Infertility is not far from us. According to the CDC, “About 6% of married women aged 15 to 44 years in the United States are unable to get pregnant after one year of trying. Also, about 12% of women aged 15 to 44 years in the United States have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term.” In other words, one in sixteen couples are unable to get pregnant after one year of trying and one in eight couples have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term.
While infertility is often thought of as a woman’s problem, men can contribute to infertility. The CDC has reported that in 35% of couples there are male and female factors contributing to infertility. And in 8% of couples, a male factor is the only identifiable cause for infertility. Therefore, infertility is best understood as something couples experience. And that experience can be very traumatic.
The traumatic experience of infertility is the subject of this article. My aim is to help readers who haven’t experienced infertility understand how these couples feel. It’s my hope that, as a result, the church (that’s you and I) might better care for these couples. In addition, I will offer some ways in which infertile couples might shape their emotions for the glory of God. For the sake of brevity, I group the emotional responses to infertility into three categories: jealousy, anger, and sadness.
Shaping our Jealousy
Jealousy is the sinful response to desiring what others have. It’s a complex emotion that involves envy, selfishness, covetousness, and greed. In addition, jealousy has a positive and negative side. Addressing the negative side of jealousy first, it’s not uncommon for younger married couples to feel jealous of those around them who are able to conceive. Jennifer Saake tells about the jealousy she experienced when her brother Dan and his wife Diana announced their pregnancy early in their marriage. Following the news came the expectation that Jennifer and her husband would be announcing their pregnancy soon. When they could not make that announcement, jealousy followed.
Unfortunately, the sin of jealousy is often triggered by the church. It’s good for the church to celebrate new life and family. Yet these celebrations can contribute to jealousy in the hearts of infertile couples. While some churches limit the public celebration of birth to formal child dedication, many churches announce new births and congratulate families more regularly. The sheer number of children and babies at church can illicit feelings of jealousy. This experience is heightened if the church makes motherhood the ultimate goal of womanhood. When the church makes motherhood a woman's ultimate goal, “it is unintentionally implying that once [she's] become a mother, [she'll] be more satisfied, more fulfilled, more of a woman than before.”
As mentioned, jealousy has a negative and positive side. Wayne Grudem defines the positive aspect of jealousy as “being deeply committed to seeking the honor or welfare of someone, whether oneself or someone else.” When infertile couples envy others or desire children to the denigration of others, they seek their own honor. As wrong as this response is, the emotions associated with jealousy are not wrong in themselves and can be redeemed. For example, Paul writes to the Corinthians, “For I feel a divine jealousy for you” (2 Cor 11:2). Thus, there is the possibility that childless couples might shape the emotion of jealousy in a godward direction.
What does godward jealousy look like for the childless? As Sobolik has written, “infertility, barrenness, and miscarriage are still taboo subjects, especially in the Christian culture.” While there are some ministries focused on these issues, more are needed. Our churches would greatly benefit from ministries dedicated to childless couples where they can come together and share their stories, longings, and losses.
Shaping our Anger
Anger is another complex emotion. We are capable of being angry at another person and capable of being angry at ourselves. We can even be angry at inanimate objects. Kimberly Monroe confesses, “[Anger] erupts at anything that reminds you of your infertility. Babies. Pregnant women. Diaper ads on TV.”
Something that seems to incite anger are the responses and words from others. Although they mean well, “people create a lot of stress . . . with unhelpful reactions, thoughtless remarks, or unwanted advice.” Family members, close friends, and fellow believers frequently cause the most pain. Grandparents and parents want grandchildren. And it’s not uncommon to hear words like: “Can’t the doctors do something?” It’s not hard to see how dealing with these kinds of interactions can trigger anger and bitterness.
Like jealousy, anger has a positive and negative side. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and do not sin.” Sinful anger might stem from a number of factors for couples unable to conceive: believing they deserve only good things from God, loss of hope in God, unbiblical goals, perceived rights or expectations, lack of surrender to or acceptance of God’s sovereign plan, fear, guilt, and harboring bitterness toward others. Yet, because anger is not always a sin, there’s a possibility that anger might be shaped into something good. Scripture suggests that Christians are to love the things that God loves and hate the things that God hates (Prv 6:16–19; Rom 12:9). As Philip Monroe writes, “Godly anger brings people together through reconciliation. In Godly anger, people move toward God. Godly anger talks about injustice and tries to correct it.” In his book Orphan Justice, Johnny Carr demonstrates the complex challenges children face across the globe: “the nightmare of poverty, human trafficking, HIV/AIDS, deplorable orphanages, abusive foster care situations, racism, and a host of other social evils.” With godly anger in hand, childless couples may be uniquely equipped to speak out against the crimes and challenges that children face.
Shaping our Sadness
In my analysis, sadness is the emotion most commonly shared by infertile couples. “Every story of childlessness is unique in the details, but the heartbreak endured by the women and men walking this road is universal.”
The biblical account of Hannah provides a vivid example of the grief of infertility. In 1 Samuel 1:2, “Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.” Making matters worse, Peninnah, Hannah’s rival wife, provoked her “to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb” (1 Sm 1:6). So we read, Hannah “wept and would not eat” (v. 7) and “was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly” (v. 10). And when her behavior is questioned by the priest, she answered, “I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord” (v. 15). Here we see a stark portrait of sadness that has no doubt resonated with many women.
Is there a way to shape the emotion of sadness into something godly? While there are certainly sinful aspects to this emotion, sadness can be godly. A couple’s grief is godly when they seek relief and understanding from God. Sobolik comments on Hannah, “I’m so encouraged that the Lord chose to include [her] story in the Bible, because it reminds us that childlessness is indeed a trial and is worth mourning.” God heard the cries of Hannah and infertile couples may find rest remembering that “He is close to the heartbroken. He saves those crushed in spirit. Godly groaning is remembering, even reminding God, of His promises.”
If you’re reading—looking in on infertile couples—it’s my hope that you might better understand how infertile couples feel and might, as you have ability, better care for these couples. If you’re reading, and you’re currently experiencing infertility, it’s my hope that what I’ve written might help you redeem some of the emotions you feel for the glory of God. Kimberly Monroe shares a critical revelation in her journey through infertility.
God has so many promises for us. But one thing He didn’t promise. Nowhere in Scripture did He promise me a baby. He has not let me down. It’s good to desire a baby. But I cannot demand it of Him. Children are a blessing, but they are not promised to us individually. You do not receive blessing because you’re a good person or because you earn them. They just come.
The reason “they just come” is found in the perfect grace and wisdom of God. As a final thought, Russell Moore reminds childless couples, “You have no empty table. You are destined for a table bustling with brothers and sisters.”
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Infertility FAQs” accessed 9/9/21, https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/infertility/index.htm.
 Jennifer Saake, Hannah’s Hope: Seeking God’s Heart in the Midst of Infertility, Miscarriage, and Adoption Loss (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2005), 34.
 Chelsea Patterson Sobolik, Longing for Motherhood: Holding on to Hope in the Midst of Childlessness (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2018), 37.
 Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2020), 245.
 Sobolik, Longing for Motherhood, 32.
 Sarah’s Laughter is one such example. See http://sarahs-laughter.com.
 Sobolik, Longing for Motherhood, 33.
 Kimberly and Philip Monroe, “The Bible and the Pain of Infertility,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling Winter 2005, 52.
 Ibid., 53.
 Ibid., 55.
 Johnny Carr, Orphan Justice: How to Care for Orphans beyond Adopting (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2013), 19.
 Sobolik, Longing for Motherhood, 56.
 Sobolik, Longing for Motherhood, 98.
 Kimberly and Philip Monroe, “The Bible and the Pain of Infertility,” 55.
 Ibid., 58.
 Sobolik, Longing for Motherhood, 15.