Empty Arms & Longing Hearts, Our Journey Through Infertility

When a couple begins their Marriage Adventure, they rarely have a complete picture of what they are pledging. “For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and health…” Dreams are dreamed of wedded bliss, as life is an open road before them. The perfect job, a white house with the picket fence, an obedient Labrador retriever wagging his tail at the door, and a canvas of a beautiful family of four hung over the mantle. Promises are made with the “better” days in mind. But what happens when unexpected detours interrupt the journey, and it takes longer than expected to bring tiny passengers along for the ride?

For the first eight years of marriage, we traveled from church to church, leading worship for student camps and events. We were incredibly happy with our life on the road. We often wondered if we would ever be moved to disrupt the fun and fruitfulness of our ministry by having children. God had other plans and began to burn the desire on our hearts to add to our family.

At ages twenty-nine and thirty-one, we knew we would be older than most parents with newborns. We naively thought it would be easy, and we would conceive right away. After all, God had finally turned our hearts, and we were ready to go! When you hear that 1 in 8 couples, roughly 14-17% of the population, struggles with something, it might not be on your radar. That is until you become part of that statistic. After a year and a half of trying to become pregnant, we sought medical help and began our journey through infertility.

Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected sex or the inability to carry a pregnancy to live birth. With 2 million people in the United States walking through this at any given time, you would think there would be great awareness and support for couples going through infertility. That wasn’t our experience at all. Let us clarify by stating that it wasn’t that our people didn’t support us. Because we were high-profile leaders in our rather large church, we chose not to publicly share our struggle, not even with family. Instead, over four years, we would slip away to doctors’ appointments and fertility clinics for testing, treatments, and seven failed artificial inseminations. By our own choice, we walked this path in isolation.

It significantly stressed our relationship to manage medications, appointments, and intercourse on an unromantic schedule. But we also withdrew emotionally from some of our friends and family, which took an emotional toll. Nobody knew of our desire to have children, so they just assumed we didn’t want them. We endured many comments about us not having or liking children, all the while looking at a negative pregnancy test every 28 to 32 days. We were genuinely happy for people close to us who were adding to their own families. But with each new baby came three fresh wounds. While waiting to become parents, we heard 36 pregnancy announcements, attended 36 baby showers, and took 36 post-delivery meals. Yes, as sad as it sounds, we kept count. We identified with Proverbs 30:15. “Three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, Enough! The grave, the barren womb, land, which is never satisfied with water, and fire, which never says, Enough!” Our empty arms were never satisfied.

It’s hard to describe the peaks and troughs we walked through during that season of our marriage. We were so hopeful at the start of every new cycle. THIS could be the month that God nits life together in the womb for us! We prayed and dreamed of our future children during those times. Then we crumbled as our hope turned to grief with yet another, “no” from the Lord. Unfulfilled longing does something to a couple. It either breaks them and drives a wedge of blame between them. Or it binds their hearts together in their unified pursuit. Though many couples don’t survive this trial, it did the latter for us. 

We can vividly remember our conversations being consumed by the process and our intimacy being dictated by temperatures, blood levels, and medications. Even so, we chose to lean in, rather than pull away from each other. It seemed we took turns being devastated and determined, heartbroken, and hopeful. We mourned together and learned to give each other space and the grace to grieve the way we needed to individually, thereby drawing strength from our shared sorrow. 

Though we didn’t blame each other for our “unexplained” infertility, we were angry with the Source of life. One day we would cry out to a loving heavenly Father, begging Him to grant our requests. The next, we would turn a cold shoulder to Him or throw a tantrum expressing our hurt and anger, wondering how God could be so cruel. But we always returned to the truth of His word to re-set our thinking and re-center our focus. We clung to promises like the one in Isaiah 41:18 that says, “I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valley. I will turn the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into springs.” And we found renewed hope in Psalm 30:5. “Though weeping lasts through the night, rejoicing comes in the morning.”  

Four years into the process, in May of 2008, we’ll never forget what can only be described as our “Gethsemane moment.” On the night before he was to be handed over for his trial and eventual crucifixion, Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. He knew the hard path that lay before Him and begged His Father to find another way to save those He was sent for. Jesus surrendered His own desire praying, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). In Jesus’ “Gethsemane moment,” though He didn’t like it, He submitted to His Father’s plan.

After years of fertility drugs, seven failed inseminations, and two different specialists telling us our chances were diminishing instead of increasing each month, we relented. Our fervent prayers asking God to change our situation simultaneously began to change. They went from, “Dear God, please fix this and give us a baby!” to “We don’t understand it, but we want your way more than our own.” That’s when we stopped. We didn’t stop praying and crying out to God. But we stopped taking fertility medicine, stopped going to doctors, and stopped charting and planning sex based on ovulation. We just needed to take a break from the stress of trying to add to our family and invest our time in comforting and loving each other.  

Over the next three months, our hearts began to heal as we worshiped. We remembered what it was like to just love each other while serving and ministering to other people. Our bitterness had been broken up and replaced with joy as we started discussing the possibility of adoption. But something happened at the end of August to reawaken our desire to conceive. At my annual gynecological checkup, I (Bonnie) mentioned the ongoing pain I had been experiencing for the last half of my cycles. Twinges and pinches had become commonplace over the years of tests and procedures, to the point that I was accustomed to pain. My doctor advised me to have surgery to remove the cysts that we monitored via ultrasound over several months. This also allowed us to further investigate what had previously been unexplained infertility.  

On October 31st, 2008, we finally found answers to our questions. Through a laparoscopic surgery, my doctor removed a cyst that was blocking a once open fallopian tube and numerous others that filled my ovaries. He also cleaned out all the endometriosis that was likely multiplied by the years of medication intended to make conditions more favorable for conception. He also performed a D&C (Dilation and Curettage) procedure to remove a large polyp from my uterus. We left the hospital that day with something we hadn’t had in years, an explanation for our infertility and hope. 

Per doctors’ recommendation, we planned to give my body time to rest and heal at least until the New Year before getting serious about pregnancy again. There’s a funny thing about plans. We can make them, but God in His sovereignty is the only one who can fulfill or thwart them. Two months later, He had a surprise for us. On Christmas morning, without the help of physicians, medications, calendaring, or intentionality, we saw the first “plus” sign on a pregnancy test! After almost five years of disappointment, we were actually surprised to find out God had created a new life in my womb. On August 26th, 2009, our first little miracle, Josie Weatherly Hoover, made her appearance. God had kept his promise that after the sorrow of night, the morning would bring joy. [He turned our wailing into dancing; he removed our sackcloth and clothed us with joy, that our hearts might sing his praises and not be silent]. Paraphrased from Psalm 30:11-12.

Almost two years later, God delivered our second child to us through another miraculous path, adoption. But that is a whole other story! On this side of infertility, almost eleven years later, the emotions are still fresh. Tears well up out of nowhere as we recall and retell what felt like a five-year detour through the desert. Even as we rejoice in knowing God fulfilled our deepest desire, the pain of the process resurfaces without warning. We didn’t ask to travel that particular road. But on this side of it, knowing what we know now, we wouldn’t go back and rewrite our story. We are both changed because of what we went through.

If you are reading this and praying for your own miracle, we want to encourage you while you wait. We remember looking at people like us and thinking, “that’s great, but you got your baby. You can’t relate anymore.” While that is partly true, we do understand your pain. All we can say is hold on to hope. God sees your tears and hears your pleas. He hurts with you and loves you more than you can imagine. If you could only see the grand plan through the eyes of the One who has intentions to bless you beyond your wildest dreams, you might find comfort. It’s hard to reconcile the truth of a bigger plan when your spirit is crushed month after month and year after year. But we promise, on the other side the picture becomes clearer.

If God had granted our request and given us a child when we first asked, life would still be good. However, would it have been best? We would be the parents of teenaged high schoolers, rather than elementary students. We would only have four more years before our nest is empty again. This season of our lives would look completely different than it does now. Our path would have intersected with a completely different group of parents, changing the friends that are currently closest to us. Our children would have had different teachers making investments in them at school and church. Their friend groups would consist of children born five years before those that they most love spending time with now. Josie wouldn’t even know the girls that she has prayed for and given Bibles over the past few years. Colby would have had entirely different teammates than he does now. And while we’re on the topic of Colby, we would have missed out on him altogether. We wouldn’t have adopted him if we had conceived another child on our own.

Oh, how thankful we are that God didn’t answer the prayers we were praying for those five years! Our children that we adore and wouldn’t trade for any other in the world wouldn’t be our children. And we wouldn’t be the same parents, even the same people. God used that season to teach us things we wouldn’t have learned in any other way. We learned to love and trust each other, as well as our heavenly Father, completely differently through the path of infertility. We kept holding each other up along the way. And even more importantly, we never stopped crying out to God to come through for us. We found that He was big enough to handle our hurt and anger toward Him. But we also found that through all of our kicking and screaming, He was loving enough to wrap his arms around us and draw us closer as He reshaped us. And He was kind enough to stand his ground to give us what we most needed instead of what we thought we wanted. 

Our passenger seats are filled these days. We don’t sleep in and rarely choose the programming on our TV. The house is a wreck, and we eat pizza far more than we should. Shoes stay lost, and someone always has to poop the moment we are walking out the door. Our date nights are spent at baseball fields, and “fun” money goes into college funds. These are things we hear parents complain about.

Don’t get us wrong, we are pretty tired as forty-five and forty-seven-year-old parents. There are days we commiserate with the best of them! But remembering the ache of our empty arms and the deep sorrow of our longing hearts in a long-ago season nudges us to take in every sight along the way. Our perspective is different, fully appreciating that our journey to parenthood is what prepared us for the journey through parenthood. And what an Adventure it is!

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. -Jeremiah 29:11-13

Enjoying the Adventure,
Daniel & Bonnie

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