Rachel’s husband Jacob spent 14 years working for the privilege of her hand in marriage. Sarah was so beautiful, even pagan rulers desired her. Hannah was extremely loved and valued by her husband, Elkanah. Though these women had love and admiration from their husbands and others, they all struggled with the devastating effects of infertility.
In biblical times, tradition held that a person lived on through her descendants. If a woman was unable to conceive, she lost that blessing, as well as the favor and social standing that came with having children. Barrenness, then, carried a sense of shame, degradation, and termination. Often women who experienced infertility were scorned by both society and religion. While women in today’s modern world seldom experience such disdain, the effects of infertility are still devastating.
Most couples anticipate children after marriage. From the onset of Adam and Eve’s creation, God instructed us to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). Therefore, it can become very confusing to find medical reports indicating that out of every 100 couples, 10 cannot have children, and 15 have fewer than they wish. A practical indicator of infertility is a couple’s inability to achieve conception within a year or more of intercourse, if no contraceptive is used. The causes of infertility are multiple, and can involve either one or both partners; the woman in 60-70 percent of cases, the man in 30 to 40 percent of cases, and both in a lower percentile. While causes range from scar tissue to infections, for some couples, a cause is never found.
Although infertility is quite common, being one among millions does little to comfort the throbbing emotions of despair. Many women feel as though their bodies are letting them down, or worse yet, that God has failed them. Each menstrual period is a haunting reminder of another month gone by without conception. The excitement of another family member or friend announcing her pregnancy can send the infertile woman into a bitter spiral of depression. Further, problems with fertility can embarrass and put couples on the spot when relatives and friends inquire about family plans. For a woman who spent most of her life planning to marry and have children, her inability to conceive can turn into self-hatred or feelings of inadequacy.
In the Bible, Rachel’s inability to have children brought discord into her marriage. She struggled with jealousy over her sister Leah, who seemed to be fertile enough for both of them. In her pain, Scripture tells us that Rachel allowed her maid to bear children for her. Eventually, however, her impatience turned to conviction when she became pregnant in God’s timing, giving birth to Joseph.
Women struggling with infertility often experience a variety of emotions, including disbelief, denial, frustration, helplessness, self-pity, anger, grief, low self-esteem, guilt and, only after a considerable time, acceptance. Such was the case with Hannah. Her prayers for a son were so passionate to God that the prophet Eli accused her of drunkenness. But beyond her pain and tears, a vow manifested: she pledged to God that if He gave her a son, she would in turn give the child back to Him. Hannah provides a great example of triumph over her pain. Her story is significant, not because she was granted the gift of a child, but because of her perseverance in seeking God.
Each month, approximately 3 percent of couples with unexplained infertility conceive on their own. Many couples simply have reduced fertility and take longer to become pregnant. Simply put, it may be God’s timing that brings about temporary infertility.
If you are facing the possibility of infertility, listen carefully to your doctor — with your head and not your emotions. Then, take the facts to the Lord, seeking His direction for any treatment you might pursue. Even though today’s medicine can help many couples have babies, some couples go through all the testing and treatments and remain infertile. They may invest years and thousands of dollars in fruitless efforts. For many of these couples, it’s hard to give up the search because there’s always one more test or treatment — hope that may finally give them a baby. Although it can be very painful to finally admit that conceiving a baby is not possible, it may be necessary at some point.
After taking some time to adjust and accept their situation, some infertile couples realize that they can still have a full and happy life without children. Some seek to involve children in their lives using other methods. Some adopt or serve as foster parents. Still others take a more active role with nieces and nephews, or volunteer with a children’s organization.
If you are experiencing infertility, you need to know that God has not abandoned you. He hears your cries and knows your pain. Scripture admonishes us to cry on the name of Jesus in times of trouble, and He will answer. He will use your suffering to draw you close, and make you more dependent upon Him. He may even use you to help another experiencing the same trials. Whether you are new to the struggle with infertility, or have traveled a long road with its pain, you can grasp the peace found only in Christ. He is waiting for you.
“Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” — I Peter 5:7
Copyright © 2002 Leslie Armstrong. Used with Permission. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.