Lucy turns 15 today. In her honor I thought I’d relate the story of her birth.
When Cheryl and I married in June, 1991, we spent the first two years enjoying our freedom. We both worked (I’m a CPA, Cheryl was an RN), and we had fun being with each other without a lot of responsibilities and with a decent amount of disposable income. It was really nice. After two years, however, we (it was mostly ‘we’, you could probably also substitute ‘she’ as the pronoun here) decided to try to start a family. When we made this decision, I remember thinking that we wouldn’t be able to get pregnant and that I’d be the problem. I have no idea why I thought this – I’m the furthest thing from a mystical person – but I just had the feeling that I wouldn’t be able to father a child. Sure enough, after a year of trying, nothing happened.
At this point, my wife told me that we should get things checked out and that it was much easier to get me checked as a man than it would be for her. The plan was to see if I was OK, then move on to her assuming I didn’t have any issues. I agreed to this without really understanding what “getting me checked out” entailed. When I was told to report to a lab, and when I walked into a lab in the middle of the afternoon and the only person there was a young girl behind a desk who handed me a small cup and told me to use a room in the back and bring it back to her “when you’re done” – I began to understand better. For the sake of a family blog, I won’t go into detail here, but suffice to say I didn’t enjoy this part of the process [I think I ended up doing this roughly five times at about three different labs over several years – again, I’ll spare you the details of some of the adventures and awkwardness that was part of this – but if you ever see a movie called Forget Paris with Billy Crystal (an otherwise forgettable film), there’s a part of the story where he has to go to a fertility clinic, and what happens to him happened to me – almost exactly – on more than one occasion.]
I remember very distinctly where I was when we got the test results from my contribution. I was at work on my last day at the job I had – I had taken a new position with a different company – and was cleaning out my desk. This was November, 1994. My phone rang and it was Cheryl – sobbing. She said my sperm count came back as zero. Not low or with some motility problems – my count was zero. As in, you stand no chance of having kids.
As I said before, I wasn’t overly surprised by this. I somehow knew I was going to be the problem. What I didn’t know, however, was how much of an effect this would have on my wife. As I saw it, this made things fairly simple. God had effectively decided we wouldn’t have kids. And I was OK with that. We loved each other, we loved being married, we had a good life, and the question of kids had just been taken out of our hands. It was a bummer, but we’d move on. I honestly thought – and if you’re a woman reading this, go ahead and shake your head and thank God you didn’t marry me – that Cheryl would have a tough few days, but after that would be fine. Yup…that’s what I thought.
Needless to say, Cheryl was not fine. She was devastated, and she stayed devastated. The finality of the whole thing I think was what was so hard. Over the next two years – until we adopted Will (spoiler alert) – she was continually reminded that we couldn’t have kids. We attended a church at the time that was filled with young couples and it seemed like someone we knew was always getting pregnant. We’d talk to couples and they’d say things like, “I can’t believe we’re pregnant again – we just looked at each other and conceived!” It was tough to take. To this day, Cheryl doesn’t celebrate Mother’s Day all that much because it used to be such a painful holiday. I remember being out to dinner one night and returning home and listening to messages on our answering machine (early nineties, remember), and Cheryl’s younger brother had left a message to the effect of “We’re pregnant, call me!” Cheryl just broke down and cried after hearing it.
After we got the test results on my sperm count we continued to talk to the urologist about possible next steps. The first thing he wanted to do was an ultra-sound of my prostate to see if something around the prostate was causing blockage. Again, I won’t go into detail here, but this was the most uncomfortable procedure I think I’ve ever endured (including the two surgeries I’ll talk about later). If you’re a man of a certain age and have had a prostate exam, picture an exam where instead of a doctor’s finger it’s a wand about six feet in diameter (that MAY be an exaggeration), and instead of a taking a few seconds it takes several minutes. That’s what this was. Probably the worst five minutes of my life. It came back as normal – no blockage found.
The next steps were outlined to me as follows. They would first do a biopsy of my testicles. This would involve actual surgery – general anesthesia and everything – where they would open up my testicles and see if they were producing sperm. Assuming they were, that would mean I had a blockage that was keeping the sperm from getting where it was supposed to go. To alleviate that, they would do another surgery and essentially do a vasectomy reversal; route around the blockage and enable the sperm to travel. If the biopsy came back as negative – meaning the testicles weren’t producing – then there wouldn’t be a next step and we were all done.
When the urologist outlined this for me – and I stopped squirming in my seat – I asked him what the odds were of getting pregnant assuming both procedures went as well as possible. He said there was about a 20%-25% chance. I verified this with him again because I wanted to make sure I understood exactly what he was saying. The bottom line is that I could have two really painful surgeries and at best have a one in four chance of getting pregnant. That made the decision easy – we weren’t going this direction.
And with that, we proceeded with adoption (again, at this point I was willing to go forward as a childless couple, but my wife essentially turned into Rachel approaching Jacob and said, “Give me children lest I DIE!”). In 1996 – after a first try at adoption failed at the last minute – we adopted our oldest son, Will. In 1998, we adopted our second son, Matt. And we were wonderfully happy as parents with two happy and healthy sons.
Until God intervened. And I believe this with all my heart. Toward the end of 2000 or early 2001, God put a thought into my head that if there was a way for Cheryl to experience childbirth, I should do whatever is necessary to find it (she had, after all, always maintained that she thought she’d look really cute in maternity clothes). So without saying anything to Cheryl, I contacted the same urology practice we had talked to before, and was referred to a urologist who specialized in fertility issues. I made an appointment with him and talked to him about the situation. I told him what we had been told six years earlier and asked if they were any better at fixing my problem today than they had been. He said things WERE better – the odds of becoming pregnant went from one in four or one in five to about one in three. The process would be the same – do the biopsy to check if my testicles were producing sperm, then do the vasectomy reversal if everything was OK. For some reason, the odds still not being all that great didn’t deter me this time. As I said before, I think God basically took over my mindset, and I scheduled the biopsy.
I will say very honestly that my hope going into the first surgery was that the results would be negative. That way I could say that I’d done everything I could, but it was out of my hands and conception wasn’t possible. Of course, that didn’t happen. The biopsy came back positive – my testicles were working great. That meant a second surgery. And whereas the first surgery was only about 30 minutes, this one was 3½ hours and much more invasive, with a much longer recovery. The first surgery was in February or March of 2001, and the second was on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend of the same year. In both cases, the surgery was outpatient and the instructions for recovery were to stay on the couch and not get up for a few days. This was advice I gladly heeded. After the second surgery, I was able to go back to work a few days after the holiday weekend, but I still couldn’t really lift anything very heavy for about the next year. [Side note – because both surgeries were elective, they weren’t covered by insurance – so just like with Will and Matt’s adoptions, Lucy’s acquisition costs were huge – I try not to think about the opportunity costs of our three kids.]
The urologist told me that the healing process would take about six months to complete. He said after about three months we should see some progress, and then after six months I’d be as fruitful as I’d ever be. After 90 days, I went back to get tested and I actually had a very low sperm count – this was good news. After six months, I went back and – miraculously – had a fantastic count. I actually measured above average. I went from zero to above normal. The urologist (who did the surgery and was a believer) was ecstatic. He actually had me look at the slide under the microscope that showed the test results. I had no idea what I was looking at, but he was so excited he hugged me. The results were WAY beyond what we could’ve hoped. What was even more – and I chose to tell him this after we had the results – was that I knew my count was good because Cheryl was already pregnant.
Yep – she was pregnant. Everything had worked. And we were really excited. After all the heartache and emotional/physical pain, Cheryl was pregnant. Things could not have turned out better. This was around November of 2001. In December, Cheryl had an appointment with the OB/GYN to check progress and hear the heartbeat for the first time. We talked about me going with her, but she decided there was no need in that it would be a quick appointment and it was just a heartbeat. She said I should go when they did the ultrasound. She told me she’d call me after the appointment and let me know what they found.
She called me at work after the appointment and to this day it was probably the most surreal conversation I’ve ever had with her. She first told me about something unrelated having to do with some plans we had with friends – just something totally mundane as if this were a normal call and nothing urgent. Then she said, “Hey, bad news – there was no heartbeat – the baby isn’t alive.” Her tone was almost casual – it was REALLY bizarre. She was so matter‐of‐fact about it that at first I didn’t even understand what she meant. I had to ask a couple of questions just to make sure I was fully comprehending things.
I left work immediately and went home to be with her. She continued to be OK. She wasn’t in shock and it wasn’t like she wasn’t dealing with reality. I honestly think it was simply God protecting her. It was almost like He said, “After all the drama you’ve been through with kids, I got this one.” [She had been to a Bible study Christmas party that day before the appointment, and they had given out little favors. The favors were supposed to look like an angel – kind of a craft‐angel made with white lace. That little angel is still in our bedroom on a shelf. You’d never notice it if you walked in our room, but it’s her reminder of that baby.]
The bad news (or more bad news) was that the baby was still inside her. She hadn’t miscarried in the traditional sense. That meant she had to have a D&C, which meant outpatient surgery for her. I remember thinking it was weird to be with her coming out of surgery after her being with me for my two surgeries. Between us we had three surgeries in 2001.
She had to recover for three months before we could try conceiving again. Thankfully, that’s exactly what happened. After three months, Cheryl was pregnant (we figured out that if I had been born with everything intact, we would’ve had about six kids – we conceived very easily). The pregnancy went very smoothly, Cheryl looked great in maternity clothes, and on December 29, 2002, Lucy Loy came into the world.
Once Lucy was born and healthy and thriving, I went back to the urologist and had a vasectomy. I figured I had had my fruitful time, my wife got to experience childbirth, and it was time to end the party. And what was one more testicular procedure at that point? We had proved that we could get pregnant very easily – it was too risky to continue my window of fertility.
And that brings us to today – Lucy’s fifteenth birthday. She’s happy, healthy, a heck of an athlete, and a walking testimonial – just like her brothers – to God’s sovereignty, mercy, and grace. God caused the timing and the heartache and the medical procedures all to coalesce into a beautiful daughter. And as always, He knew what He was doing and did it all in His time. I am so thankful that His ways are truly not our ways. I wouldn’t have designed things to go as they did, but I wouldn’t now go back and change a single detail.
So happy birthday to Lucy. I love her to death and am over-the-moon proud of her. And I love that she has a unique story all her own of how God brought her into the world.