Archive for March, 2013
I told my wife yesterday that if I didn’t already believe in God, I would at least believe in the existence of a higher power, maybe even a sinister deity, simply on the basis of when the infertility bug has hit us. We’ve been walloped with far too many infertility woes, which have inconveniently interrupted critical life events with pintpoint accuracy. At least for me, statistically improbability leaves bad luck in the lurch and forces me wrestle with the gods of fate, or in my case, the God of the Bible.
Yesterday morning God provided me with yet another inconvenient infertility hiccup that makes me even more of a believer.
I am a minister, and perhaps one of my most important responsibilities is to give a Sunday morning sermon. Even though we’ve been in Madrid almost 3 years, my Spanish lags behind a bit, and so I’ve only just recently launched out with the preaching piece to my ministry. However, now that I am settling in, my evaluations in the first few messages will dictate future responsibilities. In other words, this sermon was important. The last thing I needed was, well, exactly what happened.
So yesterday morning I was set to give the homily at 11:45. At 11:30, my wife scoots by on the way to the restroom. Five minutes later, she slips back in front of me into her seat, shifting her head to the side so as to avoid eye contact. When I finally curl around her bangs and gaze a half second in her eyes, I know instantaneously what’s happened. “Oh God, her period started. This is way too early!” Early as it was, I know how to read my wife and I knew that I was right.
So two minutes before I step up to a podium in an attempt out a rousing message on human depravity, I am expending all emotional energy on trying to ease my own sadness and my poor wife’s disappointment over failed embryo transfer #3. Unfortunately, I know my sermon isn’t going to be good enough to distract either of us from this.
The sad thing is my consolation doesn’t mean that much right now anyway. This is our third and possibly final embryo transfer, because the funds for more transfers are about as depleted as our hopes.
But alas, the show must go on; just like it had to go on when our first miscarriage overlapped with my graduation from graduate school; just like it had to when our second miscarriage blindsided us the very day we were appointed by the church to come to Spain; just like it had to go on when our third miscarriage arrived on the heels of sacrificing everything, saying goodbye to friends and family, and landing in Spain (two weeks in!); just like it had to go on when our fourth miscarriage occurred in the throws of culture shock and sucked the final glimmer of hope from my wife’s eyes for ever having biological children; just like it had to go on when the first two failed embryo transfers caused us to age 5 years in a six month span.
Instead of believing in a sinister god or some other foolishness, I’d prefer to just ask the real God a few questions right now. For example,
“What profit is there in taking my hopes and dreams,
in my descending into the depths of emotional pain?
Can an absolutely devastated man and woman really praise you?
Can they declare your loyalty?”
I give credit to David for helping me formulate this particular query. I figure since God is big enough to choreograph this living hell that my wife and I like to call infertility, He’s big enough to take in the question.
So there I was, standing in a hospital waiting room, surrounded by dozens of snickering Spaniards. I couldn’t help but think, “So this is what modern forms of torture must feel like.”
All eyes were on me, and everyone seemed to be all ears as well. Who wouldn’t want to listen in to this? This was juicier than an in-N-out burger, more entertaining than a Nadal tennis match. At the very least, they would have something to joke about with their buddies at the bar that evening.
In my right hand I grasped a little “sample kit,” with instructions written in Spanish for giving a sperm sample. My wife had gone to the bathroom around the corner, leaving me in the waiting room, alone, with the sample kit. Man, I wish I would have tucked the plastic bag in my pocket, that my wife would have come out sooner, or that we could have bolted for the door.
We had already received news that our chances of having children were slim or next to none. Even so, the doctor had shoved the kit into my hand and told me to consider giving a sample. I told her I’d think it over, but for now we just wanted to go home and process the information.
Unfortunately, while I waited in the hall, a Spanish nurse spotted this ignorant and illiterate American, and assumed I needed translation help. The truth was I was new to Spain and didn’t know much Spanish, but I begged with this dear woman to let me be. Trust me, I would have managed the translation. This was exactly the kind of document with which I would have been happy to christen google translate.
But no. She forcefully pulled the instructions out of my hand, and loudly and animatedly described for me the how-tos of sperm sample production, in front of everyone. I’m not kidding. She even included gestures. I won’t soon forget the whispering and snickering of the Spaniards in that room.
What probably lasted two minutes, but seemed an eternity, ending with my wife’s arrival, my grabbing her hand, and our running toward the door.
I know that my wife carries the majority of these horrendous kinds of experiences with the infertility process in Spain, a culture that doesn’t respect personal privacy like Americans do. I suppose God permitted me to experience this event in order to identify a bit with what she endures on a more regular basis.
My wife and I are once again in the process of pursuing embryo adoption. Last year we suffered two failed transfers, and the disappointment of the second failure heightened to the point where we needed to take a break. My wife tottered on the edge of depression and both of our emotional tanks were siphoned pretty low.
As a consequence, we decided that we needed to put adoption on the shelf for a while, for the sake of our marriage, for our careers, and for our own personal sanity. We laid all the baby dreams down, and the six-month break refreshed us both more than we had originally anticipated. How fun to pretend! We pretended that we were really just young married professionals pursuing an adventurous expatriate existence in Spain. We pretended that we really aren’t the freaks of nature that this culture has so insistently labeled us (I cannot emphasize enough for you how this culture idolizes babies and families. You are practically a non-entity without children.)
The six months passed like a whirlwind and my wife started to get the baby itch again. So in January we started the embryo adoption process at the local clinic once more. And surprise, surprise, wounds have reopened. Depression is rearing its ugly head. The non-stop doctors appointments and the incessant picking, prodding, sonograms, tests, medication, and much more is slapping my wife around again. It’s a constant reminder that something is wrong with you. And who wouldn’t feel a little frustrated with a regimen like this?
I’m proud of my wife for recognizing that the clouds are circling, and I’m proud that she is committed to fighting. We are both a bit more prepared this time because we can see it coming, and we really are tired of being miserable. However, we both know that simple recognition and will power won’t suffice; intentional behavior changes are necessary for emotional health. So here are a few of our ideas:
– My wife has started seeing a counselor. I may tag along if she’d like. We’ve recognized some negative thought patterns that need to stop.
– My wife will probably start on an anti-depressant. We’ve both “been there and done that” before, but this time it’s her turn.
– We are going to try and reward my wife for every survived picking and prodding session (a.k.a. doctor’s appointment). This means we frequent a donut and coffee shop near the prodding station.
– We are moving on adoption paperwork. That way, if the embryo adoption fails, we will still have something down the pipeline to fulfill my wife’s dream of children.
– We may need to get away more. Even leaving the city seems to lift any excess pressure from my wife’s shoulders.
What behavior changes have helped you guys stay sane?
Whether they be Christian platitudes, or agnostic platitudes, or mormon, or Hindu, or you name the worldview. Nothing strikes in us infertiles such indignation as the likes of a person, regardless of good intentions, whose loose tongue berates us with mindless, unperceptive, and inconsiderate platitudes.
“You guys are young.” (Actually, fertility slows after 30, and we are 33. What’s more, multiple doctors have told us we’ll never have kids. So even if we were young, why would that matter?)
“You should adopt.” (Often followed by some second-hand, anecdotal, and uninformed testimony, and usually delivered with smugness about them, as if they just solved our fertility problems with an incidental whim or stroke of pure genius. They even proudly let it hang in the air, waiting for us to break out with a sigh of relief, “Genius! we hadn’t thought of that! We should just adopt!”)
“I know God will give you just what you need. Isn’t He good?” (But he isn’t giving us what we want, and you should respect the sensitivity of this reality. Is this the kind of thing you say to people at funerals? Because our four pregnancies are gone; they’re dead! And this is how you are trying to comfort me? Have you EVER read the book of Job, or the lament Psalms, or the gospels?)
“You should look on the bright side.” (The irony is that it this is followed by a long and awkward pause, as I watch their eyes slowly slide over to the back-left, attempting to reconnect to the memory quarter of the brain, as they rehearse what they know of our story over the last few 6 years. They are seeking desperately to share something positive to validate their point. But now that 15 seconds has lingered on in silence, it is becomingly increasingly obvious that they should have just shut it in the first place.)
I could go on, but you get my point.
For the first few years of our marriage I suffered under the needless tyranny of these kinds of inattentive platitudes. We thought authenticity and honesty were important in the broader Christian community so we had shared our story; “being real” was in vogue. But after watching my wife suffer four unimaginable miscarriages, and then taking in over and over again platitudes like these, we took a set out on a new course, one for our personal sanity and strength. For us, that course hasn’t included leaving behind Christianity itself; it seems to us incongruent to reject a worldview on the basis of the shallowness or insensitivity of some its members. Christianity for me is more about who Jesus Christ is and what he has accomplished than the eccentricities or insensitivities of those who also claim Him. Although I do understand why other infertiles are turned off to Christ by the likes of such statements.
Our path has been the way of seeking God in smaller, sensitive circles among the select few who understand, stepping back and biting our tongue when necessary, but waiting for some of the wounds to heal. Even blogs like these have had to be anonymous, because at least for now, we have found a reprieve from platitudes. God help us!