What is it about sisterhood that can make infertility so much harder to bear? According to author and therapist Vikki Stark, M.S.W., sister relationships are naturally fraught with competition and conflict. Regardless of which sister initiated the rivalry – or when, or why – it becomes extremely difficult to set aside feelings of envy and resentment when one conceives, and the other can’t.
“Research has shown that 10 percent of women have high-conflict relationships with a sister,” Stark reports, “and a much larger percentage have mixed feelings.” Infertility feeds that friction, and it’s not a new problem. As far back as Genesis, the Bible records the effect of one sister’s fertility on the other (infertile) sister’s mindset.
Jacob married Leah and her sister Rachel. The marriage to Leah was forced and unwanted. The marriage to Rachel – just one week later – was much-desired and long-awaited. This unequal status set the stage for the rivalry. “When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb….” and the baby wars began.
The names Leah chose for her first three sons revealed her inner turmoil. They meant: “The Lord has seen my misery,” “The Lord heard I am not loved,” and “My husband will become attached because I have borne him three sons.” Every time her husband spoke his boys’ names, he was reminded of his wife’s unhappiness, and her longing for his affection. So was her jealous sister.
She couldn’t stand watching Leah deliver baby after baby. “Give me children or I’ll die!” she yelled at Jacob – and then she demanded, “Sleep with my servant. She can bear children for me, and through her I, too, can build a family.” No mention of Jacob, or thoughts of We. It was now baby wars by proxy, and Me, Me, Me.
The servant’s first baby arrived and Rachel named him “Vindication.” Then, a second son was born and Rachel saddled him with the name, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won!” Once again, Jacob couldn’t miss the sisters’ feelings – about themselves, each other, or their ongoing competition.
Not to be outdone, Leah sent her servant as a surrogate to Jacob. Two boys were born. Rachel responded by offering Leah an extra night with Jacob in exchange for a fertility-enhancing herb. Leah agreed… and promptly bore a son, and then another.
The Bible says, “Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb.” She finally had a son. “God has taken away my disgrace” she named him, and as quickly as they began, the baby wars were over.
Here’s what I see in all that craziness. Self. Self. Self. It’s all about me, and how I feel, and what I want, and what she has, and what I don’t. Neither wife was nurturing her marriage; they were too busy competing. Neither wife was nurturing her children; they were too busy trying to have more any way they could. And, neither wife was seeking God’s will; they were just seeking God’s ‘yes’ so they could beat each other.
Why share that story? Because quite a few of you have confided in me about your own sisters: “Both my sisters were pregnant at my baby’s funeral,” “My sister was going to be our surrogate, but then she got pregnant with her own baby,” “My sister and I had the same due date, but then I miscarried and she carried to term,” “My sister had the first grandchild the same week I lost my baby,” “My sister announced her baby news at my anniversary party,” “My sister asked — in front of all our extended family — if we were ever going to have a baby.”
And on, and on, and on….
Infertility is already so painful. It seems almost unbearable to have the suffering compounded by someone who should be loving you through it. Maybe she wants to, but she doesn’t know how. Maybe she couldn’t even if she tried her best. Whatever the story, let Rachel and Leah’s baby wars be a cautionary tale. Competing with your sister will waste your life time.
So, don’t spend this time focused on her. Instead, focus on this: God has a plan and a purpose for your journey, and a child He intends to entrust to you. Invest this time in being a woman worthy of such an incredible stewardship responsibility. That is the path to peace.