Longing for Motherhood
About the Guest
- Listen to Chelsea's story on Unfavorable Odds™ with Kim Anthony. https://www.familylife.com/podcast/unfavorable-odds/longing-for-motherhood/
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Chelsea Patterson SobolikChelsea Patterson Sobolik is the author of Longing for Motherhood and has worked for the U.S. House of Representatives on issues such as child welfare, religious freedom, adoption, and foster care policy. She and her husband, Michael, live in Washington, D.C.
Kim AnthonyKim Anthony is an author, speaker and leadership coach, who has a passion to help others walk in the fullness of who they were created to be. As a part of Athletes in Action's Pro Staff, Kim served as Chaplain for the Miami Dolphins wives for 10 years and continues to coach and mentor the wives of NFL players, head coaches and executives around the League. She also travels the nation sharing her message of hope, forgiveness and purpose with audiences ranging from inner-city youth to corporate...more
For 17-year-old Chelsea Sobolik, key signals of her passage into womanhood were late-very late. Chelsea Sobolik reveals how a difficult diagnosis led her on a journey of self-discovery.
Longing for Motherhood
Bob: Chelsea Sobolik knew, at age 18, when she went to see her doctor, that something was wrong. She just didn’t know what.
Chelsea: I knew, as soon as she walked in, what she was going to say. She told me—she said, “The condition”—or whatnot that I was born with—I was actually born without a uterus, which I did not know was humanly possible, but it is. She told me that—she said, “That means you can’t bear your own children.” I, of course, started crying and, simultaneously, felt grief and numb at the same time.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, May 10th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. Chelsea Sobolik had to deal with a lot of emotion when she learned that she would be unable to have children, including wrestling with the question: “Am I really, fully a woman?” We’ll hear more from Chelsea today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re going to dive into a deep hard subject today. Ann, as a pastor’s wife, you’ve had the opportunity to walk alongside a lot of women in your congregation/in your life—women who have experienced infertility. You know something of what their pain is like. What’s going on in their hearts?
Ann: So many things. I think there’s fear; there’s anger; there’s depression; there’s mourning/hopelessness. But I think, if you go really down deeper, the root of that is: “Really, who am I if I can’t have kids?”—because, as a woman, that’s part of being a woman. So that’s the question: “If I can’t have kids, who am I?”
Dave: I would even add the husband is feeling some of the same things: “Is it his fault? What—has he contributed? Is he ever going to be a dad?” Obviously, it’s the mom and the wife, but it is also a family marriage issue. You know, we’ve all seen this—it can even destroy and pull a family apart/a marriage apart. I’ve seen it with guys I’ve sat with; it is devastating.
Bob: We’re going to hear today from a young woman who learned, about a decade ago, that she is permanently infertile. We’ll hear her story. Chelsea Sobolik is the guest on a new podcast, which is called [Unfavorable Odds] with Kim Anthony. On this podcast, Kim is dealing with the struggles we face in life, in marriage, and in family and how God gives us strength to be overcomers in the midst of those difficult circumstances. If you’d like to hear Kim’s podcast, or any of the podcasts that are part of the FamilyLife Podcast Network, you can go to FamilyLifeToday.com to hear that.
Kim’s guest, Chelsea, is the author of a book called Longing for Motherhood; and her story is interesting. She was born in Romania, put up for adoption, adopted into the United States from an orphanage in Romania; and then, when she was a young woman, she got news that really rocked her whole life.
Chelsea: When I was 18, I hadn’t had a period yet and went to the doctor just to have some testing on kind of why things weren’t developing the way they should and what not. She told me, at that time: “We still don’t know exactly what’s wrong. We think we might know a general idea, but we don’t know; but…—but there is a strong possibility that you won’t be able to have children, but we don’t know; so we’re going to do more testing. Then, we’ll let you know for sure.”
Kim: What did you feel?! What went through your mind as she was saying these words?
Chelsea: At that point—because it was still a possibility and we didn’t know—I tried to just stuff it away and think, “I’ll deal with this when it actually is a reality or not.”
Kim: Only days after you heard this possibility—the possibility that you may never be able to bear children—you head off to Virginia—
Kim: —to Liberty University your freshman year. As most freshmen are stepping into this space—excited about this new season of life—you are carrying, in the back of your mind, the possibility that you may never be able to have a child on your own when everybody else’s biggest issue could possibly be just being a little homesick.
Kim: What was that like for you? You talked about stuffing it and trying not to think about it. Were you successful at that?
Chelsea: No! [Laughter] Of course, those things come up—you know, to the best of my ability, I tried to make friends, and do well in class, and all the things a freshman is concerned about—but I felt like I was carrying around this backpack filled, instead of with books, with the weight of the world—because it felt like this secret I couldn’t tell anyone.
Kim: Did you ever have a thought about telling someone? Did you ever sit down with another young woman and have a conversation?—and say to yourself: “You know what?! I really want to tell somebody.”
Chelsea: I did. I just—at that point, it felt all consuming about me. If I told someone I might not be able to have children, I was so terrified that that’s how they were going to view me for the rest of our friendship. I was really scared that they would think of me differently. I just felt like there weren’t safe people—
Chelsea: —that I could say, “Here’s what’s going on,” and for someone to know how to respond.
Kim: So, Thanksgiving break your freshman year, you go home. You’ve heard this news that it is possible that you may not be able to bear children on your own, and you have more tests to take.
Kim: What was the morning like?—leading up to your appointment.
Chelsea: I’m actually going to go back to the night before—
Chelsea: —because I think—kind of that stuffing of the feelings wasn’t working anymore. I knew I was going to have an answer the next day. I—my thought was, “I need to prepare myself as best as I can.” So, I just kind of shut myself in my room, took out my Bible, and just wrote down every promise of God I could find in the Book of Psalms—two or three pages worth of verses in Psalms that I felt like I could cling to if the news I thought I was going to hear was true.
That was probably the first time I really engaged with God of: “Please don’t let this happen. Please don’t let this be a reality. Please, please, please…”—and just really begged Him. At that point, I didn’t have the awareness of my faith to say, “Not my will but Yours be done.”
The next morning, I was very quiet. My mom was trying to offer encouragement, and it just—bless her heart—it fell flat on my heart. I know she was trying so hard, but—
Kim: Describe for me the testing you went through that day. You walked down the hall with a nurse to get an MRI.
Chelsea: Yes; yes.
Kim: What happened next?
Chelsea: I did an MRI, and I actually did an ultrasound as well,—
Chelsea: —which you’re basically laying on your back, and you go in this small enclosed space.
Kim: Like a tube; right?
Chelsea: Like a tube; yes. It is very—I’d never done one; it was not a fun process—but I was laying there and weeping and feeling like it was so unfair that, on my Thanksgiving break, when everyone else was baking pumpkin pies, I was lying in a doctor’s office feeling completely alone and completely helpless.
Kim: —and you’re weeping.
Chelsea: Yes; yes.
Kim: For those who don’t know it, you can’t move. You can’t wipe away the tears, and you have to be as still as possible.
Kim: So, in your anguish, you are forced to be still.
Chelsea: Yes; yes.
Kim: So, after the tests were taken, you were waiting for the doctor to come in and give you the results. What happened?
Chelsea: Yes; I knew, as soon as she walked in, what she was going to say. She told me—she said, “The condition”—or whatnot that I was born with—I was actually born without a uterus, which I did not know was humanly possible, but it is. She told me that—she said, “You know, that means you can’t bear your own children.”
I, of course, started crying and, simultaneously, felt grief and numb at the same time to be told, at such a young age, that my body was so different than other women’s bodies. My body could not perform what a woman’s body was created to do. Just a million—a million thoughts and emotions went through my head. As you can imagine, a lot of insecurities came up.
Kim: Chelsea, you were 19 years old at the time—the same age your mother was when she had you.
Chelsea: I knew there was some significance to it. I didn’t know what or why, but I believe God does not make mistakes; and so I knew that even the age wasn’t a mistake. I knew there was some significance in having the Lord’s hand on my life, and on my birth mother’s life, and my adoptive parents’ lives. In a very interesting way—and I felt this connection to my birth mom; because at 19, she gave up a child. She was childless, not by choice, in some aspects. She couldn’t keep me for economic reasons; and at 19, I was told that I couldn’t have children. So, in some very interesting ways, our stories paralleled in a way I never expected them to—just a really interesting tie between us.
Kim: That is a powerful comparison; it really is. So, for a while, only you and your parents knew the news about your diagnosis. You went back to school, where you would continue to keep that secret; but the secret would become too much for you to bear on your own. Something happened at a college basketball game.
Chelsea: I was at a basketball game with the girls on my hall. All of a sudden, I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t catch my breath. The feeling I’d been feeling since I came back to school after finding out—feeling alone in a sea of people—finally had physical ramifications. What I later learned was that I had my first panic attack at that basketball game.
I went on to have a lot more. I had a panic attack in Wal-Mart®. Going out in public became quite difficult for me; because I would be in Target®, picking up ice cream or something, and see a mom with her children—and it became just really, really difficult to go out into public; because I was grieving so heavily and so completely the loss of what I couldn’t have. To see physical reminders of what I couldn’t have was quite difficult.
Actually, the most difficult day I’ve ever had with this diagnosis was just a few days after the diagnosis. We went to church, and it was a baby dedication at church.
Chelsea: I got up in the middle of that church service and walked out—and walked to the bathroom—and just sat there and cried, and cried, and cried my eyes out. There were times, where I would get up from class and go in the bathroom and cry.
The Lord gave me the sweetest lady at Liberty, named Debbie. Debbie was a janitor, and she came in and cleaned the bathrooms. One day, she saw me sitting on this bench, just crying—because throughout the day, as I was just beginning to process this news—throughout the day, my heart would just be overcome with emotion; because I didn’t have a support system right after/immediately after. It was just me—
Chelsea: —figuring this out. So, a lot of times I would be overcome with emotion and escape to the bathroom. This sweet lady, Debbie, would come in and pray with me in the bathroom—just such a sweet, physical reminder of God’s care.
Kim: What did that display of love do for you, and how did that help you to see God in your story?
Chelsea: I loved the fact that she was the least likely person—
Kim: —the least likely person.
Chelsea: —on that campus. She wasn’t a peer; she wasn’t a professor. She was the lady that was coming to clean the bathrooms. The Lord chose what we would view as “the least among us” to be the one that showed me kindness and grace. I think that was so special and sweet, looking back. I’m Facebook® friends with her, and we keep up; but I think it’s so special that that was the woman that God chose.
Her putting her arm around me and praying was such a physical reminder of God’s arm around me and that the Spirit was interceding when I felt too weak to pray for myself. I didn’t realize, in the moment, what a grace of God and a kindness of God to give me Debbie was. It was such a sweet, sweet thing for Him to do.
Kim: Wow; as you were completing your book, Longing for Motherhood, you were preparing to walk down the aisle with Michael.
Chelsea: I was; yes.
Kim: For years, you feared that you would never meet a man who would love you or who would marry you once he knew that you would not be able to bear children on your own. When you were dating Michael, you had a discussion—
Chelsea: I did.
Kim: —on your condition. You were prepared for him to walk away; but instead, he said something. He said something profound. What was it?
Chelsea: I told Michael that we would be unable to have our own children and that, if we were to build a family, it would be through adoption.
It was really interesting, Kim—for so long after I did begin sharing my story—with pastors, or friends, and whatnot—people would tell me, “If a man really loves you, this won’t matter to him.” I told Michael, and it actually did matter to him. He took a couple months to grieve and to mourn.
Kim: A couple of months?
Chelsea: Yes; and it was very difficult for me; because I thought in my head, “If he loves me, it won’t matter; it won’t matter.” He was, not only wrestling through childlessness—he had had no contact with adoption—so he is kind of processing through that as well.
We were still dating through this time. One evening, we went to get a cup of coffee and we sat down. It was chilly outside. We sat down and he said, “Chelsea, I’ve been thinking; I’ve been praying; I’ve been talking to mentors and people older than me,”—and he said [emotion in her voice]—“I’ve come to realize that raising a child is so much bigger than raising a child that looks like me, but it’s raising a child that looks like the heart of Christ.”
That’s what it’s about—is stewarding someone else’s soul to come to know Christ and to come to look like Him. I knew, at that moment, that he was the man I was going to marry. [Laughter] Even though we both have had hard days, he gets it. He gets that life is bigger than someone that looks like us. While that’s a sweet gift and a God-given desire, it’s not ultimate.
While he did process, he—we just celebrated our one-year anniversary, so we did get married. [Laughter]
Chelsea: Thank you!
Kim: Happy Anniversary.
Chelsea: Thank you. So we definitely walked through some tough dating days, but God has been so sweet to both of us.
Bob: Well, again, we’ve been listening to Episode 2 of Kim Anthony’s new podcast, which is called Unfavorable Odds—her conversation with Chelsea Sobolik. I’m just still kind of reeling from the raw emotion that goes with the kind of news that Chelsea had to process—and how, in those emotional moments—if you don’t have a foundation to stand on, you’re going to get blown over.
Dave: Yes; I’m feeling the same thing. It’s like there’s this agony and darkness; and yet, there’s this light we just caught there with Chelsea and Michael. His response is so—Bob, I think you’re right. It’s the foundation of Christ—having something bigger than yourselves to know that there is a God, even in the middle of this valley, that can give you—what she calls in her subtitle of the book—hope. In the middle of childlessness, there’s hope; and that hope comes from Christ, giving them the ability/the vision to be parents in a different way.
Bob: Ann, I have to think that there’s a portion of our listening audience today, hearing this story, and the ache is profound with them. You wish you had some platitude that was going to fix everything; but I think the best thing we can do is just come alongside our friends, who are going through this, and say, “We know this hurts, and we’re sorry.”
Ann: —and love them, and cry with them, and be beside them, and point them to Jesus; because there are no easy answers, but He is our hope.
Bob: And how you do this/how you process this yourself, if this is your reality—if you’re not a part of a community of faith—and I don’t mean that you [just] go to church—I mean you’re a part of a community of people, who can come alongside you, and cry with you, and know your story and feel your pain, and have the empathy—that’s just going to put the burden all on you. It’s a burden we were not meant to carry. God intends for us, in the body of Christ, to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Dave: I would encourage that person to go seek that out. It’s so easy, when you’re struggling to want people to come to you—like, “Somebody see me”; and they may, and God can do that—but it’s a scary thing to take a step, be honest, and tell somebody your struggle, and invite them into the struggle. You will find the presence of Christ through people, who are your community, walking beside you.
Bob: One of the things that Chelsea talks about in her conversation with Kim is how she almost walked away from the Lord while struggling with this issue of childlessness. She explains how God brought her back and how she came to understand that being a mom, giving birth biologically, is not the ultimate goal of being a woman—how being a woman is so much bigger than whether you have a husband or whether you’re a mom.
Again, you can listen to the entire conversation, online, as you download the podcast from Kim Anthony, Unfavorable Odds with Chelsea Sobolik. There are a lot of threads to this conversation.
We’ve got David Robbins, who’s the President of FamilyLife®, joining us today. A lot to chew on here; isn’t there?
David: Yes; and the thing that I’m chewing on the most is the unexpected hero, Debbie—Chelsea’s friend, who turned out to be the most least likely person, in her eyes—that God would reach out and use to make Himself known to Chelsea. I keep wondering about Debbie’s story and “What kind of faith did it take her to reach out to Chelsea?” I think Debbie is emblematic of our calling, as followers of Jesus, to be people and families who trust God to grow us and to move us from isolation to impact.
Today, I just want to challenge us all to go, “Who in our lives/in our circles of relationships might be someone that God’s asking us to be Jesus to them today?” It might be scary; it may take a step of faith; but let’s trust God with someone he’s prompting in our minds, because that’s usually how God starts new stories of redemption.
Bob: Good challenge for all of us, because somebody did that for us; so “Will we do the same and introduce someone else to Jesus?” Good challenge; thank you, David.
Again, if a listener is interested in hearing the entire conversation—Kim Anthony with Chelsea Sobolik—go to FamilyLifeToday.com; find out more about Kim’s podcast and about all of the podcasts available through the FamilyLife Podcast Network.
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And we hope you have a great weekend this weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship in your local church this weekend. And I hope you can join us back on Monday. Mike Berry is going to be here to talk with us about the reality of challenges that can come with adoption. There are challenges with being parents. When you adopt kids, there are some unique challenges that come your way. Mike will be here to talk about that on Monday. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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