I’ve laid awake at night scrolling through decades of apologies I’ve needed to make — instances when I didn’t know the unintended pain I’d inflicted or when I didn’t understand someone’s silent suffering. With age, maturity, and hard-fought life lessons, there comes a new understanding of grief. It’s multi-faceted with layers of nuances we never imagined.
I started writing here at (in)courage when the youngest of our five children was in kindergarten. With a large family by choice, the pain of infertility was the farthest thing from my mind. In fact, my parents celebrate thirty grandchildren from only four kids. People joked that there must be something in our family water, and when our eldest son got married, he ran with it. He and his precious wife prepped me for the eight grandkids they’d give us right away.
I couldn’t wait. Our home has been the launching pad for some of God’s greatest missional work. And as I’ve made mothering decisions, it’s been with the knowledge that my parenting choices impact not only our own children but our children’s children. The covenant of family weaves legacy components, and now I had the honor of an additional generation.
But when our son and daughter-in-love found out they had a minute chance of having biological children, we were all devastated. Life changed. Dreams shifted. Future plans were instantly rearranged.
With hundreds of Bible verses addressing the blessing of children, they’d stepped forward offering their family and fertility to Him believing, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them” (Psalm 127:3-5a).
So why couldn’t this Scripture be their story?
Infertility isn’t often addressed from a future grandmother’s point of view, but watching your beloved child be filled with such heartbreak and face closed doors is a pain for which I wasn’t prepared. While it’s not a cancer diagnosis or a devastating car accident, that diagnosis changed everything. Yet amidst such disappointment, the Lord has drawn me closer to Himself.
My empathy and sensitivity towards those suffering in silence has increased. One out of every eight women deal with infertility issues. Compound that with the pain that one out of every four women miscarry at some time in their motherhood journey, and we have vast ministry opportunities to encourage and support women at every gathering. For generations, these were topics not talked about amidst the “quilting bees” of life. Stunning statistics sat buried alongside hidden hopes for the future.
If you’ve previously walked this road or are presently pleading for God to expand your family whether as a mother or grandmother, I recognize the grief and exhaustion you’re carrying. On behalf of myself and others who didn’t understand the devastation before, I am so sorry for our insensitivity; I know it can be a lonely journey.
It’s been four years of holding our son and daughter-in-love’s sorrow near to my heart. I’ve wrestled hard with the Lord over this diagnosis and He’s okay with that. I’ll admit that I’ve even gotten a little judge-y, pointing fingers at others wondering, Why them and not us? My sin has bubbled up, yet He welcomes my questions, my cries, and even my dashed dreams. He lets me mourn and then reminds me that His Word will not return void. So as the months turned to years, we were invited to claim Galatians 6:9 as our pillar of hope:
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
With that goal, I’ve decided to usher my heart of sadness into declarations of praise for the Lord’s faithfulness and to walk with those journeying through silent suffering. Does this change our kids’ prognosis? No. Are there still questions and uncertainty? Absolutely. But the same God who opens wombs closes them too, so we persevere and trust in His goodness. I choose to believe His promise of hope in a plentiful harvest because it will come at the Lord’s right and appointed time. I have no idea what that will look like, but I know that every embryo, every baby, and every child matters. And so I wait as God continues to write the story for my children.
While He delights in showing His power through miracles, my expectant prayers have shifted: Lord, please expand their family in any way which brings You the most glory. This is hard, but it’s all for You.
And shouldn’t that be our cry every day? With work or neighbors, family or friends?
Show me how to bring You the most glory, Lord. Every single choice is all for You.
Let’s not become weary in our wait. His harvest is coming.
Ruth Mills says
Although the heartbreak isn’t infertility this am, Jennifer your words are exactly what I needed this am. Thank you for sharing!
Jen Schmidt says
Thank you, Ruth. They’re words I need to continually remind myself.
I mourn my infertility daily. At 47, somedays I still can’t believe I will never have a child. It is something my own mother and sisters have never understood, so it’s a sadness I bear alone.
Jen Schmidt says
Julia – today you are not bearing this sadness alone. I see your pain afresh. I see you when you’re sitting in a group of women and they are all telling mothering stories. I see you when people say insensitive cliches and don’t realize how much their words hurt. I see you when your mom and sisters don’t understand or minimize your grief. It’s so real and deep and unfathomable. I’m sorry you’re journeying this alone. Praying right now that the lord ushers in a wave of comfort. I wish i could be with you to talk about this over a cup of coffee. ❤️- jen
I am so sorry for your loss! Unfortunately our moms and sisters do not always understand our loss and grief because of it being intangible and invisible.
I want you to know that you are not alone. There is a community of women who understand what you are going through.
We cannot walk this journey alone, support is crucial. There are several groups and resources online if you are interested. You can check out Gateway Women and Chasing Creation if you like. I would also love to connect with you if you don’t mind.
May God embrace you in his loving arms and bring you comfort as you continue on this journey.
Hi Jen, thank you for your encouragement in this devotional. It is very much needed.
Involuntary childlessness is a multi faceted experience that brings much loss and grief in many areas of a woman’s life. It can also affect relationships adversely, adding to the grief that a woman is already experiencing.
Because it is often not understood and can also be invisible, in some cases this grief becomes disenfranchised, not acknowledged or supported by one’s social networks.
As an involuntary childless woman I can say that this has been a hard road that has challenged my faith on many levels. I just finished my doctoral dissertation and my topic was An Analysis of the Disenfranchised Grief of Involuntary Childless Women.
I wrote on this topic to help me come to terms with my reality and also to create awareness that the loss and grief of Involuntary Childlessness is real.
In the Christian community I have received very little support or understanding of my loss and grief. As believers we need to understand that not everything is spiritual, we are also emotional beings that experience pain from the disappointment of unfulfilled expectations. It is okay to acknowledge that fact. The church community could seek to develop programs and support groups to help involuntary childless women in their congregations.
Instead of telling an Involuntary Childless woman that all things work together for good, it would be a more helpful to listen to how she feels, seek to understand where she is coming from and employ sensitivity empathy and compassion for her loss and grief. We do not need to understand a person’s loss and grief completely to show compassion. Feelings and emotions are neither right or wrong, they are a part of being human.
Oftentimes as involuntary childless women we struggle with self esteem issues, depression and anxiety and many other emotional issues. This is a direct result of our loss and grief.
Although I still grieve the loss of becoming a mother I still believe in the faithfulness of God as I have seen his blessing in other areas of my life. I believe it is important to educate others on this loss and grief that is often hidden because of the shame and stigma that is attached to this issue a pronatalist society.
As Mothers day rolls around for another year it will be a hard day for many women, some who have lost the opportunity to become mothers and also some who have lost their mothers. Let us try to show love and empathy to those in our circle for whom this day does not bring them flowers and gifts but tears, pain, and a deep ache in their spirit.
Hear! Hear! Well said, Nisa!
Thank you for this detailed and thoughtful response. I am so very sorry for the season of grief and insensitivity you’ve experienced from the very place you should be getting support. Walking through this with a few friends and now very intimately with our children, brings a whole new layer of the long seasons of grief and loneliness that many experience. I can only imagine how your thesis will bring about much healing for many and if you ever want to share it or if you have any more writings on the topic, I’d be honored to read it so I can learn more how to be that life line for others.
thank you for sharing your journey,
It is so nice that you say daughter-in-love…
Thank you. She is truly so dear to my heart.
Becky Keife says
“Show me how to bring You the most glory, Lord. Every single choice is all for You.” Amen! Thank you for your words today, Jen. I appreciate how you hold space for those who are disappointed and grieving while also reminding us that God walks with us and never leaves us.
This is so sad and so beautiful, Jen. Thanks for sharing. I can identify with you as my grown sons are not even married, nor do they have girlfriends. My eldest is 34 and the biological clock is ticking! I have been standing on the same verses in Psalm127 as well as the last verses of Psalm128 that says: “May you live to see your children’s children.” I get goose pimples thinking about it. It was one of the bible readings we had for our wedding. I sincerely hope all your dreams come true and that you will get your long awaited grandchildren as I hope will I.
Marguerite – thank you for sharing a bit of your story. You are experiencing such a similar journey and I will be praying that the Lord is brought the most glory through both our stories.
Oh Jen and women who grieve here. You touched on such a topic. We have a 40 year old adult son with severe bipolar. We will never have grandkids, he will never be able to even be in a healthy relationship. Oh how we prayed for decades for healing. I get sick with grief every mother’s day. My own mom died of metastatic breast cancer when I was 10. Too much sadness. Yes, the Christian community is sorely lagging behind in understanding and support as Nisa mentioned. However, we too, have been blessed by the Lord in other ways for which gratefulness is offered. May you all feel the warmth of the Holy Spirits love and compassion this Mother’s day and every day. Holding you all in the light! With love XO
Sending gentle hugs your way Dee. Bless you. The heartache you bear is unfathomable to many. You are blessed among mothers as you love your son and pray for his illness; I pray also for you and your family right where they are. Bipolar illness is so misunderstood and treatment is difficult at best.
Thank you for your encouragement here, Shauna
What beautiful encouragement you have given me even amidst the pain of your story. As Mother’s Day approaches this weekend, I pray the Lord will gently shower you with His loving presence during a day when your dreams for your son aren’t what you ever envisioned. Thank you for your faithful and sacrificial mothering. Of all the ways that you support him on this challenging journey when you wish a different story had been written yet still testifying to His faithfulness. While we’ve never met, I know the Lord shines brightly through your life. That does not go unnoticed.
Much love to you this week.
I wonder if I can carefully bring a different perspective to this topic. We don’t have children by choice and have to really try hard with God’s help to grasp how infertility must feel. You are right, Jen, about the importance of sensitivity and that suffering is often in silence. On the flip side, we have sometimes felt that people don’t understand our choice and there can be a subliminal judgement from some Christian circles. For us, this was definitely the right decision for many reasons, but there are times when we feel that people don’t take the time to try to understand so we too suffer in silence. So thanks for a very thought provoking article.
Yes, you are so right. I am sure you have felt that flip side when people don’t understand your choice. Thank you for sharing that so I can grow in empathy in that as well .
There’s such a fine line because I know that many people just assumed our kids were working on climbing the career ladder so they didn’t take the time to ask which caused grief because it seemed like no one cared.
Can I ask so I can learn. Do you want people to ask why you’ve made the decision to not have children? Would that make you feel more seen and known to be able to dialogue openly about it? It may differ based on personality because I never know if that’s crossing a boundary into possibly being nosy to others. Thank you for you entering into this dialogue.
Jen, you’ve raised a very interesting point. I suppose that all we really want is for people to not automatically presume that, (1) all married couples are expected to have and want children and, (2) if they don’t, they are either struggling with infertility or climbing the career ladder. In other words, to choose to not have children is an accepted option. We don’t really need people to ask ‘why’; it shouldn’t be necessary. We all need to appreciate each other’s perspective.
This is certainly true. There is another issue most people never consider. My sister is 76 and has never been married and she has longed to be married and have children. She stays home from church on Mothers’ Day. Churches need to consider ministries for hurting people. Lets open our eyes and hearts to LOVE!
I think about that often and my heart grieves for your sister especially if that’s something she always wanted.
I have a few friends who have longed for decades and decades to be married with children and for what ever reason, the Lord never brought the right men into their life. While they’ve dug into mentoring so many others, they still express their loneliness. I’m very glad that your sister has you to be there for her.
Beth Williams says
I heard this saying in a song “You never know what someone is going through”. While I don’t have children & have never miscarried I empathize with you all. It is like the loss of a dream. Prayers for all walking this long journey.
That said there are other ways to become a parent. You can adopt or foster children. Young people turning 18 age out of foster care. They are suddenly on their own. Adopting them allows them to have parents & be a part of a family. It is one way to have a family & help needy children.
Absolutely, Beth. As an adult adoptee myself and with our daughter in love having three sister through adoption, that is something so near to their hearts. They went into marriage already desiring to adopt, but also planning on biological children.
That why my prayer is for God to expand their family in anyway He desires. It most likely won’t be biological but it will be exciting to see the ways He does. It breaks my heart though to see the cost of adoption these days. Many families that would love to adopt many, can’t afford it. We are grateful that they have jobs to allow them to start that process.