Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How to Encourage a Friend Experiencing Infertility

After explaining what constitutes infertility I thought it would be neat to discuss what techniques of encouragement are most helpful and what techniques are more difficult to handle for someone struggling with infertility.  Let me begin by saying that my intent in writing the following is not to vent or to draw attention to any specific person or a possible mistake they have made.  My purpose is solely to educate so that as Christians we can spur one another on in love and be more intentional in the words that we choose.  James 3:2 says, “We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.”  If we are honest with ourselves, we can all think of a time when we have lied, manipulated the truth, spoke harshly, spoke with sarcasm, or hurt someone with our thoughtless words.  Therefore we should all reflect back on the gospel. We are all sinners, and Jesus (who was completely perfect) paid our penalty on the cross, so that we can be declared righteous and live for all of eternity in heaven with God!

Once we have understood that truth we can strive to love one another better.  Hebrews 10:24 says, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  I have heard this verse many times but one part I continually forget is the “consider” aspect.  Many times when we have a friend who is struggling with a problem, we don’t know how to respond.  There are many ways to “spur on” another including relating through your own life experiences, giving advice, presenting alternatives that take the focus off the actual problem, just sitting and listening to them, speaking Truth to them, and praying for them.  Regardless of any type of situation a friend is going through, we must always evaluate what is the most loving way to encourage them.

In my experience, the least helpful ways to encourage a friend struggling with infertility include trying to relate when you haven’t actually experienced infertility, giving advice, and trying to change the focus of the problem.  For example, some women who tried getting pregnant for a few months and choose to make a few lifestyle changes have been blessed with children.  With good intentions, these individuals may try to share their experience in hopes that their friend who is struggling with infertility will become pregnant after making the same changes.  Yes, changing eating habits, exercising, lowering stress levels, going to a chiropractor, and even getting acupuncture treatments can benefit the body of a woman trying to get pregnant; however, these things do not result in pregnancy any more than our good works get us into heaven.  God alone creates life and what we all need to understand is that what may have worked for one woman, God may not use to work in another.

Also, some women try to comfort her infertile friend by suggesting, “Well, you could always just adopt.”  Again, yes, this is true, but I guarantee that any woman struggling with infertility has already considered that possibility.  Adoption is a wonderful option and I strongly believe that this glorifies the Lord; however, surely you can understand how this comment seems insensitive when brought up at the wrong moment.  One of the most frustrating comments for an infertile woman to hear is, “Well, I hear that many women who adopt end up having a baby of their own.  You should just start the adoption process so you can get pregnant.”  First, this is not true, it is a MYTH!!!   In fact, since 1970 the number of parents who have become pregnant AFTER adopting has fluctuated back and forth from 3% to 10%.  Regardless, these are not significant numbers.  Furthermore, I can’t name one woman who would want to tell their child that the only reason they chose to adopt was in hopes to have a biological child.  How insignificant would that child feel?  How unloved?  No, if a family does choose to adopt, it should be for the reason that they want to love the child just as equally as they would had it been through a biological birth.  We must be wise when trying to present alternative options to our friends.  Although your intention is to take the focus off their pain, this is not the best way to encourage her.

Instead, sitting with her and listening to what she is going through means so much more.  It can become very difficult to deal with medications, invasive doctors appointments, and hormone imbalances. Another important aspect is speaking Truth to her.  By encouraging her with scripture, you can offer hope and help direct her attention to where it needs to be.  Helping her have an eternal perspective will benefit her when things don’t go as planned, when medications don’t work, or when it doesn’t seem like the finances will permit her and her husband to continue treatments.  Most importantly, pray with her!  Be specific in your prayers and follow up with any prayer requests she may have.  For me, knowing that I have friends who are willing to walk with me spiritually is so much more important than being comforted by human words and advice.   To demonstrate love to a friend struggling with infertility, evaluate her situation, think about what you are going to say before you say it, and consider what would be the best way to encourage her.

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.”  -1 Peter 3:8-22

Monday, July 27, 2009

What infertility IS and IS NOT

In my last post I mentioned that to honor the Lord we must seek out wisdom and not remain ignorant in what’s going on in the world.  I have recently felt the responsibility to share some of the things I’ve been learning about infertility through research and my own personal experiences.

Many women (with good intentions) try to sympathize with the struggle of an infertile woman by suggesting that they are also suffering from infertility.  Although they are trying to relate and show love to her, this actually makes the infertile woman feel like her problem is insignificant.  Also, if the woman claiming to be struggling with infertility suddenly becomes pregnant without having ever been diagnosed or going through medical treatments, jealously and bitterness can become a temptation for the woman who is truly struggling with infertility. For this reason, I would like to share a few basic things about pregnancy and infertility.

  • Pregnancy is the result of a process that has many steps including ovulation, fertilization, and implantation. If a consistent problem exists among any of these steps the result could be infertility.
  • Infertility is the inability of a couple to become pregnant after at least one year (or 6 months if the woman is 35 years of age or older) of having unprotected intentionally- timed sexual intercourse.
  • Infertility also includes women who can get pregnant but are unable to stay pregnant.
  • Infertility is NOT the fear that you might not get pregnant when you one day start trying.
  • Infertility is NOT the frustrated feeling after a few months of trying to get pregnant.
  • Infertility is NOT assuming you can not have children because you have other medical conditions that may decrease your chances of getting pregnant (i.e. Endometriosis or Pelvic Inflammatory Disease) – Many doctors tell women when they are very young that they may have difficulty having children one day when they begin trying, this does NOT mean they are infertile!  For example, many young ladies find out they have endometriosis shortly after starting their period.  What they are not told is that 35% of ALL women experience endometriosis at some point in their life and of those, only 10% struggle with infertility. What the doctors are actually concerned about is that the woman’s body will make too many prostaglandins that in turn imbalance the woman’s hormones decreasing her chances of getting pregnant.
  • Infertility can be caused by a problem within men and women.
  • Infertility is determined by a doctor.
  • Infertility should NOT be self-diagnosed.
  • Infertility usually results in various treatments (oral medications, injections, surgeries, etc.)
  • Infertility does NOT mean that the individual will always be incapable of reproducing.
So, with this knowledge, if you have never struggled with true infertility I plead with you, for the sake of helping the hearts of the many women who are, please just encourage your friend with scripture.  Do not try to relate to her situation, but instead point her to the only one who does fully understand and is in complete control over her problem, God!

Monday, July 20, 2009

IN the World but not OF the World

So Josh and I just celebrated out 5th Anniversary!  We went on a cruise and it was wonderful.  It was nice to get away for a week and not think about a lot of stuff.  However, in many ways I feel like the Lord is teaching me a lot about being IN the world but not OF the world.

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.    - I John 2:15-17

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.    - Eph 4:17-19

As Christians, we are called to a higher standard of living.  No doubt, we will fail at times, but we must endure and strive to live a life that glorifies the Lord.  Many times there are not clear answers about what is right and wrong and we just have to depend on conviction of the Holy Spirit; however, many of our answers can be found in scripture if we just look for it.  Sometimes we are just too lazy to read the Bible and see what it has to say, and that’s when we begin to believe that what is common in our culture must be okay because everyone else accepts it as okay.  I can think of two recent examples.

First, when Josh and I were on the cruise we went to a midnight game show where everyone got into groups of 10 people.  Each group was given a number on a card for their group.  The announcer would then say “I’m looking for….” and he would either name an item (like a hairbrush) or an activity (like someone completing 10 pushups).  At that point, once the group had found the item or had a volunteer to complete the activity they would run up on stage and present the group number and the item to collect points.  The group that completed the challenge the quickest received the most points.  This sounded like a lot of fun to us so we joined a group and began to introduce ourselves.  Almost immediately, one of the other ladies turned to Josh and said, “Since your one of the only guys in our group, you know you’ll have to take off your pants right?”   WHAT?  We were both baffled.  After about 3 minutes, every person in the group had tried to persuade Josh to “Take one for the team”, or “Loosen up, you’re on vacation.” So we left.  What a bummer.  Come to find out (we heard about it the next day), the last challenge of the game was to send one male and one female from each group to the announcer and they had to entirely switch wardrobes.  It just baffles me that about 100 people got completely naked on a stage and had no reservations about it at all. As Christians, we can live in the world and love people for Jesus, but we must not take part in activities that would not honor the Lord.

Another recent example comes from our most recent visit to the doctor.  Josh and I have done some research about In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).  We now understand exactly what it is, how it works, the history of the science experiments behind it, the costs, etc.  I plan to write another blog about this sometime soon; however, it’s way too much to go into right now.  Ultimately, we decided that this was definitely not the next step for us.  When we returned from our cruise we met with our doctor to discuss other possible fertility options.  He immediately brought up IVF and began going over the success statistics.  We kindly interrupted him and told him that because of our beliefs we would not be interested in this option.  He automatically assumed that we were Catholic and began to tell us how many priests now are agreeing that IVF is okay because having a family is so important.  After explaining to him that we were not Catholic then he proceeded to explain why other denominations now agree with IVF.  This surprised me a little more.  You see, I can’t imagine worshiping God, the author of creation and the giver of life, while standing beside someone who I know feels no guilt to practice selective reduction (also called selective termination or abortion) when women become pregnant with multiple embryos.  Again, we explained to him that in our research we have found that IVF doesn’t fix a problem in the body, but it fixes a desire to be a parent.  As Christians, we should have one primary desire, and that’s to honor the Lord.  Nothing (even the desire to have children) should come before honoring the Lord.  Thankfully, our doctor then changed subjects and we discussed alternative options.

I share all of this to plead with my fellow brothers and sisters to research common practices in our culture.  Even if everyone else (including other Christians) say it’s okay, the Bible may not.  Listen to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, pray for discernment, and seek out wise counsel from mature fellow believers.  Ultimately, we will be held accountable for decisions we make.  Do not choose poorly because of ignorance.