I am Sandra, daughter of Ann, daughter of Velma, daughter of
Ella, all the way back to Eve. But the genes carried down through my ancestors
will stop with me.
When I was a little girl, I never dreamed that I might be unable to have children. In my childhood home in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, by mid-April the plum trees had sprouted purple blossoms and the whole world seemed to bloom with new life. Foals, calves, and lambs appeared in the fields. By Mother’s Day, everything had either given birth or was celebrating hope, and I assumed that I would someday join in that process.
I was the fourth of five children. When I reached adolescence and started babysitting—which I loved—I became increasingly aware that many people have more children than they anticipate. I figured that, if anything, I’d fall into that group.
Fast-forward to age twenty-seven. My adoration of spring turned to dread as I felt out of sync with the rest of the world. While everything around me celebrated new life, I experienced spring more as an injury— almost as an indictment. With tear-stained cheeks, I watched birds build nests and lay eggs in our trees and thought of how children described me as “nobody’s mommy.” Mother’s Day—that dreaded “M-Day”— came as the crowning insult.
My husband, Gary, and I had been married seven years, and he was starting his last year of seminary training (master’s degree) in Dallas, Texas. In addition to our jobs—he at a law firm, I as a writer at an insurance company—and his studies, we served as part-time staff at our church, ministering to college students. After working full-time to put my husband through graduate school, I dreamed of quitting my job and staying home to take care of our children. Friends and family were asking when we’d start having babies, and it was finally time to get an “all clear” from my physician.
Dr. Bill Cutrer, my medical doctor, was also a seminary student, and he had a reputation for being a godly man with technical expertise. So I made the new-patient appointment, and after our consultation, he told me everything looked great. The next six months were wonderful. There’s something magical about making love with the expectation that you’ll produce something as marvelous as a child. The plans and dreams arrived in full force. I mentally picked out nursery colors. For graduation we got a car—a new station wagon big enough for the family we were going to have. I told a few close friends we were trying. We saved up all we could for the day when I could quit work.
Nine months passed with no success. I had expected to get pregnant the first month, but I told myself we’d been too busy. Then months turned into a year. But I wasn’t too worried.
Another six months passed, though less quickly, and my sister confided to me that she was going through fertility testing. Apang of concern started gnawing inside me. Mary recommended a book about infertility, and I read it. Afterward I wrote in my journal, “The infertility fear is getting greater. There’s a lot of denial on my part. I’m finally having to come to grips with the fact that there’s a problem.” I cried for the first time when someone asked when we were going to start a family. Three days later I wrote, “I’m facing that we may not have kids. It’s tough. But his mercies are there, too.” A church in British Columbia interviewed Gary by phone for a pastoral position. Aweek later I wrote in my journal, “My strong preference would be to stay in my current job until I know I can have kids. The Lord knows.”
The job didn’t pan out, and we both kept working. After eighteen months had passed, I returned to see Dr. Cutrer for what was supposed to be a belated annual checkup. All went fine until near the end, when he asked me a few questions.
“I think I just need to relax,” I told him. “We’ve been trying to get pregnant, but we’ve probably been too busy to hit it right.” Looking up with gentle eyes, he rolled closer. “How long have you been trying?”
“About eighteen months.” I had believed the myth so many people had told me: “Just relax and you’ll get pregnant.”
He spoke in a soothing tone. “No. Perhaps it’s time to stop ‘just relaxing.’ There are a few simple things we can try. The pace is up to you.” We could take it fast or slow, he told me, starting with the easiest, simplest test: a semenalysis on my husband.
Not a chance. We’re not infertile! I thanked him politely and left for another eighteen months.
Threads of Grief
The time passed with increasing emotional pain. It got harder to deny the reality. So I finally returned to the doctor. By that time, I had heard a lot more about “Dr. Bill,” as many of his patients called him:
“He stayed up with us all night rather than rush a C-section.”
“He came in on the weekend to do our insemination.”
“He prayed with us during our rough delivery.”
Dr. Bill had a reputation for being a kind and compassionate man of God. I wish I could say we hit it off from the start, but at the time, I resented what I perceived as “doctor worship” on the part of many of his patients, so I determined to be distant.
Gary and I decided to begin the testing process. Dr. Bill began by testing Gary, who appeared to have no problem. Then Dr. Bill ran a lot of blood tests and did some studies to make sure I was ovulating.