Friday, November 23, 2012

A Concert of Prayer

We had a beautiful and powerful experience this past Sunday at our church. At our request, our entire church family surrounded us in prayer. As our pastor opened the time, he said he wanted this to be a "concert of prayer," and I love that he used this phrase. There is the musical connotation to the word concert, but the word can also mean people coming together in agreement. That is exactly what happened. Our families and friends gathered around us in agreement, asking God together to bring healing to our bodies and provide us with a child. Some of them prayed aloud, some of them laid their hands on us, and some of them silently wept with us. I was absolutely overwhelmed and overcome by the love, compassion, and deep understanding our church, family, and friends gave us that day. I still can hardly think about it without tears coming to my eyes. It was awesome -- the best concert I've ever been to.

After church, we had an early Thanksgiving celebration with the Vander Kooi side. Robby and I had to leave early, but as we were on our way out, my aunt Ann asked us to share what had happened at church. All of my family listened intently as we shared our struggle, our plans, and what God has been doing. When we finished, my uncle said simply, "Well, let's pray," and that we did. 

I know the verse well that says, "With God, all things are possible." This is so true. I keep thinking to myself, How would I get through this without God? Honestly, I couldn't. Because of God and because He listens to our prayers, it is possible to face each day and trust that He has a plan for us. It is possible to believe that good will come out of this, to know that God can and will redeem anything, even barrenness.

Thank you for praying, for gathering around us and bearing with us and lifting us up. We have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving and always!

Friday, November 9, 2012

What I wish I would have known - Part 1

The struggle of infertility can be painful and sometimes very lonely, especially at the beginning. I look at where we are now, and even though our state seems worse off, I remember those early days when nobody knew, and we were heartbroken all alone.

It's so much easier for me to share now. Now, opening up my blog and writing is easy. Now, mentioning to a friend that we need prayer or support seems so natural. In a couple of weeks, we are having our entire church pray for us! But there was a day when I was terrified and humiliated to talk about our struggle to have children.

There were a number of reasons we didn't share our struggle. In the first place, we were barely recognizing it aloud ourselves. Both my husband and I has silent concerns long before we ever spoke them to each other. I didn't want to be an alarmist, and I felt too young to bring infertility up. We talk about it all of the time now, and so I forget that there was a point when we didn't.

On top of that, I was afraid at what people might say. Strange enough, my fear was not that they would have some horror story about a friend never getting pregnant, but that they would brush me off when I knew something was wrong. I didn't want to hear that I was young and had plenty of time. I didn't want to hear that Robby and I should be enjoying our early years alone together, not planning for a family yet.

Finally, I simply didn't know what to do. I didn't know who to talk to or what to say. I remember mentioning to my doctor that I had been off of birth control for a year with no baby, but I didn't press it further, and neither did she.

Even when I made my first appointment in Visalia, I nearly backed out of saying the real reason why I was there. I was led back to my room, and a nurse came in to get me ready for an annual exam. I almost kept silent, but finally I said, "I'm not here for that, actually." She seemed perplexed and double-checked the chart she was holding -- apparently the reason for my appointment had been written down incorrectly. I made myself be bold: "I can't get pregnant, and I'm wondering what to do." My OB was wonderful, of course, and sat down to have the first helpful conversation I had had at that point. I was amazed. So this was as simple as it could have been all along! She wasted no time starting me on a medication, and then soon referred me to a specialist.

There are many things I wish I would have known, such as the following:
  • Infertility is a common struggle that affects many couples. Most statistics say one is six couples will have some form of infertility. That being said, if a couple has been trying for a year (some specialists even say six months now) and has been unable to conceive, it is perfectly right and acceptable (not overreactive or silly) to share their concern with their doctor.
  • Infertility affects all ages. And actually, if you consider that women naturally become less fertile as they age, it seems all the more reason to see a doctor sooner than later if you are young and experiencing difficulty in conceiving. 
  • You can make an appointment with your doctor simply to discuss your concerns. (I didn't know I could do this! I felt like I needed a "real" reason to see my doctor.) Be straightforward when you do meet: "We have been trying for ______ months/years and can't get pregnant. What can we do?"
  • You can make an appointment with a different doctor if you don't feel yours is listening or responding well. (The idea of disagreeing with my doctor was completely foreign to me!)
  • There are easy tests that can be performed to check important baby-making information. A trip or two to the lab to get blood work may be all you need to get some answers. You can request labs from your doctor if she doesn't suggest them. (I didn't know this, either!)
  • There in an easy test for your hubby to check his count and motility. Do this right away. 
  • Have bloodwork done every year. I've just learned this one the hard way. Your levels may change. In fact, my doctor recently said that as far as FSH and AMH levels, he sees significant drops take place every six months in women with DOR and other imbalances.
  • Endometriosis is serious, so if you or your doctor suspects it, don't waste time.  With endometriosis, your body is functioning incorrectly, and tissue that should only grow in your uterus is growing in other places. It doesn't go away on its own, and usually it gets worse if untreated. I used to think it simply meant painful menstrual cycles, but it's so much more than that. 
  • Endometriosis cannot be cured but it can be prevented from getting worse. If you suspect endometriosis, don't wait. There are hormonal and surgical treatments.
  • There is a reason specialists exist! Our OB/GYNs and family doctors can only go so far.
  • Be brave and proactive as you seek medical answers. This is your health and your life.
Gratefully, God gives grace even when we don't have all the right answers. He cares about infertility and cares deeply for the infertile couple. I look back at our journey and am amazed at where we are now. Most of the time it was a slow process of placing one foot in front of the other, unsure of where the next step would take us but recognizing that we seemed to be headed somewhere. We would have a hunch or feel a nudge or meet the right person and then--another step taken. A phone call, an email, a conversation--one more step. It was God always. Moving and guiding us. Calming and encouraging us. Taking rests with us and directing detours for us.

There are things I wish I would have known, but I recognize that I could have never known how God would show up in our lives all because of infertility.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

New bad news

Yesterday's appointment did not go as we had planned. We headed to the doctor around 3:30 expecting to hear that everything looked good and our IVF was an easy go. The news we received was disappointing. No, that's a nice way of saying it. It was devastating.

The doctor diagnosed me with something called Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR), sometimes known as Primary Ovarian Insufficiency. What this means is I have a reduced number of eggs left, a reduction that shouldn't be present for another ten years. All women begin to experience some form of "wear and tear" on their eggs in both quality and quantity as they age, but a significant drop doesn't usually happen until late 30's and early 40's. It's uncommon for women in their twenties and early thirties to have this. When they do, it's diagnosed as DOR.

Three tests were done to check this. Blood tests checked my levels of FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) and AMH (Anti-Mullerian Hormone), and the Saline Sonogram checked the development of follicles among other things. A woman with DOR with have high FSH and low AMH. Furthermore, there will often be a lesser amount of follicles present than with a normal woman. All three tests confirmed each other.

The doctor said that a healthy, fertile couple has about a 20 percent chance of conceiving every month. He guessed that we have -- are you ready for this?? -- a 1 percent chance. 

One percent. My eyes filled with tears when he said those words. It was quiet in the room for a moment because neither Robby nor I really knew what to say. We weren't ready for news like that. How do we even continue talking about having a baby when our chances have just plummeted to be one in a hundred?

There was more. The saline sonogram showed something a bit abnormal with my uterus, something the doctor performing the procedure called a bicornuate uterus. My doctor didn't agree with the diagnosis, though. He said we would have seen this on our previous HSG done a few years ago. Who knows. Something's there, and it could be a problem. The options are to have surgery and fix it or to move on.

So, there we were hit with two huge bats of bad news. Somehow we started talking with all that and we actually had a really good appointment. IVF isn't out for us. Not all doctors will perform an IVF on a woman with DOR because the success rate does drop, but ours will. We just have to realize that we won't have the chances we thought we were going to have.

Still, a 30% chance is world's apart from a 1% chance, and we want to take it. In a way, it confirmed for us our desires to move toward IVF. The doctor also didn't think the surgery to correct whatever is up with my uterus was necessary. That was good to hear although I'm still not completely settled about it. Googling doesn't help, either.

We were positive on our way home, albeit completely shocked and shaken by the news. It's all settling in still, and unfortunately I usually feel worse before I feel better. But God's with us, and we hold to that truth.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Lifted up in prayer

Today my friend at church commented multiple times on how happy I seemed. I was a bit perplexed at first -- am I usually a downer? But then I realized she was right! I didn't just seem happy; I felt genuinely joyful inside. What was the difference, I wondered? I immediately began spinning through the different things that could have caused this change.

First, no doubt about it, the extra hour of sleep last night had to have helped. I mean, who doesn't benefit from some extra snoozes? Second, I have taken steps to remove extra burdens from my life. These burdens were good things - a great ministry (Kid's Praise) and a fulfilling part-time job (piano teacher). But I had felt for some time that I was having to squish everything to make it all fit, and that was getting exhausting. I knew that no matter what happens in our pursuit of a family, some roles and commitments were going to have to change. So, as hard as it was to let these things go, I did, and I know it was right. Finally, our labs are over and there is a "plan" in place. That feels good.

But even these things don't equal joy, at least not for me. I've had extra sleep before, and I've removed extra activities from my life. And I know that in this struggle--as in life--no plan is full-proof.  These things have been good and have been gifts from God, but I have no doubt about the reason for my joy these days. It's quite simple:

Dozens and dozens of people are praying for me and Robby.

As we have become more and more open about our struggle and our needs, more and more people are pleading on our behalf before our God. There already were many people praying for us fervently and diligently, and now more have been added. It's humbling. Hundreds of prayers have been offered for us.

The phrase "lifted up in prayer" is a common one among Christians. Although I don't think it's necessarily a phrase taken directly from Scripture, the idea certainly is present in God's word. When we pray for someone, we bring them and their needs before God.  We hold them before the Lord and ask his blessing and comfort upon them. This is the picture of the Church, is it not? In Romans 12, one of the key chapters and books about the Church as the body of Christ, we read the following:
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. [. . .] Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. [. . .] Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
I know we have been lifted up in prayer, and physically, spiritually, and emotionally, I do indeed feel lifted up. I am full and overflowing with hope and joy. I am no longer weighed down but instead am raised.

A few people have written out prayers for us and given them to us to read. This is new for me, but I have been so encouraged to get to hear what another has asked of God concerning us.  It's like eavesdropping! Here is a recent prayer, given to Robby by a friend last week. I love how this prayer reflects the person who prayed it.

“Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth with your offspring.” 
Father,They would love to do that. There’s no command they would rather walk in obedience to than this one.. To multiply. To fill your earth with new life. 
But what’s the deal? Who gives children but you? Whose capable of creating life where there was none before but YOU? 
Do you not see the pain this causes them? Do you not see how hard it is for them at every announcement, “it’s a boy” or “it’s a girl.” How many more baby showers must they go to before their own? 
What keeps you from speaking the words that bring life? “What Father doesn’t want to give their children good gifts?” 
There’s no doubt in my mind that you love Rob and Candace, that they are your beloved son and daughter, and that you SEE them. So please YHWH, live up to your name, and ACT! 
BRING YOUR KINGDOM! Touch your resurrection power on their bodies. 
Bring that beautiful bump on her belly. 
Jesus, its you who taught us to pray so boldly, and it’s in your NAME that I pray amen.
These are sweet words to us. I smile every time I read that line about the bump. Prayers are sweet and powerful, and I'm reminded that God's people, just as II Corinthians 2 says, are the fragrance of Christ.

Thank you for praying. Thank you for lifting us and our needs before God. Your prayers have not gone unanswered! Although we wait to see if God will grant us a baby, we know He has answered. He's with us. He's guiding us. And His Spirit and His people are bringing us more comfort that we knew we could receive! Thank you.