Very often, couples who discover that one or both of them is infertile enter a self-imposed exile. Painfully aware of their “differentness,” they struggle to find solutions to their problem while protecting their privacy and newfound sense of vulnerability.
When questions arise – “What’s wrong with us? What did we do to deserve this? Is this a punishment for something? Is God refusing our prayers and withholding this blessing?” – it can be difficult to know where to go for answers.
As it turns out, infertile couples aren’t the only ones struggling with these questions. Clergy find them difficult to answer, too. That results in both stigma and heartache.
When Dr. Stephen Hayner, president of Columbia Theological Seminary, first encountered Pregnant With Hope, he responded to its content with gratitude: “This is a book for those who are struggling – and for those of us who love them and often don’t know what to say or do.”
There’s the truth, and it’s a problem: clergy often don’t know what to say or do. They want to help. They recognize that infertility is a painful, heartbreaking, faith-threatening problem. But they have no idea how to deliver hope in a practical, meaningful way.
As a result, they tend to choose one of two strategies. Either they address the problem vaguely and conceptually, saying things like “all suffering is the result of original sin.” Or, they ignore the problem completely and hope it will go away.
Neither strategy helps.
Instead, both strategies make it harder for couples to draw near to the God who can seem to be more a part of the problem than the source of the solution. So, what happens? Couples leave the church, no longer able to find a voice that speaks to their needs, or a community that understands their problems.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Faith leaders just need to be educated: How do you help infertile couples? How do you support them? How do you reinforce their sense of belonging when their circumstances make them feel isolated and apart from everything normal? How do you inspire them to draw nearer to the God who cares deeply about them?
Dr. Hayner recognized this need in his seminary students. That’s why he responded so enthusiastically to Pregnant With Hope. The same Bible verses, insights and personal narratives that empower infertile couples can prepare clergy to help them along the journey.
Once they are equipped, faith leaders can confront the stigma of infertility, addressing it openly from the pulpit (not just in private meetings with individual congregants). They can also sensitize their communities to those who are suffering, and equip people to be sources of comfort and strength for one another.
How can you help bring about this change? First, recognize that it is difficult to be a change agent when you are in the midst of an infertility journey. You have a right to feel resentful that you should have to tackle this, along with everything else that’s challenging you. But remember: if you do, you’ll be helping yourself – and the infertile couples who come after you.
Second, understand that those who take on the role of change agent tend to do so out of desperation – “We need support!” That’s a good reason, and a very motivating one. If you’ve reached that point, what can you do to bring about meaningful change? Try any one (or more) of these ideas:
1) Write to your faith leaders. Share your story – confidentially, if you prefer. Ask for both private and public support. Make clear that you are not the only infertile person in the congregation (statistically, 1-in-every-6 couples is struggling or has struggled with infertility).
2) Send your clergy a link to this website, a copy of Pregnant With Hope, or both. If you want to protect your identity, drop it in the offering plate anonymously. They will discover that these messages have been enthusiastically endorsed by a seminary president and numerous religious leaders, as well as physicians, therapists and counselors (church-affiliated & secular). Attach a note urging them to read with an open mind and a heart full of compassion – and then act as they feel led.
3) Offer to meet with your faith leader – to share your questions, your struggles, and your needs. Ask them to start a support group, invite a guest speaker, or provide some other tangible evidence of the church’s concern and desire to help.
Whatever you do, remember that it doesn’t take a huge effort to make a significant change! Realize that this may be one of the ways God is bringing good out of your journey. Consider your action – whatever it may be – one of the ways you demonstrate your trust in God’s purposefulness. And then, do something.
The church can change, but we will have to voice the need and point the way.
Use the tools below to forward this post to someone who wants your church to change, or can help make it happen. For more resources & inspiration, visit PregnantWithHope.com.