Hope for the Journey

by Suzanne Martin

Since the time I was a young teenager I have had a strong desire to be a mother.  I have always loved being around children.  Growing up I had many opportunities to learn how to care for children.  I enjoyed babysitting, assisting my mother with a daycare in our home, and working in our church nursery.  Years later, my husband, Scott, told me that a specific quality that drew him to me was what he discerned to be the heart of a woman who would someday make a devoted, loving mother.

Scott and I married in June 1983.  He had just graduated from college and started a new job.  A year later I also finished my degree and entered the workforce.  We had “our” plan all figured out.  We both felt strongly that I should be a stay-at-home mother.  Our one-bedroom apartment, of course, could not accommodate children.  So, together we decided that I should work for a while to save up enough money for a down payment on a house; then I would quit working and we would start our family.  After three years I remember growing very impatient; I was ready to change our plan.

In June 1987 our “ready” point came.  As we made plans to buy a house, we decided it was time to start our family.  I can remember being so excited.  I also remember while we were driving together one afternoon Scott cautioned me, “Now, don’t get too excited.  This could take six months or so.”  And I thought, “Surely not, after all this time of waiting.”  One year later we had no pregnancy.  We decided to ask my doctor, who had an interest in infertility, to see if there might be anything we should do differently.  She ran the basic initial tests, but did not find any problems. We were diagnosed with “unexplained infertility,” and I was put on Clomiphine, a fertility drug. The doctor then suggested that we attempt inter-uterine insemination.

Over the next year and a half we underwent nine inseminations, each of which ended without a pregnancy.  After the ninth unsuccessful attempt, I received a phone call from the doctor while I was at work saying, “I’m sorry. I’ve done everything I know to do.  Your insurance company will not cover any more insemination attempts, and does not cover more advanced treatments.  We will put you on an adoption waiting list.”  To put it mildly, I was devastated.  What had we done to deserve this?  Scott wanted to be a father as much as I wanted to be a mother, so why wouldn’t God allow us to have children?

During this time, the only people who knew what we were going through were Scott, me, and the doctor.  We so anticipated sharing with friends and family the “good news” of expecting our first baby that we hesitated to share the disappointing details of our journey.  But now we needed emotional support — and had none.  Still unwilling to verbalize our struggle, we remained silent and decided to continue trying to get pregnant on our own.  What else could we do?

In the fall of 1990, after another year of no success, we decided it was time to tell our parents about our repeated disappointments.  By this time we had been married over seven years; people were probably wondering why we were childless.  We told our parents and a few close friends.  In the fall of 1991, we persuaded our insurance company to give us a referral to a fertility center.

Our initial visit to the fertility center in Tulsa, OK was in January 1992.  We were very impressed with the doctor and how he wanted to “take control” of my cycle so that he would know exactly what was happening, and when.  I got so excited when he told me I could “throw away the thermometer!”  The doctor started me on Clomiphine on my very next cycle, and performed an insemination when my eggs had grown to the right size.  We can still remember the nurse calling us back into the hallway around 4:30pm on Wednesday, March 25, 1992 and announcing, “Well, it’s positive!”  I was finally pregnant!  We were thrilled beyond belief!  We received our instructions to come back in two weeks for an ultrasound, and went home to call our families — and celebrate!

For the next two weeks we were ecstatic.  We told everyone!  Then on Wednesday, April 9, 1992 we went in for the ultrasound.  Scott had a videotape to place in the ultrasound machine to capture the first pictures of our baby.  According to the medical chart, our child would be due December 2, 1992.  But during the ultrasound, the look on our doctor’s face told us that something was terribly wrong.  He explained that we had an “ectopic” pregnancy – our baby was in my right-side fallopian tube rather than in my womb, and there was no way for our baby to survive.  He gave us two alternatives – have our baby removed by surgery, or by injections of Methotrexate (a cancer drug); otherwise, my tube would rupture, endangering my life.

We could not believe what was happening.  After all we had been through, we were going to lose our baby.  We chose to have the surgery so as not to extend our baby’s suffering.  The surgery was scheduled for the next day.  Afterwards, the doctor reported that the surgery went well; he could find no blockages or other problems, so there was no reason not to try to get pregnant again.

While an ectopic pregnancy is considered a miscarriage, I experienced conflicting and confusing emotions about this “miscarriage.”  I had lost a baby but had experienced no pain to signal something had been wrong.  I wished there had been something I could have done differently to change the outcome. I felt deep disappointment that we would not know whether our baby was a boy or girl.  We had not yet started purchasing furniture, clothing, or other items – for which I was grateful.  Yet, in dealing with my loss, I realized that I did not have a single physical reminder that we had a baby, even if for a short time.

Grieving the loss of our baby was so lonely for Scott and me.  Our family and friends did not know how to minister to us, so many of them kept their distance.  Our church did not reach out to help us.  We did not know anyone who had experienced a miscarriage, let alone an ectopic pregnancy.  Emotionally, we had only each other for support through this experience.

After a few months, while my body healed from the surgery, we began working again with the staff at the fertility center.  Over the next several months I had some cycles that were not conducive for insemination; other cycles, in which the doctor performed inseminations, ended with negative results.  The doctor then decided to put me on Pergonol to boost my egg production for the next insemination.  On April 12, 1993, the day after Resurrection Sunday, a pregnancy test was positive!  When Scott came home from work that evening, I greeted him at the door with “Hi, Daddy!”  He was so surprised and so thrilled.  We just sat together for a while, grateful that God had given us another baby.  We called our parents and went out for dinner to celebrate.  We had another two weeks of rejoicing, announcing, and planning – all with an unspoken air of caution about getting too excited.  This baby was due on December 21, 1993.  It would be a busy holiday season!

On Monday, April 26, 1993, we went in for an ultrasound, again with videotape in hand.  And, once again, we were informed that the pregnancy was ectopic, this time on my left side.  But the surgery could not wait, the doctor advised us to end the pregnancy that same day.  The post-surgery report was again positive; the doctor could find no blockages, and therefore no reason why our baby should not have dropped all the way into the womb.  Again we faced a time of grief and uncertainty, not knowing where God was taking us.

Thankfully, our circle of support had grown.  We had a few friends and co-workers, both believers and unbelievers, who helped with meals and listened when we needed to talk.  But deep in my spirit I wrestled with the same emotions and relived many of the same confusing thoughts that plagued me a year earlier.  Although I can honestly say that we never “blamed” God or became bitter, we just couldn’t understand why God would allow these miscarriages to happen to us, especially when both Scott and I have such a strong desire to be parents.  Even a year after our first miscarriage, we still had not connected with anyone with a similar experience with whom we could talk and receive spiritual guidance and encouragement.  Again we felt very alone in our grieving.

A few months after this second miscarriage, Scott and I met with our doctor for a consultation.  While he had been unable to find a specific cause for the ectopic pregnancies, he recommended attempting a pregnancy that bypassed the tubes altogether.  We were asked to consider in-vitro fertilization.  By January 1994, the fertility center opened its new in-vitro program, complete with state of the art facilities. Within weeks, we underwent our first in-vitro procedure.

Every step leading up to the process looked positive.  The blood tests looked good, as did the number of eggs and the quality of the embryos.  We had four embryos transferred, but not one of the four embryos implanted.  The fertility clinic staff had no explanation to offer for why the procedure did not result in a pregnancy, and encouraged us to try again after giving my body a couple of months to recover from the procedure.

We underwent another in-vitro procedure in July 1994.  Again, all of the indicators were very good; we had four embryos transferred.  But none of them implanted, and again we received a negative pregnancy test.

After our second failed in-vitro procedure Scott received a job offer from a bank in Charlotte, North Carolina.  We knew there would be good doctors in Charlotte with whom we could continue our effort to have a child – plus we would have family nearby.  He accepted the position and we made our move to Charlotte in November 1994.  The move was only the first part of God’s plan to teach us and to draw us closer to Himself, and to move us into a new place of ministry.

After a period of getting settled, the tedious process of consulting with fertility specialists in the area got underway until, at last, we decided on a clinic.  We felt confident in the doctor and in-vitro team.  In fact, we learned that our new lab director had conducted research together with the lab director at our fertility clinic in Tulsa!  The two reviewed our case in order to give the new lab director a better understanding of our history.  As a result, he recommended two new “cutting-edge” procedures used to enhance the fertilization process.

The in-vitro procedure with our new Charlotte clinic was in August 1995.  As was the case with our prior in-vitro procedures in Tulsa, the early signs all appeared positive, and resulted in four embryos being transferred into my womb.  However, two weeks later we received another negative pregnancy test.  At our post-result consultation with the doctor, he told us that the entire team had been shocked that we were not pregnant; when they see preliminary results such as we had, he told us, there is an “expectation” of a positive pregnancy test.

Options for future attempts at pregnancy were few and far between.  Our doctor described to us a few experimental fertility techniques that we could pursue if interested.  Upon investigation, however, Scott and I found these to be unproven procedures and felt uncomfortable with that direction.  It wasn’t for us.  In spite of our long-held desire to conceive our own children, we were faced with the reality of three failed in-vitro procedures and no hope of future success.  We decided it was time to discontinue our medically-assisted attempts to become pregnant.

Within the next several months, God led us to a church where we became actively involved.  There we developed a special relationship with a particular family.  While this couple had never experienced the loss of a baby (and in fact have five children!), they began to exhort and encourage us in our spiritual walk.  The following summer, Scott and I sat under Biblical teaching in which we learned a key principle for living that gave us a new perspective and new hope; that is, that God designed us the way He did for His glory.

After several years of spiritual growth and encouragement, we added another leg to our journey toward parenthood: adoption.  Initially, we had ruled out adoption because we did not want to “take control” of the growth of our family by “obtaining” children simply because God had chosen not to give us children naturally.  Now we were ready to give God the opportunity to build our family through adoption — “in addition” to any children born into our family.  Scott and I feel strongly that, as believers, we should encourage women considering abortion to choose life for their babies.  We decided we could be an alternative for these women, or for women who are unable or unwilling to care for a baby, by being available as adoptive parents.

Scott and I have such a strong desire to be parents.  We know that if God desires to give us children to be born into our family, He is able to accomplish that in spite of our previous infertility experiences and miscarriages. I do not expect that anyone besides Scott and me remember the dates we found out we were pregnant; the dates our babies were due; or the dates we lost our babies.  Each year when those anniversary dates come, we remember our babies with both fondness and grief.  The grief is lessening with time, but we know that it will not completely vanish until we see them in Heaven.  We rejoice that we have that hope of seeing them because of the blessed hope in Jesus Christ that God provides for those who know Him personally.

Although we do not understand why, we do understand that God allowed us to experience infertility and the loss of two babies that we might serve Him in a special way.  We may never fully see what God has done or is doing through us, but we do know that one way He can use us is by helping others who share our experiences.  We want to apply 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

God provided a wonderful way to fulfill 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 in my life when he led me to become a volunteer with Caleb Ministries.  He has given me opportunities to share with women who have had experiences with infertility and/or miscarriage.  I am privileged to be able to help give comfort and spiritual encouragement – the things I know are needed during a time of grief.