Holidays in the wilderness are tough, no matter the struggle. But the desert of infertility presents particular challenges because so many of the festive celebrations and cozy traditions revolve around children. I’m not there now, but I remember all too well how the ache deepens at this time of year. If you know of someone who is walking this lonely road, this post is for you.
You may never have thought of this before, but people who deal with infertility often feel like misfits in a society that is so oriented around children. This is especially true in the church, where motherhood is considered to be one of life’s most noble callings.
Take it from someone who knows: Your infertile friend doesn’t want you to feel sorry for her, but she does want you to care.
Romans 12:15 is a good place to start: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Notice that this verse says nothing about offering advice, passing judgment, providing words of wisdom, or asking nosy questions.
The meaning of the second phrase of the verse is clear—you are to grieve with your loved one when she’s sad. Nothing more, nothing less.
Remember what Job’s three friends did when they went to see him after he lost everything? “They sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.” (Job 2:13)
Job’s friends get a bad rap for all the unhelpful yakking they did later. But they did get it right at first.
They just sat with Job and said nothing.
Many times, that’s all your friend who is longing for a baby wants from you. She just wants you to sit with her and not say anything at all.
Yes, that’s hard to do. We’re so programmed to provide solutions and answers. But in this case, there are no answers, at least not ones that are readily available.
If you do feel compelled to say something, tell her your heart aches for her. Acknowledge how difficult infertility is. Ask her if she wants to talk about it. If she does, just listen.
Ask her how you can pray for her. Don’t just assume that she want you to pray that she’ll get pregnant. She may want you to do that, but she may have other needs, too.
She may need courage for a particular test. She may desire wisdom to make a decision about a particular treatment or procedure. She might want you to pray that God will give her the strength to accept His will, whatever that might be, or she might want you to ask God to give her opportunities to use her suffering to minister to others.
You won’t know any of this unless you ask.
Use what you learn from your friend in your conversations with other young couples. You never know whether someone you meet might be having trouble getting pregnant, so be aware of what you say. Never ask a married person, “Do you have a family?” Most people equate families with children, but a husband and a wife are just as much of a family as a couple with six kids.
“How many children do you have?” also is a bad choice. “Do you have any children?” is much more sensitive. And if the answer is no, don’t ask why not. If they want you to know, they’ll tell you—if not, just let it go.
“Do you hope to have children someday?” is another acceptable inquiry. If your new acquaintance doesn’t want to talk about it, she can give you a vague response. If she does, she can explain further.
While you should be aware of how what you say might affect your infertile friend, she also probably doesn’t want you to feel as if you have to walk on eggshells around her. You were an important part of her life before she started experiencing infertility, and although life has taken you down different paths for now, she likely still values your friendship.
She doesn’t want to be the last to know that you’re pregnant, and she does want to be invited to baby showers and children’s birthday parties. Don’t be offended if she chooses not to attend—if she’s feeling particularly vulnerable or sad that day, it might be best for her to stay home. But she does want to be included in the important things in your life, so please don’t leave her out in your efforts to spare her feelings.
The bottom line is that, although your friend may be unsure of how to verbalize it, she needs your comfort, encouragement and prayers now more than ever. Don’t be afraid to ask her how you can help, and if you think about it, send her an encouraging note or text every now and then.
Above all else, remember this: Infertility is not a one-time ordeal. It’s an ongoing struggle, one that can gradually wear away a person’s confidence and hope. And your support—however it’s offered—is a gift your loved one will cherish long after the holidays are over.
And now, how about a giveaway? This post has been adapted from my book Infertility: Finding God’s Peace in the Journey (Harvest House, 2003), available here. I’m giving away one copy of the book to some lucky reader this week, so if you would like to be included in the drawing, simply leave a comment on or before Sunday, Dec. 6, and I’ll add you to the hat.