Matt Appling 2

Matt and Cheri Appling bring a hidden struggle to light

Matt and Cheri Appling belong to a club, a secret club that nobody wants to be a part of but neither can they escape: infertility.

An exclusive club?  Not by any means. One in eight American couples will experience difficulty conceiving children. It is a burden millions of couples bear, mostly alone and in silence; membership does have its price.

Married in 2006, the Applings, like many newlyweds, decided to wait a few years before starting their family. Four years later, they decided the time was right; they were ready to become parents. The possibility of not being able to have children had never been considered. It was always “when we have a baby,” not “if we can have a baby.”  The year 2010 marked the beginning of their season of infertility.

Months went by, then years, nearly five.  In the midst of their struggle to conceive, the Kansas City couple became unwilling authors, writing a book they never wanted to write. But, as it turned out, the story chose them; they certainly didn’t choose it. They felt it was a story that needed to be told, to give others in their “club” encouragement.

Matt and Cheri’s recently published book, Plus or Minus: Keeping Your Life, Faith and Love Together Through Infertility, is not a how to book or even a “how not to book.”

Instead of offering another cure, they gathered some of their closest friends and asked some questions that doctors were not able to answer:

What does it mean to survive infertility?
What does it mean to keep your marriage happy and healthy under the strain of infertility?

What does it mean to keep your faith intact when it is being assaulted by infertility?

What does it mean for a couple to preserve their friendships, their family, and their sanity during infertility?

What if we never have a baby?

How do we survive a lifetime of infertility?”

After more than five years of patience, perseverance and even loss, Matt, a writer and teacher with a Masters of Divinity degree, and Cheri, a doctor of veterinarian medicine, were determined to make sense of the countless times they had been held captive by pregnancy tests, waiting for the telltale plus or minus, positive or negative, that would either define them as expectant parents or an exasperated couple.

Throughout their years of attempting to conceive, the authors encountered and befriended other couples in similar situations.  Although the doctors and treatment plans differed, the collateral damage that infertility brings with it–the mental, emotional, marital, social and spiritual damage–were very much similar.

Plus or Minus connects the common struggles shared by the couples, weaving a tapestry of wisdom, stories, experiences and hope to other couples experiencing infertility.  Matt and Cheri explain through experience why infertility is not just a medical issue, but a whole life issue.

“It takes a year to be inducted into the fertility club,” explains Matt.  “At least, that’s what the doctors say.  A couple that has been trying to conceive for one year is officially infertile (six months for couples over 35). It was a disorienting year, one in which Cheri and I realized that what was supposed to come naturally was not going to be so natural.

“One of the things we learned quickly about infertility is that it’s a condition that still escapes the public conscience.  Most people are not knowledgeable.  They don’t know how to speak around infertile couples. They don’t know how to be encouraging without prying.”

Cheri agrees.

“Infertility is still an unknown, a taboo. Infertility will remain a cultural taboo as long as couples refuse to talk about it. By sharing our story and that of friends we met along the way, we hope to be good ambassadors for infertility. We can make infertility normal.”

Devout Christians, Matt and Cheri share in the book how they balanced faith and the promises of modern medicine, artificial insemination and frozen embryos.

“Our faith governed our moral choices,” says Matt. “It guided our marriages and influenced our day-to-day decisions. But, pursuing infertility treatment was not a day-to-day decision.  Understanding our faith in the midst of making such extraordinary decisions about reproduction posed a problem.

They offer encouragement to couples struggling with infertility.

“Fertility’s a struggle that no one asks for, but everyone has a struggle of some sort,” Matt says. “Although it can be agonizing at times, believe us when we say that there are so many hidden gifts that a season of infertility brought to our
marriage. We just have to have eyes to see them. Infertility gave us eyes to see just how miraculously, audaciously beautiful life really is.”

This story does have a happy ending. Matt and Cheri welcomed their son, Calder, on Dec 27, 2014.  Although the tears shed at the end of 2014 were tears of joy, the memories of the arduous journey to parenthood remain an important chapter in their lives.

By reading “Plus or Minus,” one discovers that for every minus experienced by the couples, there are also many plusses. On this, Matt and Cheri agree.

“The plusses are sacred things that two people share when they have been through years of heartache together. Plusses are all the things that we understand because we have grieved and lost and struggled and prayed and doubted. All of us may see and touch and possess these plusses, these gifts of infertility, if only we have the eyes to see them, the hearts to understand them and the courage to take hold of them.”

Plus or Minus: Keeping Your Life, Faith, and Love Together Through Infertility is an important book that will do wonders to remove the stigma from infertility, offer renewed hope and dignity of suffering couples, and provide wisdom to those who want to love and care for them better.

The book, published by Moody Publishers, is available at Christianbook.com, Amazon, and other online retailers.