- Ashley Jensen
When God Has Other Plans
I sat at my desk and started to feel some mild cramps.
“Implantation can cause cramping, and so can the placenta when it’s growing.”
I head to the bathroom. No spotting. No bleeding. Good signs.
A few hours pass and another bathroom stop reveals some light spotting.
“Implantation can cause some spotting,” I think. There is still hope.
But as the day progresses the all too familiar debilitating menstrual cramps rear their ugly head, the bleeding picks up, and it becomes all too clear that Aunt Flow has made her very unwanted appearance once again. Another month of hopes was shattered. My heart aches and longs for the baby that my body seems unable to carry.
What is wrong with me? Why can’t we conceive? It’s been months and months. I know my body and my cycles. I’m a diligent tracker with ovulation test strips, feeling my cervix, checking for mucus. You name it, I’ve checked it! From those that I’ve told that we’re trying, I get very helpful remarks like, “At least you’re still young!...You just need to stop trying!...You’re not having hot enough sex...Why do you think you want a baby so bad?”
I work as a registered nurse in an obstetrics and gynecological office, so as soon as I hit that twelve month mark, I have the nurse practitioner I work with order the standard infertility workup. I stand over her shoulder as she types in the diagnosis: infertility, female. My heart sinks, and I can barely hold in the tears. Giving a name to my struggle hurts more than I thought it would. I get all the bloodwork and the painful x-ray where they push dye through my fallopian tubes to make sure they are open. All clear. Semen analysis: check. No answers. The nurse practitioner recommends I head to the IVF office. This can’t be the next step, can it?
I wasn’t sure how I felt about intrauterine insemination (IUI) or IVF from a moral perspective, not to mention the cost, but I didn’t know what else was available to couples struggling with infertility. It was about this time I became familiar(or acquainted) with an alternative approach to IVF and IUI called NaPro. This alternative approach, having been founded through the Catholic Church, is 100% pro-life and believes that a baby should be conceived without medical interference through the natural, loving act of a husband and wife. They do prescribe medications or recommend surgery if deemed necessary. Their motto essentially is that infertility is not a diagnosis but a symptom of something else, and their goal is to figure out what those hindrances are. Statistics for NaPro’s success rate in achieving pregnancy in women with infertility are as good as IVF. Although I am not Catholic, this pro-life, more wholistic option sounded good to me.
The Way Prepared
Looking back, the next steps were so clearly ordained by God. I found a NaPro physician within an hour of where we were living in Massachusetts. We were a few months out from moving back to Idaho, where there are no NaPro physicians. I went to see him, and it seemed pretty likely that I had endometriosis, and surgery could be beneficial. The hospital I worked for had a world renowned endometriosis surgeon who happened to have a surgery spot open up just weeks before our move back home. He had been booked for months so this cancellation was such an answer to prayer. During a six hour surgery it was discovered that I had extensive endometriosis which was removed during the procedure. Additionally, I was prescribed progesterone support for after ovulation. I loved and felt drawn to the NaPro approach. For the past year, I had been really seeking God, asking Him what His plan was for me. Although I had dreamed of working in labor and delivery, the dream lacked meaningful purpose. Anyone can be a labor and delivery nurse - is that really what I was supposed to do? Eventually, I discovered that becoming a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) would also allow me the opportunity to become a NaPro provider in Idaho where there are currently none. With the help of my husband, I started applying to programs and got accepted to Bethel University, a Christian university with a distance program, my first choice. It was the shortest program, just two years long. I also applied and was accepted to the NaPro education program which I would do concurrently. I started my CNM program in August of 2017, filled with purpose, determination, and peace.
I began talking with my husband about adoption. I knew that we would have children someday, maybe they just wouldn’t be biological. My husband started his new job as an attorney, and since I was doing school full time at home, I had a lot of time to myself at the apartment. I started praying more and getting back in the Word. I read the stories of Sarai (Genesis 11) and Hannah (1 Samuel 1) who also were barren for a season. For a season - this is what I reassured my soul. I read some books from some wise women of God. And I prayed...a lot. I’ve had a few seasons in my life where I knew I had truly surrendered something in my life over to God. These moments are marked by many tears. I distinctly remember this time, kneeling on the floor of my apartment, praying, weeping, and surrendering before God. Surrendering this deep desire to have a child of my own. Surrendering it to His will. I felt overwhelmed, finally, with a sense of peace.
I wrote a blog post at that time (Still not having my prayer for a child answered, mind you!), and I wrote, “If I hadn't had difficulties conceiving I would have never looked into NaPro! I'm not saying God caused my infertility or my endometriosis, but I am saying He's faithful and doesn't waste any of our sufferings or hardships, if we let Him work in us.” I don’t think I really even knew how faithful He would be through this hardship in my life.
I transferred my care from my Massachusetts NaPro provider to a doctor who does Telemedicine out of Utah. We had a visit with him in October, and little did I know at that visit that we were already pregnant (Just two months into my midwifery program!). I honestly am still in awe of how God answered our prayers. I was prepared to go through the program, become a midwife, work as a NaPro provider and be an emotional support for women being about to say, “I get it - I don’t have my miracle either!” I wasn’t sure we would ever be able to conceive, but truly, by the grace of God, we did. However, I don’t want someone to think that if they aren’t able to conceive that God doesn’t see them or want to give His grace to them. I can say now, I see His grace in using my suffering for His purposes. Second Corinthians 1:3-5 (NIV) speaks so well to this, saying, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
I am now working with that doctor in Utah who I saw. I told my husband halfway through my school program that my ideal dream job after graduation would be to do a fellowship of some kind with him, but he doesn’t do that. A few months before graduation, he posted a job opening for a part time midwife. I knew this job was made for me. God again directed my steps. I’ve been there for about two years. On a daily basis I am privileged to talk to women with broken dreams about their fertility. I cry with them, I pray with them, I encourage and seek to comfort them out of my own suffering. Even though my suffering isn’t ongoing, the memories are still profound. The tears are real, as it’s not hard to be brought back to that place as I speak to them. I am so grateful that I can be a beacon of hope for them on their journey.
When we were ready to have our second child I had all my labs and ultrasounds of ovulation done again. My hormones after ovulation were a little worse so I switched to an injected medication. The fear of trying for another child was intense. I didn’t know how long that journey would be, and I was so afraid of the continued monthly disappointments along the way. Again, by God’s grace, it actually only took three cycles. I know. I’m lucky. I help women who have been through years and years— even decades of treatments and disappointments. While giving birth to my son, my playlist song that came up just minutes before he arrived was Josh Baldwin’s song called “Evidence.” It says, “I see the evidence of Your goodness all over my life/ I see Your promises in fulfillment all over my life.” As this song played I cried tears of joy and gratitude. God didn’t have to bless my life this way. But He did. He didn’t have to answer my prayers so fully. But He did. I’m so excited to see what else God wants to do with my life and how He will use my suffering for His glory. I pray I am always willing to submit to Him, even when I don’t understand fully in the moment. History has shown me that He’s faithful, and so I cling to that.
And so friend (because let's face it, if you’ve gotten to the end and actually read this much of my life story, then you are my friend now), I leave you with this Scripture from Isaiah:
Isaiah 43:1-3a NLT
But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you.
O Israel, the one who formed you says,
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.
For I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.