Infertility & the Church
I realize that last week was National Infertility Awareness Week and that the week has come and gone. But I follow a number of support pages and blogs on this issue I’m so passionate about, and there was a theme I saw again and again as women from all over shared their truth and experience. To give you a little context, the theme for this year’s NIAW was “flip the script” and over and over I saw women discuss how we need to flip the script of infertility within the church. And I just wanted to elaborate on that and share a little on this as well…
It may be a hard thing for some to understand, but the church can be a really painful and unwelcoming place for the childless and/or infertile couple. You walk into the building on Sunday and there are families galore, little kids running around, babies crying and taking bottles, and plenty of pregnant women trying to get comfortable in a seat. This isn’t an unfamiliar sight as plenty of places look like this – restaurants, grocery stores, clothing stores, parks, etc. But then there is the focus on families in the activities and offerings… there’s kids programs and family events and family dinners and mom’s groups, and on and on. And look – that’s great! That’s wonderful! The church should have things for families… I’m just explaining that that can be hard to see for the woman or couple without kids who desperately wants them. It can be hard to find your place in that world… you’re not single. You’re not a mom. You’re not a student… where do you fit?
And that’s the problem most of the time… you don’t feel like you belong anywhere… your friends are all having kids while you’re left crying over another negative pregnancy test. Your siblings (whether younger or older) are having multiple children while you continue to grieve over the babies you lost. And it feels like everywhere you go is a painful reminder of what you don’t have, while doctors and family remind you that your biological clock is ticking and you only have a few years left to conceive.
And if you’re like me and you believe in God… this roller coaster of a journey leaves you needing Jesus in a whole new way. It leaves you angry and bitter and hurt and betrayed and broken and hopeful and then you repeat that pattern over and over again. It’s a time when your faith can collapse around you and leave you feeling forgotten and abandoned by the God that everyone claims loves you and keeps his promises. And you’re left shattered and confused uncertain of how he can be good when you are devastated, defeated, and mourning over children you never got to hold.
I can tell you that until very recently my experience with infertility and the church has not been all sunshine and rainbows. I’ve been told by leadership that we were the only ones struggling and that their church was young and super fertile. I’ve had leadership say incredibly hurtful things (like “maybe God is doing this to you so that you learn to be more compassionate”). I’ve had leadership belittle my feelings while making incredibly terrible jokes about their own children. I’ve had to fight to prove to leadership that there was a need for a support group for those struggling to grow their families… multiple meetings were required, petitions were signed, action plans needed to be developed… and even after all of that we were given no real backing or support by the church.
Now I do want to clarify – that was the church structure… not the people in general. My relationship with God totally shifted into something new here and my faith is what it is today because we started that journey there. NOt to mention those people who were instrumental to our journey. My dear friend and mentor, Niki, was a vital piece of the road we traveled, of finding God, of digging deeper, of having faith, and of following his call. She prayed over me more times than I can count and guided me in so many of my hardest moments. (She’s someone I’d love to be when I grow up!) And we made several friends there too who continue to be our friends today who prayed for us and made us feel loved and less alone in the areas where the church structure failed.
The truth is too – I’m not angry about what happened. I feel no resentment or ill will towards the church or anyone there. We’re all human. We’re all flawed and broken in our own ways. God gives us grace, I try to give grace to others. And so we stayed and tried to make it work for a really long time. For a few reasons… We had friends there and we enjoyed seeing them first of all. Also I felt I couldn’t expect anything to change if I didn’t stay and actively work to try and change it. Lastly because I truly believe the church you belong to should be like family. You don’t give up on family, but you also need to be able to communicate with one another to help each other grow. I honestly just got tired of the battle and realized that things needed to change for my family.
But here’s the reason I’m sharing… because something happened recently that really got me thinking long and hard about all of this and I felt I should share. I recently was asked if I would like to be part of a Mother’s Day related video at our church and I’ll be honest and admit my initial reaction was to be honored, excited, and say yes. But as the day progressed… the idea weighed on me more and more and I felt like I needed to talk to the person who’d be filming. So we chatted that night and I shared some of my thoughts… the thoughts I shared previously in this post. I explained too that while all Sundays can be hard to attend church, Mothers Day is often one of the most difficult days to attend, and I asked if maybe there was a way to incorporate other pictures of motherhood in his video.
I was floored when he was not only receptive to the idea but grateful for the insight. He admitted his ignorance to the experience and the importance of inclusivity and compassion. He said even if they had the whole video figured out – this would be worth re-writing the whole thing. I’ll be honest, I was shocked and of course elated. And that feeling stuck with me for at least a solid 24 hours. And that’s what got me thinking… because I know the guy making the video. I consider him family and I know what an amazingly kind, compassionate, and big-hearted person he is. I knew that about him. I knew his heart. And yet I was still floored by his response and openness to another perspective…
I think that says a lot about the infertile woman’s experience in the church. That I could know someone that well. My own family. That I could know his heart and his kindness. And still… due to the years of rejection and lack of compassion from the church, be shocked by his response…. And that is why so many women are speaking up – hoping the church will see them and embrace them during their painful road. And it’s why I’m so grateful to have finally found a church that sees us and hears us and loves us exactly as we are. It’s exactly how I believe the church was meant to be! Like a family – building one another up with encouragement and love.