What do you want to be when you grow up?
That was always the only answer in my heart. Sure, other things seemed interesting, there were even a handful that I thought I might be good at, but nothing that ever felt like part of me. I honestly can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t keeping a strict baby doll nap schedule, babysitting, or choosing names for my hypothetical future children. After becoming a Christian at 14, I came to understand motherhood to be God’s plan for me and that made it easier to accept my failure to really stand out in any particular academic or extra-curricular arena. And then, at seventeen, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and told that it would be difficult or impossible for me to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term.
Not having been raised in the church, no one came rushing with reassuring verses or offered to pray over me. I was reminded of how young I was and how doctors never really know anything. Meanwhile, I went through four different medications and gained 25 pounds trying to get my new condition under control without surgery. I woke up one morning from a dream, convinced I was pregnant, freaking out about telling my parents, and trying to figure out where I would work since I’d have to put off my plans to attend university. It wasn’t until halfway through my shower that I clued in. It took me all day to get over the disappointment.
So I prayed. If staring at my ceiling and begging for any indication of what He wanted from me counts as praying..? I was fairly new in my faith and relying heavily on it to deal with my challenging home life, so giving up on God never felt like an option. I trusted that there was a plan for my time here, but couldn’t quite manage to dismiss the sense that I was being groomed for motherhood and I felt responsible for figuring that out. Having faith and being open to His purpose in me was one thing, but just waiting around for it to happen with His perfect timing felt impossible. (Spoiler alert: I still haven’t mastered that.) Not for the last time in my life, God let me sit with that for as long as I needed to. And so, as I always do, I set about accepting what I couldn’t control and distracted myself with the things I could. A few years later, my dad took my sister and I on a ski trip and we stopped at a Wendy’s somewhere in New York for quick bite. We sat down across from a Dave Thomas Foundation poster and I stared at it for the whole meal. When I got back to school in Ottawa after reading week, I typed in the link I had memorized, read everything on the website, and ordered the package of reading material they publish about the thousands of kids in foster care, many of whom are ready to be adopted. I finally knew what God wanted from me.
I. Told. Everyone. All the people. I was going to adopt from the CAS. The people told me I would need to be married (I didn’t have a boyfriend and didn’t want one.). Nope. No problem. I’ll adopt an older child as a single mother. They warned that the kid(s) would be damaged and do crazy things to me and my home. So what? Everyone deserves to be loved and have a family. They said it would be expensive to do on my own, but I was filled with faith and the optimism of a twenty-something who hasn’t graduated and hit the job market yet. They speculated that it would take many years. Well, they were right about that part, actually, but I didn’t know it then. And so I carried on with my naive human plans filled with the fire of my mission. I planned a career that would allow me a stable schedule at home, weighed every expense against the need to be financially stable as soon as possible, and continued to learn everything I could about child development and parenting. I had this. God and I were finally on the same page and I knew where my life was going!
I often wonder if God thinks I’m funny. Like, maybe He indulges me in these attempts to wrestle control over my life from Him like a friendly uncle holding a punching, kicking child by the forehead at arm’s length. I hope He at least finds me cute or I’m in big trouble. Greg showed up and ruined my life’s plan shortly after I finished school. I am extremely confident that he had been hand-picked and waiting for me forever, a feeling that I couldn’t seem to shake despite 13 months of putting him off and actively trying to find one good reason why I shouldn’t be with him. Again, I hope God finds me endearing, because sometimes I really annoy myself…
Once I got over myself, I quickly came to know that Greg and I were meant to spend our lives together. This meant I had to tell the man who I was falling in love with, who I felt God wanted me to marry, that I probably wouldn’t be able to bear his children. And on top of that, that I was committed to public adoption. I explained it all as well as I could and I left it with him. This time I really prayed. I had matured in age and in my faith and knew that I cared more about fulfilling God’s plan for my life than about my own feelings, but would need more strength than I had if I was wrong about Greg.
When Greg came back and said that he had only ever imagined having biological children of his own but was open to learning about adoption, I was confronted with my infertility on whole new level. I had long ago processed my own disappointment and replaced it with a passion for adoption. Now I was hit with a crushing guilt for potentially not being able to fulfill what felt and, if I’m honest, still feels like my duty to my husband. I hadn’t planned for that and I certainly wasn’t prepared. For the first time since my diagnosis, I prayed to be fixed. I prayed that I wouldn’t be the reason that the man I loved couldn’t have his dream come true. Again, God held me in that place for the time that I needed. Greg told me that he felt he would be better able to open himself up to adoption if we tried to get pregnant first, which I accepted, and I shared my feeling of being called to adopt. We agreed that both would be wonderful.
I went to the fertility clinic for the first time about six months before we were married. I explained to the nurse that I wasn’t married yet and hadn’t actually started trying to get pregnant. She, understandably, didn’t understand. The doctor who had diagnosed my PCOS 10 years prior gave me a gentle introduction to a journey that I hadn’t ever intended to take. I was unsettled in a way that I had never been before. Greg and I sought advice from Mike Stone on how far we could go with these treatments before ‘playing God’. We prayed, talked, and ultimately agreed on what we would and wouldn’t pursue. Still, I never did manage to shake the sense that my body wasn’t made to get pregnant.
Fertility treatments are unique to each couple. Even within the same diagnosis there is a huge array of possible approaches and outcomes. I have an atypical presentation of PCOS. I don’t exhibit very many of the outward symptoms, but was largely unresponsive to the medications commonly used to treat it. I experienced multiple side-effects without the desired effects, but was blessed never to have any medically serious complications. Nonetheless, as the years went by, my body and my spirit started to tire.
Guarding my own heart was manageable, helped by that persistent knowing that it wasn’t meant to be. But each of the more-than- a-dozen times I had to tell Greg that we weren’t pregnant cleaved my heart in two and chipped away at my resistance to self-blame. I just couldn’t look at him and not feel that I had failed him over and over again and it killed me. Greg did his best to curb his natural optimism and to reassure me that we had chosen this path together and I wasn’t at fault. I knew he meant every word, but I just couldn’t feel that way myself and I struggled not to resent his having put us both through it. We prayed together over each attempt at first but it soon became too painful to see each other’s hope and doubt every time so we gradually became more private about it. I gave up on prayers to be healed as the number of failed attempts grew and prayed that God wouldn’t allow me to conceive if I wouldn’t be able to carry because I was terrified of false hope. During our multiple and frequent delays in treatment, I prayed that if God didn’t wish us to have biological children, He would move us quickly through the rest of our treatments. On the days when the emotional/psychological side-effects were the worst, I simply prayed that we wouldn’t hate each other by the time it was over. I’m still struggling to break down the walls I built around my heart to cope with it all.
But my Father didn’t forsake me and gave me gifts to use in the most difficult moments. Despite being an English teacher, I’ve always had a fascination with medicine and human anatomy, so I was never confused by what I was told; I had experienced a very painful medical condition in my early twenties and had confidence in my ability to tolerate the procedures, which made them less frightening; I’ve always had a self-deprecating and sarcastic sense of humour, which allowed me to keep the mood light when I was asked when we would start our family; and I have always had a certainty that God will use the challenges of my life to get me where He needs me to be and equip me for His service once I get there, which has yet to be shaken even in the times when I have felt furthest from Him. God also gifted me with perspective in allowing me the privilege of loving and supporting others who were faced with tragedies far beyond my own disappointments during this time.
Perhaps because the experience is so unique, but I think more likely because it is so intimate and devastating, infertility is rarely shared. Even in the waiting room at the fertility clinic it was extremely rare for anyone to ask questions or share concerns. As with all difficult situations, people who haven’t experienced it for themselves tend to have trouble knowing what to say to their friends, colleagues, and relatives. As a result, the experience can be isolating. Greg and I had friends with kids who stopped inviting us to get-togethers because they felt it was too awkward and more than one of my closest friends apologized to me when they told me they were pregnant because they felt like they were gloating. Our Cov Com was the exception. We chose to share our challenge with infertility in our very first meeting and were offered prayers and support from then on. We were happy to answer thoughtful questions and thrilled to spend time with their families. They’ve helped us reverse that sense of isolation at Forestview and we are very grateful that God found us a place with them when He did.
It’s taken me months follow through on the request to write this blog entry, mainly because my three kids keep me so busy. After completing the treatment that we had prayed about and agreed upon, Greg and I came to a mutual decision to stop fertility treatments and focus on our adoption efforts. An hour after becoming officially ‘adopt ready’ in July of last year, we received a call about a sibling group of three who were under the care of the CAS. Craig, Shane, and Nicolette moved into our home on December 16, 2016, close to 15 years after I saw that poster in the Wendy’s. As God would have it, I am married, and in over eight months these beautiful children have done absolutely nothing to hurt us or our property. They have filled our empty bedrooms, tripled our grocery bill, and healed our hearts. My purpose has become very clear to me and this time, I am confident that God and I really are on the same page.