What is the cross of barrenness? Surely it is one of loss and death and grief, but many in the church don’t realize that the cross of barrenness is also one of warring against the world’s religion of control. The world expects us to manage and control our fertility, so, naturally, that same world also expects us to manage and control our infertility – never mind whether or not we really can.
It is not uncommon for friends, even strangers, to school me in this art of control, this “sure science” of making a baby. A woman standing behind a school lunch counter once told me, “Be sure to keep your cervix lifted for at least thirty minutes after intercourse.” A lady at a party said to me in front of a circle of friends, “Your husband could be shooting blanks. Get his sperm’s motility checked out.” A stranger sitting to my left at a women’s luncheon leaned over and announced during the main course, “My daughter was infertile, but she finally had a baby last spring through In Vitro Fertilization. You should go to her doctor.” A woman at a local farmer’s market stopped me to tell me that taking her suggested brand of vitamin supplements would even out my hormone levels and result in a pregnancy.
I don’t know what to say in return to those who publicly offer advice on sexual techniques or medically misdiagnose my husband’s fertility or tell me to engage in medical procedures that break the First and Fifth Commandments of my Lord. Giving a verbal response to those comments feels like I am somehow validating the very existence of them. If I share with the woman at the market that my hormone levels are already stable, then I am engaging her in conversation about something that is so personal and painful. I am inviting her to continue making suggestions and diagnoses and comments about my barrenness. I am giving her permission to continue trying to find a fix for my problem. I am handing her the salt well and telling her to rub it in my open wound. So, instead of telling her the truth, I simply thank her for her advice, and I keep walking. Then, I go home, and I cry.
I cry, because every time a well-meaning person tells me how to make a baby, I am tempted to believe that I can control my barrenness, that my present childlessness is my own doing, my own fault. I must be doing something wrong. I must be missing a key nutrient in my diet; I must be exercising too much or too little; I must have high levels of prolactin or low levels of progesterone; I must not be producing enough Type E mucus to sustain the lives of the sperm in my uterus; I must not be going to the right doctor. I must, I must, I must. When a well-meaning person makes suggestions to me in my pain and grief, I feel the weight, the burden, the law of my barrenness fully on my own shoulders.
Yet, I cannot control my barrenness. I know this, because God tells me in His Word that children are a heritage from Him – a gift – and that good gift is received, not manufactured or made. God is the Giver, and I am the receiver. And, at the end of the day, my faith must believe what God tells me in His Word, not what the woman tells me at the market.