Mama Nobody
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Mama Nobody

If you are religious, what role does religion play in one’s infertility struggle?

This is not a religious blog. But religion plays a part in my life, and it definitely played a part in living through my infertility journey. Indeed, for the religious and non-religious alike, facing a difficult life event such as infertility is bound to question what we hold to be true about the world.

On the one hand, as a believer, living through infertility brings in many questions about why God — who gives life — would make my body infertile. After all, I am not “worse” a person than many people who can get pregnant easily (and may not even want to be), so why this punishment? In the Torah, God tells Adam and Eve: “be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.” One of the pillars of Christian marriage is fecundity, i.e. having children. So why would God not allow that to happen for Richard and me? Especially given how much we — and some of our friends — have prayed for this to happen?

Some religious people — but fortunately none of my close friends — may just say: it’s God’s will, so just leave it at that. This is how that would make me feel:

But, more seriously, this question brings us back to one of the main mysteries of the Bible. If God is good and all-powerful, why is there so much suffering in the world? There are different religious interpretations of this paradox:

· Some people say that God makes bad things happen so that we can appreciate what we have more, but that argument doesn’t have much theological backing. It’s actually well countered in the not-so-theological book “The Fault in Our stars” which reads: “This is an old argument in the field of Thinking About Suffering, and its stupidity and lack of sophistication could be plumbed for centuries, but suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not in any way affect the taste of chocolate.”

· An alternative interpretation is that even though to us, our suffering appears unnecessary and cruel, there is some greater purpose to it which is apparent only in God’s greater plan, which may only be understood in the long run (in a few years, 20 years, after our death, etc.). I do find this interpretation reassuring, because it means that my suffering is not meaningless, even though I can’t understand it. The Bible reads “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31), meaning that God wants the best for each one of us. If this is the case, we should be willing to take what God gives us, as it may well be better than what we had hoped for. Maybe God’s design is for me to adopt, because there is a special kid that needs me, or otherwise to help others with infertility — and for this I have to go through this difficult period of infertility.

· Another interpretation is that God does not impose our suffering on us, because he is not all powerful against evil events, but rather he is there to help us deal with them. To quote from the Rabbi Harold Kushner:

“He did not single out Ron to be crippled by a bullet or Helen by a degenerative disease, but rather He stands ready to help them and us cope with our tragedies […] The Bible, after all, repeatedly speaks of God as the special protector of the poor, the widow, and the orphan, without raising the question of how it happened that they became poor, widowed, or orphaned in the first place” .

In the Old Testament Psalms there are lots of references to righteous people suffering, and calling on God for help. One twist Christianity introduced to the world, alongside the more traditional notions of a God who creates and commands, is the image of a God who suffers (with Jesus suffering all the way to death). And there is no promise that those who follow him would avoid suffering — after all, all but one of his 12 apostles were martyred in pretty gruesome ways. The idea of a God who suffers is a comforting image to me. The question then is whether, like Jesus, we can turn all our suffering into something meaningful, by the way we respond to it?

One thing is for sure: the Torah and the New Testament don’t ignore infertility. There are in the Bible several important characters that struggle to have children, and eventually manage to conceive. To quote only a few:

- Hannah, whose barrenness “year after year” makes her depressed. Her husband Elkanah, whom she is close to, asks: ‘Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?’ Eventually when she becomes a mother to Samuel, she exclaims “For this child I have prayed, and the Lord has granted me the desires of my heart” (Samuel,1:27)

- Naomi, who has two sons, but they both die inexplicably when she is already too old to be a mother again. Through her special relationship to Ruth, however, she becomes the “parent” of Obed, placing her as the ancestor of David. “Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. The women living there said, ‘Naomi has a son!’ And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David”(Ruth 3:16–17)

- Elizabeth, Jesus’ aunt, who was “not able to conceive” and “very old” finally becomes pregnant with John the Baptist, the first miracle reported in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:24).

For me, it was easy to associate with the pain of these women. Beyond the scriptures, the church also provided a “home away from home” whilst we were living in Kenya, which was of enormous support. Living in Kenya, I attended a multicultural, young, modern, open, non-denominational church. Besides fantastic Kenyans, I made many friends of almost all nationalities I can think of, from Nigerians to Koreans. Several couples we got to know there were dealing in some way with infertility. Rich and I were also part of a “home group”, a small group of ~10 people from the church who’d come together on a Wednesday evening to reflect on the previous Sunday’s message and how it applied to our lives, and also pray for each other. I shared where we were with our infertility treatments / journey on a weekly basis, probably more than with anybody else. This experience also made me realize that even though we were going through difficult times, others too needed support as they went through major life struggles. Two of our home group friends lost their daughter in an accident and we tried to hold each other up.

Update on my original piece above which was written about a year ago: A few months ago I learned I was pregnant, and this really felt, after over several years, five IUIs, one IVF, and many, many other treatments, as a miracle. While I was waiting for the pregnancy test’s result, I told God “This is the moment to showcase a miracle, because we’ll know it’s you as we haven’t done any medical treatments this month”. And it definitely felt this way. Of course my non-Christian friends (aka the majority of my friends, France is not a very religious country) will dismiss this as a coincidence, but I do see it as, finally, a response to my prayers.



Managing life, love and work through infertility

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