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.
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.
You may remember that while back I shared about how my infertility has grown for me an appreciation for and kinship with Sarah [as in, the Sarah, from Genesis]. I read a little quick line in a book recently that really jumped at my heart.
The book has nothing to do with infertility. It’s called Unveiling Grace: The Story of How we Found our Way out of the Mormon Church, by Lynn Wilder. [Side note: I am nearing the end of this book, and it has been fascinating. If you want to read something interesting and different, I highly recommend it. It’s about a Mormon family, the mother of which was a BYU professor, who little by little found their way to the biblical Jesus and the biblical gospel.]
At one point, she’s telling of how she suffered multiple miscarriages and a difficult pregnancy before finally conceiving their four children. When she thought she was losing her third child in her sixteenth week, she was prayed over by church elders, who basically just prayed that she would have enough faith to make God bless her — it was all in her power. She soon determined to put her faith in God’s power instead, saying,
This child would be a product of grace, not works. An Isaac, not an Ishmael.
This is actually not even a big part of the book, but that line was so loud to me when I read it, it stopped me in my tracks. What a powerful resolution — I will not be Sarah #1, doing all I can to get what I want, in spite of God’s promise to work for my good. No, I’ll be Sarah #2 — having faith that He will do what He said and leaving it there. You may get a baby either way, like Sarah did, but which way do you really want to get him?
…After I wrote everything above, within a couple days I had a chance to put it into practice. I was in bed unable to sleep (yes, if you’ve been reading for a while you may realize sleeplessness is a theme of my life), and I started worry about the baby situation (sleepless worry is an even greater theme). Mainly, tmi, I started worrying about if we had missed ovulation that week. I was crunching numbers, symptoms and days in my head, trying to assure myself that we didn’t miss it. Then I entered into a brief tug-of-war with my body, wanting to jump up and check my fertility calendar online for comfort. That’s when an inner voice called to me, “An Isaac, not an Ishmael.” I repeated these words to myself, asking God to lift this burden to control and seek hope in things other than Him. I don’t want to be Sarah, freaking out and running to Hagar to get the baby God had promised her. I want to be the other Sarah, waiting on the Lord and receiving His promise by His hand. Soon I fell asleep, and in the morning I awoke with great peace on my heart — yes, this baby, whenever he comes, will be an Isaac, not an Ishmael.
I think a lot of fertility-challenged women like to relate to Hannah. She suffered with barrenness for years while being tormented by her insensitive husband and his cruel second wife. In the book of 1 Samuel we read how, in her deep desperation, she pled with all her heart to the Lord that He would finally give her a child. She committed to give the child back to the Lord, and she was praying so hard the priest thought she was drunk. God responded to her pleas, and within a year she bore a son, and then followed through with her promise and sent him off to be a priest. She named him Samuel, which means “God heard.” And every barren woman reads this powerful and true story with gasping and weeping. “I’m Hannah,” you think, and leave with new hope and intentions to name your child Samuel and paint his nursery wall with Hannah’s famous verse, “For this child I have prayed, and the Lord granted him to me.”
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. And at first, looking at all my hours kneeling at my bedside tearfully begging God for a child, I felt I was Hannah, too. But as time has passed, I’ve come to realize that I am actually Sarah, and I like it. I’m really coming to like Sarah.
Sarah was Abraham’s wife, and she was barren for like a million years (ok, more like 90). When God told them that He would give them a son and make Abraham “the father of many nations” with “descendants as many as the stars in the sky and sand on the shore,” do you know what Sarah did? She laughed. Oh, yeah, that’s definitely me. I want to be Hannah, on her knees and praying like a mad woman. But deep down, I’m Sarah — laughing at the thought that this will ever be over. Her son’s name (Isaac) means “he laughs” (because Abraham laughed, too, fyi).
Don’t be too quick to hate on Sarah though. The Bible counts her and Abraham as people of highest faith (Romans 4,Hebrews 11), and tells women that we should all try to be wives like her (1 Peter 3). The laugh isn’t really held against her. I admire Sarah a lot, but I can relate to her a lot, too. Another time in her life, she made Abraham pretend to be her brother because she was afraid evil guys would get him for having such a pretty wife. God wasn’t thrilled about this, but I relate to Sarah’s tendency to give into her fears and try to control the situation. She did it again when, after God promised her a son this first time, she was too impatient and made Abraham conceive a baby with her servant… ok, I wouldn’t go that far, personally, but the heart behind the action is what I’m talking about. That’s definitely me right there.
And I’m not trying to rag on Hannah for being a “goody two-shoes” or something either. I still can relate to her, and I admire her faith in prayer, and I find great hope in her story. But if we’re honest, do you think a lot more of us are Sarahs thinking we are Hannahs? And could this self-deception be hindering our growth? For example, could we be at risk of victimizing ourselves more than examining ourselves?
Anyway — What do you think? Are you a Hannah or a Sarah? (If it helps, the Bible goes on and on about how gorgeous Sarah was, even at grandma age.) Or are you another biblical lady all together these days? Please share in the comments.