The Silent Struggle of Childlessness
“Your body won’t carry a baby.”
Six words from the doctor that changed my life. Six words that broke my heart. Six words that, as the years went on, taught me to long for Christ more than I longed for a baby.
Childlessness has afflicted many ever since sin came into the world. Countless numbers of men and women have experienced the longing to be a parent. Some have faced infertility, struggling month after month to get pregnant. Others have lost precious little ones through miscarriage. Still others are single and desire to be parents, but marriage eludes them. And some have experienced the pain of an abortion. While childlessness takes on many different forms, one common thread is that it is endured and carried in silence.
My journey with this silent struggle began as a nineteen-year-old young woman, when the doctor whispered those six words into my story. On that chilly November day, I learned that I was born with a rare medical condition that would make bearing biological babies next to impossible.
Why It’s Often a Silent Struggle
Childlessness is an intimate sorrow. Our fertility, or lack thereof, is so closely tied to our identity that sharing our struggles in this area with family, friends, or our church communities can feel even more vulnerable. When our ability to reproduce is compromised, it can cause immense shame on top of sadness because childlessness contradicts what we know about the way things are supposed to be — the way we’re supposed to be. Perhaps worst of all, it’s often a silent and lonely struggle. No one knows that you’re experiencing childlessness unless you tell them. The onus is on the one in pain.
After walking out of the doctor’s office, my heart was pregnant with a thousand different emotions. Shame was one of the strongest. I was ashamed that I was created differently than most women. The Christian culture I was immersed in seemed to promote the idea that a woman’s highest calling was to be a mother. My body was different, and I thought that if people knew my secret, they’d view me differently — that I’d be labeled as “less than” other women.
The enemy would love nothing more than for shame to keep us silent, trying to avoid the gaze of God and others. But God’s voice to us, God’s vision for us, and his presence with us is deeper and truer than any shame we might experience in the midst of our infertility.
God Is Present in Childlessness
Childlessness was my first real encounter with suffering. I’d grown up in a Christian home, and even though our family went through some challenging seasons, my parents served as a buffer. As the oldest girl in a family of eight, I was used to being the “good girl,” and never wanted my actions to rock the boat.
My good behavior kept me out of trouble and made my life relatively easy — until that doctor’s visit. In the season of sorrow that followed, I not only learned how to engage with God; I began to learn who he really is. One of the sweetest lessons for my soul was learning that my prayers never bothered God. It’s his joy, not his duty, to be present with us. He is delighted when his children come to him, confide in him, bare their souls to him, press into him, and grow more like him.
God invites all of us to take our troubled and sorrowful hearts to him in prayer. Charles Spurgeon says that “our troubles should be steeds upon which we ride to God; rough winds which hurry our bark into the haven of all prayer. Bitterness of spirit may be an index of our need of prayer, and an incentive to that holy exercise.”
Our struggles and griefs over childlessness can become a steed upon which we ride to God in prayer.
A Father for Hidden Sorrows
If we have hidden sorrows, we should not delay to engage with our Father in prayer. And when we don’t know how or what to pray, God gives us words, especially in the Psalms.
When I began sharing with others that I couldn’t have children, some people scolded me, saying that I needed to pray harder and have more faith. If I did, maybe then God would bless me with children. The difficult reality is, God doesn’t promise that every one of us will bear children. How often we misplace our hope in a good thing, when God only promises to give us the best thing: himself. I dug into the Scriptures to discover the promises I could claim:
He promises to never leave us (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5). He promises to love us forever (Psalm 103:17). He promises us that his grace will always be sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 9:8). He promises to always sustain us (Psalm 55:22; 1 Corinthians 1:8). He promises us his help (Psalm 54:4; Hebrews 13:6). He promises to always be faithful to us (Psalm 117:2). He promises to provide all our needs (Philippians 4:19).
Invite Others into Your Sorrow
Slowly I began vulnerably sharing my sorrow with others. I knew that this burden was far too heavy for me to bear alone, and that Christian community is one of the gifts God gives his children. It turned out that sharing wasn’t as scary as I thought it was going to be. Allowing friends into my sorrow felt like a weight had been lifted off my soul. They were there to help love me and encourage me in my darker days.
Deep friendships can be forged through common experiences, even the most painful ones. Though childlessness is an excruciating experience, friendships can be found and formed, as brothers and sisters walk through trials together. As C.S. Lewis said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’”
Opening up and sharing something this difficult and personal can feel challenging, but I guarantee you that it’s not as wearisome as walking through the sorrow alone. The burden of childlessness is too big to bear alone. Allow your community to surround you with love, support, encouragement, and a shoulder to cry on. Consider sitting down with your pastor or an older Christian at your church and sharing your sorrows. The body of Christ is meant to “rejoice with those who rejoice, [and] weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Be willing to allow others to weep with you.
Don’t allow childlessness to remain a silent struggle. Learn how to take your troubled spirit to God in prayer, and how to invite others inside your sorrow so that they can help point you to God.