"There are three things that will never be satisfied....death, a barren womb, and the Earth for water."
I have to do some theological reflecting...it is time. I am going to open this new blog with a reflection I have needed to write for awhile. Nothing I have experienced has rocked my theological underpinnings and faith in God as a Christian the way my recurrent pregnancy loss and infertility has. There is a misconception that infertility is something God causes, like a curse or punishment. I think this is especially true when the cause is "unexplained" infertility (the most common kind). People even say things to infertile women like, "If God wanted you to have children, he would open your womb." Or "it will happen in God's time." This is strange since we don't tell people with other physical ailments, like cancer or a physical deformity, that if God wanted them healed, it would happen spontaneously and miraculously or in God's time. Infertility is a health problem. And there can be an abiding fear when you're facing infertility or recurrent loss that maybe you've "done" something to deserve it....that maybe you are being punished or that you're not worthy of motherhood or fatherhood and so God is not allowing it. But infertility and miscarriage are not a curse or a punishment from God.
Let me say it again: Infertility and recurrent miscarriage are not a curse or punishment from God. There are many, many cases of suffering in Scripture that ultimately reveal some other purpose and are not due to any kind of punishment for sin. An obvious example is found in Job. Job loses everything he has: his health, his home, and even his children, not because he was a sinner, in fact, he was a righteous and faithful man, but because Job was able to prove his faithfulness to God in the face of the mystery of suffering. As Job said in the face of his many horrible losses, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the Name of the Lord!" After Job's ordeal, God restored him and blessed him in far greater ways than he had known before.
The apostle Paul discusses an affliction that he suffered from, that he called a "thorn in the flesh." Paul prays and asks God many times to take it away, but God does not. Instead Paul receives a word from God that I have always loved, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Jesus most clearly addresses the question of why people suffer in John chapter 9. In this story, Jesus and the disciples encounter a man born blind. The disciples assume, falsely, that the man is blind because either he or his parents have sinned. (This sounds more like karma than Christianity, doesn't it?) Jesus dispels this misunderstanding and says that the man was not blind because of anyone's sin. In fact, he was blind so that the "work of God could be displayed in him." The way Jesus speaks here, it sounds as if the man's blindness was actually a blessing of some kind. In this story, Jesus heals the man and restores his sight. Jesus is demonstrating the point that suffering can in fact be a state of blessedness. This goes against what we feel or cling to in our culture. But just look at Jesus' most important sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5 and Luke 6, where Jesus says definitively that those who suffer (in a variety of ways) are actually "blessed." Jesus says that you who are impoverished, poor in spirit, who mourn, who hunger, who weep, who are hated and persecuted....you are BLESSED. The kingdom of heaven is YOURS. As Bishop TD Jakes is fond of saying, "Why do you suffer? Because you are anointed."
None of the conditions that Jesus talks about though...blindness, poverty, grief or suffering seem or feel like a "blessing" at the time. And I cannot bring myself yet to say that my miscarriages have been a "blessing." Losing my babies, my children, has been the most painful experiences imaginable, nothing short of hell on earth over several years. I have been living in grief for so long that I have begun to think it is normal. I miss our children every day and wonder what it would be like if they were here with us, growing up in our family, being loved and nurtured. I will never know. But even if I can't fully wrap my mind around my loss and infertility or call it a blessing, I can say with all confidence that infertility and miscarriage are NOT a punishment or curse because of the clear witness of Scripture. This does bring comfort.
One of the most well known stories of infertility in the Bible comes from Genesis when Leah and Rachel both struggle at different times with infertility in their hopes to have a child with Jacob. People will sometimes point to the description in this story that God "closed the womb" or "opened the womb" of the women as evidence that pregnancy or infertility are blessings or curses. What people fail to notice in this story, however, is that both women ultimately resort, at one time, to using a "surrogate" -they give their servant-girls to Jacob in order to have a child (just as Sarah did with Hagar in her marriage with Abraham). When their servant/surrogate has a child, Leah and Rachel rejoice and see this too as a blessing from God. Differences in culture aside, the bottom line theologically in the story is that both women are blessed, in very different ways, with the gift of children, and it does NOT depend on whether or not their wombs were "opened" or "closed" ...whether they were fertile or infertile. There is a great story line going on here. Clearly God can bless an infertile couple through other means (but more on this topic in another post). And from these women and their unconventional ways, came the 12 tribes of Israel.
I share these stories and texts from Scripture because my faith has wavered the most when I believed a lie, or several lies....lies that come from the enemy.... that my losses were due to my having done something wrong, or because God did not love me, did not care about me, or even because God simply didn't exist. None of those options brought comfort, only more pain and suffering. And none of those lies are true. But I promise that the enemy will try to get you to believe some lies and to use your pain, loss, and suffering to fatally damage your faith. Don't let him. You are a beloved child of God, fertile or infertile.
Now... once we accept that infertility and miscarriage are not a matter of punishment or curse from God, where do we go? How do we make sense of it? I wish I had a one-size-fits all answer. I don't. I can only share my own thoughts at this time...and they have taken me years to come to and have required some hindsight in order to embrace. They may not be terribly satisfying to anyone but me....but I think we all have to do the work of wrestling with God, like Jacob did, in order to come to some kind of peace and understanding we can live with.
I have now had 8 miscarriages in a row. Two were after excellent ultrasounds and good heartbeats, when we thought we were in the clear, and those were the hardest. But certainly I have prayed through every single one of my pregnancies, and truly believed that God could save my babies if God chose to intervene. I have deep faith that God can do miracles. I have seen and experienced God perform miracles in my life and in other's. The question is, why didn't I get a miracle in any of those 8 pregnancies? I believe now that biologically speaking, those pregnancies were all doomed due to a variety of physical factors that we have been diagnosed with since our losses began. We have been dealing with everything from diminished ovarian reserve (poor quality eggs), to poor sperm quality including low morphology (2-4%) and high DNA fragmentation. In addition, we have 6 HLA matches and a complete 4.1 DQ Alpha match. My Natural Killer cell activity is elevated, but it is unclear if that is due to the losses/HLA matches or is independent. Regardless, it would have taken nothing short of total divine intervention in order for us to have any of our pregnancies develop into healthy, take-home babies. Many couples suffering from unexplained infertility/RPL suffer from multiple obstacles as well.
Since our having a baby together would have required a spectacular miracle, nothing short of supernatural divine intervention, the question, instead of "Why didn't God give me a miracle?" could just as easily be, "Why do I deserve special treatment from God?" I don't ask that question lightly or with the idea that God doesn't love me as an individual. God loves all of God's children, whoever we are. But clearly, the majority of people, regardless of how wonderful, prayerful, and faithful they may be, do not experience extraordinary miracles every time they pray...or even very often. Those that do are certainly blessed, but I believe miracles of divine intervention are usually performed for greater reasons than a personal answer to prayer...they happen for the glory of God.
We can look at the world today and recognize the extremely high rate of infant mortality, infertility, and pregnancy loss. Women living in impoverished nations experience high rates of loss in pregnancy and after birth. In fact, it was not long ago in the United States that most women experienced multiple losses in pregnancy and of their infants and children because they lacked the healthcare we have today. The fact is, miscarriage and infant and child mortality is extremely common on both an historical and global scale. Why do I deserve to be an exception? Why should I have a healthy baby while a poor woman in Africa cannot? Or, to look at it in a different way: why should a drug-using-unwed-mother be able to have a healthy baby while I cannot? Really, no matter how you look at it, it is unjust. And the world if full of injustice and inequity. There are no promises of equity in this lifetime...the Bible certainly doesn't share the view that our world is "fair." "God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rains on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45). Jesus was the only sinless man, the Son of God, and yet he died at a young age from an incredibly unfair, torturous crucifixion: talk about injustice!
And so when I begin to lament the "injustice" of my own infertility and recurrent loss....I can't help but recognize that I never did anything to deserve special treatment or a miracle that other women in the world over have been denied. My faith is a gift from God, a wonderful grace, and it is the best gift I could ever have, even when having a baby seems like it could rival that, I know better. And I have so many blessings that others don't have...it is truly "not fair."
So, I have come to the point of accepting that my husband and I are infertile. We will not be able to have children together, we cannot contribute our genetics to create a son or daughter as a couple. All of the children we conceived together have died. But this is not a punishment or a curse. And this does not mean that God doesn't love us or want good things for us. For some reason God has chosen not to intervene in a special way, like the prayers of St. Paul to remove his affliction that is never removed: our prayers have not been answered in the affirmative. Still, God is there, God is faithful, and God will and has seen us through. And so we can move forward with other options that lie before us, free from fear or doubt about God's loving presence in our lives, but with faith and the incredible knowledge that God loves us and is with us...no matter what happens.
Miscarriage and infertility are not a curse or punishment from God.
(An aside and footnote for those who need it: I am not saying that God would never allow suffering in the case of sin as a punishment, but it is clear that if and when God does, anyone who actively seeks after God will know immediately why it happened and will experience restoration upon repentance. An example of this is found in 2nd Samuel, when King David murders a man (orders his death in battle) to cover up his sin of adultery with the man's wife, Bathsheba. I think we would be hard pressed to find a more serious sin. But in this case, the infant born from this sad union does not survive. David is very clear in his understanding about why this event took place, he repents, and he receives forgiveness from God. In fact, David immediately marries Bathsheba and they have a healthy baby boy soon afterward, who becomes none other than the future King Solomon. And so we know that God forgives our sins and even blesses us after the fact. As Christians we have great reason to hope in forgiveness: whenever we repent, we can trust in God's grace because of the sacrifice, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which has made forgiveness available to us all at any time and place.)