Every now and then your path crosses with someone and you just KNOW it was meant to be. Ashley and I met on Instagram of all places. (Hello, modern age!) We soon realized we were in a similar boat, paddling our way through the rough rapids of infertility.
She has been a huge encouragement to me since we met. She lives in Ohio and we’re planning to meet (in person!) this weekend when Shawn and I take a trip out there to visit family. I can’t wait!
We’ve had a running conversation since we met and it has been a refreshing place for us to vent, ask questions, share news, get feedback from a fellow patient / fighter, and even pray for each other.
It’s so special and so rare to meet someone who gets exactly where you’re coming from, what the treatment process is like, what the agonizing wait it like, and what the battle of trusting God on a practical level is like.
So we thought we’d turn this conversation into an interview-style conversation. Maybe it will help shed a little more light on what infertility is like, and if you’re in our boat, we hope you’ll know that you’re not alone.
SOOO, Ashley. One of the things I like about you is that you don’t sugar coat things. I remember you saying once that you feel like God is good, but maybe not to you. Can you talk a little bit more about what you mean by that?
I think we all hear lies. This happens to be one that I hear frequently. It’s a lie straight from the pits of hell. And some days I give it more space in my head than I’d like.
And the evidence that it’s a lie is all around me. I get to choose what I focus on. Will I focus on the mounds of debt infertility has cost us? On the life we were “supposed” to have instead? Or will I focus on the fact that we have the opportunity to try treatment? Will I focus on the 18 months we spent preventing pregnancy unnecessarily? Or will I focus on the gift it was to soak up newlywed life?
I bought myself a necklace last month with the word “Dayenu” on it. It’s a Hebrew word that means “it would have been enough and I’m grateful”. It’s a word that I’ve returned to for years but holds more significance for me now because I’m trying to make it a way of life. Ultimately, it’s a daily compass and reminder of the person I want to be, that God wants me to be. First, choosing to repent of the lies and then opening my hands of my expectations long enough to notice, receive, and be present with the gifts I’ve been given. I want to live in the tension of continuing to fight for our miracle but also being able to look around and say, “if it never happens, this life is still extraordinary”.
What have you learned about grief? How do you personally process grief?
I’m still learning how to navigate grief in a way that is both kind to me and mindful of others. The tricky part about the grief that accompanies infertility is that it’s cyclical. Literally, monthly. Sure, some months are harder than others. But the repeated patterns of hope and disappointment make the progression through the pain to the other side difficult.
The first year of trying was overwhelming. If the disappointment didn’t break me, the Clomid did. My emotions were big and uncontrollable. I once broke down in front of a dear friend when she announced her pregnancy to me over dinner at Skyline. She was very gracious. That’s just where I was.
22 months later, and the emotions are still big and they’re there. But they don’t own me anymore. For the most part, I can decide when and where my emotions are expressed. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not caught by surprise at times. When I see a friend’s baby that resembles them and wonder if I’ll ever see a child of ours that looks like Danny. When I hear a coworker talking about her baby kicking and I wonder if I’ll ever feel that. The struggle matters. I try to let myself feel the grief because it has to be felt. It’s like a pendulum. And I deeply believe that I’ll be robbing myself of a deeper joy on the other side if I numb out now. But there has to be a balance because life goes on and I have to function in it and get out of my head.
My hope is that someday my longing and pain won’t feel as much like a cloud that prevents me from seeing others (I’m aware at how consumed I am with my own thoughts) but more like a radio that tunes me into the people around me. I’m hopeful that someday I can be a champion for other women to share their stories, the good and the bad.
Let’s talk about baby showers. You asked me recently if I attend them and I said that I don’t go to baby showers. I haven’t been to one in years. Thankfully, up to this point, everyone seems to understand. If it’s a close friend or relative I make a point to give them a special gift in person and make sure they know that it’s not that I don’t want to celebrate them or their baby (I do!), but that the whole culture of the shower is too much. What about you?
I love that you do that, Jenn!
After almost 2 years of infertility, I think my thoughts are shifting around this topic. I used to think that showers were a time to put my “big girl” pants on and smile my way through a very awkward event for a loved friend. A few months ago I was at a shower where the majority of the guests were either young moms or pregnant. We spent over 2 hours during the shower discussing pregnancy in extreme detail. I smiled and nodded. Smiled and nodded. I kept waiting for a point in the conversation where I could chime in. And it never happened. In response to my lack of engagement, at one point one of the guests even looked at me and said “I hope we aren’t making you uncomfortable. You’re probably grossed out by our stories.” Such a well- meaning gesture, especially since she has no idea of my situation and probably wondered if I was bored or weirded out! Little did she know how much I long to be in their shoes. I looked over at my sweet friend (who is very aware of our struggles) at one point and wondered if my presence had made her feel uncomfortable or guilty, even in the smallest way. Maybe it hadn’t. I don’t know. I just know that in that moment I felt sad and it didn’t feel loving that I came. I never want my circumstances to steal even an ounce of someone’s joy during such a miraculous time. I love your idea of dropping off a thoughtful gift in person, Jenn. I want to be a woman who celebrates my friend’s joys in ways that honors them while also being kind to myself.
I know infertility can be hard to navigate for friends and family. I’m sure it can be hard to decide what’s best for your friend struggling to get pregnant. Do you send them an invitation or not? I personally appreciate when someone sends me an invitation and gives me the grace to choose what’s best for me.
Have you found a way to handle those socially awkward (and often painful) situations where moms exchange pregnancy and child birth stories, and those talks of how many kids they plan to have?
I actually find these conversations way more painful than showers. Simply because I can’t contribute a single experience to them. I can’t even fathom the idea of planning for how many kids we want to have now. Even if we are able to get pregnant with help, IVF is a very expensive way to build a family.
When I find myself in those situations, I usually just try to fade into the background for a while until I can find an exit strategy that doesn’t draw attention to myself. That may sound like I’m taking the easy way out. But trying to engage in those moments is very forced.
Have you found a way to love and support your pregnant friends / mom-friends, even while waiting and praying for a baby yourself? Or are you still working on that one?
My honest answer is that I’m still working on that one. And I think that I’ve really dropped the ball with some of my friends while they were pregnant. It can be so hard to be present physically. There are days I’m not capable of separating my pain from their joy. I’m trusting that God will continue to grow me in that.
In the meantime, I pray for them a lot. For healthy pregnancies. For energy. For them as parents. I try my best to express my care for them with a thoughtful gift for their shower. I set boundaries on how much time I spend in environments that are mostly centered around pregnancy and motherhood talk. These boundaries feel healthy to me and allow me to offer people a better, softer version of myself when I’m around. And I check in with cards or over text or the phone on days when I’m thinking of them but seeing them in person is too hard.
You shared this article with me. Do you think people should be more open about infertility? Do you think there have been changes on that front? Or are most people still suffering in silence? What made you decide to open up about your struggles?
We are in a season of life where most of our friends and social circles are having children. I once told Danny that about 75% of the time when I pull up Facebook, the first photo on my feed will either be a pregnancy announcement, baby bump photo or baby photo. I think at first he thought I was exaggerating but we now laugh about it because it’s true. That being said, it’s a beautiful thing that so many people we know are growing their families. Life is always a gift. And it should be shared with the world. I guess the tension I feel is that I don’t see people sharing much of the other side.
What about our pain? Our longings? Our disappointments? The parts of us that are only surviving on hope? I think that journey deserves equal voice but oftentimes is hidden from view because it’s messy and it’s unresolved. I once heard a woman say “The world tells me I can have a struggle but you can’t talk about it unless you’ve come out of the other side of it.” That’s certainly a message I have internalized over the years. It’s vulnerable to show people the in-between. The moments, days and years of waiting to come out on the other side of the struggle into redemption. It’s a risk to show people the parts of our stories that we can’t tie a pretty bow around. But it’s So, So, SO needed.
In regards to the link I sent you, I love that this couple took these heartbreaking and yet humorous photos. When I saw them, I found myself laughing because I felt known. On any given month, you could have witnessed the exact same scene with Danny and I sitting on our bed accompanied by a box of tissues. I think in the smallest way, they shed light to others on what this journey looks like. Unfortunately, the reality is that many people share in those moments alone. Infertility is an incredibly isolating experience. Many of us live in the tension of trying to give ourselves space to live and heal while also trying to continue to nurture our relationships despite having little to give.
I want to be clear that I don’t feel critical of those who deal with this privately. I have those days, months. There is no right and wrong way to grieve. But what a gift it is each time I hear another “me too”. Not because I would wish this on anyone. But because none of us want to feel like we are going at this alone.
I’m just trying to be true to myself daily. Some days it feels right to share our story with the world because there’s power in being seen and reminding others they aren’t alone. But other days I just want to be normal instead of being the infertile friend or coworker that isn’t pregnant again.
I think my biggest frustration is how taboo it feels to talk about it. That’s the biggest disservice I’ve felt. I wish it wasn’t so weird for people to talk about. At some points along the way, I’ve felt less fragile and I’ve made conscious decisions to share parts of my story with people in my everyday life. Some days this goes well. Other times it doesn’t. But it’s still worth doing because I want to help normalize infertility. If 1 in 8 of us is walking through this, let’s give ourselves a voice so people can support and help.
My mom and I have been taking a pottery class at a local art center for the past couple months. It’s been a blast. The women in the class are hilarious and super helpful to us as beginners. Anyway, a couple weeks ago the class was wrapping up and people were filing out. The instructor was commenting about how healthy my snacks were in comparison to everyone else’s. Normally I just laugh that stuff off. But this time I decided to be candid with a stranger instead. “You are totally right. This stuff doesn’t taste very good! My husband and I have been trying to get pregnant for a couple years and the only thing we haven’t really tried are dietary changes. I figured it wouldn’t hurt so here I am eating seaweed.” She stared at me blankly, holding her daughter’s hand. [Crickets] After a few brief seconds, my mom came to the rescue and asked her how she got into pottery and they began discussing how it’s been a fun way for her to make some money for her family of 6. Sometimes this is how it is when you open up to people, and that’s ok. People are just doing the best they can. We can’t expect people to have the “right” thing to say on the spot.
Fast forward a week. My instructor was helping me at the wheel and she looked at me and said, “Hey, thanks for sharing that with me last week. I don’t want you to think that it was missed. I want you to know I’m praying for you.”
Wow. What a gift. Your life is worth sharing with people, even if it makes for some uncomfortable moments.
What’s something you wish people understood about infertility?
I wish people didn’t feel the need to “fix” the pain. “My mom’s garbage man’s sister’s cousin got pregnant right after they adopted.” “You should just relax”. “At least you can enjoy ____ a little while longer”. If you tell me these things, I will quickly smile and nod like I’ve practiced and try to get myself as far away from you as I can. I know these people mean well. And I know its human nature to want to find a silver lining. But it takes so much more courage to look someone who is hurting in the eye and hold space for them in that moment. Because it costs us something. God, help me to be that person.
Infertility is a battle that affects people’s physical, emotional/mental, social, and financial well-being. There is nothing in your life it doesn’t touch.
What have been some of the greatest challenges for you and your husband as you’ve gone through infertility and/or treatments?
Learning to support the other person in the way they need as they grieve. Wrestling through hearing God in the midst of this journey and honoring him with our choices throughout the treatment process. (We spent months praying and discussing IVF both together and with friends and mentors before coming to the decision that it was the right choice for us.) The financial burden of infertility treatment. Having to put a price on the hope of a child. Adjusting our lives and work to make time for appointments. I think the first months were hard for Danny because it’s in his nature to fix things and he couldn’t fix this. Watching our social lives change as friends start families when we just aren’t there yet and there’s no knowing when it will happen. Did I mention finances?
How would you say infertility has impacted your marriage?
The first few months we sought treatment were kind of divisive. Danny thought we were jumping the gun and I was convinced we had a problem on our hands. For months, I would be crushed each time I found out we weren’t pregnant and Danny, as the eternal optimist, just wasn’t there emotionally yet. I felt alone because I needed to be comforted but I didn’t know what that looked like. We finally had some very open discussions about how to support each other and we explained in detail what that would look like. Not surprisingly, those needs looked very different. It requires a lot of intentionality to love the other person well in the midst of shared grief but I think it’s starting to become more intuitive over time. It wasn’t until around the time we started IVF that we were both in a similar place emotionally. But even then, we cope with the disappointment differently. As the woman, the pain of infertility is both emotional and physical. We feel like our bodies have betrayed us. For Danny, much of the stress comes from wanting to provide financially for us in the midst of all the costs that accompany this.
At the present moment, I would say our marriage has never been stronger. These past couple years have put us through the fire. While I’m not at a place where I am thankful for infertility, I can see the way God has used it to shape our marriage for the better. I feel unbelievably grateful to God that Danny is the man standing next to me. And I deeply believe that there is nothing we can’t endure together. Plus, he’s the only one who can make me laugh some days. (Seriously. Is he getting funnier with age?)
What encourages you? How can family and friends encourage you guys? What helps?
These days I’m encouraged by miracle stories. But I’m equally encouraged and amazed when I witness people who have endured immense longing and pain and yet I see peace in them. They give me hope.
We’ve had several people praying for us tell us “It is God’s plan for you to have biological children. And if you don’t, that is the work of the enemy and you’ve been robbed.” We were reminded that it was literally God’s first command in the garden: “be fruitful and multiply”. This doesn’t mean that we will definitely have biological children, it just means that it is God’s intention for us to. But we live in a fallen world and sometimes His plans aren’t restored to us until the end. I struggled when I hear people say that infertility is “part of God’s plan”. The Bible tells us He can use anything for our good, but that doesn’t mean He is the author of it. Adoption is an amazing way God redeems brokenness into beauty.
When our IVF cycle failed, my closest friends aka “The Sisterherd” sent us flowers. I loved that because it acknowledged the loss. In the midst of grief, it’s helpful when people just DO something. SAY something. For years, in the midst of other people’s grief, I have told them “please let me know if you need anything”. So well-intentioned. The problem is, most of the time when you’re in the trenches, you don’t even know what to ask for. It helps when people just reach out in the ways they feel led. Offering to help came from a good place but I want to do better. I want to be the friend who just shows up in the moment in the best way I know how.
I had someone tell me the other day “I’ll never stop praying”. This brought me so much comfort. We are getting to a point in our journey where our infertility feels like old news. To us. To the people in our lives. The amount of times we’ve delivered the “not pregnant” news to friends and family is like a broken record. So it’s helpful when people send us a message or card reminding us we aren’t forgotten and that they are still in this fight with us, carrying hope when we can’t.
There are also certain people you can just BE with. I’m learning to let myself be seen, even on my bad days. On the days when my sadness gives way to bitterness. It’s scary to let people see the ugliest parts of your thoughts. But it’s also a gift when people see the ugliest versions of you and yet love you without judgment.
I’m deeply encouraged by the biblical story of the persistent widow (Luke 18) and the persistent friend (Luke 11) and what it says about our redundant prayers. (If you are in a season of waiting, I implore you to read these stories.) He’s listening.
Ashley, I’m so, so grateful our paths crossed. God knew we needed it. Thank you for being so brave and sharing with us today. Your story is not over.