As many of you may know, my wife and I have struggled to have a child these past several years. In January of last year we celebrated our sixth anniversary, and that milestone, rather than being a celebration of our time together, became to us a poignant reminder of our time without the blessing of children. It seemed then that each successive anniversary would be overshadowed by that cloud of infertility—that each one, rather than being seen as a new blessing and a new accomplishment, would be to us an hourglass—a cruel timer viciously dropping our dwindling grains of hope into a heap of despair.
The nature of the time that we live in only fueled that despair. In an age of over-published faux-transparency and ignorant presumption, infertility is an old beast armed with new weaponry. The Facebooks of our time gush with an unending flow of “happy” information, full of people littering news feeds with information that hypocritically demonstrates the superiority of their lives to those of their “friends.” During our struggle, a day scarcely seemed to pass without a new revelation of the blessed expectation of someone’s first, second, or tenth child, making the exhortation to “rejoice with those who rejoice” a progressively more unbearable task.
Yet we trudged along, confiding our struggle with a few people, knowing that the public revelation of it would open up a floodgate of salty consolation that would overwhelm the open wounds of our inability. Despite this, the lack of information only served to let in the burning, presumptive comments of others rather than the well-intended-but-still-hurtful consolation.
For the medical advances of our day, while undeniably significant, are often grossly exaggerated. With that exaggeration comes the presumption from the fertile-types that infertility is easily fixed and is generally a thing of the past. Let me assure you that it’s not. For while medical advances have come a long way in identifying and treating reasons for infertility, there is no “magic pill” that solves the problem. Furthermore, the treatments that do exist are generally expensive, compounded by the fact that insurance companies by-and-large do not see infertility as a condition that needs to be treated. So, if someone is like us and doesn’t have a money tree in their backyard, then the desire for a child has to be mediated by the real prospect of financial ruin.
The ignorance of this often leads people to making hurtful, off-the-cuff comments on it. For it is presumed by many that if you do not have children it is because you are practicing “family planning” through birth control and that you are simply at a point in your life where you do not want to be burdened by children. Some people half-wittingly joke about it, saying such things as, “Isn’t it about time that you had some children of your own?” or, while they are tenderly holding their own child: “Doesn’t this make you want one too?”—each comment, no matter its context, piercing like a dagger into the very core of the soul.
Yet worse than these are the religious types who think that there is some righteousness in child-bearing. These, like many of us do, take a gift given to us by God and turn it into fulfilled commandment to satisfy their desire for self-righteousness. Just as the gifted evangelist judges those who do not evangelize as well and as often as he does, or as the wealthy tither of his pre-taxed income will look with indignation upon the poor soul who is only able to give five percent, these often look at the childless as selfish and willing breakers of God’s decree.
So then by their presumption, infertility becomes the “sin of childlessness.” And it seems as though Jesus has been forgotten, and we’re back to: “Who sinned, the parents or the child, that he was born blind?” These jump from decrees (or blessings?) given by God to people living on an uninhabited earth (viz. “be fruitful and multiply”) to poetry about quivers filled with children, and they use them to create laws that suit their particular opinions to bring conviction upon the church in general. And this thinking seems to be most prevalent among seminarians and reformed folk, that is, among people who should know better.
My wife and I just celebrated our seventh anniversary this past January. The year between this anniversary and the last was an eventful one to say the least, filled with moving, job-changing, surgery, etc. The latter thing mentioned, by God’s grace, brought an end to what made the previous anniversaries so painful, namely the inability to have a child. As of today, my wife is now into her second trimester, and both mother and child appear to be healthy. We are extremely thankful to God for his unmerited goodness towards us and for all the people who have prayed for and supported us during this time.
As happy as this time is for us, we cannot help but remember our prior pain and the people who still struggle with that very same pain. Of course with God there is always hope, yet hope is precisely that—hope. And as the proverb says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Prov. 13:12). And this is the reason for this post, namely to help bring to light those who quietly suffer among us whom we might deeply hurt with our words and actions without knowing it.
So with that, here are some points that I think would be beneficial for all of us to think on and practice:
1. God is a God of the impossible. Regardless of how impossible something appears to us, God is able to accomplish it. We cannot see how he is working things together, so we are called to trust him knowing that he by his nature and his covenant is benevolent toward his people.
2. Be thoughtful with your words. If someone you know doesn’t have children, it’s probably best to assume that they want children and are having trouble rather than to assume the converse. Whether it’s true or not is not the point. In fact, they may have given you some fabricated reason for their lack of children to spare themselves the pain of the reality and your knowing it. Whether such fabrications are right is not your concern. Your concern should be to presume the worst so that you might console the best. And sometimes silence is the best consolation.
3. Do not create laws where God has not. Our natures love to set us up in judgment over others, especially in matters in which we believe we excel. Self-righteousness does not console, nor does it please God. If you believe that God requires people to have a quiver-full (i.e. five, as some interpret the expression) of children, then apply it to yourself and let it be. Just remember that the ones who remain childless their entire lives fall into the same part of the Venn Diagram as the apostle Paul.
4. You’re not alone. If you struggle with infertility, sometimes you feel like you’re struggling with it all by yourself, especially if you have a sizeable number of friends on Facebook. Though it may be little consolation, just know that despite the fact that it seems like ninety-nine percent of people have children just fine, that is not the reality. Just remember this: Facebook is a place where most people like to show off their lives to people that they really don’t care about—it’s a high school reunion that never ends. People’s lives aren’t as great as they show them off to be.
5. Be a little more real. There is a way to be too real, and we all know what that looks like. Nevertheless, don’t go to the other extreme by using Facebook as a canvas to portray how perfect your life is to others. You know it isn’t, so don’t exaggerate to make it appear that way. Not only is that the very definition of hypocrisy, but you could be inadvertently hurting others by your “perfect life.” So be real, but not too real.