This article is part of the Open Letters series.
There are some in your community who are struggling. Those among you may be struggling in different ways and to different degrees. Infertility is more common than you may realize. You very likely—and unknowingly—have relationships with couples struggling with infertility.
According to the CDC, nearly 10% of couples experience some form of reproductive infertility. If you have a vague idea of the population of your church, I’ll let you do the math. It is a remarkable number. Couples with this experience fall somewhere on a spectrum, ranging from those who have only just begun to feel they may have problems conceiving to couples who have fully accepted they will never have biological children of their own. And although reproductive science has made tremendous progress in identifying key causes of infertility, there remains much that researchers don’t know about the whys, whens, and hows.
According to the CDC, nearly 10% of couples experience some form of reproductive infertility.
Recognizing that many couples in your church community are struggling with this will invariably change the way you think about your community. Consider for a moment how your church commemorates Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or child dedications. Now imagine how an infertile couple experiences these same events. For them, every Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and dedication service is wound-opening. These congregational events are only occasional. Think also of all the other casual reminders these couples encounter on a routine basis. It is inescapable and thus deeply important for spiritual communities to be attuned to the unique needs of these couples.
I don’t suggest you should single out infertile couples by offering special treatment. It is, however, essential that you are available to them. The tendency for many such couples is to shield others off, to keep the whole experience intensely private. It’s understandable why they feel the impulse to do so—their struggle being broadly “known” feels like it carries unpredictable repercussions. With kindness and generosity, the church community should aim to relieve them of that fear. While there is nothing you can do medically for them, you can be there for them. Give them words of affirmation; give them a shoulder to cry on. Serve them practically. Tell them you love them.
One last thing, particularly for pastors and elders. If you haven’t already, familiarize yourself with artificial reproductive technologies (ARTs) available to couples today. Many ARTs are fully mainstream now, including within the church. Some couples in your church have likely tried in vitro fertilization (IVF), for example, in the past or perhaps are contemplating doing so in the future.
Overflowing with warmth and sensitivity, this book explores what the Bible says about infertility, helping the church walk alongside couples struggling with infertility and assessing the ethical issues surrounding common fertility treatments and reproductive technologies.
Are you aware of what this involves theologically or ethically? And what of surrogacy, which many within the church are also actively seeking to legitimize? Does your leadership have a plan for how to respond to these issues? Are you aware of the unnecessary moral hazards involved in some ARTs? Can you articulate pastorally the theological reasons you may have for counseling against them?
If these sorts of questions strike you as too novel or complex, then now is the time to gather with other leaders in your church and work through some resources to help you understand the challenges your congregation may be facing.