Infertility and difficulty conceiving can be heartbreaking, as numerous women of the Bible attest. But one way or another, God wants to bring blessings to your marriage.
by Susan Windley-Daoust
This article is adapted from chapter sixteen of The Gift of Birth: Discerning God’s Presence During Childbirth by Susan Windley-Daoust: “Difficulty Conceiving: God Heals the Brokenhearted.” Read other chapters as they become available by clicking on the chapter links in the sidebar. Get the whole book in print or ebook formats at the Gracewatch Media store.
Read a review of The Gift of Birth in Church Life magazine.
It’s been four months, eight months, a year or more. Your good-hearted friends and family are making light jokes about it being time to start a family. And you don’t have the heart to tell them you’ve been trying and nothing seems to be happening.
Fertility challenges are incredibly common. Six percent of married women in the US ages 15–44 are infertile, and almost another 11 percent have impaired fertility. The monthly grind of charting ovulation, waiting, then . . . no pregnancy . . . can be very wearing.
There are many resources to help women and men decide what happens next. Some advocate trying to boost the body’s chances of conceiving naturally through nutrition and NFP; Marilyn M. Shannon’s Fertility, Cycles, and Nutrition (Couple to Couple League, 4th ed., 2009) is one example. Others, such as Jean Dimech-Juchniewicz’s Facing Infertility: A Catholic Approach (Pauline Books & Media, 2012), help couples wade through the medical options in an ethical and spiritual manner.
One important thing to remember is that you have no less of a sacramental marriage because you are struggling to conceive. Conception and parenthood is not an achievement, or a measure of success. Whether you are called to raise children or not is up to the Lord, who knows and loves you better than you do yourself. His plan for your life is, literally, glorious. Remember that.
Remember that Ignatius says that insofar as gifts lead us toward our goal (“to live with God forever”), they are good; but insofar as gifts lead us away from the goal that is life in God, they harm us. Try not to let your understandable desire for a child become the “first goal,” replacing the ultimate goal of your life that is God. You can certainly pray for a child: God wants us to express the desires of our hearts. But also pray to grow closer to God above all things. And remember, “He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).
In the Old Testament, we have many examples of God blessing his people through the gift of children. But you are blessed regardless. Your marriage is blessed. And God has a plan for your lives. It simply may not be the plan you expected, and may require more specific discernment.
The invitation to adoption
Couples who cannot conceive are not required, but invited, to consider adoption. Whether you are able to conceive naturally or not, you owe it to yourself to consider adopting a child. There are many children who need parents to love them. Consider adoption prayerfully, and ask God whether he may be leading you to be the answer to a child’s prayer.
We adopted a child ourselves after having four biological children. While in my adopted son’s birth country, my husband and I met another adopting couple who were adopting their fifth child. When I asked what led them to adopt these children, the mother said that a few years into their marriage, they had come to terms with the fact that “God had closed the womb.” I was struck by that phrase, and her demeanor: a little sad, but mostly at peace.
She continued: “I didn’t realize then what a blessing it would be to be able to adopt these children. We wanted children to love, they wanted parents. God brought goodness out of tragedy, and I know we were called to do this. It has been the biggest blessing of our lives.” Most of the children she and her husband adopted have special needs and would have had a hard time getting adopted otherwise. Adoption can be difficult, and it is perhaps not for everyone. But it can often be a powerful way to love, to parent, to grow closer to God’s heart.
Where there is God, there is healing and life. How God wants you to live out your vocation may not be clear to you now but his love for you and your husband never wavers. Make a conscious decision to live in hope that God will unfold the path you are given to walk, and know he walks it with you. Hope is a decision, as well as the antidote to despair and anxiety.
I close with a definition of hope I love, from a friend:
. . . Hope is not as sweet and cute as it sounds, as if it is a pretty fluttering butterfly trying to get out of a netted jar. I see hope as much more of a persistent and determined spirit. More like the Holy Spirit. . . . Hope presses through all, not sweetly and gently, but firmly, with a power that does not let go.
—Fran Rossi Szpylczyn
For prayerful reflection
1. Pray with these two scriptures. What do they say to you, as you struggle with whether you are called to bear a biological child or not?
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back. . . .
As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.
2. In the Old Testament, Hannah pleaded in prayer for a child (1 Samuel 1:1–20). There is precedent if you wish to pray this way! But you could also ask the saints to intercede before God for the conception of a child. Some saints frequently called upon are St. Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist and surprised by motherhood in older age after many years of not conceiving), St. John Paul II (who bears a deep love for families), St. Gianna Molla (who bore her last child under severe medical circumstances that eventually ended her life), and St. Rita of Cascia (a patron of impossible causes, especially those dealing with sterility). There are others as well. Do some research and reach out to the saints, asking them to pray to God with you.
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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FastStats: Infertility, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/infertility.htm (accessed December 12, 2015).
Susan Windley-Daoust is a Catholic theologian, spiritual director, and award-winning author of Theology of the Body, Extended: The Spiritual Signs of Birth, Impairment, and Dying. She teaches theology at Saint Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota, where she lives with her husband and five children.