The blessing of infertility

I’m surprised that in this world of political correctness, the word ‘infertility’ still exists. I would have thought by now that my wife and I would have been classed among the ‘reproductively challenged’, or some other ghastly term. ‘Infertility’ is certainly a word we have both come to know and accept over the last three years—more as an embarrassing out-of-town relative than as a dearly loved member of the family.

There’s an unwritten ‘rite of passage’ in Christian circles that goes something like this.

  • You’re courting that gorgeous girl, you’ve spent weeks attracting her attention, and it’s “So when are you going to get engaged?”
  • You do that, and it’s “So when’s the wedding day?”
  • You get married, and it’s “So, you’ve been married for a while; what about kids?”

In a way, life prepares couples to think that children follow marriage as easily as day follows night. Yet nothing really prepares you for the floor falling away as the gynaecologist tells you “You’re going to need a miracle to get pregnant”. Some friends who knew our situation showed us Philip Wheeler’s recent article ‘Infertility: A silent grief’ (Briefing #262). In a sensitive, enlightened, but not pitying way, Philip captured much of the turmoil the ‘I-word’ brings.

Like most couples who hit this point, we were offered IVF—and not just the ordinary stuff either. Because both of us were considered less-than-ideally-fertile, we were recommended ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) or, as I like to call it, ‘industrial-strength IVF’. Instantly, we found ourselves plunged into the world of bioethics, trying to let our consciences loose on whether there was anything right, wrong or indifferent about this whole new medical phenomenon.

With all the talk of designer babies and the manufacture of human spare parts, it’s quite clear that biotechnology has far outstripped our present capacity to understand the implications of its use. But this is not going to be a critique on the pros and cons of IVF. Over the process of the last three years, we have grown in our understanding of this God who knits us together “in the secret places”, and our consciences just won’t allow it. By no means do we condemn any couple who chooses to use IVF, but in the end, it is up to every couple to work out in their consciences before God what they believe is right to do.

And don’t be under any illusion that it’s an easy choice to make; it certainly wasn’t for us. I’m the only grandson in the family, and it really wasn’t until a friend recently quipped that we were looking at “the last Yates in captivity” that the totality and, in our case, the apparent finality of infertility really hit home.

Furthermore, like all couples, soon after the medicos threw up their hands and unwittingly called on God to ‘do his stuff’, we asked ourselves the tough questions:

  • “Why us?”
  • “Wouldn’t we make good parents?”
  • “There are plenty of rotten people in the world who have kids; surely we’d do better than they would?”

But eventually the questions began focusing less on ‘us’, and we began to ask, “What are you doing, God? What are you up to?” This is really where we believe God wanted us to get to.

God never does anything by accident; everything that happens, happens for a reason. It’s part of his plan—his perfect plan. Romans tells us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). Our cries for children were natural and normal, but after two years or so of anticipating ‘success’, we began to think, “Well, maybe children aren’t part of God’s perfect plan for us”.

Could there actually be such a thing as the ‘blessing’ of infertility?

Paul in 2 Corinthians writes that he was given a thorn in his side, and on three occasions, he asked God to remove that thorn but was told by God that “my grace is sufficient for you; for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Paul not only accepted that thorn, but embraced it as yet another way of bringing glory to the God he faithfully served. You could easily go as far as saying he saw that thorn as a ‘blessing’ to enable him to preach the grace of God.

Now, if you think I’m sounding like someone who never really wanted children in the first place, I can tell you that not a month goes by when one of us doesn’t break down in tears under the weight of the loss—a loss that can only really be felt by those couples touched by such a blessing.

But as Christians, there can be no better place to be than right in the middle of God’s perfect plan for us. Having realized this much, we couldn’t go back from that, and decide that we wanted a baby so much as to make IVF an option. We felt—and still feel—that IVF, for us, was telling God that we knew what was right for us, and that was having children.

I couldn’t come before God and tell him, “Yes, I want to be part of your perfect plan, but just let me add in this missing bit here about children before we make things official …”. I’m not trying to sound pious or super-spiritual; this is just the process of understanding, prayer and growth God has been bringing us through over the last three years.

It’s certainly not to say that we don’t feel the pain and the desire.

It’s certainly not to say that we don’t still question God and say, “Why can’t we just be like every other couple we see, and have children?”

And unfortunately, being childless is like that. You see every other couple with children and think, “Why not me?” You hear every news of a pending birth and think, “Why not me?”

Yet in his grace, God showed us Philippians 4 one night where Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, present your requests to God. And the peace God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).

We have learned—and are still learning daily—that the peace of God is what ultimately carries us through. There will be days when it is accompanied by laughter; other days, it will be accompanied by tears. But whatever the case, in a very real sense, if there is a blessing of infertility, it is to draw us ever closer to the one we ultimately rely on and who we can never do without: Christ.

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