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Coping with the heartbreak of infertility
According to The American Pregnancy Association, one in ten couples in childbearing age experience infertility. Infertility is one of the most stressful and heartbreaking experiences that a couple will face in their lifetimes.
Celebrations such as Christmas, Mother's Day, and Father’s day can be joyous and happy times for many families. For some childless couples, however, these times emphasize the emptiness of a house that longs for the voices of children.
I myself went through several years of the emotional rollercoaster – the constant temperature monitoring, pill-taking, and rigid life schedule. I saw doctors often and was poked, prodded, shot with dye, and drained of blood for tests. Every cycle was the same – hope that is time my body will co-operate, anticipation, and the crushing power of disappointment.
My friendships were strained with families, particularly with parents of young children. Fortunately, some of my friends understood that sometimes I wanted to hold their kids, and other times, I just couldn’t bear to be around them. I struggled with jealousy of couples with families, a sense of failure, frustration, and low self-esteem.
Infertility is a very difficult subject for most people to talk about. Some infertile couples are frustrated and may feel shame that they cannot achieve what so many people seem to be able to do so easily. Infertile couples often feel isolated in a world that does not understand them. Every day, they hear someone complaining about their kids, read newspaper stories about child abuse and neglect, and see their friends become pregnant when they don’t want to be.
When I struggled with my inability to conceive, I took comfort in the stories in the Bible of women who also struggled with infertility. In Biblical times, a woman might be scorned and mocked by other women or even divorced for not bearing children. There are a number of women in the Bible who struggled with infertility, and some of them bore children later such as Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth,
The impact of infertility
Overcoming fertility puts a lot of stress on couples. What once were spontaneous expressions of love in their relationships are now regimented on a rigorous monthly schedule. Every month is a cascade from high hopes to sadness and deep disappointment that treatments have not worked. The high cost of infertility treatments also puts a tremendous strain on the marriages of these couples.
Unfortunately, there are some people out there who will judge childless couples. The last thing that a couple need to hear from others is that their infertility is their fault. The infertile couple is probably already flogging themselves needlessly with undeserved blame for their failures. Some judgmental people will scold the couple for "choosing" not to have children without understanding that some women have difficulty becoming pregnant.
Couples don't want to hear
- The assumption that that they have chosen not to have children
- That their infertility is God's judgment on them for some sin
- They are not praying enough for a child
- Their infertility is a result of poor diet and or lifestyle that can be fixed by vitamins or strange concoctions
- Their choice to treating their infertility is interfering with God’s will that they remain childless
- They will concieve if they go on vacation or start adoption procedures
The adoption option
Before a couple should consider adoption, they need to come to terms with their infertile state. Adoption has its own challenges. When I looked into adoption, I found that I was not emotionally or financially ready to consider it. It can take years before a baby becomes available, and there is a trial period where the mother can change her mind and take the baby back. International adoption is extremely expensive and financially out of reach for many couples. Adoption can be a happy resolution for couples, but there may still be some mourning for women who will never experience pregnancy.
What family and friends can do
Think about the consequences of asking people why they “don’t have kids yet” or when they are going to “start a family.” The couple may have private infertility issues and feel like failures because they cannot conceive. Don’t say anything unless there is a close relationship and trust.
Telling women that they should take a vacation to trick their bodies into getting pregnant is not helpful. The stress and heartbreak of infertility is not going to go away overnight.
Pray for the couple that they will be able to have children, or to accept the possibility that children are not in their future.
Provide a listening ear when the couple needs to vent their frustration, grief, and anger.
Don’t assume that childless couples are not experienced with children. These couples may be effective in the church nursery and change a diaper as adeptly as most parents. They may also be excellent Sunday School teachers.
Maintain a friendship. Don’t assume that they don’t want to be invited out with you because you are pregnant or have kids. Accept that they may say no if they are hurting.
Don’t suggest the adoption option unless you have useful information to share. The couple may not be emotionally ready to consider this step.
What infertile couples can do
- Seek the help of an infertility specialist
- Research the causes of infertility and educate themselves on the various options available
- Take control of their treatment and ask questions
- Reach out for help from people who understand and/or share their experiences with infertility
- Take breaks from the rigours of treatment
Sometimes God choses to make a childless woman a happy mother of children. After extensive medical intervention with a fertility specialist and lots of prayer, I did eventually have a child after five long years of treatment and experienced the fulfillment of my dreams of motherhood. For many, however, the dream of becoming pregnant and having a child naturally does not come true.
God has a special place in His heart for couples who are unable to conceive and wants to bless them. The Bible prophesies a time in the future when women who are childless will sing and shout for joy because they will have more children than those who gave physical birth (Isaiah 54:1).
Christians can learn to be content and lead happy, fulfilled lives if they accept their state of being, whatever it may be. I eventually had to accept that a child may not be in my future. This relieved a lot of my stress and anxiety, restored my sanity, and lifted me out of depression. I was fortunate in enough to have a child eventually. Unfortunately, many people do not conceive, and have to seek the peace of mind that comes from God.
What churches can do
At services, pastors should use appropriate times to acknowledge that some people are childless but act as mothers and fathers to others. Churches should also be sensitive to childless people during special occasions - for example, giving all women roses during a Mother’s Day service instead of just mothers.
Churches should recognize that some people are mourning while others celebrate holidays like Mother’s Day. The pastor can say a short prayer for those who are struggling with infertility and thank them for their unique contributions to the church.
© 2013 Carola Finch