Transforming Pain into Purpose

02/04/2017 .
Sharon Philips  .  Volunteer Storyteller

Anna and E.G. married in 2004; after four years of marriage they decided to start a family, only Anna couldn’t seem to get pregnant. They went to the doctor and learned the cause: “male factor infertility.”

The doctors advised them to pursue medical treatments; only at the time, they had no financial means to do so. Three years later, when they were more financially able to embark on fertility treatments, Anna fell and broke her foot delaying her treatment again.

The couple had not been attending church during this time, but felt the need for the type of support and community that only a church could offer. They visited churches in the area; displeased with what they experienced, they stopped their search.

In January, 2014, Anna finally started In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) treatments with high hopes. Following a failed cycle, she woke up with a 101.3-degree temperature. A blood test revealed a high white blood cell and a low red blood cell count. She was hospitalized immediately where a blood clot the size of a softball threatened her life. Anna was extremely weak and incapacitated for four months afterwards.

Even though Anna felt stronger physically, she felt emotionally worn out. She began calling large churches asking if they had a support group for infertility. Some said “no” while others didn’t even call her back. Frustrated in her search, she went online and Googled “Infertility Support Group.” Saddleback Church came up.

Anna was pleasantly surprised with what Saddleback had to offer. She bragged to her family saying, “This what a church should be.” As Anna became more involved in the Infertility Support Group, they suggested she go to counseling at the church. She thought it was amazing that they would counsel her without charge and without ever asking if she went to Saddleback Church or not. The attitude was, “You’re hurting; let me help you.” It was a huge relief to Anna to have stumbled upon these resources.

Anna attended the group regularly until 2015 when the existing leader announced that she was stepping down and the group would cease to exist unless a new leader emerged. Anna benefited so much from the group that she was adamant that this group should not close. This was also the only group of this caliber in Orange County that she was aware of. There were fee-based groups charging up to $40 a week; but no free, Christian- based groups closer than Los Angeles or San Diego Counties. Anna offered to take over the leadership of the support group. Anna and E.G. took Class 101 and became members so she could lead the ministry that had meant so much to her.

E.G. knew that preparing for and taking over the leadership of the ministry wouldn’t be easy for Anna. She was still regaining her strength from her treatments and she taught school full time. But he also witnessed the daily tears when she came home from her kindergarten classes, as being with other people’s children only highlighted her feelings of loss. So when Anna asked him if he was okay with her leading the group — even if it meant they would have to take several classes to join the church — he replied without hesitation, “Absolutely!”

“Infertility robs your joy, energy, finances, and marriage. People just don’t realize how hard it is to go through,” confessed Anna. “To top it off, people say hurtful things like: ‘Just Adopt;’ ‘Just try IVF;’ ‘Pray harder and God will provide;’ or worse yet, ‘You can have mine.’ If you don’t acknowledge the resulting hurtful feelings, they fester and affect your attitude.”

“My family has been amazingly supportive; but having lots of children among them, I don’t feel they can relate to my level of pain. My support group is a safe place where it is okay to express my hurts,” adds Anna.

She continually encourages women in similar situations to find a support group and not go through this ordeal alone.

After unsuccessful attempts with IVF, the couple tried adoption. They spent hours on the phone with attorneys, faxing forms back and forth, thinking this would finally be their solution. But, at the last minute, the baby they were hoping to adopt ended up staying with the birth family. Anna and E.G. were only 30 minutes away from going to the hospital to pick up the baby when they found out. It was devastating.

They also harvested five embryos: Two were implanted initially with no results and three were frozen for later use. Of those three, two died and the last one was transferred unsuccessfully in March, 2014, as previously mentioned.

Having exhausted all their efforts, and ridden with a feeling of hopelessness, Anna was tired of trying and decided to turn her struggles over to Christ. It was then that she finally reached the point where she felt a sense of peace about being childless. That doesn’t mean that Anna stopped grieving her misfortune; but with any loss, she has moved on and gains comfort from her close relationship with Jesus.

Meanwhile, Anna and E.G. are making more of an effort to nurture their relationship by dating each other again. They talk about their feelings and focus on having fun together, which Anna highly recommends to other infertile couples. “Focus on the love you have for the each other and all the other things you have to be thankful for; it will make a immense difference in your attitude,” Anna said.

“E.G. has even supported my decision to go back to school!” Anna said with a big grin. At age 35, she quit her teaching job to pursue her second Master’s Degree — intending to become a marriage and family therapist so she can professionally counsel other women. Nearly one in eight women of reproductive age struggle with infertility. She already offers support to 55 women in her online group — one as far away as Africa. Five to seven women meet with Anna in person at the Rancho Capistrano campus for support as well.

“If you had told me in the midst of all the turmoil, I’d be leading the infertility support group in two years, I would have laughed at you,” confided Anna. “But I am trusting in God’s sovereignty, as he’s so much bigger than me or any problems I’ve experienced. And as Pastor Rick predicted, I am using my greatest pain to help to others — both in a ministry and soon in a new career. Maybe my miracle is the immense feeling I get while helping another person.”

Click HERE to learn more about Saddleback's support groups.

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