Episode 78: Interview with Author Deb Gruelle: Aching for a Child

The holidays can be especially hard for families who are longing for a child or who have lost a child. In this episode, we talk with Deb Gruelle about her new book Aching for a Child.

Our Guest: Deb Gruelle

Deb Gruelle is a best-selling and award-winning author for children and adults. She writes for children to entertain and offer them a sense of security. In August of 2020, she had Sleepy Time Colors release. And before that Little Night Stars. Coming up next year in March, she will release her third children’s board book in this series called 10 Little Fireflies. 10 Little Fireflies is a board book that introduces little ones to numbers as they count down to bedtime. A recovering technical writer, Gruelle also authored a book on infertility for women, over 100 articles for national women’s and parenting magazines, as well as storyboards for children’s games. The second edition of her non-fiction book Aching for a Child released this month. She also serves as chaplain for Inspire Christian Writers. You can find out more information about Inspire at inspirewriters.com. You can connect with Deb at debgruelle.com

Books Discussed in this Episode:

Transcript with Links:

Terrie:

Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids. Today we’re taking a little bit of a departure from our usual programming. We have a special guest, Deb Gruelle. Deb is a best-selling and award-winning author for children and adults. She writes for children to entertain and offer them a sense of security. In August of 2020, she had Sleepy Time Colors release. And before that 10 Little Night Stars. Coming up next year in March, she will release her third children’s board book in this series called 10 Little Fireflies. 10 Little Fireflies is a board book that introduces little ones to numbers as they count down to bedtime. A recovering technical writer, Gruelle also authored a book on infertility for women, over 100 articles for national women’s and parenting magazines, as well as storyboards for children’s games. The second edition of her non-fiction book Aching for a Child released this month. She also serves as chaplain for Inspire Christian Writers. You can find out more information about Inspire at inspirewriters.com. As I said, we’re departing a little bit from our usual program to discuss Deb’s new book Aching for a Child. Deb, thank you for joining us today.

Deb:

Thank you, Terrie. I’m so glad to be here with you.

Terrie:

Tell us a little bit about your book.

Deb:

Well, it’s called Aching for a Child: Ethical, Emotional and Spiritual Issues that Women Struggle with While Going through Infertility and Pregnancy Loss. I wrote it because I struggled in those areas when I was going through infertility, and we dealt with infertility for 17 years total. It was just a huge part of our lives. It was seven years before our first child was born. Then we dealt with secondary infertility after that and had miscarriages and adoptions fall through. And it just was a real struggle to build our family. So I started running a support group for women going through this. It was a localized group, and we were attending a very small church. At that time, it had like 20 adults, and five of the women were experiencing infertility or miscarriage. And that was just a remarkable percentage. And we thought, how many other churches where there is maybe just one couple going through this. We had been, before that, at a really big church that I think had 40 young married couples. And by our time toward the end of that, we were one of two couples that didn’t have children yet. And so it felt very isolating. The church was very positive about families and teaching about families, and it’s wonderful. Families really need to be supported in our culture, but it was also very difficult if that was not happening for us. So I wanted to support those for whom it wasn’t happening.

Terrie:

What advice would you give to someone who has already had their children, and yet their friend may be still struggling with either loss of a pregnancy or infertility?

Deb:

I really appreciated–I spoke at a MOPS group, and I was thrilled that they asked. You may not be at the point of going through infertility. Sometimes secondary infertility though is hidden. People think, “Oh, they just decided not to have more children,” but those of childbearing age are often the ones that are experiencing the miscarriages and the stillbirths. I appreciated that they were asking me to come and talk one because I had experienced it, and others had experienced loss also, but also they wanted to know how to minister to their friends who were going through it. And I thought that was a wonderful focus.

Terrie:

Yeah. For me personally, it was being able to talk about it. I mean, nobody wants to talk about it–having that support of having friends who understand or at least are trying to understand. How important have you seen that in your ministry, in your support group? What did that provide for these women?

Deb:

Oh, exactly. One of the things I didn’t understand, and still don’t, is even people who are very pro-life and say “that is a baby,” that during pregnancy, “that is a child,” they didn’t treat it as a child after a miscarriage. That just does not make sense. The Catholic church is better at this because they have prayers and ceremonies and will, you know, do burial services. It was not even offered to me. We lost eight babies in three pregnancies and it just wasn’t, as a person attending a Protestant church, it was not offered–any type of service. So that was something that just didn’t match up in my mind. I think that people don’t want to say something because they think, “Oh, I’ll add to the pain if I talk about it as a baby,” you know. I went in for a checkup one day. “Let’s check and see how that baby’s doing.” Then they couldn’t find a heartbeat at this time, immediately they started talking about, “Okay, we’ll need to do a D and C to get rid of that tissue.” I’m like, “Oh my goodness! Minutes ago, it was a child. And now you’re calling it tissue!” Those types of things. Those casual comments that, even with the best intentions, it can cause additional pain. Just anything that would discount somebody’s pain. That’s, you know, “Oh, you’ll have children it’ll happen. Don’t worry.” Or “Maybe you just need to relax,” or, you know, “At least you have the fun of practicing!” Or “You’re still young.” And I thought, “Oh, that just means I have more years to go through this.” All of those are discounting of somebody’s pain. And that’s not what we are learning in our world today. Just to stop and listen and hear somebody else’s pain. Not compare it, not to say, you know, if somebody’s going through secondary infertility, “Well, at least you have another child.” You can just say, “I’m sorry,. “Can I sit with you? I don’t have the answers, but I just want to be with you.”

Terrie:

Just give them the freedom to express what they’re feeling. I mean, we may not understand. And like you said, we don’t always have the words to say, but just to let them know you’re here to listen and be a sounding board. My parents divorced when I was in college. Everyone acted like I shouldn’t grieve about that because I was an adult. I mean, I was 20 years old. Why would I be so upset about my parents divorcing? And it devastated me. Everybody had answers for me or Bible verses to quote or reprimands for being angry. And Dave was the only one who just sat there. And for however long–I could be angry. I could be sad. I could be silent. It didn’t matter. And I told him later on how much that meant to me, he said, “I was silent because I had no clue what to say.” But I said, “That’s exactly what I needed then.” So that can mean so much just to let someone talk.

Deb:

Well, first of all, if you’re going through infertility, you know, you have two weeks of hope each month and two weeks of despair. And over and over for 17 years, that’s a lot of cycles of grief. But it brought up for me, all sorts of connected questions. One of the questions I went through was, “Am I being punished for something I’m doing wrong?” Because I didn’t grow up with like a health and wealth gospel, but I grew up believing Proverbs of what you sow, you will reap. And I thought, if I’m reaping this grief and sadness–. I felt called to be a mom. I thought that was what my purpose in life was. So I just entered into this whole season of “Who is God?” “Does He still love me?” “What does this mean that I’m not getting the deepest desire of my heart?” “Doesn’t God understand the depth of my pain because I wouldn’t treat a child like this–if I knew with my child, that the main thing they wanted in their heart was one thing–I wouldn’t withhold it from them.” All these. “Do I lack faith?” Because people were saying, “Oh just have faith.” I thought, “Is it me?” “Is it my faith? Is that what God’s saying?” So I even went through, “Maybe God thinks I’ll be an axe murderer if I’m a parent, and He’s saving me from this horrible thing that I don’t know about myself.” Or “Could I, as a Christian, be angry at God?” I didn’t, in my twenties, I didn’t think that was a possibility. And now I look at it and think, “Well, that’s a reflection of a valid relationship because you only get angry at somebody who you believe in.” I now know God can handle my honesty much better than I thought at that point. It’s not just an isolation event. It is mixed in with, just as I’m sure with your parents’ divorce, it meant other things to you. You know, your world view, your sense of security because you knew where things stood. It has so many connections.

Terrie:

Yeah, it colors everything. I mean, and it influences everything. One of the things that I didn’t realize before I had a miscarriage was why it was such a heavy grief. But the minute I realized I was pregnant, that was a new member of our family. I had dreams for that child. I had a plan for that child being in our family. So it wasn’t something I’m waiting till the child is born to think all those things. You think those things immediately. So when you miscarry, you’ve lost all of that. That’s why it’s such a loss. It’s not tissue. It’s not a fetus. That’s your child that you have already dreamt being a part of your family. And you’ve told your kids many times, depending when you miscarry. Two of them, we were further along. And so everybody knew. And so everybody’s rejoicing, and the kids are excited, and then boom, it’s gone and you’ve lost all of that. And you don’t know how to announce that for people to understand the fullness of that loss and how it’s changed everything. And you see yourself as something else again, you know, as a smaller family again, or whatever. And then the other issues I think with infertility is most people, unless they’ve researched it, have no idea what that puts you through. Before we started pursuing any kind of medical intervention, I did a report for one of my classes. I was working on my first masters, and I looked at all the different tests they do and all the different hormone treatments and everything for fertility. I had friends going through the shots and the roller coaster of emotions. The wife was on that. I think people have no idea. And if you have a friend who’s going through that, to be a support to them through that awful roller coaster of just your hormones, your emotions, everything. Then we also had to look at ethically, how far would we go? Because some of the testing, I didn’t feel as a Christian, I could do. I didn’t feel it was appropriate. So I had to come to grips with that. What did God want me to do? How far did he want us to intervene, or did we need to trust him? Or, you know, where was that line? And I think as Christians, especially, we grapple with a lot more than if you just say, “Oh, we’re struggling with infertility,” what that entails and how that permeates your relationships and your whole life. And it can take over your whole life for a while there, especially when you’re doing shots and everything.

Deb:

Absolutely. First of all, when you said about the dreams–sometimes those dreams started when you were a child. You know, you’re playing with dolls, and you think, “When I have my own baby, this is what it’s going to be like.” And so it’s not just, I found out I was pregnant yesterday and a week later lost it. The culmination of all those dreams is in that child. And the thought of, if you believe that you’re meant to be a mom, that can just shift your world view of “What is my purpose?” And I’d had to learn that my main purpose was to be loved by God and to love Him. And the other things of being a wife and a mom were roles that would come and go. But at that time in my twenties, I was thinking being a mom was my purpose. And if I didn’t have that, did I have a purpose? Sometimes major catastrophes can help clear away some of the things that we’re leaning on that we shouldn’t be.

Deb:

The second part we were talking about the ethics of it. That was one of the reasons I wrote the book because I was shocked at the things that came up and then the doctor would say, okay, well we need to know within three hours what your decision is. I would think, I didn’t know this was coming. So I wrote about some of those moments in the book about, you know, looking back, I would’ve done this different. Or how can we honor God and just brought up some of the questions. I don’t tell people what to do, but I bring up questions that I wish somebody had told me I might need to be thinking about.

Deb:

So that with, you know, verses and things that I could go to, that I could just feel confident that I thought that things through rather than I don’t make decisions very well on the spur of the moment. I like to, you know, do research and figure out. And that was one of the purposes that at one point you had to choose whether to transfer embryos and you know, the doctors saying, “Well, it looks like three of them aren’t so good. So let’s just go ahead and transfer five.” This was back in the days that they did that. Now they know better, but at one point I thought, could I be pregnant with five? And then the next step is, you know, should we then do a pregnancy reduction because you know, that’s too many to live well and for you to carry and that would’ve been the most terrible decision for an infertile woman to have to make. You know, okay. Choose which baby to kill so that the others will live. Oh, gee, I am so grateful that I did not get to that point of having to make a decision like that.

Terrie:

I don’t know. I couldn’t have I can’t imagine how devastating. Oh, just how awful that is. I can’t even go there.

Deb:

Absolutely.

Terrie:

So your book, would you say it’s a handbook or how would you describe it?

Deb:

I start each chapter with a little bit of my story and what I experienced. I also weave in stories from the women that were in my support group because they each had pieces of the puzzle or things that they wanted to share. And then I have a chapter about, you know, where are you, God, in the middle of this. I have lists of questions to take to your doctor so that you can go to your doctor appointment and take this list of questions that you can ask. I even have parts about moral decisions. One of the things was that infertility clinics often offer pornography to the husbands to give a sperm sample. In my twenties, I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know much about it. Now I’ve studied more about it and that it just contains your whole brain and it just introduces another person into the marriage and all these terrible things. So I give some studies that you can share with your doctor of why that’s not a good thing.

Terrie:

I taught AP psychology in high school in recent years. And one of the things we talked about was the result of watching pornography or seeing pornography and the reaction it is on the brain. And it’s worse than cocaine. And it can cause impotence for the man if they have a problem with that kind of addiction. So, I made sure my high schoolers knew that. It was kind of an uncomfortable study, but I just felt like this isn’t fair because the world is telling them something else, and they need to know the truth of what this can cause. And there’s a whole organization of young people. Now I forget what it’s called, [It’s “Fight the New Drug” at fightthenewdrug.org] But I’ll find it and put the link in because it’s so good about this particular subject. And they’re fighting against everybody acting like pornography is no big deal and everybody looks at it. They’re saying, “No, we’re not going to do that.” They’re talking about the truth about it all and what it can do.

Deb:

I’m going to tell you a little backstory with this. Let’s see, this came out 20 years ago and then I hadn’t written for a while. Suddenly I got a call from Hungary that was asking for me to do a second edition of this book. And it was right after I had prayed and said, “God, I feel like my world is a little bit small. If you could just enlarge it a little bit.” The next day, this call came from Hungary, and I knew nobody in Hungary. I kept trying to talk them out of it. saying, “I’m sure there’s other newer books that would make more sense for you to translate.” And then they said, “Well, you know, yours is the most complete. We want to do this.” And then I said, “But it has medical parts in it. I would need a doctor to update that part.” And they said, “We have a doctor standing by that’s ready to do that–a fertility specialist.” And I said, “Okay, can I get the name of your publishing company?” Because I just wanted to check it out. And they told me, and of course it didn’t mean anything to me because I don’t know any Hungarian publishers. I’m going to check this out. So I finally just said, “Okay, can you tell me the story behind this? I’m not understanding.” And so she said, “Twenty years ago, a pastor from our country went to a conference in the United States and brought back your book to us. And we have no books on infertility that’s Christian or that’s general market in Hungary. So we’ve been passing the book around and translating it between the lines and in the margins, it’s become a lifeline for many of us women here.” I just sank into a chair at that point. I just thought, “Only God.” You just don’t know what you’re doing is going to affect someone else. And this time God just lifted the curtain, so I could see behind the curtain. I was thinking my life was very small and he was saying, “Oh, just look. There’s things going on behind the scenes you don’t know about.”

Deb:

So it came out in time for a marriage conference, and that’s where I’m using that same information and translating it. I’ve updated the English version now and put it out. And the other amazing thing God did is I was pretty lenient about changing, you know, the Hungarian words are much longer and so they had to cut parts of it down. And, you know, their adoption process is very different. So they adapted it to their country. But at one point they had wanted to put the pornography information into a footnote and not make it as prominent in the chapter. And I said, you know, I’ve just got to stand up for this one. So I wrote back to them and said, “You know, this is very important to me, it’s offered in this situation. And I think it needs to be talked about. And actually I’d like to add to that section. I have a story I can add to it, and here’s research about it.” And so the editor finally said, “Okay, we’ll keep that in.” Meanwhile, I had done research to figure out where was Hungary and what did they do, and in part of the research, I realized that Hungary is the main producer of pornography in all of Europe, and the laws are so lax there that you can be taking your child to a coffee shop, and they will be filming porn movies in the coffee shop. This is the culture. I’m thinking, I know the extreme negative of this. How do I translate it to somebody who doesn’t understand that? So I tried to do my best, and did research, backup and stuff. So when she sent me this book, she had a little note in there, and she said, “I just wanted to let you know, because you stood up for keeping that part about pornography in there, we looked up the research. We are now going to translate one of the books, Your Brain on Porn, into Hungarian. So that will be our first book telling the dangers of pornography in Hungarian. I was telling this to my mom, and she said, “You’ve influenced a country.” I just, by standing true to what you know, it was just God saying, “It doesn’t matter your limitations. It doesn’t matter how little influence you think you have when you’re connected to Me. I know everybody. I can get things done. Just come along with Me for the ride.”

Terrie:

God is so good.

Deb:

He is. And He can do all this stuff without us, but He invites us along to have a front row seat to the miracles He’s doing. It doesn’t mean it’s not painful. The years of infertility were definitely painful, but I do feel like it’s helped me hang on to truth and understand God’s love for me.

Deb:

I added a chapter in this book for family and friends and churches that want to support those within infertility. And so my suggestion would be to learn about it. If you have friends that are going through it, that’s a huge gift you can give to someone who’s going through it–is to read a book about it. You just will have more understanding, more of a depth of understanding than you would have. Probably the person going through the grief doesn’t want to educate each person at the same level. So that would be a wonderful gift to learn about what your friend is going through. And that’s what I would suggest.

Terrie:

Well, thank you so much, Deb. I appreciate your time. I appreciate all that you’ve shared with us. This is just amazing–the journey God has brought you on. That’s so exciting.

Deb:

I appreciate talking with you, and if anybody wants to connect with me, you can find me on the social medias at DebGuelleauthor or my website is Deb Gruelle, D E B G R U E L L E.com.

Terrie:

Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions as we disciple our children and help them follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you would like to connect with Deb and find out more about the books she’s written, you can contact her through her website at debgruelle.com. If you would like to join my mailing list, you can find me at TerrieHellardBrown.com. We would both love to hear from you.

Freebies from Deb–Check them out!

#1 https://www.subscribepage.com/k5l9z9Freebie: Tips For Coping With Christmas During Infertility Or After Miscarriage
#2https://www.subscribepage.com/o3y1e0Freebie: A Psalm of the Desperately Waiting 

Your Host:

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.

For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

Upcoming Class: What’s Your Word?

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