When my cousin Kensi miscarried in 2015, I shared my own experience of pregnancy loss with her, explaining just how quickly I had conceived again, this time with twins. Turns out, no two journeys are the same and my well-meaning but somewhat thoughtless words may have caused Kensi more pain than hope. Three years later, she is walking through a diagnosis of tubal factor infertility with strength and grace. Her journey is her own as she redefines and pursues what brings her joy and purpose in this season of life. Where she fights and where she surrenders. Kensi, I am blessed by your companionship, grateful for your graciousness to those of us who haven’t walked your road, and honored that you’ve allowed your story to live here on the blog.
Tell us briefly about your story and what led to an infertility diagnosis in 2017?
I’ll start at the beginning, where everyone’s plans and expectations for life are ripe for the pruning. My husband, Evan, and I married in the summer of 2012. Conformist in our approach to life, we started out the way we were “supposed to” —we paid off debt, bought our first home, and took turns cash flowing grad school. Evan stayed in a respectable profession while I worked to build a business so that I could stay home with our future children without altering our income. By the time we started trying to conceive at the beginning of 2015, I had hired a manager and one another employee; things were all lined up for the baby we were hoping and praying for.
Nine months passed before we became pregnant, only to discover that the pregnancy was ectopic. (An ectopic pregnancy is where a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, often in the fallopian tube.) As you can imagine, the long-awaited double-pink lines were not accompanied by the emotions you’d expect. Neither was the first appointment, the first ultrasound, the phone calls to loved ones relaying news of my pregnancy, emergency surgery, and the unexpected hospital stay that followed.
My emotional recovery took longer than others seemed comfortable with at the time, but I knew that if I tried to replace the pain of my loss with the joy of another baby, that wouldn’t actually resolve my grief, it would only serve as a welcome and joyous distraction from the work that needed to be done in my heart and in my marriage. Evan and I used the months that followed to reorient ourselves to life and to each other.
At my post-surgery follow up, my OBGYN relayed that not only did everything look healthy, she was optimistic that I would become pregnant again soon. Given this positive prognosis, we gave ourselves another year before we were ready—emotionally, mentally, and relationally—to see a fertility specialist.
We began fertility testing in January 2017. Everything had come back normally, but our fertility specialist had a hunch that my inability to conceive was because of tubal factor infertility, given my age, ectopic pregnancy, and no prior health conditions. His hypothesis was confirmed by a hysterosalpingogram (HSG), a radiology procedure that verified tubal blockage.
We had many questions and asked them all, creating a flow chart of treatment options and alternatives to starting our family. Every couple who walks through a season of infertility has to decide what’s best for them and their family, and discern what aligns with their values and convictions. For our own personal reasons, we’ve opted to delay starting a family for several years yet.
How do you find joy in a life that looks different than the one you imagined for yourself?
My ectopic pregnancy was time-slowing and life-altering for me. Months into our healing process, Evan and I finally saw that our lives were on a certain trajectory; one we hadn’t consciously chosen but were intentionally working toward, nonetheless.
Slowly, we began to view life from a completely different perspective. And then suddenly, every opportunity became available to us. Of course, those options were available to us all along, it just took a shift in our focus (and a mild rebellion against social norms) to see and have the courage to live into them.
For me personally, as I grieved the death of a dream to have children the traditional way, I realized I had to find joy in the life I did have, not in the circumstances or outcomes I hoped for. Today, I am doing work that I love. I find meaning and purpose in my therapy and coaching work with couples through my private practice. I find joy in supporting my husband who left a conventional career path to pursue a vocation and calling (even if it’s initially led us to living in a dorm with 200+ boys!). I find joy in the morning hours, in deepening relationships, and in loving on the Littles of my sister, cousin, and friends. And I find joy in learning more of what I’m made of each day.
What trigger moments enable sadness or fear to occupy mental space? How do you handle those moments?
Trigger moments mid-struggle: In the first two years before my diagnosis, the monthly reminder that a baby was not on the way was relentless. Each month felt different emotionally, but over the course of two years, I experienced disappointment, despair, numbness, distress, bewilderment, and grief. I endured with copious amounts of journaling, prayer, and talking/crying it out with my husband. I also gave myself space and grace to feel whatever emotions came up, knowing that the avoidance of my emotions would only cause problems down the road.
The 6 months or so that followed my ectopic pregnancy were the hardest of my life. First of all, Evan and I were grieving, and quite differently I might add. This is common for couples who experience pregnancy loss, but no one talks about it, normalizes it, or prepares you for it. We felt as though we were holding onto each other for dear life, but couldn’t understand why our grief looked so different. In addition, I was managing my emotions by the hour, as it seemed I couldn’t get through a day without someone saying something incredibly hurtful (albeit often intended to help).
Lastly, other women’s pregnancy announcements were triggering for me. Given my loss, I often prayed for healthy pregnancies for them and felt a sense of relief and gratitude once their babies were healthily born, but the initial announcements sent me into an immediate state of cognitive dissonance. I learned to articulate my emotions to my close pregnant friends by saying, “I am so happy for you, but I am so sad for me.” I think most of them felt the same way.
I learned to articulate my emotions to my close pregnant friends by saying, “I am so happy for you, but I am so sad for me.”
Evan and I also attended marriage counseling together on the backend of our grief. Our therapist empathized with and normalized our experience of pregnancy loss and infertility. She also educated, enlightened, and encouraged us as we sought to grow stronger and closer through our circumstances.
Trigger moments post-struggle: The trigger moments are fewer and farther between for me personally these days, and most of them I can now anticipate. The anniversaries of when we started trying, conceived, and lost the baby are now times of reflection for me in the days leading up to those dates. I’ve grown unapologetic in making Mother’s Day my own, skipping church and instead enjoying a hike with my husband. Christmas is also strange and bittersweet, as we enjoy time with family but feel the void of waking up Christmas morning without a family of our own.
Today, the most unexpected trigger moments come when watching the faces and body language of others in response to our life circumstances. People project all sorts of emotions onto your situation when they can’t imagine going through what you’ve gone through. This can be momentarily confusing, awkward, and uncomfortable, until I realize that they’re trying to process in a few seconds what I’ve had 3 years to process.
You said in a social media post that “suffering is an essential ingredient for the kind of hope and faith I now know.” Would you expand on that?
Suffering sent me into a search for myself and a search for who God really is. Growing up in a Christian culture and context, I’d previously only understood grace in terms of God blessing me beyond what I deserve. Through suffering, I discovered that His greatest grace in my life is His Presence with me in the depths of my humanity and brokenness. Paradoxically—and in the most gentle, loving, kind, and safe way—that’s where I’ve found my truest self, my most deep-rooted faith, and my most palpable hope.
Suffering was the catalyst for that life lesson. But the hope and faith I now know required both a fight and a surrender. That’s the best way I’ve found to describe the life-changing process I went through.
Psalm 126:5 says: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.”
That’s the fight. That you keep going, day by day, even if it means doing so in your own tears. Through the process, you find within you an otherworldly strength that you can’t know is there until life forces you to come to terms with reality, your limitations, and your brokenness. Thus, to make it out on the other side of suffering requires a fight—to hold onto yourself, your sanity, and your truth.
Another passage I clung to during that season was Habakkuk 3:17-19: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
That’s the surrender. Giving up your illusions that you are (a) somehow in control of what happens in your life, and (b) able to fix or manage anything or anyone other than yourself, and still saying, “Though ______ (insert anything you’re dissatisfied with in your life), YET I will choose to find my joy in the Lord, in the One who gave and gifted me life in the first place.”
Who keeps you company on your journey?
Unsurprisingly, the company I regularly keep are the ones who were there in my darkest days…and were still there on the other side. These people for me are Evan, Maddi, Lindsay, Kristi, Taylor, Ashlyn, Lahni, and Mom. They’re the ones who showed up, were present, listened nonjudgmentally, and were courageous enough to walk with me through uncomfortable emotions and sometimes awkward relational dynamics. They’re the ones with whom I know I’m okay to be vulnerable, brave, and extraordinarily human. I pray they feel the same in my company.