Secondary Infertility

All Kinds of Barrenness

IMG_0211Special thanks to Katy Cloninger for today’s guest post. Her words of empathy, compassion, and truth are a welcome start to the day.


What does it mean to be barren? Merriam-Webster coldly and bleakly defines it as “incapable of producing offspring,” or “not yet or not recently pregnant.” But on a personal level, there are as many kinds of barrenness as there are barren women.

Some women fall into what may be called the classic category: they have never been able to get pregnant, no matter how much they try to “take charge of their fertility.” Others have been able to conceive but not to carry a child to term. Yet others have carried a pregnancy to term, but the baby was stillborn. Lord, have mercy on us all.

Other women suffer from secondary infertility. They have had one or more children, but for whatever reason, or no apparent reason at all, they cannot have any more. Such cases are made even sadder when the one child a woman has is taken from her by SIDS or some other tragic circumstance. Lord, have mercy on us all.

There are women who have had abortions before they knew the value of life, or knew it but were coerced, and the procedure took away not only the child they had but the ability to have children later on. Or perhaps some other surgery, necessary to preserve their own life, robbed them of the ability to bring more life into the world. Lord, have mercy on us all.

Then there are those women who never found a suitable husband, though their greatest desire was to be a loving wife and mother. Others have found husbands, but their husbands have turned out not to want children, or there are difficulties consummating the marriage, or their husbands have abandoned them, terminating all dreams of a happy home full of children. Perhaps the husband is the sterile spouse. Or perhaps the husband met an untimely death, leaving his young and hopeful wife a widow in her prime childbearing years. Lord, have mercy on us all.

No doubt there are many more kinds of barrenness than I have named. And for every person touched by barrenness, the individual details and complications add layer upon layer of sorrow and grief. Often we feel completely unique and alone in our pain.

But that feeling is a satanic lie, for the Bible tells us so.

“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,” Isaiah prophesies of Jesus, “yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (Is 53:4). This Jesus, the Son of the Virgin, indeed “grew up before [the LORD] like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground” (v. 2), for the very purpose that He would be “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (v. 3)—for us and for our salvation. Though our suffering is unique in some ways, it is common in that we all suffer the effects of sin; we all suffer the death-in-life of existing in a fallen world. We need a Savior to come and suffer for us the true forsaking of God so that we can be assured that God will never forsake us (Heb 13:5).

But because we are in Christ, our suffering leads ultimately to glorification. St. Peter instructs that “those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Pet 4:19), and to “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed” (v. 13). St. Paul picks up on the same theme. He reminds us that we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him” (Rom 8:17). Paul later adds that “those whom [God] foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (v. 29)—an image that is first cruciform, and only later glorified.

Nevertheless, Paul comforts us that our sufferings are brief and, with Peter, he encourages us to await the revelation of God’s glory in our now-broken selves: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18). Our glorification is so certain that Paul can speak of it in the past tense: “those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called he also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified” (v. 30). Even now, Paul tells us, the Holy Spirit is bringing forth fruit as we suffer; we can “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:3–5).

In our present vale of tears, we may not know why God sends us this cross or that one. But we are assured that somehow, it is for our good: “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).

Our crosses, whatever they be, are always hard to bear—would be impossible to bear without God’s constant and mighty aid. But even if we are not bearing fruit in our wombs, the Holy Spirit is bearing fruit in us. So we wait with patience, trusting that the God who opens and closes our wombs knows best, and knowing that the glorification of our fallen world—and our fallen bodies—is at hand.


Katy Cloninger is a freelance copyeditor and the divorced mother of one. She has a BA in English from Newberry College and is a member of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, SC. She loves reading, writing, hearing, teaching, and singing about her Savior Jesus Christ and the marvelous truths of God’s Word.

Birth Announcements

iurI often am asked, “How do I tell my barren friend that I am pregnant?”

Personal preferences are always personal, so I cannot speak for every woman. However, I can share with you exactly how I want to receive the news of another’s pregnancy: personally and in private.

And if that personal, private pregnancy announcement is accompanied by a sincere invitation for me to take part in my pregnant friend’s joy, then I find that I often can, indeed, rejoice in the gift given to her. While it always hurts to remain barren when others are blessed, I recognize the tender care in being sought out ahead of the crowd. I see the extended kindness in being invited to join in on the celebration. Being remembered is always a better experience for me than being left alone.

But do you know what helps me the most during these times of grief? I am greatly comforted and encouraged when my pregnant friend rightly believes and confesses that her child is a gift from God, and that confession is often expressed — not through a cheeky Instagram picture or a clever Facebook announcement — but through a dignified email such as this:


Katie,

Several times in the past year, I felt quite a bit like Hannah — weeping bitterly before the Lord. I wondered many times why He didn’t remember me, as He remembered her. But the Lord is faithful and merciful, and He has remembered me. We found out last month that I am pregnant. And while this news has come with much joy and thanksgiving, it has also come with great grief. In my joy, I can’t help but think of all my sisters who, like Hannah, also weep bitterly before the Lord, and yet do not receive the gift of a child.

I pray for you and your husband often. I pray that He will shower you with the same blessings He has given me and my husband through our children. But more importantly, I pray He will grant you peace and comfort, and remind you ever that you are His, and that His love for you endures forever.

God’s blessings to you in all that you do.

In Christ,
Leah

Leah, in the midst of her rejoicing, chooses to remember — even share in — my grief.

And in the safety of such obvious love, I find it quite easy to share in her joy.

 

Compassion With Conviction

In what could be considered a mental exercise in futility, a personal question has been nagging me: How is the suffering of barrenness akin to the grief of losing a loved one?

I suppose it’s an unfair question since there are many nuances to each affliction, and everyone handles suffering and grief differently. But I’ll take a stab at it since I have been carrying both crosses — the death of my mother most recently, and secondary infertility seven years after my son’s birth — for awhile now. For those who know back-to-back trials like a well-worn shoe, this is my feeble attempt at processing it out loud.

As Christians who are given the life-giving Word which forgives, renews, and strengthens, far be it from us to despair when tragedy strikes or we endure years of longsuffering. Right?

Eesh. What an anvil of condemnation since, if we’re honest, we do despair. We also grieve and suffer along with any other human being on earth because of the Old Adam and Eve in us.

So when it comes to death and barrenness, it is natural that any and all feelings surface. And it is sadly normal that temptations to sin arise as we hold dear what relationship we had to our departed loved one and perhaps what relationships never will be, desperately looking into things where there are no promises. Both command soul-piercing attention, because there is a very real separation, divide (a hiddenness) between people who existed in this world and those who never may.

Such suffering beckons us to look at separation and spiritual hiddenness (and perhaps the anxiety and distress that naturally follow) through a Biblical lens. We know we are connected to all the saints in Christ, but far be it for us to deliver lofty comforts with verses such as “Be anxious about nothing” without compassion. We do well to allow God to put His Word together for us through His faithful under-shepherds, our family, and friends in Christ who can and do walk alongside us in our suffering.

Luther’s pastoral letters to several friends who suffered terrible losses are tender and convicting. He always starts by realizing the natural expression of grief, especially when it is so new. He recognizes and empathizes with the agonies. Luther then moves from his own empathy to confessing God’s inscrutable kindness in Christ’s ability to identify with our suffering, loss, grief, and loneliness by overcoming it all in His crucifixion. He concludes his letters with understanding our limitations and proclaiming that God gives us all that we need — namely faith — to sojourn this side of heaven.

How should we conduct ourselves in such a situation? God has so ordered and limited our life here that we may learn and exercise the knowledge of His very good will so that we may test and discover whether we love and esteem His will more than ourselves and everything that He had given us to have and love on earth. And although the inscrutable goodness of the divine will is hidden (as is God himself) from the old Adam as something so great and profound that man finds no pleasure in it, but only grief and lamentation, we nevertheless have His holy and sure Word which reveals to us this hidden will of His and gladdens the heart of the believer.”1

So much to parse out here, but “finding no pleasure in God’s hidden will” stands out the most to me as such an honest testament in the midst of suffering. And still God delivers us. All to say that Luther as pastor is a beautiful example of all the faithful pastors, the family, and friends we have in our own midst now who empathize, gently encourage, and comfort us at the right times. It has certainly been what my family and I have experienced in coping with our own crosses. Thanks be to God.

How is barrenness akin to the loss of a loved one? Both can cause us to isolate or scatter from the fellowship of believers that God creates for our benefit. Then again, both afflictions can and do also bring us together because God knows we need each other. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away from us, yes, but He never leaves or forsakes us — though His presence is hidden under means. And sending faithful, compassionate Christians is one of the ways He abides. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

God grant us all the tender mercies we are promised through His Word so that we might grieve without shame, while confessing the hope that is within us in Christ. God give us the strength to accept our afflictions and serve one another in love. Amen.

  1. To John Reineck, April 18, 1536: Letters, 69-70 (WA Br 7.399-400).

Speak of the Dead

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It is risky business speaking of our dead children. We risk crying in public. We risk the discomfort of others. We risk crowds scattering before us like dust before an electric fan, everyone afraid of “catching what we’ve got.” We risk dirt flying in our faces as others furiously spade the earth to cover the ugly remains of our dead.

Perhaps, worst of all, we risk indifference. Oh, the painful silence of our dead children being acknowledged in public only to be ignored!

It is easier to hold our dead safely and quietly in our hearts where no one can offend or abuse them. But the truth is that our children did not stay in our wombs, and they do not now live in our hearts. They left our bodies to return to dust. They went before us in death, and we follow them into the grave.

This is why we speak of our dead children: because they lived and died and, we trust, live again in Christ. Our dead children are remembered and loved not only by us but by God who Himself lived and died and rose again that we all might live forever with Him in the flesh.

Thank you, Kristen, Audrey, Adrienne, and Melanie, for speaking aloud of your children that we might be comforted.

You can listen to their words here.

Mayday

No tree wants to be barren, especially in the height of spring.

And when the sun rises on the second Sunday of May, the barren tree closes her eyes against the dreaded dawn. There is no hiding her leafless limbs in this public light. Her bare bark stands out in stark, dark contrast to the other verdant trees in the forest. No blossom crowns her head this Mother’s Day, no fruit snuggles against her naked breast. She has but one, lone Shoot growing from her sterile stump.

“I can bear no fruit,” she laments to the sunrise.

“I AM bearing all of the fruit you need in this life,” answers the Shoot, sprouting leaves of salvation, truth, and love. “I AM the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me bears much fruit. By this my Father is glorified.”

“But my children are dead,” she cries.

The Shoot stretches its arms wide to shade her gaping womb. “I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

“I am alone,” she mourns.

“I AM with you. And so are they.”

The tree opens her eyes to see a robin returning from a morning scavenge, feeding her babies nesting on a forgotten limb.

“But these are not my children.”

“They are yours to serve,” explains the Shoot. “They depend on you for support. I give them to you to shelter and protect. Love them as yourself.”

The barren tree – through no strength of her own – stands tall, lest the baby birds should fall.


Artist Edward Riojas has captured the poignant reality of barrenness in his exquisite cover artwork for He Remembers the Barren, Second Edition.

This moving painting is now available for purchasing. Do you have someone in your life who might appreciate a giclée print of it this Mother’s Day?

He Remembers the Barren, Second Edition

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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Big Sister

MP900341507My young pen pal recently became a big sister through adoption last year – twice!

Here’s how she described her new life as a big sister in her most recent letter to me:

We are super busy. Sometimes I lock myself in my bedroom, lie on my bed, and try to imagine life BEFORE munchkins 2 and 3. It is IMPOSSIBLE. I can’t even think of our living room 2 years ago. 🙂 Right now, Little Brother is hanging onto my chair watching Little Sister ride her tricycle around the kitchen/dining room while holding her baby doll. She stops every time she goes by Little Brother to smile at him.

Isn’t that delightful?

Have you and your husband considered adoption?