Our story is one of many that has no explanation. No one knows where things went wrong.
We had done what we were supposed to. Get your career established. Get settled in your marriage. And then have children.
No one – not even my doctors – told us that fertility starts to drop at age 30. We couldn’t help but feel a little deceived later when we learned the truth.
My husband and I struggled for five years to have our first child. Those years involved 126 doctor visits, 104 tests and procedures, and more than 250 needle pricks.
Finally, as a result of in-vitro fertilization, we were expecting our first child. But our story doesn’t end there.
More mysteries were ahead of us: Two IVF babies. Two emergency c-sections. One disappeared twin. Two premature births. A combined 81 days in the NICU – meaning 79 days of leaving the hospital without a baby.
Today, as our daughters are in middle school, we talk often about their perilous births, their challenging weeks in the NICU, and the support that surrounded us.
We don’t talk much about the isolation we felt when we were trying to start our family to begin with. When you’re struggling with a major life crisis or health problem, church it seems would be a logical place to turn for answers.
But many infertile couples find church to be space void of answers, barbed with subtle judgment or brash insensitivity rather than peace, a source of deeper pain rather than solace, and a place of isolation rather than community.
Churches know what to do when a baby is born healthy but not so much when a baby is elusive. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Religious beliefs can contribute to a couple’s sense of hope and help them cope with the stress of treatment. This is a strong foundation on which congregations can build as they seek ways to support infertile and grieving couples.
Of course, church families will celebrate the children in their midst. But it can be done in a way that doesn’t hurt the childless.
Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be honored with an acknowledgement of those who long for children as well as those who mourn.
Congregations can hold infertility prayer services and offer support groups as some have demonstrated.
And we can tell the stories of our Biblical heroines who faced barrenness.
Their stories of determination ring true today as they did in ancient times. These women did not sit back and wait. They took decisive action.
Sarah, Rachel and Leah each set up a surrogate. Rachel also turned to medicinal aide. Rebekah journeyed with her husband who prayed on her behalf. Hannah is the first woman in the Bible to speak her prayer to God in public and to offer an official vow.
It’s amazing to me that these stories were written in such detail, most likely by men in a patriarchal culture. But it was no mistake.
There is power in seeing the strength of others who are like yourself. And there is hope in the new relationship that God has with these ancient women — a relationship that thrives with women today.
I know that when we were in the midst of our own struggle, these stories were of great comfort to me. I saw that I was in good company and that God was present in our journey.
I don’t believe for a second that God gave us infertility. He cried with us, and he helped us through it.
Early in our struggle, some people would say, “It must not be God’s plan for you to have children,” or “Maybe it wasn’t meant to be.”
I wonder what those people would say now, seeing our daughters. They are God’s creation.
By day, Christie L. Goodman, APR, is the communications manager for the Intercultural Development Research Association, which is dedicated to assuring educational opportunity for every child. In the spare time of a working mom and wife, she has been writing a book on ministering to couples experiencing infertility and traumatic births, based in part on her family’s experience. In the course of her writing, she has researched in depth the gift of these Biblical stories of barrenness and renewal.