Struggling With Infertility
About the Guest
Ann Voskamp talks about the blessing of thanking God in the hard times. God loves us in our brokenness, and it is from that place that we can give thanks most powerfully.
Chelsea Patterson SobolikChelsea Patterson Sobolik is the author of Longing for Motherhood and has worked for the U.S. House of Representatives on issues such as child welfare, religious freedom, adoption, and foster care policy. She and her husband, Michael, live in Washington, D.C.
Chelsea Sobolik was devastated when her doctor told her she couldn’t have children. Sobolik shares how she found healing for her grieving heart and talks about the wonderful man she married.
Struggling With Infertility
Bob: Chelsea Sobolik was born without a uterus—something that she never knew about until she was a freshman in college.
Chelsea: As soon as I found out that I couldn’t have children, immediately, my mind was filled with: “You’re not a complete woman. No man is ever going to want you, because of the way your body is created.” Those are kind of the two biggest lies I had to wrestle with and wrestle through: “What does it mean to be a woman? If my body was created this way, what does it actually mean to be a woman?” I knew I had to go through a lot of personal healing before I could ever step into anything that could remotely lead to marriage.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, November 30th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. There’s a lot for a young woman to process, when she’s 18 years old, and she’s told she’ll never be able to have children. We’ll talk with Chelsea Sobolik about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. When you and Barbara—of course, you had such a short courtship—this is not even a fair question to ask. You guys, from the time that you proposed until you got married was how long?
Dennis: Six weeks.
Bob: Yes; here’s the question: “There was just a presumption, with both of you, that you would get married and, someday, you’d have kids.”
Dennis: We talked about it.
Bob: Mary Ann and I did as well.
Dennis: In six weeks, there’s time to talk about that. [Laughter]
Bob: So I think most couples get married with that presumption; and most couples, if they find out that they’re wrestling with infertility, that comes much later in their journey. But our guest today had a very different perspective as she faced marriage. She knew infertility was already a factor for her.
Dennis: Chelsea Sobolik joins us. She is the author of Longing for Motherhood. She has worked for the U.S. House of Representatives on issues of child welfare, religious freedom, adoption, and foster care policy.
Bob: And by the way, that’s just God saying, “I’m going to bless you”; right?
Chelsea: Yes; right.
Dennis: Isn’t that fun?
Dennis: And this book that you’ve written, Longing for Motherhood—I just turned to Bob, a few moments ago, and I said, “You know, now, starting 27 years of broadcasting; and I don’t think we ever have interviewed a young lady who found out, while she was single, that she couldn’t have children.” I’m just wondering, for you—first of all, please explain to our listeners, kind of, what happened and how it came about, and why you can’t have children.
Chelsea: Like you said, it is quite unique to know, before you get married, that you can’t have children.
I was born without a uterus, so it is physically impossible.
Bob: And you learned this because you were not having menstrual cycles.
Chelsea: Correct; correct.
Dennis: And how rare is this, by the way?—this syndrome?
Chelsea: About 1 in 10,000 females, so it’s somewhat rare.
Bob: Yes; so knowing that, as a teenager—and then being on a college campus—and guys are asking you out on dates, and you’re finding yourself attracted to guys—you’re starting to think, “Would I ever want to marry this guy?” In the back of your mind, there’s always this: “Children aren’t a part of this equation.” How did that affect your dating life?
Chelsea: I went on dates in college; but I was wrestling so much through childlessness, that nothing really stuck in college. I went on a few dates, here and there, but just was dealing with so much, personally, that I didn’t have time to devote to a dating relationship.
Bob: And do you think you backed off because—
Chelsea: Oh, absolutely! Absolutely!
Bob: So if a guy was interested, you may have taken a step back just because you were still processing the fact that you’re not going to be able to have kids?
Chelsea: Absolutely; yes.
Dennis: Chelsea, I have to ask you this—at that point—you told us, earlier, that your mom and your dad struggled with even having children, then decided to have children and couldn’t. They decided to adopt. They adopted you and your brother from Romania, and then four others from Russia. Did your mom say something to you?
Chelsea: Yes; she did. She did.
Dennis: I mean, you had a few years there, in college. She had to have been through this—not at the level you did, as a single young lady.
Chelsea: Yes; I actually bucked what she shared with me. She would share, “I went through something very similar.” My first thought was: “You don’t understand!—because you were married, and you had someone else to walk through this with,” and “I’m completely by myself.”
So I really bucked when she tried to compare our two stories.
We’ve talked of how she was trying so hard to be empathetic. I received it in a light that she did not mean it at all. So she did; but again—just the place and season I was—it fell on a heart that was not tender toward her comfort at all, which she really was trying to comfort; but I didn’t receive it well.
Bob: So you were cautious in your dating relationships.
Bob: This was right there at the forefront. Was this a hurdle you had to overcome to be open to the possibility of marriage?
Chelsea: Yes; as soon as I found out that I couldn’t have children, immediately, my mind was filled with: “You’re not a complete woman. No man is ever going to want you, because of the way your body is created.” Those are kind of the two biggest lies I had to wrestle with—
—and wrestle through: “What does it mean to be a woman? If my body was created this way, what does it actually mean to be a woman after the Fall?” Before the Fall, God created a man and a woman to procreate—that’s how He created us. But after the Fall, we know that families don’t stay together; we know that couples struggle with infertility.
Chelsea: We know that lots of difficulties were introduced into the world.
I really went through a process—I knew I had to go through a lot of personal healing before I could ever step into anything that could remotely lead to marriage. I really wrestled through: “What is my identity as a human?—as a woman?”
Someone who, actually, really—and I’m not comparing our stories at all—but someone that really did encourage me in what it means to be a woman is Joni Erickson Tada.
Chelsea: For those who don’t know her story, she was in a diving accident at 16/17 and is paralyzed from the neck down.
She’s actually married. I just took a lot of comfort from her story—someone who has suffered much more than I had—but someone still chose to love her and to unite their life with hers. That was really encouraging to me, as I went through my healing journey, to know that, if God ordained marriage in my life, He would also provide the man He wanted me to marry.
As I wrestled through, “What does it mean to be a woman?” I also wrestled through, “Will a man ever actually want me?” After college, I moved to Washington, DC, and dated a couple of guys there—shared with a few; but for other reasons, it just didn’t move forward.
Dennis: So you shared.
Chelsea: I did. I shared with one other man; it did not go well.
Dennis: Oh, really!?
Bob: Did you share because you sensed the relationship was progressing to where this might be something you guys would be pursuing?
Chelsea: Yes. At that point, we had been dating long enough that I knew that I needed to share it with him if we were going to move forward.
Chelsea: He just did not respond well.
Dennis: That had to really hurt.
Chelsea: It did, and it terrified me. We ended up ending our relationship, but it also terrified me from ever telling someone again.
Bob: I’m trying—and I don’t know how—well, maybe you can tell me. When you say, “It did not go well,” did he shut down? Did he—what did he do with the news that you could not have kids?
Chelsea: I think—and I want to be delicate—he blew it out of proportion. It is a big deal; absolutely! But he made it ultimate, when it wasn’t.
Bob: And I get that; but I’m also trying to think: “If you grow up with a longing, like you grew up with a longing to be a mom—
Bob: —“he grows up with a longing to be a dad. You’re meeting someone and you go, ‘Okay; am I willing to say, “I’m willing to go on this path of life,” or will I always resent that this is something we can’t do together?’”
Chelsea: Yes; yes.
Bob: I understand how a guy could respond that way, and I’m sure you understand it as well.
Chelsea: Of course.
Bob: But it can be painful and hard.
Bob: It was for you when this happened.
Chelsea: Yes—and again, I want to be very delicate—but I think just words that were said/mannerisms that were used did not make me feel safe in sharing that with him.
Bob: I got it.
Dennis: So how long before you started dating Michael?
Chelsea: We were actually friends for two or three years before we started dating.
Dennis: Had you ever talked about it with him as a friend?
Chelsea: I had not; I had not. We had a really good friendship before sparks flew. [Laughter] We started going on dates.
We were dating for probably about two months before I decided to share with him. And again, I had a lot of trust built up with him, just as a friend; and I knew him really well. I shared with him. And it’s so interesting—even though I had shared with another guy and it didn’t go well—I took the risk, and I shared with Michael.
Whenever I had shared with a pastor or an elder that I couldn’t have children—in just kind of walking through it, spiritually, with them—they would always tell me, “If a guy really loves you, it won’t matter.” I had that in the back of my head, sharing with Michael. And again, with the other relationship, it was blown completely out of proportion.
Chelsea: I thought, “I’ll try one more time,”—and shared with Michael, and it did matter. The way he treated me was much more tender in how he responded, but it still did matter.
Michael grew up without much experience with adoption. I shared with him my condition and also shared: “If we build a family, it would be through adoption.” I have a big heart for adoption. He was, not only wrestling through childlessness—and giving up the dream of natural fatherhood and parenting children that look like us—he was also processing through, “Would I be okay with adoption?” We had a rough couple of months of dating.
Chelsea: Lots of tears; lots of very difficult conversations; lots of him seeking out wisdom from mentors and from Scripture. I kind of freaked out a little bit; because I thought, “It matters to him.” Looking back, I’m so glad it did matter to him; because I can’t imagine getting five or ten years into a marriage and him coming to me one day and saying, “I never processed this.”
Dennis: Oh, yes!
Chelsea: I’m so, so grateful that it mattered; because it is a big deal.
Chelsea: So he came to me one night. We went to get a cup of coffee. He said: “Chelsea, I’ve don’t a lot of thinking. I’ve done a lot of praying about what our future could look like if we continue moving forward.” He said: “Chelsea, I’ve realized that being a father is not about raising a child that looks like me. It’s about raising a child that looks like Christ.”
Chelsea: In that moment, even though we had other things to talk about, and other things to work out, I knew he would be my husband. He was the man I wanted to build a life with; because I saw him be broken, too, and still trust the Lord, and still want me—all of me—in that. He had a vision for parenthood that’s so much greater than a child who looks like him and me combined. It was a really special, special moment.
Dennis: Yes; when I read that in your book, I went: “Whoa!
Dennis: “That’s a real man!
Dennis: “’I wanted to raise a child; and it didn’t matter if he looks like me, but if he looks like Christ.’”
Dennis: That’s the calling. That’s the kind of man you want to spend the rest of your life with, and go adopt a bunch of them!—[Laughter]—you know?
Dennis: Just go provide a family for a bunch of kids, and let them know what that looks like!
Bob: You’re without a uterus, but you have ovaries.
Bob: Is in vitro—is that a biological option for you guys?
Chelsea: Biologically, it is an option. However, we’ve thought pretty in-depth about IVF. We’ve chosen that it’s not going to be an option for our family. I think there’s some ethical gray-ness in that. I would caution people, really, to think well and deeply before walking down that path; so we’ve chosen not to walk down that path.
Adoption is such a big pull in my life—and there are so many children, who need safe, permanent, loving families—that we’ve chosen the adoption route.
Bob: And you know there are good, godly people who look at this, and say, “We think this is what God is calling us to,” but for you guys, there are ethical dilemmas related to this that you have to process and say: “Okay; Lord. Guide us, so that we can honor You and steward who we are in a way that brings glory to You.”
Bob: And for you guys, you’ve said, “No; that’s not going to be something we’re going to pursue.”
Dennis: You and Michael are going to process this for the rest of your days. You’ll talk about, “What if…”
Dennis: But then, as God blesses you with these adopted children, it’s going to be interesting to see how He enlarges your hearts through these little creatures, who are a mom’s heart walking around outside her body. [Laughter]
Bob: Creatures!—is that what you call them?
Bob: This may have nothing to do with what we’re talking about, but I’m curious about the tattoos on your wrist.
Chelsea: [Laughter] I have two tattoos. The one on my right wrist says, “Redeemed.” It’s so fun! I love it when people ask me, because I get to share the gospel. My horizontal redemption—my adoption—and then, my vertical redemption in Christ.
Chelsea: And then the one on my left is a cross. Have you read or heard of the book, The Broken Way, by Ann Voskamp?
Chelsea: She talks a lot about the cross in that book. That book was actually instrumental in Michael processing through how to walk through suffering, so I got this one too. They’re my only two. [Laughter]
Bob: By the way, we interviewed Ann on that book.
Chelsea: Did you!? I love her!
Bob: And if our listeners are interested, they can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com—there’s a link to the interview with Ann Voskamp on her own processing of suffering in her life. Yes; that’s there.
Chelsea: She’s fabulous!
Dennis: Yes; it was fun to meet her; because she was a radio listener, as she would do her chores, up in Canada—
Bob: —up in the barn! [Laughter]
Chelsea: Oh, that’s wonderful!
Dennis: —taking care of the hogs. They raise hogs for a living on—
Chelsea: Of course, they do!
Dennis: She’s married to “the Farmer.” You had to read about “the Farmer.”
Chelsea: Yes; yes. That’s great!
Bob: So writing a book about longing for motherhood—I’m sure part of this was you being able to—just, again, more fully process your own story.
Bob: But you’ve got a heart for young wives/young women, who are going, “It doesn’t look like I can have kids!”
Bob: For those who miscarry regularly / for those who have never been able to conceive, and are wondering, “Where is God—and the goodness of God—in all of this?”
Dennis: Yes; and I was thinking about those young ladies, who may be listening to this broadcast.
Dennis: You may be talking to their husbands.
What would you say to a husband about how he can bring comfort to his wife’s heart, who has always wanted—she has longed—to be a mother?
Chelsea: I would say: “Just show up. Just be present.” He’s not going to have the answers, as much as he might want to. But just show up—hold her when she’s crying or when yet another pregnancy announcement comes on Facebook®. There are the quiet, hard moments that are just difficult. They’re hard, and you don’t post on Facebook when you’ve had a hard day; at least, not many of us do. So to know what’s going to be hard for her.
Michael knows that it was actually Thanksgiving when I found out I couldn’t have children, so that’s a tender time for my heart. So know the tender points for your wife and how to care for her well.
The five love languages—everyone receives love differently—learn hers! Learn how to care for her in suffering well. Maybe she needs an hour by herself to cry and process, and doesn’t need anyone there. Maybe she needs someone to hold her when she’s crying, or to go for a walk. Learn what helps her—just be present.
Bob: Yes; and to the young woman, who’s listening, who was at the grocery store earlier this week and saw a mom with two little kids, and she’s pregnant with a third.
Bob: And every time she sees a scene like that, it just comes back to her. You’ve had those moments.
Chelsea: I’ve been there. I could not go to Walmart® for a number of years, because I would see families; and it was too hard for me.
Bob: So what would you say to that young woman today?
Chelsea: I would remind her that Jesus sees, and He knows where she is, even if no one else does. Even if no one remembers to call her and ask how she’s doing, but Jesus remembers her and sees her in her pain.
I would also remind her that God promises never to leave or forsake us. That promise includes childlessness. He’ll be with us in those moments, where no one knows that we slipped away to the bathroom in the middle of church to cry; or we left Target without going to look at the purses because we saw a family, and we had to leave.
You know, the sting that another pregnancy announcement caused on our hearts; or learning how to rejoice with those who rejoice, while mourning for those who mourn.
It’s just all of those moments where it’s easy to feel forgotten. God promises that He’s right there. I would just remind her of truth, and who God is in the midst of that suffering.
Bob: Can you go to a baby shower with joy?
Chelsea: It has taken a long time. I don’t go to every baby shower I’m invited to, and people understand. Because I’ve shared my story a little bit more publicly, people understand that, sometimes, it’s too hard. I try to go when it’s very close friends, but I don’t go to every one I’m invited to.
Bob: Yes; I get that.
Dennis: I’d give that young lady some other comforting words by putting a copy of your book in her hands.
Dennis: And I’ll tell you why this book is helpful. It not only has your story, and how you processed this—and how Michael has helped you process it—
Dennis: —but in the back of your book—and I think this is really excellent. You’ve got 30 Scriptures to sustain you in the midst of childlessness.
Chelsea: I do.
Dennis: I think the Bible comes alive—the Psalms come alive—
Dennis: —when you’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death, and you’ve lost something dear to your heart. I’m glad you’ve anchored your book—
Chelsea: Thank you.
Dennis: —in pointing people back to trusting God and believing His Word, even when you don’t feel like it.
Dennis: Chelsea, thanks for how you’ve handled the valley, and how you’re continuing to handle it. Send me a birth announcement when you adopt your first one.
Chelsea: I will! [Laughter]
Bob: By the way, I happen to know where people can easily get a copy of your book, Longing for Motherhood. We happen to have it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com to order your copy; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY, and we’ll mail the book out to you. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can order by calling 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” The name of the book is Longing for Motherhood by Chelsea Sobolik.
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And with that, we’re done for this week. I hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend; and I hope you can join us back on Monday, when we’re going to talk to Dr. Ramona Probasco. She was involved in an abusive marriage for many years. She now helps women and men, who are experiencing domestic violence. We’ll talk with her about her own story and about what to do if your spouse is physically abusing you. I hope you can tune in for that on Monday.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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