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When Mandy and John Nielsen got married, they planned to wait a year before trying for a baby, but after a short time and with prayer, they felt prompted to try for a child sooner. What they didn’t know was their wait time would be much longer than a year before a baby would come.
A couple months went by and a couple more months went by and nothing happened. No pregnancy. Mandy felt like she was constantly stuck in limbo—an endless waiting period—and each month began a new process of grief. “You get your hopes up and then you see the signs that you’re not pregnant and then you still hope you are and then you go through denial and then anger and eventually acceptance, and then it starts all over again the next month. It’s so emotionally draining and feels fruitless, like why would I experience this? Either take away the desire to have children or take away the trial. Having them both coexist at the same time felt so cruel.”
What made their yearning for a child so much more poignant was the deep feelings they had that they had a baby girl waiting to come to their family. They knew her. They felt her. They knew the Lord had told them to move forward and try for a baby, but Mandy couldn’t help but ask, “Why would we have this really strong impression to have a child if the Lord is not really going to bless us with said child?” It was with discouragement that they went to the OB/GYN a year later to try some minimally invasive methods of fertility. After a couple months of trying a medicine called Clomid with no results, they decided they needed more help and went in to see a reproductive endocrinologist.
The endocrinologist told them there was no reason Mandy could not get pregnant—all the tests came back normal. Knowing this made it even more difficult when she went through three IUIs (intrauterine insemination) and a surgery with no success. A year and a half into their fertility journey, they decided to take a break. Fertility treatments were emotionally and financially draining, and Mandy felt lost and angry at God. She had been previously been through a painful divorce, John had waited 34 years to get married, and they were navigating helping Mandy’s son Mason transition into their new marriage with his own emotional struggles and learning disabilities. “Why can’t we have what we want when it’s clearly so good and it’s something God had told us?”
Mason began praying every night for a baby sister. When they found out that Mandy’s brother and sister-in-law were expecting, Mason said he didn’t want to pray anymore because Heavenly Father and Jesus didn’t answer his prayers. Mandy grappled with what to say to her son because on the inside she was screaming, “You’re right! They don’t answer our prayers!” This caused her to dig deep. What did she believe? What did she know? All she knew was what Nephi proclaimed: “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things,” (1 Nephi 11:17).
During one of Mandy’s darkest times, John told her about an experience he had when they were dating when he felt similar. He knew God wanted them to get married but there were so many obstacles. Why would God put so many obstacles in front of something so good and right? His words changed Mandy’s perspective: “Maybe we have had all these experiences not to taunt us but to give us strength that we will be able to do whatever is necessary to have a baby.”
In another moment, Mandy remembers praying and getting a strong impression that the children that she would have were God’s children first. “They are the Lord’s children that I get to take care of and raise on earth, but they have their own unique plan and time to come and things to learn. And it’s not just about me wanting to be a mother. It’s about these children having what they need and when they need it to fulfill their mission, and that the Lord loves me perfectly, but he loves them perfectly too and knows what they need and when they need it. That helped me in the good moments be a little bit more accepting and in the bad moments feel a little less heartbroken.”
Mandy didn’t see an immediate solution to her own infertility, but she decided to get involved in the Utah Infertility Resource Center, a nonprofit to support families facing infertility. She started volunteering, advocating, and eventually got a job as their marketing coordinator. Through her research and involvement, she found that not only were there other couples facing the grief she felt so keenly, but it was an extremely common issue—1 in 8 couples struggle with infertility. “That is a huge number of people. [I finally knew] I wasn’t alone and that there was work I could do to give my struggle meaning, to give my struggle depth.”
Mandy again began to feel that it was time to take some bigger steps to get this promised baby here. She began to see that maybe their miracle would not be a spontaneous pregnancy but that things could align in a way to make another fertility treatment possible. Their next fertility option was IVF (In Vitro Fertilization), which is a process of harvesting eggs, fertilizing them outside of the body, and placing an embryo back inside the uterus. Not only was this a complicated process involving almost 300 shots, this would cost them $20,000, none of which would be covered by insurance.
They didn’t have that kind of money, but they prayed to know what Heavenly Father wanted them to do—they needed clarity and direction. Money did not appear in the bank account, but they were blessed with ideas. Mandy proposed to trade marketing and social media hours to offset doctor costs, which the doctor accepted. She also felt strongly that they needed to sell their home, and in buying another house, they had extra savings to put toward IVF. With work and sacrifice, they were ready to begin the process.
Mandy’s protocol was two shots a day for a month and then 4-5 shots a day for the last month, each of which were infusing her body with hormones to produce eggs at an accelerated rate. While most women only produce one mature egg follicle per month, with IVF, Mandy grew 12 eggs in one month. After surgical removal, the eggs were injected with sperm and then they had to wait. With each day they would get a call with an update—each day fewer and fewer eggs were growing. With genetic testing, they finally found the genetic problem that had been preventing them from having children and also found that only two embryos were normal—a boy and a girl.
A surgery and a month later, Mandy walked into the doctor’s office with John wearing a shirt that said, “As I Breathe I Hope”. She had been heartbroken so many times, tried so many things, and nothing had worked. The grief of infertility had been her constant companion for three years, and that day, as they went to have the embryo placed inside her uterus, all she could do was hope. In fact, hope had become their mantra. Mandy wore a locket charm that said hope on it, Mandy’s mother-in-law wore a bracelet that said hope on it, and on the wall of their home was the Emily Dickinson poem that read:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
When they put the embryo inside of her, it was too small to see, but across the ultrasound screen, she could see a flash of light where the catheter deposited the embryo. Mandy remembers in that moment thinking, “That’s it. That’s our baby.” After that, Mandy and John chose to hold onto hope and pray with everything they had. Even with IVF, there is still only a 40% chance of actually having a baby. They knew with all of the miracles leading up to this embryo being placed inside of her, it would still require a miracle to have this baby.
When Mandy began to feel nauseous, she took a pregnancy test. When the results were ready, she stared down at the test in agony—it was negative. She called John and wept over the news, but he said, “No, I know that it’s going to be ok. Whatever happens it will be ok. Our little girl will come to us somehow.” They knew this little spirit and knew she was meant to be a part of their family.
Mandy took another pregnancy test the next day and it was positive. “When I started throwing up every single moment of every single day, I knew that the pregnancy was going to stick,” Mandy said. Going to their first ultrasound and seeing their baby girl’s heart beat flicker on the screen brought tears to their eyes. It was miraculous that after everything there was really a baby growing inside of her. John talked to their baby girl every day, believing beyond belief, hoping beyond hope that this child would come. “Wherever you are,” he would say, “I love you and we will wait for you. You can come to Earth any time.”
Mandy was induced and had severe hemorrhaging during labor, requiring three blood transfusions. Their little baby’s lungs were filled with liquid and she turned blue with lack of oxygen. Both Mandy and the baby went through near-death trauma, but in this moment of chaos, they held on to the mantra that became their tender child’s name—Hope.
When they brought Hope home from the hospital and into a nursery that had been empty for so long awaiting her arrival, it was a moment of healing for their family. They rejoice every day in the miracle of this beautiful, bright-spirited girl being a part of their family. Everyone that meets this little baby loves her and feels how special she is.
But even with this miraculous child in their lives, Mandy’s journey with infertility is not over. She understands that not only does it take two people, but a whole team of professionals for them to bring children into the world. For others, their infertility story may not end in having a baby.
“There’s nothing shameful [about infertility],” Mandy said. “It doesn’t mean that you aren’t righteous or worthy or loved because you are going through something hard. You wouldn’t blame someone with cancer that they were less righteous. Infertility is a disease—it’s a medical condition. It’s not a lack of faith or the fault of sins. It’s medical. If you wouldn’t say it to someone with cancer, you shouldn’t say it to someone with infertility.”
For those who struggle with an inability to have children, “Mother’s Day is brutal and infertility doesn’t go away,” Mandy said. Her journey has made her more aware of how she talks about trials and how she treats others, especially at church. When people make offhand comments or ask prying questions like, “Are you going to have another kid?” she now knows for some people, that is a $20,000-$30,000 question. She has been open with the Young Women she teaches about her journey and has found solace in helping other women know that they are not alone in waiting on children to come. “Don’t lose hope even if treatments don’t work or doctors fail,” Mandy said. “Never give up the hope that the Lord will always fulfill His promises, even if it’s not in this life.” Elder Holland’s words epitomize the hope Mandy wants all women to feel no matter how long their wait is. “Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come.”