Infertility in the Bible
People have been struggling with infertility for thousands of years. Infertility is even in the background of several well-known Bible stories (the parents of Isaac, Jacob/Esau, Samuel, Samson, and John the Baptist all faced it). Romans 15:4 teaches, “whatever was written before was written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” Undoubtedly, one of the most hopeless times is during a bout with infertility. Isn’t it interesting that the Bible contains not just one, but several accounts of individuals dealing with it?
It’s important to observe that faithfulness is not immunity from infertility. Zacharias and Elizabeth were “righteous before God” (Lk. 1:6). Yet, the very next verse states, “but they had no child because Elizabeth was barren” (Lk. 1:7). Furthermore, faithfulness to God doesn’t mean you’re not going to struggle with the fallout of that circumstance. Notice that the same difficulties that people experience today with infertility are the very same struggles recorded of those in scripture:
Great anguish: During infertility, Hannah said, “I am a woman of sorrowful spirit” (1 Sam. 1:15). So great was her anguish that Eli mistook her misery for drunkenness. Infertility causes deep pain and hurt.
Feelings of embarrassment: When Elizabeth finally conceived, she remarked that God took away her “reproach among people” (Lk. 1:24). Embarrassment and shame are natural reactions to this circumstance because of the expectation from others (and self) that couples will and should have children.
Insensitive comments: Sadly, many people exacerbate that unfounded feeling of shame with comments like, “what are y’all waiting on?” or, “just stop fretting and you’re sure to get pregnant.” Even Hannah’s husband outrageously asked, “why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?” (1 Sam. 1:8).
Questions about one’s self-worth: As aforementioned comments persist, questions arise about one’s own self-worth or the love that others (even God) have for them. Jacob and Leah’s situation was complicated, but it wasn’t until God opened Leah’s womb (and not Rachel’s) that Leah was able to say “Surely my husband will love me now” (Gen. 29:32).
Feelings of jealousy: “Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister” (Gen. 30:1). Struggles mount when others around you CAN conceive. Questions arise as to why sinners are blessed with children or why the unwedded are allowed to conceive. Jealousy and envy take root.
Feelings of desperation: Sarai desperately wanted a family. To the point that she was willing to say to her husband, “Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I may obtain children by her” (Gen. 16:2). Few ever explore an option akin to this, but that in no way means that the feelings of desperation are not there.
Feelings of resentment: Despite it being her initial idea, “when [Sarai] saw that [Hagar] had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes” (Genesis 16:4). Even friends and loved ones can become the brunt of resentment simply because those friends and loved ones have been blessed with a child.
A difficult question remains: in all the biblical cases of infertility, eventually God opens their womb to conceive…why does he not always do this, today? This was a question that Erin and I struggled with during our bout with infertility. And it’s a question that I still desperately wish I knew the answer to. But I do know this: our great Heavenly Father listened to, was aware of, and was in tune with the pain and hurt of each of these people. At the very least, perhaps that can bring us some measure of comfort.
Ultimately, the above observations are helpful for everyone. It’s helpful to those in the middle of this struggle to know that they are not alone in those feelings. They are among other women (and men) of the past AND present who’ve experienced the same things. It is also helpful to those who have not struggled with infertility to hear and learn about the feelings of others who do. May we all strive to be patient and understanding toward one another.