3 col subhead: The Lord rewards Smith's struggles
After years of frustration and disappointment, Ben and Sarah Smith finally got to experience something most people sometimes take for granted.
"Mother's Day and Father's Day were very tough days for us. We wouldn't go to church and watch the celebrations. It was just too sad of a day for us," explained Ben, referring to previous years when the couple went through difficult trials and tribulations in trying to start their family — experiencing four miscarriages in the first half-dozen years of marriage.
However this year's recent holidays were extra special for the loving pair, thanks to the "miracle birth" of their daughter Dottie Faith Anne in January.
"Dottie means 'Gift of God' and it took a lot of 'Faith' to get her. Anne is a generational family name," her parents explained.
Although Dottie experienced a few problems after her safe arrival, having to spend a few days in the NICU, the complete joy she has brought to Ben and Sarah are evident in the expressions on their faces.
The attitude toward the holidays they used to avoid has also changed.
"It (Mother's Day, May 10) was the best day ever. It was a day of thanksgiving," proclaimed Sarah, while holding her sweet nearly six-month-old bundle of joy earlier this week.
"Being able to experience that joy and great gift, I was grinning from ear-to-ear the whole day," echoed Ben of his first "official" Father's Day last Sunday. "So many people sent expressions of happiness for us, it was unbelievable."
While the trials and tribulations to get to this point weren't enjoyable — pushing them to their physical, mental and spiritual limits — they are extremely grateful for the Lord's blessings upon their family.
"It was a long, frustrating journey with a lot of peaks and valleys," the couple related. "A lot of things we didn't understand at the time and still don't. We even lost some friends along the way because of it, but we are hoping to be able to minister to others who are going through infertility and miscarriages.
"There are a lot of couples that feel like they are alone. They're scared and discouraged. We want to be used by the Lord to use our experiences to minister to them."
"Infertility is a lonely, hard road to travel," assessed Ben. "Whether it be through church or personally, we hope our story encourages others.
"We're here to help and would love to share our testimony to those that are hurting, alone or struggling with their faith. People, the church included, don't seem to address it. And, if they do, we're not aware of it.
"It's a hard subject to talk about. We know through experience we would've loved some support and counsel through the process, especially in the valleys of our battle," Sarah commented. "If we can be a voice for others and help others in their journey, that would mean the world to us."
The start of the couple's journey together foreshadowed the struggles they would face, but also gave them a rock to build upon.
"Some friends of ours fixed us up on what was literally a last-minute blind date to watch a UFC fight," said Sarah, a St. Louis native, who moved to town when she was 4 and graduated from Walker Valley High School in 2006.
A trained nurse and limited radiology for X-Ray technician, she currently serves as office manager/insurance billing & coding coordinator for Ocoee Eye Center and Dr. Bruce Faerber.
The first 10 days of their friendship saw tremendous struggles for Ben.
"Mom (Vickie), who had been sick for many years, went into the hospital and was on a ventilator for five days before she passed. Sarah camped out at the hospital with me," he related.
"Mom passed away on June 9 (2010), we buried her on June 12th, I was in court to finalize my divorce on June 14. Sarah helped me through those things as a friend. We 'officially' began dating late summer/fall of 2010.
"I tried to run her off, but she wouldn't go. She stayed around to help me through a very rough time. It was the year before I took over the Bradley program, and I had a lot of growing up to do," commented the head Bear wrestling coach.
Originally from Johnson City, Ben wrestled for Coach Steve Logsdon at Bradley Central (Class of 1999) before going onto graduate from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
He returned home, getting hired as a teacher at Valley View Elementary (January 2004 to May 2010) before moving to BCHS (August 2010 to present).
He also served as an assistant coach for the storied Bear mat program for eight years, before taking the reins nine years ago from his legendary mentor in April of 2011. Logsdon (20), Smith (four) and Chad Laxton (two) have combined to lead the state-winningest public school program to 26 TSSAA State championships.
"I was a train wreck — a failed marriage and mom's death. I was mad at God. I had prayed for so long for mom to be healed and she wasn't. I was very angry and frustrated. I was running away from my faith," Ben said of the turbulent time.
"And I was in the way, pushing him the opposite direction," interjected Sarah, who said she would have "none of that."
"He kept pushing me away and I just kept hanging around. I was annoying and wouldn't give up on us.
"On the second date I told him, 'there are some things you need to know — we are going to be involved in church, we're going to do mission work and I don't think I'll ever be able to have kids,'" she said due to a combination of health problems she had experienced. "Even with all that, he stayed."
Her husband recalls the situation a little differently.
"This is what I remember, she said if we're going to be together, you're going to take your butt back to church, we're going to get involved in missions and we're going to adopt at some point. I told her she was crazy.
"We had dated for about a year and a half and then I proposed to her at the end of the wrestling banquet (2012). We got married the following March," he related.
Getting hitched on March 27, 2013, in Cancun, Mexico, they wanted to start their family ASAP, however with Sarah's history of endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome and a bladder disease since her mid teen years, made her outlook to carry a child to term very bleak.
"Any of the three by themselves would have been treatable, but the combination made carrying a pregnancy to full term very unlikely," she explained. "I had been told by doctors if I couldn't bear a child by the time I was 30, I'd require a hysterectomy.
"We started the first round of minor fertility treatments in late 2013 and continued throughout 2014. No luck, no pregnancies," Ben stated. "We both had medical surgeries and treatments to help with fertility. We did everything up to IVF treatments. We simply could not afford them, plus we had spiritual reservations about them anyways."
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a medical procedure whereby an egg is fertilized by sperm in a test tube or elsewhere outside the body.
The couple ceased fertility treatments in early 2015 "to take a break from the stress of it all, focus on our marriage, focus our relationships with the Lord, and get involved with missions at First Baptist," they recalled. "We officially joined FBC in May 2015."
Sarah was finally able to get pregnant in that summer, but didn't realize it at the time.
"It was Aug. 6, 2015. I'll never forget the day. I'd never been in so much pain," remarked Sarah.
"We not only found out she was pregnant, but it was a tubal pregnancy. The baby was stuck in the fallopian tube … very dangerous," explained Ben. "They also told us she had a larger than lemon-sized cyst on her right ovary that was about to rupture as well. The surgery resulted in the successful removal of the ovarian cyst, but since it was an ectopic pregnancy they had to take the baby as well. Loss No. 1."
After recovering, Sarah went on a mission trip to the Philippines in November 2015.
"I went into adoption mode, but he (Ben) wasn't ready. I kept harassing him to fill out the papers. I told him, and God, 'I'm going to do this,'" she recounted.
"I didn't feel in my spirit that it was time (for adoption). I didn't hear 'no,' but I also didn't hear 'go,'" stated Ben. "We both still feel committed to adoption, but at that time we needed to let God open the door."
Sarah continued to push for adoption in 2016 and the couple filled out the paperwork and was preparing for a home visit from the agency, but things didn't work out.
"We focused mainly on the adoption process … educating ourselves, getting our finances in order, finding mentors who had adopted, etc., but God closed the door on the first adoption attempt late summer/fall 2016," related Ben.
"We then took a break from 'starting our family talks' and tried to focus on us, our marriage, and our relationship with the Lord.
"In 2017 we decided to try fertility treatments again and did what we could afford. No success," she continued. "My body wasn't responding and I was physically miserable, so we pulled the plug on the treatments and started looking into the adoption process again.
"During this time, I (Ben) accepted the call to go on my first mission trip to Nepal in 2018, so I start prepping for it, as well as trying to get things and finances in order for a strong adoption push when I returned," he shared.
"When I came back from Nepal, after (school) spring break in March 2018, we went into full adoption mode: paperwork, prepping our home for the home study, raising money, etc."
"All that came to a screeching halt in August/September 2018. We were devastated and frustrated, but we trusted the Lord knows what he's doing and in His sovereignty," submitted Ben.
"We decided to go see her lifelong OB/GYN and see what he thought … should we keep trying, have a hysterectomy, ovectomy, etc.?
"We scheduled a surgery in early October to remove Sarah's right ovary, right fallopian tube, clean out her uterus (remove the endometriosis and scar tissue), and ovarian drill her left ovary (supposed to spur the production of eggs … aids in fertility)," he continued.
"He (the doctor) felt like this might be our only chance without having to resort to IVF. It would alleviate some of Sarah's pain and discomfort after she healed up. She was scheduled for the surgery on a Thursday, but her doctor got sick and was unable to perform the surgery.
"We got a call on Tuesday that her procedure was canceled. Coincidence? Then … we pop up pregnant later that month in October 2018 and probably had been since we scheduled the surgery about two months before. We had no clue — well, I didn't," Ben commented.
"We got far enough and safely along to tell our families ONLY. Ultrasounds looked good, blood work looked good, doctor appointments looked good, and then on a Friday — the day before our annual Bradley Pride golf tournament AND the day before I'm supposed to be in a 'professional wrestling match' against (Cleveland coach) Joey Knox — we get a call that Sarah's blood work shows we're having a miscarriage.
"We were devastated. At the appointment, her blood work and ultrasound still showed a baby and a heartbeat. So, we were confused. Were given a 'clear, but we're on high alert,'" he said.
"Another appointment goes by and the doctor surmises we more than likely were having twins, but lost one of them. That would explain the pregnant blood work and ultrasound still showing a heartbeat. Things seem normal for another week or so, then we finally miscarry the second one. We were very heartbroken and devastated."
After the holidays and wrestling season came and went, Sarah wanted to take a "winter vacation."
"We went to Banff, Canada, for (school) spring break to get away. I didn't feel well part of the trip and even joked that I might be pregnant," she revealed. "A few weeks after we got back, we found out we actually were.
"We informed no one at the time and just hoped, prayed and crossed our fingers. A few weeks go by and we end up losing that one as well. Crushed again.
"By this point, we're starting to lose hope. The difficulty to move past these miscarriages got harder and harder. But, we moved on and decided to focus solely on adoption and try to be as happy as we can be," the couple remarked.
"I (Ben) had also accepted a co-leader position for another trip to Nepal in October 2019 that Sarah was supposed to come on also. It was going to be a 'couples' trip, back to the high villages of Nepal we had previously visited.
"The husbands would continue working with the Sherpa and local school, while the wives would do women's health ministry within the villages and at schools," he explained.
"At this point, there were two other married couples and our in-country missionaries, that were going to make the trip back. So, it would be nice to just focus on the adoption process again and prep properly for a return trip to the Himalayas of Nepal with my wife and the team.
"We went to the annual FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) Coaches Time Out in Murfreesboro in April 2019 and came back at peace with what the Lord had planned for us … whether it meant a family via conception, a family via adoption, a family via both, or no family at all, other than each other," Ben continued.
"Whatever it was, we had made our peace with it and decided to just trust the Lord and try to pay attention to where He was leading us."
"We felt the call to adopt, we felt the call to missions, we felt the call to plug in at our church (still do on all accounts), but we were just unclear on how it all looked. So, we decided to take the summer to just focus on us, our marriage, how we could serve outside of missions, where and who to connect with at church, our trip to Nepal, etc.
"THEN … we popped up pregnant again in late May 2020. We found out almost as early as one possibly can medically. Coincidence?" the couple queried.
"Sarah started on her progesterone from her March 2020 pregnancy (supposed to help stabilize early pregnancies for women with conditions like Sarah's) and we had to wait 2 1/2 weeks for our first appointment," explained Ben.
"That was the longest 2 1/2 weeks of my life," interjected Sarah.
"Things looked good at that appointment. We were optimistic, but not getting our hopes up. Because of our past, we were brought in every two weeks for ultrasounds, blood work, and to personally see our doctor," she continued.
"Eight-week checkup was good. Ten-week checkup was good. Weeks 12 and 13 checkup was good and we were given the 'all clear.' We were still nervous and cautiously optimistic.
"We were moved from every two week appointments to every four weeks now. Week 16 checkup was good. Gender was ID'd and sealed. Had gender reveal gathering a few weeks later," related the Smiths.
"We didn't start breathing easier until after our 20 Week anatomy scan. The scan came and went and things looked great!
"We had a 4D ultrasound at 23 weeks so I could have a photo of Dot to take with me to Nepal. And, the rest, as they say, is history," commented Ben.
"She was due on Jan. 23rd and delivered Jan. 29 … the day before the Region Duals (at his home floor in Jim Smiddy Arena)," the now real "Papa Bear" explained.
"She spent 3 1/2 days in the NICU, but we finally had her here and she is/was fine. The NICU was just a small bump in the road, but a scary one."
He added a side note: "We had to reformat the 'couples' mission trip to Nepal. Not only did we get pregnant, but another couple who had been having a difficult fertility journey got pregnant, as well as the in-country missionaries with their second child. The in-country missionaries had a miscarriage after our first trip and thought that they'd have a difficult time with their second.
"The Lord had other plans. LOL! Coincidence? So, needless to say, there were no pregnant wives going on this trip. LOL!," Ben wrote in an email.
As for their beautiful new daughter, the Smiths proclaimed, "Dottie is a daily reminder of God's grace, mercy and faithfulness. We don't know why He opened Sarah's womb and not others, but we are eternally grateful.
"We want our blessing to be a blessing of hope, perseverance and resilience for others who are traveling a similar path. We've set up a meeting with our pastor to discuss how to go about starting a ministry that could possibly cater to this issue," Ben revealed.
Despite the struggles they've endured, the Smiths are hoping to be able to add to their family — sometime in the future.
"We're still open to and feel called to adoption," they explained. "We're currently praying about it, how it might look now, finances, when, etc.
"We'd also like to try again for another conceptive sibling for Dottie. But, we're in no hurry for either, like we were. Right now we're just trying to navigate this (COVID-19) pandemic with an infant and raise her to honor the Lord."