Words to Live and Write by

I am willing to fall Because I have learned how to rise.

I craft Love from heartbreak, Compassion from shame, Grace from disappointment, Courage from failure.

I am among the brave and brokenhearted, and I am rising strong.

(credit to Brene Brown)

Monday, May 6, 2013

To My Friend Battling Infertility

Dear Friend,

  My name is Hannah. You don't know me, but if I could, I would throw my arms around you with a great, "Oh, honey!" And I would sit you down and LISTEN--through the tears and the anguish, the bitterness, the confusion, the rollercoaster of hope and grief that you've been on for two  years. And there is nothing you could say that would shock or offend me. Because I'VE BEEN THERE.
  I've been where you are right now. I KNOW. I'll tell you what I know later, but first you need to know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I think  you already understand this, because you actually started a public blog about what you are going through. But I hope I can help you feel it a little more, because I felt you reaching out for validation and support through your words.
  So here's my story (it's a lot like yours, but longer). Sorry for how long this got--I'm a bit of a writer and it's a hard habit to kick.
  My husband and I met at BYU and married young; I hadn't planned on being married at 20 but I knew Anthony was the one. We've been married for eight years now, and he's proven to be my perfect husband in more ways than I could have imagined. So there we were, 20 and 23, and still a couple years away from graduating. We decided it would be best to wait at least a year before trying to get pregnant. But, much like you, I was continually struck by the temple's emphasis on children. Literally every living thing was commanded to multiply "that they may have joy in filling the measure of their creation." Whoa! You're telling me we'll only feel fulfilled, feel the greatest joy, by having children?
  Okay, so the doctrine wasn't that shocking. It was nothing I hadn't heard before, but the way it felt in the temple was… hard to describe--strong, true, urgent. And I noticed all the symbolism there, too. Did you know that fig leaves represent fertility? Did you know that bows represent fertility? I mean jeez! There's no escaping it! (Which I'm sure is intentional.)
  So long before our allotted year was up, I had major baby lust. And that's a hard thing to cope with at BYU, where parents bring their babies to history class. But because of our starving student circumstances, I dutifully waited a whole year--with the firm understanding that we'd be pregnant within months.
  Well, We weren't. we did the basal charting thing. We timed things right. But I knew there was a problem, and I knew it was on my end. See, I'd always had irregular cycles--I'd go months between periods (let me tell you about false pregnancy hopes!)--so I went to the Dr. right away. We ran lots of tests and determined that I had PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). In layman's terms, my hormones all peaked at the wrong times, for unknown and therefore untreatable causes, so when my ovary formed an egg it never got the signal to release it; instead, the ovum turned into a cyst on my ovary and stayed there until it ruptured. And yes, that's very painful.
  With all the testing, of course we checked Anthony's sperm count, mobility, etc. The results came back and basically showed that he had outstanding sperm; he should be able to get any woman pregnant. Anyone, that is, but ME.
  So right from the start, I took all the blame for our infertility onto my tiny shoulders. As much as my sweet husband assured me otherwise, I knew it was my fault. I was broken. I was not a good wife because I couldn't give my husband children. God must be punishing me--I even had specific reasons why he should punish me. During one testimony meeting somewhere in the early times of our infertility battle, a new mother got up--oh, how I hated those!--and thanked God for trusting her enough to raise one of His children. So not only was I being punished, but God didn't trust me, either.
  As you can see, my frustration with infertility was aimed at two targets: God and myself. And I am not ashamed to say what you may need to hear: I hated us both for it. I didn't hate God in a "I'm going to stop believing in you" kind of way, but you can bet he heard a lot of angry prayers from me. A lot.
  Here's what I've learned about those kinds of prayers: God loves them. He gets them.  He UNDERSTANDS them. And even if we're too angry to feel it, I visualize a daughter, sobbing into her father's chest, beating her fists against him in helpless, overwhelming emotion; and the Father, wrapping His arms around His precious daughter, resting His chin atop her head, and crying with her. So don't be afraid to vent to God--He's right there with you. This is a hard thing, and He understands hard things. He knows this isn't a time to "grin and bear it," or a time for "pretty please with a cherry on top" prayers. (Although a few of those certainly couldn't hurt.)
  We started clomid treatments. Rollercoaster ride! Week 1: Menopausal symptoms--no fun for anyone; especially poor husbands. Week 2: It's BBT charting and carefully timed sex to the extent that it becomes a chore, and trying every old wives' tale you've ever read about. Week 3: The waiting. So hard! Should you be hopeful and excited like the nurses tell you? Start painting your nursery? Because apparently attitude makes such a difference in these physiological things. NOT! Bite your nails; keep busy; wait. Week 4: Wait some more. How soon is too soon to take a test? This test is negative, maybe I'll try one more, just to be sure. Dang. Well, it comes in a 3-pack so we might as well. Then, despair, frustration, depression, and it's back to Week 1.
  We did that for eight months. Finally, the Dr. told me we had to give my body a break. "Thank God!" I thought. "I really DO need a break." Guess what happened. My period was late (not unusual), and I felt distinctly different at work. A little nauseated, a little too sensitive to smell, a little tired. So when I got home, I decided, "What the heck? I've got enough of these sticks anyway." Positive. I stared at it, not believing. So I tried one more. Positive! When my husband came home we did a happy dance in our kitchen. Finally! Finally!
  My glee lasted until the next night when I started spotting and cramping. I googled it: no worries, that's totally common for early pregnancy. I woke up in the middle of the night and knew. I was bleeding, hard. Bye-bye baby. The physical pain was over in another day, and I told the three people who knew about it, "At least we can get pregnant." I was obstinately cheerful. But still, my body had betrayed us again. My fault. My fault. My fault.
  We graduated from college. We hit the two-year mark of infertility. Suddenly, my bitterness turned outward. Look at all these women popping out babies like it's nothing. Literally planning, to the month, when they would have their next. Constantly commenting about how wonderful motherhood was. Didn't they know it was KILLING me? (They didn't, because I hadn't told, but I didn't factor that in until later.)
  And I saw their glances--suspicion and blame, I saw. In hindsight, I bet most of those glances were curious or even sympathetic, but that's not how I saw them. My friends, who'd all married later than I, all started getting pregnant. And I had to go to baby showers and be happy for them. Here's one phrase I learned that helped me through those: "I am happy for you. I'm just not happy for me." Try it, even if not out loud.
  We started clomid again, adding a few extra pills, hormones, or whatever to get me pregnant. Too many appointments. Finally, one ultrasound showed an ovary with TWO viable eggs on it. It was go-time! The nurses all referred to me as the "twin mommy." And guess what. We got pregnant. Weeks passed. I indulged every food craving and avoided bacon like the plague. Every night I inserted progesterone capsules vaginally to help me stay pregnant. It was working.
  Week 10 of pregnancy, we had our first ultrasound. "Let's see that baby!" the nurses all cheered. I crossed my fingers for babies to make up for the one we lost. We watched the monitor as the Dr. probed around. Is that a head? Was that movement I saw? Those things are so blurry. Ultimately, the Dr. turned off the ultrasound and dismissed the nurses. "Where's my picture?" I wanted to ask. Instead, the doctor told me I had a blighted ovum. Layman's terms: I was pregnant, but when the embryo split, it made the placenta correctly, but somehow missed the making-the-fetus part. No baby. He said to go home and wait to miscarry. We'd start trying again in a couple months.
  This miscarriage was worse. So so so much worse. It didn't happen right away and I desperately clung to the hope that maybe there was a baby after all. But I did miscarry--and it's a lot tougher at 10 weeks than at 6. I was doubled-over in pain and tears for 24 hours before Anthony called the Dr., who said "get her to the ER straightaway." They checked to make sure my body was miscarrying properly (it was) and loaded me up with painkillers and an order for "pelvic rest," which is a lot like bed rest, for two weeks.
  Despite my stubbornness, I really could not do a thing for myself during those two weeks. So much pain--physical, emotional, spiritual. The Relief Society president called me one day and asked if I could take dinner to a new mom. In exasperated tears I explained why I couldn't. Someone brought me dinner that night.
  That was when I realized I HAD to tell people. It wasn't something I wanted to do--I'd made it into a dark, shameful secret for so long--but I had no choice; I needed help. I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was: people were sympathetic and caring. Not too many could truly empathize; we lived in a young ward and none of my family had any fertility problems (the opposite, it seemed). But they were sensitive to my sensitivity, and that made a difference.
  I tried reading books for empathy. Unfortunately, either by luck of the draw or simply because of who bothers writing books, what I read were tales of couples who never had children. They talked about coping with infertility permanently: when to stop trying, whether to stay childless or try to adopt. At 2 1/2 years of fighting, I wasn't ready to give up, but I felt hope slipping away.
  I tried to make light of it. I even found a joke that I used whenever someone felt too sorry for me--you know, the kind of sorry that says they've even given up on you. It's a little crude, but it helped me a tiny bit: I'm every high school boy's fantasy--I'm smart, sexy, fun, and you can't get me pregnant! Yeah, way to focus on the silver lining. Still, you do what you've gotta do to make it through. Not everyone will understand it, even if your style isn't resorting to dumb jokes, but it's not something to beat yourself up over. Whether or not you've given up the fight, infertility still sucks.
My story goes downhill from here, I'm afraid. I thought we'd seen the worst--I mean, how much worse could there be?
  Just when we'd waited long enough to try again, the Recession of 2008 became reality for us in a big way. The week before Christmas, with no warning, Anthony's work laid off a dozen employees. He was one of them. He just came home, after working late like he usually did, sat down on the floor and said he didn't have a job anymore. And since I'd quit work to focus fully on being healthy and pregnable, that meant we had no income. We'd spent all our money on fertility treatments instead of saving. The outlook was grim.
  Forget babies, we had to get jobs, because those unemployment checks aren't enough to pay the bills. The problem was, no one was hiring. Even BYU had put a "hiring freeze" on every department. So by February, we were out of money, out of a lease, and out of options. We moved in with my older brother in Texas; houses come cheap down there, so he had room to spare. Gracious of him, lucky for us, but hard. My identity as a woman was diminished because I couldn't be a mother; my husband's identity as a man was diminished because he couldn't be a provider. Big red X's through almost every paragraph of the Family Proclamation.
  Worse still, my brother had two adorable children. And my sister-in-law got pregnant a month after we moved in. Every day felt like a slap in the face. We ate their food, lived in their home, and I had to listen to a daily dose of "being pregnant is so hard." You want to talk about hard? Lady, let me TELL you about hard. Solidify bitterness towards pregnant women forever? Check. (This was not her fault, but still.)
  By that summer, we were jumping at the chance to house-sit for my parents, who decided to go on a mission since the economy wasn't giving my self-employed father any income anyway. Best. Blessing. Ever. Anthony finally found work. I taught Primary--which, actually, was a LOT easier than being in Relief Society. Everything is seen and taught from the perspective of a child (instead of a mother), and there weren't as many pregnant women. There wasn't enough money to try for a baby the fancy way, so we waited. Oh, we were still trying, but let's face it, it was never going to happen for us without help.
  By the 4-year mark, you'd think I'd have been battle-hardened, a little less sensitive. But you'd be wrong. I'm sorry to tell you this doesn't get easier. It just doesn't. so like I say, do what you've gotta do. Don't deny yourself what you need. No one but someone who's been where you are has a right to judge--and trust me, we'd never DREAM of it.
  So our 4-year "anniversary" of infertility rolled on by us. And at Stake Conference, some general authority (thank goodness I can't remember who--one of some quorum of Seventy, I think) gave a talk, no lecture, about people who waited to have children. He may have even wagged his finger and "tsk-tsked" at us. Okay, probably not, but he might as well have. Anthony held my hand tightly, maybe to keep me from standing up in the back row and shouting, "So what about us?"
  In a righteous fury, I was quick to remind myself that this wasn't my fault. If God wanted me to have a baby, I would have had one. Heaven KNOWS we'd given Him AMPLE opportunity. And hadn't I broke my heart with pleading, just like my biblical namesake? Hannah-in-the-Bible got a child; she got a freaking prophet! But me? No, not me. I wasn't worthy enough. I wasn't trustworthy enough. I wasn't enough something. God had taken away TWO pregnancies and then our means to try for more. How DARE this man condemn me for what God controlled? (Because, how could I not take his words personally?)
  So we went to our bishop. More accurately, I went and made Anthony come. And I told him pretty much everything I've just told you and then said, "So what are we supposed to do?"
  We had the best bishop ever. He was only 35, had five boys, so I know this didn't just come from him. He explained the nature of "patiently waiting on the Lord" so kindly that even my wounded heart was moved. He counseled us to put whatever we could spare from Anthony's minimum-wage job into a "baby fund," and to seek a blessing. He advised us to ask someone else to give the blessing, since Anthony was so involved in the situation. We did as he counseled. The next week, we asked if he would give the blessing; he agreed happily, as long as we all fasted before it.
  That blessing was beautiful. It was healing to my soul. It was straight from God. All three of us were in tears by the end. If ever your sorrow and despair threaten to overwhelm you, follow that counsel. They very best advice I could give you would be my bishop's. Don't give up. Keep working and waiting. Seek Divine guidance and help by the means available to you. Your results may be different than mine. I'd expect them to be.
  But I bet you want to know what my results were. Otherwise, you'd have put down this EPIC of a letter long ago.
  Well, I was told in that blessing that I was truly not to blame. God had very specific timing for when my children would come. And they would have specific missions to fulfill in this world (which, I guess, accounts for the timing factor). I was told the time was "not yet," but would come even after what I thought was the "last corner." I was told that, whether by pregnancy or by adoption, my preparation must be the same, and I had to be fully prepared. In the meantime, I was promised joy and fulfillment as I served and taught others' children. Yeah, powerful stuff. Oh, and I was told that my body would function as it should (I started a period that day), and that Anthony would be able to provide handsomely for our family. THAT was the medicine we needed (that came true during my last pregnancy, exactly when it was most needed).
  Soon after, they called me to teach seminary--at my old high school in Tualatin, no less. I was 25. Who calls a 25-year-old to teach thirty 14- to 18-year-olds about the Gospel, life, and everything?! God does, I guess. I thought serving others' children referred to Primary kids. Nope. It was these kids. They became my kids in a way only a teacher can claim. Half of them are on missions now, and I feel like such a proud mommy.
  My older brother had his fourth child, and my younger brother became a father-to-be. I was happy, but I was still waiting to turn that last corner. We knew our next fertility treatments needed to be more elaborate--the kind that cost thousands of dollars--and we were averaging about $50/month for our baby fund. (I didn't get paid to teach seminary.) So that corner looked very distant, indeed.
  We silently miscarried a third time. It was early, so we hadn't told anyone. We just grieved and kept waiting.
  Then… THEN, my younger brother and his wife, inactive in the Church but with high-paying jobs, offered to cover the cost of gonadotropin injections and treatment. The WHOLE cost. My sister recruited their help in my behalf. They were inspired, I learned, by my sister-in-law's mother who, when hearing of our situation said, "This is a small sum to you--one of your paychecks--but this is the world to them." Except I'm sure it sounded cooler because she speaks Korean. God works in mysterious ways.
  So we quickly found our specialist and made arrangements for my next cycle, which for the first and only time in my life had been as regular as clockwork for an entire  year. It worked. On the first try. And my baby's heart was beating visibly on a monitor soon after Mother's Day 2011.
  The rest of it is a different story. You can read about it on the post in September 2012 titled "OurPregnancy Story." But be forewarned: it isn't pretty. Heaven and Hell waged war over my child entering the world, and I was the carnage-strewn battlefield. It is the horror story of all pregnancies. So if you're not ready, or are the skittish-type to be scared away from fertility drugs, don't read it. You can still check out my blog, though, and see the miraculous result that is my daughter. Just remember, she's not just another baby, she's the conclusion of our 5-year battle with infertility. She isn't there to taunt you, but to give you hope.
  There's so much more I could say, but really, what I'd offer is a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, a cheerleader and righteous fury supporter. If you need me, now or later, I'm all yours.
  If there's no great joy in this journey, believe there is marvelous sunshine at the end of the dark road. (See Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, chapter 7.)

Carry on!

Hannah Trujillo

P.S. Also see "Claim the Exceeding Great and Precious Promises" by Spencer J. Condie, Oct. 2007 General Conference. And then notice how many of God's most precious daughters were purposefully tried in this way. The Old Testaments' all about happy endings to infertility. We're in a pretty special group of women, if you think about it.