What the Church needs to know about infertility

Infertility has been much misunderstood in Christian culture and in the Church.

Around one in six couples may have difficulty conceiving, and in the UK, 47,000 women a year go through a cycle of IVF.

Infertility has been much misunderstood in Christian culture, and despite infertile women gracing the pages of the Bible with surprisingly high frequency, there remains a great deal of misunderstanding around infertility and its place in the faith community.

Phil and I have been married nearly 18 years. We knew before our wedding that I was unlikely to be able to conceive due to being raped when I was 17. The heartbreak of this likelihood becoming a reality crushed us, but we both hoped to defy the odds and get pregnant anyway.

We struggled through the complexities of grieving a nameless loss whilst trying to hold on to hope for a child and faith in God. Giving up hope seemed like letting each other down, and yet holding onto hope seemed to magnify the monthly disappointment.

Our hope for a child and our faith in God got tangled together early on. We asked for prayer many times. Those that prayed for us assured us that we would get pregnant; that God had a child for us. One well-meaning prayer minister declared that I was in fact already pregnant, that God was knitting our child together in my womb… if that was the case, it is the longest gestating human foetus in history, as the prayer time was some 15 years ago and there is no sign of a full womb yet.

There were also those that questioned: "Have you prayed?" "Have you repented of the sins of your ancestors? Infertility often follows sin by the maternal grandmother." "Do you trust God can do this for you?" "Is your faith strong enough?" At that time I was a faith missionary and Phil was a youth worker, and we trusted God implicitly for our daily bread. It was an additional wound to have our faith questioned as we clung to God in our grief.

These well-intentioned enquiries only served to add blame to our struggle or imply somehow that if we just tweaked our relationship with God correctly, we would get pregnant. I couldn’t align this weird spiritual game of infertility roulette with the abundant, loving, merciful, forgiving God that I love and trust.

So, when I had the delightful privilege of studying for an MA in theology, I had the luxury of studying the scriptures at length and in depth on the subject of infertility. It was a joy to discover that neither lack of faith nor curse nor failure in prayer nor ancestral sin seem to feature as a cause for infertility.

The Bible is full of encouragement and faithful company for the infertile:

  • God's instruction to humanity to ‘be fruitful and multiply,’ separates multiplying and living fruitfully: living a fruitful life for God is possible even for those that have not managed to work out the human multiplication equation.
  • Pregnancy is not promised to every couple. Sarai and Abram are the recipients of a unique and personal promise, not a necessary promise if childbearing is a God-given gift to all.
  • Rachel remains the preferred wife of a godly man, even whilst her womb is empty. Becoming pregnant is not the glue that will hold together a marriage.
  • Barren Hannah holds fast to God in faithful prayer, setting an example to Eli the priest as she pours out her heart to God. Infertility does not create a barrier between her and God.
  • Luke tells us that Elizabeth and Zechariah were blameless in the sight of God before Elizabeth became pregnant. It was after conception that Zechariah's doubts cause God to close his mouth: nowhere does it suggest that God or a curse had closed Elizabeth's womb.

In the Old Testament family trees are essential in the stories of Israel, but in the New Testament, genealogy is replaced by doxology; family trees superceded by praise of Christ. Jesus recreated every family line, and through the cross all are adopted into the divine family.

I am not defined by my infertility but rather by my identity in Christ, through whom I am adopted into God’s family.

Adopting our three beautiful boys has not resolved our infertility but we are no longer childless. Whilst adoption is not a solution to infertility, it has given us the joy of parenting without pregnancy, of growing a family without fertility. Our home, arms and hearts are full despite my empty womb.

Sonya has three adopted sons, two cats and one husband. Sonya has worked for Viva, Youth for Christ, Unlock and is currently a curate in Liverpool Diocese, a member of the Church of England’s General Synod and serves on Home for Good’s Council of Reference.

Suggestions and questions for those interested in supporting couples and individuals affected by infertility:

  • Take some time to research what support is available locally to you for couples experiencing infertility.
  • Consider whether infertility is a taboo subject in your church community. How can you help to break that taboo so that those experiencing infertility don't have to hide?
  • Take time to reflect on the Biblical barren women and allow them to challenge your thinking. Which of the Biblical barren women could provide encouragement to your infertile friend?
  • If someone asks you to pray with them as they are unable to conceive, focus your prayers on them, the grieving person in front of you. Don’t seek to ‘solve’ but seek to serve and to love in the midst of their grief.

Author:
Sonya Doragh for Home for Good


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