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"As I gave up steering my own ship, I watched God miraculously open doors I had no business walking through; doors that I never could have opened on my own. "

  • Writer's pictureDenise Grace Gitsham



Process > Outcomes

Most of the stories we read about other people’s lives are written with a specific outcome in mind. Working backwards, all details and emotions are recounted in logical progression, and we follow along, knowing they’ll eventually come to a satisfying end. The truth is, a vast majority of readers simply prefer whitewashed stories over the real deal. It’s far more comforting to be told that everything turned out all right, even if it didn’t.

I, on the other hand, have always preferred stories that focus on a character’s process of becoming. Outcomes are of nominal relevance to me – we can do everything right, and still have no control over them. What I’d rather know is how someone responded to the circumstances they were dealt, and how it shaped their character. That’s why real stories written by real people in real time – books like the Diary of Anne Frank - are those that inspire me most.

In that spirit, I asked my husband if he was ok with me sharing something that happened to us today. After talking it over, we agreed that our story, told in real time, could potentially encourage someone going through a similar situation. So we decided to share a very personal experience that, until now, only our inner circle knew about.

For the past few months, my husband and I have been focused on one overriding goal: growing our family of 2 (well, 3, if you count my golden retriever Jack). Having married at 41 and 43, we knew our chances of conceiving naturally would be slim. So we opted to give IVF a go, and after months of preparation, rule-following, and progesterone shots, we received a phone call today that wrecked us: the pregnancy we’d so fervently prayed for, simply wasn’t meant to be.

Our reaction can only be understood when you know the steps we’d taken to get to this point. My journey to become a mom started when I was 37, and my parents noticed that no promising husband-type had yet appeared on the horizon. Hoping for eventual grandchildren, they talked me into freezing my eggs, and it worked. Months later, I had 17 beautiful eggs on ice, which my dad called his “future grandkid-sicles.”

Fast forward to 2018, when I married my husband after meeting him just five months prior. We quickly came to terms with the fact that children weren’t likely to happen naturally, so we dove head first into IVF. As my husband loves to tell folks, “We’re both impatient, and prone to making rash decisions“ (h/t William Wilberforce). Or, as my friend Mo says, “There’s normal speed, there's lightning speed, and then there's Jones speed.”

So five weeks ago – 8 days before our first anniversary - we sat down with our fertility doctor after a battery of (very expensive) tests proved our genetic and physical fitness for parenthood. We embarked on our first round of IVF a few days later, with coordinated Z-packs, round-the-clock hormone patches, antibiotics, steroids, and daily progesterone shots. Nothing felt natural about the process, but we were just so grateful for the opportunity to have a child, that we never complained (well, he didn't).

As our inner circle prayed for us, we tried our best to trust God with the outcome. That proved harder than we thought, thanks to the highs and lows that come with the territory. We started off low, with tempered expectations set by our fertility doctor, who made us very aware of the low statistical probabilities of conceiving. Like every other couple, we assumed we’d be the exception to the rule, but those numbers hovered in the back of our minds like storm clouds, just waiting to rain on our parade.

A week into the process, we cleared our first real hurdle: a (very invasive) ultrasound revealed that my uterus was free of any pesky cysts that would have required removal and resulted in a delay to the whole process. My heart only fluttered after I realized I’d dodged a bullet that I didn’t even know existed. Baby = 1; statistics = 0.

Next, our embryologist (a totally different doctor that we also didn’t know existed until she introduced herself over the phone) called to tell us the great news: miraculously, all 17 of my eggs had survived the thaw. Statistically speaking, we were braced to lose a quarter of our eggs in the defrosting process. We’d beaten the odds by a lot. Baby = 2; statistics, 0.

The next day, we received even better news: our miracle eggs came through like champs, and 14 of the 17 fertilized. Statistics predicted that at this point, we’d be down to maybe 7 or 8 fertilized eggs. Instead, we had 14! We couldn’t believe our luck, and thanked God profusely. Baby = 3; statistics, we spit on you.

Three days later, we got our first shot of sobering news; 7 of our embryos were “good,” and 7 were “poor.” I joked that at least our kids would never be “average,” but my heart sank. I knew the chances of any of our poorly graded embryos making it were low. Baby holding steady at 3; statistics on the board at 1.

We found out just how low a mere hour before the embryo transplant was scheduled to occur. A different embryologist revealed that of our 14 embryos, only 3 had progressed. All the others had “arrested,” meaning they never advanced to a transferrable “blastocyst” stage. We moved forward with the most promising blastocyst of the three, and froze the other two. Half an hour later, I stepped into the surgical room high on valium (to calm my awaiting uterus), and had that precious little blastocyst dropped into what I hoped he/she would make into his/her new home for the next 9 months. Baby holding at 3; statistics advancing to 4. I felt like we were losing a battle we’d only just begun fighting.

My husband drove me home and stayed by my side for the next 48 hours, while I did my best to embrace the concept of “bedrest.” I felt no different than I had walking into the clinic, so it was weird knowing that there was life growing inside of me, since I couldn’t feel it. My friends and family cheered baby blastocyst on with prayers, encouragement, and blessings, and I was treated like royalty. Every few hours, I prayed, hand over womb, for that baby-to-be to make it. His/her survival consumed my mind, day and night.

A week later, I took my first pregnancy test as my husband packed for an international work trip. I wanted him to be there for the big reveal, and we ended up with a big, fat negative. We both knew it was way too early to test, but we were still disappointed. So we held each other, cried, and prayed that the test had lied. Baby 3; statistics 5.

The next morning, I woke up at 4:45am for no good reason. I crept downstairs to my stash of pregnancy tests, and took another one. This time, an ever-so-faint second line indicated the possibility of a pregnancy, and I ran upstairs to wake Josh up and ask for a second opinion. He rubbed his eyes and said “yeah, babe, that looks really promising.” I spent the next 3 hours googling “very faint second line pregnancy test” and discovered unanimous agreement amongst online “experts” who said that “a line was a line,” and “you can’t be just a little bit pregnant.” I fell back asleep, this time full of real hope. Baby evens the score at 5.

That evening, I took another test. This time, Josh was long gone, and it came back negative. Not even the faintest line was visible to the naked eye. Knowing that was more likely to happen in the evening than in the morning, I resolved to take another test, and tried my best to pray away the heartbreak. Baby 5; statistics 6.

The next morning, I woke up again at 4:45am. I ran downstairs, praying for a better answer from God. The test showed another faint line, and my hopes rebounded. I called Josh with the news and we rejoiced. Baby and statistics tied again.

I still craved more certainty, and with 24 whole hours to go before a blood test would determine how legit my pregnancy was, I went out and bought the only test that could give me an unambiguous answer: the digital yes +/no – test, which boasted a 99% accuracy rate. My nurse told me she’d heard of false negatives, but never false positives – so I braced myself for the results. Three minutes later, a blinking YES + appeared, and I whooped for joy. Thanking God for the outcome I’d prayed for, I finally felt free to celebrate, and share the news with a broader group of family and friends. Baby 10; statistics be damned.

I walked into my blood draw, 11 days after my embryo transplant, full of confidence. I sat there, joking with the nurses that it was “so annoying” that I had to confirm what I already knew. They congratulated me when I showed them a picture of my YES+ test results, and said all the encouraging things that people say when they want to believe that everything will be fine. Five hours later, our designated nurse called to tell me the unexpected news: our (three) positive pregnancy tests had misled us.

It turns out our blastocyst had, in fact, successfully implanted into my very welcoming uterus – so welcoming, in fact, that it went there and decided to stay forever. My hormone levels indicated that none of the growth they expected to see with a normal, progressing pregnancy occurred, but the very fact that implantation had occurred resulted in false positives. Shocked and shaken, I hung up the phone, and burst into tears.

I spoke with my husband later that afternoon, who was leading one of the most important meetings of his career when I texted him the news. He picked up his phone to glance at my text, and it shook him to the core. The rest of his meeting was a blur, and he said he couldn’t concentrate on anything else. He called me shortly thereafter, and we mourned together as we grappled with the question “WHY?”

Hours later, I still don’t have an answer to that question, and neither does he. We’re feeling all the same emotions we did earlier, as we head to bed on separate continents, thousands of miles apart. The only truths we can reliably cling to are that a) God uses every circumstance, good and bad, to shape our character and strengthen our faith, b) He’s still in charge, and c) He is Good. For tonight, that’s all that we could land on, and that’s enough to get us to tomorrow.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. - 2 Corinthians 12:9



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