Trusting God with Your Barrenness
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Heather DeJesus Yates talks about her longing to have children and the despair she experienced struggling with infertility. Yates reminds us that Jesus offers us empathy for our pain.
Trusting God with Your Barrenness
Bob: After months of hoping, praying, trying to become pregnant, Heather DeJesus Yates was sitting with her obstetrician, who told her it was time to see a fertility specialist.
Heather: My heart sank; I was just disoriented. I couldn’t figure out: “How did we get here? How did this happen?” That was the beginning, for us, of this conversation that I had no context for. I had never considered infertility—not really. I had never imagined the word, “barren,” in my story. I don’t think many women do sit in the chapter of: “What if we do go down this road?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, September 28th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. What does it look like for a husband and wife to begin to imagine a future for themselves, as an infertile couple? We’re going to talk more with Heather DeJesus Yates about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I got married when I was 23; Mary Ann was 25. I don’t think I realized it at the time, but we hadn’t been married long when Mary Ann was ready to be a mama. She was ready for us to get pregnant. We’d been attempting to get pregnant for more than a year, and it had not happened. I think the classical definition of infertility is, if you’re having unprotected relations and you’re not pregnant within a year, that you’re at least momentarily infertile. Whether you’re permanently infertile, nobody knows; you fall into that category of infertility.
I remember being on a trip with her; we were driving up to see my parents from our home in Tulsa to where they lived in Kansas City. This was the first time I was aware of the longing in my wife’s heart. She was crying and mad at God because why would God give her a desire/a strong desire for a good thing and then withhold it from her? I’m, at this point, 24 years old; I don’t have a good answer to that question.
Ann: What did you feel, Bob? Was that a struggle for you?
Bob: I was a happy-go-lucky, “It’ll happen when it happens,” roll with the punches/whatever kind of guy. I was not feeling it the way she was feeling it. I was a little blindsided by the depth of emotion that she was going through. But I remember it, and remember how profoundly deep this was in her. That’s part of what we’re going to tackle as we dive into this today.
We’ve got a friend, who’s joining us to help us navigate this conversation. Heather DeJesus Yates joins us; welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Heather: This is such a privilege. I’m so excited.
Bob: We’re thrilled to have you here. You’ve written a book called Mother of Thousands that is part memoir, but it’s also a challenge to everyone to recognize that God has more for you than you may have recognized God has for you.
Heather: Yes; it flows from my personal journey, and the winding road that my husband and I walked through with infertility, and that became a journey through adoption as well as fostering. The awakening that God did in my own soul, and the pivot of my eyes and my vision from the small story that I was tempted to be consumed with—of pregnancy—into the bigger story that He was telling through that shadow/through what pregnancy points us to, as believers.
Ann: Heather, this is a topic, if women haven’t experienced, they know someone who’s gone through this, or who has lost a baby, or who has struggled with infertility. It is gut-wrenching and painful. Walk us through your journey and your story.
Heather: I was 30 when I met my husband. I’m also a year-and-a-half/almost two years older than my husband. We met when I was 30—got married, actually/had just turned 31—I was thinking a lot about having a kid. I was looking at a clock and thinking, “We don’t have a lot of time to wait around and enjoy being married for a whole long time.”
Because we’d been single for so long, and we’d been praying for God to bring us a spouse, and we’d been faithful in that journey—but we were so excited to be married—we knew we wanted to give it some time to be able to be with each other, and enjoy marriage, and let that root solid in our experience before we added children. It wasn’t a huge conversation right when we were married, but it was before we got married.
I’d worked in adoption law, and I’d, actually, already had some really wonderful experiences with adoption in practice that I knew I wanted to adopt some day. I told my husband, at the time when we were in courtship/I said, “I’d love to adopt someday, but I’d also love to have biological children as well.” He said, “Yes; adoption’s great. That’s fun; that’s fine for someday, but…”
He wasn’t as passionate about it as I was, but we were on the same page; we were on the same page with wanting children. We had actually done the FamilyLife® resource, Preparing for Marriage®. That was our premarital counseling tool over 12 years ago. It’s still the best one we’ve ever found. We use it for other couples all the time. That really helped us flesh out what our expectations were around building our family and around having children and adopting.
We were married about a year/a year-and-a-half. We had told ourselves, “We can wait maybe a couple of years and then maybe start trying to have a family.” We had waited a year-and-a-half. Ultimately, we trusted God with that—we had prayed, too: “If we’re missing something, overrule us. We’re not trying to be willful, and rebellious, and self-focused.” We really want what God wants for us, no matter what.
The two-year mark came, and with joy, we both began to move forward into preparing for a family. Like you said, infertility—the traditional definition is the failure to conceive after 12 months of effort. The months went on. We did have a couple times, where we thought we were expecting. We were really excited, and then it just wasn’t the case.
After that first year, I went back for my physical—and was hoping that this physical was the one, where we were doing ultrasound/preparing for a very different conversation—it wasn’t. So when the end of the conversation landed with, “Yes, you need to see a specialist; you need to go in and see someone who specializes in fertility,” my heart sank; I just was disoriented. I couldn’t figure out: “How did we get here? How did this happen?” That was the beginning for us of this conversation that I had no context for. I had never considered infertility—not really. I had never imagined the word, “barren,” in my story. I don’t think many women do sit in the chapter of: “What if we do go down this road?” I think we don’t put ourselves in stories we don’t want to happen.
Bob: Did this recommendation that you move to a specialist—are you still thinking, “Well, okay; they’ll be able to diagnose what’s going on and fix things.”
Heather: Right; that was certainly my husband’s perspective. He was, “Check the box—get the number; let’s set the appointment—Let’s do this; what do we need to do?” That was helpful for me to keep it that clean and that clear and not get in the bog of emotion. I was moving around in kind of a shock.
I did; I set up the appointment; we went to the appointment. The staff were wonderful; they were caring people. They sketched out for us what our options were and what those paths could look like. They encouraged us to reach out to some people, who had experienced each of those paths to find out what that was like and put some skin on it.
We left, and we made plans to start the IUI journey, which is the intrauterine insemination. It required a little bit of medication; it wasn’t as intensive as IVF as far as medication is concerned. But you don’t know your body—you don’t know how things are going to react—so there was some anxiety around that. That was our first efforts—IUI—and we did two rounds of that.
Honestly, I stepped into that, starting to get hopeful again, thinking, “Surely this will work now; surely this is what we needed, and it’ll just be really quick.” I thought it would take the first time, and it didn’t. And then thought, “He does up to three rounds, so maybe the second round is it.” The second time came; and then I thought, “Well, third one’s the charm! This has got to be it.” Then, he called/the doctor called and said, “We’re not going to do that third round, because we’re pretty suspicious you have endometriosis. We recommend you having surgery, because it’s not going to make a difference for you if we keep pursuing this path.” That was another heartbreak.
Ann: Where was God in this? What were you feeling about Him?
Heather: I certainly wondered; I certainly wondered. I had had a few points in my journey—I shared this in the first book that I wrote that really tells more of my faith journey—I had some crisis of faith moments, where all that I knew of God meant suffering. Then, got to hear His voice in truth and in love, and in stability, and giving me assurances of His presence.
This was one of those moments, where I had to meet Him again. I had to reframe how I was experiencing Him and seeing Him, and align it with what is true about Him, and not let the pain and the suffering shape Him into something less than He is.
Ann: What did your prayers sound like?
Heather: My prayer continued to be the same. It started in my 20s, when I was single, and I saw my family shrinking from death and divorce. I was working in a law practice and had found out about another loss in my family. I went and sat at a park, and I swung on the swings; and I said, “God, You know that my longing is for family. You know that my longing is to be married, and have children, and have a big family, where we can grow and pass down stories of Your faithfulness. The dream of being married and having children—it just seems to be getting farther and farther the older that I get.”
A prayer was put into my heart: “Pray that I would grow your family in quality and in quantity.” That became my prayer. When we got married, that was our prayer: “Grow us in quality and in quantity.” During this time, I kept bringing that prayer back to Him: “God, You have been faithful to grow me in quantity with a husband. You’ve been growing us in quality/growing in our faith in You. But I feel like I need to push further in this prayer.”
It was during this infertility journey that I feel like He shifted that prayer; and He said, “That is My heart: You grow My family in quality and in quantity—this is what I want for My family—I want them to grow. You grow My family; I will grow yours.” I didn’t feel like it was a quid pro quo, that He was promising me children; but I did believe that God was giving me a vision for something that was bigger than the story I was wanting Him to sit in with me—that I was wanting Him to just give me a baby—and He was wanting to give me more than that.
“So where was God in this?” I felt like He was calling me to trust Him with no answers; trust Him with no baby; trust Him with no solutions as far as I saw them. I didn’t share that with a lot of people, because it felt kind of trite. It felt like, “Oh, this is a Jesus answer; but there’s nothing really here about it; she’s denying her pain.” I felt incredible pain; I had lots of grief and lots of sorrow going on that I was getting out with God and with my husband.
I went into surgery and came out of surgery—was back, again—expecting this to fix all of our problems, reproductively. We had hope again that this is going to happen. Right out of the gates again, we thought, “Maybe this is happening.” We had some signs of it; then there weren’t. It was shut down again; we went through the six months with no baby. We came back to the table of: “Okay; now, what?”
My husband and I—again, back to that adoption/the story before we got married—I knew that God had put that desire in my heart. My husband was open to it, but I did not want to do anything unless it was a joy overflowing his heart. This wasn’t something I wanted to sell my husband on. This was something I’d seen and heard wisdom enough to know to wait until my husband was 100 percent on board/excited about it. I didn’t want any resentment to be there, down the road.
During that time, we came back to the table to consider IVF. Ironically, within the same month, April of 2013, we had two appointments scheduled. We had one appointment with an adoption agency scheduled to be able to find out: “For our region, what do next steps look like for us down that road?” We also had an appointment scheduled with the infertility specialist to consider IVF.
We went into the adoption agency meeting feeling pretty confident that this was going to be a very positive experience, and we’ll get a lot of good information. It actually ended up being horrible. It was a horrible experience/very hard on our souls to be in that room. A lot of families in there already had biological children. It was a very hard environment to be in, talking so loosely about adding children to your family. Whew! It was just a hard space.
Then, finding out statistics, and weights, and all of the hurdles we’d have to clear. It had been a long time since I’d practiced adoption law; a lot of things have changed. Just looking at the road ahead, it felt daunting; and it felt long; and it felt overwhelming—lots of steps along the way—just require a lot of you; just a lot of things to consider. We left there, and we went through a Chick-Fil-A® drive through, and I ordered all the French fries—I mean, all of them. [Laughter]
Ann: —because that cures everything. [Laughter]
Heather: That was how I was handling some of my pain during that season; I ate all of my French fries that night.
We went back home, and we tabled that. Then, we had the other appointment for IVF that I had assumed, “This is not going to go well, and it’s going to be super clear we’re going to go back to adoption.” We went to that, and it was actually a wonderful appointment! It was very pleasant; it was not as scary as I thought it would be. It was very informative, very encouraging, very hopeful.
Here it was not what I thought. I thought this was going to be our off-ramp from infertility treatment and an on-ramp for adoption. The data and the experiences were not making the path very clear. My husband and I/we decided to table the issue for two weeks and not talk about it at all.
Dave: I’m guessing it was the talk of every day—right?—before that.
Heather: —every room, every space, every meal—to not talk about it was the most uncomfortable thing; because we were consumed with that conversation: our family, our friends/people would ask.
When we went into the two-week holding pattern, to not talk about it, God knew that I probably would not obey our boundaries well. He took Jonathan far away to a river in the middle of the country, that had not cell phone service at all, with some of his friends for half of that two-week period. So, he was out there in the middle of a river, in a boat, between two men that he’s known for years for a good part of our two-week window.
Meanwhile, for me, every single day, everywhere I went, even though I wouldn’t bring up the conversation, the conversation would steer to adoption in some way. I would hear something/see something; someone would bring something up, and I wouldn’t even bring it up—it would be about adoption. That was happening for me every single day.
For him, without me knowing, it was happening for him, too, even out on that boat between those two men. They’re sitting there fishing, and the one guy in the back shows his cell phone, and says, “Hey, look at this! This is my son.” Jonathan said, “Your son! You’re an empty nester. What are you talking about?” He said, “We’re adopting him from Haiti; isn’t he beautiful?” The guy at the front of the boat, that my husband had known fairly recently, “You don’t know this, but I’m adopted. That is so awesome!” Jonathan said, “I’m out of the boat!” [Laughter] He’s like, “Everything in me was wanting to jump out of the boat.” He’s like, “I was surrounded/literally, surrounded.”
When he came home from his trip, I was sitting there trying to hold my hands and not blurt out everything that had been happening to me for two weeks. I’m waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Finally, he says, “Well, I know one thing; God has called us to adopt.” I said, “Hurray!” [Laughter] I think, for me, it wasn’t just because we were going to adopt; it was that God has been faithful: “Look at what God has done! He has given us direction. We had no idea; we could not trust the road signs. The experiences we were having were telling us conflicting things. He has overridden everything and made it simple for simple people.” [Laughter]
Bob: Heather, I want to go back to that cycle that you were in that some of our listeners are in right now—that is the cycle of a month of hopefulness, and longing, and expectation—and then disappointment and grieving—that happens month after month, when you’re thinking, “I want to be a mom; we want to be parents. Maybe this is the month; we think this is the month.” Maybe there are signs; then, all of a sudden, you have your period and you go, “Okay; this wasn’t the month.” You’re in tears again and wondering, “How long do we go through this?”
How do you counsel a woman today, who is in that moment, to handle the hope, and the grief, and the emotional cycle that she’s in?
Heather: Yes; I get those women, and they sit in the basement with me on a couch. We cry, and we grieve. We cry out like David did: “How long, O Lord? How long, O Lord?” I think that’s a big thing.
If I could go back to Heather—back in those months, when it was just up and down, up and down—whiplash of the soul, just really having a hard time orienting: “Where do I put my hope? Where do I hang this thing?”; because it’s falling off the rack every month. Seeing that I can hang my hope on a God who weeps/He weeps with me. I don’t have to hold my tears back; I don’t have to be a woman of this rock-solid faith that just believes He’s good, even when everything around me feels bad. I think creating that space for someone to really hate it—and to say/to help her put language to it—“I hate this!”
Ann: You’re helping her lament.
Heather: Yes, yes; I think we need that. Even in the Old Testament, it says, “Call the wailing women, and those women are to train up other women in wailing.” I feel like, “If we wailed better/if we wailed more—
Ann: —like Hannah.
Heather: Yes!—if we wailed/if we brought our lament to God—she took it to the temple—if we bring our grief to God, it’s this offering of, “I want to be yielded to You, but this is killing me.” That is what’s happening: there’s a death of self; there’s a death of will there.
Bob: I hear both of you saying, “Don’t do this on your own. Don’t go through this cycle and this process on your own. You need some women, alongside you, who will be the wailing women with you and go through this journey with you.”
Heather: And that is not my nature; it is not my nature to experience vulnerability with another woman: “I have my own issues/my own story,”—like a lot of us, we have our wounds and those moments we feel like, “I’ll never be able to trust my heart in this context.”
For me to come into a space with another woman—and share with her this vulnerable grief/this doubt that I have of God’s goodness. Especially if I’m carrying this sense of failure—failure to conceive?—“I’ve failed?”—that’s a heavy weight my personality doesn’t wear that well. To come into a vulnerable position with another woman and say, “I feel like a failure, and I’m angry. I’m embarrassed that I’m angry. I feel like a Christian woman’s not allowed to be angry. I feel like I’m wanting to control something; yet, I’m wanting to be a women who yields. I don’t even know where to put my hope anymore. I say that Jesus resurrects dead things, and yet this feels like it’s too powerful for Him.”
To have a space with another person that I can be that open with—in the beginning, didn’t feel safe—it didn’t feel like they could handle my declarations of doubt in a mature way, that they would still trust that I was secure in who God was, but I was in that place/a dark night of the soul, I guess you could say.
Bob: I think what our listeners need to hear us recognizing is what I started to recognize, as a young husband, watching my wife grieve this. The pain of this is real. The questions are questions that we won’t get answered on this side of heaven. We have to learn to be okay with not knowing the purposes of God in some of these situations. Ultimately, this is a question of: “Do we trust Him with the story He’s writing?” or do we say, “If His story is not our story, we reject Him because we’re committed to our story and not His story”?
I will tell you—pursuing your story and rejecting God is not the path to liberation, and freedom, and joy. It’s a path of destruction that you put yourself on. Ultimately, you have to get to a place, where you say, “Even though I don’t understand what’s going on here/even though this is contrary to the longings of my own heart and soul, I will trust God.” I think of Job, who’s wife came to him and said, “With all of the stuff that’s going on in our lives, why don’t you just curse God and die?” He said, “Though He slay me, still will I trust Him.”
Heather, we’re offering to listeners this week your book, which is called A Mother of Thousands: From Barren to Revolutionary. I’m thinking of listeners, who are tuned in and they go, “This is not my story, but I know someone. I have a friend at church,” or “…someone at the office, who is in the middle of this difficult journey, who needs to hear from God on this.” Get a copy of Heather’s book, A Mother of Thousands, and give it to your friend as a gift.
We’re making it available this week to those of you who can support the ministry of FamilyLife® with a donation. We depend on those donations to be able to continue the work of this daily program. Your support is making these kind of conversations possible for hundreds of thousands of people every day, who tune in to listen to FamilyLife Today on their local radio station, via podcast, on our app—wherever they find us. You make that possible when you support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
If you can help with a donation, be sure to ask for a copy of Heather DeJesus Yates’ book, A Mother of Thousands: From Barren to Revolutionary. It’s our thank-you gift to you when you support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. You can do that, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can donate by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Tomorrow, we’re going to continue to follow Heather DeJesus Yates on the journey God took her on from infertility, ultimately, to adoption. We’ll hear more about that tomorrow. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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