Surviving Mother’s Day…at the Mall

It was the last Saturday before Christmas, and Daddy needed me to go pick up a pair of earrings at the mall for my mother. It was pouring rain. Cars and people were everywhere. The only way to get a parking place in the mall’s lot was to stalk another shopper to his or her car. (But I’m not particularly stealthy.)

Then I saw it: a free space at the front of an aisle. I said thank you to my 4-wheel drive and whipped into the place backward. I wouldn’t have to park at a Chuck-E-Cheese and hike across a 6-lane road and the entire mall lot to get to one store and make my 30-second transaction.

The car was off, my purse was in my lap, and I was unbuckling when I saw, “Reserved for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers.” I cried ugly tears for 10 minutes then moved my car to the Chuck-E-Cheese.

Why did a fake parking sign instigate my nervous breakdown? I had just suffered my fourth miscarriage, and that sign was taunting me: “Hey, Amanda, you aren’t good enough to park here. Only people who give birth have a right to spend their money here and enjoy the Christmas season.” Yes, that voice was only in my head, and yes, it was amplified by the hormone cocktail saturating my recently-pregnant brain.

Similar events played out around almost every holiday during the 7 years David and I were trying to grow our family. Christmas was bad, but Mother’s Day was always the worst.

Survival Tip 1: Recognize Marketing in Action

When retailers decorate and advertise for Mother’s Day, they intend to play on the customers’ emotions. They want us to feel all sappy and lovey about our mamas so that we spend more money in their stores. Suddenly everything on the rack has “mom in mind.” Clothes, electronics, greeting cards–you name it. You don’t even have to read the signage because the color schemes are all pastel. Stores feel as if they’ve been designed for women.

From the parking lot to the check-out counter, no store is safe. While I would never buy my mother something from a lingerie store, your local pink-and-black retailer of all-things lacy has posters reminding husbands to “make her feel like a bombshell.” Sporting goods and outdoor equipment stores suddenly stock everything in sickening shades of pink, “just for mom.” Even car dealerships give free oil changes–and special financing–to “keep mom safe.”

This is the commercialization of Mother’s Day, and it has undoubtedly damaged the loving spirit of the holiday. But don’t let it damage you.

When you are out doing your grocery shopping–or actually buying a gift for your own mom–let the signs remind you how the world sees mothers: as pawns. When you are filled with righteous indignation, make a choice to ignore the gimmicks and truly honor the great women in your life.

So how do you survive the Spring when Mother’s Day propaganda is everywhere you need to be? Comment below with your stories or tips, and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of Barren among the Fruitful and a “Be Hopeful” necklace!

Mother’s Day and the “Barren” Woman

I genuinely enjoy Mother’s Day because it reminds me to slow down and honor my mother and other women who have poured their love into my life.

But I will be among the first to admit that the second Sunday in May is pretty miserable when you aren’t getting to parent the little one(s) you desperately want in your life. All around you are flower arrangements, family brunches, and emotional commercials for greeting cards Publix–but none of that is for you.

Maybe you’ve lost a child, miscarried a baby, or been unable to conceive. Maybe you aren’t married yet. I know I have friends who look at my life and think–as Ted Mosby does–

The truth is, I thought I’d be married by now and going through all this stuff alongside you guys. But even if I meet the [person] of my dreams right this second, I’m still one night and nine months away from having a family of my own.*

A lot of women–married and single–would rather not get out of bed on Mother’s Day. (The same goes for men, but we’ll talk about them in June!)

necklace+and+book.jpgThis year I want to enjoy time with my mama and mother-in-law, and not allow myself to be wounded by well-meaning ministers or money-grubbing card makers. So I am writing “Mother’s Day Survival: a 5-part Series for the ‘Barren’ Woman” that I’ll post online next week. Each day I’ll highlight a common Mother’s Day tradition that I’ve found painful in the past. I hope you will then comment about the post, explaining how you reacted to any pain and longing induced by that tradition in your life.

To encourage your comments, I’m also doing a giveaway next week! For every day you comment on a post, you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of Barren among the Fruitful and a “Be Hopeful” necklace.

Let’s work together not only to survive but to thrive this Mother’s Day!

*Kourtney Kang, “The Stinson Missile Crisis,” How I Met Your Mother, season 7, episode 4, directed by Pamela Fryman, aired October 3, 2011 (Netflix).

Fast-Forwarding to Mother’s Day

My calendar can’t possibly be correct: is it the end of April already?

Since my last post we’ve moved across the country (again), bought a 1900s Foursquare in a transitional downtown neighborhood, watched bath water rain from the coffers in the dining room, and cut a hole in a master-bedroom wall. All with a basset hound puppy (sometimes literally) underfoot.

Life seems to be approaching equilibrium. After 3 months Chattanooga is less mysterious, there is drywall on our dining room ceiling, and Copper is nearly house trained. What seemed scary has become good: we love our co-ed and senior-adult neighbors, destruction has given way to renovation, and Copper is nearly house trained. It is time that I stop spending my days in crisis-response mode and return to writing.

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Hoping my fur-baby will give me the “Mother’s Day” gift of his being housetrained!

I do so none-too-soon. Forgetting for the moment that backlog of books I have to write, my May calendar is full of Barren-related guest blog posts, radio interviews, and Facebook page hosting. I’m even doing a couple of giveaways. Though no one has said, “We want to talk to you now because it’s close to Mother’s Day,” I know the holiday is the impetus for at least 2 interviews. That makes me nervous.

In the last few years, I’ve read many blogs and articles that blast Mother’s Day. They like to highlight all the ways the day and its celebrations in church hurt women who struggle to be mothers or have lost a child. While I certainly agree that Mother’s Day can inflame fertility wounds and I freely admit to ditching church services on several second-Sundays in May, I am not and have never been anti–Mother’s Day.

Why? Because on Mother’s Day I honor my mother (and do my best not to think about myself).

When I was growing up, Mother’s Day was a big deal. It was the second-most-attended church service of the year (after Easter but before Christmas), and it was one of the few Sundays my family went out for lunch instead of going home to sandwiches. When we’d get to church, the children would be drafted to pass out carnations to all the moms: white for moms whose own mothers had died, red for the mothers whose mothers were living, and yellow for the mothers who had lost children. It was easy to know who got what because all the moms were already wearing white, red, or yellow corsages when they got to church.

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My mom sports her handmade-by-me corsage.

As an adult I’ve enjoyed buying my mother’s–and eventually my mother-in-law’s–corsages. Roses and carnations are the traditional flower choice, but I like to shake it up. Gardenias, irises, daisies, and even orchids have decorated my mothers’ dresses over the years. Sometimes I’ve made the corsage; sometimes I’ve bought one.

About five years ago, we realized my mom was the only woman at her church who still wore a flower on Mother’s Day. Every year I ask if she still wants me to get her one, and every year she says yes! She says that she loves telling everyone how her daughter bought (or made) that corsage just for her. And I love doing it.

So in the coming weeks when I’m asked to talk or write about how Mother’s Day makes me feel and I admit that no holiday does more to remind me of my fleshly desires and wounds, I’ll do my best to remember the woman who gave me life. She deserves no less celebration for the years she sacrificed to raising me just because my own dreams of motherhood have not been achieved. In fact, she deserves more because of the extra love she’s showered on me during my years of pain and miscarriage.

Keep reading Healthy and Hopeful in May for “Mother’s Day Survival Tips for the ‘Barren’ Woman” and a great book-necklace giveaway!

A Simply “Divine” Interview

While I’m consumed with unpacking and organizing for the next few days, read this interview I did with Kathy Harris for her blog, Divine Detour. I’ll be back soon with more posts for you. This old house and the new puppy are giving me tons of ideas!

What started you on your writing journey?

David and I were in and out of fertility clinics for seven years. During most of that time we kept our pain a secret, but as we started to tell others about our struggles, I became a lightning rod for women facing infertility themselves. In July 2012, two friends confessed to me the same tragedy within eight hours of each other; both had miscarriages the previous day and both were eight weeks pregnant at the time.

I called David from the quiet of my home office where I was editing part of The Voice Bible translation. I was disturbed. Shaking. Crying. Confused. Overreacting! But my David was patient with me and asked me the strangest question, “If you were to write a book about all this, what would you say?” I spent the next thirty to forty-five minutes writing. I left my office exhausted and crashed on the couch for a four-hour nap.

I was awakened from a very deep sleep by a publisher at Thomas Nelson calling to ask me about a ghostwriting project. During our “small talk,” I told him what had happened to our mutual friends and how upset I was that morning. He asked, “Would you be interested in writing a book about infertility?” Only then did I tell him about my crazy forty-five minutes and the outline sitting on my desk at that moment. His exact words are burned in my memory, “Polish it up, and send it to me by Friday.” I think I sent it to him by the next hour! That conversation led to me becoming part of the InScribed authors’ community.

Just as all good novels include a plot twist, our Author and Creator often writes a twist or two into our lives—some that ultimately bless us more than our original plan. Have you ever experienced such a “Divine Detour”?

Way back in 2002, my best friend dreamed I was an archaeologist in Israel and a mother of four children. She told me about David arriving at my dig site fresh off a plane—gathering our daughter in his arms, kissing me, and corralling our three unruly red-haired boys. It was the life I wanted and almost expected to have.

The many years David and I spent failing to deliver babies changed us not because we didn’t get what we wanted, but because we learned (the hard way!) to trust God’s plan for our lives. This was even when it is contrary to our own plans.

Since we accepted that children are not in our future, David and I have moved across the country twice. David is always flying somewhere for work, and I tag along since all I need to do my work is a laptop. We are constantly meeting new people, and we are thankful that we can send our meager resources outside of our family as He leads us to do. None of that would be possible if we had little ones at home.

Let’s talk about Barren among the Fruitful: Navigating Infertility with Hope, Wisdom, and Patience (Thomas Nelson, October 2014). Please tell us about it.

During my seven-year journey with infertility and miscarriage, I needed three things; information, companionship, and faith. None of these were fully addressed by the publishing world, whose few books on infertility focused on either secular “miracle cures” or religious “faith journeys.” Both types left me feeling physically broken and spiritually disconnected because the so-called miracles didn’t cure anything and the devotionals only highlighted my latent fear that I was an unfaithful daughter of God whom He found lacking.

I wrote Barren among the Fruitful primarily for women in their childbearing years, understanding that most of those readers are as I was, emotionally vulnerable and in need of strength and love. The book strives to surround the reader with a sense of community while providing honest facts. It does not promise that medicine will give her a child or that God will give her a child. It does lead her from confusion about infertility to understanding. From embarrassment over her perceived failure to openness. And most importantly, from the now-broken faith she has in herself to a perfect faith in God’s plan for her future.

But Barren is also for those who interact with infertility patients and that’s everyone. Infertility is on the rise and many doctors are anecdotally suggesting it will reach epidemic levels (over 40%) among young women in the next ten years. I like to think I’ve created a survey of the topic that quickly educates readers about the physical, financial, psychological, and spiritual struggles that accompany fertility treatment. Each chapter is titled with an off-the-cuff, sometimes hurtful, and often ridiculous comment I heard during my fertility journey, so readers can learn what to say (and what not to say!) to their hurting friends. It also includes the unique stories of multiple women, providing readers with a renewed hope for God’s plan for their future—with or without children.

A few fun questions…

When the words aren’t flowing—or when you want to celebrate if they are—what is your favorite comfort food and why?

I try to be really conscious of the foods I put in my mouth and body. I avoid all things artificial and super-processed, including the syrups cafes put in their flavored lattes. I typically take my coffee black. But Starbucks had a new item on their menus this past holiday season that has given me a crisis of conscience. The Chestnut Praline Latte (with an extra shot of espresso and half the syrup, thank you very much) is perfection. At the end of January, I’m still approaching the drive-thru speaker once a week and timidly asking, “Do you have the chestnut-praline syrup?” Bad, Amanda. Bad!

If you knew you couldn’t fail, what dream would you pursue?

While I was in grad school, my cell phone ringtone was the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Yes, it’s a cliché, but every archaeologist wants to be Indiana Jones. I’m no different. My graduate degree is concentrated in biblical archaeology, and few times in my life have I been as happy as I was when sitting in a huge hole in Israel dusting dust off of dust. I would love to make archaeology my career, spending three months of the summer in the field and the rest of the year in a museum analyzing my finds. Real archaeologists never have Indiana Jones moments. We get over-the-moon excited when we find bichrome pottery in what we thought was a monochrome stratus, but we all dream of one day snatching our rimmed hats away from the traps of dangerous Nazi ark hunters!

What Bible passage or story best describes your journey of faith?

The most inspiring woman in the Bible, to me, is granted three verses of Scripture (Luke 2:36-38). Anna was the wife of a temple priest and she did not have children. She went to the temple courtyard every day and she prayed. Because of her faithfulness, God promised she’d see the Christ child before she died. At eighty-six, Anna was doing her habitual morning prayer when Mary and Joseph walked in with eight-day-old Jesus.

Anna’s story is in the gospel because she identified Jesus as the Messiah. The fact that she was childless is ancillary. I wish I knew more about her. I wish I knew how she survived month after month of disappointment. I wonder if she was ever pregnant. Did she have a miscarriage? Did she have a baby and then lose him or her to illness? Anna teaches us something very important. Her three verses of scripture prove that a child is not a reward for a woman’s faithfulness to God. Meeting God face-to-face is the reward.

I’m a dog lover. Please tell us about your pets, if any, or your favorite pet as a child.

When I was six years old, Daddy let me pick out a puppy from a litter of thirteen basset hounds. We named her Sofi, and she was all basset: stubborn, silly, and not-all-that brilliant. She died when I was in college, and I cried an entire day. Since then, I’ve always wanted another dog but my husband of twelve years resisted . . . until about two months ago. We will be picking up our first puppy on January 31st. He’s a basset hound, too, and we’ll call him Copper. Based on the short videos the breeder has been sending each week, we’re bringing home a lazy guy who loves to chew chew chew! . . . on those rare occasions when he’s awake.

Thanks, Amanda! It’s great having you as a guest at DivineDetour.

Thanksgiving Devotions and 3 Giveaways!

The holiday season is emotional for everyone; it’s a time of looking backward and forward. How many of us “say what we’re thankful for” before carving that Thanksgiving turkey? How many others reserve the big announcements of their lives for when the whole family is diving into pumpkin pie? Both are nice traditions.

For many years I dreamed of the Thanksgiving Day when I could announce to my family that I was pregnant. I imagined so much warmth and happiness surrounding David and me. I imagined everyone toasting our health with nonalcoholic iced tea. I even imagined getting out of buying my daddy a birthday gift that year (because his November 27 birthday seems to be on Thanksgiving Day more often than not)!

I never got to make that announcement, and yes, it hurt to hear similar announcements from others during the years when David and I were enduring fertility treatments and suffering miscarriages.

This year I want to be truly thankful for what God has given, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this desire! I’m making a conscious choice to thank God for what He has given me instead of mourning what has been lost. Will you join me?

In the run-up to Thursday’s turkey coma (or sugar high!), I’m going to do 3 small devotionals (one each day) based on 2 Thessalonians 1 that I hope will inspire you to be thankful regardless of your circumstances. And just for fun, I’m giving away a signed copy of Barren among the Fruitful and an exclusive “Be Hopeful” necklace on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

To qualify for the drawing, you must do two things.

  1. At the bottom of each blog post, click the “Like” button.
  2. Right above that button are round buttons that allow you to share my post on Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Twitter, and via e-mail. Choose your favorite social media format, and share the day’s post with your friends.

You must do both steps in order to be entered to win the book and necklace. You will receive one entry for each day that you share my post (regardless of the number of times you share it…but feel free to share the day’s inspiration everywhere!)

Thursday I will post the names of the 3 winners, and I hope we all will be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually prepared to give thanks to God for all He has given to us.

Publicity in Publishing

Since Barren among the Fruitful was released in October, I’ve realized that the writing of a manuscript is just the beginning of an author’s responsibilities. Apparently I now have to sell the book (imagine that!), which means doing interviews and other publicity-ish things. Any activity requiring a recording device is way outside of my comfort zone. I do my best thinking on paper (not on my feet), and I hate the sound of my own voice. The year I spent podcasting with A. J. has helped me with this mild phobia, but I still get nervous before each interview.

I think I’m slowly improving. My most recent radio interview went pretty well, and last week’s newspaper interview by Jason Reynolds of Tennessee Christian News was almost fun. I could tell by his questions that he’d actually read and personally identified with my book before calling me, and this made for an insightful discussion that explored the themes of the book and not just my tongue-in-cheek chapter titles.

Middle TN native discusses infertility

Sunday, November 16, 2014
Jason Reynolds

Infertility. That word has served as a curse for innumerable couples who have tried so desperately to conceive a child. One author is now sharing her own struggles with infertility and how that battle gave her a major insight into God.

Amanda Hope Haley, a Murfreesboro native, is the author of Barren Among the Fruitful. The title by Thomas Nelson is part of the InScribed collection, a series of books written by women for women.

“Having no child — that’s a big deal to me,” Haley told me. “I feel broken in my body; there is no way God wants me to feel that way.”

Haley, who now lives in Denver, lays open her painful seven-year struggle to conceive a child–and her miscarriages. In the end, she came to realize that God gives only one hope: Jesus. Having a child was not to be part of God’s plan for her and her husband, David.

The book includes personal stories by some of Haley’s friends on their own fertility struggles, including her own mother’s difficulties, as well as her husband’s perspective.

Haley also shares her extensive research about fertility medical data and health care/insurance facts. And, there is a wealth of questions for individual thought and group discussions.

“It’s the book I wish that I had when my husband and I were going through infertility struggles,” Haley said.

The book is not just for infertile women, as parents, friends and spouses can come away with something.

Haley said she hopes that infertile women who read the book can realize they are not alone, “like we felt. I hope these women feel a sense of community and this brings them closer to God. Whether you have a child or not, it’s about being closer to God. That’s my 20-20 hindsight.”

She addresses the well-intentioned but extremely hurtful things that people say to women about child-bearing, whether the person realizes she is struggling or not.

“It happens just as soon as you say, ‘I do,'” Haley writes. “People go from asking, ‘When are you getting married?’ to asking, ‘When are you having children?’ I was a twenty-two-year-old bride standing in the receiving line at my own wedding when I was first smacked with this question.”

In writing a story for the book, Haley’s mother, Dana Womack, learned that she had said hurtful things.

She did not let many know about her battle while she was trying to conceive a child, although some likely figured it out. People who did know would not always bring their children around the Haleys, believing that seeing the children would be too painful. But, she said, she and her husband would rather have been involved with the children, and the forced separation itself was painful.

The couple came to realize that they were focusing more on having a baby than they were on one another. Haley addresses that problem in “Barren.” David shares his side of the struggle, including what he had to do in his medical testing that every man dreads facing in such a situation (and something that I can personally relate to in my own fertility struggles). David handles the situation with humor.

Haley said she has been surprised at how well the book has resonated with men. She acknowledges that Barren is a “heavy book.”

“You have to look at the absurd situations” like David’s experience, she said. “He did a great job, and he is a man of few words.”

The couple is largely healed, she said. It has been three years since her last miscarriage. They are confident that God does not plan for them to become parents, although they are godparents. Their lifestyle does not allow for children, as they both travel frequently and “live in a Denver condo.”

“But we are happy.”

“Having a baby isn’t a happy ending; at most, it’s a stop along the path,” she writes. “Finding wholeness by accepting God’s plan is a happy ending.”

Haley, who has a degree in biblical archaeology, said she is working on a new book about reading the Bible in context. Cherry-picking Scriptures is one of her pet peeves. There is no release date yet for the book.

— Jason Reynolds is a staff writer for the Times-Gazette. Email him at jreynolds@t-g.com. Follow him on Twitter at @reynoldsjason.

I thank Jason for this write-up. He invested time in reading the book, talking to me, and writing this article. If you’d like to read more of his work about state, national, and world news affecting Tennessee Christians, then check out his blog.

Enter Here, All Ye who Are Barren

[Originally posted on Lisa Newton’s Amateur Nester Blog October 16, 2014.]*

I’ll never forget the first appointment David and I had at a fertility clinic. We walked up to the entrance – ten-foot-tall double doors with a massive wooden overhang and a sign screaming (to us), “Enter here, all ye who are barren!” We felt the despair that permeated the place. We spent two hours in the doctor’s office, though we only spent about ten minutes with her. In those ten minutes she told us our problems were common and gave us some copy-machine literature; then left with a list of dates we had to return to the click for ultrasounds, injections, and intrauterine insemination.

The first question I was asked at every visit to the fertility clinic was, “How old are you?” As long as I said I was in my twenties, I received a smile and a pat on the knee from the nurse. The implication was that there was nothing to worry about; the fertility clinic could help. Once I hit thirty, no nurse ever smiled again. Without words (and sometimes with them), they accused me of waiting too long to get pregnant and wouldn’t make any promises about the clinic’s ability to help such an “old” woman. [Haley, Barren Among the Fruitful (Nashville: Thomas Nelson: 2014, 17.)]

Unfortunately, the insensitivity and cookie-cutter care found in many infertility clinics today is a big reason 23% of fertility patients stop treatment too early due to emotional distress. As easy as it is to say, “brush it off,” ignoring the demoralization that can happen in fertility clinics is hard to accomplish. I could make myself smile and nod my head in the clinic, but I had to go cry about my circumstances when I got in my car. But you can’t let others’ callousness wear you down. Treatments and doctors’ appointments are stressful, trying to have a baby is stressful, and stress reduces an already-infertile couple’s ability to conceive.

What I can humbly offer as God’s answer for David and me–and what may be for you–is finding a new doctor. Find a place where you feel cared for and someone who will attentively listen to you for more than 10 minutes. Seven years and zero live births later, I know having a child is not God’s plan for us. And a lot of that confidence comes from knowing I switched to a doctor who made that journey as smooth as he could.

It’s easy to mourn the circumstances and the callousness, the disappointments and losses. Yes, it is okay to sit “in the ashes” (Job 2:8, The Voice) for a small amount of time.

But you must always remember that God is bigger than your pain. He hasn’t explained to you why you are suffering, and maybe that’s because He wants you to focus on the bigger picture. Have confidence in the truth of who He is: your number-one supporter and the only “coping mechanism” that can move you beyond a life of survival to one of growth.

*Revised for Healthy and Hopeful readers on October 19, 2014.

We Can Have It All…but It Won’t Be Cheap

[Originally posted on Jenifer Jernigan’s Dive Deeper website.]

If you’re like me, and you’re a Gen X-er or a Millennial, you’ve been told your whole life that you can be anything. Doctor, lawyer, financier, governor—you name it.

For us ladies, the sky’s the limit in the marketplace (if we can bust through that glass ceiling). Woo-hoo!

But motherhood? That wasn’t so popular with the feminists as we were growing up.

I was told in not-so-many words that motherhood was a waste of my talents and abilities. I wasn’t offered Home Economics in high school because they had me busy with college-prep courses. The education machine prepared me for undergraduate university, which prepared me for graduate school, which prepared me to be wildly successful (or so Harvard would tell you as you paid many-thousands of dollars).

It’s not that Harvard and the feminists frown on motherhood. They just don’t want it to get in the way of your work ambitions. They say, “Get your education, and get busy climbing the corporate ladder while you’re young! (Then you’ll have lots of money you can donate to us. Wink, wink.)”

What happens as this need to satisfy social milieus and our personal dreams pushes marriage and pregnancy into our thirties? Our forties? Quite simply, it’s going to be harder to conceive, carry, and deliver a healthy child.

The number of women facing this reality increases every year. The birth rate among American women in their forties has increased by more than 70 percent since 1990, and the birth rate among women between thirty-five and thirty-nine has increased more than 50 percent. Those increases reflect how many women are giving birth—not how many are trying to get pregnant. There is an obvious shift in the demographic of aspiring mothers.

This isn’t ageism; it’s fact. The longer you wait to get pregnant, the harder it will be.

Our bodies were designed to have children when we were in our late teens and twenties. Just ask those Disney princesses. Snow White, Aurora, and Ariel were fourteen, sixteen, and sixteen, respectively, when they married their princes and presumably started producing heirs. By the pre-Industrial Revolution timetable, we’re all dusty old maids before we graduate from high school. And you can forget about higher education.

Thankfully, as women have thrived in the workforce, science has done a pretty good job of keeping up with us. In their day, our Disney princesses might have been beheaded and replaced (à la Anne Boleyn and company) if they couldn’t produce heirs.

Today we have medical options that don’t run the risk of severing our necks. The two most common versions of assisted reproductive therapy (ART) are intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF). (Barren 74-75)

The television exploits of Jon and Kate Plus 8 put IUI on the map. Often the first procedure attempted by fertility clinicians, IUI has a 60 percent success rate among qualified couples in the first six treatments; and it costs about $1,000 per cycle (including fertility drugs, hormone injections, and diagnostic ultrasounds which are not always necessary). It is noninvasive (meaning no one encounters a scalpel or an anesthesiologist), and it allows couples to reevaluate their family plans and finances on a month-to-month basis.

Mostly thanks to “Octomom,” IVF has gotten so much press in the last few years that it seems almost common. But the procedure is actually complicated and quite costly, boasting an average success rate of only 22 percent and an average cost (in the United States) of $8,158 per cycle. IVF is surgery. The woman must have general anesthesia when her doctor removes her eggs prior to their fertilization in the lab. The implantation procedure for the embryos is two weeks later and almost identical to that of IUI (they are inserted into the uterus via catheter).

So Harvard can forget about getting those donations as many of their female graduates sink many thousands of dollars into medical treatments designed simply to make our bodies do what God made them to do. But thankfully, most women who enter fertility treatments are eventually able to conceive. They get to have it all—the dream career and the dream family.

That’s a beautiful thing.

BARREN Is Birthed

Over the last year or so, a LOT of people have said to me, “This book is like your baby.” I see their point. It certainly was “conceived.” It is part-David and part-me, although I got most of the attention during its “development” (and did most of the work!). I have looked forward to the day–this day–that it would arrive.

The analogy pretty much falls apart after that.

I thought I’d be over-the-moon excited today, but I’ve been gripped by fear. On a selfish surface level, I’m afraid it won’t sell. Not far below that, I’m deeply terrified that I’ve messed something up. And it’s way too late to make any edits.

Every chapter of the book ends with a Scripture passage. In the original outline of the book, I was only going to include Scripture in chapter 4; but as I wrote, God’s Word made its way into my head and onto the pages. So want it or not–fear it or not–I’m officially teaching interpretation of Scripture in Barren among the Fruitful.

The Apostle Paul had a particular disdain for false teachers. Writing to the Galatians, he explained that a fungus-sized untruth from one person can grow and push an entire city of believers away from God:

Who has impeded your progress and kept you from obeying the truth? You were off to such a good start. I know for certain the pressure isn’t coming from God. He keeps calling you to the truth. You know what they say, “Just a little yeast causes all the dough to rise,” so even the slightest detour from the truth will take you to a destination you do not desire. Despite this, I’m confident because the Lord reassures me that you will truly hear and take my message to heart. Besides, I also know that these troublemakers, whoever they are, will answer to God and be judged accordingly. (Galatians 5:7-10, The Voice)

I don’t want to be a “troublemaker.”

A few years before I even thought of writing this book, I found myself praying regularly, “God, please use me, but don’t let me get in Your way.” It’s almost become a mantra. I say those words (or some version of them) every time I talk with Him because I know selfish, sinful me would rather be working to accomplish my own goals instead of His will. I understood that as I was writing, so I prayed every moment I worked. I think it was more like raising a child than growing an embryo.

So today my book isn’t a baby; it’s fully grown and out of the house. I wonder if the fear I feel is akin to what parents experience when their children leave the nest. All I can do now is pray that as Barren encounters the world, God somehow uses it to introduce people to Him.

And hope I didn’t mess it up too much.

Sick Spirit, Barren Body

[Originally published on Missional Motherhood.]

When I am sick, I do two things: go to the doctor, and ask my church for prayer support. My church then does two things: pray for me, and bring food to my house. Yes, it’s a stereotypical response, but that’s because it works. Unless you are a doctor, there aren’t many ways to help a hurting friend besides nourishing her body and soul.

Infertility is a kind of sick, but the church was the opposite of nourishing in my experience (and Sheldon’s mom never sang “Soft Kitty” to me). As soon as I was diagnosed as infertile, I asked for prayer—but I became the subject of gossip. I needed spiritual support—but I was indirectly told my pregnancy failures were my own fault.

My elder said it, my best friend said it, and—to her absolute horror today—my mother said it. Before I struggled with infertility, I have no doubt that I cavalierly said it to some of my friends, too: “Sarah was ninety years old before she had Isaac.” That seems to be the reaction you get whenever you tell your Christian friends that you’re having trouble getting pregnant. To be fair, there is nothing anyone can say to make you feel better. All your loved ones want to do is bolster your faith by reminding you that you’re in good company, that the heroines of our faith had the same heartache you do. . . .

A few months into your journey, you may take the encouragement as just that. You try to remind yourself that none of the matriarchs knew a successful pregnancy would be the outcome while they were in the midst of their monthly struggles. You think, If I can have enough faith, God will bless me with a child too. (Barren 37, 42)

People compared me to Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, and even the Virgin Mary one time. (Yes, that last unwanted conversation—with a male church elder—was exactly as bizarre as you would imagine it to be.) They said, “God answers the prayers of His faithful daughters with miracles, so He’ll do that for you.” But as I suffered multiple miscarriages, I began to hear, “You aren’t faithful enough for God to answer your prayers. Your spirit is too sick, and your body is too broken. God won’t let you be a mother.” The intensifying feeling of spiritual inadequacy was no one’s intention, but it was the result.

We are too quick to “solve” everyone’s problems with a scriptural platitude.

When we learn someone is suffering in any way, we want to fix it. But even in church, we don’t take the time necessary to empathize and learn how we can serve her. Maybe it’s because we love her; more often, I fear, it’s because we don’t want to be bothered for longer than a three-minute chat. Walking through suffering with a friend is a commitment.

So you want to know what to do, what to say when a friend tells you she’s infertile? Listen to her. Hold her. Cry with her. Pray for her. Love her for as long as she’s suffering—be it months or years—and tell her so regularly.

You could even sing “Soft Kitty” to her. (It’s what Sheldon’s mom would do.)