I always knew I wanted to be a mother. Three or four kids. Hopefully a set of twins. I also knew I wanted to do it the “right way”, according to my cultural upbringing and religious beliefs. I didn’t want to become a statistic or disappoint my parents – plus I wanted to start a family in a committed, healthy, and loving marriage. When Jonathan and I got married in April 2017, I remember letting out a sigh of relief that I’d made it to marriage without getting pregnant. Little did I know that once I actually tried to become pregnant, it would prove to be a much more difficult task than it had been portrayed in my True Love Waits classes in high school.
When we got married I was in no rush to get pregnant. I wanted to finish school and travel and live a fly unencumbered life that I knew would be disrupted once children entered the picture. I got married at 26, and figured we could wait until I turned 30 before having kids. I even got an IUD, which can last for three years. After our first year of marriage, Jonathan and I discussed our 3-5 year plan and realized there were a bunch of moving pieces that might make it more difficult to introduce kids into the equation. As I was coming up on my last year of my PhD, I realized that my Columbia health insurance had comprehensive maternity coverage, and Jonathan’s work benefits granted him four months paid paternity leave. I’m definitely the kind of person who weighs practicality equally with emotion, so I felt the most practical choice – even though I wasn’t that pressed – was to have a baby in my last year of graduate school.
Woman plans. God laughs.
So in May 2018, out came my IUD and sexy time increased. I started paying attention to my fertile days based on the period/fertility tracking app Glow. I’d read statistics about the likelihood of conceiving and how long it would take, and assumed I’d be one of the 68% of women who conceive within 3 months of trying.
I distinctly remember the first time I was disappointed when my period showed up. I was in New Orleans for Essence Music Festival, and I didn’t drink for the first two nights, anticipating that this was my month. I woke up early Sunday morning feeling great, went into the bathroom, and wiped to find that my period had started. I didn’t cry, because I didn’t want to wake my friends up, but I did sit in despair for about 15 minutes.
Several more months would go by with similar experiences. I would be sure to have sex within the fertile window, and wait with anticipation on the day my period was expected – and sometimes when it was 1, 2, 3, and even 4 days late – but every pregnancy test was negative and my period eventually showed up.
We started praying specifically for God to have favor on us and give us the baby we so desperately wanted, and found ourselves crying out to him both publicly and privately. By the time September rolled around, I was pretty annoyed with my monthly cycle, but still had hope because we hadn’t yet reached the six month mark by when 81% of couples conceive.
When I blew out the candles on my 28th birthday, I had one wish, that God would give us a healthy child. And so two weeks later, when I took a pregnancy test and saw that second line, I was ECSTATIC!! Jonathan and I both were. We immediately prayed a prayer of thanksgiving and asked God to guide us along our new journey to parenthood. I’ll never forget the look of sheer bliss on his face that night, and how tightly he held me that night as we dreamed about our changing lives and our answered prayers.
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The next morning, my world came crumbling down. I started bleeding. Five days after my expected period start date. And just 12 hours after a positive pregnancy test. I was so confused and distraught. The internet couldn’t agree on whether I’d experienced a miscarriage, a chemical pregnancy, or a false positive pregnancy test. But all I felt was an immense sense of loss. Emptiness. Failure. Disappointment. I didn’t understand how a gift could be given just to be taken away, especially after the praying and asking for so long.
In the months after we lost our first baby, I immersed myself into my work and tried desperately not to obsess over getting pregnant. It worked to an extent – I made progress on my dissertation. My blog flourished, with my monthly income doubling in the last quarter of 2018. But I couldn’t sleep. At night I’d look up articles on how to get pregnant, with tips on the best sex position, how often you should try, and how to accurately measure ovulation beyond the guesses of an app. I bought ovulation strips on Amazon at 1 in the morning. I bought prenatal vitamins and took them regularly, and limited my alcohol intake.
I started off 2019 with a full conviction that two major changes would happen: I would finish my PhD and I would have a baby. My word for the year centered around God doing a new thing in my life, and I tried my best to recite the verse daily, and most times, believed it. However, my faith faltered in February, when I got my period again after being several days late. I panicked, and called up a fertility specialist for an appointment. Luckily they had prompt availability, and I spent the morning of Valentine’s Day doing bloodwork to test my hormonal levels that would help explain my inability to get pregnant.
My decision to visit a fertility specialist turned out to be one of the most defining moments of my spiritual walk. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust God, but I also wanted answers. And I got them. After three visits and hundreds of dollars in fees and charges for lab work, x rays, ultrasounds, and a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) exam, the doctor informed Jonathan and I that I had one completely and one partially blocked fallopian tube, several fibroids, and possibly polycystic ovarian syndrome. The latter two could be managed, but the blocked tubes meant that it would be near impossible for an egg to be fertilized and make it out of the tubes to properly implant in my uterus, putting me at risk for an ectopic pregnancy. “If you want to get pregnant,” the doctor said, “you will likely need IVF.”
I didn’t even have time to fully process the doctor’s diagnosis because he immediately called in a billing specialist to discuss our financing options for IVF. Aside from being the worst bedside manner I’ve ever experienced in a medical setting, having a clear explanation for why I couldn’t get pregnant actually helped ease my anxieties about the process. For the past eight months I had been worrying about timing, body positioning, the foods I was eating and what I was drinking, and overanalyzing every aspect of my life to the point of paralysis. Being told that I wouldn’t be able to get pregnant naturally allowed me to stop blaming myself for my inability to get pregnant.
What the devil intends for evil, God uses for good.
Once the doctor said we’d need to use IVF, I immediately knew that we couldn’t make any further decisions until I finished school. So we thanked him and left, promising to call back in June once I submitted my dissertation and had the mental capacity to think about IVF. And then we stopped trying to get pregnant. I stopped trying to calculate my ovulation days and drank to my heart’s contention and lived my life without trying to schedule sex like I’d been doing for the past 9 months. I poured all my energy into completing school, and even took a sabbatical from my blogging work to focus on finishing my dissertation.
And like most good things that have happened in my life, I got pregnant at precisely the moment when I stopped trying (that’s also how I ended up with Jonathan). During my break from Instagram, when I was fully focused on writing my dissertation, I found myself less self-conscious about my body, and more excited about sex – which for close to the last year had been about reproduction rather than recreation. One day Jonathan returned from a work trip, and I hadn’t been feeling well. He suggested that I take a pregnancy test, and I reluctantly did, fully expecting to be disappointed like I had been months before.
But as you can probably tell, this was the real thing. We were pregnant! And although our insurance coverage is changing now that I’m finished with my PhD, this really was the most perfect time. I can look back now and with 100% conviction say that if I got pregnant when I wanted to, I wouldn’t have been able to finish my PhD at all. So God’s timing, his plan, and our delayed answered prayers turned out to be the best thing after all.