It always seemed to me like the most natural thing to marry and have children. In fact, some women seemed to get pregnant with such little effort that I assumed I would have a similar experience when I got married.
Imagine my bewilderment, surprise and distress as the years wore on when I realised pregnancy was not going to be as straightforward a path as I’d expected it to be.
My husband Shane and I loved children and wanted our own as soon as we could. We were also serving as missionaries and within our first two years of marriage had led our first team and planted our first church.
Our first few years as a couple were fun and we worked hard and grew together; we were just two ordinary people with a passionate love for God and His Kingdom. But it was during these exciting years that we began to sense that we might have difficulties in starting a family.
LIVING THROUGH THE UNEXPLAINED
We went for some tests about three years into our marriage and our results came back normal. There was no medical reason why we couldn’t have a baby – the doctors just called it “unexplained infertility”.
All around us, people were getting pregnant. Old friends would call to say they’d just found out they were expecting their first child or had just gotten pregnant again, and although I was delighted for them, I did feel sorry for myself. Why couldn’t I have a baby? Why me? What did I do wrong?
What could I now offer this marriage if I was barren?
As a Christian leader I felt that I should have been able to pray and see breakthrough in this area. But the journey was, at times, very emotional – and emotions so often skew our thinking. I even told Shane that he should have married someone else (thankfully, he didn’t share the same sentiment). I just felt so sorry because I knew how much he wanted to be a dad.
Despite my feelings of inadequacy as a woman and wife, I wrestled within my faith and brought the hard questions to God. Did I follow Jesus simply because I wanted Him to answer my prayers the way I desired? Or would I continue to declare Him my Lord and Saviour even when the heavens seemed to be silent?
Over the years, getting asked whether we had children by every new person we met as we ministered in different countries did not get any less painful. And if I was open about my grief, that meant people checking up on us often to see if there was any news.
Gradually, those who knew us avoided mentioning pregnancy. Others assumed we were too busy with our work that took us around the world. This left me feeling even more isolated and alone in my struggle.
THE WAITING ROOM YEARS
Have you ever tried waiting for something you aren’t sure will ever come? When days stretch into months, months stretch into years, then decades …
But we somehow never gave up expecting. We believed there was no mistake that God had called us together. So together we pursued everything we were comfortable with medically, although this stopped short of IVF (in-vitro fertilisation) as it was both extremely expensive and too much of a risk for heartbreak than we were willing to put ourselves through.
We went forward for every prayer call for couples wanting children, even though it was embarrassing to be increasingly known across our global church community over the years as “the couple trying for kids”.
Into our tenth year of marriage, someone gave us a prophetic word that we would be like Abraham and Sarah – fruitful in our old age. It was comforting, but little did we know then that we would truly walk a similar path: Abraham and Sarah waited more than two decades from the time they were given their promise of a child before he was finally born.
Shane and I also decided to pray about this issue only when our church was in a season of prayer and fasting. This happened about four times a year. To us, it was too distressing and inward-looking to pray about every day.
So four times a year we focussed on our desires for a child, and for the rest of the time we let it rest in God’s hands, choosing to pursue the greater things on His heart for His Church and the world.
Shane used to tell people whenever they asked us about having children: “They’re on order – they just haven’t been delivered yet!”
THERE IS ALWAYS A PLAN
Strangely, the more I settled in my heart that I was loved and valued with or without kids, that I could make my life count even if I never had children – the more I grew in expectation that a miracle could happen.
I learned to dig deep into the Word of God to find my peace and stability in Him. To be grateful for what I had, not fixated on what I did not have. And by His grace, my tendency to compare myself to other women slowed to a stop as I kept my eyes set on the path He was leading me on. I may not have chosen it for myself, but it was His chosen path for me, not anyone else.
About 14 years into the wait, I received an unexpected answer to a prayer I’d prayed many times in the early days. I had asked Him many times then: “Why God? Was it something I did?”
That day, I was reading the first chapter of Luke, which details the story of Zachariah and Elizabeth. As I skimmed through the well-known story, I felt the Lord ask me for my name.
“My name is Susan, Lord,” I replied. But the question came again: “What is your name?”
I repeated myself, but then I realised my middle name is Elizabeth, just like Elizabeth in Luke 1, the mother of John the Baptist. Suddenly what I’d been reading struck my heart; it felt like a personal answer from God Himself.
“And they were both righteous in the sight of God walking blameless in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. And they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren and they were both advanced in years.” (Luke 1:6-7)
After all the years of wondering if I’d done something to deserve this long-drawn predicament, this was a huge encouragement from the Lord. It wasn’t my fault, or anyone’s fault. He was doing something. He had a plan!
Nothing actually changed immediately – and with every passing year I knew my fertility level was plummeting – but it was time to believe Him for an outright miracle.
HOLDING ON THROUGH THE STORM
As we approached the second decade of our marriage, Shane and I relocated from Singapore to the United Kingdom to engage in church pioneering again. From there, he oversaw 12 churches across Europe. You could say we were believing God for the birth of more churches and a baby!
Sometime that year I missed a period, and to our surprise and delight, a pregnancy test showed I was pregnant. I was still in my first trimester, but we were so excited we told our families and close friends. My body felt wonderfully pregnant and it seemed as though our dreams had come true at last.
But during a 10-week scan, almost three months into our joy, the doctors were unable to find the foetus. We soon discovered that I was having what was known as a “ghost pregnancy” or a blighted ovum. That’s when the fertilised egg starts to grow, only to later disintegrate, leaving the gestational sac empty and the body still believing it is pregnant. Shortly after, I miscarried.
This entire episode was devastating to say the least. It felt like destiny was playing some perverted joke on us. I wasn’t sure how we’d ever get over this blow – all my husband and I could do was lean on our faith and ask God to pull us through.
And if that wasn’t the darkest point of our journey of faith, I found a small lump on the side of my throat the following year, and the biopsy tested positive for thyroid cancer. This was the start of multiple operations, radioactive iodine treatment and serious measures to ensure I didn’t fall pregnant, as the baby would be potentially affected by the radiation in my body.
We couldn’t believe what was happening to us. The cancer was a huge shock and it really felt like the devil was trying to take my life. I was upset but refused to be defeated. My hopes of ever conceiving were further away than ever before and now my own life was at stake, but I was determined not to go down without a fight.
This would simply be another stretch of faith.
THE GREAT PROMISE KEEPER
I emerged from the battle with cancer a little more than a year later, now over 40 years old and medically even less able to have a child due to the treatment my body had undergone.
But barely a month later, I started feeling sick, which terrified me because I thought I might’ve been ill again. Then, I realised I’d missed my period.
Finding out I was pregnant again brought a flood of tears. So did hearing our baby’s heartbeat for the first time. It was unbelievable, unexpected and undeniably the work of God. Was this finally “the miracle” we’d been waiting for all these years?
I think I held my breath for 9 months.
A week before my 43rd birthday, I gave birth to our daughter Anna on October 2, 2010. Holding her in my arms for the first time was an indescribable experience. Suddenly, the 22 year wait seemed so insignificant. God had finally delivered His precious promise!
And the good news just kept coming: BBC picked up our story, followed by local papers, and before we knew it, news outlets from all around the world were calling us to run our miracle story. We believe that God was using our long journey of faith to make His name famous.
To those who are currently waiting on Him for a breakthrough or promise or miracle, here are 3 handles for holding on no matter what is happening around you:
1. When you don’t understand what is going on, get to your place of peace quickly – that is, your secret place with God
2. Don’t waste time and effort on the questions you cannot answer, or have not received an answer for
3. Stay on this truth: God is trustworthy and He has your best interests at heart – our lives rest safely in His hands
When I look at Anna, I am reminded that God is truly bigger than we think; He can do the impossible. And what He has done for us, He can do for you.