This was Rachel’s (albeit irrational) plea to her husband Jacob after waiting nearly a decade to marry her love, and watching her sister bear him four sons while she stood by barren. Obviously, Jacob was helpless to fulfill his desperate wife’s demands. In frustration he replied, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of your womb?”
Like Sarah, who you may recall I have long-considered my kindred-spirit among the barren women of the Bible, Rachel takes matters into her own hands and has Jacob bear her children through her servant.
It doesn’t say the amount of time, but judging from what looks like a fairly smooth succession of Rachel’s sister Leah’s birthing several children (herself and through her own servant), I would estimate it was at least ten years of fruitlessness for Rachel before this magical verse just pops up out of no where:
“Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb.”
Rachel became pregnant and birthed Joseph. Not long after, she had Benjamin as well. What a beautiful story of waiting and hope.
But also, what’s up with that? In one verse, with no special explanation or plan like we can see more clearly for women Sarah or Elizabeth, God just decides to open Rachel’s womb. And now, apparently, she can have kids no problem. So long, infertility.
This is a verse I read right before I learned that I was pregnant with my son after years of infertility that couldn’t be explained. The lesson is unmistakeable, and one we often mention to people when we share our story — God is the One who opens and closes the womb. We trust Him with this decision. We’ve learned to stop asking “Why?” We gained so much peace and closure through this truth. I don’t know why we went through that. Everyone always tries to figure out it — to diagnose the undiagnosed and explain what is veiled. I assume this is because they want to find a way to be sure it won’t happen to them — I’m a special case, and they are probably in the clear. But I’m not a special case. Rachel wasn’t a special case. God is the God of all things — even the womb. He chooses the time when he opens it, when he closes it, and the reasons. Some of us may know these reasons now, some of us may know someday, and some never will.
It was with this peace and trust, learned after months of agony, that my husband and I read, with great astonishment, a second positive pregnancy test, just five months after our son was born. —Wait, what?!— we asked again, like we did with Rachel’s story. How can that happen? Years of toil for the first, and zero toil with the second. Could it be that I’m not just Sarah, I’m Rachel? God opened my womb in His time and for His reasons?
Yes, believe it or not (I cannot!), I am writing this post five months pregnant with our second child. This time we barely had time to pray for a child. Never in a million years did we think we would feel “surprised” by a pregnancy. We worked so hard to be content with no children, and were so overwhelmed with gratitude to just have one — we had hardly prepared our hearts for the possibility that we would have more, and with ease.
And I hope this encourages you today. I know there’s a chance it can break your heart. But I hope you can take peace in the reality that God is ultimately sovereign over your womb, and He can open it when He wants. He may not open it… but He really may. And you may never know why, but you can trust His decision, before and after.
I wrote this while I was still waiting for my baby, but past the darkest days of our trial. I still mean it, probably now more than ever, and if you need to hear it right now, I sincerely hope it encourages you.
I know some of you are in your darkest hour. I remember what it was like to be in the deepest depths of the pit of despair. I remember walking around my house and spontaneously bursting into tears, even surprising myself with the level of sorrow inside of me. I remember lying in bed, inconsolable and broken, literally crying out to the Lord in my weariest, tear-soaked voice, “Where are You? Where are You?” I remember thinking it was never going to get better.
The Lord has not yet given me a child, but He did answer many of my prayers to make it better. Little by little, He dug me out of the pit and provided the joy and strength I needed. It’s not always totally better, but it’s better than it was.
And in remembering this, I think of so many of you who may be reading this, aching inside, dying inside, lying broken at the bottom of the valley. And you probably don’t need a lesson, a rebuke or even a Bible verse. You just need to be reminded: You’ll get through this. It’ll get better. You can do this. I know it seems unthinkable, relentless, unbearable and hopeless. But you can do this. This is not the end of your journey. There is hope — there is always hope. It’s bad now, but it will not always be like this.
If no one else has told you yet, let me be the first: you’re going to get through this.
You’re in good company. Before His death, Jesus pleaded with God to spare Him from the coming agony. God didn’t. On the cross, I believe, He had His time in the pit, as He was crying out, like you and me, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” But God came through for Him, and He will for you.
If you are seeking advice, the best I can say for today is to start praying earnestly that God will give you what you lack inside. For me, it was real strength, joy, peace, and hope. And He will be faithful and give you those things. It may take a few days, weeks, even months. But He will not leave you in this pit. He will come for you.
This is probably going to read like a summary of this whole blog, but it is what it is. My baby boy turns 12 weeks on Monday, and every.single.day. I still look at him and can’t believe he is here and he is my baby. I can’t believe that happened to us — which is ironic, because in our years of infertility I would so often think, I can’t believe this is happening to us. But he’s here. A living and breathing testament of the hardest season in our life so far, and of the faithfulness of God in mercifully bringing us through it.
I once thought after all of this was over, I would just put it behind me and finally move forward with our life. I’ll get over it and move on. Surprisingly (or not), I can’t really get over it. I mean, I’m not obsessed with it. I’m not always talking about it. I’m not about to become the Infertility Awareness spokeswoman. But there’s no denying that it’s a part of me. How can it not be? I’ve written over and over about how this is a sanctifying work. If it changed me so much (and boy, did it!), how could I ever just forget about it? It’s so clear to me now how much this trial reshaped me.
If for nothing else than my own reflection, I’d like to share with you some of the biggest lessons I learned in my infertility.
1. This isn’t my baby. When I was about 9 weeks pregnant, my husband and I were casually preparing to go out to dinner with some friends. Out of nowhere, I discovered I was bleeding pretty heavily. Panic washed over me like never in my life. I screamed for my husband and broke down sobbing. We prayed hard, pleading with God not to take this baby yet. I remembered calling out, Father, you may ask a miscarriage of me some day with some baby, but please don’t make it today or this baby. I ended up on bed rest for a month, and, obviously, God was merciful and our baby was fine.
Now that he’s here, like all mothers, I spend a silly amount of time sneaking in to check on him while he sleeps. Our first few nights home, he slept like a rock, but we lost tons of sleep jumping up every 10 minutes to make sure he was ok. I still pop up a few times a night just to peek over and see his chest moving. The scary thought has crossed my mind a few times: What if I come in one day and he’s not breathing?
The lesson from both of these stories, and every other worry my new-mom mind conjures up about his life, is the same lesson I learned when I was waiting for him. This is not my baby. We are daily Abraham standing with his long-awaited Isaac, ready to give him back to the Lord whenever He may require it. Of course we could stand here close-fisted, in constant terror that we could lose this dear treasure at any moment. But instead we’ve learned (and continue to learn) to hold him up, hands open and arms lifted, an offering to the Lord. There is so much more peace in this. This is the Lord’s baby, and we trust Him to do with him as he wishes.
2. Compassion. I’m a little embarrassed to say I used to be a pretty compassionless person. I think I had compassion on the really poor and needy, but with the everyday person like me, I just didn’t care that much about their problems. I probably cared about my friends’ troubles, but if I was honest, I didn’t care that deeply. But now that I’ve had true troubles of my own, He has transformed the way I think about what others may be going through. I’m less quick to judge. I cry more easily at their pain. I’m more patient with their struggles. I’ve stopped gauging how serious I think someone’s trial is — if it’s really that bad. If it’s that bad to them, then it’s that bad. It was that bad to me. I regret that this wasn’t my heart sooner, but I’m grateful the Lord has brought me here.
3. God is trustworthy. This is one of the first thoughts that crossed my mind when we saw that surprise positive pregnancy test. Wow, He actually did it! All that time I was hoping He would — I was trusting He would — but there was no way to be sure He would. Having that confirmation has totally changed the way I pray and how I see Him. I thought I had faith in prayer before, but now it is no longer blind faith — I know that He can do it. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I remember thinking that morning that, even if He took the baby the very next day, this would change everything. It was no longer praying and getting back silence. He had heard and acted for us. And now I know He could do that again, about anything else we ask of Him. This has changed our relationship with Him so much.
4. Nothing is hopeless & impossible things can happen. Like many of you, l bet, last summer we sat in a fertility clinic across from a doctor who calculated the percent likelihood we had of conceiving a child on our own. I kind of forget now (it’s not the kind of thing you store up in your heart), but I think it was something like 9%. Now, my husband is in economics, so he’s a little more knowledgable about statistics — in fact, him not liking the way the doctor “tweaked” his math to come up with that number was a big reason we changed clinics. Nevertheless, we knew our odds were looking grim. It only looked worse when our treatments later failed. But then one day, we were pregnant. It happened. By all calculations, it wasn’t likely. But it did. Since then whenever we’re asked to pray for seemingly impossible things, I am so much more optimistic (read: faith-filled) — I was there when it wasn’t supposed to happen, and I was there when it did. So why couldn’t it happen again?
6. Really terrible things can happen to me. I guess this is kind of a strange thing to call “fruit,” but I see it as part of a sober mindset. Knowing how to “number my days” and have an accurate estimation of my life as a vapor. We always think it won’t be us. God wouldn’t do that to us. I wouldn’t be the one whose baby dies from SIDS. My husband wouldn’t be the one who becomes a paraplegic. My mom wouldn’t be the one who gets horrible cancer. “God forbid,” we say. But God may not forbid, if it’s for our better. For the sake of making me more like Christ, nothing is off limits. The first step in handling it well is not living in denial of its likelihood.
7. My treasure is in Christ. Oh, the blog posts I could write about this! I wrestled so much with the desire to have children as my inheritance from the Lord. There were many days when there was nothing else I desired. How much I needed to learn that Christ is my inheritance. Christ is my treasure. In Christ we have everything we could ever want or need. I used to claim I believed that, but it wasn’t until I wasn’t going to have children — an idol I didn’t know I had; the thing deep down I really wanted and needed — that I learned it was really true. It wasn’t until Christ was all I had, that I truly knew He is all I need. I’ve been wanting a post about this image I always see on Pinterest, which I have come to, well, kind of despise:
NO! We have long had everything, because we had Christ.
First we had nothing.
Then we had everything in Christ.
Then everything else was undeserved mercy.
…But I guess that doesn’t look as cute in a nursery.
Oh my gosh, you guys, how many times do I have to tell you how awesome The Valley of Vision is before you will start reading it? What’s that you say? A million times? Ok, then I’ll keep incessantly posting quotes from it. My pleasure.
Here is one, perfect for trial, specifically barrenness, that will make you burst into tears. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Guys, I’m floored by the Psalm I stumbled upon this morning! It reflects like every theme that is dear to my heart — praising God in all times, His sovereignty, His glory among the nations — then ends with a peaceful promise that, of course, brought me to tears. Here is Psalm 113 (emphasis added by me):
1 Praise the Lord!
Praise, O servants of the Lord,
praise the name of the Lord!
2 Blessed be the name of the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore!
3 From the rising of the sun to its setting,
the name of the Lord is to be praised!
4 The Lord is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens!
5 Who is like the Lord our God,
who is seated on high,
6 who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth?
7 He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
8 to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people. 9 He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the Lord!