Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Don't Waste Your Infertility

It’s been a few months since we received the hard news that our struggle with infertility would require more treatment before we are able to proceed with trying to get pregnant. Few things feel worse than waking up from surgery and hearing the words, “it was worse than the doctor thought, you will need more treatment.” I went into surgery hopeful and came out feeling like I had been punched in the stomach (physically and emotionally). This is not how we planned it to be. This is hardly what we wanted. And this diagnosis only prolonged, and solidified, that we weren’t just a couple who was having a hard time getting pregnant again. We were infertile, at least for the time being.

I wish I could say that my response to this news has always been Christ-like and admirable. It hasn’t. But through this trial, God has taught me some specific things about his character, my depravity, and his goodness in all things. I believe that God is absolutely sovereign over my infertility in the same way that I believe he was sovereign over my miscarriage. It was not a surprise to him. In fact, it was designed by him for my good, and he doesn’t want me to waste this suffering. Below are a few things I’ve learned about not wasting my infertility. It’s hardly exhaustive, but it’s a start. If you are struggling with infertility too, I pray that God uses it to encourage you as we walk this road together.

Not wasting your infertility starts with a deep and abiding trust in the God who knows the end of your infertility. He knows the end of it because he gave it to you (Gen. 50:20; Job 2:10; Ps. 88:6-7). But he also knows the end of it because only he can truly heal your body and give you a baby. He is worthy of your trust. Get to know him more deeply through his word. Study it. Live off of it. You will find that he is good all of the time, that he loves you more than you know, and that he wants to give you a greater knowledge of himself through this devastating trial. In his word you will find comfort for your soul. Not wasting your infertility is a constant fight to see God as good, but it’s a fight worth having.

Not wasting your infertility means you worship even when your heart is breaking (Job 1:21). John Piper says that the “unwasted life is the one that continually puts Christ on display.” That’s what worship is, giving God the glory due his name. Worship means treasuring Christ above all things, even a baby. God gets the glory (and you get the joy) when, like Job, you bless his name even in the deepest moments of your pain and suffering.

Along the lines of the previous two points, not wasting your infertility means praying boldly. Only when we trust God as the all-sufficient creator, healer, sustainer, and good God that he is can we worship him, and also pray to him boldly. Knowing God enables us to pray to him with confidence that he can and will act in our best interests. Infertility is a disease of the helpless. You can’t change your condition. You can’t make two blue lines show up on a pregnancy test instead of one. But God can. Your experience with being utterly helpless to change your circumstance puts you in fellowship with many biblical characters. Pray like King David in the Psalms (see Psalm 27, 28, 30, 56, 62 and many others). He faced great difficulty and tribulation. His prayers were honest, bold, and worshipful because he trusted in God to be his hope and salvation

Not wasting your infertility doesn’t mean you don’t grieve and feel pain. This might seem like an odd addition, especially when statements like “don’t waste this season” are the entire point of the post. But the unwasted life isn’t the triumphalistic life. The apostle Paul accurately described walking through this life as, “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). That applies to infertility as well. We are sorrowful because it’s devastating, painful, and sometimes lifelong. But we are rejoicing because we have hope that this is not all there is. It’s not that we are happy with our circumstances. There is nothing happy about not being able to get pregnant. Oh, but there is a great Savior who has given us everything we need through his death—including comfort in our pain.

Not wasting your infertility means taking your thoughts and emotions captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Infertility brings with it a minefield of scary scenarios and questions (What if I can’t get pregnant? What if I miscarry again? What if I can’t afford treatment). Those thoughts tend to bring emotions, which then bring stress and worry. Infertility, like all suffering, has a way of putting pressure on us and our relationships. But infertility doesn’t bring with it a free pass on how I treat people, my husband especially. It also doesn’t give me license to daydream about the myriad of “What if’s” that come with infertility. I have learned this the hard way. God gave us real emotions and feelings, but they are not morally neutral. And our husbands are real people who are often hurting just as much as we are. The concept of talking to yourself, instead of listening to yourself is especially helpful when you feel your emotions taking over. Ask yourself, “is this feeling true?” (Phil. 4:8). If it is, you have a faithful, sympathetic Savior who understands your feelings. If it’s not, that same Savior is able to comfort you and change your feelings for his glory.

I didn’t put any practical suggestions in this post because I’ve learned that practical application is often person-specific. What helps me stay busy and use my season of waiting for the good of others might not work for other people, and that’s normal. But even more important, the practical cannot happen unless we embrace Christ as our greatest treasure in our season of infertility. Sure, we can find ways to stay busy to take our mind off of the pain, and those are good things to do (I’ve done it). But busyness in order to run from the suffering is not the same thing as busyness in order to fill the season with good things. God has designed suffering to chisel us more into the image of Christ, to draw us closer to himself, and to give us a greater vision and understanding of his glory. We could easily miss that if we fill our schedules in order to forget.

I don’t know the outcome of my journey of infertility. As of right now, I know that I’ve still got a road ahead of me that needs to be traveled. I don’t know where you, dear reader, are at either. But I do know this: no matter where we are in the journey of infertility, God has a lesson for us. His purposes for us are sure and good. He will test us, he will chisel us, and he will show us more of himself every step of the way. And after he has tried us, by his grace, we will come forth as gold (Job 23:10).

14 comments:

amandaginn said...

I have said it before, but thank you for sharing this part of your life with readers.

Anonymous said...

This is absolutely saturated with godly wisdom! What a rare soul to be able to communicate so clearly the goodness of the Lord while going thru such a difficult trial. Will def be praying for you and Daniel.

Courtney Reissig said...

Thanks, Amanda. I'm glad the Lord has used our story to encourage others. May he get the glory!

Chelsea Bass said...

Thanks, again, for another great post. Personally, I am reaching a bit of a breaking point. I am exhausted of treatment that isn't working, and frustrated at God's "no" through our circumstances. I am increasingly hurt by every other "yes" our friends get. We are not in a position to adopt, and we can't afford any extensive treatment (nor do I feel emotionally equipped to try it). We're in the in-between, I suppose.

debt said...

Love you, Bean! It is a privilege to walk with you through this. Praying! Will pray for you, too, Chelsea. God bless you, both!

Andrea Cavanaugh said...

Hi, Courtney! It's Andrea (Jeff Cavanaugh's wife). I don't know if you knew, but Jeff and I have also been dealing with infertility for about two years now.

It can certainly be a hard thing to live out the simultaneous truths of God's sovereignty and purposes and the reality of a fallen world. I can sympathize with what Chelsea said -- it gets wearying. I read that living with the emotional effects of infertility is like living with the emotional effects of a terminal illness. The grief and the strain is very similar. I found that I actually have a harder time dealing with infertility as it stretches on.

I thought you made excellent points. And I think it is extremely important to remember that our grief is not an excuse for sin. People will rarely call us out on this issue. But sin is just as possible here as in any other circumstance.

I thought your point about distracting ourselves was good. I have wondered at times if I am distracting myself from the sadness/frustration. And I do think it is important to give yourself the time and attention necessary to examine your heart and to allow yourself to be honest about the pain. But I also think that the work we do while waiting is not necessarily just distraction or killing time until the "real" thing comes along (though it can feel like that).

If we trust God's sovereignty, then we can say with confidence that the work placed in front of us this day is the work God intends for us to do. There is no other work he has for us. He has not called me to be a mother today. I actually find comfort in that. When I look around at others, I get anxious. Look at all those other women raising children, women who are often younger than I am! I am behind! I am being kept from serving God in the best way! But that's not the truth. The truth is that God has ordained my work for today -- it may be in an office or in a classroom or in my church or home. But it's his plan, and it's the ONLY place I can actually do God's will today. I can't obey God in my imaginations/wishes for the future. I can only obey him in the circumstances he has set before me this day. I keep this quote by Elisabeth Elliot posted on my desk:

“This job has been given to me to do. Therefore, it is a gift. Therefore, it is a privilege. Therefore, it is an offering I may make to God. Therefore, it is to be done gladly, if it is done for Him. Here, not somewhere else, I may learn God’s way. In this job, not in some other, God looks for faithfulness.”

Courtney Reissig said...

Andrea,

Thanks for your comment and helpful thoughts. I will be praying for you and Jeff. I love Elisabeth Elliot and her perspective on suffering. Thanks so much for sharing.

Anonymous said...

how is it suffering to not have a baby easily when you could adopt or foster and be a parent?

Courtney Reissig said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for the question. I would imagine that it's a common one for those on the outside looking in. But I don't think that the decision to adopt removes the sting or suffering that infertility brings with it. God uniquely created us as women to be life givers, which means that in our very nature most of of us desire to bear life through pregnancy. To be unable to do this because of infertility brings with it a whole host of emotions and pain. There are varying degrees of suffering that Christians face, but the variation does not diminish the hardness of the trial. That being said, you are correct that there are many children already on this earth who need homes. In God's providence, he does give many of them to infertile couples. But I would imagine that many of those couples had to face a period of grieving and sadness over the pain of infertility, and some still grieve even after their family is complete through adoption. Yes, children need to be adopted (we are actually very open to that), but there also needs to be sensitivity to the fact that the inability to even have the option of pregancy is an emotional roller coaster.

Thanks for reading. I hope this answer helps.

debt said...

As Russell Moore has said in his book, Adopted for Life(his wife and him have adopted, but also have biological children), adoption is not for everyone and people should pray long and think hard before they make this decision. It is a serious one. For those who are, we need to be available to help and encourage any way we can. It truly is a gift!

Melissa said...

My friend forwarded your blog to me and it was an answer to prayer. Only God could have given you such eloquent words of wisdom and encouragement to those facing infertility. Your words are so biblical and are filled with so much hope to the weary.

My own road with infertility has been long and hard. Without going into much detail, during the last 3 years I've encountered 2 minor surgeries, 2 major surgeries, 27 days in the hospital, and 2 rounds of IVF on my path to motherhood and still no baby. I could relate to your every word. I agree that through this difficult road God has walked every step with me, has drawn me closer to him, has provided me with a testimony to help others, and has solidified my marriage.

Beth Moore reminded me in her study of Esther, "God tells us to be patient, he will work out His plans in His perfect timing. The longer he takes, the harder he is working. He is not inactive. Something is happening in the heavenlies. We will lose our strength when we wait upon the situation, but when we wait upon the Lord, he will renew our strength.(Isaiah 40:31) Trust him."

I hope this helps to encourage others as it has encouraged me. For so long I put having a baby above all else, even my relationship with God. I lost where my focus should lie. It took a lot of wasted time to learn what you already know.

Thank you for providing such solid biblical advice. You have a gift in ministering. I felt so isolated because I felt no one understood my pain. I now find there are other Christian women out there that are suffering with the same thing and God brought me to your blog posting through a friend. Please know you are making a difference. It was exactly what I needed to hear at just the right time. My husband and I are preparing for our last round of IVF starting in March. Best of luck to you and all women suffering with infertility. God Bless!

Courtney Reissig said...

Melissa,

Thank you for your comment and for reading. I will be praying for you that God would be near to you in this season of waiting and that he would be pleased to open your womb.

Nice to meet you!

Indy said...

This post has blessed me immensely. Thank you!

Kristin said...

Thank you so much for sharing. My husband and I have struggled for years to have a baby. We've been through fertility medications, fertility procedures, etc...we stopped treatments just short of IVF. Our hearts were breaking, and I felt bare, empty, incomplete. I used to grit my teeth when people said, "You can always adopt!" because you are right, it is the desire of most women to be pregnant and to give birth to new life! Adoption is beautiful, but I was grieving the loss of pregnancy, childbirth, late night feedings... Though I gritted my teeth at the time, I am now thankful that somebody planted the idea of adoption in my brain, as my husband and I now have a beautiful baby boy that I gave birth to...through embryo adoption. So in case you hadn't heard of it, I wanted to plant the idea. Just in case. :) I was pregnant for a whole nine months, went through labor, and still breastfeed my precious baby. Just like a "normal" woman. Nobody would know he wasn't my genetic baby if I hadn't told them. There are at least 800,000 frozen embryos in the US left over from fertility treatments. Little souls. And that's where we got our dear son. Sure, he doesn't have my husband's eyes or my hair or whatever, but he's very much mine. (He's probably cuter than any baby we could make anyways!) I hope it isn't insensitive of me, a total stranger, to bring this up at this time. If it is, I apologize. And as you know, regardless of whatever route you end up taking, remember that in God alone our souls finds rest...