Childlessness is a journey

The Journey of Childlessness

By Jean E. Jones

The pain of multiple miscarriages changed my perspective about God and faith.

April 2010 | Today’s Christian Woman

My gynecologist’s certainty gave me confidence: In a booming voice, incongruously deep for his small stature, he assured me that my baby was well, and I needn’t be worried over an earlier miscarriage. So my husband, Clay, and I joyfully celebrated the three-month milestone marking the pregnancy as safe.

It seemed life was unfolding just as we’d hoped: We’d married, Clay had completed seminary, and soon after his graduation, he was offered an associate pastorate. With a baby on the way, we once again had reason to celebrate.

Childlessness is a journeyA week after that prenatal visit, we headed to a beach-front hotel for a church staff conference. After a laughter-filled dinner full of excited chatter and congratulations over expecting our first child, I excused myself and sleepily returned to the hotel room. There, sitting in a stark white bathroom, I stared in shock at a bright red streak.

No, no—this couldn’t be happening.

The unfamiliar room, with its too perfectly arranged furniture and jarringly cheerful seascapes, amplified my disbelief. Mechanically, I crawled into the strange bed. I tugged at the cold sheet and foreign blanket, desperate for any bit of comfort, then pulled my Bible near.

“God, you know I’ve begged you to protect this baby,” I prayed. “God, please! I can’t cope with another miscarriage. Please heal my body and stop the bleeding. Please, don’t let me lose my baby.”

A couple hours later, Clay came in. He saw the anxiety in my expression and wrapped me in warm arms.

In the morning, we quietly drove home. By evening, labor began and I fought with everything in me to stop it. But by daylight, the battle was lost.

Difficult years followed, as my dream of motherhood shifted from joyous hope, to desperate pleading, to the grief of impossibility—and finally, to settled acceptance that it wasn’t to be. Looking back, I can see that contentment with childlessness was a journey with four major milestones. It began with changing what I mistakenly believed was a faith-filled response to difficulties.

Milestone 1: Developing an “Open-Eyed” Faith

Like many Christians, I’d memorized verses such as “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28) and “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). When bad things happened, I’d quote these verses, express my gratitude that God would eventually make everything right, and push away my questions. Trying to trust God, I did something akin to closing my eyes, putting my hands over my ears, and saying, “Lalalala—just have faith—lalalala.”

Giving thanks through the first miscarriage wasn’t as difficult because the pregnancy was unplanned. Clay was still in school, and I had a new job; I concluded it wasn’t the time for us to have children. The second miscarriage was different: We were ready to start a family, and I couldn’t identify any “good” that might result from our loss. Nonetheless, I quoted verses, thanked God, and made every effort to stay positive. “It must be God’s will, so it’s fine with me,” I told my friends.

I thought I was doing well spiritually. At least, I didn’t feel angry with God. Actually, I didn’t feel anything toward God. That vaguely concerned me, but I wrote it off as emotional exhaustion.

Then one afternoon, I discovered that a houseguest had stacked my get-well cards out of sight. Furious, I wanted to scream, “How dare you move my things without asking me?” I grabbed the cards, slapped them on the coffee table, and sank into the sofa.

What’s wrong with me? I wondered. Slowly I realized I might be angry. And worse, I might be angry with God. Is that even safe?

I picked up my Bible and scanned the concordance for “anger.” Passages described God as slow to anger and full of understanding and compassion. Perhaps it’s okay to tell God what I’m feeling.

I went for a walk to be alone with God and came upon an empty schoolyard.

“God, I think I might be angry,” I prayed, stuffing my hands into my jeans pockets. “It’s possible that I might even be mad at you.”

A dried-out patch of dirt caught my eye. Its barrenness irked me: There should have been grass in that spot, not scraggly weeds. I kicked at a rock that was partly buried in the dirt.

“God, I am angry. How could you allow another miscarriage when I repeatedly told you that I couldn’t handle it?”

Emotion-charged words began to flow freely. I pressed God with every question: “I’m your child—why did you let this happen to me?” I exposed every fear: “I won’t be able to enjoy a future pregnancy! And how can I face those church members who think my miscarriage was due to a lack of faith?” I expressed every hurt, particularly that I felt inadequate as a woman. And I listed every reason why I thought God should have intervened.

“Everyone else can have children—why can’t I?”

As soon as those words came out of my mouth, I knew I’d misspoken. Many women cannot have children; some also have no husband. Then it hit me: I’d felt entitled to motherhood. This was the root of my anger. I felt God had denied me a “right.”

I stepped into the street to avoid a row of oleanders, glancing at the glossy evergreens full with clusters of red, pink, and white flowers. They bloomed almost year-round despite scorching temperatures, drought, and poor soil—the same soil that only a few steps back barely supported a scattering of weeds.Is this what you want from me, God: to grow and blossom despite tough circumstances?

Hesitantly, I began to thank God for his love and faithfulness—only a truly loving Father would allow his child to come beat on his chest. It was difficult at first, but I recognized that in his infinite wisdom, God had allowed a circumstance that would cause me to grow. While I still couldn’t identify any specific good that would result from my loss, now I could acknowledge, by faith, that God would indeed work it out.

This change in me was subtle, but significant. In the past, whenever trials occurred, I closed my eyes to the problem, thinking it was good to shut out anything that might challenge my faith. But while closed eyes can’t see problems, they also can’t see God.

When I “opened my eyes”—presenting my problems and questions to God rather than hiding from them—I began to find answers and understand God better. As a result, my faith in God’s goodness grew.

Milestone 2: Choosing God’s Will

After the second miscarriage, my doctor boomed assurances that there was still nothing to worry about. I asked if there was a point at which having a child became less likely. He answered with too much finality, “After five sequential miscarriages, it’s impossible.”

A third loss soon followed. Avoiding my eyes, he ordered numerous tests. Weeks later, I sat eagerly at his desk, awaiting answers that would fix everything. Still evading eye contact, he said nothing had been found except a low hormone that couldn’t be replaced without causing birth defects. I’m not sure how I managed to reach the car before bursting into tears.

Reluctantly, I began to face that we might not have children. I felt I’d always meant it when I told God, “Thy will be done.” And while I wanted to submit fully to God’s will, I couldn’t quite let go of my desire to be a mom.

One day, while asking God to help me surrender my will, I remembered another prayer from years before. As a young Christian, on realizing the totality of God’s forgiveness, I’d prayed with immense gratitude, “God, if you never answer another prayer for me, that’s fine. Salvation is enough.”

Now I felt God whispering, “Did you mean it?”

Instantly, I was ready to answer. The miscarriages—even childlessness—were miniscule compared to the enormous and costly gift of salvation. Resolutely, I told God, “Yes, I meant it. Salvation is enough.” When I chose God’s will over my own, I took a big step toward contentment.

Milestone 3: Seeking an Eternal Perspective

Clay and I discussed adoption, but the cost was out of reach on a pastor’s budget. Besides, what if God had a special ministry in mind for us? We ruled adoption out.

I wondered if my life could be fulfilling without children. As I searched the Bible and prayed, I realized that having children was not eternally valuable in itself, while having one’s faith refined is of great value to all believers (1 Peter 1:6-8). God so valued my faith that he used the losses to expose and remove impurities, such as false beliefs and fear-based responses. Plus, by faithfully enduring hardships, I’d gain something forever valuable: an eternal glory that would far outweigh earthly losses (2 Corinthians 4:17). The more I grasped this eternal perspective, the more content I became.

Milestone 4: Offering Sacrificial Praise

At the fifth miscarriage, I mourned not just the loss of the baby, but the loss of ever bearing children. The lessons I’d learned were helping me to cope, but one question still stymied me. So I prayed: “God, Psalms 37:4 says if I delight myself in you, you’ll give me the desires of my heart. I am delighting myself in you. I don’t understand. Why aren’t you giving me the desire of my heart?” Once again I sensed a question to me: “What is the greatest desire of your heart?” My answer came with ease: “Following you, God.”

At that moment, I realized all of life involves choosing between conflicting desires. Our choices reveal what we value most. I suddenly understood sacrificial praise (Hebrews 13:15) in a new way: choosing to praise and glorify God by relinquishing something costly. I wanted to offer sacrificial praise, but finding the words was hard, so I pictured my prayer.

I imagined placing my desire for children and the question, “Why?” in a box. I wrapped the box with pale green paper and tied it with gold ribbon, then placed it at the foot of Jesus’ cross, shining softly through a dark night at the bottom of a hill.

I prayed, “This is my gift to you. On Resurrection Day, if you want to open this gift and show me “Why?”—that’s fine. And if you don’t, that’s fine too—I think answers won’t be a priority when I’m overjoyed by being with you.”

As the days went on, every time I hurt, every time I yearned, I brought this picture to mind and prayed, “This is my gift to you.”

I expected not to see many reasons during my life for why God chose this path for me. With “Why?” in the box, I no longer looked for answers. But the years have shown it to be a path of character growth, a better understanding of God, and special ministries, including caring for abused children that couldn’t be placed in families with children. Surprisingly, I can honestly say the blessings have already been more than worth the hardships.

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