No, not that one. I’m talking about fertility. Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s not a bad word!”. And you would be right.
Bad? No, but it can surely be a heavy one. It’s a word that can fill your life with joy (or surprise!), but it can also rock your whole reality and bring a devastating gravity with it.
Our story would be the latter. And we are not alone. Which is why we are sharing it. Now would be a great time to grab a pot.. I mean cup of coffee. 🙂
Our hope in sharing our experience with fertility is that we can start a conversation about a few things. First and foremost, about how good our God is. When I’ve been in the darkest times of my journey, I’ve read blogs that say something similar to that and I have (full disclosure) wanted to put my fist through the screen. My heart wasn’t at a point where I could see the goodness of the Lord. Anger and bitterness were the mud over my eyes.
A long while later, there is still no baby, but I can fully see His love for me in this. His desire for our marriage to bear fruit before a baby comes. His sweet pursuit of me and my husband.
We had only been married a short time when I started talking about babies. Notice I said “I”. Stephen was not on board quite yet. Ha! I can look back now and see so much of my selfishness in that season. I’m a bit of a “quick starter”. I like to be constantly working on a project or new adventure. Once the wedding was over, it was on to the next thing (in my brain at least!). So much of this came from my lack of contentment. There are strengths in being “future-focused”, but I struggle mightily with just being still. It’s incredibly hard for me to feel settled when my mind is constantly thinking about what our life will look like next week or in 5 years.
A dear friend has been encouraging me to stay in scripture. I learned so much about my struggle with contentment while reading through Philippians. When Paul says that he “can do all things through Christ who strengthens” him, it’s coming from a place of contentment. He could be content even in the worst of circumstances. Philippians 11-12.
Stephen is…the opposite. 😉 This has (obviously) posed some challenges in our marriage, but I’ve grown to really love this about him. God knew the one I needed!
While I thought I was ready, Stephen was more hesitant to “try” right away. We weren’t doing anything to prevent, but we weren’t doing tracking of any kind either. About a year and a half later, I was a bit concerned that we had gone this long without preventing it and there was still no baby. I hadn’t known many friends who had to count any days or track anything. It was just supposed to happen, right?
Some friends who had issues similar to mine recommended a doctor that had really helped them and he got me in quickly. After explaining my laundry list of symptoms, he suggested an exploratory procedure where he would check out everything and fix anything that was problematic**. We scheduled the surgery and he also mentioned that he always does a semen analysis on the male to rule out any issues there. No problem.
Until it was a problem.
Stephen went into the lab one morning around 8am. My nurse called me at 11am. I immediately knew something was wrong. She said that she had gotten his test results back and that there weren’t any. Huh? Like, none? Zero. Hot tears filled my eyes and I couldn’t speak. I will never forget how tender she was with me. It felt like minutes before I could say anything. Usually, they monitor the motility of sperm over an 8-hour period. She called so quickly because there was nothing to monitor.
Stephen was out of town that day. Telling my sweet husband this devastating news over the phone was almost more than I was capable of. Up until this point, he had been struggling with multiple health issues since before we had gotten married. Two rounds of mono, severe allergies, a full hip replacement, sinus reconstruction surgery, low testosterone. All of this was followed by the death of his mother and grandmother in a car accident the day after Christmas 2015.
I’ve asked him some questions so he can help me tell our story.
Q: What was your plan for kids when we got married?
Stephen: Be married for 2 years and then get pregnant with our first child. Then adopt our second child and then play it by ear after that.
Q: What did you expect the process of getting pregnant to be like?
Stephen: I thought we would try for a couple of months and it would just happen. I didn’t give it much thought. I thought by at least 6 months we would be pregnant.
Q: What was your reaction to the diagnosis of a zero sperm count?
Stephen: I was devastated. I thought that this was just one more thing that was wrong with me. I immediately went to the worst case scenario of never being able to have children.
When the news had somewhat sunk in, she said we would reschedule another sample in case this was a freak thing. (Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.) Our doctor wanted to see us the next day and cleared his afternoon to meet with us. We were both so emotionally empty after 24 hours of processing anger, shock and the beginning stages of grieving something you don’t yet have to lose.
I’m a glass all of the way full kind of person. I generally live in a world of butterflies, rainbows and the occasional unicorn. But this was different. This was one of the only times that I really felt like hope had been taken away. I remember my doctor saying things like,
“I’ve only seen this one other time in my 38 years of practicing.”
“There’s the option of donor sperm.”
“Have you considered adoption?”
The next few months were a tumultuous and dark time full of appointments with insensitive doctors, emotional distance between me and Stephen brought on by depression and constant attacks by the enemy on our marriage. If this was a test, I wouldn’t want to know our grade. We were finally referred to a specialist at UAB.
He was quick and to the point. “Your testosterone injections have killed your sperm. Get off of them. It could take a year and a half to come back, but it should. Any questions?”
My inner dialogue: Whaaaat? It can’t be that simple?! Doctor, you do realize that a low count is 10 million, right? Ours is ZERO. None. Not one. And what about all of the articles I read? What about what WebMD told me?!?! SHOULD I SEND YOU THESE ARTICLES?????
He wasn’t incredibly interested in me questioning his certainty that day, so we took his word for it and went on our way. We were scheduled to see him again every three months to get Stephen’s levels checked.
Meanwhile, my surgery had to be canceled three times because of my severe irregularity. At this point, we were having to push through our marriage moment by moment. Not out of anger with each other, but just out of the weight and uncertainty it had brought into our life. Nevertheless, it came across as anger towards each other.
Q: Can you explain the process of waiting for new results?
Stephen: The first couple of weeks were horrible, it was all I thought. Then when I would start to accept it, all of a sudden I would get really depressed. After about a month, I just accepted it and quit thinking about it.
Q: How much did pursuing the Lord in scripture help you during that time?
Stephen: I don’t think I would have gotten through it if I wasn’t a Christian. Once I got over the initial shock and feeling sorry for myself, the Lord provided me with peace. Because of my faith and being in the scripture, I knew there was a purpose to this struggle and He had a plan. I can’t imagine how desperate I would have felt if I didn’t know the Lord.
Q: What did God show you in the time of waiting?
Stephen: He showed me patience. He showed me that there were some other things that needed to be addressed before we were ready to even try for a baby. Without the bad test results, I probably never would have looked at my emotional health and I would have just been wondering why we weren’t pregnant. The “zero” result provided so many good things that I can see now but that at the time I couldn’t imagine this being a good thing.
Here’s a biology lesson. The mature sperm that a man releases today was made in his body three months ago. Who knew?! Keep that in mind.
Since our doctor prepared us for another year and a half of this process (and no guarantee), I would say that we were somber when we came home. The depth of the original devastation had shallowed some, but we certainly didn’t feel like we were in the clear. Stephen got off of his injections and we just waited for our next appointment.
We told a handful of people close to us and so many of them started praying immediately. A neighbor came and got me during a football weekend and drug me into her living room full of people I didn’t know and they all started praying over me with hands on my belly. I’ll never forget that.
Remember the biology lesson? If that is true, then it means that Stephen’s sample he gave at our first follow up appointment was made in his body when he was still on testosterone injections and when it was still fully in his system. His body hadn’t had time to generate new, healthy sperm yet.
It was time to head back to Birmingham. We were more anxious than nervous. First, to the lab for a sample, then a forever long wait where Stephen tries to read hospital magazines aloud and make them sound interesting. Bless him. The doctor came in and for a second, I thought I saw like an eighth of a smile. That’s some serious cheesin’ for a doctor in a teaching hospital! A tiny bit of hope sparked in my heart.
Doctor: Hey! How are y’all? Numbers look better, I mean good! REALLY good!
Oh, how I wish this keyboard had emojis. We just looked at each other. Stephen squeezed my hand. Or maybe it was my knee? Can’t remember. Anyway.. our doctor was more personable in this appointment. He seemed as relieved as we were! In this first follow-up, even a count of 5 or 6 would have been encouraging. Anything to show that regeneration was happening. But are you ready for the number?
My heart could have exploded! How was this possible?! We know exactly how. We have a good, good Father who wants good things for us. He holds far more authority than doctors, medicine, and most of all, our own plans. Praise Him for that!
**Fast forward a few weeks: I was able to have the operation. I won’t go into details, but if you are ever planning on having a laparoscopy, histeroscopy, chromotubation, etc., know that it is an actual surgical procedure (I was thinking more of a scope. I was wrong.). If you have any other questions about this or want to know what to expect, feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: How did you feel when we got the good news?
Stephen: Relief. Blessed. By the time we went back for the appointment in November, I was at peace with whatever the results were but I was overjoyed when we got the good news. I immediately started thinking about your surgery the following week. I thought “this is one step and next week is the next step”. I don’t think I was fully relieved until after your surgery
Q: Is this new season of waiting different? How does hope play into it for you?
Stephen: It is different. We’ve been through so much. Before all of this, it just felt hopeless but now it feels real and any day you could tell me that we are pregnant, but I’m not living my life just to hear you say those words. I’m truly at peace with the process and I know that the Lord will provide us with a child when we are ready.
We are now in a new season of waiting, a hopeful one. We find hope in the fact that medically and surgically, we have a way better shot at getting pregnant now than we did before. My doctor and Stephen’s specialist made it clear that (outside of a miracle) we would never have gotten pregnant on our own without medical and surgical intervention. So now, we wait in anticipation of what the Lord is going to do in our life. We are praying for the baby he brings us via my belly or through another brave woman’s.
We still have the opportunity to savor each other and our time together without children. Going through all of this has helped me appreciate the sweetness of that even more. We’ve gotten to know others who are walking this road and we have the privilege of praying with and for them. Grieving something you don’t yet have to lose is the strangest type of pain. If you are one of those people, I am so sorry. I don’t know what your (or our) story is going to look like, but I do know the One who is writing it. He is a good author, a tender Father and the perfect Savior.
If you’ve made it to the end of our story (so sorry for the length, it’s been incredibly therapeutic to write!), THANK YOU for reading! Please feel free to share with anyone who might have a similar journey to ours. If you’re walking this road with us, I’d love to hear your story! Knowing you’re not alone in this is priceless.
Sending love to all of you!
Lacy & Stephen