After hoping, waiting, and heartbreak, Anthony and I are completely overjoyed to announce that we are finally expecting a baby! We are beyond grateful that our good and generous God has given us this perfect child. We cannot wait to meet this little person, due December 29!
If you follow me on Instagram (where I post "micro-posts" as I like to call them) you know that the last couple few months have been extremely busy for us—traveling to my siblings' graduations, state championship, bridal showers, bachelorette party, cousins' weddings, my own graduation, plus moving from Chicago to Michigan! And if you read my last post, you understand that when life gets busy (I think all that qualifies^) I have to drop the ball on something(s) in order to prioritize my identities as a daughter of God, a wife, and now, I have a new one to add to the list—mama! Our family's milestones and celebrations, plus trying to prioritize these three vocations, have made for a full heart and calendar the last few months. In addition to all that busyness, my waning presence authoring this journal the last year is also in large part due to the emotional toll of struggling to conceive—something I haven't been ready or known how to share until now.
Anthony and I have always been open to life in our marriage and want to have a big family someday. Due to my full-time grad school schedule, we had planned to start trying to conceive this past fall, so ideally we could give birth after I graduated in June. But the beauty of using Natural Family Planning (NFP), also known as Fertility Awareness-Based Methods (FABMs) is that God often uses a couple's openness to life to change their hearts (and plans), as He did for us. (I'll write more on NFP later, but suffice to say that it is NOT the outdated and ineffective rhythm method; a couple using NFP tracks a few of the woman's biomarkers to determine their fertile windows each menstrual cycle. When postponing pregnancy, a couple avoids sex during fertile windows, and when trying to achieve pregnancy, a couple has sex during the fertile window.) While I was in the throes of grad school, Anthony and I discerned very clearly through our prayer that God was calling us to start trying to conceive much earlier than we had planned. Although it made no logical sense to us at the time, we were certain that God was calling us to trust Him and start trying to conceive. Jesus spoke to us through the passage in which Peter walks on water; we felt like we were stepping out onto water amidst a storm, yet we trusted Jesus to be there with us and for us, as He was for Peter—even when Peter fell.
Although it had not been our plan to start trying yet, after one month of unsuccessfully trying to conceive, we were heartbroken. In such a short time, God had changed our hearts from fearing getting pregnant "too soon" to breaking over the child we hoped to conceive. Since I knew when I was ovulating, unlike most women, and I had never used birth control or other contraceptives, not getting pregnant after intentionally trying to that month incited deep fear and sadness in me; I felt in my bones that this was only the beginning.
Initially, we felt so confused. Why did you call us to this, God, only to leave us longing? When we go out on a limb and follow God's will, trusting Him, we often think that the decision is the hardest part. But often, living it out is even more difficult, as it was for us. As frustrated as were, we remembered the wise words of our spiritual director, Fr. John Kartje: "A decision well-discerned does not depend on the outcome." Just because God leads us somewhere, does not mean we are entitled to a happy ending. Contrary to my gut instinct, God does not"owe" us anything because of our trust in Him. Our failure to conceive a child also did not mean that we had discerned God's call incorrectly. Slowly, we learned that we follow God's will solely because it is His will—and this is reason for our joy and obedience alone, not the outcome.
The few people I shared our pain with initially assured me that it would happen or reminded me that most women take an average of three months to conceive. Although these kind souls absolutely meant well, such responses only made me more guarded with whom I would share our struggle, afraid that our pain would be waived off with statistics or clichés. As one of my friends who has been trying to conceive for four years kindly empathized, "The first period I got four years ago was as emotionally painful for me as the one I got yesterday." Unfortunately, several more months came and went without a child, as we continued on the roller coaster of infertility: trying to get our hopes up at the beginning of each cycle, waiting, hoping, then being devastated at the end of each cycle when my period came, grieving, and then trying to turn our grief to hope again. Round and round, up and down we went, hoping, waiting, grieving.
As heartbreaking as this time was, Anthony and I grew closer to each other and closer to Jesus through the pain. But like gold tested and purified in fire (1 Peter 1:7), our spiritual and marital maturity developed through discomfort and painful experiences. The grief we experienced together showed up differently at different times for Anthony and me. The devil used our grief to turn us against each other at times, arguing and crying over something stupid out of the deeper seeded pain we were feeling. We had to remind ourselves that we were on the same team, hoping for the same thing, and couldn't let the devil use our pain to hurt each other. We reflected how the genuine smiles and laughs of our Christmas card pictures were not actually representative of our year. A more accurate snapshot would have been one of Anthony and I lying on our couch, crying into each other's arms, as many dinners, days, or conversations ended.
As many of you I'm sure can attest, incredible spiritual growth also happens during our most trying hardships. I learned to be brutally honest with God in my prayer, sharing with Him my anger and hurt as we continued to pray for a child.
During this time, I realized all I wanted from my loved ones was to listen and console me—not necessarily to offer solutions. And yet when Jesus tried to console me—wipe my tears, embrace me, hold me—it wasn't good enough. All I wanted from Him was to fix me. And then one day, listening to a Fr. Mike homily of course, it hit me. The Gospel reading Fr. Mike preached on was Mark 1:40-45, when a leper says to Jesus, "If You are willing, You can make me clean"—something I begged of Jesus many times in the last year—to be healed. Then Jesus, "moved with compassion" cleansed the leper. How many readings of healing like this are there in the Gospel, and how many times had I read or heard each one, feeling indignant with Jesus, Then why won't You heal me, too, Jesus. And then I heard Fr. Mike's words: Jesus came to save, not to heal. Mic drop. I still remember where I was—on a run right by the edge of Northwestern's campus on the lakefront path—when I heard this. Yes, our God is the God of healing, but He came to earth to save, not to heal. Jesus wants my salvation more than he wants my healing—Fr. Mike's truth bomb exploded in my mind. And while Jesus does not inflict hardships on us—in fact, his heart breaks with us in our suffering—He can still use these seasons of our life to teach us, grow us, and save us, as He draws us closer to Him. In fact, I realized that all Jesus desires is to console us in our pain; all He wants is for us to receive His unconditional, infinite love. And all I wanted from Him was to heal me. I realized I had been asking Jesus to be my doctor, rather than just letting Him love me—all He so desperately desired to do. And this was the spiritual growth I experienced. I learned how to share with Jesus what I really desired, what was really on my heart, and to let Him hold me, love me, just be with me. I finally had started to understand and experience what I had prayed for for years—what it meant to be a beloved child of God.
Through our Lenten journey (we read 33 Days to Merciful Love) we learned through the teachings of St. Thérese what it meant to say, "Jesus I trust in You." Not to trust that Jesus would give us a child—He had never promised us that and did not owe us that—but simply to trust in His plan for us, whatever that is. After many more negative pregnancy tests, we learned to trust in Jesus' plan for us, and that that plan is good, even if that plan never includes biological children. So much of our sin comes from our original sin—the lie the devil plants in our hearts, the same lie he planted in the hearts of Adam and Eve, the lie that says God does not really want your good. When His plan for our lives looks different than our own, we doubt God's goodness, we doubt that He could actually desire for us something as good or even better than we desire for ourselves. Oh, how many times did this sneak into my mind throughout that year! I would begin to feel in my heart that God wasn't really a good God, that He wasn't a God who desired my good. I didn't trust in His goodness, because it didn't look like my idea of goodness. But through this spiritual journey, He taught me that He does will my good, He is a good God—even if His will for my life looks nothing like what I have in mind, even if He does not fulfill my desires—because He has saved me. Because He can and has redeemed us, that alone is reason for joy, that alone is reason for my trust in His goodness and in His will for my life.
Meanwhile, we found a Catholic, pro-life doctor for a Skype consult who would work with us from afar to have my hormone levels checked. Unfortunately, this whole process took months. While I was going back and forth from the lab to have blood drawn and waiting on doctor appointments or correspondence, a friend alerted me of the book WomanCode, by Alisa Vitti. My friend had also been struggling to conceive, and had suffered a miscarriage, and raved about how helpful the book had been to her since then. I ordered the book and poured into it immediately. Vitti, a holistic health coach, advocated that lifestyle and diet changes can severely impact our reproductive health. After just over a month of following Vitti's protocol—increasing my fiber consumption, managing my blood sugar levels, eliminating refined sugar from my diet, switching to "clean" or non-toxic household and beauty products, and normalizing and lengthening my sleep schedule, among other changes—we were pregnant! I also saw my long-time adult acne clear up, and I felt better than ever, and the one period I did have during that time came without cramps and the other debilitating PMS symptoms I often experience. I will be writing a full post dedicated to what I learned specifically from WomanCode, but if you are struggling with infertility, painful periods, or suffer from endometriosis, PCOS, or other reproductive issues, I cannot recommend this book enough! Granted, my hormone panel confirmed that I did not have diagnosable reproductive issues, but I did have hormone levels out of the normal ranges. For more severe reproductive issues, I imagine that the results take longer to see, but I still recommend adopting this protocol. It's free, it's good for your overall, long-term health, and it's non-invasive.
If you are struggling with infertility or are in the aftermath of miscarriage, please know that I see you, I'm thinking of you, and we pray for you every night. Having experienced a taste of what some couples go through for years, being on the other side of many, many, pregnancy announcements and watching friends happily have babies in the year we were struggling, I know that waiting, hoping, and wondering if it will ever be your turn is one of the most painful experiences we've ever had. Please feel free to reach out to me, whether it is for more information, or just to have a listening ear of someone who gets what you're going through. Anthony and I don't know why God blessed us with the gift of a child at this time, and at times we feel guilty that He has while some couples have been waiting for decades for this precious gift. We are overjoyed with this child and praise God for the joy our little one has already brought to our lives. Even though it was painful, we are thankful for how Jesus used our suffering to draw us closer to Him; we believe this season of our lives offered us a unique opportunity for incredible spiritual growth regardless of whether or not we were able to conceive. We will hold these lessons close to our heart and undoubtedly need to continue to trust Him in this next uncharted stage of our lives—parenthood.