Pain of Infertility
By Andrea Stephens
I made a beeline to the beach where I could talk and walk with God. But the talk turned out more like a shouting match (okay, God doesn’t shout but I sure was), because one of the first things I saw in the sand were big mommy footprints next to little kid footprints. Are you kidding me, Lord? Why did I have to see these right here, right now? Could I just get a break? My escape to the beach ended up being one more reminder that I was childless.
Years of doctor appointments, invasive ultrasounds, blood draws, ovulation kits, surgeries to remove painful cysts and endometriosis, and still the hand-knit baby booties on my dresser, intended to be a symbol of hope, were becoming a source of discouragement.
I already had plenty of time to work through the jealousy when sisters and friends announced their pregnancies (realizing that what God was doing in their lives had nothing to do with me helped me rejoice with them), politely declining baby shower invitations (and sending non-emotional gifts like diapers), and learning how to respond when asked if I have kids (I say no, then immediately change the topic).
I had also worked through most of the basic God questions. Why won’t you give me a baby? Don’t you love me? What have I done wrong? What sin have I not confessed? Why won’t you bless me? I promise to raise my children to love and serve you (bargaining with God rarely works but I thought it would be grand if He would pull off another Hannah thing). I had peace that infertility is not a withdrawal of God’s love, not a judgment, or punishment, or proof of abandonment, or proof that God is powerless, or doesn’t answer prayer.
But that day standing in the sand looking toward the vastness of the ocean, I sensed a whispering in my heart. It’s time to focus on the bigger picture. The next few hours took me in search of what “the bigger picture” might mean to God.
After all, what was bigger than God’s instructions to mankind to be fruitful and multiply? What was bigger than the accounts I had read of barren women like Sarah, Rebekah, Hannah, Rachel, Manoah’s wife, and others whose wombs were eventually opened to birth babies? I knew of the Scriptures testifying that children were a blessing of the Lord and how blessed is the man (and woman) whose quiver was full.
What was I missing? What piece of the big picture was not in my puzzle?
I launched into the New Testament hunting for clues. Jesus’ teaching was my starting point. The Gospel of John would be first. Like a CSI pro, I got to work.
Chapter one: Jesus is the Word, the Creator, the Life, the Light. John the Baptist bore witness of Jesus, told people to repent and be baptized, and knew he was on a mission from God. Then the disciples were chosen. Got it. Chapter two: the wedding at Cana, the miracle of turning water into wine, the big mess Jesus made in the temple because He was ticked, the prediction of His resurrection, many new believers. Cool. Chapter three: the nighttime chat with Nicodemus about being born again, born of the Spirit in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, and believing in Jesus, God’s Son, brings eternal life. Hmmm. The eternal. The kingdom of God. A different kind of birth.
I continued on, reading, searching, and taking note of things Jesus emphasized. Finally, in chapter fifteen it happened. A huge clue was uncovered. Jesus is the Vine, we are the branches; we are to bear fruit, more fruit, much fruit, eternal fruit! I was starting to get it. Fruitfulness was being given a new definition. In the Old Testament, fruitfulness referred to bearing earthly children. In the New Testament, it was about abiding in Christ and producing spiritual fruit.
God, does this mean that Jesus brought a new focus, a new sense of purpose? Could it be that being fruitful was not connected with having kids?
Jesus’ focus was not on the earthly development of the family of God, but the spiritual development of the Kingdom of God. How? Share the good news of saving grace found in Christ alone, so others might receive Him into their lives and be born again, born spiritually into the Kingdom of God, into His forever family.
Thoughts of New Testament people without children or without mention of children flooded my mind: John the Baptist, Martha and Mary, Priscilla, Dorcas, Mary of Magdela and Joanna who traveled with Jesus, and the disciples, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus Himself! If having biological children was the end-all, then, as my husband exclaimed, “God would owe Jesus, John, Paul, and others an apology for leaving their lives unfulfilled and incomplete!” Not possible. God was at work in each of their lives. He loved them, had an obvious plan for them, and they fully completed their calling before heading to heaven.
As the idea of spiritual children twirled around in my heart, my head realized that according to this definition, I had lots of kids. Through my years in youth ministry and writing for teen girls, I had indeed seen many be born spiritually and had the joy of discipling them—growing them up in Jesus! There was Jodi, with whom I spent many hours talking about Jesus while riding horses (which I’m deathly afraid of). There was Krista, who prayed with me to receive Jesus her junior year of high school, then went on to seminary and the mission field with the goal of sharing the gospel with youth in Romania. There was that sweet girl from France, who sent me an email telling me that she asked Jesus into her life as a result of reading one of my books. Another who said that learning who she was “in Christ” changed her life. I had the pleasure of helping Meghan learn how to deal with being depressed over her alcoholic brother. And over the years, there were hundreds of unknown girls who have been birthed into God’s family at my events for teen girls.
I began to take note of some awesome women God had put in my life throughout my baby journey, other childless but Kingdom-focused women. He had used them to help me see there was a bigger picture. Rhonda had a local Christian TV show for women and taught a seminary class for soon-to-be pastors’ wives. Susie was editor of a teen magazine and led groups of girls on mission trips. Gail had a puppet ministry that told little ones about God’s love. Rebecca had a worldwide music ministry. Lori was an award-winning second-grade teacher who developed a mentoring program.
It seems that on some level all women meet the definition of a mom. The dictionary says that part of being a mother is providing affection, protection, nurture, and guidance. It’s what many of us childless women do. We love, we teach, we train, we coach, we encourage. We parent. We mother. We are an important part of building God’s forever family.
The various clues had come together! This is the “big picture” God wanted me to see.
My trip that day to the beach did not end as devastatingly as it began. I drove home grateful for the truths God had revealed to me and grateful for grasping an eternal perspective. Now I celebrate each Mother’s Day in a fresh way. I celebrate all the ways God has used me to be a mom in the lives of teen girls during the previous year. Then I pray for Him to show me who needs me to come alongside to help them grow in the days ahead. I focus forward knowing that I am a mother - just another kind.
Fulfillment in Infertility
This Mother’s Day I won’t celebrate like most women. My ears will never hear a child call me, “Mommy.” My arms will never feel the contented wiggle of a nursing baby. My dream of “Mother of the Bride” will never be realized. The pain of childbirth is felt in the body; the pain of childlessness is felt in the heart.
I’ll never forget the Mother’s Day when the pastor asked all mothers to stand. I was the only one sitting; I wanted to hide. Then I looked up to a smiling seven-year-old girl holding a beautiful pink plant. “This is for you, Mrs. Fink. You are a mom!”
A woman’s fulfillment and contentment is not measured by childbirth, but by responding to opportunities.
JUST BETWEEN US Presents...