Question Submitted: A large part of my “story” is what I refer to as spousally-inflicted barrenness. Long story short: my husband’s desire to postpone pregnancy for a year so we would be out of the debt-incurring stage of grad school when a child was born (which I was in agreement with) turned into a season of nearly FIVE YEARS where he was utterly unable to tell me when he would feel “ready” to have a baby. It was a mess. To compound this difficulty, because NFP [Natural Family Planning] only really works for a fertile couple when both people want it to, I became pregnant at least twice anyway and lost the babies in the first trimester. So much heartache in that season. Do you know of resources for women in the situation I was in? Do you have any helpful advice?
This is a tough one. When a husband and wife are not on the same page about something as important as having children, this is a serious division that calls for professional advice. Because of this, I spoke with two pastors and asked for their responses. Here was what the first one had to say:
The question about being ready for children is the same question about being ready for marriage. God does not differentiate the two. (For those who are considering marriage, these are the right questions to be asking: Do you both understand that marriage is about the raising of children? Are you both on the same page concerning children? What do you think about adoption? What do you think about IVF and other fertility procedures? It is imperative to be on the same page on these questions.) But now what does a couple do that has become married and one of them doesn’t want children? They can’t just get a divorce and walk away. This is a profound – even crisis – moment in the life of a married couple. I would suggest marriage counseling from a good Christian counselor (not just any counselor) and also time with their pastor. The Lord’s desire is that the man leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and that the two become one flesh… being fruitful and filling the earth. That desire of the Lord hasn’t changed even with our personal desires about what we want to do with our lives.
These are great comments that a woman experiencing what you did would love to print out and hand to her husband so she can say, “See, I told you so!” However, there are better approaches to winning over one’s spouse. In speaking with the second pastor, I discovered that we wives can certainly make matters worse by the way we approach the topic. Before he’ll be willing to talk to a pastor or counselor, he needs to know that he has our respect and that we’re trying to understand his point of view. Here are some insightful comments from pastor #2:
My wife and I were in an almost identical situation. I was intent on getting my PhD before kids came into the picture. My father had always had dreams of getting his doctorate, but he waited until later in life when he had five children and his responsibilities prevented him from being able to complete the work. I was determined not to let that happen. After seminary, my wife was ready to start a family and I wasn’t. There was a lot of conflict because of our seemingly opposing goals. She was adamant that I didn’t need to continue my studies and that having a family was more important. This was hurtful because she obviously didn’t support my goals. We both dug in our heels and refused to see the other’s point of view. As the Lord would have it, we weren’t able to have children anyway. I look back now and realize that I was wrong to put my personal aspirations above God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply”, and I’ve often thought that if we’d been open to children from the start, perhaps in our “youth” our bodies would have indeed been fruitful. So what could my wife have done differently to convince me not to put off having children? At the time I didn’t see how I could both be a father and a student, and neither did she. And so her goal of having children NOW seemed to be taking away my goal forever. But we were both wrong. Schooling and family are not mutually exclusive. People have done it (though that’s not to say it’s easy). If either she or I had taken this “both-and” approach, it would have been easier for me at that time to listen to what God says about being open to children.
I cannot help but think of 1 Peter 3:1 in light of these comments: “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.” Wives in any marriage crisis are called on to be patient and to love, respect, and pray for their man. The more he knows that his wife is his friend and not his enemy, the more willing he may be to rethink what it means to be the head of a family. And even if he still refuses to see a pastor or counselor, the wife should see one by herself . She’ll need someone else to share this burden with her. She’ll need encouragement and the Word of God to help her have a joyful heart as she continues carrying out her vocation as a wife, until such a time as they – like you and your husband – can finally see eye-to-eye on the matter.