stay tuned. I’ve got more to say.

[If you have more to say, too, and you want to talk or ask questions, give me a holler. My email address is listed on the Contact Us page.]