4word: COO Sandra Crawford Williamson has become not just a co-worker to me, but also one of my closest friends. With an impressive resume and marvelous faith in the Lord, Sandra truly embodies what it means to be a 4word woman. I approached Sandra about giving our readers a glimpse into a particularly painful time in her life: her struggle through two years of infertility and four miscarriages. I hope that her story of perseverance and resilience will inspire you and give you a renewed sense of hope if you are going through a similar time in your life, or know of someone who is.
Diane: You have wrestled with infertility issues in the past. Can you give us a little background on that?
Sandra: Well, I was married to my career for 15 years and had little time or thought for anything else. And try being a single, never married, 35-year-old female CEO who wants to date. Whew, that’s an entirely different story!
Then, God orchestrated an amazing series of events that led me to Jeff, and we were married just before my 37th birthday. Like most successful female executives, I had a timeline for my family life. I guess God pretty much agreed with my plan, because we conceived our first baby after being married seven months. Jenna was born easy breezy after a textbook pregnancy when I was 38.
Because I sincerely thought Jenna was the result of my efforts (eating certain things, drinking only water, taking my prenatal vitamins, keeping my ovulation calendar, etc.), I thought it would happen again, and it did. When Jenna was about one, we began trying to conceive again and did within months.
This time, my control freak timeline was not in God’s will. When I was at 13 weeks, I went in for my level two ultrasound and found out the baby had a cystic hygroma. The doctor said it was very likely that she couldn’t live outside of the womb. I was devastated, but that wasn’t the end of the bad news. That evening, my OBGYN called to say my pap smear from my 10 weeks appointment had come back, and I had full-blown cervical cancer.
Four weeks later, Baby Kathleen’s heart gave out, and she perished. I had to have her removed, and then once I’d healed from that, I began treating the cancer. I had one cancer treatment, and I was completely healed. It was miraculous. Even the doctors said they didn’t know how it had happened.
Once I healed from all of that, Jeff and I tried to get pregnant again and couldn’t. Even after the incredible journey I’d just been through with God, I still thought I could fix this on my own. I went out and found the best fertility doctor available, but nothing worked.
Diane: What treatments did you try? How did they affect you and your relationships?
Sandra: We tried pretty much everything: ovulation kits, calendars, then we escalated to testing to ensure us that all of our parts were working. Next, we tried IUI, which I called the “turkey baster technique.” Those failed treatments led us to IVF, which is a brutal, exhausting, physically demanding process.
More than that, it is a mentally challenging process, because you are the one keeping up with your injections, little vials of powder, and liquid medications that you have to mix, measure, draw, and inject. There’s no nurse to do it for you. There were many nights of 20-minute mental warfare with myself trying to get the courage up to jab that need in my gut fat. The absolute worst were the progesterone in oil injections that went into my upper thigh muscle with a huge needle.
The most amazing part of my story is that after God healed me from cancer and four miscarriages and got me off of the fertility train, I completely changed my prayer life. Rather than pray, “give me, give me, give me a baby,” I prayed for wisdom and clarity on how to face His amazing will for my life. I felt a sense of ease and freedom, because I had finally surrendered this whole issue to God.
And then after two years of drugs and loss and 8 weeks of a new prayer life, I missed my cycle and thought I was going into early menopause at 41. But, praise God, I was pregnant. The pregnancy was challenging for a multitude of reasons, but Jonah was born perfectly healthy in July 2009. He is truly a miracle from our Heavenly Father.
Diane: Now you have THREE children so there is more to the story.
Sandra: Yes, there is! God is incredible. We jokingly say that we (and a large prayer group) prayed so hard for Jonah that God REALLY delivered. When Jonah was 15 months old, God showed His amazing sense of humor. I was pregnant at 44 years old with James who was born totally healthy!
I’m so blessed. AND I think of my lost babies all of the time. I especially think of Baby Kathleen who got me to the doctor so they could find the cancer. And there’s Jenna who asks for a sister regularly. How old should she be before I tell her that she does have a baby sister and that she is waiting for her in heaven?
Diane: What was the hardest part in all of that?
Sandra: The hardest part for me was losing four babies but having nothing to hold, no one to bury, no graveside at which to sit and weep. You go home from the hospital broken and empty, and because there is no service or burial, it’s like it never happened. And because society has no idea what to say or do, most people do nothing or say really silly things. I just wanted to shout from the rooftops, “Hello people, I lost a child!” But instead I buried it inside and tried earnestly to give it to God.
Diane: What kind of support system did you have going through this?
Sandra: That’s an interesting question, because I found that going through fertility issues can be very lonely. It comes with such shame that women don’t want to talk about it with one another.
In fact, as driven, corporate women who have been successful in lots of areas, it’s hard to now find ourselves in a situation we cannot control, that no amount of research, work or money can fix. Only God can, which is very hard on our independence. As a result, we don’t open about it to other women, because goodness forbid we be seen by others as weak, especially by our coworkers and business partners.
And then husbands don’t know what to say, so they say nothing. My precious husband was there by my side, but when you’re all jacked up on hormones, feeling like a failure because you cannot conceive or carry a healthy baby to term, you aren’t the nicest, most open person.
In fact, as I experienced my four miscarriages, it was very hard for me to remember that he was going through the losses too. Some days, I know I made it all about me, and God would always pull me back to me that it was something we were going through together.
I also found that my parents’ generation was not really equipped to deal with their children going through infertility. I actually hid my struggles from my parents. Later, after I finally opened up, they were crushed. Honestly, I was glad that I didn’t share it with them at the time, because I don’t think I could have handled my parents’ emotions too.
Diane: So were you able to talk to anyone: friends, family, other women at your church?
Sandra: There were two women to whom I could talk. One was my sister, Sharon, who had sailed through three pregnancies and had three beautiful children. Another was a fabulous lady from church, Janet, who had been a mentor to me.
I found that when I did try to connect with other women who shared my struggle, because their own experiences were so unique and personal, it was hard for us to relate in great detail. They were very kind and understanding, but my sister and Janet were the two with whom I could be angry at God, pray, wallow, feel sorry for myself, etc.
The key is that the person in whom you are confiding has absolute acceptance for any feeling or thought of yours and complete surrender to God’s will so that she can only come from the perspective of “this is God’s will for your life so now let’s learn to accept it and cope.” Those two qualities make all the difference.
Diane: For our readers who have loved ones going through the same thing, how can they support them?
Sandra: Don’t stop calling! Even if she does not answer or is snippy with you and says things like, “You’ll never understand.” Send cards with supportive scripture. Take a meal or even just a Starbucks drink that lets her know you are thinking of her.
One of my miscarriages was far enough along that we knew it was a girl. We had named her Kathleen. I would have liked for someone to acknowledge her as a real little girl. One sweet friend from work gave me a Willow Tree figurine of a mommy holding a little baby with an encouraging scripture written on the bottom. That meant a lot to me, and I treasure it to this day.
My sister’s husband, Tony, actually got on the phone with me and shared specific scripture that let me know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Baby Kathleen was in heaven, that she would be waiting for me when I got there and that she would know who I am. That meant the most to me at the time and to this day.
I do think it’s tricky for co-workers to support each other like this because, in business, we want to move on professionally and not appear broken or weak. However, private moments, emails, encouragement, and gifts meant the world to me. I could still put on my brave face to the business world and not be the “victim” of infertility, but I knew that I was surrounded by support, kindness and patience. And I know they were there for me when I had a weak moment or just wanted to talk about it.
Diane: What did going through this season reveal to you?
Sandra: Well, I continue to believe that my biggest “ah ha” was my sin of self-sufficiency. I thought I could take care of it. I found the doctor. I followed the steps. I gave myself the meds. I, I, I, I. Nowhere was there complete trust and surrender to God and His will. That is until there WAS NOTHING else. THEN, I turned to Him completely, and He still showed up, even though I had not gone to Him first.
I know because of my experience that the science behind the conception and delivery of EACH AND EVERY child is a miracle. AND I know that my Jonah and James are not only miracles but also complete gifts from The Lord. He can do ANYTHING. We just have to ask and surrender and trust. Sadly, most of us don’t do that until we have run out of earthly options…
Diane: Is there anything else you want to add?
Sandra: I wish someone had had the courage to tell me, “Don’t wait too late. Freeze your eggs. Your career will be there after.” But no one did. So I guess I hope in some small way that this article gives someone else that nudge! AND remember to go to God FIRST, not last.
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