The X-ray table feels hard and cold against her back as Kari lies in the sterile examination room. All alone, she shivers, not sure if it is really cold in the room, or is it that she is so anxious that she’s just all shivery inside. She chokes back the tears that threaten to spill as she waits for the technician to come back and inject the dye and take the X-ray images that might give the answer to what’s wrong with her. How is she flawed so that what should be the most normal thing for a woman to do is impossible for her?
Kari and her husband have been trying for four long years to conceive a child; the beautiful spontaneity of their love is becoming a clinical task: taking temperatures, counting days, running tests and more tests. Month after month there is a new disappointment with no baby to look forward to. Theirs is a deep, personal, and private pain.
What is Infertility?
The dictionary definition is “Incapable of producing offspring, used especially of females.” Infertility is recognized as a disease or condition of the reproductive system often diagnosed after a couple has had one year of unprotected, well-timed intercourse, or if the woman has suffered from multiple miscarriages. According to The National Infertility Association, “infertility affects 7.3 million people in the U.S. This figure represents 12% of women of childbearing age, or 1 in 8 couples.”
The statistics and brief description can seem meaningless because they do not begin to touch the impact infertility has on the lives of those who suffer this ongoing pain.
Impact on husbands and marriage
Although infertility is often seen as the women’s problem, some studies indicate that when a couple deals with infertility
- 40 percent of the time it is caused by a medical concern of the wife,
- 40 percent a medical concern of the husband, and
- 20 percent of the time from unknown causes.
It is important for husbands and wives to remember that, though they may respond differently, they are in this together. A husband is often caught between dealing with his own sorrow and caring for his wife. Men often see their role is to be strong and supportive. Just as a wife needs reassurance that she has not failed her husband, she also needs to know that he hurts too. For a male the hurt is often at a different level than that of his wife. He often sees it from a level of lineage and fathering his genetic child, while a female’s loss is more closely tied to her self-identity and personhood. The way each will want to deal with his/her hurt will differ. Often men want to shut down, not talk about it, and possibly do something active (i.e., sports activity, hobby, work) while women want to have someone safe with whom they can share their emotions and talk through the hurt.
When a couple begins to confront the reality of infertility, they may start by seeing medical specialists to rule out or diagnose a medical cause. The decision for treatment from that point is determined by the underlying cause of their inability to conceive. The emotional impact of this process is extremely trying for the couple. Each month is spent in counting days, timing procedures, building hope, while wondering if they dare hope. Time after time those hopes are dashed when another month goes by without conception. Usually this entire process is private. Innocent comments by family and friends can feel hurtful. The couple may find it increasingly difficult to share in the joy of others who are having babies.
Some couples choose to accept not having children without knowing the cause. Depending on each person’s personality and the dynamics of the couple’s relationship, they may choose to accept childlessness as God’s will in their lives, using their love of children to serve the Lord in other ways within His kingdom. Sometimes this might include adoption. It is important to recognize however, that although adopting children might be the way a couple is able to fulfill their dream of having a family and parenting children, it is not a “cure” for infertility.
Not many people are aware how hurtful their innocent question “So, isn’t it time you start a family?” really is. Very few people know about the tears Kari sheds when she is alone. The longing to hold a child of her own causes her arms to ache and her heart to break. Only God hears the Why? of her questioning heart.
Next blog will give some Shepherding Insights that will be helpful in shepherding the men and women in your world who are struggling with infertility.