Five days before Christmas, I stood in the shower—hot water pelting my back, blood running down my legs as I miscarried our first baby. Choked by tears, I managed to croak out the only stable thing I could hold on to: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. His rod and His staff, they comfort me.”
I had spent the previous year undergoing blood tests, ultrasounds, and a pile of negative pregnancy tests. Then in December, blood work showed an early pregnancy, which turned into a miscarriage that same week. Before this experience, infertility had never crossed my mind, but the loss of our unborn child opened my eyes to a new world. In my pain, I found I wasn’t alone.
Eleven percent of women nationwide are infertile—unable to conceive or carry a baby to full term. One in four pregnancies ends in early miscarriage. For more than 80 percent of couples, it takes a year to conceive. Despite the number of people it affects, infertility is a widely avoided topic. Even Christians who are adamantly pro-life often understate the grief attached to infertility and miscarriage. They treat these tiny human beings as if they never existed and unintentionally isolate suffering couples.
Lauren Casper, 30, teared up as she talked about her nine years of infertility, the two babies she miscarried, and the two children she and her husband have since adopted. Casper said even in her loving church, she has never found a kindred friend who similarly experienced infertility: “You have all these broken hearts and all these hurting people sitting in church pews and it is not being addressed. … Where are all these grieving mothers and fathers?”
Casper breaks that silence by blogging and speaking about her infertility. She describes one vivid memory when she was Christmas shopping with her husband and his cell phone rang. It was the fertility specialist calling with the results of four months of testing. Definitive infertility on both sides, he said: “Some people just can’t have children. Now you need to work on accepting that.”
At that time Casper had been married two years. She was 23. “I couldn’t accept it. … How could everything you have ever wanted be taken from you at the beginning?” Grappling with a God who would ask her to surrender her lifelong dreams, Casper found herself weeping in a pew at Virginia Military Institute’s chapel, where her husband now serves as chaplain. “Am I going to trust God? That was the pivotal moment.”
Two years later Casper began researching Ethiopian adoption agencies. Their now 3-year-old son, Mareto, came home in February 2011, followed a year and a half later by their now 2-year-old daughter, Arsema. Casper says motherhood didn’t remove her longing for a biological child. After Mareto came home, she was surprised the struggle was still painful: “Did that longing for pregnancy go away? No. But it got so much better.” She says she’s “thankful for the journey of infertility because I don’t know if otherwise I would have Mareto and Arsema. I cannot imagine life without them.”
In Oklahoma, three packets of carefully collected pictures, handwritten notes, and pregnancy tests are all Jessica Cockroft has to remember the three lives she carried but never got to meet: “I wrote their stories from start to finish and added any pictures I took while I was pregnant with them. I have those as memories.”
Cockroft, 24, and her husband Joshua, a Republican state representative, celebrated their third anniversary in January. She first became pregnant seven months after her wedding in January 2011: “I had no thought of the possibility that we would lose the baby.”
In February 2012, morning sickness and mood swings returned with the joyful discovery that she was again pregnant. But the baby died before doctors could detect a heartbeat. “That was the only time I can remember in my life that I was angry at God.” Cockroft said. “I knew that God heard me in my anger and He stayed with me.”
About a year later, Cockroft had a third positive pregnancy test. She recalled lying on the examination table on a beautiful morning in April 2013, staring at that same screen that had revealed the passing of their other two babies. This time, the line on the monitor screen jumped up and down. The Cockrofts walked out the door holding pictures of their 8-week-old baby, the sound of its heartbeat seared in their minds. At a follow-up appointment, the heartbeat was gone.
“People who have not experienced this loss think it should be easier because we hadn’t actually had the child yet,” Cockroft said. “It’s the same grieving process for a mother who has lost a child.”
Cockroft said her caring church family didn’t know how to respond to her repeated losses, and she couldn’t articulate her feelings. She withdrew, working through much of her pain privately and with a small circle of friends. As time went on, she realized that many people thought their lack of children indicated a lack of interest in having them: “People are not taking into consideration that perhaps we had trouble having kids.”
While women experience most directly the pain of miscarriage, men also suffer. It took Indiana pastor Nate Pyle, 34, and his wife Sarah about 15 months to get pregnant with their now 4-year-old son, Luke. They’ve recently passed the two-year mark of hoping for a second child: “Every month is a month that you hope. Maybe this is the month where it will happen. … The monthly cycle starts to crush any desire to hold out hope.”
After they lost a baby to an ectopic pregnancy in March 2013, Pyle got into a yelling match with God. “You said that you formed us in our mother’s womb. Why didn’t this child make it to the womb?” Pyle screamed into the woods. He sensed God replying: I am grieving that this world isn’t the way it is supposed to be either. Pyle said his grief changed. He experienced God as a personal God who brings comfort in suffering.
With so many couples struggling with infertility, Pyle wonders why Christians speak so little about it. The silence, he says, “doesn’t create a great space to care for people.”
Like those other couples, I assumed having children would be easy. The pain of infertility and losing a child challenged me to grapple with what I was created to be. Soon after my miscarriage, I spoke with a friend who pointed out the cultural lie we buy into—that we control our own fertility. This truth helped transfer my hope from a positive pregnancy test to trust in God.
Three months later, I learned I was expecting again—and this time with twin boys! Yet, one twin is not developing properly and has less than a 50 percent chance of survival. In this new stage, I hurt in a deeper way but have found freedom in not pretending I’m in control. There is One who controls my fertility, and I hold onto that in the midst of the rawness, the pain.
“Mother’s Day is the hardest Sunday of the year. It is worse than Christmas,” said Lauren Casper, a 30-year-old blogger and speaker who lives in Lexington, Va.
Casper talked about the stomach punches of sitting in church surrounded by people she loved who didn’t seem to understand the pain induced by her empty womb. Until they adopted their son in 2011 and daughter in 2012, she and her husband John had only two children in heaven to show for their years of infertility: “The people in my family and my circle of friends loved and wanted to support me, but it was really hard because they didn’t understand. ‘Oh, you are young and you have plenty of time,’ they would say.”
She recommends that churches:
Address pain publicly: “During Mother’s Day and the time of prayer or honoring, they could address the women who aren’t moms but want to be.”
Don’t say, You’ll have more children: “There seems to be this idea that kids are replaceable. One of the bigger misconceptions is the idea that they can be replaced or the loss can be erased by the addition of a new life. It’s just not reality.”
Treat her to a feminine outing: After going through months of dehumanizing fertility tests or losing a baby, women often feel their femininity stripped away. Drop off a gift card so she can dress up and go out with her husband, or invite her for a girls’ night out.
Hope in God: Out of compassion, a relative assured Casper she’d get pregnant again, but she never did. Holding out false hope makes the monthly reminder of nonpregnancy even more crushing. Casper says, “The hope is not in the eventual child. Hope is in God and His sovereignty. … The secret is Christ in me not me in a different set of circumstances. The circumstances may or may not change.”
Nate Pyle, lead pastor of Christ’s Community Church in Fishers, Ind., experienced years of infertility with his wife Sarah. He says churches need to learn how to care for hurting couples, and suggests:
Focus on family, not biological family: “There is this emphasis in the church on family—and absolutely family is important,” but not just biological family. “Christians do a great job with adoption, but I think sometimes it is seen as a secondary or a lesser option.”
Turn to Scripture: “The Bible has so many examples of couples who struggled with infertility.” Encourage those in pain with this truth. Turn them to the Bible and pray consistently for their faith and the desires of their heart.
Mark the baby’s life: Extend friendship to hurting mothers by marking this child’s life with a token—a meal, houseplant, or bouquet of flowers. A grieving mother will be comforted that you thought her child’s life significant enough to be remembered.
Help them grieve: Those who suffer the loss of a child would rather you ask how they are months after the miscarriage than feel you have forgotten. These conversations will apply another layer of healing. —B.E.S.