A Journey Through The Valley of Infertility
by Magdalene Raines
Growing up playing with baby dolls and then younger brothers and sisters began in me a strong desire to be a mother and have children. My own mother was a constant example of someone who saw motherhood as a high calling and found joy in what she did. She never complained about the daily struggles of raising seven children, but portrayed to us by her actions that this is what God had called her to. Her example and my own natural tendencies enjoying children and babies made the decision to want a large family and to stay at home with them a very easy one for me.
When my husband, Matt, and I married in August of 1995 we had talked extensively about our shared desire to have lots of children. We had even started a list of names for them and my husband joked that he wanted at least enough boys to have our own family baseball team. There was never a question or doubt that we would raise a large family.
Although these were our feelings, Matt began to feel the reality of supporting the two of us very quickly. He began Dallas Seminary two weeks after we were married, and we were committed to him going there without any debt. We also had to have health insurance to enroll, and we felt at the time that maternity coverage was too expensive. Due to these circumstances Matt decided to use a natural means of birth control until we could purchase better insurance. During this time I felt at one point I was pregnant, and excitedly did a home pregnancy test only to be disappointed when the test came back negative. My heart very much desired children even though we were not "trying."
After 7 months my husband was having a time of prayer and came and told me that the Lord had convicted him that we should not be "wasting" the time God had given us to serve Him on earth by trying to prevent having children. Even though humanly speaking we could not afford children and did not have maternity coverage, he felt that God would provide for us if I were to get pregnant, even if that meant dropping out of seminary. My older sister had just gotten pregnant and I remember Matt and I sharing this with her and her husband. We just knew that within the next few months I would be pregnant as well. Finally, my childhood dream of being a mother was nearing realization.
The months went on, and honestly we were not too worried when I did not immediately conceive. Deep down I felt like the Lord wanted Matt to finish seminary training, and so maybe He was postponing this conception until we were nine months away from his finishing. Well, that August before his second and final year my period was late. This was it- I just knew it! My mom was with us for the weekend and she went to the grocery store to get us a pregnancy test. I was shocked when it came back negative, but still hopeful that maybe next month would be the time.
As each month passed my hopes would rise and then be dashed again, as my period would start. As we came to the year mark from when we had started trying, I remember lying on our bed crying my heart out to the Lord. The little bit of information we had read indicated that you were classified as infertile after a year of trying. The word sounded so scary and final. How could I possibly have a problem conceiving? I was only 23 and had regular cycles and no female problems to my knowledge. Were we stressed out? Was I taking enough vitamins? Maybe we just needed to relax more as friends eager to help told us. Maybe we had unconfessed sin in our life, or maybe the Lord was judging us for trying to prevent conception at the beginning of our marriage. These thoughts weighed my heart down as I tried to find the spiritual and medical answer to our infertility.
Daily Matt and I prayed for a child. We confessed our known sins, and pleaded with the Lord to take away our guilt of trying to prevent His blessing on our life and to open my womb. The months continued to pass though with the heavens seemingly closed to our request. Fix Your Eyes on Jesus was a devotional book my mom gave me that I was reading at the time and it was a constant reminder to focus my eyes on the Lord and not my circumstances - no matter what they were.
As Matt finished seminary we headed to a new ministry at a Christian Camp in east Texas. There was an herbalist in the area that was well known and we decided that as soon as we were settled I would make an appointment to meet with her. I wanted to do all I could to have my body in the healthiest state possible to conceive. She put me on a regimen of herbs and vitamins that I religiously took 3 times a day. Physically I never felt better than when I was on these vitamins. I was healthy, relaxed and happy to be living in the country and have my husband settled in his new job. Still though, there was no baby.
Six months after this we began to consider going to a doctor so I could have a basic physical done to make sure there were no medical problems. I had never had a well-woman exam, and we felt like it was probably a wise thing to do. We also wanted to discuss with the doctor our problems with conceiving. I was so nervous about this visit that I canceled it at the last minute only to reschedule a few weeks later. At our visit he found no obvious reasons I should not be conceiving and recommended I graph my temperature for a few months to see if I was ovulating.
During the next six months while graphing my temperature we went to another nutritionist in Houston who had been recommended to us by a friend. We spent hundreds of more dollars on vitamins for both of us and tried to implement a healthier diet as well.
The second summer at the camp I saw our obstetrician a few more times. He reviewed the months of "ovulation charts" I had been keeping. My cycles were longer than normal, but still regular every month. It appeared that I was ovulating late, but to the best of that doctor's knowledge still ovulating. (We later found out that longer cycles may cause the egg to be too old to fertilize by the time it is released.) He shared with Matt and me that he had not dealt with many infertile clients and would recommend a doctor in Dallas that we could see. This was a major milestone in our medical and spiritual journey with infertility. We knew that the Lord said children were a blessing, and that he opens and closes the womb, so we struggled with the decision of whether to pursue this medically or to not use a doctor and simply pray for the Lord to work a miracle.
The decision that we came to as a couple, after much prayer, was that we live in a sinful fallen world with sinful bodies. We felt that the Lord had given us the freedom to pursue medical answers to our problem while acknowledging that He is the one who will open a womb, yet He may choose to work through a medical doctor to do this. Choosing to seek medical treatment is a difficult decision for anyone facing a barren womb. Many decide not to and we believe this is something a couple must decide before the Lord after much prayer.
We began to make the three-hour drive up to the doctor in Dallas where he did some tests to see if my tubes were blocked or there were any other apparent physical problems preventing conception. After 5-6 months of seeing him, we became dissatisfied, and on the recommendation of a friend, began seeing an endocrinologist at the Medical Center in Houston. This switch was an answer to prayer. Our greatest recommendation to those who seek medical treatment is to start with a reproductive endocrinologist rather than an OB/GYN. He did extensive blood work and saw some hormonal problems that I was able to regulate through medication. After going to this doctor for over a year my hormones were regulated yet we still had not conceived. We felt like we were literally at the end of the rope. Our future seemed intensely bleak and overwhelming without children. Our thoughts began to turn to adoption, although that can be very expensive and we had nearly exhausted our savings with doctor visits which were not covered by our insurance.
The emotional lows we were experiencing daily were intense. There were constant reminders that we did not have children. My husband's ministry was working with children, we worked with children at church, two of my sisters were pregnant and from my tunnel vision it seemed as if everyone I knew was having a baby. I had stopped anticipating a pregnancy every month, I simply expected myself not to be pregnant rather than get my hopes up and then have them crushed. We continued to cry out to the Lord for a child although we began to realize that He might not have this in His plan for us. Separately and together we prayed every day for a baby. I wanted to believe and have faith that He would answer this prayer, yet I knew that sometimes God's answer is not always what we want at the time.
An infertile couple feels very alone and distant from married friends and family who have children. It is as if you are on one side of the fence and they are on the other. You wonder if you will ever know the joy of holding your own child, of participating in Mother's or Father's Day, of celebrating the holidays with your own children, of having a family heritage to pass on and countless other emotions. The pain is constantly before you, and there never seems to be closure, just acceptance that God is sovereign and in control. We daily depended on Him as the months and years went by to have the strength to rejoice with others as they gave birth and to bear the trial He had given us.
As I prayed for a child the Lord reminded me in His Word of others who had experienced the same pain I was experiencing. Reading Hebrews 11 and then 12:1-3 about the "witnesses who have gone before us," I wrote the following in my journal as we neared what we felt like was the end of the road for us in what we could do to try and have a baby.
“Who are the witnesses who have gone before us? Heb. 11 gives us a list of those who have gone before us with great faith in what was not seen. As a barren woman though, there are others who are not in this list, yet godly examples of faith in the very same trial I am faced with. How great our Lord is! There is nothing He gives us that we cannot bear with His help. What an encouragement and yes, privilege it is to be suffering with the great matriarchs of our faith who went through the same pain and sorrow of a closed womb.
When I feel alone in this pain I know my Lord is with me. Yet, I long to know there are others who have come through this, who know what I feel, the questions I have. There is no one like this where I live, but as I prayed for a friend who could share my burden, the Lord turned my eyes toward his Word. There I read of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah and Elizabeth. Five women the Lord gives us in His Word who experienced a barren womb. Why so many? Thank you Lord for these great examples of faith. Through suffering we are refined. A barren womb Proverbs says is never satisfied. Maybe this is why the pain is so deep and never seems to lessen. The deeper the sorrow the more grace you give.”
Scripture on these women that encouraged me were:
Sarah - Gen. 11:30 - "And Sarai was barren; she had no child." Gen. 21:1 - "Then the Lord took note of Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had promised."
Rebekah - Gen. 25:21 - "And Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived." Gen 25:20 & 26 - "And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah," "And Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them."
Rachel - Gen 29:31 -" Now the Lord saw that Leah was unloved and he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren." Gen. 30:22 - "Then God remembered Rachel, and God gave heed to her and opened her womb. So she conceived and bore a son, and said, 'God has taken away my reproach.’”
Hannah - 1 Sam. 1:2b - "…but Hannah had no children." 1:5b -"…but the Lord had closed her womb." 1:9 -"And she, greatly distressed prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly” 1:19-20. "…and the Lord remembered her…after Hannah had conceived, she gave birth to a son." 1:27 -"For this boy I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I have asked of Him."
Elizabeth- Luke 1:6 - "And they were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. And they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years." Luke 1:57-58 - "Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she brought forth a son. And her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy towards her; and they were rejoicing with her."
Shortly after the holidays in 1999 we went back to our doctor in Houston for what I felt like would be one of our last visits. We sat silently in the car as we drove from my parents' home, where we had been at Christmas, down into Houston. At the visit, the doctor pulled an article out of his desk from a medical journal he received. It told of some new advances in treatments for infertile couples at clinics in Dallas and Denver. He wanted to know if we were interested. We did not say much, but I could see excitement building in Matt. We took all the information with us, and that night discussed with my parents what the doctor had shared with us. We also sat down with Matt's parents within the next few days and told them of this new opportunity. Both sets of parents felt that we should proceed. We were excited but nervous as we prayed for the Lord to guide us. That month we made an appointment to meet the doctors in Dallas. They would work with our primary doctor in Houston so we decided to go forward.
On March 2, 2000 I drove to Houston to have a pregnancy test that would measure my hormone levels. It was a simple blood test, but the results would not be in until late that afternoon. That morning I put a date in my Bible by the Psalm I read. Psalm 78:5b-6-"That they should teach them to their children, That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born." When I saw that verse I knew it was from the Lord. I prayed fervently that He would give us a child, so that we could teach that child about Him. My journal entry for that morning was emotional as I anticipated the news we would hear:
“This is the day Lord. This is the day we find out if I am pregnant. Oh Lord, we have waited for You to do this. 'Be anxious for nothing but in everything give thanks.' Help me to lay aside all of my anxiety Father, to place it all at your feet. I acknowledge your sovereignty over this situation. One thing I seek Lord; that is You. Children are a blessing, but first I seek You and trust Your plan to be best. If the answer is no today, then still my lips will praise you. I ask for Your strength and not my own. On my own I am weak and scared, but you Lord, fill me with Your peace and quiet. In the quiet I feel Your strength.”
All afternoon I prayed, cried, and paced the house waiting for the call. I could barely sit down. Matt was going to come home from work early at the time the call was supposed to come. An hour early though, the phone rang as my heart tightened and I prayed for strength. As I answered the nurse happily said, "Congratulations, you're pregnant!" I immediately thought I misunderstood her. "What did you say?" I asked her as my whole body shook from being in shock. I asked her 4 or 5 times and amazingly she kept giving me the same answer! I quickly called Matt and told him to come home, trying not to reveal in my voice yet what the answer was. He ran home and came through the door with a gift for me in his hand and a distressed look on his face. He assumed I was not pregnant since I had not told him on the phone. "We're pregnant!" I cried as a look of shock came over him. We hugged as the joyful tears we had been waiting for over four years to cry came out. My journal entry that evening expressed our joy:
“Praise the Lord Oh my soul! Lord, You have looked upon us with favor. Thank You for the child within me. You have answered our prayers. After four long years the day has come. "He has made the barren woman a joyful mother of children." How I thank You for such a great gift. What a blessing we thank You for. You are sovereign Lord over all, and we acknowledge this to be from You. How we thank You!”
Our hearts overflowed with gratefulness as I began a deeply desired pregnancy. We poured over childbirth and pregnancy books and enjoyed each phase of the pregnancy to the fullest. Having a background in midwifery and home-birth, we decided to choose a local midwife to attend our birth at home, and thus began a very normal and healthy pregnancy.
Around my 27th week Matt and I were on a retreat with the staff from our camp in Broken Bow, OK. We had borrowed my parent's RV, and were enjoying camping, swimming, hiking and the beauty of God's creation. On our second day away I began to notice that I was having quite a few contractions. My midwife had mentioned that if I had four in an hour that I could "feel," to let her know. I really did not think my contractions were a concern, until I noticed mucous and bright red blood after going to the restroom. I decided to check my cervix to see if I was dilating. It was very soft as my finger easily slid into the opening. Being a first time mother, I knew this was still a little too early to begin dilating. I felt this merited a call to the midwife to let her know what was going on.
After calling our midwife, she recommended we get in touch with our back-up doctor. The doctor felt we should head towards home, and if the contractions continued, to stop at an emergency room. My younger sister, Rebekah was thankfully with us, and so the three of us headed out with Rebekah keeping me hydrated and giving me protein snacks (a remedy for pre-term labor). After 2 ½ hours of driving we were timing contractions every 2-5 minutes. We were at least 4-5 hours from home, so we made the decision to detour and head for the nearest emergency room. At this point we were still not overly concerned, as the contractions were fairly light, but we thought we would feel more comfortable getting "checked out." We barely made it as the RV ran out of gas and literally coasted over an overpass and into a gas station 5 miles from the hospital. We were all praying out loud to get to that gas station and my husband said it was "Holy Spirit Power" that pushed us into the station!
They sent me up to Labor and Delivery at the hospital, and started me on IV medication to slow the contractions. The contractions continued, and even seemed to accelerate some, so I was given a stronger dose of medicine by injection. We prayed together and prayed for our child. After desiring a child for so long, we knew that the health and life of our child was in the Lord's hands. Matt was a tower of strength to me as he held my hands and prayed for our baby. Both of our families were praying and several prayer chains were started at our church and others. We felt overwhelmed with a peace knowing that God was in control. It was a miracle that fear never gripped our hearts, as I am very prone to be anxious and worrisome.
The doctor entered shortly after my last shot and said he wanted to fly me to Dallas right away. He felt that he was not being successful in getting my contractions to stop, and in case my dilation and labor were to progress quickly their hospital could not handle a 27 week- old baby. Matt did everything he could, including offering to hang from a rope, to get the technicians to let him ride in the helicopter with me! They did not let him, and with Dallas hospitals full, they changed my destination to Plano. This was a blessing because this is where we lived before moving to east Texas. Several ladies from our previous church were at the hospital to meet me when the helicopter landed. Matt and Rebekah drove as fast as possible to meet me at the other end.
Once in Dallas things began to slow down with more medication and prayer! We felt like the Lord had answered so many prayers for this child, that we just knew he was going to continue to protect our baby. Three days later we were on our way home with some oral medication that I took every 4 hours around the clock. With the advice of our midwife we switched to our back up physician for care. We would not have the home birth we had anticipated, but again we had to trust the Lord that His ways are not our ways. From that time on I was on limited bed rest. This was a time the Lord gave me to pray for our child as I sewed a quilt and clothes for her and learned patience staying home and off my feet. At 34 weeks I was put back in the hospital to again try and stall oncoming labor. After this I was on more strict bed rest until 37 weeks.
I had always dreamed of a "perfect" pregnancy and labor. I wanted to be the healthiest and most in shape pregnant mother around! Now I found myself unable to cook and confined to our living room couch for endless days - not exactly what I was reading about in my childbirth books. God had a different plan for this pregnancy, and I was learning to be thankful in any situation, even if it meant an inactive pregnancy and a hospital birth.
Just two weeks early, on October 25, 2000, our little girl, Emma Marie Raines was born. I was five centimeters when I went into labor and completely dilated by the time we made it to the hospital. We were able to have our natural birth after all with no complications and a healthy baby! The joy we felt as she came out was indescribable. So many tearful prayers had gone into her conception and pregnancy that we could hardly believe she was finally here in our arms!
She is a gift from God that we do not take for granted. Every morning, evening and throughout the day we thank the Lord for her. Above all we learned that our fertility is a gift from God that we cannot take for granted. I was young and healthy and had no reason to believe I would have difficulty conceiving a child. Even after conception we had to trust the Lord with Emma's life through an eventful pregnancy. God is sovereign though, and in control of every aspect of our lives. In our life this meant acknowledging that He may not give us a child, yet as it says in Habakkuk 3:17-19: "Though the fig tree should not blossom, And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail, And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold, And there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds' feet, and makes me walk on my high places."
God answered our prayer beyond what we could even hope for. We acknowledge Him as the giver of life and the One who opens and closes a womb and sustains life. For those struggling with infertility, the Lord is faithful. He may not give you a child, but He will give you the grace to depend daily on Him and to trust Him with your future, no matter what tomorrow holds.
Matt and Magdalene Raines live in Grapeland, TX. Matt is the Assistant Director of Frontier Camp, a non-denominational Christian youth camp. If you would like to contact them, their e-mail is email@example.com.
Volume 2 Issue 3: May / June 2001, © Unless The Lord ... Magazine