I’ve been quietly pondering this post for a number of weeks, turning it over in my mind before I ever sat down to actually write. I know God wants me to write it and I am glad to do so. I believe Christians often go through experiences that aren’t just about them and I firmly believe that my experience with childlessness was not just for me alone.
I say “childlessness” rather than “infertility” because I never considered us infertile. I almost never used that word in relation to our situation. I know this is not true for all couples. Some are told that they are infertile and will not conceive. This was not our experience so I cannot speak from the perspective of definitely knowing I cannot have children. We knew it could be a little more of a challenge, but we were never told it was impossible.
While we never were convinced we had a clear answer from God regarding what was going on or if our situation would ever change, we were quietly confident in our thinking that God had closed my womb for His own purposes, not that we were physically infertile. For us, there was a difference.
I also want to say from the beginning that this is a descriptive narrative, not prescriptive theology. My intention is only to share my experience in hopes that someone else might be encouraged or challenged by it. I certainly do not believe that God will call every couple to make the same decisions we’ve made. My intention is simply to share our story, not to tell others what they should do.
Engagement and Marriage
When we were engaged (1996), we discussed birth control. While we did want to have children eventually, we didn’t want to get pregnant on the honeymoon! David simply assumed I would use birth control pills because it was the easiest option. (In his defense, he knew nothing about the ethical issues associated with the pill.) I had misgivings, but agreed. (My misgivings had to do primarily with the fact that I was not comfortable taking something that seriously altered my body. I, too, knew nothing about the issues associated with the pill.) I took just three pills and thought I would lose my mind. I could not believe how radically they affected me physically and emotionally after just a few. I told David- no way. If this is what happens to my body after only three pills, there is absolutely no way I am going to take these day after day, month after month. When he saw the effect they had on me, he agreed. (In retrospect, my feeling compelled to stop taking the pill – although for physical reasons, not theological ones – was one of the most gracious things God has ever done for me.)
Because we did not want to get pregnant right away, for the first several months of our marriage (1997) we used another means that would not affect me at all. However, during that time we became increasingly convinced that we should not be using any at all and instead believed that we should be open to having children when God chose.
This was a huge step of faith for us. We were not in a position financially to have children nor did we really want to have children yet. But we also knew we did not want to miss out on what God might want to do. So we took a huge step of faith and waited to see what would happen.
It was scary! I honestly mean that. I thought for sure I would get pregnant the first month (1998). I come from fertile stock. Almost no one in my extended family on either side has had any problems having children so I thought for sure I would simply carry on the very fertile tradition. But that didn’t happen. It didn’t concern us too much when we didn’t conceive right away. I wouldn’t even say we were really trying. We just weren’t trying to prevent it.
Our Specific Prayer
In praying about children in the ensuing months our prayer was that we would have the children God wanted us to have at the time He wanted us to have them. Frankly, neither of us wanted a lot of children – two or three, maybe four if I was feeling really adventurous. So there was a bit of apprehension in our praying for whatever God wanted, but we kept praying and walking in faith. We also knew we shouldn’t put off having children too long since we were getting older. We were 29 and 33 when we married so we knew we couldn’t wait forever.
We also prayed something that was perhaps different than what other people pray. I don’t even know if I can provide a biblical defense for it. But we prayed that God would only give us children who would love and honor Him. David and I had discussed this at length and our hearts’ desire was that we would rather have no children than have children who would not love the Lord.
This prayer grew out of a friendship I had as a single with a woman whose parents had prayed a similar prayer. The parents had four living children and several miscarriages. The four living children were all faithfully serving God. The example of this family resonated with me in a significant way. In all honesty, I knew I would rather have no children than have children who would turn their back on God. I knew that if God did give us children it would not necessarily mean that God was giving us a guarantee that they would love and honor Him. But I felt compelled to pray this and often wondered through the years if our lack of children was somehow related to that prayer.
About a year and a half after we made our decision (1999), I did have a laparoscopy for endometriosis. I had suffered painful cycles since I was in high school and they were becoming more and more debilitating so the doctor suggested the surgery. He also said that it might help us in our ability to conceive. The surgery did help with the pain, but from what we could tell wasn’t helping with the other situation. During the course of the surgery, it was discovered that I had one tube that was potentially blocked, but it would take another procedure to determine for certain if that was the case. I didn’t feel compelled to have the other procedure, so we just kept that information in the back of our minds.
I can’t say anyone ever pressured us about figuring out how to get pregnant. Everyone around us knew we wanted children because we were open about it. I think my OB/GYN was probably the most perplexed by our attitude. We saw it as walking in faith. I don’t think he ever really understood why we never wanted to pursue infertility options sooner. However, about five years into our experience (2003) we did decide to have David tested. The tests showed that there might be some slight challenges, but nothing significant. However, combined with my potential problem and our increasing ages, we knew that the odds were not necessarily in our favor. However, we made the decision to keep walking in faith and trusting that God was in control.
We decided to purchase a fertility monitor since we suspected that I was not ovulating at regular times. It confirmed that my ovulation dates varied greatly from month to month which of course made it challenging to conceive. It also confirmed that my cycles were not long enough after ovulation (luteal phase defect) which means that even if we did conceive, my womb’s environment might not be ready to support the fertilized egg and it would die.
We finally got to the point where we decided we were tired of thinking about it and we were going to just get on with life. Although it never consumed us like it does some couples, we realized that we needed to just start planning our life with the assumption that we were probably not going to have children. We stopped using the fertility monitor and told our close friends and family members that we were not pursuing children any longer and would appreciate it if they would not bring the subject up for discussion. We stopped talking about “when or if we have children”.
In October of 2004, I had not been feeling well and decided to take a pregnancy test. I had taken many of them before and they had always been negative. This time it was a faint positive. We were so excited and stunned, but our joy was very short-lived. What we didn’t know at that time was that I had already started miscarrying that baby. I took several more tests over the next few days and they became progressively fainter.
When I went to the doctor he said that apparently something had happened, but it didn’t “take”. Maybe he looked at it that way, but we saw it as a baby we had lost. It was a LOSS for us, not something that didn’t take. So while we were very disappointed that I was no longer pregnant and we went through the grieving process for that child, we were given hope that we were able to conceive, something we had had no affirmation of before this time.
A few months later (2005 – almost seven years after our initial decision) we decided that we would make an appointment with a fertility specialist. I was almost 38 and David was almost 42 and we thought we should at least go once and see how God would lead.
It was the most depressing, numbing, shocking, horrible experience we had in all of our childlessness. There was no compassion, no interest in us as a couple or individuals, no discussion about our concerns or questions, nothing. It was all about how they were going to manipulate our bodies to make a baby.
Of all the things I could have imagined when we went in for the appointment, it never crossed my mind that the intern and the doctor would be so impersonal. Maybe they do this every day, multiple times a day and to them it is routine, but I could not believe how cold and clinical it was. I was stunned and numb when we left. There was no way on God’s green earth I would EVER have chosen to put myself under the care of someone like that.
That experience completely turned me off to pursuing anything related to infertility treatments. Even before we went in we knew there were only a limited number of things we would ethically consider, but after that experience we knew that we would not head in that direction at all.
Our experience with the fertility specialist was similar to other experiences we had. It seemed every time we moved in any direction that involved doing something substantial, we felt that the door was clearly closed – FIRMLY. We briefly researched adoption and felt clearly we were not to head in that direction. We briefly discussed foster care since we had friends who had adopted a baby in that way. But we knew we were not of the right temperament or personality to do foster care.
The month after our fertility appointment, I developed serious back problems and conceiving a child was the last thing on my mind. I could never have carried a baby when I was so sick. So for most of 2005 the very last thing I wanted was to get pregnant. My body could not have handled the strain. However, late in 2005 I started thinking about the monitor again. I felt compelled to try to use it again (which I believe now was the Holy Spirit). I approached David with the idea in December and he agreed.
In January 2006 I took a pregnancy test rather on a whim to confirm once again that I was not pregnant and to just get it off my mind. Our wonderful ninth anniversary present was a big fat positive. We are expecting a child in October 2006.
The Life Impact of Childlessness
Unless someone has experienced it first-hand, I don’t think anyone can fully comprehend how childlessness/infertility is an issue that affects every part of your life. It impacts your friendships, your church life, your family life, and your marriage. It impacts your spiritual life and theology. It impacts your finances. It impacts your physical body. There isn’t any part of your life that isn’t impacted by it. It raises questions about the choices you make.
One such question for us was financial. We had worked very hard to get out of debt and were debt-free other than our mortgage. Some people we know have chosen to finance an adoption via their home equity and going into further debt. We wrestled with concept of going into debt for a baby when we had become so convinced that we should get out of debt.
We also wrestled with whether or not I should go back to working full-time in teaching so we would have more income to finance an adoption or fertility treatments. But we had clearly sensed that I should leave teaching. Would God cause me to go against that conviction in order to have a child?
Withholding a Blessing
There are so many hard questions to answer and every one of them has the potential to consume you in the process. It is a battle to keep your eyes focused on God and His purposes and not take matters into your own hands.
Most days I was at peace knowing that there had to be a spiritual reason I was not conceiving. If children are a blessing and a good gift and God was withholding that gift from us, there had to be a reason. Maybe it would be a genetic disaster. Maybe I would not survive a pregnancy. I didn’t know and maybe I would never know this side of heaven. But I knew that if God said no to our years of prayers and the prayers of so many others, there had to be a reason. I believe too much in God’s goodness and His sovereignty to look at it any other way.
One thing that did anchor me in the spiritual aspect was the fact that I had gone through something similar with being single. I had struggled a lot with the issue of singleness and learned a great deal about trusting God’s goodness and sovereignty. Because I saw how God worked in that experience and what a blessing my husband is, it did make it a little easier to trust God with our childlessness. That isn’t to say I never struggled, but I do think the struggle was less intense because I had walked a similar path before.
Hard Questions and Circumstances
However, my faith did not stop me from having questions. I think many of my questions were the same ones that other women ask.
Why do completely irresponsible people get pregnant and I don’t?
- Why is God giving ANOTHER child to that couple when they aren’t even raising the ones they have in the fear and admonition of the Lord?
- Is this related to something in my diet?
- Is it related to stress?
- Am I being punished for some sin?
- If I were a better Christian in X area of my life, would I get pregnant?
I wrestled with many of these kinds of questions at one time or another. I don’t see how a person could go through such an experience and not ask them.
Despite my overall faith in the situation, I did not respond to every baby announcement perfectly. I wish I could say that I was perfectly happy for every friend, church member, coworker, etc. who ever announced she was pregnant. I was not. Sometime it hurt. A lot.
Sometimes I was genuinely thrilled for the mom-to-be. Sometimes in the midst of my own struggles I was only mentally happy for them, but had a hard time expressing it. Sometimes I chose not to attend baby showers because I wasn’t sure how I would handle it and I didn’t want to take away from the enjoyment of the mother-to-be and other guests (or worse, start crying). For a few years, we didn’t go to church on Mother’s Day. It varied from year to year and circumstance to circumstance. I did my best to walk in faith, but also realized that Iâ’m only human and there was no point in putting myself in situations that might blow up in my face.
Something I struggled with is something that I rarely see mentioned in Christian discussions on infertility. (And it is probably because most women who discuss infertility feel very passionately about having a baby.) Sometimes I felt guilty that I didn’t long for a child more. There were stretches where I was actually quite happy to be childless. I was at peace with what God was doing. I enjoyed the freedom. I enjoyed having all my time and energy to myself and I enjoyed not having to share my husband or my home with a needy little person.
And I felt kind of guilty about enjoying my childless state so much. It seemed selfish. I’m sure I’m not the only Christian woman who has ever struggled with this, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone openly discuss this. There were times I thought I could be quite content to never have children (although I always knew in my heart of hearts that if I was pregnant I would be thrilled). But sometimes I felt like a very bad Christian woman because I did not long for a child.
Dealing with How Others Respond
It never ceases to amaze me the wide range of responses one gets when in this situation. There are some very kind and compassionate people out there who have prayed for us for years and have had their hearts break when ours broke. There are some incredibly rude, insensitive folks as well. And there are a lot inbetween – folks who mean well, but aren’t quite sure how to help or encourage you. Fortunately I ran into a lot more in the first and last groups than the middle one.
I personally think one of the hardest places on earth to be a childless couple is in the church. One would think it would be one of the safest and easiest places to be, but in our experience it is not. For the most part, life at church revolves around the family and children. It is very difficult to fit in if you don’t have children. Sunday School classes choose material on parenting. Classes are organized according to how old your children are. Children’s activities at church are a natural way that people get acquainted. Small talk, especially with groups of women, almost always revolves around topics related to children. In some churches, the social networking is also impacted by which school/school district your child attends. If you don’t have children, you simply don’t have those natural bridges and it makes integrating yourself into the life of the church with people your own age significantly more difficult.
I’ve heard people say that childless/infertile couples need to just deal in faith with the lot they have been given by God and move on. They need to not be so selfish and introspective about their childlessness/infertility. And to a certain extent, this is very true. Some couples do become obsessive about it to the point where it is spiritually unhealthy. But I cannot imagine any couple being able to deal with infertility and it not affecting them negatively at times, no matter how strong their faith is. I think that those around them need to understand that a grieving process needs to take place. But when does that process start?
There is a huge difference between a couple who can conceive and doesn’t and the couple that finds out they absolutely cannot have children. The couple that is completely infertile can at least begin the grieving process and start going through the stages of dealing with the reality. Although the pain may never completely go away, there is a sense that the process can begin.
For a couple who can conceive and year after year doesn’t, it is a completely different story. When do you stop “trying”? When do you stop hoping? Do you stop praying? When do you start the grieving process? I don’t think there are cut and dried answers to these questions. And the people around them need to realize that couples dealing with childlessness/infertility are usually dealing with this for YEARS before they ever get to the point of even thinking about the finality of it. While to some around them it is time to just “deal with it and move on”, this in and of itself can also take months or years. I can’t imagine saying to someone who had lost a child or spouse – deal with it and move on. It takes a long time to go through the grieving process. Why wouldn’t it take just as long to grieve the loss of the hope of the child you will never know?
Lastly, while there is a great need in the church to discuss issues of birth control, the blessing of children, etc., my frustration is that in their zeal to do so, some people go WAY over the top. I’ve read articles and website pieces that made my blood run cold. In my opinion, some people who promote quiverfull theology and the like almost make large families and children into idols. The implication is that anyone who does not embrace the same view is highly suspect in their very salvation. Certainly in their zeal to challenge people to think through these issues, there needs to be some thoughtfulness and compassion for those who are childless or who have only one or two children not by choice. The lack of sensitivity I’ve witnessed at times in things I’ve read has been appalling. Having a large family and not using any contraception is not the end all and be all of the Christian life. Not by a longshot.
As I write this entry, I am 23 weeks pregnant. This is significant because I’ve reached the point where my baby would have a chance of surviving if she came early. And I rejoice in that.
I don’t mean to sound morbid or faithless, but the reality is that I do not yet actually have a child. Yes, I am pregnant and carrying a baby. However, she is not here yet and I know there are no guarantees. I am trusting God to safely bring this baby into the world, but I am not a parent yet in the fullest sense. My journey through childlessness is not quite through. I still have panicky moments of fearing something could go wrong. Every time she moves around I am thankful to know that she is still ok.
My heart goes out to the women who read this who are still waiting and hoping. I wish I could sprinkle baby dust on each and every one of you so you too could feel your baby moving inside you right now. I don’t have all the answers to the questions. I don’t know why I am pregnant and other women who have been waiting for a child longer than I have are still waiting. It certainly is not because God loves me more than them or I have greater faith.
I would like to wrap up this post with some neat answers, but there are no neat answers in this area. I’ve had enough people give me pat answers and glibly quote Scripture to know that sometimes you wish they would just shut up and go away. So I can only say that I do believe with all my heart that God is a God of purpose. I don’t know why He does what He does, but I know that every answer He gives to our prayers comes from His loving and compassionate heart. It doesn’t mean we will always understand or agree with it, but trusting that God is good and sovereign all the time is the only thing that allows me to go to sleep at night in peace.