My God of the Valleys

by Shirley Gray

Tony and I became Christians as teenagers, so when we married, we were excited about establishing a Christ centered home and starting our lives together as husband and wife. We were like most couples who look forward to traveling, establishing careers, buying a home and starting a family.

We moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, and the Lord led us to a wonderful, gospel preaching church where we began to make Christian friends and grow in the Lord. As time went by, we met several couples that had been trying unsuccessfully to have children. We also met couples who had lost children through miscarriage. I had a real burden for these couples, and we began to pray for them to be blessed with children. I tried to understand what they must be experiencing even though Tony and I weren’t ready to start our family yet. As we continued to pray diligently for these couples, little did we know that through their experiences, God was preparing us for trials ahead in our own lives.

We began to talk about our growing desire to have children. We tried for several months, unsuccessfully, to conceive and neither of us really thought much about it. I became more concerned after six months of trying. I kept thinking about our friends who had tried for years to have children. All the while, this desire in us grew stronger and stronger. After a year, Tony and I both agreed that perhaps it would be a good idea to see a doctor since I had not yet become pregnant.

I called my doctor and made an appointment. He examined me and ran several blood tests to look for hormonal imbalances, and requested that my husband have some tests run too. He asked me to begin using a basal temperature chart. This meant that I would take my temperature each morning before getting out of bed and record it on a graph. He explained that when my temperature went down, I would ovulate within the next 24-48 hours. He also explained that the chart would show if my cycle was normal and if I was ovulating. He instructed me to do this for three months and, if I still was not pregnant, to see him again.

I began to follow the doctor’s instructions, feeling confident that now we would surely conceive. Tony and I prayed that the Lord would bless us with a child, confidently trusting that He would.

Our blood tests showed no abnormalities. We both were encouraged that so far nothing physically was found to be wrong with either of us. I diligently took my temperature every morning, recorded it on the graph, and watched for it to begin to drop. When my temperature went down our hopes went up. Would this be the month that I would become pregnant? We would be disappointed once again. This was to be the beginning of many months of waking up to place a thermometer in my mouth. It was also the onset of a monthly, emotional roller coaster ride –beginning with great hope and anticipation, and plunging to deep disappointment and depression when no baby was conceived.

As time went by, we gradually began to share with some Christian friends our deepest, most personal prayer request. This was not something that we felt we could discuss easily with others, but the Lord had given us some very caring and compassionate friends. It was a great consolation to know that others were holding us up in prayer.

I desperately needed patience during these months of waiting. I was becoming more and more frustrated with God, and with why He had not answered our prayers for a child. One day as I was studying His Word, He opened my eyes to Isaiah 40:31,

“Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength;
they will mount up with wings like eagles,
they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”

I knew that this verse was for me. Through it, God had given me a renewed strength to go on, and a challenge to wait patiently on Him. We placed our complete trust in Him to give us the child we so greatly desired.

Tony and I had traveled down this difficult path for little more than a year, but already it seemed like an eternity. With each passing month, the desire to have a child grew stronger and burned more deeply in my heart. I had always thought it would be easy to get pregnant and decided spring would be a nice time to have a baby. Now it didn’t matter about the timing as long as everything was safe.  I could see my previous thoughts had been so trivial.

My relationship with Tony grew even stronger in the midst of all the disappointment. He was so comforting and uplifting, although I knew he was longing for a child as much as I.  He faced the same disappointments, and yet was trying very hard to understand my emotions and to always be supportive.

The three months of temperature taking went by, and I did not become pregnant. I found myself constantly looking at a calendar and counting 28 days. It was as if my life revolved around a calendar. Some days I felt consumed by the emotional ups and downs brought by this constant awareness of time.

I made an appointment and returned to see my doctor with temperature charts in hand. He looked at them and found no significant problem. I was almost in tears, feeling fearful of what step to take next. He prescribed a fertility drug called Clomid that would help me to produce more eggs each month. This would increase my chances of getting pregnant.

Once again I was encouraged, feeling that this was the answer we had waited for. The Lord would surely give us a child now.

Indeed, I became pregnant during the second month of taking Clomid. The day I found out the good news, I could hardly wait to get home to tell Tony. This was in September. We both knew this had to be the Lord’s perfect timing. Everything seemed so much in order. We had bought a home. We both were established in our jobs. Tony had just become a registered architect. It was perfect! As a precaution, we waited until I was about eight weeks pregnant to tell anyone. It was so exciting to share our long-awaited good news with friends and family.

At work, there was a group of women who were pregnant. We had fun comparing notes with each other as our pregnancies progressed.

Our baby was due on June 10th.  Tony and I prayed the Lord would care for and protect this child throughout the pregnancy. From the very first day we learned of his existence, we dedicated him to the Lord. Our hearts were truly thankful for this answered prayer and for God’s blessing in our lives.

Fourteen weeks into my pregnancy, I awoke on Sunday morning and found that I was spotting. I immediately became frightened, fearing the worst and prayed, “God, please don’t let me lose this baby.”   I had so many questions running through my mind. I prayed for God’s strength to get me through this fearful time and His protection for our child.  I kept thinking, “I’m supposed to be out of danger of miscarriage. I’m out of the first trimester. Why is this happening to us?”  Then I thought, “Maybe this kind of spotting is normal. I’ll just call the doctor and he will tell me everything is okay and not to worry.”  Tony sat next to me, holding my hand, as I phoned my doctor. He wanted us to meet him at the hospital for an ultrasound to make sure everything was all right.

We were only ten minutes from the hospital. As we drove, I held Tony’s hand tightly and prayed all the way. When we arrived, a nurse took us into a small examination room where we anxiously awaited the doctor’s arrival. He came in and asked a few questions in a very compassionate manner. Then the nurse turned off the lights so he could see the ultrasound screen. As he looked at that small screen for what seemed an eternity, silence filled the room. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the nurse reach for a box of tissues. The doctor looked up and said, “I’m sorry. There is no heartbeat. This baby has not developed now for several weeks.”   I just looked at him in shock, and then I looked at the ultrasound screen. Tears began to fill my eyes and roll down my face. He further explained that our baby had probably died several weeks earlier and that my body had just not responded yet. I could not believe this was happening to us. I thought that surely since we had experienced so much difficulty conceiving a child that the Lord wouldn’t take one from us now!

The doctor came back to talk with us again, showing sympathetic understanding of our grief. He explained that the next step was a D & C. As I was being prepped for the surgery, I can remember in my mind questioning God, questioning the doctor. Was our baby really dead? Why did this happen? Then I remembered the picture on the ultrasound screen. There was no movement.  There was not even a little flicker of light indicating a heartbeat. There was no life.

As we drove home after the surgery, though still groggy from the anesthesia, I felt very empty inside. Our baby that we had prayed and planned for was gone. It seemed so unfair. That night, as the effects of the anesthesia wore off, Tony came into the bedroom and we embraced. Holding each other tightly we sobbed, grieving the loss of our precious child.

As I awoke the next morning, a flood of tears came again. I felt out of control and helpless. I knew I needed God now more than I had ever needed Him. My faith was weak. For several days, I could not find the words to pray and could not even pick up my Bible. Then I prayed, “Lord, I know I can’t get through this on my own. I need You.”   I picked up my Bible and read the Twenty Third Psalm. For the first time in my life, I understood what it meant to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I had never experienced pain like this or such loss. God seemed very far away. I wanted instant relief from this hurt. At times guilty feelings that perhaps I had done something to cause the miscarriage overwhelmed me.

I felt a strong need to talk with others about the loss of our child. The Lord was faithful, and sent those friends to me for whom we had prayed. These women understood what it was like to go through similar hurt and were a tremendous comfort to me.

It was difficult for me to go back to work the next week and face people who would not know what to say to me. I was still very emotional. I knew that every time someone spoke to me, a wave of tears would come. It was so hard to deal with comments from those with good intentions like:  [“You’re young, you can have another baby”, “Your baby is better off now,” “This is God’s way of taking care of a problem,” “Your baby is in a better place.”]   I did not draw comfort from remarks like these. I wanted THAT baby! Being with the group of women who were pregnant at work was the hardest of all. I was now on the outside looking in. They had their babies and mine was gone. I felt envious of them. I wondered why I had to be another statistic. Why did I have to be the one who lost my baby? I did not wish this hurt on anyone, but I did not want it for myself either.

The next few weeks were difficult. I went through the motions of finishing Christmas shopping and going to parties although a large void filled my heart. Even family members did not know what to say to me. While I needed to talk about the death of our baby, it seemed to make most people uncomfortable.

Christmas day was the worst. I cried frequently and felt very unstable. I knew our baby was in Heaven in Jesus’ arms, but I wanted to hold him. I wanted to feel him move in my womb. I wanted to hear his first cry. I felt so robbed that his life had been taken from Tony and me so suddenly. I began to feel angry at God for allowing this to happen to us. How my heart ached for this child.

As the weeks went by, I had daily fluctuations of emotions. I tried to get on with my life. I turned to God’s Word more often than I ever had before; I prayed more often than I ever had before.  I knew I needed the “God of all comfort” like I had never needed Him before. This was only the beginning of times when I would need my Good Shepherd to pick me up and carry me through the dark and painful valleys.

After two months, we were able to try to conceive again. I went back on the medication and again began taking my temperature. I found myself once more on the emotional roller coaster of a 28-day cycle. This continued for five more months. Even after increasing the dosage of Clomid, we still were unable to conceive. My frustration bordered on panic. There were days when my desire for a baby simply overwhelmed me. I tried to be happy and upbeat.  Wasn’t this the image that Christians should project?  I found myself hiding my depression and sadness, and feeling guilty when I was unhappy. I certainly didn’t feel like smiling all the time. After all, I had a right to grieve.

My emotions were on edge as June 10th approached. This was our baby’s due date. I had thought I would be pregnant again by now. I had dreamed of getting the nursery ready and bringing our little bundle home. But there was no tiny little bundle.

I clearly remember sitting in Sunday school with Tony just prior to that date. The well intentioned teacher in our class asked all the pregnant women to raise their hands so our class could pray for them and their babies. As they raised their hands my heart sank. They couldn’t have realized how brokenhearted I felt as I was reminded again of my loss. Those old wounds were once again reopened. I felt the tears coming, and could only look down at the floor. Tony was so perceptive and knowingly reached over and gave my hand a tight squeeze. All I could think was, “I’m supposed to be pregnant! Why did this happen to me?”

About one month later, my father died. He had been seriously ill for several months, and I found myself experiencing yet another loss and more emptiness. The grieving started all over again. I was terribly saddened that I had been unable to give my father a grandchild before he died. I now felt even more desperate to have a child. This desperation caused me to consider taking another step. Should I see an infertility specialist?

We had been trying unsuccessfully to conceive for six months since my miscarriage. I was torn as to whether to trust God totally for a child without further medical intervention, or whether to take a more aggressive approach and see a specialist. Would it be a lack of faith for me to seek help? I knew that God could work through physicians and medicine, but what did He want me to do? I also struggled with the impact of being labeled “infertile”, although that is what I was. Tony and I prayed for the Lord’s guidance in our situation. I knew that Tony would be supportive of me no matter what decision I made.

Several weeks went by, and I felt the Lord leading me to call an old friend who had been through extensive infertility testing and several miscarriages. As we met and discussed my situation, she told me of a reproductive endocrinologist who had helped her. She now had a wonderful little boy. She encouraged me to go home and make an appointment. She was very emphatic about not having time to waste as we get older. This was my answer from God through this dear friend. I went home and made the appointment.

At my first visit the specialist asked many detailed questions and ran some extensive tests. About two weeks later, he informed me of my diagnosis  Polycystic Ovarian Disorder. I had never heard of it. I was thankful that finally there was a diagnosis, and that we were on the road to treating it. He explained to me that I was ovulating each month, but that the eggs I was producing were small, immature and poorly developed. He told us that this is a fairly common disorder, and that it could be treated with fertility drugs. After further testing with Clomid, the medication I had taken previously, he discovered that my body was reacting adversely to it, causing the sperm to die before ever reaching the egg. I was very encouraged that already in a short amount of time, he had found two problems, both of which he felt were very treatable. I felt strongly now that we had made the right decision in coming to see him, and that yes, the Lord could work through physicians and modern medicine.

The next step was a big one. He recommended that I go on a more powerful fertility drug called Metrodin. This drug was given by intra muscular injection in the evening for about five to seven days prior to ovulation to stimulate the ovaries. This would help my body produce a greater number of healthy eggs and would greatly increase my chances of getting pregnant. It would also mean frequent visits to the doctor’s office for ultrasounds and blood work, as often as four to five times a week during each 28-day cycle. Tony and I were excited about trying a new approach. The doctor encouraged Tony to get involved in this process by learning to give me the injections. He began to practice and soon was a pro. It was much more convenient for him to give me the injections at home than to go to an office, especially on weekends.

One month went by with no conception, and then another. I felt I was spending all my time visiting the doctor and taking medications. We even planned vacations and our social life around these frequent appointments.

Four uneventful months later, the doctor decided to do an exploratory laparoscopy. During this surgery, he used a scope to look for internal problems such as endometriosis and blockage of the fallopian tubes. Thankfully, he found no significant problems. On the other hand, I was also frustrated with the fact that I still was unable to conceive if there were no other problems.

The doctor decided to use a higher dose of medication, and the very next month I became pregnant. Since I was monitored so closely, the pregnancy was detected unusually early. I was thrilled! Yet somehow I did not feel truly peaceful about it. I went back for a second pregnancy test a week later. That afternoon I received a phone call. When I heard the voice of my doctor, instead of the nurse, I knew he did not have good news. My pregnancy hormone level was not increasing as it should. I remember his words so dearly. “I’m sorry, but it looks like you are going to miscarry.” The lump in my throat prevented words; only tears would come. Tony and I began to pray for this tiny little life. We prayed that perhaps the test had been wrong. But in a few days, the bleeding started and we lost our second child. Once again disappointment and grief filled my heart. Praying with faith became harder and harder. I wanted an immediate solution from God. I was growing weary of walking ever so slowly through this valley. It seemed that everywhere I looked, there were pregnant women. I found it increasingly difficult to hear of friends who were pregnant. Yes, I was happy for them, but I wanted a child too. It also became more difficult to attend baby showers, seeing all of the soft, cuddly baby things. It only made my heart ache more for a child. I began to avoid going to them. Then I would feel so guilty about having these feelings and would try to hide them.  In some ways, I felt my life was becoming a charade.

At this time in my life, God began softening my heart and opening my ears to His voice about the valley in which I walked. He brought to mind the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3. King Nebuchadnezzar had them cast into the fiery furnace since they would not bow down and worship him. They knew God was able to deliver them from the furnace, but even if He did not, they knew He was still ‘The Most High God.’ Verse 25 says “.. Look! I see four men loosed and walking around in the midst of the fire without harm and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!” I knew at that moment that my God was walking with me in the midst of my fiery furnace. He did not prevent me from going into this deep valley, but He was certainly there with me all the way. There was much that I wanted Him to do that He did not do. But in the midst of my valleys, His gentle and loving arms lifted and carried me. I knew that I must submit to God’s perfect will for my life and not my own. My personal desires and requests might not be God’s plan at all. That was hard to accept, but little by little, He began to change me. I began to see that the most important thing in my life was that God loved me and that nothing occurred outside of His providential will. I realized that I might struggle and hurt, and that I might not find all the answers. I began to have a renewed confidence in my Sovereign God.

The Bible commands Christians to do some difficult things. “Rejoice in the Lord always.” (Philippians 4:4) “Rejoice always. In everything give thanks…” (I Thessalonians 5:16,18) “Consider it all joy … when you encounter various trials.” (James 1:2)  This seemed quite unreasonable, but slowly I began to learn that I could not know His triumph without first experiencing His testing. I realized that healing from my pain and heartache, would come only through Him. These things neither happened immediately, nor did the pain go away instantly. It was a slow process of continuing to inch down the path in my valley, but I knew I was walking hand in hand with the King.

I continued to use the medication and to make frequent visits to the doctor. I was trusting, as best I knew how, that God’s will would be done in our lives regarding a child. Then, three months later, I learned again that I was pregnant. Two blood tests showed that my pregnancy hormone levels were increasing normally. The doctor felt that this pregnancy was off to a good start. Morning sickness came immediately and was so severe that I had difficulty working. When I was about four weeks pregnant I began bleeding one day at work. Fear filled my heart, and I raced home. Fortunately, Tony was already there, and drove me to the doctor’s office. Anxiety was clearly written on our faces and tears streamed down my cheeks. Imagine our shock to see on the ultrasound screen, not one, but two little flickering lights, indicating the heartbeats of two tiny lives in my womb! The doctor determined that the cause of the bleeding was a clot in my uterus. His primary concern was the danger of the clot sloughing off and pulling with it one or both of the embryos. The best thing that could happen would be for the clot to naturally dissipate. The doctor cautioned us not to become too excited over the two embryos. This happens frequently, he explained, and sometimes only one survives. I was immediately put on bed rest, and my progress was carefully monitored. Tony and I could hardly contain our joy that the Lord might be blessing us with twins. The bed rest gave me plenty of time to pray and seek God. We told a few of our closest friends and they began to pray. As the days went by, the ultrasounds began to show that indeed the clot was breaking up and the babies were growing. At about eight weeks, my specialist released me to go back to my regular obstetrician. I had quite an eventful pregnancy with periods of bed rest off and on during the entire time, due to threatened pre-term labor. Many friends prayed along with us for these two precious little lives growing inside of me.

On December 2nd the Lord gave us two wonderful sons, Colin Lloyd and Preston Vance. They arrived only three and a half weeks early and were completely healthy. This was the Lord’s perfect plan for our lives. When everything had previously seemed to be right from my perspective, only He knew the perfect timing. As I write now, tears fill my eyes and joy overflows my heart for these two precious gifts from God. How thankful we are for them!

During our four years of infertility and two miscarriages, the Lord drew Tony and I closer as husband and wife. These struggles caused us to lean on each other in a special way for emotional and spiritual support. As a couple, our relationship with the Lord grew much deeper, and God became the first priority in our lives. I came to know Him as my El Shaddai, my All Sufficient One. He was my Protector. He upheld me through each painful month of longing for a child. He supported me through each disappointing miscarriage. He sustained me through all my fears and frustrations.

As time goes by, I continue to gain an increased perspective on these struggles. I have learned that God called me to walk through these valleys, and that He provided the grace to guide me through them. He is a good and loving God who knows and feels our pain. Matthew 5:4 says:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Christians are not exempt from pain and suffering, but we serve the God of all comfort. It is my desire that these experiences serve positively to touch lives. I am thankful that God could use my trials to help and encourage others. The wounds never heal, and I would not want to forget how my God carried me through the valleys. I look forward to one day meeting Jehovah Raah, the Lord my Shepherd, in Heaven with my other two babies in His arms. Praise be to our gracious and bountiful God!

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou dost prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
Thou hast anointed my head with oil;  My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.