Facing Infertility: Hearts Are Brave Again

In March I was diagnosed with a tumor that is neither malignant nor benign.

That this brand of tissue growth tends not to metastasize was welcome news indeed, and you’d better believe I thanked God for it. All the more so because the diagnosis—and the blood tests and the brain scan that led to it—fell right-smack in the thick of midterms. It was hard enough to pretend I still cared about school. How much harder would it have been if the prognosis had been worse? Praise be to the Father, I do not have cancer.

But why do we call noncancerous tumors benign when they can still rip the rug out from under your feet and leave you aching and bruised and unsure how to pick yourself up from the dust?

Sometime in the whir before our wedding, Nathan and I chatted in his little red car. Like all almost-newlyweds we carried hopes in our hearts, and whispering those hopes into words we could share was a shivering sacred pastime we never tired of. Piecing together our future felt warm. It felt right. Nathan held my hand as we committed to welcome all children God would send to our marriage, and never to bar their arrival.

We wed, and soon my body beckoned the symptoms I knew to watch for. I walked on weak legs to the nearest CVS and bought a ClearBlue test—
—which I bombed worse than my Statistics 121 midterms in college.

In spite of the tell-tale signs, I was not pregnant. It didn’t make sense, but the failure stung worse than it confused me, so I tried not to think about it.
Except that the symptoms persisted. They were hollow each time, but they were real and they were there. Month after month, my body acted pregnant. Month after month, my faith spiked and dashed. Nathan and I clutched what we could, but I’ll be honest: Hope became an increasingly untrustworthy verb.

A couple meets the medical definition of infertility after sending twelve months’ worth of invitations for a child to join their family without getting so much as an RSVP, so when our first anniversary rolled around, we knew it was time to investigate the cycle of lies. This is not a Wikipedia article, and I promised Nathan not to share gruesome details, so suffice it to say that my physician knew what to test my blood for when she heard about the symptoms. Soon I was bouncing back and forth between campus and the hospital for tests, consultations, and an MRI, memorizing flashcards for school exams when I wasn’t Googling stuff like hyperprolactinemia and pituitary adenoma.

Early morning on St. Patrick’s Day, Dr. Goundan explained the MRI results, using a plastic diagram to show me what a pituitary gland looks like and how close it is to the optic nerve. She reassured me that the tumor on my gland is still small and that medicine might mask its effects. “Yours is a good ways off from the nerve,” she explained, “but just to check, have you noticed any trouble with your vision?”

Vision as in eyesight? I wanted to ask. Or vision as in hopes and goals and who I want to be?

My eyes function just fine, but the adenoma attached to the pea-sized gland behind them has wrecked a fundamental part of my vision.

This tumor doesn’t threaten my life, but it does threaten my ability to give life.

So long as it’s there pumping pregnancy hormones, Nathan and I won’t be parents. Whether we’ll have children is no longer a commitment; it’s a question. And if we do bring souls to our family, there almost certainly won’t be very many, because we’ll fight a lump in my head every time. And who knows what else we’ll battle? There could yet be other factors at play, which is why I’ve got more trips to the hospital for ultrasounds, examinations, and—undoubtedly—more blood tests. [1]

So much for our whispers in Nathan’s little red car.

So much for our dreams and vocation.

So much for our vision.

I promise it’s not off-topic to switch now from talking about what’s in my head to what’s in my heart. After all, any person who’s lost grip on a longing must examine his or her heart, for—in words an ancient Israelite probably tole-painted and hung in her kitchen—“Hope deferred maketh the heart sick” (Prov. 13:12).

Aye, that it does. I’ve leaked liters of tears over the past several months. I’ve scoured the scriptures for comfort, drifting repeatedly to my friends Sarah, Rachael, Rebekah, Hannah, and Elisabeth. I’ve chastened myself for wimpiness (Others have gone through way worse, you know), and questioned my motives (Isn’t it self-centered for adults to make child-bearing all about themselves?). I’ve even slipped toward pseudoscience, wondering whether the Ukrainian babushki I met on my mission were right to warn me against sitting on cold benches (“It will freeze you—you’ll never have children!”).

These questions don’t live in the head, where my tumor lurks—they pulse in the heart, and they squeeze a tad too tightly sometimes.

Which is why Nathan and I have redoubled our efforts to flee to God’s House. When I say that there’s peace in the temple, I’m not spitting out platitudes; I’m speaking from uncounted experiences of bringing my bruised heart to the altar and walking away renewed.

On one such occasion—after hearing there was likely a tumor but before running tests to confirm it—I shook in one corner of the temple, scared of the abyss Nathan and I would likely have to cross before we could realize God’s promises. I wrapped my arms around my midriff, tucked in my chin, and prayed.

As I did, a song sung through my mind. It was a hymn I enjoy but hadn’t thought of that often—a British Protestant anthem we Mormons have claimed, perhaps because all folks of faith can resonate with words like these:

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long
Stills on the ear the distant triumph song
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong,
Alleluia, alleluia! [2]

I swear, at that moment Our Father Who Art In Heaven crooked His arm around my shoulders and drew me close so He could whisper that “distant triumph song” right into the ears of His daughter who needed a lullaby to calm her heart and make it “brave again.” He reignited a trust that months of false leads had tarnished, and He bolstered the hope I’d let slip.

At that moment, God was Fathering a woman who cannot yet mother.

Nathan and I don’t know how long our warfare will be, nor how fiercely we’ll have to strive. We do know, however, that a very real God handles very real hurts in our very soft hearts. He’s whispered words through scriptures and prayers. He’s blessed us with blogs to read and doctors to consult. He’s sent family and friends and church fellows and utter strangers to remind us about the “song of redeeming love” (Alma 5:26). Most of the time that song is distant and the music is masked as a breeze or a bird or the babbling Charles River. But in at least one important instance, that song was a hymn that washed through my mind in the House of the Lord.

It’s enough to hold on to. It’s enough to get by. Grasping for faith and for each other’s hands, Nathan and I are poised to accompany the throng of soldiers who’ve fought for their children, who are fighting today, who are singing and shouting the music of God.

In spite of the hurts, our hearts are brave.



*A version of this essay was originally published at All Things Denote.


1] Two months after writing this essay I was also diagnosed with PCOS. We haven’t yet exhausted all the infertility tests, but we’re fighting the two known fronts of our battle as best as we can.

[2] From William Walsham How’s “For All the Saints,” #82 in the LDS hymnal.