As I sit here at my desk staring out the window, thinking back to my journey of infertility, I find myself subconsciously running my hands over my barren scar. Deep and excruciating as it once was, now a faded but continually lingering memory. I’m typing away in my sunny Florida office watching palm trees lightly dancing in the breeze and I pause to remember my journey because a big milestone is approaching. My miracle IVF baby, if I can even call her that anymore, is turning four this month. FOUR! It’s hard to believe that the four years I struggled trying to become her mom is now the space in which I’ve had the honor of actually being her mom. I also remember because the Lord commanded me to when he gave me her name all those years ago. My daughter, Selah, means “to pause and reflect.” Now, I not only have my precious Selah but also a 2-year old son, Stone, and a new baby on the way. The last two were conceived naturally, although none less miraculously as I found out I was pregnant with both while in between appointments with my infertility doctor. Can I just pause here and say, if you had told my infertile self that I would go on to have three babies in four years I probably would have erupted into sudden high-pitched laughter followed immediately by some version of a Kim Kardashian ugly cry and then all mixed together. So, as I sit here and reflect on the years of unexplained infertility and agonizing endometriosis battle, I felt it timely to write my infertile self a letter. To remember the pain, to honor the journey, to document the growth, and to revel in the hard-fought faith I now cling to solidly. I write this as a memorial to my battle, but my prayer is that it ultimately speaks to yours.
Written by Guest Blogger: Whitney Henneman, founder of Hope Infertility Support Group.
Dear Infertile Whitney,
If only you could see us now. I wish you could catch a glimpse, if only for a few brief moments, of the life you so desperately long for. I wish you could see the adoration in your daughter’s eyes as she tells you she loves you or hear your son’s belly laugh after he makes a silly face or smell their sweet sweaty bodies after a full day of playing outside in the sunshine; simple moments so overwhelming they will bring tears to your eyes. But unfortunately, you are in the thick of your battle right now and the end seems nowhere in sight. The un-resolving tension between your desire for motherhood and the empty reality pulls so taut you feel perpetually combustible. As you wrestle with fear and endless sadness, let me provide you with some tips for surviving the storm.
Even though your “Type A” personality has accomplished almost everything it has put its mind to up until now, you’re going to have to sit indefinitely with failure. You’re going to have to get comfortable with her and accept the humble hand she offers. Although this failure feels all-consuming, you will learn a very important lesson. Failure does not define you. This failure will initially fuel a soul-ravaging bitterness but as you settle into your suffering it will eventually fade into anger; healthy anger that will combat complacency, defy defeat, and grant you the courage to fight with all your heart. If this thing called infertility is going to take you down, it is going to take you down swinging.
As your friends start talking about birthing, breast-feeding, and nurseries, you will constantly be at a loss for how to relate. You’ll overcompensate by sharing stories of your sister’s baby and her experience because, without those stories, all that’s left are awkward conversational pauses. You’ll be caught between a rock and a hard place with wanting to actively participate in your friend’s lives while feeling the searing pain of baby showers. Just a heads up, baby showers are the one place in particular that will highlight your absolute female defectiveness. Many of your relationships will fade during this season but don’t let this derail you or allow it to speak to your self-worth or likeability. Honey, you thought being the last girl in middle school to get her period was rough but that doesn’t hold a candle to being the last of your friends to have children. This shame, isolation, and inadequacy you feel will shake you to your core but surrounding yourself with a few infertility friends who “get it” will give you the validation and comfort you so desperately desire.
Friends and family will want to give you all the advice, most of which will come across as crass, offensive, and just plain ignorant. Although 98% of the time it comes from a good place, it will make you feel 100% misunderstood. From “just relax” to reckless theology as to why God isn’t giving you children, be able to compartmentalize what people say to you and mentally acknowledge their inability to “get it.” Process it, have grace, move on, and don’t look back.
Up until your infertility battle you’ve always considered yourself a very emotionally resilient and typically happy person. The topic of mental health or mental instability (pre-infertility) probably brings to mind strung out child actors with drug addictions but the hard reality of the trauma you will experience combined with the fluctuating hormones from infertility drugs will cause you to spiral into debilitating panic attacks. You will find yourself in the Emergency Room several times because the physical manifestations of these anxiety attacks will mimic feelings of heart attacks, strokes, and dying. This living in constant survival mode will be utterly exhausting. Try to identify these symptoms as quickly as possible to get a handle on feeling in control, find a Christian counselor to process with, and finally be your own advocate! The doctor’s office will tell you it’s not your hormones causing the anxiety, but it is and you’re right. It takes a while but once you get them under control you will feel more normal.
Infertility will obliterate your childhood faith putting your known reality into a terrifying tailspin. You will question basic foundational truths like:
- Is God good?
- Does he care about me personally and my set of circumstances?
- Have I done something wrong to elicit God’s wrath?
- If God says in the Bible, “Children are a heritage of the Lord, offspring a reward from him,” then what does that say about me and my barren womb?
On your quest for absolute truth, you will need to peel back the years of self-projection and cultural indoctrination towards the false God you’ve created in your mind to understand him clearly and without bias. Your “achiever personality” has put God into this performance-based relationship where you do good things and He honors those actions with blessings; known widely as the prosperity gospel. Fortunately, you will come to realize that is not how God works and suffering is not an indication or indictment of personal actions. Suffering, which affects us all unreservedly, is the greater result of the fall of mankind so your infertility does not speak to what’s “supposed to be” or God’s indefinite will. He put the desire to be a mother in your heart so keep fighting for your family. Although you feel abandoned by God, there will be earthshattering moments along your journey where God will speak to you profoundly so continue to seek him daily. If I could emphasize one line in this entire letter it would be this: Don’t give up on Him because He hasn’t given up on you.
I could go on and on and recount all the abject details of my story but that is not the point of this letter. I wish I could sit with you late at night as you sob uncontrollably on your empty nursery floor and tell you that it all works out in the end, but I know now without the pain, the tremendous growth you will experience would not come to be. God doesn’t allow us to see our future, whether it will be afflictive or prosperous so that we might always live in constant dependence on him. So after all is said and done, after all the pain and the trauma and the bitterness have subsided, after the battlefield has gone quiet and the morning sun peaks over the dew, will arise out of the ashes something tremendous; a woman with unwavering faith, a woman lit with passionate empathy for the barren woman and the broken mother, a woman with a self-assuredness only trial can cultivate, a woman with boundless daily gratitude for her babies, a woman who has without a doubt seen the hand of God, A WOMAN UNSHAKEABLE.
Your Future Self
If you would like to read more about my story or offer hope to friends still fighting their battles, please check out my recent book, “The Barren Cry: A 21-day Infertility and Miscarriage Devotional” available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Walmart. If you need immediate support or additional resources, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whitney Henneman is a wife, mom, and infertility survivor living in Orlando, FL. After struggling with unexplained infertility and endometriosis for 4 years, she conceived and gave birth to her miracle baby, Selah, through IVF. The founder of Hope Infertility Support Group, she is a passionate leader following God’s call on her life to encourage women in the throes of infertility, miscarriage, and child loss.
P.S. Catch this week’s episode of The Hormone P.U.Z.Z.L.E Podcast – The Barren Cry- Finding Hope in Infertility With Whitney Henneman.