It was not a complete surprise when after two years of trying I still wasn’t pregnant. Because of an illness I had had earlier in life we had always known that I may have difficulties having a baby. What was a surprise was how strongly I felt about it. I’m generally a logical, calm person. But in this instance I was anything but. All of a sudden the whole world seem to be filled with pregnant ladies and new-born babies. Whilst wanting to be happy for others I also felt upset and increasingly desperate about the fact it was not happening to me. I also felt very guilty, in particular about letting my husband down by not giving him the chance to be a father, even though he reassured me that this was not the most important thing for him. As the cause of the problem was an illness I had had, I somehow felt it was my fault. I longed for God to intervene and allow me to become pregnant. But I also didn’t think He would – subconsciously I think I saw this as a punishment for allowing myself to become ill in the first place. Even at the time, I knew in my head that this does not reflect an accurate view of God who loves us and seeks to forgive rather than punish. But I couldn’t get away from the feeling that somehow it was all my fault and I didn’t deserve a family.
My husband and I talked at length about whether to try fertility treatment. On the one hand as committed Christians we both felt we should trust God. But on the other we recognised that we would go to the doctor for pretty much any other medical issue so why was this one any different? And then there were ethical questions. Would we be prepared to have treatment that could result in unused fertilised embryos? What about egg donation? Or even surrogacy? Were we being called to foster or adopt instead of having our own children? Or perhaps called into and a life without children of our own at all? There seemed very little in the way of sound Christian teaching on this, and what there was said different things. All this questioning left me feeling quite distant from God. I felt we were desperately trying to do the right thing but He wasn’t giving us much guidance. He didn’t feel close to me through it all. I sometimes wondered why we trying so hard to do what God wanted and why we didn’t just get on with whatever treatment the medical profession could offer as most non-Christians would.
After much discussion we decided we would have treatment provided it used our own eggs and sperm and did not result in a possibility of fertilised unused embryos. Having made this decision we were keen to get on with the process. And then we encountered the reality of a very long NHS waiting list. I tried to cope with this period of waiting by parking the issue and getting on with life. Mostly this worked and I managed not to focus on becoming pregnant for most of the time. But there continued to seem to be babies and pregnant ladies everywhere. There were times when I unexpectedly became tearful. And after a while I just stopped doing things I found too upsetting e.g. going to family services at church.
Eventually our turn came and we got to see a very good consultant. He offered a type of treatment that we felt we could accept. And so we embarked on what was one of the most emotional 18 months of my life. There seemed to be an endless round of hospital appointments, scans, injections, frustrations at the poor admin of the NHS (who seem to lose my notes at every single appointment). And then the build-up of hopes and the inevitable crash down as first one and then two rounds of treatment failed. The emotional strain was immense. I constantly wondered if we were doing the right thing. Yet I desperately wanted to carry on and become pregnant. My husband was a real rock through this time – one really good thing was that as we shared in the highs and lows and talked about how we each felt, we grew closer together than ever.
During all of this time we elected to tell only a very few close friends and family what we were going through. This had the advantage of allowing ‘normal life’ to continue to a large extent without us being constantly bombarded by well-meaning question about how things were going. But it had the disadvantage of limiting the support we had, and of people occasionally putting their foot in it out of ignorance. And of course there are were some who asked outright when we were going to start a family. Strangely enough I didn’t find this upsetting – I’d just mutter something like ‘one day’ and change the subject. Most of those we did tell were 100% supportive and no-one ever suggested we were doing the wrong thing. But I did find it hard to talk about how I was really feeling and bottled things up more than was good for me. I felt we had a lot to be grateful for and I shouldn’t complain. And I didn’t want to upset others, including my sister who became pregnant with her third child during this time, or my parents for whom I felt I had to put on a brave face. Another time I think I’d try to be more open with one or two wise and trusted friends and allow them to support me more.
After two failed rounds of treatment we decided to have one last go before giving treatment a break at least temporarily. We both recognised that the emotional strain over an extended period was becoming too much. And 12 injections later (the most important of which I very nearly missed due to yet another NHS admin mishap) I became pregnant.
I was elated and felt so blessed. I had a largely uneventful pregnancy for the first 6 months and cherished my growing bump. But then disaster struck. At 27 weeks I unexpectedly started to go into labour and my waters broke. I was whisked off in an ambulance to a hospital with an intensive care baby unit. I called a few key people and asked them to pray, and to get others praying too. But I knew the odds were stacked against us – all the medical staff were clearly expecting that it was only a matter of hours till I gave birth. Yet I somehow felt strangely calm, a feeling I had rarely encountered whilst struggling to get pregnant. I felt that if God had got us this far, He was not going to abandon us now and would be with us whatever lay ahead. And by the grace of God and against all the medical odds the pregnancy continued another 10 weeks resulting in a normal healthy outcome.
When I look back now I strongly believe that God intervened at that time. I still do not understand why he didn’t intervene sooner and enable us to become pregnant without medical intervention. Maybe it was to give us a better understanding for others in similar situations. Or maybe it was to teach me more about waiting and patience or about hanging on to my faith when my feelings don’t match up. Or maybe it was not about me at all – I simply don’t know. But I have always felt especially privileged to be a mum at all and valued how precious our children are.