Amanda Hope Haley, author of “Barren Among the Fruitful: Navigating Infertility with Hope, Wisdom, and Patience,” and her husband struggled with infertility in silence for almost seven years. Seven Mother’s Days passed in silent pain. Month after month of trying, five miscarriage, and who knows how many negative pregnancy tests had ended with no children.
Believing motherhood was one of the things God had created her to do, she turned inward — tracking her temperature, food, exercise, ovulation, everything. Amanda geared her entire life toward one major task: getting pregnant.
“Why am I not good enough?” Amanda wondered, as she struggled with shame and depression. For years, she went to Mother’s Day services, baby showers and baby dedications for all of her friends in her life group — seven of them to be exact — putting up the smile and her white picket fence. Amanda carried the burden alone until one day she could carry it no longer.
It was Sunday morning, and they were at the end of their rope, almost done trying to have children. Innocently, a guy at church asked her, “How’s it going?” and Amanda literally collapsed onto the floor and dissolved into a bucket of tears.
The women came and picked her up to comfort her and hold her, and in the midst of their care, she blurted out loud that she had been in therapy, struggling with infertility and was incredibly messed up inside by depression. Their response to her confession? Well, what do you know — they had been going to therapy too. The women found common ground and support from each other as they shared their stories.
And in that moment — when she fell apart and heard the stories from the women helping her — she learned Christian life is about relationships. Real, open and authentic relationships, where truth can be shared unashamedly because of the common bond in Christ who offers us all hope.
But sometimes, we don’t know what to do in our relationships with people who are struggling. And sometimes, when we don’t know what to say or do, we just turn away. And sometimes, in our helplessness, we say incredibly hurtful and insensitive things.
Amanda Hope Haley’s experiences with infertility and now she offers us a list of seven things NOT to say to couples enduring infertility:
1. “Sarah was 90 when she had children.”
Really? Does this need to be explained?
2.”Oh yeah, that happened to my sister.”
You might be trying to identify with your friend, but it minimizes the problem, and leaves her wondering why she is so hurt by it if everyone gets through it.
3. “Do you think maybe you’re not doing it right?”
Come on. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist.
4. “Well at least you know you can get pregnant.”
This was actually spoken to Amanda after one of her miscarriages. What grieving woman would ever find comfort in a comment like that? Who wants or needs to hear that after losing a child?
5. “Just give it time, you’re young. It will be fine.”
Everyone at the clinic kept saying that to Amanda when she was 25. But by the time she was 30, they stopped. Now that Amanda was older, the tone became more of a you-waited-too-long one. She struggled with guilt about her decision to put off having children to get her education when she was young and had time. Comments like that made Amanda feel she had done something wrong, that it was somehow her fault for pursuing her education.
6. “You can always adopt.”
Her husband once told her she was thinking about adoption like it was a consolation prize and he wasn’t wrong. Amanda realized she was thinking about adopting a baby because it would satisfy her dream of having a child. But that’s not the heart for adoption; adoption is a calling, and Amanda wasn’t feeling that call.
But that realization only served to produce another response from people. They seemed to act as if Amanda’s desire for biological children rather than adopted children was the most horrible thing in the world, and she felt judged when people were astonished Amanda and her husband hadn’t chosen to adopt one of the million kids in the world.
7. “Just pray harder.” “You’re such a good person.” “God will give you the desires of your heart.” “Just have faith and believe.”
A lot of people throw faith out as the solution. But Amanda felt she had a broken body — like she couldn’t even do the one thing God had created women to do. With a broken spirit, too, she questioned God: “Why am I not good enough?” Telling her she needed to have more faith wasn’t helpful when it was God she was struggling with. There are unintended consequences to slapping a Bible verse on a problem and calling it done.
So, what can you do? Maybe just admit you have no answers.
Amanda Hope Haley suggests you ask people how they’re doing. It’s that simple. Don’t feel you have to be so quick to defend God or cheer them up. Simply spend time with them, allowing them to be sad, walking with them. There’s no pat answer to infertility. You just have to be on the journey with them.
The presence of Amanda’s friends who loved her and opened up to her allowed her to see God more clearly. Today, Amanda sees hope in her infertility:
“God used that time to teach me a whole lot, and the main thing is that it is not all about me. He taught me that it is about Him and His will. The biggest revelation I had during that period about His will (is that) God has one will, and that is (the) reconciliation of humanity to Himself. He has paths and plans for us, but everything He has planned for us in our lives is about His one will. I had to change my prayers from, ‘Please give me a baby,’ to ‘Please just let me be in Your will. I know that I will only be happy when I am in your will.’ “