Infertility, Bitterness, and Motherhood
He sat in a large chair behind a big desk, sorting through papers and thinking to himself. When I leaned over to ask my husband a question, the doctor looked up at me and said, “You leave the thinking to me. Bear with me a moment and I’ll have a plan for you.”
My husband and I sat in the two smaller chairs in front of his desk, waiting for his plan and wondering what our next steps would be. There was something about the whole situation that made it feel like he was playing the hand of God.
Finally he looked up from his papers and said to us, “I’m going to call this, unexplained infertility.”
There didn’t appear to be any reason we couldn’t conceive, but after a few years of trying, months of fertility medications, and still no baby, we had our diagnosis—if that’s what you can call it.
But in our minds it wasn’t unexplained. He came just short of saying what we both knew; that God is the Creator of life. But he didn’t acknowledge God. What he did do was tell us there was only a two percent chance or less of us getting pregnant naturally. With a more invasive fertility treatment we were looking at a twenty percent chance. At best.
I was momentarily relieved, knowing he couldn’t steal the credit from God in making life. And I was also partially relieved because I thought, God doesn’t operate on statistics. If God wants us to have children, He’ll give them to us in His timing. He is just as capable of giving us a child in our first month of marriage as He is in our third, fifth, seventh, whatever year of marriage.
Then we went home, and some time later I cried.
I cried because, sure, I want God to have the glory. I also want the control. I left the doctor’s office with the blinders taken off, knowing every aspect and means of having children is completely under the control of God.
I want to be a mother. And this is a good and godly desire. So why does God call some women to be barren? If this is the case, do I need to somehow quit desiring children?
I can’t tell you how often I am comforted by the stories of women in the bible who also struggled with infertility. I’m comforted by them because when I look at Hannah who was mistaken as a drunkard in her pleading to God for a child, I feel less crazy for feeling so sad. I’m comforted by Sarah who spent her young married life all the way to old age longing for a child. When I see her laugh at hearing she would finally have a son, I see the great mothers of faith also struggled against bitterness. But I’m strengthened by this because Sarah grew in faith and walked in repentance.
Sarah’s longing for a child was good. Her bitterness in not having one in her timing was not. It’s the seeds of bitterness, anger, discontentment I have to fight against. But Sarah was not only considered a mother to Isaac, she was even more significantly a mother of many nations.
Motherhood comes in many forms. Every woman created by God should desire children. Should desire to be a mother. Motherhood is built into the very fibers of our beings as women.
“Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.” (Genesis 3:20)
I find myself asking, If God does not give me physical children, then how else might I be a mother?
Deborah, in the Old Testament, was called “Mother in Israel” because she called others to love God and to follow His commands. The commentator Matthew Henry says she was “diligently promoting the salvation of their souls.” But he goes on to say that her being a Mother in Israel also meant that she “called her own soul to be in earnest… He that will set the hearts of other men on fire with the love of Christ, must himself burn with love. Praising God is a work we should awake to.”
Could I too be a Mother of Israel?
If I am to be a Mother of Israel, by loving the souls of others and leading them in praise of God, there is no room for bitterness in this calling. Bitterness and gratitude cannot coexist.
In a church where the nurseries and Sunday school rooms are literally overflowing with children, opportunities for jealously and bitterness are constantly present. Sometimes I don’t want to (fully or honestly) rejoice with the newly expectant mother. Sometimes I want to avoid the children around me so I don’t have to be reminded of what I don’t have. Sometimes I mentally shake my head in disdain at the mothers of four and five who groan at learning of yet another baby on the way.
I see these temptations in myself, and fight against the poison it could spread if I let these attitudes take root.
So often my love for others is measured by what I seek for myself.
When I compare my life to others I think I can’t be happy for the new mother until I’ve obtained that happiness myself. That I can’t have compassion on the busy mom of many until I can understand that busyness myself. That I can’t care for another parent’s child until I have a child of my own.
But when it comes to loving others, there should be no measuring stick. God has brought into each life exactly what is good and right, with His glory in mind.
What’s the remedy against bitterness? How did Deborah lead the people? She led them in praise. How else will we praise God if we are not first thankful?
But how can I fight the nagging voice of bitterness and instead become thankful? When I hear that another woman is expecting and feel sad for myself instead of happy for her, I can tackle that bitter seed by thanking God for the new life He has created. I can pray for that little baby. I can pray for my friend. I can put my mind on others, and remember that God’s work is at hand. The child I’m tempted to avoid, I can instead get down on their level and ask them about the picture they just drew, the song they learned, the new brother or sister they just got. And the five-time mother … I can pray for her strength and health, or ask her how I might lend a helping hand. All these things are works of God and things for which to give thanks.
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
There was a time when I didn’t want to help with the children’s midweek programs. But eventually my husband and I did get involved, and I was surprised to find that the children of the church ministered to me. Their eagerness to learn, their hugs, their excitement to tell me about something in their week. I’ve come to love them as they have managed to help chase my bitterness away and give me joy.
Does this mean I’ve won the battle against bitterness and jealousy? I wish I could say I have. But like any spiritual discipline I have to give myself to it over and over again. But also like any discipline, the more I give myself to it the easier it becomes.
The Titus 2 woman is also a Mother of Israel. She is someone who first is “reverent in [her] behavior” and encouraging other women also “to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands so that the word of God will not be dishonored.” (Titus 2:3&4)
If I am to care for the souls of others and accept my calling by God to be a woman, I will have a mother’s heart. I will care for my soul and the souls of those around me. Like Deborah, I must call my own soul to be in earnest by repenting of the jealousy, the bitterness, the impatience, and the pride of not being a mother on my terms.
So no, my desire to be a mother is not a desire I should squelch. I don’t know if I will have my own children. But I do know that I am called to motherhood.
Of Sarah it says, “she is our mother. For it is written, ‘Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear; Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor; For more numerous are the children of the desolate than of the one who has a husband.’” (Galatians 4:26&27)