No chance encounter

No chance encounter

The world would call us TTC (trying to conceive) sisters, which I roll my eyes at. I guess I don’t like to be put in a box. Especially one with cheesy acronyms. But it’s amazing how many of these ‘sisters’ I’ve met since we moved back to the US.

There’s a common connection and we just… happen to meet. Sometimes it’s at work, sometimes it’s online, sometimes it’s through a friend of a friend, and sometimes it’s the girl you’re talking to while having your nails done. Of course chance isn’t involved at all. It’s God aligning our paths. When we were in the deep waters of treatments and tests, I didn’t really cross paths with anyone in a similar boat as we found ourselves. It was lonely. It was hard. Maybe God used that time to soften this mean ol’ heart so that I can shed compassion more easily now. Who knows.

But these friends that I meet have blessed me so much. I just FaceTimed with a friend of a friend for an hour and a half about the IVF process. We talked about the big, intimidating protocol they hit you with, the numbers, dates, and dosages highlighted, and how it’s scary, but in many ways freeing to open up about the hardships of infertility.

Video chats & coffee.

It encourages me to talk to them because it brings up the past, it brings up what did and didn’t work for us, and how God worked along the way. These things may never escape our memories, but they tend to dull a little bit if we don’t bring them back up, or think about them from time to time.

When I re-tell our story, I’m often reminded at how amazing some of the smaller details are. For example, this new friend was asking if we found an OB we liked here in San Angelo. I was reminded how that all came about. It was during such a busy time that I don’t think I really paid enough attention to it. We just found out that I was pregnant, we were packing up our whole house, and moving from Wyoming to Texas in a matter of 7 days. Holy cow! Meanwhile, I was still under the IVF care at my clinic in Denver, and they were managing my dosages, etc. They wanted me to find an OB in San Angelo as soon as we arrived. As in, a day or two after we arrived. We were moving to a place we had never even visited before, and we didn’t know a soul! How was I supposed to know which OB or hospital to go to? So I got on Google (as one does) and looked up OBs in the area, glanced at one or two reviews, and thought, “She should work. And if not, I’ll find another doctor later on.” So I called and made an appointment for the day after we were to arrive. Long story short, we love our doctor. Her care has been amazing. She is spoken highly of in the community, she’s dealt with IVF patients, and the issues that make me high risk (Factor V, risk of blood clots), and she’s the perfect kind of laid back/prepared that we didn’t know we needed. So talking back through all of that, and seeing how this new doctor and staff worked long-distance with my IVF clinic for the few weeks that I was weaning off my meds, I realize that things could have gone very differently. It could have been a doctor or a situation that we didn’t like. But it wasn’t.

In talking with these friends, with these ‘sisters’ who are in a place I’m all too familiar with, I’m reminded that God goes with us through the hard times. I’m reminded that he’s in the story, he’s in every outcome, and I’m reminded that he’s the God of chance encounters meet-ups that were meant to be.

Friends, I’m praying for you as you move forward in this treatment. I’m praying that God will be your peace when you’re tempted to worry about the outcome and the results. I’m praying your circle of family and friends will be encouraging, that you’ll find someone who can be there for you (drive you to appointments, text to see how you’re doing, bring you soup when your almond-size ovaries are the size of oranges and you’re exhausted), and I’m praying for God to work in big, and unexpected ways through this upcoming treatment. You’re not alone.

2 years back in the USA

2 years back in the USA

I know, I know. It’s hard to believe that we moved back from Africa TWO years ago. A lot has happened in two years. You can say that again! But more than the moves, the different transitions, ‘IVF take 4’, the miracle baby, and the lessons we’ve learned along the way, we’ve seen God’s hand leading and guiding us. When we boarded that plane to move back two years ago, having no earthly idea where we’d end up living or what we’d be doing, we would have never imagined that we’d be where we are today. His grace has followed us. His grace has been sufficient for us.

Over these past two (whirlwind) years…

– We’ve lived in three states. Colorado, Wyoming, and now Texas. [Click on highlighted words to read a blog post.]

Colorful Colorado.

– We’ve enjoyed the occasional video chat or phone call with our African friends. It’s always a good way to brush up on our French, too. Technology continues to make the world feel just a little bit smaller. But often times, not small enough.

– I gathered a lifetime of stories working as a caregiver in Cheyenne, and now I’m meeting some great people from our new community making smoothies at the hospital’s health club. It’s the perfect for-right-now laid back job.

– It seems like no matter where we live we cross paths with French-speaking Africans. I met one in San Angelo just last week! SO cool! I could tell by the way he was walking and his mannerisms that he had to be from Africa. Sure enough.

– We’re expecting a BABY in August! We’re still amazed. And grateful more than we could ever express.

11 (ish) more weeks til baby girl arrives!

– We’ve made up for lost time by traveling around our own country: Steamboat Springs, Denver, Bad Lands, Mount Rushmore, Deadwood, Vegas, Waco, the Grand Canyon, Nags Head, Whitestone, Tennessee, Austin, Fredricksburg, San Antonio, Blackhawk, and Alaska.

Shawn won a trip to Alaska with his company! Way to go!

– We continue to take in (and not take advantage of): running water, berries, AC, the English language, seasons, sidewalks and grass, being in the same country as our families, pork, good pizza, you know, little American luxuries like that.

– We’ve been back for my sister’s wedding, the birth of a niece, and a nephew.

– Shawn started a career with Denver Mattress in Greeley, Colorado (my hometown!) where we were living when we first moved back. Again, we were transitioning from ten years as full-time missionaries, with 6 of those years serving overseas. We had NO idea what was next or what we’d do, or how long it would take for us to find a job. God opened the door for Shawn to start working at Denver Mattress, fast forward to today, and he’s now the manager of his own store here in San Angelo. It’s been so cool to see God’s provision for us since we’ve moved back. It was a theme I wrote about last year at our one-year “Ameriversary”.

– We have a house under contract! Woohoo! This is another big dream we’ve had for many years, but when you’re a missionary living all over the place, well, it’s not always an option. But here we are! Getting settled, and signing a mountain of paperwork with great anticipation.

This is no doubt a sweet, and exciting time for us. All we can do is turn and say, “Thank you, God.” We can’t explain the hard times, and we can’t explain the good times. We can’t explain why God does what he does when he does. But we know that he is always good. We can trust his character. With him on our side, the future is bright (song by Tenth Avenue North).

Finding out – excerpts from my IVF journal

Finding out – excerpts from my IVF journal

As a follow-up from this blog post, here’s another except from my IVF journal:

The night before we found out the results from our first beta test (which told us if I was pregnant or not). I wanted to “freeze” that moment. Not knowing which way things would go, but wondering if I’d look at these pictures the next day and know then that I was pregnant.

12/21/16

It’s 9:14pm, just four days before Christmas. It’s the evening before my first of two beta blood tests. The test that will initially tell if I’m pregnant or not. I am feeling more excitement than fear. I’m feeling more excitement than I thought I would the eve before our big day. Tomorrow could go one of two ways. I’ve been on and off nervous since the transfer, which is to be expected, and completely normal (if you ask me). I’ve been nervous wondering what’s going to happen, if it will work or not. I’ve been curious, always curious, what the embryo is up to in there- knowing we transferred it, but not knowing much more than that. I’ve been nervous for “the” phone call. The one where they call to give you the results. I know how these calls have gone in the past. But this isn’t the past. This is a new day, with a new hope. At least that’s what I’ve been trying to focus on. I’m ready for some good news. I’m ready for a congratulatory phone call this time, with positive results. I’m ready for tomorrow to be a day we’ll never forget. I’m ready for this to be a Christmas where we see a miracle unfold before our eyes. I’m ready for the news that a baby is coming in August. Tomorrow’s the day we find out the results of this long IVF process. I’m excited, nervous, anxious, and hopeful. God, we pray for you to hold us tight as we walk, once again, into the unknown. We pray for a miracle. We pray that 12/22 will be a very special day in our lives as Shawn & Jenn.

12/22/16

12:10pm Blood work for beta test #1 is in, and now we wait. NO BIG DEAL. Just waiting by the phone all day to find out if I’m pregnant or not. *Heavy sigh*. A lot of time, energy, money, hopes, dreams, continued efforts, prayers, pain, and hard work have led us to this point. There’s nothing we can do now but wait, hope for the best, and try not to go crazy wondering what the results are going to be!

4:01pm “The call” came later in the day than I would have liked. The phone call with the results came late because the lab was down. Shawn (at work) and I were ON EGG SHELLS ALL DAY waiting for that call. After lunch with Jamie, and stopping in to see Shawn at work, I went to Target to walk around and kill some time. And then it came. THE CALL OF ALL CALLS. Nurse: “How are you, Jennifer?” Me: “Anxious!!” Nurse: “Oh, ok! Sorry about the delay, our lab was down. But it’s good news! You’re definitely pregnant!” Me: *freezes in the magazine aisle of Target*. “Really?!?! *Begins to tear up and laugh with joy.* “WOW!” Then the nurse went on and said it was a really strong first beta, over 200. (Anything under 5 is negative.) I was (still am!) stunned. Overjoyed!!! I decided to go surprise Shawn in person since I was still in the neighborhood. When I pulled into Denver Mattress, he wasn’t with a customer, thankfully, because I really didn’t want to have to leave and come back, or to tell him over text. We went right into his office, he closed the door and I said with all the excitement in the world, “I’m pregnant!!” He was so, so, so happy. We were both in shock. He kissed my belly and had tears in his eyes. The dream is becoming a reality. Our Christmas wish, our Christmas miracle, HAS ARRIVED.

12/22/16 turned out to be an unforgettable day in our lives as Shawn & Jenn.

May the sharing of our story dare you to hope, to dream, to keep praying, to keep climbing. May it remind you that your story is not over yet. May it show you that God is always at work- through the sweet and the bitter times, he is there, he is God, is able.

A “let’s be friends” trucker hat

A “let’s be friends” trucker hat

I try not to appear too desperate. I try not to be a stalker and follow people on Instagram two seconds after meeting them. I try not to wear my “let’s be friends” trucker hat too often. (J/K I don’t have one. No but really, guys, if anyone has one… I’ll take it.) I try not to be too in-your-face with the get-to-know-you questions. But also… I can’t help it! We’re new here, and naturally, we’re looking for friends. More than that, we’re looking for a community. We’re looking for family. (Because our family in Colorado and our family in Ohio are just a little too far away!)

With our 14 previous moves as a couple, we: 1.) didn’t know how long we’d be living there, and 2.) we were placed into somewhat of a pre-existing community (with the exception of living in the village). If the move was for Bible college or part of our missions training, we had instant community, if it was for French school, we met classmates (aka: insta-friends) people in the same boat as we were, and with the same schedule as us. If the move was for overseas missions, we had co-workers, fellow missionaries, and others we’d be working and living amongst to befriend. See what I mean? A natural community was often a part of it for us. That doesn’t mean instant friendships were born, or that it was always that easy, it just means that we had a natural place to meet people in a common place as us.

Rewind to our move to Greeley, Colorado and it was easy (despite the transition / reverse-culture shock side of things) because for the first time ever (since I was married), I was living near my family. Plus we reconnected with some of my high school / longtime friends and their spouses, and it was pretty easy. We found ourselves in a great small group which was clearly meant to be. Then we moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming, and we knew then that it was just a temporary place for us, as we were waiting for Shawn to get a promotion. We knew that the next place that brought Shawn the promotion to manager would be our final stop as far as we knew. It would be a place where we’d settle. With 110ish possible places it could have been across the USA (spoiler alert: we ended up in Texas), we prayed and prayed that God would bring us to the right town, with the right community, and the right church, and the right friends.

It feels so good to be where we’re planning to be for the unforeseeable future (albeit foreign to our former nomadic lifestyle). It feels good to settle somewhere for once. To have a go-to Mexican restaurant and a church we now call home.

But because we’re planning to stay, and because our family is growing, and because we don’t have family here, I’m feeling extra “rushed” to find friends. Not just people we know in the community, but people who text me random tidbits about their day. People who know what’s going on in our lives. People who come over for burgers on the grill and invite us to the lake. You know?

Living in Africa taught me a lot about friendship. You have to work at it, number one. You have to make the effort to find and keep friends. Both parties need to ‘gain’ something from the friendship. For example, in Senegal Fatou helps me with my French, and I buy a kilo of her mangoes. We both win. Expats become friends because I have the rare Reese’s Pieces that we all want/miss/can’t find, and you have AC in your living room. Also, neither of us have family here, and we’re both learning how to adapt to life in this host culture, so a deeper and possibly faster bond is formed.

So that leaves me with a lot of thoughts about friendship in this context here. In the context of being back in the USA, and in the context of being in Texas. What do people ‘gain’ from being my friend? I know what I gain because I’m new here, and we need those family-type friends who you get together with for a fun 4th of July shindig. It leaves me with questions about how many friends one needs. How do Americans make and keep friends? Are we too busy? Do people just click? Is there a chance that someone with family and friends and an established community still needs another friend? How do guys connect?

With every move, and every new place we’ve lived, God has provided amazing friendships for us. He’s provided friends for me, friends for Shawn, couple-friends, older friends for the seasons when we really needed them, life-long friends you text about anything and nothing (or just a funny meme), friends who have taught us something, friends we’ve grown with, and friends who have shaped the people we are today.

We know that God has friends for us here. We know because those friendships have already started to form into something sweet and unexpected. I had lunch at a really good Thai restaurant with a new friend last week. That’s a milestone moment for me because we moved here just a few months ago knowing exactly zero people. We have a small group of friends already wanting to throw us a baby shower. I had coffee with a super cool girl from church recently. All of this is God’s grace as we continue to settle. It takes time. It takes putting some of these lessons and observations about friendship into practice. And… it may take a trucker hat about friendship. Just sayin’.

Thai food, new friends, and God’s grace in our new, non-nomadic life.
Prayers from my IVF journal

Prayers from my IVF journal

The theme of 9/14/16’s journal entry was:
Praying.
Hoping.
Moving forward. —–>

If you flip through my IVF (turned pregnancy!) journal, you’ll see a lot of that.

Prayers. These pages are full of prayers. Prayers asking for a miracle this time, prayers for strength to deal with the unknown, and for good quality eggs (things you’d never think to pray for until you needed to). Prayers that God would work through this process, that results would come back positive, and that God would protect us as we drove the four hours roundtrip from Cheyenne to Denver sometimes multiple times a week. There are prayers that God would hold us tight during times of anticipation and waiting. There are pages where the prayer was asking that God would somehow shape and mold us as we walked through this. On 9/17/16 the prayer was for supernatural patience and peace. This was what we needed as we waited to hear how many eggs fertilized after the egg retrieval surgery, and then as we waited to find out how many of those turned into embryos. A wait like that felt like it was beyond us. Beyond our power. On 10/8/16 the prayer was asking that we would somehow be able to always look back and say, “Our God was with us.”

On 9/17/16 the prayers was, “God, help us to praise you at every turn, during every long wait, when we’re anxious, and when we want to worry.”

On 11/1/16 the prayer was, “God, we continue to ask you to allow this embryo to freeze well, thaw properly, and implant. May it all line up with your perfect timing – even when the wait is hard for us.”

On 11/6/16, “…God, allow this miracle.”

On 11/14/16 the prayer was, “God, a million things could stress and worry me from now til transfer (assuming the FET frozen embryo transfer isn’t cancelled). Please help me accept your peace, and to wait, and to trust the results and protocol along the way. Lord, we ask you for a miracle baby.”

11/15/16’s theme was:
New day.
New hope.
And one day closer!

11/22/16 “Jesus, hold our hearts and our dreams as we wait. Amen.”

On 11/24/16 the prayer was, “God, hold our hands and our anxious hearts. We don’t know what will happen next – but you do. Lead us.”

On the day of the transfer of our baby girl embryo I wrote this prayer, “God, it’s in your hands now. You’ve brought us THIS FAR. Continue to lead, open doors, hold our hearts, our emotions, our fears, and work a miracle in this situation. Amen.”

12/22/16 was the day we would find out if I was pregnant or not, after all these years, all these prayers, all these treatments. I wrote, “God, hold me so tight because I can’t do this on my own. I’m so nervous.” That was the theme of the day, along with the continued prayer for a miracle. The theme was also: waiting. hoping. anxious. curious. wondering. praying. watching the time. excited. on the edge of my seat. (Blog post coming soon on the events that unfolded on that beautiful day…)

I bought a journal with gold foil hearts on it. I wanted a journal where I would write it all out this time. I wanted to write about the fears, what the process was like, and how we were handling it all. It’s not always easy to talk about it when you’re going through it. Partly because people don’t ask, or know what to ask, and partly because it’s hard to explain what it’s really like. It’s hard to explain this emotional roller coaster where you’ve exhausted all resources trying to have a baby, which has led to doing IVF for the 4th and final time. You’re willing to invest everything you have to do it – financially, emotionally, and physically. It’s hard to communicate what it’s like to be in that place. That’s why I needed the journal. I wanted to write what I couldn’t say.

In this journal there are also notes to me from Shawn, love notes and encouraging notes when the shots were long and hard. There’s my hospital wrist band. There are ultrasound pictures of baby girl at weeks 7, 8, 10, and 20. There are prayer requests asking God to help her grow and to keep her safe.

There’s a lot on these pages that only Shawn has seen. He was there, he gets it. It was our journey, side by side. And maybe one day it’s something we’ll let our daughter read through. She won’t ever have to question if she was wanted, but if she does, she can read through this IVF (turned pregnancy!) journal to know for sure that she was the one we prayed for.

This belly

This belly

I get it.
I know how it feels.
You’re just walking down the street minding your own business, or waiting for a table at a restaurant, and all you see are 5 billion pregnant women in sight. You wonder who opened the gate. Who let all the pregnant women out?
I know how it feels to be dealing with your own reoccurring grief, just to turn and see so many visual reminders of what could be. Or what could have been.
I know how it feels to try and accept what you can’t change, to embrace, in one way or another, where you are. But seeing all these pregnant women is just adding salt to the raw, open wound. It’s unavoidable.

Their pregnant bellies are a visual reminder that some get to carry life, some have what you’ve been wanting, praying for, trying for. It’s a visual reminder as they openly place a hand on their growing, moving belly, that your body feels flawed and unworthy. That something isn’t right. Your body, your stomach has never been able to do what theirs is doing. Sadness strikes right there in Nordy’s as you wait for your table. It was supposed to be a fun evening out, one where we embrace our carefree place in life. But here I am, feeling sadness as I look around and see what I only wish I had.

Now I’m (ever-so-happily) “one of them”. I’m one who has a belly now. I’m one who walks around unable to hide this growing baby. It’s incredible!

But I can’t stop thinking about you, friend. I was in your shoes for so many years and I know just how it feels. It stings, it burns, it’s unfair, it’s month after month, it’s so many unanswered questions, new treatments, trials, unclear diagnosis’s, and still no guarantee of what the future holds.

I just want you to somehow look at me differently. When we cross paths, I hope you see this belly as a giant neon flashing billboard of hope. I hope you don’t feel despair in your own circumstances, but that you are reminded that with God, anything is possible. When you least expect it, a miracle could appear. The African women at our church in Senegal would always say, “Ça va venir!” (“It’s going to come!”). Were they just saying that? Were they just trying to be nice? Was it a cultural pleasantry? If it were anyone else, I would say yes, and then secretly roll my eyes. But these were women who walked through the fire. They have lived some trying times, and still, they chose faith in God. They chose to walk by faith. So when they said it, it packed a punch of encouragement.

So, friend, when you see this belly, I hope you see the road that has led us here. I hope you see someone that understands the tears you cry when you get home from an outing where so many pregnant women and babies were spotted. I hope more than anything, you’re reminded that our God is faithful. Sure, that doesn’t mean every story ends like we want it to, but it does mean that there’s hope, that there’s purpose, that miracles happen, that God is always with us, and that the unexpected could be just around the corner. That’s what I’m reminded of when I see my own growing belly: that miracles happen, that hope is alive, and that the story is not over.


1 million adventures led to you

1 million adventures led to you

Saying “I do” was our first grand adventure. It’s the adventure that has since led to many other adventures.

I guess it’s the adventure of us. I guess that’s what marriage is.

Our adventures have taken us to living overseas in West Africa, they have taken us to living in four different countries together, and learning a new language together. Our adventures together have been behind 15 moves, and many new transitions – in both foreign cultures and our home culture.

Our adventures together have allowed us to survive loss, and the trials of multiple fertility treatments.

Adventures don’t always mean fun and good times. They involve doing something, not knowing the outcome, or how hard it will get, but still going for it, moving forward, and giving it your all.

And now, here we are, embarking on a brand new adventure: having a baby together!

I saw this sign at Hobby Lobby when we first moved back from Senegal and were living in Greeley, Colorado. I loved it so much. I stood there in the aisle fighting a whole slew of emotions coming at me. We were at a stand still place: wanting a baby, but feeling like we had exhausted all of our resources. I wanted to buy that sign, but why? We didn’t have any kids or babies on the way, we had tried all we could, including three rounds of IUI and three rounds of IVF, and even the door of adoption was closed at that time. We were beginning to doubt whether or not we would ever experience this particular adventure of having children to love and raise.

But despite standing in that aisle and feeling discouraged, I still took a picture of that sign and kept it in my cameral roll for awhile. I think it encouraged me to remember that the adventure, by nature, was continuing to put one foot in front of the other, and that by nature the course of an adventure was unknown.

Fast forward a year and a half from where I first saw that sign, and we are so excited for where we are now, and for where we’re headed next. We don’t take for granted the blessing of getting to experience this adventure.

So I went out and bought that sign. It was the first thing we bought for the nursery.

Baby girl, you are our bucket list. We can’t wait to see you and hold you.

Moving to Africa: Embracing Life Outside My Comfort Zone

Moving to Africa: Embracing Life Outside My Comfort Zone

When I was 24 years old, my husband and I moved to Guinea, West Africa. It was a monumental life step for us. Flying across the ocean was a big, turbulent step. Packing all of our belongings into six large trunks was a big step. Learning French, saying goodbye to our families, and surviving those first days of culture shock were all really big steps.

Stepping off that plane and taking in the thick humidity, the vibrantly colored traditional outfits the people were wearing, the different languages swirling around, the reality that this was our new home – these were all part of an unforgettable, dramatic change. Life was suddenly very different! I no longer had the convenience of a Walmart down the street or the freedom to jump in my car and drive to wherever I wanted or needed to go. I couldn’t swing through Dairy Queen for a blizzard when the temperature climbed and I had a craving.

If I were to guess, I’d say that experience, that first-time-in-Africa, full-on culture shock place where I was for the first few months after we arrived, would probably rate at a 9 on the 1-10 scale. 10, of course, being the most dramatic change, the most difficult, the closest you can come to wanting to be sent back to mommy… and good American candy bars. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved those early hazy days in Africa. As picturesque as it may sound, I woke up under our mosquito net and I loved the feeling. We had arrived. We were finally in Guinea. The place we had been reading about, planning and preparing for, and even dreaming of. I woke up with a sense of excitement and adventure because I knew this was where we were supposed to be. But nevertheless, we were far from the home we knew, and the adjustment was not going to be easy.

Fast forward four months and we were evacuated out of Guinea in just a few days due to political unrest. What we couldn’t fit in our suitcases we left for our African friends that we had grown to love and respect. Leaving was harder than we could have imagined, and leaving under those circumstances, bullets flying and people fearing for their lives, was a heartbreaking and sobering experience.

One quick flight later, and we had arrived in Senegal, a neighboring West African country. We tried our best to quickly plant our roots, never having planned to live in Senegal. We continued with our French language studies, this time out of the classroom and around the kitchen table with a local language helper. After a few years of living in the capital city of Dakar, we moved to the southern part of the country commonly referred to as the Casamance region. We moved into a village to work with a small local church, teach English, and help out with a variety of community projects.
Moving is a big deal. Up to that point we had moved somewhere around 11 times in our young marriage. This move required us to board a 14-hour overnight ferry that would take us near the village we were moving to.

The boat trip was rocky and people were sick. I was petrified that we were going to capsize. With every wave I kept questioning, “Was that bigger than the last one?” Sadly in 2002 Le Joola ferry (different boat, same route) did capsize and 1,863 people died. That’s more casualties than the Titanic, and yet, not many people know about it.
The next morning my fears quickly vanished when I found myself eating a warm baguette and drinking café au lait while watching dolphins jump the waves alongside our ferry. It was breathtaking. It was exciting because we were moving to yet another home… and we were almost there. And we had survived the overnight boat trip. Something I felt very brave for doing.

Sitting inside our white cement village home, a half-completed house with an African family sharing the same courtyard, I was able to take a deep breath after our cross-country move and our adventurous tales at sea. As I caught my breath and took a look around, I felt so overwhelmed I didn’t know what to do or where to begin. I couldn’t unpack because we didn’t have any closets or shelves. I didn’t have any friends I could call to come help me. I didn’t speak much of the same language as my neighbors (my level and their level in French only took us so far) and aside from my husband, there wasn’t an American in sight.

Over the next year we slowly morphed into who we needed to be in the village. With time, grit, sacrifice, and the help of our previous experiences in West Africa, we adjusted. Our adjustment was beyond the physical longing for a cheeseburger and a friend who spoke English, and it was beyond us learning the local greetings and having to swallow a fish eyeball with onion sauce on it. We morphed into who we needed to be as friends and neighbors to those around us. We learned by watching and we learned by asking a child-like amount of questions about everything we didn’t understand. We opened our hearts and our doors even when it pushed us, yet again, outside of our comfort zone. We allowed our neighbor Yassine to adopt us as her children, and we tried not to shy away from being corrected when we crossed those cultural boundaries that were so foreign to us. We learned what community meant in that context and how to integrate into the local way of life.

Boarding the plane that first took us to Guinea, Africa served as a high speed time capsule into a world and a life that we will never forget. It offered us six years of life lessons on how to adapt, how to survive, how to make friends, how to dance to the beat of the drums, and most importantly, and the thing I’m most thankful for, it taught us how to embrace the challenges, the change in plans, and the unfamiliarity to find a full and vivacious life outside of the comfort zone we had always known.

*This is an essay I submitted for Real Simple’s Ninth Annual Life Lessons Essay Contest. The theme was “What was the most dramatic change you ever had to make?” While I didn’t win (sure would have been nice to win $3,000…), I sure enjoyed the opportunity to think through and write out my answer. I thought I’d share it here on the blog with you, so at least someone can read it! What about you? What would your answer be?

A sobering look back at IVF 1, 2, and 3

A sobering look back at IVF 1, 2, and 3

March 2013- I’ll never forget the first time we did IVF in Dakar. Of course everything was new: the treatment, learning the medications in French, and having Shawn learn how to give me shots. Getting to know our doctor was really special. (Even if we did have to wait 2+ hours in his waiting room some times…) He was Nigerian but grew up in Senegal. He spoke English which was nice and of course very helpful in the medical realm where our language abilities were limited. He so desperately wanted us to have kids. It was so sweet. We developed a friendship with Dr. Fayemi.

I’ll never forget the fear and anxiety I felt as I walked into that little clinic at dawn, knowing I was walking in for my first-ever surgery. I had no idea what to expect. I remember filling out the paperwork with excitement, hoping maybe this would be the answer to us having kids after nine years of hoping and praying. I remember putting on the hospital gown, laying in that African clinic, noticing the paint chipping off the concrete walls, beds lined up along the walls.  I had no idea how much pain I would be experiencing during the egg retrieval surgery, I didn’t know what anesthesia would feel like, or how I would react to it. Shawn wasn’t able to come back in the room with me and I felt very alone. I laid on the hospital bed with the uncomfortable crisp white sheets underneath me. I cringed as the nurse fumbled with the IV going into my hand. She had to start over more than once, and I fought with all my might not to lose it right then and there. I held back the tears because Senegalese women don’t always respond too well to tears, and I kept reminding myself that this may be the thing that would bring us a baby. After all, this was something we had never tried before. I remember praying out in desperation for comfort in that moment. “God, I’m alone and I’m scared and I have no idea what to expect. Please go with me.” And he did.

Once they wheeled me back into the OR, I laid on the table with three Senegalese men (doctors) standing around. It was an intimidating and vulnerable place for me to be culturally. We waited because the anesthesiologist was late (running on African time). I tried to breathe, reminding myself to keep my head in the game. But I was nervous. I started to wonder what I got myself into, and wishing so desperately that Shawn could be with me. But I knew God was there. I couldn’t see him or feel him, but he was there. Before I knew it, the anesthesiologist arrived and I was knocked out and waking up in the room with the beds lined up against the wall. I was so sore. But it was all done! I survived!

Soon my friend Kari was there, joking with me about some apparent selfie I sent her while I was still drugged. The fact that she came to be with me, to see how I was doing meant the world to me.

I remember Shawn treating me like a queen as he helped me to our borrowed-from-the-mission vehicle, making me lunch, giving me lots of time to rest as he managed the hectic demands of our guesthouse responsibilities.

I’ll never forget when our doctor told us with tears in his eyes that after all that we didn’t get any embryos that could be transferred. We were crushed for two solid days. Then he called with the news that one pulled through! I wondered if this would be our miracle baby. Two long weeks later, we collapsed on our bed, crying at the news that the one embryo that pulled through at the last-minute didn’t implant, resulting in negative results, and no pregnancy after all. It was hard to go on with ministry and daily life for a while after that. It was hard to see the sun shining. But with time, we did. We saw the sun shine again.

Shawn learning how to mix and inject my shots. Believe me, it hurt him every time he had to give me one.
We did shots every morning and every night. One time we ran out of a very important shot that was time sensitive, and we rushed downtown to a pharmacy with late hours, hoping they would have it. Thankfully we arrived just before they closed, and they had what we needed! Turns out they were the only pharmacy in the whole country who had what we needed. Phew!
This is a very raw picture. The shots hurt. I was tired of the needles. I was tired of the ups and downs, and the secrecy of our treatments. I was tired of insensitive comments like, “If you were a cow you’d be put down by now.” (Yes, someone really said that.) I like this picture because I was really crying. I thought that one day I might want to remember what we did, what we went through, what we fought for. And now, looking back, I’m glad I took this picture. It embodies the pain of IVF, the hardship of infertility, but also the drive to keep going. Although this picture is very personal, it’s one I wanted to share with you.
Downtown Dakar, recovering post- embryo transfer. We were hopeful we’d look back on this picture and know that that was the day our baby was transferred! (If there was ever a doubt this was in West Africa, there’s some wax print fabric to prove it.)

June 2013- I’ll never forget when they transferred three (3!) embryos during our second round of IVF in Dakar and wondering every minute of every day for two solid weeks if we would have triplets or not. Imagine knowing there are three embryos in your uterus, but having no idea what would happen or how many would implant and grow for nine months. WOW! You can only imagine the conversations that took place in our home during those two weeks.

After the burning shots, the egg retrieval surgery, the embryo transfers, and the emotional turmoil from IVF #1, I never could have imagined us doing that again. But with encouragement from our doctor, and our continued desire for a child, we decided to give it another try. We were not ready to give up. The doctor tweaked our care and my medication and we were ready for IVF #2. The fact that we got three embryos the second time, and not just one “last-minute survivor”, we were excited at what this cycle could mean for us. A baby, maybe? Sadly, none of the three implanted and we were back to the beginning, both of us grieving this peculiar loss of three babies. A loss that couldn’t be seen, but one that was very much felt.

Downtown Dakar again, post-embryo transfer. This time, there were three embryos!
Holy cow! There were THREE embryos in me! Would we have triplets?! Twins!? We would find out in two (very long) weeks…

 February 2014- We were in America this time, and we thought that after two failed IVF cycles, it would be a good idea to consult another doctor. He knew we were in somewhat of a time crunch with plans to return to West Africa in just a few months, so Dr. Hoffman recommended we jump right into another round of IVF. I never thought after the first time I’d ever be able to do it again, and I certainly never thought that after the second time I’d ever be able to do that again. But there we were, embarking on IVF #3. We were not ready to give up yet. Maybe things will be different in the US, we thought. Maybe having a new doctor with a new approach will be helpful. Around that same time we started to share a little bit more about some of what we had been through with past treatments and losses, and we started gaining some prayer, encouragement, and financial support. Friends helped us raise the money we needed to do IVF in Cincinnati, Ohio. We were blown away by their generosity. Friends brought us meals to our door, and sent flowers when the results weren’t (once again) what we were hoping and praying for. We’ll never forget that.

Friends blew us away with their kindness. *There aren’t as many pictures from IVF #3. There are a few, and one special one of our two blastocyst embryos, and one of us in our scrubs on transfer day. I think we were protecting ourselves a little bit more this round.

We made it farther than we had in Dakar by getting blastocyst embryos. We were hopeful this time, more than ever. We had good news and good results throughout our treatment, and friends were praying for us. It felt good to be open this time. But in the end, we were devastated when the two embryos that were transferred to my uterus didn’t implant, resulting in another negative result. We were crushed. it took us a long time to find the sun that time. We were busy with our return to Senegal, so I don’t know how well we grieved either. Grieving isn’t comfortable, so it’s not always something we want to encounter, or embrace head-on.

I think there was also a lot more to grieve that time around because that was our 3rd and final attempt at IVF. Or so we thought at the time. So not only were we grieving that loss, we were subconsciously grieving the idea that we would never have children. And that was a lot to process.

I’ll never forget the anticipation and the long two week wait(s), after which we would be able to find out if IVF worked or not. Talk about a mental mind game!

I’ll never forget the thousands and thousands of dollars in medical expenses, none of it covered by insurance. I’ll also never forget the amazing ways God provided the money we needed along the way.

I’ll never forget seeing Shawn in his scrubs, proudly holding a picture of the embryos we were able to transfer.

He says he’ll never forget the pain I went through for our family.

There are lots of things we will never forget. And yes, there is pain in looking back. I definitely cried writing out some of these memories, and looking at some of these pictures again. I’ll never forget those raw emotions. But there’s also some beauty there. We saw beauty in new friendships, friendships that were strengthened, laughter in the unexpected times, and beauty in our marriage which was taken to new levels of compassion and understanding for each other. A stronger bond was formed. Looking back we see God’s provision through prepared meals, chocolate-covered strawberries, and cinnamon rolls delivered to our door. We see it through generous friends who gave of their finances to help us out.

Today’s miracle, and IVF #4 are that much sweeter knowing what IVF 1, 2, and 3 were like. Thank you, God, for standing with us at every turn, every treatment, every injection, every drive to keep going, every loss, and now, every milestone with this growing baby that we’ve waited 11 years for.

 

Her first doll, survivor’s guilt, and timing

Her first doll, survivor’s guilt, and timing

When I wake up in the morning I’m still in awe that this is happening. Not in a gushy, “Oh my word, Shawn, place your hand on my stomach” kind of cheesy realization. It’s more of a deep and quiet thankfulness as I think about what has and is happening. Every week that passes is so exciting for us. Every milestone, every fruit-to-baby size comparison, every appointment, every thing that makes this feel so real (hearing the heartbeat, seeing my belly grow, calling her by name) is a dream come true. Again, not in a pastel-colored rainbow kind of way, but in a “we prayed, and prayed, and prayed, and he has answered” kind of way.

But there’s this awkward pull that I often feel, and all I can really contribute it to is something similar to survivor’s guilt. For so long we battled this disease of infertility. It hurt, it was hard, and it felt unfair. And now, here we are on the other side! After all those prayers we’ve been ushered into the realm of the blessed. (Still a statement that brings mixed emotions for me, because we were blessed then too…)
For so long we didn’t know what would happen. We couldn’t control or change our circumstances. To me the timing of it all is a difficult thing to wrap my mind around. I would watch the months and the years pass, looking ahead to a new year with excitement and wonder, “Could this be the year that we’ll finally have a baby?” And time would pass on by. This idea of dreaming about how our family would grow was so far beyond our reach.

If I’m being perfectly honest, in some ways it doesn’t feel fair that I’m pregnant. Why should I receive this blessing? It feels too good to be true. What about the others still hoping, aching, and praying for a baby? At the same time, it doesn’t feel fair that for all those years I couldn’t get pregnant and others could. Why did I have to wait, to feel that bitter sense of cultural isolation, and grieve through six different losses? Why were they able to plan their families, have children without struggle, and experience new life without knowing loss? These are questions that are often on my mind.

It’s hard to break away from living in-between two worlds. I lived there in that world of infertility, loss, and heartache for so long. But by God’s grace I’m not there anymore. But my heart still knows that old zip code. I can relate to the women who are watching the year go by, not knowing when their adoption will be finalized, or if / when they can afford their next fertility treatment. I know how it feels to wonder if / when you should give up, or stop trying, or stop praying. Does there come a time when you stop praying for the same thing over and over? I know those emotions all too well, and the ups and downs that come with them. It feels never-ending sometimes. It stung when someone said to me the other day, “I’m Fertile Myrtle without even trying! I wink at my husband and get pregnant.” Well guess what… that wasn’t the case for us. That’s not the case for a lot of couples. They hear these comments, and see families growing, and they wonder if / when their day will ever come.

My heart still goes to bat for these women because I was in their shoes, and on their team for so many years. These comments, and the insensitive remarks are (still) hard to swallow. My heart will always be with these women because it’s a road I’ve walked. But it’s also a road I’ve survived. I hope that in some way, I can create a new path where we see and love the person. Not a mom, not an infertile woman, or a woman without kids, not a single woman, not a woman in waiting – just the person. I hope we can merge together on a path of acceptance, sensitivity, vulnerability, and hope. What’s it like for you? What are the challenges? What are the joys you’ve seen? Let’s point each other to a Jesus who cares for us as we are and where we are.

As I find myself on a new path, one we’ve prayed to be on, I feel this tug to want to tell everyone where we’ve been and how we got here. To me this isn’t just “any ol’ pregnancy” because it’s a miracle that it even happened in the first place. But as I’ve met people and shared here and there, I’ve realized that not everyone cares, not everyone will be sensitive, and I’ve found that it’s not very easy to explain in a casual social encounter the path we’ve walked. To even mention that we worked hard to get here, and that we did 4 IVF treatments, doesn’t really communicate the depth of where we’ve been. People don’t know the whole story. And it’s not really possible to jam 1000 thoughts into just a few minutes. And I’m trying to let that be okay. Not everyone has to know the whole story. At least not right away. But we know the story, we know what a miracle this is, and we know what God has done. And that’s what’s important.

My heart goes out to the women who are still waiting, praying, and hoping. At the same time, I decided early on that if this day ever came, I would be unapologetic with pictures, posts about the baby, etc. This is a day, a time we’ve waited for and it’s going to be celebrated at each and every step of the way, at each milestone that brings us closer to meeting our daughter. 

I hope that the sharing of our story dares you to hope, to dream, to keep praying, to keep climbing. May it remind you that your story is not over yet. May it show you that God is always at work- through the sweet and the bitter times, he is there, he is God, is able.

A friend sent us the cutest little ballerina doll for the baby. There aren’t even words for the ‘hugeness’ of this season. We’ve waited, and waited, and now it’s HAPPENING, YOU GUYS! Our hearts and minds have a hard time taking it all in some times. But God is with us on every path we walk in this life. He’s there to hold us steady when it’s rocky, and to rejoice with us when we see the answers to a long-awaited prayer.

Our friend Judith sent us the sweetest package of gifts for the baby, including her first doll. IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING!? Although it’s not always easy to process where we’ve been and where we are now, we’re filled with great joy.