I just finished reading the book ‘When Empty Arms Become a Heavy Burden’, by Sandra Glahn and William Cutrer, and let me tell you, I have never been able to put so well the feelings that infertility brings. The book also addresses pregnancy loss, and while I have never experienced it, I have some dear friends who have.
Loss brings many different kinds of feelings. While the reasons for feeling a loss are different (the infertile person grieves the loss of a dream, primary or secondary role in life, the pregnancy experience, and a natural urge, and the person who has endured pregnancy loss grieves the loss of a child she has actually carried), both an infertile person and one who has lost a child will experience some of the following feelings (the ones with asterisks are addressed at the bottom of this post):
Being more tired than normal
Feeling guilty, like it was their fault
Emotional pain at random times
*Uncertainty of the future—will I be able to conceive again, should I get rid of the crib?
The length of time someone has been pregnant does not necessarily determine the amount of emotional pain the person will have. Someone can be just as attached to their child at 8 weeks as at 32, and the child is no less loved if it didn’t have a name and a known personality. Either way, the loss is huge and can’t be overestimated.
The length of time a person has been infertile also does not necessarily determine the pain he or she experiences on a daily basis, either. While time heals all wounds, it is the person and the Lord who will determine when the pain will lessen. Others cannot decide when it is best to ‘move on’. That very phrase is incredibly hurtful.
People are varied; God created some who heal from loss quickly, others may hurt for months or even decades. Neither length of time, however, means that the person has forgotten the loss, and a stab of pain or tears can come at any time. As believers, we must make room for all kinds of people, and we should never make them feel like their grief is inconvenient to us.
Through all the feelings of sorrow and confusion, it is important for the person to be able to say, “God, this stinks, but I love you, and I trust you anyway.” This is hard at first for some people, but unkind words from ‘comforters’ will not help.
People who haven’t experienced loss should be very careful in how they respond to people who are in the midst of a trial.
The following phrases are not comforting to the average person:
You’ll be ok.
*Just trust God.
At least you weren’t pregnant very long.
Person X had it way worse than you, so you should be grateful.
You can get pregnant again.
At least you have other kids; can’t you be happy with them?
*God is in control.
Instead, say or do something like:
I am so sorry for your loss.
I am praying for you; I know this week will be especially hard.
I would like to bring you a meal this week. If you will be home X night, I’ll bring it then.
May I help you with child care this week?
I will come sit with you any time.
When you are ready to talk about it, I’ll be here to listen. Until then, I am praying for you!
Cry with them
Depression is sadness, and sadness is what one is supposed to feel when something bad happens. If you don’t feel sadness, you’re either ignorant or a sociopath. Depression, though, shouldn’t be ignorant of the future… that is, a person who is incredibly sad should still seek to have his or her eyes on God. Depression doesn’t necessarily mean that someone isn’t trusting God. It is unfair and judgmental to assume that it does. If the person can say, “God, this is horrible! I am so sad that it is hard to accomplish anything, but I still love you, and I know you love me. Help me!” then the person is not in need of an intervention. More than likely, they just need comfort, and not comfort like Job’s ‘friends’ offered. God has not let go of the person who is sad, and the person who is sad has not necessarily let go of God. After all, the one who is saved cannot be separated from God. I know. I’ve experienced his strong hold.
It is easy to wonder why God let a loss occur. It is not a sin to wonder this, and it is not a sin to ask God to help you understand his plan. Maturity, though, is demonstrated by loving and submitting to God even when we don’t understand.
Some reasons for God’s allowing loss/trials to happen are:
1. So he can give us something better.
Ruth was infertile for 10 years in her first marriage. Had she had a child, she would have sacrificed him to Molech because of where she lived and what she believed. But, after enduring those ten years, her husband died, and she married Boaz. She conceived then, the ancestor of the Messiah. No doubt had she known God’s plan, and that she was going to be the ancestor of the Messiah, she would have cheerfully endured the 10 years of pain. Bearing the Messiah is unquestionably better than sacrificing a child to Molech.
The ‘better’ thing God might want to give us might not be a child. Instead, it could be something like Joseph experienced. He endured a trial for years, so he could save two nations from a famine. Savings millions of lives is unquestionably better than being back at home living as a younger brother of some bullies.
Unfortunately, people can’t see God’s plan. We’re not omniscient; we can only go on the information we have in the Bible, which is all we need for godliness. Sadness is present, but trust in God can be too. God is trustworthy, and he is capable of proving it. He proves it to us all the time; sometimes it just takes a bit longer to see it. God will take care of the hurting one no matter how that person is feeling at the time. God is faithful.
2. So we can comfort others.
I have personally seen this happen in my life. The Fuquas were huge comforts to Tim and me, and had they not experienced the loss of Kelsey, they wouldn’t have been able to help us the same way.
Consider 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
Sometimes our trial isn’t about us, it’s about someone else.
3. So God can mold our character.
This is not always the reason we suffer, but it can be the reason. If God is molding our character, though, don’t fall into the trap of believing that if you would just change, then God would give you what you want. That isn’t the way God works.
*Uncertainty of the future:
While it is true that none of us knows what the future holds, that kind of uncertainty is not what a person experiencing loss feels. A person living a normal life has a reasonable certainty that various things will happen. He knows that more than likely he’ll get a job, get married, pay taxes, have kids, and a myriad of other things. Those things are pretty normal, and kids are taught from the time they’re small that ‘some day you’ll go to work like Daddy!’
The person experiencing infertility or pregnancy loss, though, lives with uncertainty in ways the average person never has.
The infertile woman….
might not buy new clothes, because the next treatment just might work, and those skinny clothes will go to waste!
Will not know if she should take that promotion at work, because she will quit when she gets pregnant.
Will not schedule a fun trip with her husband, because it might fall during the two weeks where she can’t be up and around because of a medical procedure that had to be done right then.
A person who has lost a child might wonder if she will ever be able to conceive again. She might be scared this will all happen again.
*Just trust God and *God is in control:
While these comments have spiritual truth, they seem like platitudes to people who are deep in the trenches of suffering.
Please, please remember that sadness does NOT equal distrust of God! To remind someone to trust God is to say: “You are sinning in experiencing an honest emotion, and neither God nor I care about what you are feeling.”
These are just some of the thoughts I’ve been having since reading the book. I’m sure I’ll post more on it at some point.