As we entered the one-room country church, my dad reached to steady my mom. The explosion of color, the thick scent of lilies and the face of my grandfather in a bronze casket had knocked her off balance.
At 9 years old, I was too young to fully understand what was happening, but I could feel my mom's anguish. The closer we got to the casket, the more violently she wept. Her legs faltered under the weight of her grief. There was nothing I could do to ease the pain.
Nearly 20 years passed before I again encountered such physically intense grief from a loved one. This time, the deep pain came as my wife, Kerrie, explained through tortured sobs over the phone that a medical lab had confirmed that we were unable to have children. Once again, I could do nothing. I remember thinking, It feels like someone died.
Grief is a real part of infertility. It may be heightened in miscarriages or stillbirths, but it is just as real when a couple cannot conceive. The sorrow Kerrie and I experienced the day we received our lab results was as deep as the grief we would have felt if she had called to tell me her parents had passed away.
Scripture confirms the close connection between the two losses. Proverbs 30:15-16 tells us the grave and the barren woman are two things that are never satisfied. The sense of loss from infertility will frequently resurface whenever life situations — such as a menstrual cycle or the birth of a child to another couple — trigger painful feelings of the opportunities lost.
Journey Through Pain
We must not be afraid to grieve and allow these responses to run their course. We should, however, guard against allowing our heartache to slide into despair.
Grief is complex and usually accompanied by a myriad of other emotions. Because of its intricacy, grief can take considerable time to work through. The "normal" length of mourning, however, is difficult to define.
During our grief journey, Kerrie and I found two crucial actions that allowed us to mourn our loss without slipping into despair.
1. We recognized grief as a process and identified where we were in it.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, "Sorrow . . . turns out to be not a state but a process." The key is to keep moving forward. When stymied by sorrow, we risked slipping into despair.
We see evidence of this in the life of Hannah (1 Samuel 1:7-11). Because of her infertility, Hannah plunged into a state of hopelessness that lasted for years. Finally, she cried out to the Lord and found new hope. It is critical to make choices that keep us from getting permanently bogged down in mourning.
2. We focused on the right things.
Growing up, I was a track sprinter. I learned to focus on what was in front of me and ignore the runners in the lanes next to me and behind me. To win, I needed to fix my eyes on the finish line. Grief can also be navigated more successfully by keeping focused on the right things: Jesus and the race He has for us to run.
A Full Life
Physical barrenness is beyond our control, but Kerrie and I can take steps to ensure we don't suffer spiritual barrenness. By focusing on God, we can enjoy a life that is neither "barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:8, KJV).
Even though we've been blessed with two wonderful adopted children, Kerrie and I still experience feelings of loss and the sense that we're missing out on something. But ultimately, we realize God is on the throne, and we have decided to focus on Him rather than our grief.