By April Motl, Crosswalk.com
Infertility affects at least eight percent of the population1, with some studies claiming it is closer to eighteen percent.2 That means that it is highly likely you or someone you know will deal with this struggle.
My husband and I could not conceive for almost a decade. Then we were joyously surprised with our son! We were delighted to be pregnant again a couple of years later, only to lose that baby in a miscarriage that permanently altered my health.
Whether you struggle to get pregnant or stay pregnant, the journey is intensely private and public all at the same time. We “collected” (for lack of a better term) a lot of commentary from people along the way. While most of it was a lesson in what not to say to someone struggling with infertility, there were some shining gems that blessed our journey.
Those words of encouragement were just like Scripture says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” Proverbs 25:11. Ephesians 4:29 admonishes us to speak only words that will build others up. But sometimes, it can be hard to know just how and what to say to a loved one in need of encouragement.
So what sort of sweet, golden words can we say to someone struggling with infertility? Here are three ideas to encourage your friend or family member who is on this journey.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Adene Sanchez
1. Remind them of God’s goodness.
I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD
In the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the LORD. Psalm 27:13-14
When you are waiting to see if infertility is a permanent part of your life or just a long season, you can get so fixated on looking for that positive pregnancy answer that you can’t see much of anything else. This particularly applies to being able to experience God’s goodness. When the eyes of your heart are wholly focused on waiting to see His hand open with your long-awaited answer, you can lose sight of His heart.
Pertaining to another long season of waiting, while I was leaking with frustrations over this long wait, a friend told me, “You have SO many good gifts from God right now! Everything is going really wonderfully in your life!” And it was true. I was just waiting for another burden to lift; I was losing touch with how profoundly good God had been to me in so many other areas of my life!
I needed that reminder! And just to make sure I heard it, about a week later, God sent another person to say nearly the exact same set of words!
Waiting can sort of warp our perspective until our view of our life and God’s goodness gets slightly twisted out of shape.
2. Remind them this season of waiting doesn’t define who they are.
It will no longer be said to you, “ Forsaken,”
Nor to your land will it any longer be said, “Desolate”;
But you will be called, “My delight is in her,”
And your land, “ Married”;
For the LORD delights in you,
And to Him, your land will be married. Isaiah 62:4
There are terribly ugly words that hang over our heads and creep into our sense of who we are because of a season in our lives. “Unemployed” hangs over one person’s heart. “Single” over another. For those struggling with infertility, the words “barren” and “infertile” hang around like grey clouds. But unspoken words can also whisper throughout the hallways of the heart, like “Maybe you don’t have kids because you’d be a terrible parent.” Self-doubts of all kinds lean into this infertility pain, compounding the wound.
I remember one woman lectured me on how I must have unconfessed sin in my life that was keeping me from getting pregnant. I ran into a few people who held similar beliefs about how God worked. I also listened rather speechlessly as another woman made fun of me in front of a handful of ladies about how I couldn’t get pregnant. How awful it felt to walk into a room and feel doubly judged - apparently spiritually and physically broken for all to comment on.
Yet another woman’s words offered sweet encouragement one day. I was sharing a prayer request about some upcoming life changes. She thought perhaps I was inferring that our long-held prayer request for a baby might be answered. My face fell about a foot, and I told her more details about the far less exciting but still impactful changes that were coming. I felt sheepish and a bit sad to have to say once again to another inquiring person that, no, we weren’t pregnant. I felt like such a broken record! She grabbed my hand and said, “Well! Guess what?! I’m not either!” She smiled and then remarked that God was still on His throne, still good, and life was still blessed. She had some health concerns that made pregnancy too risky for her or a potential baby, so she had also not had children. It was the first time I felt so encouraged by letting someone into that private, long waiting room hallway in my heart.
I was becoming so accustomed to people making assertions about my life because of our empty cradle I was starting to allow those things to define me. Her words reminded me that who I was (blessed!) was not dependent on a yes, no, or a wait from God! She also reminded me I wasn’t alone. And that waiting for God didn’t make Him one less bit in control or good. This brings us to the next point!
3. Remind them that the waiting doesn’t have to define their relationships (with God, each other, and their friends/family).
Why do You hide Your face and forget our affliction and our oppression?
For our soul has sunk down into the dust; Our body cleaves to the earth.
Rise up, be our help, and redeem us for the sake of Your lovingkindness. Psalm 42:22-26
When we really want something and are “stuck” waiting for it, the wait can be so all-consuming that it can creep into the defining role in many of our relationships, but it doesn’t have to be that way!
Infertility is a pressure for married couples that can easily take over the joy and closeness God intends for marriage. The wait can leak into defining our relationship with God. We can feel as if the disappointment in the long wait has hidden God from us. It can also press into friendships and relationships with extended family.
If you want to encourage a loved one struggling with infertility, be sensitive to their needs to talk, cry, or vent. But love them by not making it a centerpiece of your relationship with them.
We were in God’s waiting room with our empty cradle for almost a decade, and in the space of that time, I watched it affect my relationships with those around me. Truly, I don’t think it needed to be that way, and I deeply cherished the friendships with people who didn’t make a giant deal out of it but also allowed me the space to share my heart when I needed to. Some women who had passed the childbearing season without having biological children no longer wanted to be friends when I got pregnant. And before we were pregnant, we watched friends decide they didn’t want to be friends with a couple who didn’t also have kids. It sounds kind of strange for someone to respond to another person that way, but I’ve seen other struggles define relationships that same way, too; relationships that start in addiction recovery or while people wait for employment - all kinds of life circumstances can overreach and define valuable friendships in ways that aren’t necessary.
Be the kind of friend/family member that loves the person struggling with infertility apart from their struggle. Love them by helping them remember this facet of life doesn’t define every other relationship either! Their relationship with God and their relationship with their spouse is much bigger than this journey - regardless of how their story culminates. This is a chapter in their life, not the whole story. Be the friend that helps them remember to keep on living and writing the rest of the story!
If infertility has been a struggle in your life, please join us for a month long couple’s devotional Waiting for God to Fill the Cradle. If you have struggled to root your identity in Christ as you experience infertility, email us for a list of verses describing how God sees you at Info(at)Motlministries.com.
2. https://www.who.int/news/item/04-04-2023-1-in-6-people-globally-affected-by infertility#:~:text=Around%2017.5%25%20of%20the%20adult,care%20for%20those%20in%20need.