Infertility

Coming this May…

Eight years have passed since I first began writing He Remembers the Barren, and the time is ripe for a second edition. I am thrilled to announce that Emmanuel Press will be publishing this revised, expanded edition.

Why bother with a second edition? I have grown in my knowledge and understanding of the topic of barrenness, both through personal experience and study, and I would like my confession of the theology of the cross in the book to proclaim more clearly how our heavenly Father disciplines us, His dear children, through the gift of suffering in this life. I also feel compelled to better and further address the topic of adoption and the ethical issues surrounding in vitro fertilization and other such procedures utilized in the field of infertility medicine.

Much of the original book’s content will remain the same, though I am making revisions – some minimal and some more significant – to every chapter. I am also composing new chapters as well as an appendix of shorter questions-and-answers addressing concerns frequently expressed by those wishing to have children and the loved ones who wish to serve them. The second edition will also contain discussion questions written by Rebecca Mayes, making it more accessible for use in group study.

One more thing: acclaimed artist Edward Riojas is painting the cover for the second edition. While the poignant, raw emotion evoked by the first cover will forever be my first love, the artwork designed for the second edition is exquisitely tender and beautiful and honest and hopeful and Christological and perfect. It is a better match for the book’s content, and I fully approve of their marriage. You are going to love it.

Look for He Remembers the Barren, Second Edition to be released in May.

Just Tell Me It’s a Good Vocation

Crucifix on a WallThank you to Tiffany Silverberg for reminding us that no day is barren in which our neighbor is loved and served.

We live in a society that drips guilt into our lives everyday. Just take a peek into any of your favorite Instagram accounts and you’ll see inspirational quote after quote urging you to be great. To live in the moment. To seize the day. To make the most of every little thing. All these comparatives and superlatives turn us inward and reflect back a distorted view of ourselves and our purpose here on earth.

As we move through life, we pick up new crosses, yet all the while, the world taps our shoulders, asking impossible things. When we are young and single, we are commanded to use our time to find ourselves and the world, in one big adventure. To see and absorb and live as much as we can. When we marry, we are told to enjoy our romantic universe and pour ourselves into our careers. We are supposed to tear down walls and break ceilings and do great things. If we are blessed with children, we are called to it all. We are supposed to keep Pinterest perfect homes, raise Instagramably adorable children that would make the Royal family jealous, and stack LinkedIn worthy accomplishment upon accomplishment.

Take heart, dear sister, for this isn’t our call. Some of us may have Wikipedia entries schoolchildren will Google, while most of us will not. We are called to humbleness, gentleness, and love for our neighbor. For most of us, that looks like humility and the mundane. It may look like studying, rather than adventuring. It may look like folding socks and scrubbing cloth diapers. It may look like waiting and hoping. It may look ordinary, but that’s the point. God uses the ordinary. He calls us to it. (See any number of wonderful resources on Vocation.)

The world whispers the wrong question into our ever absorbent minds and hearts. We soon replace “How is this helping my neighbor?” with “How is this impacting the world for good?” We turn love for neighbor into love for a goal, a mission, a purpose.

And to what end? When is it big and audacious enough? When are we leaving a deep enough impact? When are we changing enough of the world?

Dear sisters, on our hard days, the days that seem endless and painfully mundane, let’s refrain from reactively sharing all the world’s poisonous platitudes. It’s easy enough to find a favorite quote on social media and urge your sister toward greatness and world-shaking purpose. But we don’t need another man-made law. We need the Gospel. We need to be reminded that Christ covers our mind-numbing tasks with His precious blood and sanctifies our everyday, ordinary vocation. So please, don’t tell me to seize the day or do great things. Just remind me that the task before me is a good vocation, in Christ alone.


Tiffany Silverberg is a wife, a momma through the gift of adoption, and a freelance writer as the needs of her neighbors allow, all by His grace as a child of God.

All of the children

I wasn’t even there when it happened.

Board elections of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) had finally wrapped up for the day, so I was walking back from the convention floor to the press room, tallies in hand, intent on finishing my story for the Reporter within the hour.

It was then that my husband texted me:

They’re trying to move [Resolution] 3-04 to the floor.

I stopped in the empty convention center hallway and stared at my phone. What? Floor Committee 3 wasn’t even on the agenda for that day. And honestly, after two straight hours of recording election results, my brain couldn’t even recall what Resolution 3-04 was.

IVF. Voting now on the motion. No discussion. Gonna pass.

It suddenly hit me what was happening.

This was the resolution, the one that had been five years in the making; the one Rebecca Mayes and I had talked about with pastors at roundtable after roundtable; the one the sainted +Maggie Karner+ and I had discussed as being so necessary that LCMS Life Ministry ended up hosting two Infertility Ethics Symposiums at our Synod’s seminaries; the one Stephanie Neugebauer and the Sanctity of Human Life Committee had made a priority for the good of the church.

This was the resolution that asked our Synod president to assign a task force to study issues relating to procreation, fertility, and care for the unborn. This was the resolution that asked our church to study these matters and, God willing, to speak on them.

My husband had warned me earlier that, with the amount of business in need of being covered at this year’s convention, it most likely wouldn’t make it to the convention floor, but some blessed soul – Chris from Texas, I later learned – took it upon himself to make a motion from the floor outside of the orders of the day.

I quickened my pace to get to the press room. The convention was being live-streamed there. If I hurried, I just might make it in time.

“What’s happening?” I asked, turning around the corner and dropping my bag at my table.

Several reporters looked up at me with blank faces, fully engrossed in the stories they were currently writing on other convention business. No one had been watching the live stream.

IVF task force 95.75% adopted. Thanks be to God!

It was such a quiet, unassuming moment in time. I stared at my phone in disbelief, and then I looked up at the large television screen standing against the far wall. The convention chair was calmly moving the assembly on to the next order of business as if mountains had not just been moved. No cheers were thrown into the air by delegates, no applause rippled across the convention floor. The moment passed just as quickly and discreetly as it had come, and my senses simply weren’t fast enough in the chase.

I looked around at the other reporters, all diligently working, and I did what any other barren woman would do. I stepped out into the hall and cried as quietly as I could. I cried for all of the children frozen in liquid nitrogen; I cried for all of the children abandoned in fertility clinics; I cried for all of the children aborted; I cried for all of the children waiting to be loved, respected, and parented.

And I cried in thanksgiving that my church body is going to pay attention to them.

The LORD of all life be praised!

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A Little Joy

On days when the cross of barrenness feels too heavy to carry, God reminds me that there are those in the body of Christ who would carry it for me. And I am comforted.

Thank you, Joy, for writing this beautiful poem, and, in so doing, shouldering my cross.

Haiku: a poem
about things found in nature.
This is apropos.

What more natural
than fruit of the womb, direct
blessing fresh from God?

What more poetic
than love and pathos for those
who yearn for the gift?

Glad to bear this child–
soli Deo gloria!–
but wishing you could.

-Joy Golden

Naomi, Ruth and Obed 1876-7 by Thomas Matthews Rooke 1842-1942

So Much Death

My heart can barely hold the grief.

It leaks out of my eyes as I bow my head in church. I’ve learned to pray with my eyes open, so that the tears drop straight to the floor and not onto my cheeks and clothes in tell-tale streaks.

It shudders from my lungs in seismic waves as Pastor reads the Gospel lesson. I’ve learned to hold my breath until my chest burns, camel-clutching my wayward diaphragm into submission.

It squeezes out of my larynx in pathetic whimpers as I sing, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” I’ve learned not to program “O Little Town of Bethlehem” for the Sunday school children lest they witness more sorrow in Advent than their parents want to explain on the drive home.

But my eyes, my lungs, my larynx – all rebels, every one. They get the better of me every Advent, because I know of more children dead than born.

So much death! How can I bear it?

And, as happens every year, I look to the image of my Lord as a tiny baby in the manger, and I remember, “So much life!”

I cannot bear it, so Jesus bears it for me. He is born to conquer death for my sake and for yours. He gives us life everlasting, and He gives it abundantly.

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

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What about Miscarriages?

 

Rev. Peter Eckardt – husband to Allison, father to +Jordan+, and Associate Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church and School in Alexandria, Virginia – recently wrote a letter of comfort and support to his congregation about the tender subject of miscarriage. We are most thankful to him for allowing us to share this letter with all of you.

*  *  *  *  *

What about Miscarriages?

What do you do when you experience a miscarriage? This is a question that no expectant couple wants to address and yet desperately needs the answers to as soon as tragedy strikes.

IMG_1454Allison and I were expecting our first child. We were excited, nervous, terrified, and overjoyed all at the same time. We were reading books and pamphlets, downloading pregnancy-tracking apps, and talking to numerous mothers and fathers—all to prepare us for the rest of the pregnancy, for birth, and for everything that was to follow. We were learning more and more about our baby’s development. At 8 weeks gestation, we had already heard and seen the baby’s heartbeat via ultrasound—how special that was! But at 10 weeks and 6 days, we were completely unprepared for the miscarriage that happened in the middle of the night.

QUESTIONS

‪In the hours and days following the miscarriage that Allison and I experienced a month ago, several questions flooded our minds, and we had little idea of what the “right thing to do” was. We were able to preserve the remains of our baby, but now what? Can we, should we, bury our child? How would we go about doing that? Can we have a funeral service at the church for our unbaptized infant? Is that sort of thing done? What comfort do we have, if any, that our baby is in heaven? Should we name him or her?

Those of you who have experienced a miscarriage may have your own set of questions you’d like to add to this list. I will not attempt to answer all miscarriage-related questions in this letter—and, indeed, not all of them have a clear, right or wrong answer—but I’d like to at least begin the conversation with a few points.

HOPE
GOD’S POWER IS BOUNDLESS

‪If you have had a miscarriage, I want you to know that there are many promises of peace and hope for you and for your departed little one. You need not fear that, because your child was not able to be baptized, he or she is therefore unable to be included in God’s kingdom. Though God indeed attaches his promises of grace and forgiveness to His holy sacraments, He does not limit His power to these sacraments. Unbaptized, the thief on the cross comes to faith in his final hour and is told by our Lord the he will be with Him in Paradise (Luke 23:43). God is the maker of heaven and earth; He can do all things.

GOD HEARS OUR PRAYERS

Moreover, we know that “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man [i.e., a Christian!] avails much (James 5:16). Our Lord tells us to ask and it will be given to us (Matt. 7:7) and that whatever we ask in His name, He will give us (John 14:13). Likewise, God says in Psalm 50, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you” (Psalm 50:15). And even if we have not prayed as we ought, the Spirit offers prayers for us in our weakness (Rom. 8:26-27). The Lutheran Service Book Agenda, which has a rite of “Burial for a Stillborn Child or Unbaptized Child,” states: “While alive and in the womb, this child was brought and commended to Christ in our prayers. We should not doubt that these prayers have been heard, for we have God’s own kind and comforting promises that such prayers in the name of Jesus Christ are heard by Him” (132).

IMG_7208 copyMartin Luther wrote a letter of comfort for women who have had a miscarriage, and in it he also emphasizes the power of Christian prayer: “One should not despise a Christian person as if he were a Turk, a pagan, or a godless person. He is precious in God’s sight and his prayer is powerful and great, for he has been sanctified by Christ’s blood and anointed with the Spirit of God. Whatever he sincerely prays for, especially in the unexpressed yearning of his heart, becomes a great, unbearable cry in God’s ears, God must listen, as he did to Moses, Exodus 14 [:15], ‘Why do you cry to me?’ even though Moses couldn’t whisper, so great was his anxiety and trembling in the terrible troubles that beset him.” (Read entire letter here.)

THE HOLY SPIRIT CAN WORK THROUGH THE WOMB

‪As Scripture teaches, we believe that infants can receive the Holy Spirit and the gift of faith without yet being able to rationally hear and understand the words of Scripture. The infant John the Baptist leapt for joy in Elizabeth’s womb when he heard the sound of Mary’s greeting (Luke 1:39-45). This was surely the work of the Holy Spirit, for He is able to create faith even through the womb. It is indeed true that “with God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26).

JESUS LOVES LITTLE ONES

‪Consider also how our Lord Jesus shows compassion toward the littlest of children, praising their faith. In one instance, Jesus sets a little child in the midst of his disciples and says, “Unless you turn and become like children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. . . . See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. . . . It is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matt. 18:3, 10, 11). In another instance, “they were bringing even infants to [Jesus] that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God'” (Luke 18:15-17). There is no question that Jesus has a special, tender regard for the little ones.

GOD KNOWS US FROM CONCEPTION

‪Psalm 139 speaks beautifully of God’s intimate knowledge and care of his children, even from their conception in the womb:

“For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. . . .
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
(Ps. 139:13-16)

WE SHALL GO TO THEM

‪Finally, a passage I find particularly poignant and comforting is the account of the death of King David’s first child in 2 Samuel 12:15-23. David’s son is afflicted by God upon birth and dies after seven days (significant because his circumcision—the Old Testament equivalent to the sacrament of Baptism—would have been on the eighth day). During that time, David beseeches the Lord to be merciful and to spare his son from death. But when the child dies, he stops mourning, worships the Lord, and says, “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” With these words David appears to be expressing hope in the resurrection and in a blessed reunion with his son in heaven.

With all of this in mind, answers to some of the previously-mentioned questions start to become clearer. Yes, you may have comfort that your unbaptized child who died an untimely death has been brought to the arms of Jesus in paradise and awaits the resurrection. Yes, you may ask your pastor for a funeral service in the church. And yes, you may give your miscarried children a Christian burial.

BURIAL

There is no single right way to bury your miscarried baby, nor is it even possible in many cases, depending on the situation. Sometimes, the remains are not able to be preserved, parents do not know that they can preserve them, or they unknowingly dispose of them. If the miscarriage happens at a hospital, for instance, the couple may have to insist that they be given the remains for the purpose of burial. Otherwise, the remains may simply be disposed of by the hospital as a matter of protocol. For Christian parents who did not or were not able to keep the remains of their child for burial, there is no need to be burdened with guilt or regret. Take heart, and know that our good and gracious Lord holds your child in His arms regardless of the state of your baby’s bodily remains and that He can and will resurrect your child on the Last Day even without a burial site. Our God is abounding in steadfast love, forgiveness, and mercy to both you and your little ones.

‪For those who are able, however, it is a good and commendable thing to keep the remains of a miscarried baby and to seek an appropriate avenue for Christian burial. Ask your pastor for guidance, as each situation may be unique. Though the world around us pays little attention to miscarriages and often expects mothers and fathers to simply move on or to get over the miscarriage quickly, we Christians have an opportunity to boldly confess that a baby who dies by miscarriage—and who may only be a few centimeters long and a few weeks old—is just as much a human life created by God as you or I. Whenever a miscarriage happens, we ought to acknowledge both the very real life of the child that has ended, and the very real loss that the parents are undergoing. And as Christians, we must not forget to confess our hope in Jesus Christ, our God and Savior, whose good and gracious will is always better than ours. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

‪Allison and I decided to have our baby Jordan buried in Richmond, VA, at Mt. Calvary Cemetery. This particular cemetery donates land specifically for the burial of miscarried babies. Burial services are also provided through the goodwill and cooperation of the The Catholic Diocese of Richmond, Bliley Funeral home, and Richmond area hospitals. They conduct burials of miscarried infants about once month, reverently interring several miscarried children together in a single plot of land. Tiny white caskets are used with the names of the babies placed on each. Allison and I were in Richmond this past Wednesday for our baby Jordan’s burial. We are extremely grateful for this gracious program and have talked about how nice it would be if more such programs were available for Christian families.

‪There is much more to say on this entire topic, and I plan to do so another time in order to comfort and assist those who have been and will be affected by miscarriage. It is, unfortunately, a common tragedy among us, but its frequency does not make it any less sorrowful.

‪”The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26).

‪In closing I’d like to offer this prayer from the LSB Agenda for all who have lost children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, through miscarriage:

Heavenly Father, Your Son bore all our griefs and carried all our sorrows. Strengthen the faith of these grieving parents and all who bear this heavy burden. Help them to rely on Your boundless mercy and to trust that their little one, who has been gathered into Your loving arms, will rise on the Last Day; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

‪Blessings in Christ,
Pastor Eckardt

 

Plainspoken

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“Want to come inside for a visit?” Elva asked.

I was there for milk and eggs only. I hadn’t expected to be invited inside the main house, and I was suddenly embarrassed by my grubby barn garb – stocking cap, work jeans, muddy boots – but the hospitable man seemed to read my mind.

“Seems the best place for a chat is out of the rain.”

I couldn’t argue with that. I followed Elva into the square house and was immediately welcomed by the warm smile and handshake of his wife, Alta. Something yeasty and cinnamon-y was also welcoming me from their oven.

“So you’re a writer of books?”

I looked into Elva’s blue eyes. They were kind and curious and ready to smile. Now that he had taken off his black hat, I could see that his ruddy hair perfectly matched his beard in shade and texture.

“Yes.” I never know what else to say in these circumstances.

“What are they about?”

“Oh, well.” I cleared my throat and tried to think how best to describe in just a few sentences what took thousands upon thousands of sentences to actually publish. “My husband and I have not been blessed with children, so my first book is about barrenness.”

They didn’t flinch. I took a breath and continued. “I like writing about God’s abundant love and mercy to us in Christ Jesus. It comforts me to know that God’s care for us is proven in the gift of His own Son, not in the gift of children of my own.”

Neither of them seemed to be bothered by serious talk.

“Would you like to see my books?” Elva gestured an invitation toward the four shelves of books tucked neatly in the corner of the room.

“Turn on the lamp, so she can see,” Alta instructed.

I tried not to stare too obviously as Elva picked up a nearby lighter. The gas lamp above my head buzzed and popped with immediate light. The thought occurred to me that I was just a couple of hours away from my own home but worlds away from my daily life. I skimmed the titles. The Holy Bible. That one I expected. What I didn’t expect was The Walk West: A Walk Across America 2.

“Oh, I know that book,” I said. It is an autobiographical account of one man’s experiences walking across America with his wife. It’s prequel is a retelling of the experiences of that same man walking across America by himself. “My mom read it aloud to me when I was in elementary school. Do you like it?”

“Yes,” Elva’s brow furrowed, “but I learned that the author and his wife are no longer together. That kind of ruined it for me.”

A soulful, convicted man. I took a risk.

“This is a personal question, and, please,” I walked back to my chair across the room, too nervous to look either of my hosts in the eye, “don’t answer if I am being inappropriate, but are there any,” I swallowed, “barren couples in your community?”

Alta glanced at her husband’s face. “Yes. One of my closest friends, in fact. Well, they did end up having one child, but…”

“But none after that?”

Alta nodded.

“Is it hard not to have children in your community?” I colored at the sound of my own question. It registered as dumb in my own barren ears. “I mean, I would think it would be hard not to have more help with the work around the house…”

Oh, dear. I was getting dumber by the second.

Elva generously saved me. “We usually generate only the amount of work we can do ourselves. And we help each other.”

I nodded, embarrassed. “So the barren in your community have support.” I said it more to myself than to anyone else.

“Yes,” Alta nodded. “In fact, several- ”

There are several Amish barren! I was surprised and somewhat comforted.

” -get together for circle time in our area to visit and…”

Alta looked at her husband, again. I could tell she didn’t know how to describe what she had never taken part in.

“And encourage each other?” I offered.

She nodded, again.

I smiled. I couldn’t help it. Even in this strange world of gas lamps and horse-drawn buggies, I was not alone in my suffering.

I felt quite encouraged, myself.