Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Together Through Pain {infertility}

Early yesterday morning I received a text that my dear friend was headed to the hospital for induction to give birth. This should have been a happy text accompanied with some squealing sound effects when read, but instead there were tears. You see, my friend is was only about to hit her 20 week mark in her pregnancy when she found out that her little one's heart had stopped beating. Instead of labor accompanied by the joy of birth, my friend had to labor to give birth to the child she was going to bury.

After a some raw crying out to God, I was met with the familiar feeling of helplessness. How could I be a good friend to this woman? In that moment, I was thanking God for Abby and her words of wisdom and all the women who have opened up to us through this series equipping us for these very moments.

Our next contributor is Jenny who writes a beautiful, honest blog called Blessings and Raindrops from her home in Arkansas. When she and her husband Dave tried to start a family, they unknowingly stepped into the world of infertility. After a couple years, they decided to head down the road of adoption. But the Lord had other plans, as Jenny found out she was pregnant with not one but two little blessings. She and Dave now chase after two blonde little boys. They are also in the process of bringing their gorgeous (trust me, I've seen her picture) daughter home from Central Africa. So, I'll turn this post over to Jenny as she helps us understand how walk lovingly with a girlfriend who longs to be a mother.

When Your Arms Are Empty
Infertility is isolating. It is painful. It is full of heartache and disappointment and bitterness. It is all consuming – emotionally and physically. You can’t get away from the pain. The struggle is fresh and raw each and every month.

Yet, above all of the emptiness and hurt -- a persistent, unrelenting spirit of hope remains.

Hope that this is going to be “the” month. Hope that this new doctor, this new test, this new procedure, this new medicine will finally work.

As someone who walked this dark road for several years, I can attest to the difficulty of being a good friend to anyone in the midst of infertility. I know it was hard to be my friend during that time. I felt isolated and alone most days. Innocent remarks such as, “so, do you have any kids?” or “you need to soak up all this free time you have now before you get tied down with kids!” sent me reeling. Pregnancy announcements, baby showers, birthday parties, baptisms; even family dinners would leave me in tears. The grief was overwhelming at times.

If you have not walked in our shoes, you may wonder how you can best minister to a friend facing such intense heartache. Simply by reading this post, you are showing how much you care for your friend. You are likely seeking practical ways to encourage and love your friend in an authentic, Godly way.

First, I would recommend being careful with your words. Struggling couples find themselves especially sensitive to the words of others. At the same time, I know that the pressure to say the “right” things can be difficult for the loved ones of infertile couples. This doesn’t have to be daunting. Simple changes in the way you phrase common questions can be extremely helpful and prevent infertile couples from feeling put on the spot. For example, when first meeting someone, instead of the question, “so, do you have kids?” try asking something more open-ended like, “tell me about yourself.”

Withhold offering advice to help “cure” infertility problems. Medical issues cause infertility, and “relaxing” will not resolve the problem. Nor will going on vacation, wearing boxer shorts, drinking a margarita or deciding to “just adopt.” Adopting may be a part of God’s plan for your friend, but this is not a decision to be taken lightly. Not to mention that, statistically; adoption does not increase chances of pregnancy. Allow your friend the opportunity to seek Biblical counsel and to work through God’s path for her family without your opinions or stories of what worked for a friend-of-a-friend.

The book, Hannah’s Hope by Jennifer Saake, was a lifeline for me during our journey. Now, when I know of a friend that is struggling with infertility or adoption loss, I always send a copy of this book. The wisdom shared is comforting {it’s always nice to know you aren’t alone in your pain} and biblically sound.

I’m tempted to plagiarize the entire book because it is overflowing with wisdom on this subject. Instead, I’ll just share this well-written advice from Jennifer in one of the book’s “Burden Bearers” segments:
"Communication is imperative. You can have all the general guidelines in the world, but you can best minister to me by getting to know my heart and learning my triggers for rejoicing or heartache. When in doubt, ask me directly.
In some ways, you are in a 'no-win' situation. If you ignore me when it is time to send out baby shower invitations or birth announcements, it may make me feel all the more removed from normalcy. Yet, if you do include me and I’m having an especially hard day, I may feel you have been insensitive. One idea might be to send me the same baby shower announcement that you are sending to all of our friends, but inside include a handwritten note acknowledging that you know this might bring me pain. Let me know that I am free to come or not, as I so desire, but that you love me and are praying for me."
Such wise advice. I love the compassion shown with the inclusion of a few kind words written in love. Rather than ignoring or belittling your friend’s heartache, you are able to live out the Gospel in a beautiful way -- bestowing love and joining alongside her in prayer.

I’d also advise you to not be offended if a loved one does not choose to share their fertility struggles with you. This does not mean that she doesn’t love and trust you. Infertility is an incredibly personal and private struggle. My husband and I didn’t share what we were going through for several years. This decision was made consciously and, in our case, choosing to rely on God and one another for support and comfort strengthened both our marriage and our faith.

If a loved one does share with you, please know that she is placing a deep level of trust in your friendship. Respect this trust and do not share this news with anyone else. She has chosen you to be a confidant, a prayer warrior and an encourager. Do not take this role lightly. Pray diligently. Encourage sincerely. Love genuinely.

Finally, I would encourage you to take some time to explore resources for understanding what your loved ones are going through. A couple of my favorites –

Hannah’s Prayer Ministries – Christian support for fertility challenges.

Empty Arms -- A video that communicates how painful the journey of infertility can be, helping you to understand where your loved ones are coming from.

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