Finding your way through infertility

Getting pregnant seems as certain as the sun rising or the seasons changing — until it doesn’t happen as you planned. The first month without conception is disappointing, but not panic-inducing. We tell ourselves it’s OK, that there’s always next month.

As years pass with no double lines or plus signs, the lightheartedness often fades. If you’ve ever felt kicked in the gut by a friend’s birth announcement or cried at the start of your cycle, you’re not alone.

Doctors define infertility as the inability to conceive after a year or the inability to carry a pregnancy to live birth. Infertility is a painful reality for 1 in 8 couples, or about 12 percent of married women, according to the CDC’s National Survey of Family Growth.

Infertility also is a not a modern-day problem. Many men and women in the Bible struggled to conceive, wrestling with the same longing, shame, and doubt couples experience today.

  • God promised Abraham and Sarah a child, but she did not have Isaac until she was well past “childbearing age” (Genesis 11:30).
  • Isaac, Rebekah’s husband, prayed fervently for them to conceive. Eventually, God answered, resulting in the births of Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:21).
  • Rachel prayed for God to “open her womb,” until, finally, she had two sons, Joseph and Benjamin (Genesis 30:1, Genesis 35:18).
  • Manoah’s wife was infertile before giving birth to Samson (Judges 13:2).
  • Elizabeth was childless for decades until, in her old age, she gave birth to John the Baptist (Luke 1:7, Luke 1:36).

Every couple that has ever struggled with infertility asks, “Why me?”

That question can never be answered. But what we can know is who God is, what He tells us about the desire to have a family, and how He teaches us to deal with the hurt and pain of living in a broken world. Those answers will not explain why you’re infertile, but they will give you a way forward through the pain.

Is God punishing me?

Infertility is not a punishment from God. Despite what well-meaning Christians might say, infertility is not the result of not believing enough, not praying enough, or not being good enough.

Just look at Sarah’s story in Genesis. Sarah and her husband, Abraham, couldn’t get pregnant for almost 90 years. Eventually, Sarah lost faith. When God said Sarah would give birth to a son in her old age, she laughed at Him (Genesis 18:12-15). Her faithlessness was sin, yet Sarah still got pregnant and had a child!

Sarah and Abraham were God’s chosen people. If you’ve ever asked Jesus into your life, you are, too. That’s why God doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. When you asked Jesus into your life, your sins were forgiven. God is not holding your sin against you! Romans 8:1 says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That includes you.

Why wouldn’t God want me to have kids?

Every birth — from the one that is unexpected to the one that comes after decades of trying — is ordained by God as part of His perfect plan (1 Samuel 2:6). The sheer number of things that have to go right to conceive is evidence that every pregnancy is miraculous.

Your desire to have children is holy and good. Having kids is God’s idea. He tells Adam and Eve “to be fruitful and multiply,” and the Bible calls children a blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127:3-5, Proverbs 17:6).

To want what God wants is a good thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s a sure thing. You may never fully understand why your life unfolds as it does, but you can have certainty about the Person who holds our lives together.

God is a good Father who wants good things for His children. God tells us that He will not withhold good things from those who love Him (Psalm 84:11) and that He is always working things together for our good (Romans 8:28). But God also reminds us that His vantage point is different from ours:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8–9).

Sometimes, God’s plans for our lives are like broccoli — not what we would pick for ourselves but better for us in the long run.

What if what God is teaching you as you wait is a better gift than the child you’re longing for at the moment? What if God plans to answer your prayer for children by answering another mother’s prayer for adoptive parents? What if not giving you what you want when you want it is the most loving thing God can do?

How do I celebrate when my friends are having babies?

When it seems like everyone around you is making babies, having babies, or making plans to have babies, just leaving the house takes courage. Choosing to dodge awkward conversations might be necessary occasionally, but it’s no way to live your life.

The relief you crave doesn’t come from pretending everything is OK; it comes from giving your burdens to the Lord.

David, the King of Israel, wrote 73 of the 150 psalms recorded in the Bible, and he is described as a man after God’s heart. In this collection of songs and prayers, David, who spent much of his life on the run from his enemies, is brutally honest with God. David asks for help (and sometimes vengeance); he begs for mercy and expresses gratitude; he celebrates God’s greatness and remembers God’s faithfulness. And sometimes, David runs through all of these emotions in one psalm.

Infertility is not the result of not believing enough, not praying enough, or not being good enough.

Reading Psalms reminds us that joy and longing can coexist. We can be happy for others’ pregnancies while longing for our own. We can celebrate another child’s birth while praying for our own.

But the only way to live in both emotions without developing whiplash is to follow David’s example of confessing our feelings to God and allowing Him to remind us of who He is, what He’s capable of, and how much He loves us.

How do I fight the urge to run away?

When you’re hurting, isolation feels safe and easy. Yoga pants and Netflix are more comfortable than lunch with your friends with kids. But Jesus doesn’t promise us a comfortable life; He promises us an abundant one (John 16:33, John 10:10). And some days, the godliest thing we can do is put on real clothes and go to lunch.

Not everyone is going to understand what it feels like. You’ll get unwanted advice from people who want to help but don’t know how. Other people will make jokes because they feel awkward and don’t know what to say.

You might have to do a lot of forgiving and grace-giving on the way to finding your people. But the benefits of being in community far outweigh the risks. Friends will help you through this in three big ways:

1. Good friends remind you what is true.

When you’ve been praying for the same thing for months and years, doubt creeps in. It doesn’t make you a bad Christian; it makes you a human. Good friends help us sort our thoughts and fears into lies and truth (Proverbs 27:17).

2. Good friends help you experience God’s love.

God tells us He will provide what we need to endure every struggle we face (1 Corinthians 10:13). But what if the way He wants to provide what you need is through His people?

One of the primary ways God works in our lives is through the church. God shows Himself generous through the generosity of others. God speaks to us through the encouraging words of other believers. And God proves Himself faithful through the prayers of faithful Christians.

You know the decision you’ve been wrestling with about your fertility? God might just want to answer it or provide for it through community.

3. Good friends need you.

2 Corinthians 1:4 says God comforts us in our trouble, so we’ll have the ability to comfort others by sharing the wisdom we’ve received.

Unless you are meeting at a campus with fewer than eight people, it’s unlikely that you are the only one struggling with infertility. Not only does God want to comfort you through the wisdom of other couples on your campus, He is giving you wisdom in the waiting that He wants you to share with people in your life.

Friendships aren’t just valuable, they’re vital.

For infertile couples, friendships aren’t just valuable, they’re vital. Now, more than ever, fight the urge to run away. You need people you can talk to about what you’re going through. You need friends who will pray with you and for you when you’re having a hard day. And, most importantly, you need people who will remind you of who God is and how much He loves you.

Has God forgotten about me?

God has not forgotten you. He could never forget you. God made you and He cares about every detail of your life.

In Matthew 6:26, Jesus is teaching on worry. To illustrate His point, He says, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

You might conceive next month. You might have children through adoption or fostering. You might find that God has something different in store for your life and marriage — and He changes your heart over the years to come.

Whatever the future holds for your family, you can trust God that the future is good.

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