Today was a big week in our little family.
After a very difficult quarter in her classes, Elliana fought back from some rough grades to achieve high honors for the third time this school year. Then today, amid the psychotic screams of her parents, we watched Elliana race to 1st place victory in her first 400 race.
We ended the day going out for a celebration movie to see “Do You Believe”. It was little more intense that I would have liked, with scenes that I think were probably not appropriate for Elliana.
The movie managed to bring a lot of loose ends together with a heartwarming miracle, but a lot of tears, and scary moments had to be endured to get to the ultimate gifts that each character would experience at the end of their trials.
Although I think the message could have been conveyed without quite so much gunfire and disturbing adult themes, I have to say it made me think of some our darkest days during infertility.
The pastor’s wife in the movie had gone through infertility, and I knew it from the first time she appeared in a kitchen scene. Her benevolent preaching husband was helping a homeless, very pregnant teenager, and in a very pained scene in the kitchen, she made it clear she could not handle having the girl in a home that had never been blessed with a child.
The depth of sorrow the actress had in her face resonated with me. It was the same wince I saw in Lisa’s face when she would stand behind a pregnant girl at the checkout stand, and watch her rub her belly. Or the grimace I saw on her face when someone left a message on our voicemail that they were pregnant…again.
We endured the tragedy of miscarriages, and held our breath as we opened Christmas cards with ‘first baby’ pictures of other friends and family. We were even saddened by the references to “baby’ Jesus .
So back to the question posed at the beginning of this article: do you believe?
In the context of infertility this question has extra meaning.
You have to be able to see something that doesn’t exist in your natural world to continue down the path of assisted reproduction to have a child. Believe that some beauty lies at the end of all the clinical ugliness that can accompany trying to conceive a child with medical help.
No matter how high tech you go with infertility, there is ultimately something miraculous that has to happen for an embryo to implant in a woman’s womb, and grow safely for months. People who have never gone through infertility take this so much for granted.
Society takes reproductive ability for granted, so much so that it will fiercely defend the right to undo the miracle of conception, rather than finding a way to build a world that supports every woman’s ability to not only have a child, but live a dignified life that provides for that child with a good quality of life.
But that is a debate for another time.
At the end of every day while you are going through infertility, you have to ask yourself: do you believe that this is going to happen? Do you still picture a baby in your future?
For a very long time, all I could picture was spending thousands of dollars on cycles that wouldn’t work. I predicted us enduring more heartache, and even began to visualize a future as a benevolent childless uncle and aunt to a brood of nephews and nieces who we would support in various ways while we lived our lives focused on careers and material wealth.
Then I had the vision.
I’ve written about this in Almost a Father, but when we went out to New Jersey for our last shot at infertility at St Barnabas, during the karate chop pain of a shiatsu massage I had a vision. A little girl stomping through leaves, holding Lisa’s hand was in front of me, her little patent leather Mary Janes making the sweetest sound when she kicked up the leaves and laughed as they cascaded around her.
She looked back at me and said “C’mon daddy” waving her little hand for me to hold it. I reached out, was getting so close….
Then I woke up.
I was sure that the IVF would work. It had to.
But it didn’t.
I suppose somehow I knew it wouldn’t. We had two embryos left behind in the freezer, and as we flew home from St. Barnabas I was uncomfortable knowing they were staying behind.
My faith had been rocked again. It seemed that God was so far away. That vision had been a cruel joke meant to give me false hope.
But then again, those embryos were still out in New Jersey.
The way our infertility story ended, and our parenthood journey began, all seems to have such a perfect design when I look back at how each set back actually moved us forward, or in a new direction.
I had never believed there is any value to therapists for personal problems. The people who saw psychologist, in my humble and very narrow view, were ones who had problems with family members that were drug addicts, alcoholics, or had cheated on each other in a marriage.
I didn’t believe that we needed a therapist to talk about our infertility.
Yet the gift that came from actually opening up to the tools she offered, was me finding my writing voice.
I had always dreamed of being a writer. Ever since high school, when I wrote my first teen age angst ridden odes to insecurity, I found that I love the way emotions and experiences channel themselves from some mysterious place to the written word, where someone else can read them, relate to them, and be moved or comforted by then.
My journaling was comforting to me only at first. I could express all my feelings without feeling judged by anyone, or embarrassed by the topic of what I was writing about. I had a safe haven. Ultimately that voice evolved to the voice of an advocate—and I love writing on behalf of people who don’t have a voice to air their grievances, or need someone to stand up for them when they are at their lowest points.
The second gift came out of our most tragic loss. Right before our 10th wedding anniversary, we got our first bonafide, positive pregnancy test. The levels were low, but after a few more tests, the levels continued to double.
Then on Memorial Day, they crashed. We spent the next 10 days on a haphazard escape up Highway 101, while Lisa miscarried our child and we tried to look at back at the blessings of our decade old marriage. When we got back, I found the voice of that child would not leave me alone.
Two months later, I was performing at open mics in Nashville, singing songs I had written to woo the spirit of a baby who hadn’t seen the true soul of her daddy. One of my other loves since I had been in high school was singing and performing in front of people. Country music was the perfect avenue to convey the heartache of losing our child, and speak to a future where a different child would ultimately join our life.
I always thought the gift was that my writing voice evolved as I learned from amazing writers in the Nashville community, but looking back, I remember the day God revealed why we had been drawn there.
After a few days of open mics all over Nashville, Lisa’s anger at me for planning the trip so soon after the miscarriage had subsided. We had rented a little country house at a bed and breakfast out in the country, and were sitting on the front porch in rocking chairs that kept a rhythmic beat with our hearts as the fireflies began to light up at dusk.
“I can feel our baby here.”
The third gift came from our failed IVF at St. Barnabas.
We ended up going back to a major snow storm in New Jersey, and we were the only fools out driving around marveling at the flakes as they softly fell on the windshield. We bundled up and walked for hours through different little towns, listening to the soft crunch of the new fallen snow under our feet, holding glove covered hands, and laughing about our obsession with snow.
12 years later the strange tapestry and plan that God had for us is so beautifully obvious.
My written words spoke to the soul of a frozen embryo that now uses her written words to advocate for a more healthy world, who campaigned and became a class representative on the promise of making sure all the voices of her classmates are heard in the student council.
The guitar I played in Nashville for so many years is now being played by that formerly frozen embryo with her eyes set on living in the place where her mommy felt her presence so many years ago, and sharing her life stories as they evolve with songs she is already beginning to write.
Our formerly frozen embryo asked the universe this past year for a white Christmas, but wasn’t all that disappointed when it was over 70 degrees and sunny. She was still on her Christmas break exactly one week later, on New Year’s day, 2015, nearly 3 inches of snow fell in our back yard and all around our neighborhood—much more than had fallen in most of the rest of the city.
God reminded us of the reason for that January follow up trip to snowy New Jersey—the one where we thawed out the last two embryos we had—and 10 months later were holding our own little formerly frozen snow angel.
This may all seem difficult to believe, and even writing it, I can’t believe I am actually describing the true events that led us to the life we have lived with our soul baby now for a dozen years.
It’s kind of like the first time you go on a ‘gift’ hunt. A ton of boxes are wrapped up, hidden all over the place, with hints about what the final gift is going to be in each one. Often absurd things are put in the boxes—things that make no sense, or force you to look in a different direction that you would have expected.
Excitement and often irritation can come from opening a present that contains a hint you don’t quite understand, or from wondering how many boxes you’ll have to open to get to the final gift you are hoping for.
But if you persist, when you finally do get to the final gift, you realize it was worth the mess of wrapping paper, and treasure hunting you had to do to get to it.
No matter where you are in your infertility journey, at some point you will have to look your partner in the face and yourself in the mirror and answer one simple question:
Do you believe?