A Change of Perspective

By Shannon Drees

When I first read my patriarchal blessing as a teenager, I was overwhelmed by how many references there were to being a mother and raising my children in the gospel. So years later after my husband, Brian, and I were married I had every expectation that becoming pregnant and expanding our family would happen quickly and without complication.

However, time passed with no success. Since we were unaware of any fertility problems in our families, we kept our struggle to ourselves. We stayed busy with school and thought that maybe Heavenly Father was using this as a way to tell us that there were other things we needed to be doing for now. I found contentment in following President Gordon B. Hinckley’s counsel to obtain as much education as possible1 by earning an additional college degree.

But more time passed, and still we had no children. It was emotionally frustrating and, at times, heartbreaking. We were in a married student ward for a time and were surrounded by peers who were having children. We felt left out, and it was hard not to wonder if Heavenly Father loved those couples more than us or if they were somehow more deserving than we were. I often asked myself “What am I doing wrong that Heavenly Father is not entrusting me with the opportunity to be a mother?” Asking those kinds of questions, which were full of fear and doubt, became a destructive mind game.

Then I would reassure myself that something would eventually “just work.” I’d heard those stories before—the ones of couples who hadn’t been able to have children and then suddenly could, as though a light had been switched on. I assumed that eventually the light switch would turn on and things would work for us too. We would be one of those amazing stories.

I saw several doctors, none of which could explain our struggles. I left each appointment feeling more confused and hopeless.

The idea of drowning myself in my work to escape the emotional stress of infertility began to sound appealing. So when I received a job offer that would require an extensive workweek commitment, I considered taking it. But after consulting the option with my husband, we decided to against my accepting that position.

My husband’s career moved us to a new city. The hospitals there had better technology than the ones where we lived previously had, and we went to a new doctor. He told us he’d seen couples with similar situations and suggested we try a new regimen with medication. It was something we’d try for six months; he said that if it didn’t work during that time period, it never would.

It didn’t work. I will never forget the day our doctor gave us the news that, based on our lab results, he didn’t think that we’d ever be able to conceive. That felt like a death sentence to me, like there was no hope at all.

The fear cycle started all over again. I wanted to do everything in our power to fulfill our divine roles as parents. But that desire crossed over into a fixation, and fixations are draining and exhausting. Infertility was on my mind all the time, and it consumed me.

In addition to worrying about my physical and emotional well-being, I began to worry about my spiritual well-being. I was fasting and praying and attending the temple faithfully, but I didn’t feel that I was getting any direction or explanation. It seemed unusual not to receive any kind of answer. It was as though Heavenly Father wasn’t hearing me. I knew that wasn’t true—God loves His children and doesn’t abandon them—so I began to wonder if I were causing the problem. I started wondering what I was doing wrong and what I could do to fix it.

I continued to struggle for a long time. Fortunately during all of this emotional turmoil, I had a wonderful and supportive husband to lean on. Brian listened patiently to what I was thinking and tried to understand my viewpoint as best as he could. This, I felt, was a tremendous blessing.

As time passed, I realized that I needed to do something with my life besides mourn what I didn’t have. I decided to start focusing on the positive things about my life. And slowly, I found myself finding opportunities to contribute to my family—my husband and I were, after all, a family of two—to our extended families, to the Church, and to our community. Parenthood was one way to contribute, I decided, but it wasn’t the only way.

When I was blessed with this new mindset, I became excited to see what I could do and finding options that I might not have otherwise seen for my life.

I had an opportunity to work for the physical facilities at Brigham Young University—Idaho, where I had previously been an architecture student. It felt good to go to work every day and to “give back” to the school that had meant so much to me. While I was working there, I was asked to help with the construction documentation of the Rexburg Idaho Temple. It was a huge boost to my self-worth to know—and have someone recognize—that I had the skills to be of service in such a sacred and unique circumstance.

I grew my skills outside my career as well. I volunteered to help with functions at church. I pursued crafts and other personal projects that were enjoyable and fulfilling. I even tried cooking and several other things that were miserable failures at first. But I learned that just because I’m not an instant success doesn’t mean I can’t get better.

The shift affected how I interacted with people too. To my surprise, in one ward, we learned that we were one of several couples struggling with infertility. Suddenly I felt anything but alone. These couples have become good friends as they have shared their experiences and insights. We also developed great friendships with other people who do have children. While I had previously felt isolated or ostracized at church, I realized that people weren’t ignoring me because I didn’t have children. Rather, it was me who was distancing myself from other others. As I shared my life with people, they shared their lives with me. And I discovered I need not feel frustration because Brian and I aren’t on the same “schedule” as other couples—there isn’t just one identical life path for everyone to follow!

That longing I had to nurture—that I thought could be fulfilled only in motherhood—has found expression in other places. So many of my colleagues struggle at home or in their personal life and need a listening ear. So many community organizations need helping hands. We don’t have to limit ourselves by a narrow set of parameters in determining how and where and in what ways we’ll help others.

The change I have experienced hasn’t been instantaneous. It has come gradually. And it has come with perspective—looking back, I can recognize blessings and opportunities that perhaps I didn’t appreciate fully in the moment.

I can attest today that happiness has come from looking at the positive aspects of my situation. Choosing to be optimistic and focus on what I do have instead of on what I do not have has helped me see the bigger picture of my life—and the hand of the Lord in it.

Yes, I still hope to be on the parenthood track one day, but in the meantime, there are so many things to experience and ways to contribute. In finding out the work that Heavenly Father has for us, as individuals, to do, we can grow in ways that are exciting and fulfilling. And we can grow closer to Him.