By / Feb 23

Earlier this week, University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) healthcare system announced that it was pausing all in vitro fertilization (IVF) fertility treatments. This pause is due to the perceived fear of prosecution and lawsuits in light of the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday, Feb. 16, stating that human beings in the embryonic stage have the same legal rights and protections as children who are born. 

Barbara Collura, president and CEO of Resolve: The National Infertility Association, released a statement noting that UAB has “been forced to make an impossible decision: pause IVF procedures for those hoping to build their families, or put their patients and doctors at risk of prosecution.” She went on to note that “[t]his cruel ruling, and the subsequent decision by UAB’s health system, are horrifying signals of what’s to come across the country.” UAB spokewoman Hannah Echols said they are “saddened” by the court’s ruling and noted that patients can continue the IVF process up through egg retrieval, though fertilization and implantation must be paused for this time due to the ruling.

What happened in the Alabama Supreme Court ruling?

The move by the UAB healthcare system centers around a case where the Alabama Supreme Court ruled in favor of three couples who sued a fertility clinic in Mobile after a 2020 incident where their frozen human embryos were dropped and destroyed. The court ruled in LePage v. Mobile Infirmary Clinic, Inc. that the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act, first enacted in 1872, also applies to “extrauterine children” even if they are stored in cryogenic freezers. The Justices noted that the location of the unborn child, in or outside the womb, does not matter according to the existing statute.

Justices cited their interpretation of this act as in accordance with the language found in Amendment 2 of the Alabama state constitution which was ratified in 2002. The amendment states that “it is the public policy of this state to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life.” The ruling notes,

“Here, the text of the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act is sweeping and unqualified. It applies to all children, born and unborn, without limitation. It is not the role of this Court to craft a new limitation based on our own view of what is or is not wise public policy. That is especially true where, as here, the People of this State have adopted a Constitutional amendment directly aimed at stopping courts from excluding ‘unborn life’ from legal protection.”

This ruling has sent shock waves throughout the country, including the pro-life movement which has historically been torn over the ethics of IVF. 

What is IVF?

IVF has become a routine, albeit financially costly, procedure in many fertility clinics around the world for couples who want children but are unable to conceive by natural means. Doctors often give couples options ranging from various testing, medicinal interventions, and assistance in natural reproduction. If these efforts fail, medical professionals, such as an endocrinologist or an OBGYN, may recommend an IUI (intrauterine insemination) procedure where sperm is collected from the man, cleaned, and then inseminated into the woman at peak fertility via a catheter. If couples choose not to go this route or if it has been tried without success, many will be encouraged by doctors to consider IVF. However, the ethics of the treatment are rarely discussed in great detail with couples—whether in the fertility clinic or even in the Church itself. 

Resolve notes that around 2% of all births in the U.S. employ IVF technologies. The procedure involves the harvesting of ovum from a woman and sperm from a man, both of which are prepared before fertilization of the egg(s) takes place in a lab. Often, but not always, the “best” fertilized eggs are chosen for implantation based on various characteristics. Implantation is not successful for couples every time, thus a couple may choose to keep trying with other human embryos from their “cohort.” Many couples choose to freeze their embryos for possible future use, even if they do conceive. 

The procedure is widely embraced by many, including some Christian couples who desperately want to have children. Many advocates see this procedure as morally good or at least permissible because it can allow couples to conceive. IVF has become so common throughout our society that you likely know someone who has utilized these technologies in hopes of having a family. Many couples have been encouraged by trusted medical professionals to utilize this technology and may not have been aware of the extent of the ethical issues at stake when it was undertaken.

It is vital to note in these conversations about the ethics of IVF that all children conceived through this technology are not only made in the image of God, but should also be seen as good gifts from God. How a child is conceived does not change that fundamental truth. Further, the desire for children is a moral good as designed by God, rooted into the fabric of the created order. Infertility is a widespread reality, affecting 1 in 6 couples today, and is a sad reminder of the devastating effects of the Fall. 

When sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, it infected every part of creation, including our bodies, and introduced death, both spiritually and physically. Now, our bodies regularly get sick or do not function as they were intended, often due to no particular fault of our own. Infertility should be viewed as the tragic reality of living in a world that is broken (Gen. 3) and is a crushing diagnosis for couples who desperately want to have children. This is a difficult and sensitive subject that must be navigated with deep pastoral wisdom and counseling, including helping Christian couples facing these challenges to consider all aspects of this reproductive technology before moving ahead with the procedure.

What are some of the ethical considerations for Christians with IVF?

As already noted, the pro-life movement has historically been divided over the ethics of IVF and this issue must be navigated with wisdom rooted in both truth and grace. The desire for children is inherently good and a gift from God, but the IVF procedure should be concerning for Christians given the Bible’s affirmation of the inherent dignity and value of every human person—from fertilization/conception to natural death.

Many committed to a pro-life ethic are open to IVF as a fertility treatment in certain circumstances, including:

  • Choosing to have only one egg fertilized at a time, ensuring no human life is created and left frozen or discarded; 
  • Embryo adoption, where embryos are donated to other couples desiring children. This is a frontier issue in bioethics that is a moral good in light of the circumstances surrounding how these human embryos were created;
  • No surrogacy or third-party donation of sperm or ovum, which introduces a third party into the marital union. 

Those who disagree with IVF on ethical grounds express deep concern for several reasons, including: 

  • It severs/interrupts the natural union of a man and woman (including the possible use of donor ovum and sperm, introducing a third party); 
  • An abundance of human embryos are often created but are not always implanted. Frequently, they are discarded and destroyed;
  • And, in some cases, the underlying thinking displays a level of hubris that somehow humanity, through our technologies, are empowered to act in the place of God, deciding to create human life and choose which human embryos are given a chance, usually due to extraneous factors. 

Discarding or destroying human embryos is especially problematic. Until recently, many doctors believed that abnormal cell growth in human embryos may negatively affect the success of IVF. Thus, many human embryos were discarded or destroyed before implantation. But even among the “healthy” embryos, a couple often must decide what to do with them if they choose not to implant them. They are generally frozen (in suspended animation) until they are used in another implantation process or saved for the future expansion of a couple’s family. Embryos can also be put up for adoption—in local or national embryo registries for other couples trying to conceive. Sometimes, embryos are even donated for the abhorrent practice of scientific experimentation on human embryos. There are countless variables at play, but the bottom line is that children must never be discarded or destroyed. 

Some pro-life IVF advocates will note that even in natural conception, fertilized eggs do not always implant into the uterine lining of the woman for various reasons. Thus, they conclude that IVF is essentially the same as the natural process yet helps many couples conceive. However, this logic is flawed in that it equates the natural process of conception with the creation of embryos by fertility doctors through substantive human intervention and technological means. While the aim of helping couples conceive is laudable and to be commended, this particular procedure routinely seeks to interfere with the natural process to a degree that human life at the embryonic stage is commonly seen as something made by human hands and, thus, possibly disposable, rather than a gift from God through the miracle of life that is to be received and cherished at all times. It begs the question: Just because we can pursue these technologies, it is something that we should do? 

Life begins at conception, which means human embryos are children; they are human beings made in the image of God. Therefore, we all must seek to protect and honor their lives as we consider the gravity of what our technological developments have wrought—and that includes our best-intentioned efforts to overcome a challenge as heart-wrenching as infertility. Couples facing this can feel isolated or hurt, so it is incumbent on the Church to walk alongside them in this journey as they consider the ethical complexities associated with IVF and understand all possible options to grow their family.

As our family has and continues to struggle with infertility, I identify with the deep desire for children. This is a moral good married couples should pursue, but not by any means available or without adequate moral deliberation. Christians, of all people, must consider the full weight of procedures like IVF in community as we seek to prioritize the family and protect the most vulnerable among us.

By / Mar 10

Over the past decade, scientists have developed a technique called mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT), which allows for the creation of babies with three genetic parents. MRT was originally developed to prevent the transmission of certain genetic diseases from parent to child. Yet as MIT Technology Review notes, “new evidence suggests it doesn’t always work—and could create babies at risk of severe diseases.” It was also discovered that MRT has been used as a way to treat infertility.

Whether or not this technology has the potential to prevent the transmission of certain genetic diseases or to help overcome infertility, the technology raises serious and significant bioethical and theological concerns. Here is what Christians should know about this controversial IVF technique. 

What is mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT)?

The process of creating babies with three genetic parents involves replacing the faulty mitochondrial DNA of the egg with healthy mitochondrial DNA from a donor, a technique, known as mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT). Mitochondria are the energy-producing organelles within cells, and their dysfunction can lead to serious health problems for the baby. By using MRT to replace the faulty mitochondria, the child could theoretically be protected from mitochondrial diseases.

But the techique is not as sucessful as it once appearred. MIT Technology Review found two cases in which babies conceived with the procedure have shown what scientists call “reversion.” In both cases, notes Jessica Hamzelou, the proportion of mitochondrial genes from the child’s mother has increased over time, from less than 1% in both embryos to around 50% in one baby and 72% in another. “These mitochondrial diseases have devastating consequences,” as Björn Heindryckx at Ghent University in Belgium told MIT Technology Review. “We should not continue with this.”

Where is the technique currently legal?

Australia and the United Kingdom are the only nations that have explicitly authorized MRT. However, it has been used in IVF clinics in other countries, such as Greece and Ukraine.

The procedure is currently disallowed in the U.S. because Congress has, since 2015, included a provision in the federal budget that forbids altering the genomes of human embryos intended for pregnancies.

What are the concerns about MRT?

While this technique may sound promising, it raises numerous ethical and medical concerns.

One of the most significant bioethical concerns about this technique is that MRT involves the manipulation of genetic material, which could alter and affect the genetic makeup of future generations. This could have dangerous consequences, particularly in cases where the genetic changes are passed down through multiple generations. The reason is that mitochondria are not merely energy-producing organelles; they also play a role in a wide range of cellular processes. By replacing a woman’s defective mitochondria with healthy mitochondria from a donor, there is a risk of disrupting these cellular processes and causing unintended health problems. The long-term effects of MRT are not yet fully understood, and the safety of the procedure has not yet been established.

However, the research needed to make the technique viable and safe is itself unethical. Christians believe in the inherent value and dignity of all human life at every stage of development—including the embryonic stage. MRT requires the creation and destruction of human beings in the embryonic stage solely for research purposes. This killing of human beings for the purposes of research is an unjustifiable violation of the sanctity of life. 

Genetic modification may also lead to an increased acceptance of eugenics. Eugenics is the idea of improving the genetic quality of the human population through selective breeding or genetic engineering. While MRT is not directly related to eugenics, it does involve selecting and manipulating genetic material to achieve a desired outcome. This could potentially lead to a slippery slope where parents feel pressure to select certain traits in their children, or where certain traits are seen as more desirable than others. This could lead to a further devaluation of human life and a focus on genetic perfection rather than the inherent value of every human being made in God’s image.

Finally, there are concerns about the impact of MRT on family relationships. The creation of a child with genetic material from three different individuals raises questions about parentage and identity. This could lead to legal and social issues, such as disputes over custody and inheritance rights. MRT could further undermine the traditional understanding of the biological family unit (i.e., one biological mother and one biological father) and could have negative consequences for the emotional and psychological well-being of children created through this technology.

While the technique has ​the remote potential to offer hope to some couples at risk of passing on genetic disorders, both the known ethical concerns and the unforeseeable and unmanageable effects on future generations make it a reproductive technology that Christians should reject and oppose. 

By / Aug 17

There has been much written lately about the declining rates of childbearing. Some argue that it is a good choice in light of economic and climate concerns, while others worry about the fact that men and women are delaying marriage and childbirth until later in life, leading to a population decline. Nowhere is this more acute than in Japan where a city of some two dozen adults have resorted to lifelike dolls as stand-ins for people because the last child born in the city was over 20 years ago. The recent COVID-19 epidemic has even contributed to what has been called a “baby bust” in the United States. This decline in births has serious implications for all areas of life, including religion.

In his new book, Faith and Fertility: The Demographic Revolution and the Transformation of World Religions, Baylor historian Philip Jenkins looks at the close connections between rates of fertility and religious adherence across the globe. His book explores the relationship between childbearing and secularization and the current ways that the religious landscape of the world is being reshaped, especially in Western Europe and North America where fertility rates have fallen precipitously in recent decades. 

In your introduction, you say that there is a direct relationship between the fertility rates of a society and its religiosity. Countries with high fertility rates also (typically) enjoy higher rates of religiosity, and vice versa. Is one feeding the other, or are these just predictors of the future?

Anyone who ever took a college course on sociology knows about debates over causation and correlation. If two things happen at the same time, does one cause the other, or are they both caused by something else altogether? Or, are they simply unconnected? What I am saying is that if you look at particular countries, or regions, that linkage between fertility rates and religiosity is very strong indeed. Moreover, sudden changes in the one trend correspond really neatly to changes in the other. In fact, as I argue, you can actually use fertility changes as a predictor of what will happen in the religiosity of a particular society, and those predictions are very likely to hold good. So is this causation or correlation? 

One problem is that the two trends happen in such short time periods — maybe five or 10 years — that it is close to impossible to decide which is cause and which effect. I think for instance of a country like Italy in the 1970s, which quite suddenly in just a few years experienced a very sharp fertility drop, and where in those same years, religious practice and commitment plunged. I can actually make a good case either way, for which trend is causing which. But in a sense, that does not really matter, because the basic linkage is so solid, and attested so widely. What we can say with high confidence is that high fertility societies are also high faith, and vice versa. When a high fertility society suddenly moves to a low fertility model — and those changes do tend to be sudden — then watch closely for the religious effects.

How do the changes in fertility and focus on child-centered families change other attitudes in the society? What are some areas of rapid shifts in public attitude that have coincided with the shift in fertility and religiosity? 

I use the example of Europe from the 1960s onward, although the changes that happened there have subsequently moved over much of the globe. When family size declines, and children are less on the scene, several things happen. Quite rapidly, people lose many of the ties that previously bound them to churches or other religious institutions. They are no longer sending children to church schools or first communion classes or bar mitzvah classes. But also, society becomes more open to arguments that separate sexuality from reproduction. In the older world, families might have listened closely to what religious institutions said about enforcing sexual morality through law, but that changes quickly. In Europe, so many of these changes have happened through referenda and public votes, rather than, as in the U.S., through judicial decisions. So, you can actually map quite revolutionary changes in public attitudes, with a new openness to contraception, divorce, abortion, and gay rights issues. 

As a result, countries that in 1960 were some of the world’s most morally conservative became some of the most liberal. At every stage, you can also link these developments to changes in fertility. As society becomes more liberal or even radical on these issues, so the churches lose ever more support as they are repeatedly depicted as the bad guys seeking to staunch progress. They face a kind of vicious circle. People are prepared to accept or tolerate the churches and clergy but only as long as they keep out of private lives. In terms of how religion has always been seen as a force in public life, that is a revolutionary development.

It is not, you argue, necessarily Marx or Freud whose work has reduced the appeal of religion, but possibly the work of Louis Pasteur and advances in medicine. Why has something like germ theory shifted our understanding of the family? 

One great force driving high fertility in past centuries was the very high death rate for babies and small children. Infant mortality rates were inconceivably dreadful, so people had to have lots of children to compensate for losses. That in turn severely constrained women’s lives. New insights about germs and infections meant that infant mortality rates fell incredibly fast, and that was the essential precondition for smaller family size. At the same time, knowing the causes of disease has massively reduced the role of clergy and churches in seeking to offer healing and protection against bodily ills. Whole areas of life have been transferred to the medical profession, which now can have a real and positive impact, which was certainly not true until the mid-19th century.

Also, higher standards of health mean that death has become a less familiar and visible part of our everyday lives, and that in turn has limited what was once one of the critical functions of clergy, namely in being present at deathbeds and funerals. Today, death is more medicalized, and is regarded as something for the very old, rather than something that can strike anyone at any time. We have had a revolution in death.

Your book deals a lot with secularization theory and the idea that religion will just generally decline and eventually disappear. However, you say that secularization is a self-limiting process. What do you mean by this?

Imagine a society that is low faith and low fertility, and as I say, the two trends go together. Societies age and become more stable. They also become more secular, and more liberal in their cultural and sexual attitudes. If those are your views, you might think that is a wonderful prospect, and we are all joining together singing John Lennon’s Imagine. But a society with a median age in the 40s — and that is much of Europe today — simply cannot survive economically. It needs people to do the working class jobs, to provide the human services, and to pay the taxes. That means drawing in immigrants, who come from young and high fertility lands in the Global South. In Western Europe, that means turning to North Africa or the Middle East, or South Asia. 

But high fertility societies are also high faith societies, and those new immigrants are likely to be strongly religious, not to mention very traditional in their morality. Many immigrants are Muslim, but plenty of others are passionately Christian. So, in that sense, a secular society will inevitably be transformed by those strictly non-secular immigrants. Over time, the immigrants will often come close to outnumbering the old-stock populations. The less religious a society is today, the more religious it will become in a generation or so.

While the secularization that you note about Europe is true, America has traditionally been a sort of outlier to the conversation because it resembles European nations in many respects but has also retained high levels of religious behavior and identity. Will that trend continue or will American begin to look more like Europe in the near future? 

The U.S. was long a problem for scholars of religion, because it was high faith and (relatively) high fertility. Some of us — including myself! — spent lots of time trying to account for this paradox. For better or worse, we no longer have to explain such things because the U.S. has now moved decisively to European levels of fertility. The big change was the economic crisis of 2007-8, which increasingly looks like a social revolution in people’s ways of life and expectations. 

Today, U.S. fertility rates track closely with those of famously low-fertility Denmark, and they may well go lower: it will be very interesting to see the long-term impact of the pandemic. And as we might have expected, low fertility rapidly implies low faith. The best evidence for this is the dramatic growth of the Nones, those who reject any religious affiliation. They already outnumber Catholics, and by 2025 should be the largest component of the U.S. population, above evangelicals.

Ronald Inglehart wrote recently that “Since 2007, the United States has showed the largest shift of any country away from religion and now ranks among the world’s least religious publics.” For anyone who recalls conditions even a decade ago, that’s amazing. So yes, I do think that “Europe awaits.”

This decline in religion though is not a complete rejection of faith. There is an increase as you note in pilgrimages to holy sites and even many of the Nones (as Ryan Burge has argued in his book on the growing religious group) display some continued adherence to religious belief. So, is this part of the larger conversation about a declining trust in institutions across culture, not just the church specifically? 

And that is an excellent point. When people talk about secularization, they often see it as the same as atheism, which it is not. When people cut loose from institutions, they often maintain the underlying codes and belief system, as in the case of the Nones. But here is the problem. If you cast off moorings from any and all churches, and live what you see as a religious life free of institutions, how long can you keep that up? Decades? A generation? And more important, is that something that can be passed on to the next generation. In Europe, it took a few decades, but those Nones gradually did turn into actual atheists, who see no reason at all for the survival of religion. I am not saying that trajectory is inevitable, but it seems like one we should be aware of.

How does the question of mass migration and immigrations contribute to this discussion? What effect does an influx of immigrants have on the religious behavior and fertility rates of a country? How do immigrants change over time in terms of childbirth and religious behavior? 

Right, I mentioned this earlier. Immigrants do tend to be younger than the historic population, because they are the sort of people who are likely to make such a dramatic move, and early on at least, they are very religious. As to what happens over two or three generations, that is a different matter. Certainly, people of migrant stock tend to move toward the norms of the host society, and their fertility rates do drop. Religion is a more complex matter. Christian migrants are a major part of church life in Europe, especially in countries like Britain, and we see a very similar pattern here in the U.S.

Muslims might tend to keep their religion even longer because it is so intimately bound up with every aspect of their lives, and their social realities. It is actually a very major and difficult step to move to be a real “ex-Muslim,” even if you abandon many aspects of the belief system.

In looking at Africa, you note that soon it will demographically lay claim to the title of the most populous Christian continent. What changes can expect to arise from this shift from Western Europe and North America to the Global South, and particularly Africa? 

Some areas of the world resist the drift to low fertility: Africa, and large portions of the Middle East and South Asia. These will increasingly dominate their respective faiths. By 2050 or so, around a third of all Christians will live on the African continent, and that does not include people of African stock living elsewhere in the world. The impact on Islam will be a bit less, because Muslim numbers are holding up very well in South Asia, but the African share will certainly grow for them too.

Common wisdom has often held that individuals go through stages of religiosity over the course of their lifetimes where they may leave in their young adult years but return when they have children. How does the shift in fertility affect that concept of the faith life cycle of individuals and their possibility of returning? How does it change the way that churches need to approach ministry and outreach in the future? 

I think about all the effort that churches put into studying and catering for children and young people, and I wonder if we are asking the wrong questions. The demographic revolution sweeping the world right now has its greatest impact on the numbers of the old and very old. Those numbers are soaring, both in absolute and relative terms. How do churches cope with them, apart from just holding helpful seminars on dying, death, and estate planning? That aging, that “graying,” poses questions that most churches have scarcely begun to contemplate. Those are some of the greatest challenges to ministry and outreach, and we scarcely have the vocabulary as yet with which to approach the problem. 

By / Aug 11

Chelsea Sobolik was adopted out of a Romanian orphanage, raised by a loving US family. Today, she is a policy director for an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention – specifically the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Chelsea has a heart to serve her country, and her Lord. She also longs for a child, and has documented her story in a brand new book.

Listen to the interview here.

By / May 7

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss a big dip in U.S. fertility rates, Biden’s July 4th vaccination goal, COVID-19 in children, mask mandates on planes, Trump Facebook ban, Amy Bockerstette’s college title, and the Malian woman who gave birth to nine babies. Lindsay gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Alex Ward with “Why reading classics can help us answer age-old questions: An interview with Karen Swallow Prior,” Jared Kennedy with “Conversations about gender should begin with humility: Helping parents navigate hard topics with their children,” and Rachel Lonas with “Why it’s important to value neurodiversity in the Church: And three ways you can help.” Also in this episode, the hosts are joined by Elizabeth Graham for a conversation about life and ministry. 

About Elizabeth

Elizabeth Graham serves as Vice President of Operations and Life Initiatives for the ERLC. She provides leadership, guidance and strategy for life and women’s initiatives and provides oversight to other strategic projects as needed. Additionally, she directs the leadership, management and operations for all ERLC events. Elizabeth is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is married to Richmond, and they have a son and a daughter. You can connect with her on Twitter: @elizabethgraham 

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. U.S. fertility dips to its lowest rate since the 1970s
  2. Biden sets goal of fully vaccinating 160 million Americans by July 4
  3. Children Now Account For 22% Of New U.S. COVID Cases. Why Is That?
  4. Pfizer vaccine expected to be approved for children ages 12-15 by next week
  5. TSA Extends Mask Mandate Aboard Flights Through Summer As Travel Increases
  6. Trump Facebook Ban Upheld by Oversight Board
  7. Amy Bockerstette to Be 1st Athlete With Down Syndrome to Compete for Collegiate Title
  8. Malian woman gives birth to nine babies

Lunchroom

 Connect with us on Twitter

Sponsors

  • Brave by Faith: In this realistic yet positive book, renowned Bible teacher Alistair Begg examines the first seven chapters of Daniel to show us how to live bravely, confidently, and obediently in an increasingly secular society. | Find out more about this book at thegoodbook.com
  • Every person has dignity and potential. But did you know that nearly 1 in 3 American adults has a criminal record? To learn more and sign up for the virtual Second Chance month visit prisonfellowship.org/secondchances.
By / May 7

Mother’s Day can be bittersweet for many. One in 10 couples struggle with infertility, and approximately 10 to 20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriages. For many women who long to have a child, Mother’s Day can serve as a difficult reminder of what they desire, but do not have. The potential pain of Mother’s Day extends further still — for women have chosen an adoption plan for their child, single women who desire to be married and have a family, or women who have had an abortion. And others might be grieving the loss of or navigating a difficult relationship with their mother.

Waiting

Personally, Mother’s Day can be filled with conflicting emotions. I was born with a somewhat rare medical condition that prevents me from bearing biological children. The loss of that dream feels especially poignant this time of year. But I also have a desire to honor my own mother and mother-in-law and celebrate the women in my life who are mothers. Romans 12:15 is often on my lips as I navigate these tensions and seek to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

My husband and I are in the process of an international adoption from India. This Mother’s Day, I feel the strange tension of pursuing motherhood but not yet stepping into the role of “mother.” I’m waiting for paperwork to be approved, for a social worker to deem us eligible to be parents, and to be matched with a child. But I know that waiting is not in vain. 

As an adoptee myself, I’m aware that my children’s stories will contain trauma. Even if our children are adopted young, there is trauma involved any time there’s a break in the natural family. The issue of adoption and child welfare is deeply important to me. I’ve spent time and energy navigating the complexities of these issues in order to advocate on behalf of vulnerable children. While we wait, we are reading books on trauma-informed parenting, listening to seminars, and gleaning wisdom from other adoptive parents so that we can love our children well. Our waiting is not in vain.

Watching 

We’re also watching the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in India with broken hearts. According to the BBC, “India has seen more than 300,000 new cases a day for nearly two weeks straight while deaths stand at 220,000. Experts say total Covid cases and deaths in India are likely to be much higher, citing lack of testing and patients dying at home without being seen by doctors.” The images and stories we’re witnessing have caused global alarm and attention. I can’t help but wonder how many children will be orphaned because of the thousands of COVID-19 deaths. 

Praying 

As we watch and wait, we do the best thing we know how to do: We pray. We lift up our future children in prayer almost daily. They might not be known to us, but they are known to our Father, and in that, we take great comfort. We pray for their safety and protection. We pray for their biological parents and the challenging circumstances that led them to making an adoption plan for their children. We pray for the leaders in India to make good and wise decisions for their citizens. We pray for the souls of our children, that they might come to know the Lord as their Savior at a young age.

In my waiting, I often echo the words of David, “O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress.” Waiting can often feel helpless, but Psalm 27:14 reminds us to “be strong, and let your heart take courage” as we “wait for the Lord.” I fix my eyes upon the Lord and ask him to fill me with his strength when I feel weak. 

If you find yourself in a season of waiting right now, allow me to remind you that you are never alone in your struggle. Psalm 38:9 reminds us that “all our longing is before God; our sighing is not hidden from Him.” The Lord promises never to leave or forsake his children. He promises to be good and to set his steadfast love upon us. When you feel overwhelmed and discouraged, on Mother’s Day or any time, press into the promises of the Lord. 

By / Oct 13

Sitting in the exam room, my heart was shattered by the news of my miscarriage. In an effort to bring comfort, the midwife declared, “You’ll have another baby!”

I didn’t want another child, I wanted this one. The one I’d carried for nine weeks and deeply loved.

Her words haunted me as I labored our baby in the hallway of our home that night. They whispered again and again as I went on to lose two more precious babies. 

Words reveal our beliefs

Since facing recurrent miscarriages, I’ve had the opportunity to encourage other women struggling with this loss. I’ve become familiar with the comments said to those who lose babies in the womb. These comments, spoken from loved ones, church friends, and even strangers are said to comfort the sufferer, but instead leave them feeling unseen in their grief. 

More heartbreakingly, when reading between the lines, we may find underlying misunderstandings about unborn children. It’s helpful to think through what we’ve said about miscarriage in order to comfort those around us and uphold the value of life.

At least . . . 

Spoken with good intentions, comments like “at least it was early” or “at least you can get pregnant” or “at least you have children,” not only belittle the pain of a woman facing miscarriage, but unknowingly challenge the value of life in the womb. 

Though everyone grieves differently, whether a woman loses her baby at five or 20 weeks, whether she has children or not, she lost her baby. A real person—an image-bearer of God. “At least” statements are rarely helpful. Instead, let’s say “I’m so sorry for the loss of your baby.” This acknowledges the pain of the mother and the valuable life of the child.

Another baby

Just as the midwife declared I’d have another baby, many women hear the same words spoken over them. Comments like this are unhelpful because they point the sufferer to fix her eyes on the gift rather than the Giver. It’s also hurtful to women who experience recurrent pregnancy loss or face infertility after losing their baby. It’s possible she may not have another child. More than that, it diminishes the value of the life that was lost. Babies aren’t band-aids. Babies don’t replace babies. 

Instead, let’s acknowledge the loss of their child and seek to gently point their eyes to Jesus. Let’s we weep with them over the loss of their unborn baby and as the Spirit leads, share the beautiful truth of how God is near to the broken-hearted—how in grief, he gives more of himself (Psa. 34:18; 147:3). Let’s remind them that he is their Good Shepherd, walking with them down this painful path that leads to greater joy (Psa. 23). 

God protected you

I recently asked women to share comments said to them by fellow believers regarding their miscarriage. One of the most common responses was this: “God was protecting you from a baby with a disability.” How heartbreaking.

Let’s learn a better, more compassionate way of approaching pregnancy loss for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ and for the sake of the unborn.

Of all people, Christians should be advocating for the value of every life—including the lives of unborn babies with disabilities. Is it better that a mother would lose her baby rather than getting to know and kiss and raise her child with disabilities? What does this preach to the culture that advocates for the brutal abortion of disabled children? 

Every person, whether they have special needs or not, is fearfully and wonderfully made (Psa. 139:13-16).

The “12-Week Rule”

There’s a rule regarding pregnancy announcements that tells women to keep their pregnancy a secret until the greater risk of miscarriage passes. The purpose is to “protect” them from having to share the news of the death of their baby. 

The decision to share about your pregnancy or miscarriage is highly personal, and there isn’t a right answer. But telling a woman not to share further adds to the shame surrounding pregnancy loss. The death of a baby before 12 weeks is still the death of a baby. One that deserves to be rejoiced over and grieved as the image-bearer he or she is. 

What would it look like to unbelievers if instead of encouraging secrecy, more Christians rejoiced in a woman’s decision to share about the youngest of lives in the womb?

Cultural influences

I wonder how many of these things stem from how our culture champions abortion. As Christians, we would be wise to ponder whether or not the statements we make regarding babies lost in the womb line up with how God views them. 

Would he say, “at least it was early” or “I spared you from a child with disabilities”? Perish the thought! Every human life is a wonderful work of God, created to bring him glory, even the most fragile of lives.

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psa. 139:13-14a ESV)

Grace for our lack of understanding

Before experiencing pregnancy loss, I misunderstood it. When a friend lost her baby I thought it was sad, but I viewed it as a loss of a dream, not her beloved child. I’m grieved at my indifference. Yet, there’s grace for those of us who have been insensitive or who haven’t upheld the value of the unborn as we should.

If you’re heartbroken over the way you’ve handled the suffering of your sisters in Christ or the way you’ve spoken of babies lost in the womb, bask in the grace of Christ. He’s taken upon himself all our sin and shame so that we don’t have to wallow in our mistakes (1 Pet. 2:24). 

For those who’ve been hurt by comments of others, I pray you would seek to have grace for them, with a heart of forgiveness (Col. 3:13).

Let’s learn a better, more compassionate way of approaching pregnancy loss for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ and for the sake of the unborn.

By / Apr 24

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people are in quarantine and adjusting to new rhythms and routines. Personally, it’s taken a lot of trial and error to figure out how to successfully work from home, communicate well with my husband, and alleviate feelings of going stir crazy. For those who are currently at home, we have a little extra time on our hands, even if we’re still working because we aren’t commuting or attending extracurricular activities. Life has quieted and slowed down, and that’s given us more time to think, process, and feel. Busyness can often be used to distract ourselves from addressing difficult circumstances or emotions. But when that’s stripped away, we can be faced with a flood of emotions.

The quarantine can intensify longing and loss

Walking through a season of childless can be difficult in “normal life,” but in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, feelings of loss or longing can feel intensified. Many of us are spending much more time on social media, and that can lead to heightened feelings of comparison or jealousy. Jokes have been floating around social media about a baby boom that will occur in nine months, implying that couples merely need more time to conceive a baby.

This week is National Infertility Week—a time to raise awareness about the 1 in 8 couples affected by infertility. Countless couples have walked through the heartbreaking reality of struggling month after month to conceive. Others have walked through the painful grief of miscarriage and loss. Many single women might be feeling the desire for a husband and to be a mother. Women who have had an abortion might be feeling intense grief right now. Childlessness takes on many forms, but each man or woman experiencing it grieves the loss of a child, or the loss of the dream of parenthood.

God might not answer our prayers in the exact way we want them to be answered, but we can trust that he’ll be faithful to his promise never to leave or forsake us. We can trust that he’s working all things together for our good and his glory.

How to fight discouragement and disappointment 

I read through the book of Psalms almost every month. This practice has taught me how to bend my emotions around God’s truth and that it’s good and right to bring my feelings and emotions to God in prayer. The psalmists are extremely honest with the Lord and are frequently seen crying out with raw and honest questions and concerns. God is big enough to handle all of our emotions, and we don’t ever need to feel like we need to pull ourselves together before going to God in prayer. He promises to bear our burdens and invites us to bring our sorrows to him.

I’d encourage you to spend some extended time meditating upon and memorizing Scripture. Choose some promises to commit to memory, and fill your heart and mind with God’s Word. Here are some verses to meditate upon:

“And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:10)

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

“I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.” (Psalm 116:1)

“The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.”  (Psalm 145:9)

The cross changes how we grieve

Jesus’ death and resurrection not only guarantees that anyone who places their faith in Jesus will be forgiven from their sins and have eternal life with him, it also changes every aspect of our life on earth. The cross was the ultimate declaration of God’s love for us. If we’re ever tempted to question God’s love for us, we need to look to the cross. While we will experience sorrow and loss on this side of eternity, God promises that we don’t grieve without hope. God might not answer our prayers in the exact way we want them to be answered, but we can trust that he’ll be faithful to his promise never to leave or forsake us. We can trust that he’s working all things together for our good and his glory. And we can trust that a day is coming when there will be no more grieving or suffering.

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4.

God doesn’t promise us answers, but he does promise us his presence. May we long for the day when there will be no more death or sorrow, but until that day, may we develop a deep trust of the Lord.

By / May 12

“If I could be anything in the world, I would be a mother.” -Abigail Waldron, third grade

David Platt, whose family struggled with infertility, has said, “There is a unique pain that comes from preparing a place in your heart for a child that never comes.” Infertility is a topic that people discuss very little, but I’ve read as many as one in eight couples struggle with it. While that number may sound very high, I imagine if you combine it with the number of couples who experience some other sort of reproductive loss, it would be even higher, making reproductive loss one of women’s most painful and hidden griefs.

Life is valuable. We see this each time God chooses to bring a new baby into the world, and we marvel in wonder at his goodness and kindness in giving us these tiny little miracles. God has entrusted women with the very important role of being life-givers. And this matters, because life matters. Abigail Waldron, author of Far as the Curse Is Found: Searching for God in Infertility, Miscarriage, and Stillbirth, knows this well. She also understands the pain that comes when children don’t come as quickly as one had hoped and the deep grief of losing a baby—her daughter, Avaleen Hope—through miscarriage at 15 weeks.

About the book

In effort to reconcile the God she’s known since childhood with her disappointment and grief, Abigail took the year after her miscarriage and interviewed 11 families who have also suffered some type of reproductive loss. These include families:

  • who birthed children after years of infertility
  • who were never able to have biological children
  • who adopted
  • whose adoptions failed
  • who pursued various reproductive treatments
  • who decided against various reproductive treatments
  • who experienced stillbirth
  • who experienced secondary infertility

Abigail wanted to see how God has met them in their pain, and in the process, she was hopeful that God would meet her in her own pain. Her story and how she processed her own grief is intertwined within each of the interviews. Abigail hoped her book would be able to serve as a sort of community for those who are hurting and to help them feel less alone in their pain, but most of all, she is hopeful it will help others find glimpses of God, who is mysteriously present in our deepest darkness.

Abigail writes from a real and raw perspective. It’s easy to appreciate her honesty and vulnerability. Grief is deeply painful, and Abigail willingly lets you see glimpses of her heart as she struggles through the questions, “Why would a good God allow such painful suffering? How can his presence be felt and trusted in the face of such great anguish?” Throughout the book Abigail continually reminds herself of the truth of God’s Word in the midst of her intense pain and struggle.

4 common themes

As I poured over each interview, there were several common, helpful themes I noticed:

  1. God’s sovereignty: Reading through each of these interviews, I noticed many of the families had to come to terms with the fact that we have no control over our fertility. Brian and Linda’s story in chapter five so beautifully illustrates this. “. . . with God, there isn’t an alternative reality.” They trust God’s control over their family: “The story we live is the story God wrote for us . . . God doesn’t have a plan B for building families.” They affirm that “infertility might be a surprise to us, but it’s not to God.”
  2. You can choose joy: We’re all different. We all respond to pain and grief differently, and that is okay. In this book, you’ll see how people grieved their losses differently, and how sometimes men and women have different ways in processing their pain. No matter how different we may be, we can all choose to fight for joy. Joy is always a choice, and we can trust God to work in and through our suffering to make us more joyful in Christ. At the end of chapter five, Abigail writes, “There is mystery in God’s ways and sovereignty that we will never understand. . .We cannot understand. We cannot control. . . God works in and through suffering to bring mysterious joy. . . It helps in this season of not knowing. . .to be reminded that God wins, that redemption triumphs, that there will be a day, in eternity if not now, when we will see clearly that all of this struggle and loss was indeed somehow God’s strange and mysterious gift.”
  3. We can trust God: We don’t know our future, but God does. God knows it and plans it. God is in every detail. He knows how every part of our life will work together, and his plans are good. In the midst of our pain, if we can remember God is good and kind, then we’ll be able to trust him to write our story, even if he writes it differently than we would have chosen.
  4. Life is really about our relationship with Jesus: As much as we we’d like to think that if God would just answer our prayer for a child, we’d always be happy, and our longing would be satisfied, it just isn’t true. Yes, children bring joy and happiness, but they can never be the absolute focus of it without becoming idols. Jesus is meant for that place in our hearts and our lives. He must be the ultimate treasure of our hearts. In chapter 12, Bethany so beautifully reminds us of this as she says, “I guess redemption always comes out of loss . . . Our only hope is Christ. It is not in becoming a mom. It’s not in becoming a family. It’s not in becoming a son or a daughter. It’s not anything that you gain in this life that matters. It’s your relationship with Christ.”

Martin Luther said, “Even a weak faith may lay hold of a strong Christ.”

Conclusion

As a woman who has experienced reproductive loss myself in the form of unexplained infertility, I would wholeheartedly recommend Abigail’s book to other women. You may not completely relate to her struggle with a year of infertility and miscarriage, but chances are, you can relate to one of the other families interviewed in the book. In this book, you’ll see how these families came to see God and rest in him during their pain and suffering.

If you’re currently struggling with some sort of reproductive loss, let me encourage you with what Martin Luther said, “Even a weak faith may lay hold of a strong Christ.” You may want to pick up Abigail’s book to discover you might not be as alone in your pain as you think.

By / May 11

Mother’s Day can be one of the most joyful days of the year. Americans will buy flowers, cards, fancy meals, and gifts in an attempt to physically show our mothers how much we care about them. But for many, it’s one of the most painful days of the year, too. Perhaps we’ve lost our mother, or our mother wasn’t what we needed her to be. Perhaps she was physically present, but emotionally absent. Or most painful of all, maybe we long for motherhood, but it’s elusive. We’re the often forgotten group—we’re the childless.

As a childless woman, Mother’s Day can be a painful reminder of what I don’t have, and what I long for. Whether your season of childlessness is temporary or permanent, whether you’ve walked through miscarriages, infertility or barrenness, remember that you’re not alone. One in 10 couples struggle with infertility, and even more have lost precious little ones—either in the womb or outside of it. It can be easy to feel alienated and forgotten on Mother’s Day, because everyone is busy celebrating, and your heart is busy breaking.

There are a few thoughts I’d like to whisper into your weary soul this Mother’s Day:

1. Cry out to the Lord: The Bible is filled with raw and emotional cries to the Lord. In many of the psalms, we see David’s honest groans, because the pain in his heart is more than he can bear alone.

“O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you.”  Psa. 38:9

“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses.” Psa. 25:16-17

“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” Psa. 13:1-2

The Lord knows the pain of your heart. Cry out to him. Don’t hold back in your sorrow or your suffering. Prayer is one of the greatest gifts, because it allows us to pour our weary souls into the hands of our Savior. You don’t have to clean yourself up before you pray; you can come to him upset, crying, frustrated and sad. Tears give emotion a way out, and the Scripture informs our emotions of truth. These two go hand-in-hand as we journey through life’s difficult paths.

2. Surround yourself with people who love you: Don’t walk through this day alone. Let close friends and family know that Mother’s Day is difficult. It’s okay to ask for help and tell others that you’re hurting. People don’t often know you’re hurting unless you tell them. Allow the church to wrap around you and care for your soul. Invite tender and gentle people to share in your sufferings, to love you, listen to you, sit with you while you cry and to be present. Sometimes what we need most is a hug, a listening ear, and a shoulder to cry on. It might feel difficult or uncomfortable to allow people into your grief, but the Lord gave us community for a reason. We were designed to live life together, as a band of believers, all working for the same goal—to glorify the Lord as we walk toward heaven.

It’s easy to feel like your lack of children defines you. Childlessness can be all-consuming. But if you’re a Christian, the core of your identity is rooted in Christ.

3. Stay off social media: Social media has a way of stirring up discontentment and dissatisfaction. This is especially true on a day that vividly reminds you of what you lack. Your soul will benefit greatly from a break and a breath of fresh air. Consider pushing pause on your phone for the day or even the weekend. You might think it’s no big deal, and hopping on facebook for 15 minutes to relax might seem like a good idea, but scrolling through post after post of mothers and children probably won’t do your soul any good. It’s better to err on the side of caution than to find yourself in the midst of a breakdown because you’ve seen one too many posts about babies.

4. Childlessness does not define you: It’s easy to feel like your lack of children defines you. Childlessness can be all-consuming. But if you’re a Christian, the core of your identity is rooted in Christ, not in your ability to bear babies. Fix your eyes on him, and allow your soul to be saturated in your true identity. Being God’s child should be the primary thing that defines the childless. It’s okay to grieve over the unfulfilled desire, but do so in a way that shows that your ultimate hope, joy and satisfaction is found in being God’s child, not having your own child.

And pastors, as you preach on Mother’s Day, please don’t forget the childless in your congregation. Most of life is bittersweet; we rejoice with those that rejoice and mourn with those that mourn, and Mother’s day is no different. You can be a healing balm for someone’s weary and wounded soul. The longing for parenthood is a good but often unfulfilled desire, and the words you speak can have the power to point people to the heart of our Abba Father. May the church be a safe haven for the hurting this Mother’s Day.