Navigating Pain and Purpose: A Story of Infertility, Faith and Hope with Sherelle Gilbert
Be fruitful and multiply. When it comes to marriage, this is something young, Christian couples are used to hearing pretty much as soon as they exchange vows. While God did instruct Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, many churches have distorted what God commanded of the first earthly couple into a toxic standard that's rooted more in cultural pressure than in biblical truth.
What about couples who don't want to have kids? (There's literally no sin in that.)
Or who can't?
Sherelle Gilbert's story is one of devout faith that has yet to be shaken despite an uphill battle with infertility that ultimately resorted to having to remove both of her tubes. Instead of allowing anger and bitterness to settle in, Sherelle transformed her pain into purpose and launched She Experienced, a lifestyle blog and YouTube channel in which she and her husband share their journey while also exploring topics like beauty, fashion, and wellness. (By the way, they have a t-shirt line that's clutch!)
I had the privilege of sitting down with Sherelle to learn more about her story and how she finds the strength to inspire others.
KF: What made you start She Experienced?
SG: I actually started She Experienced because of my own self-esteem issues. I was born with two, large birthmarks and I always did whatever I could to cover them up. By my senior year of high school, I was using body makeup to cover them. I did this all through college and even my first year of grad school. I was going to school for social work and I realized I couldn't help people if I hadn't helped myself. I stopped swimming and everything in attempts of hiding because I hated how I looked. At the moment, I just decided to embrace my birthmarks.
In 2013, I started She Experienced by sharing that story and how I battled self-esteem issues. I wanted Black women especially to know they don't have to be ashamed of their stories or experiences because you never know how it's going to help someone else or make others feel less alone.
KF: Sharing your story is a big deal, especially when it's so personal. As She Experienced grew, you started talking about your battle with infertility. How did you know that's what God wanted you to do?
SG: Because it scared the hell out of me! I wrote a post that sat in draft mode for a year and a half. I told God that I would share my story after I had my miracle baby and I felt pressed to not wait and share it now. I had to remember that sharing my story was part of eradicating the shame. It was terrifying, but I knew it was God because of how uncomfortable I was. Not everything God tells us to do is going to feel good, and I was embarrassed by it, but there's a purpose for it.
KF: Why were you embarrassed?
SG: As women, we're taught that our bodies are designed to give birth. When I found out that mine couldn't, it was shameful. I didn't know if I did something or why it was so easy for others. I didn't understand what was wrong with me. I felt broken and ashamed. When I saw my friends having children back-to-back, I couldn't figure out why my body wouldn't do the same thing.
KF: How do you deal with that?
SG: Once I finally started to accept it, I went to therapy and it plays a big role in helping me find the confidence to share my story. My prayer life has definitely increased, too. I can't get through this without God. My husband is also great support.
KF: How old were you when you found out that this was an issue?
SG: I had just turned 31, so we've been trying to conceive for over three years.
KF: From a medical standpoint, were there any signs that fertility may be an issue?
SG: Yes, we were trying for about a year before I went to my OB. I was out shopping and had really sharp pains to the point where I just laid in my car. When I was a kid, I had ovarian cysts so I thought that's what it was. The pain subsided that night, but I went to the doctor a couple of days later. She knew we were trying to conceive and how long we had been trying, so she ran some tests and that's what started the whole process.
KF: I really admire how you said you keep God in your journey. I know a lot of women, myself included, might blame God and throw tantrums – especially because it's not something you did or caused. How do you make sure your relationship with him remains solid in all of this?
SG: I tell God exactly how I feel. If I feel angry or jealous, I get real and raw with him about it. He already knows, so there's no point in being uncomfortable or fake about it. I tell him when I'm upset and when I'm not okay. I had to get my tubes removed last year and I let him have it.
Growing up, I was taught to pray these perfect little prayers, but sometimes it's not and part of having a relationship with him involves being real. I know he's not going to curse me for expressing how I feel. He's going to walk through it with me because I've invited him into that space to do so.
KF: That's the most refreshing thing I've heard! God is big enough to handle our frustrations, yes. A lot of Christians believe that having kids is necessary for being a good Christian woman. How does infertility impact your relationship with the church at large or with other believers?
SG: I have a friend who was actually afraid to share what she was going through for that very reason and I don't like it. There's also this notion of sharing your testimony only after you come through on the other side isn't helpful. We have full permission to share our story while it's being written and I didn't really ever see anyone do that in church. It's part of church culture that needs to change because it leaves so many people to suffer in silence. You can still praise God while you're going through it, even if it's messy and tough.
KF: Our generation of women really values authenticity. How do you decipher what to share and what to keep to yourself?
SG: If I'm on the fence about it, I just pray and ask God for direction. For instance, I was going to vlog the process of one of my surgeries and felt inclined to wait. I just let him lead.
KF: Let's talk a little bit about your business, which I think it's safe to say is a ministry. Sometimes, it's hard for both to co-exist. What parameters do you put in place to help you balance the two?
SG: I feel like I'm still developing those parameters. There's a part of me that wants to just give. At the same time, it's important to remember that it is still a business. Setting boundaries is an on-going process.
KF: What made you venture into apparel after starting as a blog?
SG: It's something I was curious about it as a child. Once I started blogging more, I wanted to create shirts that speak to the process women are going through, whatever their story is. I wanted to spark conversations that open the door for friendships and communities to be formed beyond the blog.
KF: You mentioned vlogging earlier. You started a YouTube channel?
SG: Yes, and it's a whole new world! I'm a consumer of YouTube but being on the production side is completely different. As a writer, I can pour my heart out on a page, do some editing, and be done. With YouTube, there's so much more involved but I really enjoy it! It's a lot of fun.
KF: In addition to running She Experienced, are you working outside of the home?
SG: Yes, I'm a victim advocacy trainer and family advocate. I'm working from home, but I stay busy.
KF: As an entrepreneur and someone who's holding down a 9-to-5, what does workplace wellness look like for you?
SG: Developing a routine is key. At first, it was hard to separate everything because my home was my home. Once the pandemic hit, my home office also became my work office and I started to feel overwhelmed. Getting a routine in place helped alleviate some of that. Therapy is a must. Taking walks and eating healthy also plays a big part in taking care of myself.
KF: How do you prioritize self-care outside of work?
SG: I try to do something new and find something creative to do. Arts and crafts and painting are activities I enjoy. My husband and I also try to do something together that caters to our relationship every month.
KF: What advice do you have for other Christian bloggers or women who are dealing with infertility?
SG: Take it one day at a time. Infertility is such an emotional roller coaster and you don't want to get too attached to certain dates and timelines. If today is a good day, it's a good day. If it's a bad day, acknowledge that. Having a therapist is necessary, too. Infertility can take a lot out of you on so many levels so it's nice to have a professional to talk to. Develop a prayer life. Journal! Also, find an infertility community where you can connect with other women who understand what you're going through.