I tried to calm my nerves as I sat in the hard plastic chair at the OB/GYN office. The doctor returned with my chart and started talking. From the moment she said the word infertility, I wanted her to take it back. It was the word I was dreading to hear and she had just said it, all matter of fact. The doctor kept talking, but I couldn’t hear her anymore. My brain had tuned her out. I was crushed. I felt alone. I was in a new club that I never wanted to join.

I found myself crying in all sorts of places in the days that followed. It’s weird how a small shift in awareness can cause us to see everything just a little bit differently. I cried as I walked past the infant clothes in Target, while watching a commercial with a mom bathing her newborn, and when my period arrived abruptly to mark another month that we were not pregnant.

I asked God for a baby. Others asked God to give us a baby too.

But no baby came.

My husband and I had been trying to get pregnant for 18 months when we received the infertility diagnosis. We had been attending a new church for about the same length of time. We were leading a small group for young married couples without kids, just like us. That community became our safe space. We learned how to be real and vulnerable with these friends. It was the first place we would share our story of infertility.

I looked at this time of waiting as a season that would eventually end, so I thought I would find something to do in the meantime. One night at a party, a friend asked me to volunteer with the teens at our church. I told him I already helped with the babies in the nursery. My friend joked, “Sometimes the teens act like babies.” We laughed and I shrugged it off. Teenagers intimidated me in high school, and my irrational fear hadn’t gone away in my twenties.

A couple months later, another friend asked me to seriously consider joining the youth team. I told her I didn’t know why she was asking me. She said there were kids that were shy and quiet like me and she terrified them because she’s loud and outgoing. She told me I had the unique opportunity to connect with those kids. That stuck. I considered it and soon I was a youth leader, and my husband joined the team, too.

We worked with the teens together, but separately. He did the loud, wild and crazy Wednesday nights leading small groups with the guys. I helped lead the slower Sunday mornings where we asked real questions and allowed each other to struggle for answers. We were making connections with the same students in different ways, and I loved it.

Somewhere along the line, one of the guys made a joke about my husband being old (to a teen anything near 30 is ancient) and the student began to jokingly call him “Dad.” My husband didn’t miss a beat and he called the teen “Son.” Somehow it stuck and this went on for more than two years.

I’ve been on mission trips and weekend retreats with these students. I’ve watched them grow in height, confidence, and maturity. We’ve had girls nights where we’ve baked, played spoons for hours, and laughed until our cheeks hurt. I’ve been able to cheer on teens at their band concerts, musicals, one-act plays, dance performances, and cheerleading competitions. We’ve paddled around in canoes talking about life, sang Disney songs at the top of our lungs, and hugged and cried in public restrooms when necessary.

My life didn’t turn out the way I imagined. We still don’t have kids of our own running around. But there are over 100 teens that I was given the privilege to get to know, and they all have a special place in my heart. They wiggled their way right in. I think I was ready. I was open. And I had some extra love to give.

One Mother’s Day I woke up to a text from the teen who called my husband “Dad.” It simply said, “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.” And my heart burst wide open.

I asked God for a baby, and He gave me teenagers.