Infertility in the Arms of the Church
From Gospel Translations
I was a miracle baby. After fighting infertility for two years, my parents’ prayers were answered. I grew up, got married, and had babies of my own, but around me were friends crushed by the heavy hand of infertility. I’ve known suffering, but not the specific suffering of those struggling with the deferred hope of children.
My parents’ story is the one we like to share, because it has the happy ending of God answering prayer and fruit born of long-awaited desire. Like a neat, clean, and perfectly tied package, the happy ending is satisfying in film, literature, and even life.
But what about the stories of continued suffering? Stories that leave you hanging? Stories with loose ends?
Real life isn’t like the movies with simple happy endings. It is messy and incomplete. Broken bodies, designed to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:22), can remain fruitless. While on this earth, we groan, like in the pains of childbirth (Romans 8:22–23), for a perfect world that will fulfill every desire we’ve felt here.
While barren women bearing children is a cause for rejoicing, long-term or permanent infertility is also a cause for grieving. These are the stories that we don’t like to tell. They bear the marks of hard truths about God. It is good to rejoice in answered prayer, but how do we rejoice when prayers go unanswered? We can trust the God who calms our storms, but can we trust the God who sends them to us?
Those struggling with infertility are like the saints of old who didn’t see the immediate earthly fruits of their faith, but who clung to the promises of God regardless of earthly circumstances (Hebrews 11:39). Our hope is not in the happy ending of a miracle baby, but in the eternal happy ending of all God’s children when they are fully and finally united as one with Christ.
The stories without the happy ending of a miracle baby are all around us — stories of continued grief and suffering that might last a lifetime. They hear about the light, but only feel the dark. They listen to stories of redemption on Sunday, but don’t see the redemption of their bodies on the weekdays. They know they have eternal hope in Christ, but they still hope for a child. What can we do as a church body to care for those with infertility?
Childless couples are never our spiritual “projects,” but we do want to include them as part of our daily lives. We need to treat them normally, as we would treat any of our friends. The call to love our neighbor includes those struggling with long-term infertility, so we need to find out how best to love them through fellowship and prayer. Friendships touch all areas of our lives, so while we want to be real and honest about the struggles in life, we also should seek to find other areas of bonding.
The best friend to an infertile couple is one who offers more genuine questions than pat answers. When you do talk about infertility, it is best not to offer unsolicited “medical” advice based on other people’s comments or experiences. Even if you’re trying to be helpful, suggestions of in vitro fertilization (IVF) or adoption can carry a weight of their own for the infertile couple.
Adoption is neither easy nor inexpensive, and IVF is controversial, expensive, and does not always work. It is wise to be mindful of the difficulties involved and be sensitive to the added hardships of those processes. Adoption and IVF do not fill the gaping wound of infertility.
The last thing an infertile couple wants is to be treated differently just because they don’t have a growing family. Because they tend to have more flexible schedules, unmarried people or other couples without children can be a great blessing to those struggling with infertility. But families with children also should seek to draw these couples into our family life and not exclude them because we are afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. Just because they can’t have children doesn’t mean they don’t want to be around children.
A good friend in my church has struggled with infertility for years and even received a final diagnosis concerning her inability to have children. She has become a precious mothering friend to my two boys. We regularly share meals with her, and she often takes care of our kids for us. My four-year-old loves to point her out at church and is always excited when she comes to our house. My friend has become a part of our family.
Mother’s Day, baby showers, and pregnancy announcements can bring about deep sadness for infertile couples. We must not expect those struggling with infertility to be manifestly happy for us, or willing to hear every detail of our gestational journey. It’s good to be mindful and sensitive towards these things and refrain from trite responses to their struggles.
Infertility is always an uncomfortable topic, and in any spiritual community, we may be prone to draw from a reservoir of shallow consolations to offset that discomfort — “Have faith!” or “God will answer your prayers like he did for me.” We shouldn’t offer a “just wait your turn” type of consolation.
Infertility can be like mourning the loss of a child you never had. There are no memories to aid in the healing process, and no permanent closure. Every month is still a chance for life, but it doesn’t come. None of us can relieve this suffocating grief with trite words of comfort, but we can move in close and weep and pray and point them to the hope of this world’s redemption (Luke 21:28).
We Groan for Full Redemption
We, along with infertile couples, live in a world that is passing away, but this broken world still affects us. Christ entered our broken world in order to submit to suffering. The life he lived and the death he died are a promise to those who follow him, that we will suffer as he did and die a variety of deaths in this life (John 15:20–21; 1 Corinthians 15:31).
Those who follow the pierced feet of the Savior bear their own scars. Those struggling with infertility might not bear the physical scars of childbirth, but they do bear the emotional and spiritual scars of painful wrestling with God (Genesis 32:24–30). And God has given them his church, and his church to them, to care and comfort and carry them in the pain.