Lessons From Living With Unexplained Infertility
Wien and Ellen Fung | DECEMBER 3, 2018 | 8 MIN READ
Infertility is such a broad and individually unique journey that we can only share here a glimpse of our own experience. We have been living with unexplained infertility for over 10 years, and we have never been pregnant.
How we have navigated it will be different from how another couple has, but we hope some of our experiences can bless others navigating infertility and those wanting to show helpful care in this tumultuous journey.
Grief, pain and disorientation
We are surrounded by the belief that we must “have it all” to be whole. “Not having” means that a person is less than or not enough.
Infertility can be a powerful symbol of being incomplete, and this lack of fruitfulness can bring about a deep sense of hopelessness and despair.
For us, the experience of grief with infertility and the constant waiting has been like having an gaping wound that does not heal. It is so much a part of us that at times we forget it is there. But when we see pregnancy announcements or anniversaries, our situation feels unbearable, with silent screams of pain and anguish at having salt poured into our wound.
When our despair and hopelessness seems so inescapable, holding onto God is an act of immense faith and hope.
“In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD”. (1 Sam 1:10)
In our journey of trying to navigate this immense grief openly with family and friends, and also authentically with our church community, we came across a number of common responses, which we have found are not unique to us.
The Jokers are those who make light of the situation, maybe because they don’t know what to say: “Are you sure you’re doing it right?!”, “Are you firing blanks?”
The Fixers are those who want to provide instant quick fix solutions: “You’re too stressed; go on a holiday”, “Have you tried this Chinese doctor? They have helped many people get pregnant…”, “Have you tried this or that diet…’.
The Shamers are those who point fingers of guilt under the guise of love. “You don’t have enough faith. If you had more faith God would give you a baby...”, “You don’t trust God...’, “What unconfessed sin have you got in your life that is stopping you from receiving God’s blessings?”, “You are cursed.”
These three categories of people, though often well-meaning, heap more guilt, shame and pain. They add to the thought of “you are not enough” to the already suffering couple. Not only is the couple a failure because their bodies are not able to do what they are supposed to do, but they have failed as Christians too.
But there are those who give hope as well.
The Sojourners are those who sit, walk, and even carry the couple long the journey, no matter how long and what the terrain is like. They are not threatened or thrown off by questions, deep cries of anguish, or rash words spoken in grief. They understand it is part of a healthy and necessary process.
“If only my grief could be weighed and my devastation placed with it on a scale. For then it would outweigh the sand of the seas! That is why my words are rash.” (Job 6: 2-3)
Sojourners keep people accountable to the convictions they have in God. They also know when they need to ask those deeply hard questions when making decisions about “what next” at various stages because the couple has granted them permission to speak truth into their lives.
No one is any of these things naturally. We grow to become sojourners with much grace, love, listening, learning, and understanding, as we take the journey together one step at a time.
We have been richly blessed to have people who have been all of these things and more to us. Being present with us and allowing us to “be” in every part of the journey was the best gift they gave, and continue to give to us.
Here are some words of wisdom from our sojourners on how to “be with” those who are living with infertility.
Acknowledging, Not Avoiding
“Big announcements (e.g. pregnancy) can trigger sadness for your friends struggling with infertility; they may also have their own significant dates (e.g. anniversaries) that remind them of their infertility. Acknowledging the impact of these moments on your friends, and with them, is not the same as avoiding making those announcements to them; or worse still, avoiding your friends altogether.”
“Never presume that you know exactly what your friends struggling with infertility are going through. Offering a space for frustrations and feelings to be aired does not require you to provide an example of a time that you felt what they feel now... because the example will probably be deficient unless you’ve actually literally gone through what they have.”
Holding Their Hand and Crying with Them
“It is not easy to walk a deeper friendship with someone going through infertility and it is likely you'll make loads of mistakes. But acknowledging you can't fix their problem and knowing that sometimes all they need is you to hold their hand and cry with them. There is a growing of understanding of how to support your friend through this journey if you are willing to listen, learn and of course pray together. In the end it's God that allows these types of friendship to flourish even though the world would see it as impossible and uncomfortable.”
“Understanding your friend’s character is important. This helps in knowing how you should respond to them and not misunderstanding them.”
Ten years on
We have learned that the world and even those around us would want us to deny pain, grief, brokenness or disorientation. But just as God reorientated the world of the ancient Israelites in the midst of their wilderness wandering, it is in the midst of disorientation that we discovered that everything we believed about God was indeed true, and more.
Ten years on, the grief has lost its sting, and the depths of despair that once was is now surprisingly a memory, rather than a constant ache.
We have increasingly learned to be mindful of what and where God is in the here and now, embracing and living what He has placed before us instead of frantically preempting the future. Of course we still question, feel, and express a full range of emotions as various events come, but we have and continue to learn to live with the tensions and normality of that, as is normal on this side of eternity.
As hopeless as our reality was, and sometimes still is, it was in our pain that we discovered afresh God’s grace to undeserving people. As the Psalmist declares in Psalm 97, even the certainty of our uncertainties will melt away like a mountain melts like wax in the presence of the righteous God.
Wien Fung is a pastor at the Chinese Church in London with a passion for mentoring. In his spare time he likes to boulder. Ellen Fung enjoys playing escape games all over the world.