When the Quiver is Empty: The Silent Struggle of Infertility
When the Quiver is Empty: The Silent Struggle of Infertility
Categories: RECENT RESEARCH
Eric Scalise, Ph.D.
Young, in love, full of life with dreams to match, newly married, and me being Italian—as a couple that meant children, lots of them—six or seven would be a nice start. Our trust in God was important to our relationship and in all we did. We could quote nearly every “growing a family” Scripture in our sleep.
“Be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen. 1:28)
“Your wife will be a fruitful vine.” (Ps. 18:3)
“Children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” (Ps. 127:3-5)
Yet, God chose a different path for us, one that would challenge our faith to the core, take us on an incredible journey filled with grief, sorrow, despair, and ultimately, a triumphant joy. In many ways, we now have an anchoring testimony that continues to encourage and comfort us. God often does this in the midst of our pain. My wife, Donna, had four successive miscarriages and three times, went into labor and delivered a dead baby. One of the hardest things to endure was the silence and the utter sense of stillness after having heard a tiny heart beating within her.
As you might imagine, the questions burned deeply as we wrestled with God in our human weakness, examining over and over again our walk with Him. “Have we displeased you in some way? Is this Your judgment? Didn’t You give Isaac to Sarah, Samuel to Hannah, and John to Elizabeth? We’ve read their stories. You answered their heart-cries. Lord, why not us? Why this? We don’t understand.” If you are facing the heartache of infertility, these same thoughts may be swirling around you as well. The most difficult are the “Why?” questions. Yet, I am reminded that in the midst of His agony on the cross, Jesus asked His Father a why question that we have no indication was answered in the moment.
While any loss and resulting grief can exact a heavy toll on multiple levels (emotionally, psychologically, physically, relationally, and spiritually), infertility is unique in a number of ways. It rarely kills, is usually not visible, and is typically not discussed in public or grieved by family members and friends in the same manner as other losses are. These factors can create a crisis of faith for a couple seeking to start a family.
Although infertility is formally defined as the inability to get pregnant after one year of trying, or six months if a woman is 35 or older, problems associated with infertility can refer to difficulty conceiving, bearing, or carrying a child to term. The American Pregnancy Association estimates that approximately 7.3 million women in the United States between the ages of 15-44 experience some form of infertility, and there are approximately two million infertile couples at any given point. Female infertility accounts for 35-40% of all cases and includes complications such as the failure to ovulate (most prevalent cause), hormonal imbalance, Polycystic Ovarian Disease, and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, an abnormally shaped uterus, and other problems. About a fourth of all infertility cases involve both birthparents and another third are primarily due to male issues (deficient sperm production accounts for 90% of these cases).
Miscarriage, sometimes referred to as “spontaneous abortion,” is defined as the loss of a pregnancy during the first 20 weeks, or in subsequent weeks, as a preterm delivery. This can be nature’s way of the body sensing fetal abnormality or non-viability (representing 50-70% of first trimester miscarriages). When a loss occurs beyond the fifth month of pregnancy, it is usually referred to as a stillbirth. Approximately 10-20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, and more than 80% of these losses take place before 12 weeks. Some studies have found that 30-50% of fertilized eggs are lost before or during implantation and a woman may not even realize that she was pregnant.
The grief that comes with infertility may produce what feels like a “dark night of the soul.” While grief is universal, and rarely are there easy answers, by nature, it is also unique and individual. The great theologian and beloved author, C. S. Lewis, once wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciousness, but shouts in our pain. It is His megaphone to a deaf world.” If you find yourself in a place of despair, be encouraged and comforted that the Lord can take us from mourning to morning… from darkness into light, where there is a renewed hope once again.
Now back to the story… having walked through many of our questions and the resulting grief, we began to pray about the possibility of adoption. Could we really love someone else’s baby as our own? At the time, we were working with at-risk teens in San Diego, CA, and it was a seven-year wait to adopt one healthy newborn. We started cautiously and quietly. About two months later, my supervisor came to me because someone he knew got involved with a woman and it resulted in an unplanned, out-of-wedlock pregnancy. He was aware we were considering adoption and offered to help since California was an independent adoption state.
After several months of an emotional rollercoaster ride, God did some amazing things and opened doors that only He could open. Things eventually worked out with the birthparents. Then, while back in Virginia to meet with churches that were supporting our ministry, we received a phone call from the birthfather. We expected the worst, but he quickly explained that the birthmother, having just come from a check-up, was carrying twins. They weren’t sure whether we were prepared for two children at once. What he didn’t know was that Donna had twin brothers, twin aunts, and twin cousins, and every time she became pregnant, we prayed for twins—you have to be careful in what you pray for. “Twins are great” we responded; “We’ll be back in a couple of weeks to coordinate everything.” It was a Friday.
The very next morning, we received a second phone call, but this time it was troubling news. The birthmother had gone into premature labor and delivered two little identical boys almost eight weeks early. Their combined birth weight was less than seven pounds. They weren’t breathing, had respiratory distress, were unable to nurse and the doctors thought they had cystic fibrosis. Survival odds were less than 50%. Flying back to California, I had another one of those heart-to-heart talks with the Lord, mostly through tears.
Prayers were answered and God provided a way when there did not seem to be one. The twins remained in the Neonatal Intensive Care unit for almost seven weeks and finally came home at four pounds, fifteen ounces. Today, at 6’4” and both serving as U.S. Marines, you would never know how sick they once were. God’s healing presence was very real, but He wasn’t finished yet. The hospital knew we were in the process of adopting the boys, so they wanted to discuss the matter of the bill. It was costing nearly $2,000 per day, not including all the medications, doctor’s fees and procedures that were done. In today’s currency, the combined bill was close to $500,000, more than we could afford on a missionary’s salary. Knowing we could never assume that kind of debt, no matter how much we wanted a family, Donna had to literally kick me out of the door to meet with the folks in the business office. After some lengthy discussion, the hospital agreed to write off the entire debt. It was the Lord’s “baby shower” gift.
Since then, God has shown us so much about His adoptive love as a heavenly Father. Just as we gave our sons new names (Matthew and Joshua), it says in Revelation 2 that one day, He will give us a little white stone with a new name written on it. Our adoption was finalized in court almost eleven months to the day after we were first approached about the possibility. We were prepared to wait seven years for one baby and God gave us two in less than a year.
The adoption petition states how the boys have all the rights and responsibilities of a natural born son and are subject to all the duties and privileges of the same in this new relationship. When someone receives Christ, I believe a recording angel in heaven likewise declares that we are now the lawful children of the Living God, subject to all the rights, duties, and privileges of a natural born child. Jesus was the natural born Son of God and we are His adopted brothers and sisters… joint heirs with Him in all He has prepared for us.
Now three decades later, the boys have reconnected with their birth families, a half-sister, and we are blessed with three grandchildren. God filled the quiver in His own way and in His own time. He is forever faithful. May He also give you grace and peace in your own journey.
Eric Scalise, Ph.D., is the former Vice President for Professional Development with the American Association of Christian Counselors, as well as a current consultant and their Senior Editor. He is also the President of LIV Enterprises & Consulting, LLC, and a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with more than 36 years of clinical and professional experience in the mental health field. Specialty areas include professional/pastoral stress and burnout, combat trauma and PTSD, marriage and family issues, leadership development, addictions, and lay counselor training. He is an author, a national and international conference speaker, and frequently consults with organizations, clinicians, ministry leaders, and churches on a variety of issues.