By Marlo Schalesky
As told by Vanessa, age 47
"Surprise! You're infertile!" my gynecologist said to me one day when I was in for my yearly exam. Well, she didn't actually say that, but she might as well have.
I was lying in that most uncomfortable position, while the doctor poked around with her cold instruments. I stared at the ceiling and gripped the thin tissue sheet that was supposed to cover me.
"So do you see anything odd down there?" I asked.
The doctor glanced up. "Everything looks fine," she said, then looked at me more closely. "Why? Have you been experiencing anything that I should know about?"
"No, not really," I answered. "It's just that Steve and I have been trying to get pregnant."
She gave a thoughtful "hmmm" and continued her prodding.
I tried not to squirm.
She held up a long stick that looked like an overgrown Q-tip. "You can sit up now."
I breathed a sigh of relief and pushed myself up, being careful to grab the pink tissue sheet and tuck it in around me.
"So how long have you been trying to get pregnant?" she asked, as she pulled off her thin rubber gloves.
"Oh, about a year and a half."
She paused and examined me for a moment with her eyes. I could tell what she was thinking. I felt a little colder and tugged at the tissue again.
"You know," she said finally, "infertility is defined as a year of unprotected sex without conception. You may want to consider having some tests done."
The tissue tore in my hand.
Infertility? Tests? I swallowed. "Uh ... but, oh, are you sure?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "You said it has been over a year?"
"Maybe our timing has been off."
"Maybe," she answered, but I could tell she didn't believe it. I cringed.
"Still, if you're serious about getting pregnant," she continued, "I'd highly recommend the tests."
I swallowed again, hard, then took a deep breath before answering. "Okay, if you say so. What do I need to do?"
She picked up her pencil and scribbled something on a sheet of paper. "Not just you, Steve too."
I grimaced. Steve was going to hate this.
The doctor watched me for a moment. When I didn't say anything, she nodded once and continued writing. "I'm ordering the preliminary tests. How does next week sound for you?"
A Chance for Adoption
And so began the journey that would last for the next eight years. During that time we had enough tests and procedures to make me feel like a human pincushion, as well as two miscarriages and numerous heartbreaks.
We were about to consider in vitro fertilization when a call came from my husband's 22-year-old cousin.
She asked for Steve, and I handed him the phone. After about forty-five seconds, a startled expression crossed his face, followed by eager anticipation. His eyes met mine. "We'll take the baby!" he nearly shouted into the receiver.
My hand flew to his arm. "What's going on?" I mouthed the question.
He put his palm over the lower half of the receiver and quickly whispered, "Shanna's pregnant. She says she doesn't want the baby. She was planning to abort, but she'll have the baby if we want to adopt it."
My mouth fell open. "Is she serious?"
He nodded, then spoke into the receiver again. "Yes, yes, absolutely. That'll be no problem. Just send us the bills." He paused while Shanna spoke on the other end of the line. Steve grabbed my hand in his and grinned. "Okay, then, we'll talk to you again later," he said into the phone. "Take care now. And thank you. Thank you so much." He hung up.
"Can you believe it?" he said to me as he turned, grabbed me, and swung me into the air. "We're going to have a baby at last!"
But I wasn't so sure. After two miscarriages, I knew how attached a woman could become to the baby growing in her womb. Still, I laughed with him and wondered, Could this be it, Lord?
In the following months as Shanna grew larger and larger, so did our hopes. Steve's family was so excited for us. They began buying baby clothes and planning a party for the new arrival. Shanna was pleased, too. Despite my doubts, she continued to reassure me that everything was going to happen as planned. She called every week with updates and always told me about her doctor visits. I went in with her to her 22-week ultrasound appointment and saw the baby for the first time—a little girl. The sight brought tears to my eyes. Will that be my baby, Lord?
The baby was due in September, and somewhere around mid-July I started to really believe that this was going to end happily for us, that we would finally have a baby of our own. I began to plan the nursery and buy pink little girl things to decorate it.
Then, three weeks before the baby was due, Shanna called again. When she asked for Steve, I knew something was wrong. He took the phone, and immediately his features hardened into a look of pain. After a minute he hung up the phone and turned to me. "She says she's keeping the baby."
The words dug into my heart like talons. Steve gathered me in his arms. We stood there, too hurt to cry, too stunned to speak, with the morning light pouring through the kitchen window to make a rainbow of colors on the tile counter top.
In the weeks that followed, as the baby was born and Shanna took her home, no one seemed to understand our pain. Steve's family couldn't see why we would stay away from family gatherings where the baby would be. From their view, we were overreacting. After all, the family still got a new baby. All the gifts they bought were given to the baby just the same. It was only Steve and I who felt the loss. We were left to grieve alone.
After the failed adoption attempt with Shanna, we continued infertility treatments and also tried to find another baby to adopt. So the waiting started again, along with the hoping, the disappointments, the wondering if it would ever happen for us.
"Doesn't anyone care? Doesn't anyone understand?" I cried so many times during those years when I felt abandoned by God and forgotten by him. Little did I know that He really did care. He understood. He had a plan. But I wouldn't find that out for another three years.
By that time infertility treatments had eaten up our savings. Steve had recently lost his job and was now working as a Kelly temp. I was a substitute teacher. And, to top it off, we'd sold our house and moved to a rental in a nearby town. In other words, not only was the possibility of continuing treatments looking grim, but we weren't exactly what an adoption agency or birth mom would be looking for. All my hopes for a baby came crumbling down around me. I felt there was no way I'd ever be a mom.
But just when life looked the bleakest, another call came.
I was working a Christmas job at the mall when my friend Sally handed me the phone. "It's Steve," she said. "He says it's important."
A dozen red and green ribbons in my hand, I took the receiver with the other. "Hey, hon, we're pretty busy here right now," I said, as another customer approached my booth.
"Would you like a brand-new baby boy?" Steve blurted out.
"Call me back in ten minutes."
I hung up the phone, then stopped. Did Steve just say what I thought he said? Something about a baby? I grabbed the phone again, turning to my customer. "I'm sorry, I need to make a call. Sally will help you." I quickly dialed home again and waited. The phone rang and rang and rang. Finally I hung up.
The next ten minutes dragged by like an 18-wheeler going up a steep grade. Finally the phone rang. I snatched it up. "Steve, is that you?"
Steve laughed. "Did you even hear me the first time I called?"
"Not really. Did you say something about a baby?"
"A baby boy. Shelley from next door called about him this morning."
"Tell me more."
"Well, his mother's a 14-year-old rape victim who chose to go ahead with the pregnancy and place the baby up for adoption. Shelley's sister was going to adopt him, but she just found out she's pregnant, so Shelley called us."
I was silent.
"Did you hear me? They want to know if we want to adopt the baby."
"Are you sure it's for real this time?"
"Pretty sure. Shelley says so."
My mind spun around the possibility. A baby? For me? For us? I cleared my throat. "You said yes, didn't you?"
Steve laughed again. "I said I'd talk to you, but I was sure you'd agree."
"Of course I do!" The customer at the counter gave me a strange look as my voice raised an octave.
"Well, the mother's in the hospital tonight and is supposed to be induced tomorrow morning. I'm five minutes from there now. Can you meet me?"
"I'll be there in ten minutes." I slammed down the receiver, grabbed my coat, and headed for the parking lot. "I gotta go!" I yelled to Sally. "I won't be back until tomorrow. Cover for me?"
"Sure," she shouted back. "But this better be good."
I reached the hospital in record time, met Steve and hurried up to the room. The moment I met Missy, I knew she was a special girl. She looked up at us from the bed and smiled. "So you're the family Shelley told me about?" She extended her hand. I took it in my own. "I'm so glad my baby's going to such a good home." She closed her eyes.
I leaned over and squeezed her hand tighter. "Thank you. You don't know how much this means to us."
Her eyes, deep brown and innocent, opened and looked up into mine. "It was the only way I could think of to make good come from the awful thing that happened to me."
I nodded, as any words I would have said clogged behind the lump in my throat.
For two hours we sat with her and talked until visiting hours were over. "Come back tomorrow," she called as a nurse showed us out of the room. "You'll want to be here when he's born."
That night was the longest of my life. The next morning we went to the hospital and sat in the waiting room. Casey was born at eleven minutes to seven that evening. The nurse ushered us into the birthing room.
Missy sat up in the bed with a baby in her arms. Her mother stood beside her. Missy looked from the baby to us. A smile lit her face. "He's perfect," she said. "Healthy and perfect."
I held my breath, fearing what else she might say, hoping for what I had thought was impossible. Slowly she lifted the baby and held him toward me. She whispered as she placed him in my arms, "My gift to you."
Amazing, Precious Gift
At that moment, as I looked into Casey's tiny, scrunched up face, I knew that the tests, the pills, the lunch hours with no lunch were all over. I was immediately enamored and fascinated with the small bundle in my arms and amazed that God and Missy were granting us this precious gift.
When we got home, my sister was waiting for us with packages of onesies, sleepers, blankets, wipes and over two hundred diapers. The next day friends and family brought over a bassinet, a stroller, a car seat, cans of formula and all kinds of miscellaneous baby things. By the time we brought Casey home, we had everything we needed.
The next day my parents came to visit. When they'd first heard about Casey, they immediately brought up a dozen objections. "What if they take him away?" "What if she changes her mind?" "What if this turns out like the last one?" They were determined not to get attached until everything was finalized. But as soon as they came through the door and took one look at the tiny baby in my arms, they were instantly transformed into Casey's grandparents.
On the day of my shower for Casey two weeks later, my mother wept when I introduced her to Shelley. She gave her a big hug and said, "Thank you for my grandson!" I was filled with wonder at what God had done for all of us.
Then two years and ten months later another call came, and to make a long story short, a baby daughter joined our family.
We're in our late forties now, and the kids are eleven and eight. Today I can look back on the heartache of infertility and see that through all the pain, through all the disappointments, God hadn't forgotten us. Despite my doubts and questions, God knew what he was doing. And though I may not have believed it when we were going through the tests, procedures, miscarriages and failed adoption, God's plan was in operation. In fact, everything turned out just right.
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From Empty Womb, Aching Heart, published by Bethany House Publishers. Copyright © 2001, Marlo Schalesky. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.