On Fertility Struggles, Mental Health, and Finding the Divine in the Hard Things

Hello Presbyterian Interwebs, 

I’m reporting to you live from my toilet, where I sit, hunched over a pregnancy test, attempting to will a positive result into existence via telekinesis.  

(It’s not working.) 

I’ve been here before. Telekinesis is just the latest failed tactic I have employed in my fertility journey so far.   

The journey started over three years ago when, at 30, I proudly asked my gynecologist to remove my (trusty) IUD. I, a responsible multi-racial, indigenous millennial woman, had entered adulthood sans a baby out of wedlock. I was triumphant. I had “made it,” I thought. Surely pregnancy would be an immediate reality. Just as the weird, animated video they showed us in 7th grade sex-ed taught me, it would only be a matter of time, science, and the magic of anthropomorphic sperm and ovaries. Then BOOM. Pregnant.  

 That’s how it was supposed to happen. I had no reason to think it wouldn’t happen this way. My brother slipped out 6 (incredible) children before he turned 40. I was still young and healthy. And I didn’t even want 6 kids, just 1.5! I was being reasonable. This was a fair expectation of reality.  

Mari and her husband, Hank, in the spring following Mari’s miscarriage.

Until I learned that it wasn’t. 

As fate (or predestination) would have it, my first pregnancy would be an ectopic one. According to our pals at the Mayo Clinic, ectopic pregnancies occur “when a fertilized egg implants and grows outside the main cavity of the uterus. An ectopic pregnancy most often occurs in a fallopian tube, which carries eggs from the ovaries to the uterus.” These pregnancies cannot proceed normally and are life-threatening when left untreated.   

Unlucky for me, this meant that my right tube became collateral damage, resulting in emergency surgery to treat internal bleeding and remove the growing tissue.  

Transpiring in parallel was a global pandemic and the end of my tenure at a toxic company. Between being escorted out of my first building, mask mandates, and asking ER doctors if I would have died in Elizabethan England, I was bleeding through tampons and grieving a pregnancy and child that never would be.    

What had I stepped into? What was this vortex of grief, failure, humiliation, inadequacy, and desolation? What could be next? How would life be possible in the face of such profound personal and professional defeat?   

I had nothing. Nothing to give the world. Nothing to give my partner, family, friends, or former colleagues. Nothing to make my ancestors (even the most forgiving ones) proud. Where was my faith? My soul and spirit had been pulverized into millions of microscopic shards —threatening death by a thousand cuts.   

With nothing left to do, nothing left to give, and nothing left to believe, I slept. I slept for days, weeks, and months. I slept through birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries (including my own). Who knew that exhaustion could be ferocious, insidious even? Confined to my bed, sleep was the only source of solace for a restless mind and broken soul. It would be months before I’d be capable of leaving my house. I was a ghost amongst the living, paying penance for a life not well lived.  

And, for a while, this was my reality. Paralyzed by grief, humiliation, and the injustice of it all, I had to learn that happiness and faith weren’t binary objects, but living, breathing entities. Some days, this manifested itself in being able to return simple texts messages. Other days, it meant taking a shower. One day it meant digging up part of our front yard to plant sunflowers. The Divine was still there, even when I couldn’t see it, even when I couldn’t feel it, and especially, even when I didn’t believe it.  

Unbeknownst to me, second by second, hour by hour, day by day, I was learning how to live again.  

Lest I give you, the reader, the impression that I did this on my own. I did not. This ordeal was survivable thanks to my partner, mother, best friends, and countless others who went out of their ways to remind me, every day, that this life was still worth living. The Divine had blessed me and I had not even known it. 

A special kind of magic is created during the healing process that often goes unnoticed. Prone to keloids, my ectopic scars are still dark and thick, serving as symbols of survival amidst the melancholy. 

I wish I could say that we’ve reached the climax of this story—that I have a perfect resolution, ending and lesson to tie everything up neatly with a bow. I don’t. Only months after my first failed pregnancy, I’d have another in the form of a miscarriage. While, it still felt like another failure, another loss, I had been here before.  

This time, it took less of me to heal, and I’ve remained in this place ever since. It’s not necessarily one of peace, but rather, progress. Every day is an act of simple of resistance—proving to myself that I can do hard things. That I could survive hard things and that the Divine was there, even when I was too blinded by grief to see her. 

These lessons have remained soul saving to this day. Life now is consumed with milligrams upon milligrams of fertility medication that make my body and mind feel like foreign places. And while I remain grateful to the health insurance that makes this possible, I resent that doctors’ offices, invasive ultrasounds, failed IUIs and countless labs have become part of my norm.  

As another Mother’s Day fades into the rearview mirror, I continue to reach to the Divine for strength and keloid scars as reminders of resilience. I don’t know that I’ll ever heal completely (do we ever?), but I do know that I am healing. With that, I leave you with a quote I discovered while perusing mental health apps in the Apple App Store:

“I realize that if I were stable and steady and static, I would be living death. So I accept confusion and uncertainty and fear and emotional highs and lows because they are the price I willingly pay for a flowing, perplexing, exciting life.” 

Rogers, C., 1980.  A Way of Being. 

Mari Graham Evans is the manager of digital and social media within the Communications ministry of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.