Tag Archives: pray

Ellen’s Magnificat

This is my mother in her 20s. We definitely looked alike. They didn’t call me “little mama Brown” for nothing.

I’ve been gone a long time, long enough to almost skip my second trimester. I am, praise God, still pregnant and healthily so. Even my mood is in a better place.

But before I get too deep in the details of the past two and a half months, I have to acknowledge what it means to me to be pregnant today — May 3. Having only recently accepted that I’m going to be a mom, I did it just in time for my late mother’s birthday. She would have been 70.

Five years ago, coincidentally a month before she died, I’d written “The Year Mother’s Day Mattered” as a brief reflection on what life was like with my mother and in preparation for her passing. No one predicted she would die, but I just knew it was inevitable. I also knew then somehow that I’d likely have trouble having children — either because I’d remain single forever or because I would have inherited my mother’s ovarian cancer.

In 2007, I wrote:

“We tended to celebrate her birthday in an equally understated way, which is always a week a half before Mother’s Day. She usually counted May 3 as two-fold. Three years ago [2004], I made dinner at my apartment. She teased me, calling me uppity for having hors d’oeurves – vegetables I cut myself, made me overcook my tender porterhouses because of the pink and turned her nose up at the portabella mushrooms. I think she even asked for steak sauce. Another year, I took her out to one of my favorite Charlotte restaurants, where the service was unfortunately awful. I guess the server forgot that black people still carried green money. It sucked to be him: I left a dollar tip and gave the rest of the 20 percent to the manager. My mother, meanwhile, braced herself and chastised me in advance of me cursing the poor guy. I didn’t, but she’d already worked my nerves. …

“The woman who produced me was not the mother of poems read aloud. She wasn’t one who you’d turn over to your best friend as Jesus did Mary. I was incensed that the pastor even preached that [as a Mother’s Day sermon]. She wasn’t even Big Mama or Madea, who cooked for the grandkids and maybe she wouldn’t ever be. My mother was at home dying slowly. … I’m sorry that this is the year Mother’s Day matters and that it matters for the wrong reasons.”

The wrong reasons included my rush to appreciate my mother before she would die, fear that motherhood would escape me, and premature nostalgia for the mom I didn’t have. It’s amazing, though, how life uses time to right it own wrongs. I couldn’t have predicted the kinship with my mother that I’d feel just by carrying twins as she did. Nor could I have predicted the peace in our desire to have children contrasted with her initial dread of having us. Mothering from a dark place, she still wanted our lives to be different from hers in the best way possible. I’ll forever be sad that she’s gone, but I’m happy knowing that my happiness in life is what she desired most.

Happy birthday, old woman.

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Birthday Card from God

Meet babies-to-be Rufus and Reefus, who officially have heartbeats. We saw the hearts beating like two fluttering hummingbirds two days before my birthday. Happy birthday, indeed.

I flew to Nashville on my birthday last Friday to cover the Stellar Awards, something like the Oscars of gospel music, for work. Months ago when I arranged the trip, I was only thinking of the fun of celebrating 35 years of life — not adjusting to carrying new life along with me. The Mr. was a very helpful travel companion, but still I was exhausted and couldn’t throw myself into all of the unoffical Stellar-related activites I’d hoped to attend.

But while resting and missing a free ASCAP breakfast Saturday morning, I started praying quietly then not at all. That’s when the words of this birthday card from God came to mind.

“As insignificant as you’ve felt in your short life, I’ve always seen you. As much as you’ve prayed — sometimes more than others — I’ve always heard you. As much as I’ve done to get to this point in your life, in some cases, I let you rest on your own laurels as if it was all you. We both know that you were aware of that fact more times than you’d say aloud.

That’s why you brought your conception struggles to me in the first place, even though you armed yourself with science. Though you believed that perhaps such a blessing was only for others who lived a less “colorful” life, this blessing was always yours — yours and your husband’s.

So what you saw yesterday on the ultrasound screen is what you asked for, and because I really am able to do things that exceed abundantly above all you ask or think, including your prayer for a child, I answered as specifically as your heart desired.

You wanted twins; you got twins. Happy birthday.”

My Hannah Moment

As the story goes from I Samuel, Hannah couldn't have a child and "was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the Lord, and wept sore." It hurt until she cried, and she cried until it hurt.

I’m really behind on the updates. I’ve just been so incredibly sleepy. Some time has gone by since then, but I did have my weeping Hannah moment in church. Ironically, though, it had nothing to do with me or anything I could’ve predicted.

Call it a divine revelation or or a alignment of coincidental thoughts — not that I don’t believe either is possible — but given that this site has been up and circulated, I might call it something different. Whatever it was led to an altar call for “a couple struggling to conceive.” I only recently posted positive pregnancy results, but I knew at time that I was and had told the people most proximate to me on a day-to-day basis. But it wasn’t widely known, particularly not by the person led to invite “a couple struggling to conceive” to the altar.

Don’t misunderstand; I fully believe in inspiration of the Holy Spirit to move a person to say or do something in a way that isn’t based on any prior knowledge. In many ways, I try to live my life with that kind of direction. But to have prior knowledge and to suggest it was revealed by God feels kind of like a carnival show gimmick. Already pregnant and fully aware of it, I didn’t go to the altar, but three women did.

At the moment, I realized that my struggle has not been for me nor has the blessing up to this point. It has been to tell the story of prayer for undeserved favor in an impossible situation, the unrelenting downright stupid-looking faith, and a glimpse of the promise (which is where I feel I am now) to somebod(ies) who feel even more hopeless that I have in the midst of all of that. That was my revelation that night.

I was skeptical of the way it went down, but I thought it was cool that the church, a black church in particular, devoted prayer time to infertility. Rather than let the method of how we got there permanently divert my attention, I directed my energy toward praying for them and just worshiping in general.

And I cried and cried some more, praying that God would show himself strong for those ladies as He has for me.

I’d wondered — with the postive pregnancy test and the ultrasound photos — whether I could still be considered part of the infertility struggle. I know how I felt when I’d read that someone had a successful interuterine insemination or in-vitro fertilization cycle: abandoned and even more like a failure. But my Hannah moment reminded me that the struggle to this point binds me to every woman on the same road.
Not to get too churchy on you, but it was one of my pastor’s sermons that kept me holding on to the idea that God would allow us to become parents. I don’t remember the title (and this tired mama is too lazy to go find her journal), but I do remember the scripture and its context — 2 Kings 3:18. After you prepare, which you’re already doing, you pray and you try to be patient, it’s a simple matter in the sight of the LORD. That’s the New King James Version. The Message translation reads: “This is easy for God to do.”

As hard as the infertility road is, rest with that idea in mind.

Send in the Embryos

This is a copy of the screen-grab image from the ultrasound at the moment of the embryo transfer.

It wasn’t on purpose, but I’ve been silent for a few days reveling in Thursday’s embryo transfer. It was nothing short of fascinating. It felt sacred and holy, an unexpectedly spiritual few minutes.

And that’s in spite of the intimate experience with an unfamiliar but funny doctor and his clueless intern. Bless her heart, I knew she bordered on inept because of preoccupation with the internal ultrasound probe that wasn’t part of this particular procedure. As instructed, I showed up with a full bladder. That meant an external ultrasound, but she’d missed the memo. (And sadly, she’d worked at the same hospital I had in the exact same position but on a different floor. I knew she should’ve known better.) When the doctor kindly corrected her, she pretended her gooped-up probe didn’t exist. To be nice, so did I. I even took shallow breaths so she wouldn’t lose her place with the external probe on my abdomen. I can’t take full credit for my behavior, though. My super-nice Mr. sat on a stool to my right, and his influence mellows me. Also, I didn’t have the benefit of the privacy sheet normally granted with exposure of the goods, and it’s hard to be critical with your hoo-hah on display. Fortunately, my monkey socks provided a nice diversion until the show started.

Just prior to the procedure, Dr. Funny Man passed the Mr. a good luck greeting card from the entire RE office. “Beautiful,” he said, “a family photo.” It was an image of the two embryos set aside for the transfer. And yeah, they were the most beautiful set of eight- and nine-cell embryos that ever existed. OK, it sounds weird, but the idea that these little babies could turn into real babies was just amazing to me. I think I’ve stared at that photo every day and several times a day since. I made it portable by taking a picture with my phone, and I look at that even more.

That picture might have been all I needed to see, but my excitement — while trying not to breathe too much for the Dr. Bailey intern reject — grew when the doctor pointed out everything on the screen. Amid the plumbing was his needle aimed at the ideal place. “Do you see me? Are you ready? Are you sure?” He yelled something to invisible people through talking through a hole in the wall and told us, “Bombs away. One, two. There they are.”

Two small somethings on the screen came through the needle and just sat tucked away right where they were placed. I cried a little staring at the movement I saw. I couldn’t look at the Mr. because it would’ve become a full-on Oprah ugly cry. And even though I felt it, crying just seemed a bit premature. I was fully aware, though, that whatever life that would come from this process would spring from something greater than a few doctors practicing medicine.

Regardless of the criticism surrounding infertility treatments, what I saw represented the presence of God in all things, including in what has been called “gravely evil.” Science only takes us so far; the rest really is up to God. And there ain’t nothin’ evil about that. Jerks.

“Write this down and repeat it back to me.”

Monday is egg retrieval day, but hold the sparkling cider. I've had too many BFNs to get excited just yet.

“What? Huh? Wait. OK. Um, hold on. OK, I’m ready now. Go.”

That was the beginning of my conversation with the nurse today confirming that Monday will be my retrieval day, also known as the great Christmas Egg Hunt. I worried about the shots, and now I’m the subcutaneous injection queen. I worried about the drugs having no effect, and now I have 12 measurable follicles (right — 19, 17, 16, 14, 12, 12; left — 17, 15, 14, 13, 13 and 11). FYI, follicles grow 2 mm per day and are mature, meaning more likely to have mature eggs, around 18. The number of follicles does not necessarily correlate to viable eggs, and not all eggs retrieved will necessarily be fertilized. My awareness of the fact that there’s no guarantee that they’ll find enough quality eggs for fertilization basically gives me another reason to keep the sparkling cider on ice for now.

It’s not that I’m trying to be Debbie Downer; it’s just that at this point of trying to have children, I know all too well how it feels to get my hopes up and then let down with a BFN (big fat negative). After peeing on stick or two every month, you learn to take everything as it comes. I used to search for pregnancy T-shirts with funny sayings in anticipation of a positive test amid imaginary symptoms. I’d always feel dumb afterward for thinking too far ahead. Although by God, I’ve managed to accomplish many things and overcome situations that haunt people for life, my inability to get pregnant up to this point has always made me feel like something of a failure and occasionally like God wasn’t listening on this one. I kept praying but then encouraged other people to pray; though, I didn’t tell them about the struggle.

As for being a childless failure, cognitively, I know otherwise. Emotionally, though, it takes some convincing. Being happily married and struggling to have children feels like being the smart girl who isn’t considered pretty. You do a good job pretending it doesn’t matter, but then something happens as a reminder that you do. Some of my Facebook friends are fertile Myrtles; they’ve had two kids in the time I’ve been trying to have one. Stuff like that can get to you if you let it. I’ve tried not to let it, but I’m human. And maybe that was behind my annoyance with having to endure the entire in-vitro fertilization process to have the children I’ve been psychologically preparing for since 2005.

Now, here I am at the critical point — less than 36 hours from the egg retrieval but beyond the hard part — and I’m only thinking as far ahead as drug No. 6, a pre-emptive antibiotic that I’ll take orally starting in the morning.

Let’s play 20 questions (Part 1)

They arrived. That’s a month of in-vitro fertilization drugs.

It occurred to me once I decided to go public with my infertility struggles that people would have a lot of questions. I’ve found that when I open up in a quest for comfort, I instead do more educating than emoting. To remedy that and to avoid repeating myself, I present the most common questions I encounter and answers as they stand right now. That’s my disclaimer for if or when my answers change.

1) Why can’t you have kids?

I don’t actually know that I can’t. I just know that I haven’t. I have a diagnosis of diminished ovarian reserve, meaning I don’t have as many eggs as expected for my age. (I’m in my early to mid-thirties.) Therein lies the challenge and why we – the Mr. and I – are trying everything available to make it happen.

2) What’s that like?

Well, in short, it sucks. It’s annoying. It feels unfair. And I wish it wasn’t so. I get down about it sometimes, and maybe I wanna complain. It just doesn’t make me feel any better. So, I refocus. I write. I pray. I take my prenatal vitamins as an act of faith.

3) Did you pray about it?

Yes, for Christ’s sake, AND in His name with fasting. Intercessors welcome.

I get very tempted on Sundays to throw myself on the altar at church Hannah-style, but I’m pretty sure security would take me down and carry me out before I can say, “Amen.”

4) Are you having enough sex to get pregnant?

(People do ask.) Yep.

5) How long have you been trying?

I’d say not long enough for infertility street cred. Things have moved really quickly, but when I count back, the path to this point feels like a long road. I ditched the Nuvaring the last week of January 2010. I can’t believe it’s almost 2012.

6) What’s the effect on your marriage?

There’s been no negative effect. It was already the two of us against the world. Now, it’s the two of us against infertility. Beyond that, my husband amazes me every day just by being his funny, supportive and thoughtful self.

7) How many kids do you want?

For most of my life, I wanted five. Before we got married, we decided on three. There’s a song from my hometown that’s now my song: “Any way you bless me, Lord, I’ll be satisfied.”

8 ) Why not just adopt?

Oh, why not get a bike instead buying a car? It’s transportation, right? Sorry, that darn humanity. Um, adoption could be considered a “fix” for childlessness perhaps, but not infertility.

9) So you’ll be doing that artificial insemination stuff?

Kinda. Nobody calls it that anymore. For one, there’s not much artificial about it – sperm and eggs are still required. What used to be called “artificial insemination” is modernly known as intrauterine insemination, or IUI. Sperm cells, which usually “walk” to meet a single egg, instead get a bath before taking an express train via a thin catheter guided in most cases by a nurse. The actual procedure takes about a half hour, including time just laying there. I’ve done that three times. No dice. That’s why I’m at the in-vitro fertilization stage. The fur is similar, but it’s an entirely different animal. We’ll be experiencing it together.

10) What do they have to do?

Essentially, with drugs, they’ll suppress my reproductive system, jump-start it with more drugs to make my body produce multiple follicles, which house eggs. Doctors will then go get the eggs, pair them with sperm from the Mr. in a lab, offer them wine and hope they hit it off. Once matches are made in heaven, the doctor will let me hold one or two of them for safe keeping, and I’ll eventually look like I ate a watermelon seed. I’m oversimplifying to explain the procedure without the gory details that – again – I’ll experience when it all happens with you along for the ride.