A woman wrote to me recently asking for scripture-based wisdom on dealing with male factor infertility.
Expressing both frustration and anxiety about the lack of answers, information and guidance for Christian couples facing this problem, she said, “There is no [Bible-based] paradigm to study. As far as I can remember, every case of infertility other than Elisabeth’s and Zechariah’s shows evidence of originating with the woman. Male factor infertility spawns a set of questions quite different from ‘ordinary’ female infertility.
“For example: Does God not acknowledge my infertility because it is my husband’s ‘problem’? What solace can I take from Scripture since my circumstance is not mentioned? How can I get the help I need when doctors keep putting us through IVF cycles without proper diagnosis beforehand? How do verses such as ‘He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children’ pertain when I am not, in fact, ‘barren’? And how should a fertile woman married to an infertile man curb herself so that she does not unintentionally undermine his masculinity?”
That’s a lot of questions, but Christ has promised, “Seek and ye shall find.” So, let’s try to tackle them one at a time….
1) Where can I look for a Bible-based paradigm? It depends on what constitutes a paradigm for you. Are you looking for the story of a man accurately diagnosed as having male factor infertility who goes on to father a child after God intervenes? That story is not in scripture. There are, however, several stories of childless men becoming fathers extremely late in life (when, we can safely assume, infertility was statistically likely).
Recent research shows that volume, motility and structure of sperm all decline with age; meanwhile the odds of fathering a baby with Down syndrome or schizophrenia increase dramatically. So, overlay that state-of-the-art medical knowledge onto Bible stories of late life fatherhood, and a paradigm does begin to emerge…
Statistics don’t matter when God is fulfilling a promise. His purpose and timing supersede all universal “laws” as we understand them. No doctor ever has the final word. Only God does.
2) Does God not acknowledge my infertility because it is my husband’s problem? Of course He does! We are told, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Therefore, infertility is not “his” problem; it is your burden to share. It is a challenge God has allowed you to face – together — which, like all things, will lead to His best for you if you trust and obey Him. That is what scripture teaches.
So, pray for your husband, and ask him to pray for you – very specifically naming your respective needs: patience, endurance, longsuffering, joy, insight, perseverance, trust, peace, hope, etc. Work together to prevent “his” problem — and the many challenges of the infertility journey — from driving a wedge into your relationship, and threatening to separate the “two become one.” This proactive response to your struggle will strengthen your partnership in anticipation of the child God has in mind for you.
3) What solace can I take from scripture since my circumstance is not mentioned? Plenty. For example, this morning, I happened to be reading Isaiah 37-38. In it, Isaiah describes two key events during Hezekiah’s reign. In both of them, this God-honoring king found himself humbled by (feelings of) impotence in the face of circumstances beyond his control.
In both cases, he turned humbly to God, praying for Him to “hear… see… listen… remember…” and honor Hezekiah’s faith and trust with divine intervention.
In both cases, God did the impossible; He wiped out the enemy and blessed Hezekiah in the process. The same can happen for us when we honor God, acknowledge our limitations, and turn to Him for help and hope.
4) How can I get the help I need when doctors keep putting us through IVF cycles without proper diagnosis beforehand? As a doctor’s kid and a doctor’s wife, I’d say, “Start by saying, ‘No.'” No, I will not undergo a procedure that is not preceded by a clear understanding of the problem. No, I will not spend money on doctors who do not respond energetically to my need for help/answers/information. And no, I will not blame others for my feelings of powerlessness if/when I fail to take responsibility for my choices.
Beyond that, I’d look to God for discernment. Ask Him to keep His promises – to comfort you, to guide your steps, and to show you the way. He has promised to draw near to you when you draw near to Him… so draw near, and ask Him to help you in ways that will further His will for you (which is His best).
5) How do verses such as ‘He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children’ pertain when I am not, in fact, ‘barren’? In the most literal sense, this verse is not speaking to you if you’re not barren (meaning unable to conceive due to female infertility). However, this verse does pertain to your circumstances in the following ways: (1) It demonstrates God’s concern for the infertile, and (2) It demonstrates God’s willingness and ability to make possible what seems impossible to those who face infertility.
If you’d like to spend more time digging into this verse and its meaning for infertile couples, read this post.
6) How should a fertile woman married to an infertile man avoid unintentionally undermining his masculinity? Great question, and one that is virtually never discussed publicly. Why? According to Peter Schlegel MD, Urologist-in-chief at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/ Weill Cornell Medical Center and president of the Society for Male Reproduction and Urology, “The role of the male in infertility has been grossly overlooked by lay[people] and professionals alike.” Ditto for the pulpit.
No one EVER talks openly about male infertility… except when they feel safe. That’s the purpose of PregnantWithHope groups. They provide a haven for couples to share their struggles, fears and concerns openly – without fear of ridicule, criticism or emasculating pity.
Is it difficult for you or your husband to find a PregnantWithHope group near you? You could start one (find information on How To at PregnantWithHope.com). Or, you could have your support group of two, using Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples as your resource and discussion guide. The book walks infertile couples through ten stages of the journey, and also gives readers a chance to “meet” ten couples who made the same journey and are now parents. Their stories could give you great insight into how spouses can help one another, as well as how important it is to give grace when we fail to meet each other’s needs.
Does that help? I know it doesn’t answer every question she had completely. Nor, I’ll bet, does this post answer every question of yours. Is there something specific you’d like me to address or explore further? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do my best to offer you cause for hope rooted in God’s word.