Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Book Review: When the Cradle is Empty

When the Cradle is Empty is a book about infertility written by John and Sylvia Van Regenmorter and published by Focus on the Family and Tyndale.  When I decided a few months ago I wanted to read a book on the subject of infertility, I became overwhelmed by the options.  This actually was the first one I had perused before I gave up the search.  A couple of weeks ago, I went back and ordered this book, along with another.

The authors seek to answer tough questions about infertility, including chapters on the journey, the pain, holidays, marriage, family and friends' questions, prayer, treatments, miscarriage, infant death, secondary infertility, adoption, and moving on.  Yes -- it covers the whole spectrum.  In some ways it is an overview of information, but in other ways it speaks directly to the couple struggling to find words and explanations for what they feel.

The first few chapters were the hardest to get through because they were the most painful to read.  Chapter 1, "A Journey Begins," outlines the seven steps most couples go through in their process of infertility and pain.  I read this chapter through tears -- it seemed someone had peered into my life and written down my journey thus far.  Chapter 2, "Pitfalls Along the Path," opened up some wounds I've tried to close forever, such as the guilt over using "the pill," waiting too long to seek professional help, and playing the blame game.  Chapter 3, though only a few pages long, spoke of the loneliness and hopelessness of infertility, attempting to shed light on the question we've asked: "Why Does Infertility Hurt So Much?"

It seems the authors had intended those first few chapters to pry open their readers' hearts--as if this needs to be done!  They quote from Phil Nienhuis, a professional family therapist, who says, "One cannot begin to recover from pain, until he or she is willing to own the pain and acknowledge that it is real" (33).  Hope and help are on the way, they promise, in the subsequent chapters.

Chapters four through fifteen do indeed offer hope and help.  Some of the help is very practical, such as a list of agencies and organizations that provide infertility counseling and services; or the explanation of the different types of ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology); or the steps a couple goes through in the process of adoption.  Some of the help is spiritual, such as verses and stories that encourage and speak directly toward a hurting heart.  Some of the help is just plain common-sense, such as advising couples to recognize their boundaries or giving couples words to say when the inevitable questions come or even setting time-limits to how much time they spend talking about infertility.  And then, thankfully, some of the help isn't really help at all.  It's simply experienced people reminding couples that there may not be easy answers or fix-all band-aids, and that's okay.  We may never know the "why's" of infertility, but God is with us, and He is guiding this seemingly unsteady path.  The reminder of hope is always welcome.

For me, the book was encouraging because--as I already said--the authors provided me with words I haven't been able to find.  They shed light on emotions I haven't taken time to recognize or pains I haven't been willing to acknowledge.  It's all been there, of course, but there is something freeing about reading just what you want to say.

I also was encouraged because of some of the difficulties shared that I haven't had to deal with.  My husband, for example, is right there with me in all of this, which is a blessing.  He doesn't shut down or try to fix things and move on.  He feels the pain and sorrow just as I do.  We truly carry this together, and I know not all women have that support.  My close friends and family are sensitive and careful with me.  They think of me when sharing their pregnancies or joys of their children; they ask me about my hopes and desires; they pray for me.  And, although I hesitate to write this, there is another excruciating element of infertility I haven't had to bear: I haven't had to experience the pain of miscarriage.  I grieve over an empty womb, but not over a heartbeat that stopped.

I definitely recommend this book, not only to couples facing infertility but to their families and friends who may want a closer look into their hearts.  Not everything resonated with me, of course, but enough of it did that I would suggest anyone wanting to understand us better to read it.

I'll take some time over the next few weeks to share some of the things that stood out especially to me, but I thought I'd end with this one line that is just brilliant:

"Any comment beginning with 'at least' is likely to be unhelpful" (121).

How true is that?  "At least you're happily married." "At least you're healthy." Or--for my friends who have tasted the pain of miscarriage, infant loss, or secondary infertility--"At least you got pregnant."  "At least you have one."

Thank you, God, for caring about all, even the least of all.

To order the book from Bethany Christian Services, click here.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Other Half

It can be easy for me to forget that there is another person intimately involved in this grief and struggle: my hubby.  He is such a rock to me, so solid and strong, that at times I may selfishly focus on how infertility affects me, perhaps broadly how it affects us, but not often how it affects him.  Sure, I write about "our" desire to have a baby and "our" struggles, but, because I am the woman, it naturally becomes more about me.

In fact, if our infertility had not continued as it has, I probably would never have known how much this has pained him.  In the early stages, perhaps the first year or so, I don't know if I once asked him how he was coping.  I was absolutely overwhelmed and could only think how my dreams were being dashed.

The reality is that my process most likely did begin before his.  Even before we knew definitely that something was wrong, I expected it.  I'm the one in my body, afterall, and the problems I have, the issues that have led to our infertility, didn't appear over night.  It didn't take long for me to find myself pedaling full-steam ahead when he was still using training wheels, trying to wrap his mind around our new reality.

I have learned a few things, though, and, because he and I have become better at sharing how we feel regarding this, I continue to learn.  Like any struggle, this is simply what has happened with us and what has worked--for the time being, anyway--for us.  I hesitate to call these "tips" for everyone, so I'll just say these are my tips to myself to keep my husband and me sane together.

  1. Ask him how he feels.  Ask him again.  And again.  Then wait patiently, and wait some more.  Know that sometimes I'll get a release of response, and sometimes I won't.  It's the same with me, though -- sometimes I want to share a lot, sometimes I don't.
  2. The response of "I just feel sad" is perfectly acceptable.  Sometimes there are no grand ways to explain our emotions.  We know we're sad, and that's enough.
  3. Keep him filled in and updated on conversations I have with others.  Naturally, people ask me more often than they ask him how we're doing.  He can easily get out of loop, and that can be hurtful to him.
  4. When it's appropriate, remind others to encourage him directly, to ask him how he's doing, to recognize his pain.
  5. Embrace his optimism, even when I want to shut it down.  Know that God may be giving him a word or understanding that, for whatever reason, I don't have.  At the same time, allow him not to be the rock sometimes and give him the freedom to question and cry just like I do.
  6. Pray together and share Scripture that has been encouraging, even when it feels forced.  And it will feel forced, at times.
  7. Know that we will be at different points of grief, understanding, and even excitement throughout this journey, and that's okay.  It's about going through it hand-in-hand, not necessarily experiencing it the exact same way.
  8. Take advantage of every "outing" he wants to have, whether it's late night runs to Taco Bell or seemingly extravagant vacations.  We're in this together, and our life cannot be on hold just because we don't have children.  Our life is what it is, and we need to embrace it.
  9. Tell him why I think he will be an amazing dad someday.  And tell him why he is an amazing husband today.
  10. Let him believe that we really are going to have the little girl he wants even when I think we'll have a boy.

I've heard of marriages being torn apart because of infertility.  I can see why.  It is easy for anger, blame, and resentment to quickly creep into a husband-wife relationship, especially since no pre-marital counseling ever prepares you for this.  Communication is tough anyway, so trying to communicate emotions you don't even understand that well can make it nearly impossible.  But with God's grace, a marriage can be strengthened by such a struggle.  Love--the true, patient, selfless, sacrificial, undying love of Christ--must become the key.

There are not many resources out there specifically for or about men and infertility, but Stepping Stones does have one article that is worth reading.  It is called "When a Husband Hurts" by Rev. Burton F. Wilbur, Jr.  It actually is about the pain a husband felt through two miscarriages.  Although it is not about infertility in general but is more about the grief of losing two babies, it is honest and helpful.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Waiting Room

Originally written on June 21, 2011, this study and reflection inspired the song "With the Lord," written about a year ago and shared with you today.

I hate waiting.

If you know me, you probably know this fact about me.  I don't like the feeling that precious minutes are passing by, and we are just stuck until something comes.  I don't like factors outside my little realm of control dictating how I spend my time.  But more than the waiting, I hate the letdown of waiting for something that doesn't work out.  All the energy that went into that week or month or year seems to collapse right on top of me.  

I feel like that has been my life the last few years.  I've shared that we have been wanting a baby for some time, so you could probably guess that my life is lived in months.  A new month comes, a new opportunity, a new waiting game, and, as it has proven so far at least, a new disappointment.  

This whole routine gets me very restless and anxious.  I try to keep busy because that at least gives myself the impression that life is fine, but the truth is, distractions don't last very long.  At the end of the day, I still have to deal with the fact that things are absolutely out of my control.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Scripture tells us to "wait on the Lord."  Waiting goes against our human desire to control things.  When we are forced to wait on someone, we are no longer in charge; we are at the mercy of someone else.  Thankfully, we are able to wait on the Lord knowing He is good and kind and merciful.  There is hope involved in our waiting because we have a gracious and loving Father, and we know He will respond.  Nevertheless, it is still hard, which is probably why it is so good for us.  Waiting is what the Great Physician often prescribes to build our character and grow our faithfulness--but this medicine is hard for me to swallow!

As I was looking up Scriptures about waiting, I came across this little study.  It's quite lengthy, but I wanted to share some of the points.  You can read the whole text here if you'd like.  No doubt, I am not the only one playing the waiting game these days.

Waiting on the Lord
Study by J. Hampton Keathley, III

What is involved in waiting on the Lord?
1.  Waiting means confident expectation, so waiting and hoping go together.
2.  Waiting involves an expectation based on knowledge and trust - our ability to wait on God is connected to our confidence in who God is and what God has done!
3.  Waiting involves seeking the Lord, spending time in His Word, in prayer, and in meditation.
4.  Waiting involves resting in God's timing, acting when He is calling us to act and resting when He is calling us to rest.

Why should we wait on the Lord?
1.  Because of who God is and what He is able to do - again, we need knowledge of God through experience and Scripture
2.  Because of who we are and what we are not able to do - we need to have a right view of ourselves and our weakness

What benefits are there to waiting?
1.  Waiting strengthens and enables us.
2.  Waiting strengthens and builds character.
3.  Waiting lifts us out of despair and causes praise to God.
4.  Waiting encourages others and gives greater ability to witness.

I am looking forward to printing out the study and spending some time with it, but the truth is I always know that when I feel restless and anxious, God is calling me to Him.  No distraction on this earth can fix my heart when it's broken.  Only God can lessen my disappointment and ease my pain.  Only He can give me the strength to wait -- to wait with expectancy and hope and love.  Strangely enough, it brings me comfort to know that God wants us to wait.  It brings purpose to this trial in my life, when I am tempted to think it is all for nothing.  There is no trial, no struggle, no pain that God cannot and will not use for His glory.  Praise Him!

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice.  Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.  I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word, I put my hope.  My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.  
Psalm 130:1-2, 4-6