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The Challenge of Childlessness

1 May 2011 | by Tracey Richards

So you have no children?

It was a cold, dark November evening. We had known much excitement in the week and a half after moving to Marlow. Joy, as family and friends joined us at the induction service, was magnified by the fact that I was pregnant with our first child. However the evening of our first church meeting I was admitted to hospital and rushed to theatre within an hour of losing my life.

I woke after surgery to find the world still intact but my life totally shattered. Our baby had been taken. Psalm 139:13-16 came flooding into my mind and I felt a deep peace comfort me. But I remained in shock. My frightening ordeal had been the result of an ectopic pregnancy, a life-threatening condition that requires emergency surgery. Many women lose ovaries and fallopian tubes as a result of surgery, leaving the prospect of falling pregnant slim. Many women have to be prescribed hormonal remedies and medication, and are at a higher risk of having another ectopic pregnancy. However many do go on and have successful pregnancies.

Concerning my own situation, the surgeon was able to repair the damage done to the erupted ovary and a good prognosis was given. However we never conceived again, leaving many who tried to comfort us with the reassurance that other babies would follow, disappointed. Coming to terms with losing a child is a devastating grief. No parent wants to outlive their child. Nothing can prepare you for the pain and emptiness you experience or the effect it can have on you as a couple. The on-going trauma then of not conceiving again and facing a childless future is bleak, or is it?

How do you face the future without children?

There is no quick-fix answer. Some would say it’s impossible even to argue that life has worth or purpose without children. Marriages struggle with the ups and downs of wanting desperately to become parents and have to deal with the disappointment when their dreams come to nothing. A deep sense of failure and worthlessness can shadow a couple and put huge pressure on the best of marriages. Many unanswered questions can arise.

Such emotions as denial, anger, failure and blame can play a major part. Many couples feel they are letting each other down, as well as their parents in depriving them of grandchildren. They suffer, unable to talk openly with the wider family and friends about the reality of their pain. They are misunderstood with people assuming that they never wanted a family. There is also a battle within, with thoughts such as: ‘Surely God must be displeased with me because he has denied my heart’s desire.’

A deep black hole of grief can engulf the couple longing for children, making them feel different, excluding them from wanting to be part of anything, even church life, which is often family-focused. Loneliness, sadness, isolation and disappointment are often felt realities for many childless couples. So is there life and hope beyond not having children?

2 Peter 1:3 tells us that God has given us all that is needed for life and godliness. If that is true (and it is), how can the childless couple apply that verse to their experience and begin to see God’s divine purpose and plan for their lives? Being in the ministry often seemed to add pressure in dealing with our childless state. How could we identify with parents and their children? How could we make a difference in the lives we were seeking to serve? As we thought through the implications of 2 Peter 1:3 we saw that we had the answer. It is God’s word and grace that enables us to live and work for His glory, no matter what we are confronted with. He is our hiding place, He knows our frame and remembers that we are dust (Ps. 32:7; 103:14).

What are the options?

It is true that children are a blessing and an inheritance from the Lord (Ps. 126). It is also true that God’s purpose and design for couples within marriage is that they may be fruitful and multiply. But also God’s purpose and design for marriage is for mutual love and companionship (Gen. 2:18). The Lord looks on a childless couple in the same way He looks on couples with children. We must not imagine that God is punishing those without children. Under the old covenant, barrenness was a covenant curse. Each firstborn son was surrounded with a Messianic hope within the faithful remnant in the tribe of Judah. Each godly mother longed for the Messiah to come from her womb. However as Christ has come and fulfilled these covenant expectations, we do not believe that childlessness should now be viewed as a curse. Besides, there are many examples of significant and useful people in Scripture who were childless and still effectively served the Lord. It has been said that the Lord is more concerned with our holiness rather than our happiness.

Nonetheless many couples find facing the future without children difficult and therefore go down the road of adoption – which is not at all easy for Christian couples today, as they have to deal with political correctness and a humanistic agenda within social services. We were rejected as adoptive parents by one county because of our Christian views. But we were privileged to foster two little boys for a time. This proved to be a difficult experience as at no time were we able to make life-changing decisions on behalf of these little ones; this left us with a feeling of frustration and failure. Having a ready-made family can bring extra pressure to a couple yearning so much for their own child. Fostering/adoption is not always the right solution.

Another option is IVF but there is no guarantee of a baby at the end of the treatment. And for Christians the medical ethics associated with the various procedures are vast and complex. Difficult decisions have to be thoughtfully and prayerfully made.

What are the benefits?

Childlessness is no easy situation but it does have it benefits and blessings. Looking back we knew our lives would change forever but we thank God that:

Through all the changing scenes of life,
in trouble and in joy,
the praises of my God shall still
my heart and tongue employ.

The Lord has proved Himself faithful to us, filling our lives with His beauty, joy and peaceful contentment. Eternity is far more real to us. David could speak of the child that he lost with great assurance, ‘I will go to him, but he will not return to me’ (2 Sam. 12:23). What reunion awaits! With the passing of years and the shedding of tears we recognise that our happiness and true fulfillment are not found on earth. We long for something far greater that can only be found in the new heavens and new earth. Paul said that ‘we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22).

Childlessness is just a trial and tribulation until we reach our final destination – home. We thank God for His many comforts and graces. We have had opportunities of sympathising with parents who have lost a child or couples who have never been able to have children. God is faithful and He makes no mistakes. No experience is wasted if our lives are devoted to Him.

Tracey Richards is a member of Grace Baptist Church, Portsmouth.