“All I did was have sex with my husband,” I heard a pregnant woman grumble once, “and this is what I got!” She rubbed her distended stomach ruefully as she spoke. For anyone struggling with infertility, it’s hard to hear someone be so ungrateful. We want to reply tartly, “You have no idea how lucky you are!” For many of us, it’s just not that easy. Medical estimates vary slightly, but the consensus is that at least one of every ten couples in America has been diagnosed as infertile. For almost half, the reason remains unknown. My husband and I are in that group. We started trying to conceive in 2000, got pregnant in 2001, which ended in miscarriage, and have never gotten pregnant since. Our doctors have not been able to tell us why. Nothing’s wrong with either one of us.
For Christians, infertility poses certain problems that it doesn’t pose for those outside of a community of faith. We’re supposed to be patient and joyful, even in trials. We’re supposed to rejoice with those who rejoice, but every time we hear about another pregnant friend, we feel like our hearts are being ripped out. People will tell us we’re not praying hard enough, or the right way, or with enough faith. There are also all of those well-meaning friends who tell us it will surely happen “in God’s time” and say things like, “Aren’t you glad you know God at a time like this?” Our honest answer is often “No”; it doesn’t seem to make a difference if we know God or not. It can actually make it harder. We claim to serve the Creator of Life. Why can’t we create a life? Children are said to be a blessing from the Lord. Does He not want to bless us? We are commanded to be fruitful. Well, we’re trying! How do we reconcile what we believe with our life experiences?
Infertility can be a crisis of faith for Christian couples. After nearly nine years of finding my way down the road of faith and infertility, I decided to talk to a few other women who have been there, and see if we could come up with a few common elements of our journeys to help others along the way.
The main common thread I found was that we all struggle with some degree of anger. Several of us were angry at other women who got pregnant, especially those we perceived to be uncaring of their unborn child. One woman told me, “Anytime I saw a pregnant woman smoking, I wanted to go rip the cigarette from her fingers. If I could get pregnant I would never do that!” But most of us were just angry at God. I was. I had a very real sense of “this is not supposed to happen to people like me”—you know, people who became Christians young and went into ministry. We should be the first on the divine list for a baby when we want one, right? And when it didn’t work that way, I was just mad. I felt betrayed, like God wasn’t holding up His end of the bargain. Infertility, like any other trial, helps us to realize how skewed our thoughts about God and Christianity sometimes are. None of us would openly admit that we feel God owes us anything, but several of the women I talked to admitted that they realized that their view of their infertility was marked by a sense of entitlement as a child of God. It was important for each of us to realize that God doesn’t just love those who choose to serve Him. He loves all people; and His blessings are given to the undeserving, just as the gift of salvation was given to me, undeserving and unearned.
The next commonality I found was that at some point, all of us had to relinquish our pain into the hands of the Almighty and learn to give thanks for where we were. I had to learn to recognize that God, for reasons I didn’t understand, had other plans for me. And I had to come to terms with the idea that “other plans” didn’t equal “second rate kind-of-OK but not quite as good as having a baby” plans. The hardest prayer I ever prayed, and the turning point of my infertility journey, was the day I realized that I couldn’t fight with God over this issue anymore; and I released my hold on all of the perceived promises I had for bearing children and just said, “Thy will be done.” At that point I had to make a choice to be content. It wasn’t some magical feeling of contentment that came over me. It was, and still is, an act of my will to find joy in the life that God has for me, to reject the thought that God is holding out on me. Paul calls it taking “every thought captive” in his second letter to the Corinthians. As one woman put it, “I had to understand that not having children didn’t make me a second class Christian. God wasn’t punishing me.”
The last thing we all had in common was that we all made some sort of resolution to our childlessness. One woman decided to help her husband in full-time ministry in ways that she would not be able to do if she had children. They are now middle aged, and pastor a thriving church in a small town. He travels regularly and teaches at seminars, and she always goes with him and plans fun activities wherever they happen to be staying. They have resolved to look at childlessness as an opportunity instead of a burden. Several of the women I spoke with eventually conceived, some with medical intervention, some naturally. They are now enjoying the world of babies or toddlers. They universally recognized that parenting is a lot harder than they thought it would be, and wished that they would have enjoyed their childless years more instead of leeching the fun out of their freedom by focusing so much on what they didn’t have.
And me? As I write this, three children are sleeping. They are all mine through adoption. I understand now, looking backward, what God was planning for me all those years as I stumbled through my anger into His open arms. All the time He was preparing these children for me, halfway around the world, so that when I was ready, I would open my heart to them and to His wonderful plan for my family.
Each of us, in our own way, has come around to seeing God’s hand at work in us through our circumstances. We have each realized, no matter our outcome, that God was using our pain to change us more into His image—the image of a Savior who also had to say “Thy will be done.”