Providing a Comfortable Environment for Infertile Couples

Image by  Nick Bulanov

Image by Nick Bulanov

One of the more painful trials of life comes to a young married couple who discover they are infertile—for one reason or another, they cannot conceive children. In a culture where people assume the natural thing to do is find a mate, get married, have children, and live happily ever after, infertility can be a difficult turn of events. Given the Bible’s positive outlook on children and child-rearing, people can take this message and unintentionally create an uncomfortable environment for infertile couples. How so?

When a married couple in their mid-thirties visits your church, what are some of the first things you ask them? Who are you? What do you do? How many children do you have? It’s a natural assumption to ask whether a couple has children. But it’s the next series of questions that can create discomfort or even pain. If the couple states, “We don’t have any children,” how do you respond? Do you pry? Do you ask why not? This is where many Christians unintentionally step on people’s toes.

Sometimes the questions can get even more specific—When are you going to have children? Or, “You know, you should try to have children!” If the couple is brave and open enough to admit that they are infertile, sadly, I think people then press the question, “Well, have you thought of adoption?”

I suspect that every couple in such circumstances has thought about adoption, and it may be a matter of time, finances, or perhaps uncertainty that accounts for the fact that they haven’t yet adopted. The point is, people should not be so presumptuous to start giving significant life-altering advice about personal matters.

One of the most important things a person can do before offering weighty personal advice is to build a relationship of trust with a person as a first step. You have to spend significant time with a person, establish rapport with them, and get to know them well. Within this context, the other person can slowly reveal their greatest desires, fears, or concerns about life.

After a strong bond of trust has developed, a couple might tell you all of their struggles to have children. It might be that they want desperately to adopt, but they have been waiting for the right situation to develop. Or it could be that they’re diligently saving money for an adoption, which can be very expensive for a host of reasons. Once you learn of these things, you can then offer counsel and prayer on their behalf.

All of this is to say, be sensitive and charitable when you meet new people. Don’t assume that just because they don’t have children that the couple is somehow dodging parenthood for selfish reasons. Remember, for many couples infertility brings a host of emotions—pain, suffering, guilt, shame, hopelessness—and the last thing you want to do is inadvertently add to their pain. Take time to get to know people and patiently wait and observe for the right time, if at all, to offer advice on some of life’s biggest decisions.

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This article by J. V. Fesko is adapted from “A Pastor’s Reflections: Infertility.” For more helpful content by Dr. Fesko, please visit jvfesko.com.

J. V. Fesko is Professor of Systematic Theology and Historical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi. He has written numerous books on the Christian faith, including Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on BaptismJustification: Understanding the Classic Reformed DoctrineThe Theology of the Westminster Standards: Historical Context and Theological Insights and the newly released commentary, Romans (Lectio Continua).

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