Next Sunday is Mother’s Day. M-Day for infertile couples. The most-dreaded day of the year. One of my former teaching assistants, Benji Bruneel, is now a youth pastor in California, and he sent me the following about Mother’s Day. I am posting it for your edification with his permission because it’s totally relevant to our ministries this week. (Benji’s journey prompted me to post this column about infertility last year.)
As a new father, I have the privilege this May of celebrating my beloved’s new role in life: mother. This month will mark the first time that we have ever celebrated Mother’s Day as a family of three. It will also mark the first time in a long while that we have actually enjoyed the day at all.
Infertility is perhaps more prevalent than we realize: one in six couples of childbearing age experiences some type of involuntary infertility. For three and a half long years, we met each Mother’s Day with dread. Once we decided that the time had arrived to start a family, we figured—as most young couples do—that the arrival of our first child was simply a matter of time: nine months, to be precise. Yet, God had other plans for us. Plans we would not have chosen for ourselves. Plans that involved more tears than we can recall. Plans that made it hard to even come to church on Mother’s Day.
The irony of that last reality is sharp. In our lowest moments, when the grip of infertility felt especially tight, church was often the last place we wanted to be. Our church family, normally such a source of acceptance and joy for us, regularly served as a reminder of our own lack. And Mother’s Day was the worst, as it will undoubtedly be this month for couples struggling through the pain of infertility.
We do well to celebrate our mothers and to remember the hard work and sacrifice that so often marks their lives. Yet in so doing we run the risk— without even knowing we do so—of further alienating and wounding those who want nothing more than to be among their number. So, what can we do to better minister to those within our body who so desire to have their own child, but who still find themselves waiting through the night of mourning for any glimpse of the promised joy of the morning? Some suggestions:
Embrace the silence: When the topic of infertility comes up, otherwise rational brothers or sisters in Christ often lose the ability to measure their words. “Well, you’re probably having lots of fun trying, right?” “I bet if you just relax and stop obsessing, things will get moving for you.” “Isn’t God enough for you?” “You can practice with my kids anytime.”
Perhaps the first impulse of Job’s friends should guide us. “Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him because they saw how great his suffering was” (2:13). If you aren’t sure what to say to your grieving friend, don’t. Your steady presence communicates more than hastily chosen words could ever hope to. But, if you simply must speak…
Watch your language: Church is not a baby factory. It’s a place full of broken and hurting people, some of whom feel broken and hurt because they have no children of their own. Comments that describe the church in such a way, although not intended to do any harm, can feed the already daunting sense of isolation experienced by infertile couples seemingly surrounded by growing young families.
While we’re at it, let’s stop asking married couples, “So, when do you think you’re going to have kids?” The less tactful, “Why don’t you have any kids yet?” is even worse. The assumption that after two people marry, pregnancy just happens on our own schedule is false, hurtful, and a symptom of our own need for control. Let’s allow God to work in the lives of each couple as he sees fit and not pile on the already fragile couple our own preferences and assumptions about the way their life ought to work. And speaking of assumptions…
Put away your crystal ball: My wife once had to firmly confront a lady who, in her zeal for the Lord, pronounced quite emphatically that God was going to give us a child very soon. “Or, he may not. We may never have children,” Greta replied. He did give us the gift of Gwen and we are thankful, but the announcement of an overeager prophet did not change God’s mind or alert him to our desires. We had made them evident over and over in hours of prayer.
Making your own pronouncements about dates and times only leads to increased feelings of frustration, shame and disappointment. Instead, express your firm hope—something that couples in the middle of infertility’s dark night often lack. Pray with and for you those you know who are suffering, asking God to respond to the cry for children and asking God to sustain them as they wait. But, ignore the impulse to play prophet. Instead…
Be willing to weep: At one of the darkest moments in our journey, Greta and I found ourselves wondering aloud, “Where are those who will mourn with us?” Paul says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Over the years, we have found plenty of people who have been willing to fulfill the first half of Paul’s dictate, but far fewer who have stepped in to complete the second half of the verse. And those who have stood with us, wept with us, and prayed with us hold a special place in our hearts.
Mourning with those who mourn doesn’t need to involve sackcloth and ashes, but a phone call or a card never hurts. Check in with that struggling couple after a child dedication or the announcement of yet another pregnancy or birth. These moments, although met by most with joy and excitement, can be emotional triggers during infertility.
Through our journey, we have remarked consistently how thankful we are for a loving and supportive church family. We truly do not know how those outside of the body of Christ cope with such gut-wrenching pain without the type of love and support we have known. Yet we can all grow in our care for one another and our awareness of the hurting brothers and sisters among us. And as we celebrate our mothers this month, let us not forget those who are not yet mothers but long for the day when the Lord settles them in their home as the happy mother of children.