Suffering and infertility

Some 18-19 years ago my wife and I were struggling with the secret pain of infertility. When everyone around seemed to be getting pregnant we couldn’t…and didn’t. Now, almost 2 decades later, the pain is a distant event in the past. I hesitate to say this because too often suffering people are patted on the back and given trite words of “encouragement”, but…I am thankful for the suffering because it has improved my sense of compassion for others and also my awareness of how God meets us in our pain.

But make no mistake, it wasn’t easy. And I don’t want to go through it again.

Some years ago we wrote about our experience and our spiritual struggles in an essay in the Journal of Biblical Counseling (CCEF’s journal). I mention all this because a friend of mine on staff at a church in NC wrote a short note about it (following a sermon on Zechariah and Elizabeth) and linked to the journal article. You can read my friend Brad’s intro here in their church blog.

Funny thing, this article seems to get more comments from readers than all of the other writings I’ve published put together. I guess it really touches a nerve. And not just with infertile couples. We’ve had comments from those who have had other kinds of losses as well.


Filed under "phil monroe", CCEF, christian counseling, Christianity, parenting, suffering

9 responses to “Suffering and infertility

  1. on God's side...

    It’s amazing to me that God gets the blame for things he did not do. He made all our bodies work in an certain order and timing and if we wait till its too late and our body begins to shut down because That’s how God designed it , how is that God’s fault? When people persue their career and your body is just doing what God designed it to do why Does God get the Blame because you waited so long ? I think It is unfair how God gets the blame all the time so I will side with God on this one. Pregnancy was desinged for young women. If you get pregnant at such a late age you risk bringing into the world disabled children which is harder to care for than an adopted ones . Women need to have babies young and quick persuing Sucess in the world because this is always the sad story they tell in the end. the only reason famous women have babies at such an old age is because they can afford to put their bodies through such un natural Scientific experiments which is unethical anyways from A Christian view because what then happens to all those eggs? they get thrown out or unused which is the same as abortion. Quit blaming God .

    • Dear “On God’s Side”,

      I’m not sure if you intended to sound as harsh as you did, but I suspect many readers of your comments will take offense. You make a number of unsupported accusations (or ones that are general about our current culture and then apply them to readers willy nilly). For example,
      1. Who said I waited long? I was 25 when we discovered we were not going to be fertile. A friend of mine went through premature menopause at 27. Yes, some people delay pregnancy for selfish reasons. But to assume that all who try to get pregnant later in life are doing so because of some desire to wait is outrageous.
      2. Who said anything about blaming God? Maybe some do but I can assure you that I did not. And our article doesn’t support that view. Sure, we had questions. We were hurt and confused. A dream we had evaporated. But, I don’t recall blaming God.
      3. Who said anything about infertility treatments in this post? Who made ANY mention of IVF or other technologies? To assume that everyone does IVF is FALSE.

      In your “siding with God” you added to the pain by misunderstanding those who suffer. You assumed and judged a wide swath of people without merit. Please reconsider your tone and your accusations. They may indeed fit some but your comment paints with a very wide and hurtful brush. Unfortunately, this isn’t rare in the Christian world. One of my interns (also age 24) was experiencing infertility. She dared raise it at her church and a “friend” said, “God is sovereign so it must be that he doesn’t want you to be a parent. Maybe he knows you wouldn’t be a good parent.” Her friend took a truth (God’s sovereignty) and dared interpret God’s mysterious ways.
      [one additional thought added after I posted my comment here]: Please take a look at the article. You will see that we do encourage raw dialogue with God. Such conversations are in keeping with the Psalms–something the church is supposed to “sing” to the Lord. These songs do not always have conclusions and many dare to ask God what he is up to. These songs are sung in faith, “I know your character God and this makes NO sense. Do the dead praise you???” (my translation of Psalm 88). Let us sing these songs as well as those that revel in his goodness.

    • Jess

      I’m 35 and single and would give up my career in an instant in order to be a wife and mother, so I do think there are some underlying assumptions in your comment that are inaccurate. I work because God has called me to be diligent and engaged with the world and because I need to support myself, not because I am “pursuing success in the world,” as you put it.

      Additionally, I’m not blaming God, and I suspect that many other childless individuals (whether single or married) are not blaming Him either. I continue to hope in Him; if He purposes motherhood for me it will happen, even at this late date.

      In siding with God, please bear in mind that it was said of Him: “A bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench.” Let’s devote our energies to encouraging, strengthening, and lifting up those who name the name of Christ, instead of risking rubbing salt in open wounds. I will pray for you and trust that the Lord will richly bless you in every way.

    • Sarah

      on God’s side…makes clear opinions and a tone that I ran into nearly constantly at church while dealing with infertility. At church, it often was couched in a slightly kinder sounding tone, or more Bible verses were referenced to make it sound more pious. None the less, it was as offensive and hurtful as follow-up comments suggest. A great many Christians would do well to realize that though they try to couch themselves, they come across just like ‘on God’s side’. It’s too bad, because while I found nothing but pain in that sort of talk, God himself and the content of the Bible was actually a great comfort and help.

      I am one of the late marrying women you level your vitriol at. Yes, I did experience infertility and I did have a child at ‘such a late age’. One of your major points is that women should have babies young and quick rather than pursue success in the world. These two points are not mutually exclusive, and probably not in the way you expect. I always wanted children, and would have been quite happy to marry and have children sooner. I waited to marry until a mature, godly man I respected and trusted enough to submit to asked, and followed through. I probably could have been a biological success by having children at an earlier age, but that would have involved premarital sex or marrying unadvisedly or using medical technology to substitute for marriage. I wanted to be a mom, but in seeking to do so in a way that pleased God, I was single and abstinent during my years of peak fertility. It seems to me that pursuing motherhood via premarital sex or marriage involving an unequal yoking can be as ‘wordly’ as refusing motherhood to pursue a career.

      There is just so much that could be said in response to the content and connotations of your words…thank you all, Phil especially, for your replies. Infertility is a complex problem and difficult to wade through. Between treatment options, the thoughts in one’s own head and the responses of those around us, it’s a tough sea to navigate. This really is an area where we all would benefit from thoughtful, loving leadership of men in the church brave enough to speak humbly, compassionately and thoughtfully. Complex as it seems, there is nothing new under the sun and I trust that in seeking to love God and others progress could be made in binding up the broken hearted and teaching folks like ‘on God’s side…’ ways of more lovingly, effectively, and accurately understanding what God’s side even is, then sharing the comfort and good news of Christ.

  2. Scott Knapp

    The Community group I meet with at our church (our name of small groups) has become a collection of folks who’ve gone through some extraordinarily harsh circumstances over the last several years we’ve been communing with them. Many job losses, assaults on mental, emotional and physical well-being, a few divorces, theological conflicts with church leadership, etc., have salted our prayer list for one another. Several have reported seeing what they thought was the light at the end of their particular tunnel, only to have another dream shattered in the pursuit of what they thought was God’s will. The more we talk, the more we realize that there are few answers we can come up with as to why our little ragged band has suffered so much, but we agree that walking through our individual traumas with the company of one another has been inspiring and even invigorating, truly “putting in courage” (the true root meaning of encouragement) to hold fast to Christ and pursue Him with passion, in spite of His not intervening and removing the pain. Some of us have wondered aloud whether certain instances of suffering amongst us were specifically permitted to create a need for others to come along side us…blessed is he who is deemed worthy to be selected to be an object lesson, I guess.

    Good post, Phil. Compassionate, direct response above, too.

  3. Penny

    I can tell you from the experience of infertility (although I didn’t postpone getting pregnant for selfish reasons….we were 26 when we starting “trying”) I DID blame God. I can remember sitting in a pew hearing a sermon (from Matt. 7:9) being preached about God being a loving, just God who isn’t capricious. He won’t give you a snake if you are asking for a fish, etc. It occurred to me that we WERE getting the exact opposite of what we were asking for: infertility issues instead of a baby.

    However, as I raised my “I’ve been a good girl all my life, you owe me a break here God” fist high; I learned in those quiet, honest moments with the Holy One, that definitions matter. When I told him it wasn’t “fair”, he asked me quietly whose definition of fair would I prefer to use: his or mine? When I claimed a baby was my reward, he asked me whose record would I like to stand upon (mine or his)? Eventually my angry fist came down and I wept because He redeemed me from my demanding heart and replaced it with a grief filled worshiping heart that would run to him with my sorrow.

    Eventually God gave us the blessing of children. This doesn’t always happen for all folks who struggle with infertility. But like Jacob I walk (parent) with a distinct limp. I know that I am not the woman who believes self righteously that she is owed something. I did nothing to ‘deserve’ infertility (our bodies just are broken from the fall….case in point, I am hope sick in bed today….I hate giving up a minute to being in bed when I have so much I want to accomplish) and I did nothing to ‘deserve; children. Both were blessings to me because both have shaped my character and caused me to worship God in deeper ways. Thanks for continuing to be honest about suffering in your posts.

  4. Melissa

    I’ve always put the term ‘suffering’ in a box called ‘suffering for Christ’ and not once gave a second thought that the pain I’ve experienced from infertility would also fall into that category. Last week I heard a portion of a message on the radio and the part I heard was “…we are commanded to rejoice in our suffering”. At that moment I believe the Lord acknowledged my pain and I felt convicted to search out what the word of God had to say about suffering and was hoping to find that this pain could be defined by God as suffering, the kind of suffering that I believe I am commanded to rejoice in. I have definitely cried, groaned, begged, made promises, come to terms, accepted…just a cycle of suffering. But, I’ve never rejoiced. I am asking how am I supposed to rejoice in suffering, how does one do that? My heart is broken but ‘thank you’ anyway? Kimberly wrote at the end of the article, “God has so many promises for us. But one thing He didn’t promise.
    Nowhere in Scripture did He promise me a baby. He has not let me down. It’s good to desire a baby. But I cannot demand it of Him. Children are a blessing, but they are not promised to us individually. You do not receive blessings because you’re a good person or because you earn them. They just come.’ and “Through this trial and trouble, God was at work. He blessed us with a clearer picture of who He is, what the Christian life is really about, and what to put our hope in. This is our lasting hope. Peter says, “In His great mercy He has given us a new birth into a living hope and into an
    inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade” (1 Pet. 1:3).
    God is glorified by relieving our suffering, and God is also glorified by not relieving our suffering. In either case, God is always seeking to bestow His greatest blessing upon you: Himself.
    Thank you for writing this article and I really enjoyed reading comments by Penny and Scott as well.

    • Melissa, welcome to the site. While we are commanded to rejoice it is not a command that denies our grieve. That would be denial and God is not a God of lies. So, let me tell you how we rejoice in this. Some 20 years later we rejoice that our talking about our suffering has meaning for others.

      We rejoice that God is good even when we suffer.

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