April is Infertility Awareness Month. 1 in 8 couples experience infertility. During this month we invite you to walk with us along side of those who face fertility grief. Or to claim the story as your own! Please remember that Project Pomegranate’s recently published book – Though the Darkness Gather Round, Devotions about Infertility, Miscarriage, and Infant Loss – is a great resource. Please share it with your congregation!
For every flower of spring that blossoms forth from seed in fertile ground, God knows how many failed to come to life.
God knows, but some others know this secret too. There’s a hidden pain in church pews each spring as Easter bursts with praise of new birth from nature’s womb and death’s tomb. Our language of teeming life runs poetic. Images of propagating bunnies everywhere seem apt, until they’re not.
Those who suffer the disappointment of infertility, the grief of miscarriage, the agony of early childhood death, the longing for marriage and parenting and the mixed regret and relief of abortion all live in the quiet shadow of these celebrations of life. Many of them inhabit our church pews Sunday by Sunday.
In churches like mine that dedicate babies and in churches that christen them instead, tears fill the eyes of sentimental worshipers. There’s something about the innocence of an infant and the unqualified promise of a new life being held up before us that speaks of blessing. The world is blessed, the parents are blessed, the church is blessed, the child is blessed.
Some tears in the congregation, though, come from longing and loss. While talk of blessing surrounds every infant, does the lack of one suggest cursing? When we say that a child is a gift from God, do we also mean that being childless is a sign of God withholding a gift from some?
All religious rituals have an unspoken shadow side, and none more so than a baby dedication. A few times through the years, I have called attention to this by doing a childless dedication. I put the burp cloth on my shoulder as I normally do, and I walk around the church with arms shaped to hold an infant not present. I speak the pain of childless women and men (both!). I remind the church that flesh and blood does not inherit the kingdom of God, and that the family of spirit is what endures eternally.
I ask church members to make promises to those among us who do not have children of their own, just as I ask them to make promises to those who do. The promises are different, but the aim is the same: that we would be a community of faith for all, and that we would be sensitive to the pain of some while we celebrate the joy of others.
We need to take care with our words and deeds toward those who suffer silently. We want to offer our blessing to them too, and we want to do so without empty promises that their day will come or that God knows best or that we know how they feel when we really don’t. Love doesn’t need to blame or explain; it just listens and respects the other in joy or in sorrow.