Janice: Shannon, thank you so much for joining us today.
This week is National Infertility Awareness Week and we are so pleased to be featuring your book Inconceivable which chronicles your personal journey through infertility. It is a deeply personal and honest memoir.
What prompted you to write your story?
Shannon: Janice, thank you so much for giving me an opportunity to talk a bit about the book. Infertility is such a devastating condition, and I’m certain that among your readers there are most definitely some women suffering in silence.
That’s actually why I agreed to write Inconceivable. I happened to room with Mary McNeil one spring while we both taught at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference, and after we spent the week getting to know each other and swapping life stories, she asked if I’d write the book. She said it was important to Cook that they offer a book written by a woman who had never achieved conception, because it seemed that most of the books on the market were written by authors who had suffered only temporary infertility.
I saw her point, but I still had to go home and do a lot of soul-searching before I’d commit to the project. I knew that in order to write the book well, I’d have to reopen old wounds and revisit pain I’d been happy to leave behind. But while I prayed and fretted about whether or not I wanted to go back to all that, God reminded me of how alone I had felt during those years, and how it seemed that no one understood the depth of my grief. I would have loved reading the testimony of a woman who had come to terms with her condition and was in a place of peace, because that seemed like such an impossibility to me. I truly believed, in those early days, that I would hurt forever.
So with those women in mind, I set to writing. And yes, I cried nearly every day that I wrote. The topic—and memories—demanded it. But God is so good! He didn’t keep me in that place for long. As soon as the book was finished, all the wounds closed again.
Janice: As you said, you wrote this book for women who are struggling with infertility and “have reached a decisive end.” But it also has a powerful message for all of us in our relationship with God, and especially for those who have suffered extreme loss or pain.
Did you intend for these other audiences? Are you surprised at the response you have received from readers who are not struggling with infertility?
Shannon: I’m glad you mentioned that, Janice. No, I didn’t have those other audiences in mind when I started. In fact, I didn’t have much in mind at all. I really don’t know how I feel about something until I write about it, so I encountered many surprises along the way. And somewhere in the midst of the work, I began to realize how many “carry-over” lessons I was uncovering. It became clear that the truths God began revealing to me through my own journey would apply to any loss, any grief, any disappointment. I actually wished we hadn’t geared it so tightly toward infertility, simply because the message is so much broader.
So in that sense, I haven’t been surprised at the reactions I’ve received—I’d say I’m more relieved. I’m thankful that other readers are seeing themselves in my journey, regardless of the differences of our circumstances. I’ve heard from readers all over. Those who are dealing with infertility say things like, “You read my thoughts,” or “I never knew anyone else understood.” Others hone in on my relationship with God, and all the misconceptions He had to heal before my mind and heart could see Him in a true light. Just this week, a woman told me that she re-read one passage (in which I wrote, early in the journey, that I was convinced God was too busy with more important things to notice my pain) over and over. She said, “I could never put into words what I believed about God—but you wrote exactly what I feel.” It was a great privilege to tell this woman that God counts all her heartbeats, saves her tears, and watches her when she sleeps. That’s what I love most about the “promotional” phase of this book—getting to tell women how precious they are to God, and that He has a particular plan for each one of them, and sees around all their corners. I can say that now because I know it’s true. God convinced me of His love—and made me understand that it wasn’t dependent on anything I could “produce” for Him.
Janice: Your story helps us understand the agony infertile women endure. Reading it can help us to be more empathetic to their unique pain.
I was wondering if you had any advice about how can we best support a friend or family member who is struggling with infertility? What should and shouldn’t we say or do?
Shannon: That’s a great question. The first thing I’d suggest is that you pray for your friend or loved one. And not just once—make it a regular commitment. Pray that God works His perfect will in her heart and in her life. Pray that she clings to Him. Pray that she lets Him comfort her.
After that, I’d say, “Don’t say too much” and “Don’t say too little.” Under the “Don’t say too much” category, try to minimize talk of your own pregnancy, your own children, your sister-in-law’s birth story, etc. Sometimes people can be very insensitive in their choice of topics. Under “Don’t say too little,” my advice is to open the door so your friend or loved one knows you’re a listening ear. Tell her you’re there whenever she wants to vent. Better yet, offer to pray with her. Make it known that you’re not uncomfortable with the topic … but leave the timing to her.
As to baby showers (which are understandably difficult), don’t place guilt on her if she chooses not to attend. Some women simply cannot. Again, if you have an open relationship with her and have already broached the subject, it will be easier to talk about these uncomfortable situations.
Be sensitive to her around Mother’s Day. I know one woman who said, “If my husband insists I go to church this Mother’s Day, I’ll go, but I’ll spend the entire service in the ladies’ room.” That’s heart-breaking. I wish I could sit down with every pastor for just twenty minutes and hash out the whole “Mother’s Day” thing. Those who have their eyes opened (like my own husband) try to honor all the women of the church, rather than honoring mothers. It’s unbelievably excruciating to be the only adult woman sitting down while all the “blessed” ones get to stand and be honored. There’s no more difficult day on the calendar than Mother’s Day. This would be a wonderful time to send a card to your friend letting her know what you’ve gained from her friendship, how much influence she’s had in your life (or your family), how she’s mentored you, etc. It’s not necessary to mention the “M” word; just let her know you consider her a gift.
And lastly, try not to ever say, “It will happen as soon as you relax,” “The minute you adopt, you’ll get pregnant,” or “You’re not pregnant yet because you don’t have enough faith.” Not only are those statements not true, they’re not helpful.
Janice: You also have a popular blog called Wind Scraps. How has blogging enhanced your life?
Shannon: I could give you so many answers! I’m so thankful for the great friendships I’ve gained through my blog; I adore the immediacy of blogging (unlike traditional publication, which can take 18 months or longer, you get nearly immediate feedback with blogging); I appreciate the chance to meet and speak with readers and other writers.
But if I had to choose the one thing I love most about blogging, it’s the fact that every post is a great, big fishing expedition. You happen upon an interesting conversation or notice a spiritual application to some mundane life moment, and you sit down and write it up. And then you hit “publish.” You have no idea who will swim by your site that particular day, but God does. He sends someone who needs what He gave you. They bite. They chew. Sometimes, they let you know they were there. And there’s absolutely nothing more rewarding to me than having someone respond and tell me, “God spoke to me through what you wrote.” I’m in awe that God permits us to partner with Him through words, and that He chooses useless vessels to be His scribes. So until He says, “Enough,” I’ll keep blogging.
Shannon: Janice, thank you so much. I pray that God blesses you and Susan for the work you’re doing here at 5 Minutes for Mom. And may He bless your readers!