Each week I interview someone who has been through infertility firsthand. Today I’m excited to interview Matt Appling. Matt is a seminary-educated art teacher and author who blogs at MattAppling.com. He’s written a book with his wife, Cheri, that comes out next month. It’s called Plus or Minus: Keeping Your Life, Faith, and Love Together During Infertility and it’s published by Moody, one of the most reputable Christian publishers in the world. Enjoy his interview!
Q. Tell us a little about yourselves.
Cheri and I got married in March of 2006 and started trying to conceive about five years ago. She is a veterinarian but took time to study culinary arts at the Art Institute, so she was saving animals by day and baking cookies at night. I am a pastor and teacher, probably the only art teacher with a Masters of Divinity. We share a love of travel, exploration, good stories and our two dogs, Charlie and Triscuit.
Q. How long did you try to conceive and what issues were you facing?
Conception took more than four years because Cheri suffers from PCOS (poly-cystic ovarian syndrome.) That means she does not truly ovulate each month. It took us a long time to get a firm diagnosis on that. If anyone suspects that they are experiencing fertility problems, they should not rely on their physician or even a gynecologist to be able to give them a direct diagnosis. Just go to the endocrinologist!
Q. Did you two cope with infertility in the same way or did you handle it differently?
We are similar in that we did not get married already bitten by the “baby bug,” so I feel like we did not reach this level of desperation that many couples get to. We kept each other centered and relatively peaceful during the process, trying to accept the outcomes of whatever treatment we were receiving.
Q. How did you take care of yourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually during your struggles?
Not always very well! We both tend to internalize things, whether it is anxiety over infertility or any other tensions in our lives. So things would sometimes build up in unhealthy ways. But in general, we kept at our normal routine, did the things we love. We still went on vacations. We still traveled and made time together. One of the big keys to being good parents is to take care of yourselves and your marriage, and we felt convicted that a baby, even one that had not been conceived yet, deserved two parents who were looking after their relationship.
Q. What was your lowest point and how did you survive it?
We do get into this in the book, but it was when we were preparing for her egg extraction so we could do IVF. We have jumped through all of these hoops and we have a box of hormones and medications to start administering. It’s 9:00 at night when we discover we are missing one very important item. We saw all of this time and cost and labor suddenly going to waste. There was no help available anywhere, and we just lost it. The worst part was it war really the first time that we turned against each other and shut down. That took a lot of humility and reconciliation to repair.
Q. Your book, Plus or Minus: Keeping Your Life, Faith, and Love Together During Infertility, will be released soon. Why did you decide to write a book about your experience and what was the process like?
We collaborated with two other couples on this book, collected our stories and tried to make sense of everything that was happening to us because our hearts led us to believe that we could help people. We felt somehow gifted, specifically to handle infertility, but we saw other couples floundering and faltering in their faith and marriages because of it. Infertility is not just a medical issue, it’s a whole life issue! We saw all of these other life issues that couples desperately needed help with. There are no guarantees that any of us will ever have children. We deserve to be happy, healthy, whole people, regardless of our outcomes. Among the stories in the book, there is no guarantee of a “happy ending” with any of us. This peace with whatever life brings us is what we wanted to help couples achieve.
Behind the scenes, I kind of off-handedly mentioned this idea to my publisher at Moody. It is amazing how people meet vulnerability. So many infertile couples feel isolated, so I was taking a chance by mentioning this. It turned out that my publisher and his wife were dealing with a very similar situation. He immediately said, “I would be very interesting in reading a book like that.” It was another year before we were ready to begin work, so it has been a long process to get to this moment.
Q. You’re a seminary-educated art teacher with prior church/ministry experience. What do you think the Church does well in terms of ministering to couples going through infertility, and how can it improve?
The church in general is very family focused, which can be great, but it definitely is a two-edged sword. No one wants to believe that family or children can be “idols.” After all, children are cute and precious and “blessings!” But when we put such an emphasis on family, the message can be that having a family is the only way to find spiritual fulfillment. In every church, there are couples who skip worship on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I just think there can be a lot more awareness of the place infertility has in the history of God’s people. Our spiritual fulfillment does not come from having children (or anything else we might want in life.) It comes from our security in ourselves and in the Lord.
Q. Cheri is currently pregnant with a boy. What was it like going through a pregnancy after such a long battle with infertility?
We do not cover the pregnancy in the book for a variety of reasons. First, Cheri was pregnant during a large part of the writing process. And second because the book is not about pregnancy. But it is interesting how we react to it after infertility. Our lives will be blessed by this child. But we are convinced that our lives were blessed before, and we would still be blessed if we did not have a child, just in a different way. We have counted ourselves blessed and privileged, actually, to have gone through this journey! We would have missed a great deal had pregnancy come easily. We hope couples come away from reading the book believing that for themselves too.
Many thanks to Matt for sharing his infertility and PCOS story. Make sure you pre-order his book on Amazon and please leave a comment to let him know you appreciate him!
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