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Longing for Children: Facing Infertility in Marriage
Elkanah her husband would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” 1 Samuel 1:8
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. Genesis 2:24
Elkanah was exasperated to find her crying yet again. No doubt, she and Peninnah had just had another spat. Their rivalry was tiresome, but what bothered him most was his inability to provide Hannah with the one thing that would erase her misery. Whenever she got like this, he felt like such a failure. “Is it the baby thing again? We’ve talked about this before. I would give you children if I could, but it’s out of our hands.”
It was a devastating blow to realize that his love alone would never be enough to fully comfort his precious bride. “We have each other and that’s what’s really important anyway. I married you for you!” He had tried so many things to bring her joy, but nothing seemed to help. Maybe if he could just get some food down her she would feel better. As he piled her plate with a double portion of the choicest selections from the banquet, he prayed that the way to this woman’s heart might be through her stomach.
One of the biggest challenges we face in our journey through infertility is maintaining the unity in our marriage. It is rare for couples to experience emotions in unison. I often hear, “My husband says that if God wants us to have a baby, He will make it happen when the time is right. He has such peace, and it’s driving me crazy!” Rick was the one who initially came to me with the desire to have a baby, so I couldn’t understand why I was the one who seemed so driven to get pregnant and frustrated when it didn’t happen.
For Rick, there were times to focus on the heartache and longing, and times to turn our attention to other parts of life. He could analyze and compartmentalize while my every thought was consumed with the desire for motherhood. We would go to a ball game and he would passionately cheer for the team or shout instructions to the coaches. I would sit in the bleachers and count the little children in attendance.
Unlike my husband, I found that infertility defined me. Someone would ask, “What do you do?” and Rick would answer with a description about his job, while I hoped no one would aim the same question my direction. “Stay-at-home mom” was a socially acceptable answer. “Stay-at-home nonmom” never went over so well. I used the code word homemaker, but figured everyone could see through my disguise.
Sometimes it feels like your partner is sleeping through a crisis. He may never seem to take the struggle of infertility as seriously as you do. A failed adoption or your baby’s death can be like being caught in a burning house. The two of you run in different directions, tripping into and over each other, trying to escape the terror. As the suffocating heat closes around you, part of the panic comes from lack of assurance that you are still together in this darkness. It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that there is only one right way to grieve—“my way.”
Submission—Even in Grief?
While their barrenness was beyond the control of either Elkanah or Hannah, God ordained Elkanah to guide his family through the process. The apostle Paul gives this admonition: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:22-24).
Ladies, I know red flags start going up here. Submission can be an unsettling concept. Since sin first entered the world with Adam and Eve, it’s been hard to let men lead. We know, from heart experience, that one of the results of Eve’s sin was pain related to childbearing. But what was the other part of Eve’s curse?
As a direct result of our sin nature, we have an impulsive drive to run the show. Though Genesis 3:16 is usually translated as a woman’s desire being for or toward her husband, many Bible scholars believe against to be the intended contextual and linguistic application of the conjunctive. While my desires often conflict with Rick’s, God set him in authority over our family. I’m still learning that I need to trust Rick and let the Lord lead our family through him.
If you are married to a man who is not striving to live for God, seek the Lord’s guidance to find the balance between submitting to your husband’s wishes and making God-honoring decisions. Your attitude toward your groom may become the very tool God uses to lead your husband closer to Himself.