Struggling with infertility

By Hikari Loftus

Mormon Times

Published: Monday, Dec. 6 2010 5:00 a.m. MST

As a child, it was easy to make plans for the future, "First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage."

Of course, there are many other important and essential life goals to complete between the lines of this childhood song, but it's not too far off from what women of the LDS Church plan for.

However, most of the time life doesn't pan out the way they envisioned.

The number of women in the U.S. with infertility problems is rising, and for many women in the LDS Church who have been raised with full intentions of becoming a mother, this has become a painful reality.

"I'm 27 (and) I was a mom by now in my head. I was going to be a young mom who had energy. Who knows, I might be an old mom now," said Jill Witt of the Harvest Hills Seventh Ward in Utah.

In 2005, Witt was preparing to serve a mission in the Ukraine. Three weeks before entering the Missionary Training Center, she was diagnosed with endometriosis, a condition where tissue that behaves like the cells lining the uterus grows in other areas of the body, which can cause infertility.

"I remember asking the doctor, 'What does this mean? Am I not going to be able to have kids?'" she said.

Because the doctors were concerned that she could need surgery while she was in the Ukraine, her assignment was changed, and she was called to serve in Chicago.

"It has pretty much affected my life since I found out (I had endometriosis). It has changed a lot of things," she said.

Dr. Wayne Young, of the American College of OBGYN, said that the number of men and women with infertility problems is rising around the world. Some of the top reasons for rising infertility are due to sexually transmitted diseases, women delaying their childbearing years, sickness and unhealthy lifestyles.

"If everything is perfect, and you do everything right, it's still only around 24 percent (chance) per cycle," said Young. "Even after a year of trying, 10 percent of normal couples won't be pregnant."

Because of her condition, Witt and her husband, Allen, who have been married for three years, have been unsuccessful in having children.

Being members of a heavily family-focused church has been able to make the Witt's reality easier and harder at the same time.

"The gospel really blesses you in this trial. The calling we have now is Sunbeams. They look to us and come and ask us questions and give us hugs, and we'll teach them," she said. "I feel like in a way we are being able to use those God-given abilities to be a mother and a father in that way. It's been really helpful. I think the gospel really blesses you in that way. You can nurture in the gospel."

From the time they are in Primary, girls are raised thinking that someday they will become a mother. No one ever expects that to be a difficult reality to reach.

"I think that it's something you are born with as a woman. To not necessarily be a mother to a baby, but to nurture and, I gues because it's so stressed in the church that women are responsible for nurturing and boys to be priesthood holders, that when it doesn't happen, it almost makes you question your purpose," she said. "Not purpose for living but, 'What's my purpose in this little family that I have or in God's plan? What is God's purpose for me?"

Between the baby blessings, lessons on motherhood and people wondering why they haven't had children yet when they've been married for so long, sometimes church is one of the hardest places to be. Sometimes people can be very insensitive.

"At one point I was kind of shutting people out and getting offended at the littlest thing. Then, after thinking about it, I thought that it wasn't fair for me to get offended because they don't know what I'm going through," she said.

"So, instead when people make jokes about why we are waiting to have kids, I just come out and say, 'We'd love to have kids.' Or when they ask if we are going to have kids I just say, 'We've been trying.' I try to be upfront about it now so that people know. I talk about it more, and it's helpful for other people because they sort of know their boundaries instead of just guessing."

For Witt, it began as a painful, personal journey, and she wanted to deal with alone.

"In the beginning I wouldn't even let my husband in on it. I would take pregnancy tests by myself and cry, and he would never know," she said. "Finally, he saw me crying by myself and came and sat down with me and cried with me. He told me not to do it alone."

Since then, Witt started a blog to create a place where other women struggling with infertility have come and helped each other. From experience, she knows that it's a burden that a woman shouldn't carry alone.

"Those feelings of inadequacy and of, 'I don't fit in. I'm not fulfilling my purpose as a daughter or woman of God,' all those feelings will eat you alive," she said. "If you let someone else in who loves you and who will give you quotes from prophets or little things that help that makes the difference for me. I don't know if that is true for everyone, but it's true for me. It's a scary thing to do by yourself."

One of the biggest lessons Witt said she finds in her trials is learning how to work with the Lord or to align her will with his.

"It's so easy to fight back on this on this one. Especially with all the medical treatment out there it's like, OK, if I do this, it's going to work. It's still up to him," she said.

"I don't know if I'll ever know why I have to wait, but in the meantime I'm just trying to learn what I can and share with other people because so many people go through it alone, and it's sad to do this alone," she said. "You could very easily shut yourself out of Mormon society and from a lot of people because you are hurting, and you don't want people to know that."

Despite her trials, Witt remains firm in her faith.

"I just remember that his promises are sure and that whatever he has in store for me will happen. And being OK with that is the biggest thing I've learned," she said. "(I) just swallow my pride and recognize it's the Lord's will because good things have come of this, and I'm sure more good things will."

e-mail: hloftus@desnews.com

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