1 in 6. In Australia, 1 in 6 couples face infertility. Are you surprised by that number, or not? But more importantly would you be/have been surprised if that one out of six was you? Expectation is a hard thing to find the root of. For some of us it comes from our upbringing, or observations of others, or sometimes it comes through a sense of entitlement, of our rights. We all have hopes, and expectations for the future. But what happens when they’re dashed? What happens when what we thought was going to play out, doesn’t come to pass?
Growing up I had a picture of how I thought life would go, which I imagine might not be too different to many others. You grow up, find a man, get married, and have a baby. This expectation developed over my childhood as I watched fairytales, held pretend marriage ceremonies with friends and as I taunted others with the song, “X and Y sitting in a tree…” You know how the rest of it goes, right? “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby sitting in a carriage”. The baby is meant to follow marriage, just as night follows day.
Most people, for whatever reason, just don’t expect infertility is going to affect them. For some, infertility has nothing to do with medical issues. The grief of infertility is experienced by single men and women too, a group who are often not thought of when this issue is spoken about. It is difficult even to picture a typical infertile couple. I don’t think one exists! It can be an issue for a couple who are heading towards 40, those who delayed having children or got married later in adulthood, other couples live with a condition that affects their fertility. Some couples are young and healthy, with no obvious medical barriers to conceiving – such as my husband and I – yet are experiencing childlessness. There are also those who after having one child, struggle to conceive again. As I have come to realise, there are in fact many different reasons, and often a combination of factors that can become obstacles to a pregnancy. The introduction to “Just the two of us?” highlights some of these diagnoses, as well as introduces us to some of the feelings and attitudes associated with infertility. Clearly, there is no stereotype. Infertility is not black and white, but it is common.
1 in 6. What that number tells me is that there are many others out there who are facing this issue, however when you’re walking that road yourself it can seem like a lonely reality. According to this statistic, it is likely that there will be other couples in our church and our wider social networks who are experiencing childlessness in some form or another, but for any number of reasons we can still be left feeling isolated. Is it the intimate nature of the problem that makes it difficult to talk about? Perhaps there is a certain stigma attached to not being able to bear children? Maybe we, and others, find it just too painful to talk about? But, we are not alone.
One of the big eye openers in being open with family and friends about our infertility has been hearing so many stories about others who are in or been through similar situations. From the outside oftentimes we just see the end result, which through the mercy of God means for the majority of people is having children. But more and more people have shared with us their pains, heartaches, patience, impatience, and grief of infertility. But seeing people who have struggled and now have children is cold comfort to those going through the process of dealing with their own grief. There are no guarantees that God will choose to bless anyone with children.
When you are faced with infertility, your emotional well-being can take a real hit. It can be particularly distressing to see other infertile couples who appear to be dealing with it with much more grace and emotional stability. I know in my experience, I have often wondered whether I should just lighten up and not take the whole infertility thing too seriously. As I read through the reasons given for why infertility causes so much pain (p22-28), however, I am comforted to know that my response to this situation is not without good reason. When we received the first phone call from our GP, infertility did take me by surprise. I have been forced to reevaluate what expectations I had for the future that were not grounded in reality and the promises of God.
Just as there is no ‘typical’ couple experiencing infertility, so there is no ‘typical’ response. It is helpful to think on how language reflects our expectations for the future. How would you comfort someone experiencing the grief of infertility? Would you be tempted to say, ‘Just trust God’, or ‘Snap out of it’, or ‘God will give you children eventually’? Are these statements rooted in the promises of God? On what basis are these statements made?
The desire to have children is a good desire, and one that is pleasing to God. So is it right to grieve infertility? For those experiencing infertility, it is an ongoing grief. There is no chance to ‘snap out’ of it when you are reminded each month of what is missing, from always being aware of what ‘day of the month’ it is, to that expectation for a few days, only to constantly have your hopes dashed. As couples feel sad that their bodies are broken and don’t seem to ‘work’ properly, it is easy to see how they can feel weak in their faith and question God’s goodness in this situation.
1 in 6.
[Foot Note: Infertility refers to those who have not been able to conceive following a year of unprotected sex. The 1 in 7 statistic given (p17) refers to the UK population, whereas in Australia it is 1 in 6.]