And 3 Ways the Church Can Help
originally posted February 2015
Infertility affects a large number of married couples—usually more than we realize.
Several years ago, I was at a conference where I connected with a young man in the ministry. We decided to go for a run together the next morning. What I believed was simply an opportunity to further connect and exercise quickly turned into an informal counselling setting. This man carried some deep wounds from his and his wife’s experiences with infertility.
There are probably not enough ministry efforts to females struggling with infertility, but that conversation made me equally concerned about the male side of the issue.
One of the most eye-opening realizations for me was that his wife didn’t seem to understand how he was equally struggling. When a couple struggles with infertility, the man also has emotions. The couple regularly talked about her pain, but he had nowhere to share his pain. Any time he tried to discuss his emotions, he felt like he was piling even more burden on his already over-burdened wife. So he said nothing.
Any time he tried to discuss his emotions, he felt like he was piling even more burden on his already over-burdened wife. So he said nothing.
The conversation taught me a few things that helped me minister to other men (and couples) struggling in this way.
Frankly, it also changed the way I viewed some biblical characters. It was considered a curse in Bible days to not have children. Society assumed there was something in a person’s life in which God was not pleased. Yet, several of the leading couples of faith in the Bible struggled with infertility.
Luke 1:7 tells us, “But they had no children because Elizabeth was barren….” Zechariah and Elizabeth were good, godly people, yet they had no children, and they were well past the normal age of childbirth. I never stopped to think about how Zechariah’s response to the angel messenger from God announcing the birth of John the Baptist may have been influenced by the uncertainty in God’s plan that infertility had triggered in his heart.
As I have studied and prayed through this issue over the years and walked with dozens of couples, I have learned there are some common emotions in infertility. Obviously, women struggle with these also, but my eyes have been opened to the male emotional side of infertility.
What a Man Might Feel
When the couple struggles with infertility, a man can often feel:
One man told me, “The hardest part about my role as a husband during this time, was (and is), seeing my wife hurting, exhausted, and broken, and not being able to fix the problem. As men, when there’s a problem, we want to fix it; but sometimes it’s just not that simple.”
The man, in an attempt to defend his wife may think, “I don’t want you to hurt anymore”, which might lead him to react in ways that make the wife feel he is not as interested in having children as she is interested.
Most men can never fully understand a mother’s heart (which I believe females struggling with infertility already have) and therefore the man may wonder, “Am I not enough?” This is a hard one for women to understand, but it has a biblical example (1 Samuel 1:8).
I knew woman felt this emotion during infertility. I have talked to them, but I am not sure I realized the man does as well. A man who wants to be a dad may feel like something is desperately missing in his life.
A lot of times the man is thinking “What if it’s my fault?” He may fear that something physically wrong with him is keeping his wife from experiencing the joy of motherhood.
Men don’t understand why this is happening to their marriage, so they may wrongly become frustrated with themselves, with God, and even with their wife.
Men dealing with infertility often wonder why other men can get their wife pregnant, but not them. One man told me about the most hurtful thing said to him during infertility. They were undergoing fertility treatments. He was sharing their struggle with another man who responded, “Listen, I don’t believe in this fertility treatment thing. It just doesn’t sit right with me. My wife and I don’t have trouble getting pregnant, I just have to look at her…” Wow!
How the Church Can Help
I do not know of any church that would not help if they could, but as previously mentioned, it is often a more hidden struggle in the church. I believe, however, there are some things we can do.
1. Be sensitive to the issue.
First and foremost, be careful not to set people up for awkward situations any more than necessary. While we honor parents, I am very careful not to make a bigger deal of mothers and fathers on their special days than we make of Jesus. Plus, I usually acknowledge the awkward and hidden pain in the room. I have heard from dozens of couples that avoid special days for fear of being singled out for not having children.
2. Do not assume anything
The couple may be struggling, and you do not know it. One man said, “We haven’t shared our struggle with too many people. It’s a private struggle. If someone is diagnosed with cancer, usually people know. But for some reason, infertility is not something you share with many people. Maybe it’s the stigma that comes with it.”
3. Invest in couples struggling with infertility, as you know of them
When you speak to couples without children, guard your tongue. If you are not sure what to say, do not say anything. As a pastor, I am intentional about building those connections when I can. It seems to bless couples when they can share their pain with another couple that understands. My awareness of this issue has also raised the intention we place on adoption and foster care in the church. That is a viable option for some couples, and the church is a wonderful place to help make the connection.
In spite of the pain of infertility, as with all trials, God can ultimately use it for good. One man said to me recently, “Sometimes I just want to scream out of frustration, but I know God has something planned. My wife and I have talked about how we would rather have a healthy marriage than to have children with a marriage that’s falling apart. God is making us stronger, and he’s making our marriage stronger.”