When we moved to the Middle East in 2009 it seemed like the perfect time to start a family. Carl and I had been together for 7 years and married for 3, but we had delayed starting a family until ‘the right time’. It never occurred to me that falling pregnant would be a challenge, I was constantly hearing stories of women falling pregnant ‘by accident’ or ‘in the first month of trying’. At the time I didn’t realise that those are the stories that are easy to share, but over the years I have met many couples who have struggled to conceive and who like us suffered in silence.
Up until my journey to get pregnant, anything I wanted I had achieved through hard work and determination, but this was out of my control. I felt like a failure, I was embarrassed and so I kept it to myself. I didn’t want people to know what we were going through, I couldn’t bear the idea that people would be constantly looking at me and wondering “is she pregnant yet?”….. I felt completely alone, but of course I wasn’t.
We have a magnet on our fridge that says “be joyful in hope” Romans 12:12. I read it everyday and it always makes me smile. One day I decided to go and look up the full verse in the bible – “Let your hope make you glad, be patient in times of trouble and never stop praying!” I was so encouraged that God would answer my prayers. That same weekend at church, a lady who I didn’t know stood up and said – “Your father in heaven wants you to know that he feels your pain. He has shed tears with you. He loves you. He is with you. He will give you the desires of your heart. Just be patient.” These words reduced me to tears of joy, I knew without a doubt that God was speaking to me!
I would like to say that from that day everything was easy, that I waited gracefully and patiently. But there were still difficult days; days when I doubted that God had been speaking to me at all, days when I thought I would never fall pregnant. But despite the doubts I felt closer to God. I found another verse in the bible which I clung to with hope and repeated over and over in my prayers – Psalm 113:9 “He will give the childless woman a family, making her a happy mother. Praise the Lord!”
In hindsight I realise that the waiting was all part of God’s plan to bring me into a closer relationship with him. It was the first time in my life that I needed him, that I had to wait patiently on him to answer my prayers.
Eventually after two years of endless tests, procedures and injections, 2 rounds of IVF (the first of which ended in a ‘chemical pregnancy’ and devastated us), I was pregnant. We were overjoyed! But the pregnancy was difficult and at just over 24 weeks we learned that our baby had stopped growing properly and would need to be delivered prematurely. The lovely small hospital where we had planned that I would give birth would no longer accept us, and we had to be transferred to a larger hospital with an NICU. There they estimated that our medical bill would be around 500,000 dhs and we found out that our insurance would not cover the costs. We were terrified! But again God answered our prayers and provided for us. Through a friend we were put in contact with the head of obstetrics at a government hospital where we would not have to pay. I was examined and scanned every other day to monitor the baby for signs of distress and by God’s grace we made it to 32 weeks.
She arrived by Caesarian section and was rushed immediately to the NICU weighing a tiny 1300g. I met her for the first time 24 hours later; she was the tiniest and most perfectly beautiful thing I had ever seen. This little person that I had prayed and cried so hard and so long for changed my life and my heart instantly. I was finally a mother.
So that we would always remember the encouragement of Romans 12:12, we named our daughter Hope.
Hope spent the first 37 days of her life in the NICU. It was a challenging time for us as we adjusted to being parents while at the same time not having a baby to bring home. I spent every day at the hospital, sitting skin-to-skin with her behind a screen, singing to her, praying over her and returning her to the incubator every two hours to express milk.
On her hospital chart the nurses recorded her weight every morning, and each day we would check to see how much weight she had gained in the last 24 hours, we knew she needed to be close to 2kg before she could come home. One evening we prayed that the next day she would have gained 20g (the expected daily gain). During our prayer time we heard God say to us “why do you have so little faith?” So we said, “OK, 30g then!” The next morning she had gained 60g! God showed us so clearly that he is in control and that he can and will surpass our expectations.
Hope finally came home weighing 1895g and life became more normal. I continued to express milk for her, as she was never able to successfully latch, and she grew steadily. We moved from Bahrain to Dubai when she was 4 months old. By the time we left I had expressed and frozen 70 litres of excess breast milk. I couldn’t donate it in Bahrain, and I couldn’t bear to throw it away – it was my connection to my daughter, the only way I had been able to help her while she was in hospital. I prayed that God would find a solution, and he did! A courier company generously agreed to ship all of the frozen milk, free of charge, to an AIDS orphanage in South Africa. It was used to feed a little boy, who was just a few weeks younger than Hope. We were able to meet him when we next visited Durban. God works all things for good!
When Hope was around a year old, we started to think about having another baby. I had been told by a doctor that we would need to have IVF if we wanted to have any more children, but I prayed and prayed that God would heal my body and that I would fall pregnant without needing fertility treatment. Late one night while I was walking around Hope’s room rocking her to sleep, I started to pray again, I was suddenly overcome by a wave of peace and heard a voice clearly say “Have faith!” – God had spoken again, I was so excited! We discussed meeting with IVF doctors and I agreed to start making plans for more treatment, but at the same time I felt confident that we wouldn’t need it and that God would heal me. Before going to see the doctor I took a routine pregnancy test, which was positive! Later that day, after phoning almost every hospital in Dubai to try and get an appointment, we had a scan and saw the heart beat of our second daughter Ffion. The notepad on our fridge had a verse on it that day, Matthew 19:26 “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
After Ffion was born we decided that we would still like another child but that we weren’t willing to do any fertility treatment. After almost 2 years nothing had happened so we started to put a time limit on it. Then one day at church I asked God to speak to me about having a third child. During worship Starla came to the front and prophesied that God wanted to give us another child. Two weeks later we discovered that I was pregnant with our third daughter Alys! The pregnancy app on my phone estimated the date of embryo implantation as the day of Starla’s prophecy!
Everyone’s infertility and pregnancy journey is different and so are the endings. Hope has just turned 10 years old, she continues to have difficulties as a result of her prematurity and has a condition called dyspraxia. When I look back at our struggles to fall pregnant, they seem so long ago and while not insignificant, the fears and worries that we have now for Hope’s future seem so much bigger and more real. But we know that God has a plan for Hope’s life, hers is already an incredible testimony of His goodness and faithfulness. So we will simply…
‘be joyful in hope, patient in times of trouble, and never stop praying.’ Romans 12:12.