What NOT to Say around the Holidays to Those Who Can’t Conceive

Welcome to December, a delirious month.

How so?

December hosts the end of the year—which translates into a few benefits. There’s vacation from the daily grind we’ve tolerated all year long. Some receive end-of-year bonuses or raises. This month also greets us with the chance to hope again. No matter how upsetting the year has been, the arrival of December means this whole mess of a year, too, shall pass. God makes all things new, right? (Revelation 21:5). The dawn of a new year carries with it this hope of renewal.

Obviously, December houses Christmas and its gift-giving tradition. This activity, delightful to young and old alike, symbolizes celebration for the birth of Jesus—God’s unparalleled Gift for humanity.

With said birth, however, comes the familiar review of Mary’s surprise pregnancy. Sure, this virgin girl was engaged to be married; still, in her day and age, people placed pregnancy after marriage—never before. In other words, Christmas serves as more than just a highlight of God’s Gift. The holiday also reminds wives everywhere that God is definitely in the pregnancy business. Here’s the reasoning: if He could cause conception for a virgin girl, He can certainly do the same for any wife.

But what about the wife—or wives, given that nearly 1 in 7 couples is infertile—who have been waiting and praying and trying for years and maybe even begging God for a baby, all to no avail?

If this hits home for you, I empathize. Whether you’ve never been pregnant, suffered from a miscarriage, or yearned to expand your brood, nursing your unmet desire for a child is perhaps one of life’s most heart-wrenching struggles. You’re certainly welcome to read on, but be advised that this article addresses those who don’t struggle with infertility—but have loved ones who do. (A recent article on how to steward your suffering well may speak to you more directly.)

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Infertility amplifies anguish.

One study suggests a couple who still can’t bear children after receiving fertility treatment are three times more likely to divorce.

But that’s not all. The psychological impact of infertility seems to disproportionately hurt women. Even though both female and male factors contribute to infertility, in one study, women reported receiving higher stigma than men.

This December, numerous men and women who struggle with conceiving their own babies will once again be inundated with images, songs, and stories of baby Jesus and His mother’s supernatural pregnancy. Their own barrenness may provoke bittersweet feelings about Christmas.

You can help ease their pain by guarding your words (Psalm 141:3) according to the following guidelines.

1. Don’t assert your opinion.

Those who wish to conceive—but can’t—battle a range of rowdy emotions on the regular. The last thing they need is your volunteered speculations about why they might be infertile, what to do about it, or anything else on the subject. Words evoke emotions; as such, hearing your unsolicited ideas about this sensitive issue can easily foment another set of difficult emotions.

Do listen. The New Testament has plenty to say regarding what to do with suffering individuals. For instance, Paul instructed us to bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). If you strive to carry the childless couple’s barrenness burden, these individuals will feel lighter and more loved.

But how? James 1:19 hints at the answer. Be quick to listen and slow to speak—or, as the Message paraphrased, “lead with your ears. Follow up with your tongue.” Avail yourself as a non-judgmental listener. If you do, they might let you in on how being childless incites insecurities such as “is there something fundamentally wrong with me?” or its religious cousin, “maybe God thinks I’m not cut out to be a parent.” And if they expose these deeper hurts to you, just listen with a compassionate heart. No need to attempt a solution for their pain.

Your selfless act of non-judgmental listening will help these souls feel heard and seen—which ministers emotional healing.

2. Don’t criticize.

2. Don’t criticize.

It may seem obvious that those who are already struggling don’t need to suffer from criticisms, particularly about their childlessness. However, some zealous Christians might unknowingly do this when they start analyzing all the possible factors contributing to infertility. Since nobody is perfect, it’s very possible that the couple who are wanting children also exhibit disagreeable traits.

However, whether the infertile person in your life is overweight, works too much, is not considerate enough, or possesses any other unattractive tendencies, it’s futile to tag any of these as the cause of his or her misery. In other words, refrain from suggesting, “maybe God hasn’t given you a baby because He wants you to be [insert a criticism here].”

Newsflash: even if God agrees with you and thinks that individual is lacking in certain areas, He won’t express the truth in a backhanded way. Plus, it’s doubtful that His MO is to withhold a baby—which the Bible clearly labels as a reward (Psalm 127:3)—if He thinks we’re not ready. I should know; as a clinical psychologist, I’ve sat with an untold number of clients whose parents mistreated them every which way possible. If it’s true that God pauses people from having children until they achieve a certain standard, then why did my clients have lousy parents?

Do intercede. If you really wish to help, commit to staying mum about this issue until after you receive direction from God about the infertility. Stay busy with seeking His face for the sake of the infertile couple in your life. Pray for them. Fast. Petition the Father for a verse or a passage from His Word that can spark hope in the bosom of the couple.

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3. Don’t rebrand infertility into a blessing.

Have you heard the following sayings? They’re usually in reference to wannabe parents.

  • “Why would you want to bring kids into this messed up world anyway?”
  • “Kids are expensive. You’re better off without them.”
  • “You already have [name something/someone the person already has.] Learn to be thankful!”

The speaker might wish to ease the pain of childlessness by spinning barrenness as better, but this kind of logic doesn’t work. As an example, take the last one, loosely based on Elkanah’s hyperconfident remark. This Old Testament man decided one bride wasn’t enough; so, he married two. (Perhaps he married the second because his first was infertile.) But then Elkanah thought of consoling the infertile one, Hannah, by suggesting that she shouldn’t focus on his other wife or her kids, but rather, on the fact that she had him. His rationale: “don’t I mean more to you than 10 sons?” (1 Samuel 1:8). Elkanah must have had a super healthy self-esteem!

Just as Hannah ignored that intervention, however, you won’t gain any traction by dressing up infertility as a blessing in disguise. Our Creator decreed that we are to procreate (Genesis 1:28). The inability to carry out this command creates an exquisite ache that slashes our core. The pain is perhaps comparable to a talented singer with a severed vocal cord; she can’t do the very thing she’s created to do, and is therefore reduced to pining.

Even the wonderful things of life—including having the world’s best spouse—can’t erase this type of pain.

Do keep it real. Infertility hurts; so, if the sufferer is mourning his or her childlessness, let’s practice Romans 12:15 and mourn with those who mourn.

4. Don’t assume superiority.

4. Don’t assume superiority.

If you have kids, don’t grieve the Holy Spirit by presuming you’re a better person in general, or a better believer in particular, than those who want to conceive but can’t. Just as married folks have no basis to assume superiority over single persons, parents have no reason to gloat over childless couples.

This is a crucial principle to embody. Otherwise, you might be tempted to cave into detrimental behavior: Gossips about the poor couple who’s still barren even after sinking a small fortune into fertility treatment might overrun your tongue. Or you might assume there must be a hidden sin somewhere, because why are they still childless otherwise? Or, and this one is no less damaging, you might side with him or her if the infertile individual engages in a pity party.

Here’s the deal. Infertility tends to elicit grief, and grieving is fine, per Ecclesiastes 3:1 and 4. However, the line between mourning and self-pitying is often quite flimsy. So often what begins as mourning ends up as a ruthless pity party, complete with a devaluing of everything.

Do communicate the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15)—with an extra emphasis on love. Love is why you can’t comfort them with the God-kind of comfort (2 Corinthians 1: 3-4) while hiding arrogance in your heart. After all, love isn’t proud (1 Corinthians 13:4).

Remind them that their bodies may have prevented them from bearing children, but it doesn’t mean they’re worthless. Infertility may have stopped them from producing biological offspring, but it shouldn’t have any sway on the spiritual kind.

Perhaps you could also gently remind them that Almighty God specializes in the impossible (Luke 1:37). If nobody who believes in Him shall be ashamed (Romans 10:11), and if He delights in gifting His people with great abundance (John 10:10), imagine the amazing journey awaiting them, kids or no kids.

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