I’ve always loved kids. I didn’t dream of being an entrepreneur or starting a nonprofit when I grew up; I wanted to be a mom. And while I didn’t meet my husband until ten years ago, there weren’t previous signs or symptoms to indicate we would struggle to have children. I’m now forty-three, and we have yet to be able to conceive or have children, although we’ve tried in so many ways.
Infertility is more common than people might think: It affects one in eight couples, which means about 7.3 million American women experience difficulty conceiving. Infertility is “a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.” (World Health Organization, November 2009). Although many cultures no longer consider it a curse, there is still a lot of shame, secrecy, cultural taboos, and woundedness surrounding infertility.
“For most people, having children is an essential part of their life, and all societies put a great value on having children.”(Henny M W Bos, 2007).
The pain from not being able to bear children extends beyond deep interior suffering, as fertility is often very tied to our identity (I addressed that in my podcast interview with Red Bird Ministries here.) Our wounds are further impacted by society and even by members within our faith communities. And we’re not prepared for the repeated cycles of grief throughout the journey.
I’ve learned a great deal through our fertility issues, so much so, I’m writing a book on it. It’s a greater work in progress, and in the meantime, God is pressing me to share more about what He is teaching me through the cross of infertility. For those with no fertility issues, there’s something for you, too, amidst these lessons, proceeding from the school of suffering. If your life has ever gone in an unplanned direction, if you’ve suffered, if you’ve sought healing – you’ll be able to relate. And chances are you know someone struggling with this cross that you can share this with, have greater empathy for, or perhaps know how to love him or her a little better.
We Can’t Earn Gifts from God, and Infertility Is Not a Punishment
I was raised with a “hard work” attitude and have always had a strong sense of justice. I remember the first time it sunk in that hard work and a can-do attitude didn’t always equal success: my Junior year in high school, my diligent friend and I got cut on the last day of volleyball tryouts. The most improved player was “so last year” in JV, apparently, as the varsity coach delivered the news. Shocked, we trudged back to the locker room, sat in silence, and I slowly changed out of my gear while tears bounced onto my lap. How unfair! And did she really just ask us to be managers?!!
Somewhere along the way, the same concepts transposed in my beliefs towards God; that if I did all the right things for God, He would respond by rewarding me with my desired outcomes. If I accomplished all He asked, remained steadfast in prayer, went to Church, strived for virtue, etc. – God would bless me with what I desired. God isn’t Santa Claus, though.
Children aren’t a reward or a blessing for the worthy; they are a gift. With 400,000+ abused, neglected, or abandoned children in foster care in the United States alone, it’s clear kids aren’t conceived based on their parents’ desire or merit (Children’s Bureau, 2019). God is the author of life, and all life is precious. Not until Heaven will we understand why some things came to pass, and others did not.
Conversely, infertility is not a curse or punishment from God. I haven’t been cursed with barrenness because I need to make reparation for something that I did. Jesus already paid the price for me on the cross and bore our punishment.
God doesn’t take delight in our pain or suffering. But even suffering serves a purpose. God allows us to unite our pain with Christ crucified– and offer it up for the salvation of souls. St. Faustina wrote,
“Love and suffering go hand in hand (Diary, 881). In the spiritual life suffering is the thermometer which measures the love of God in our soul (Diary, 774, 343). All of us can respond to suffering like St. Paul and join our sufferings to Christ’s passion:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s affliction for the sake of His body, that is, the Church.”Col. 1:24
A breakthrough at the beginning of my restoration journey occurred when someone praying over me shared the image of Jesus crying with me in my traumatic moments – the ones where I felt most abandoned. He was there; He cried, it pained Him, too. That brings tears to my eyes even now.
Learning Patience + Perseverance
The enemy wants us to believe the lie that God is holding out on us: a lie which is as old as Adam and Eve when it began in the Garden. Satan undergirds our vulnerability with the idea that God is withholding from us; because, if we mistrust God, then we’ll turn away from God and take matters into our own hands. This unhealthy self-reliance and separation from God are exactly what the enemy wants. And infertility exposes and can exacerbate that vulnerability, pushing you even to pursue any means of conceiving a child. All the while, you’ve lost your peace and joy.
God desires what is the very best for His children. If I’d had children, there are at least a decade worth of things I never would’ve taken on. I’d have missed those blessings or the ability to extend blessings to others. I’d been on a different path, be a different person, had completely different experiences, and moved in different circles. In God’s economy, nothing is wasted. If God isn’t answering my prayer one way, it may be because He’s got a different plan beyond my capacity since I only see my limited view.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”JAMES 1:17
A man with a prophetic gift once told me as he prayed over me, “You wear the devil out with your patience.” And as my husband and I are in a new season of discernment regarding our family, we must be patient as God aligns everything according to His will.
Infertility has required perseverance like no other suffering has ever demanded of me. Each cycle can present another disappointment, another cause for grief. Triggers are everywhere – you cannot isolate from kids or family life, especially on social media. Perseverance, or fortitude, is a human virtue that “strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life” (CCC 108). It is a virtue that we need to ask God to give us to continue to carry our cross, as He did His.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.”Hebrews 12:12-13
If you’re suffering, please don’t try to white-knuckle this on your own; your shoulders weren’t meant to bear the pain, anxiety, and grief alone. God doesn’t desire that your life lack meaning or for you not to experience joy. But your heart must be open to accepting that it may come in other forms and circumstances.
God Has a Unique Calling on Our Lives
I was at a Blessed Is She retreat about four years ago when God spoke about His calling on my life in a profound way. Sr. Faustina was giving the first talk on Henri Nouwen’s “The Life of the Beloved,” and in the middle of it, she stopped and did a complete change-up. She said, “This was coming to me so strongly yesterday in Adoration and again now, but, if you’re struggling with infertility, God has a different plan for your Motherhood.”
Sitting in the first table, about 10-ft away from her, I began weeping. I knew that message was for me. It was God speaking into my brokenness, as if to say, “I hear you. I see you. I know your heart. Just because my plan looks different for you doesn’t mean you are less than in any way. Hold on, little one.” It was a message to help me press on and know that while I’m waiting, I am serving the Lord and walking in His way.
If your life doesn’t look like you planned it, if you’ve prayed for years for a great desire yet feel no closer to it, let these words speak to your seeking heart, too. The Lord sees, knows, and hears you. He may be asking for patience and perseverance, or He may have another gift to give you in His plan that considers every person and circumstance, in your life, as while as throughout eternity.
But how will I know what His will for me is?
St Edmund of Abingdon
A perfect life is a life of honor, humility, and love,
and an honorable life is to will to do God’s will.
Before doing anything, ask yourself if it is God’s will:
whether it is thinking in your heart,
speaking with your mouth, seeing with your eyes,
hearing with your ears, smelling with your nose,
tasting with your tongue, touching with your hands,
walking or standing, lying or sitting.
If it is God’s will, then do it with all your might.
If it is not God’s will, then die rather than do it.
If you ask me, ‘What is God’s will?’ I will answer:
‘God’s will is that you become holy.’ (Emphasis added)
If we can seek holiness, instead of our own will and before our personal desires, then we are disciples following Christ’s example. Not my will, but yours, Father. And while Christ suffered for a time, He entered and now reigns in the glory of the Resurrection. So, we may suffer for a time, but we know that inasmuch as we share in His sufferings, so, too, in His glory. Knowing these things doesn’t mean it won’t sometimes hurt, or cause any number of emotions, struggles, and sufferings. But as my mentor and the Scriptures remind me, “suffering is joy worked through.”
Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly.”1 Peter 4:12-13