The Table Podcast
Julie FullerJulie FullerSandra GlahnSandra GlahnDarrell L. BockDarrell L. Bock

The Struggle with Infertility

In this episode, Dr. Darrell Bock, Sandra Glahn and Julie Shannon Fuller discuss the social, financial and spiritual challenges facing couples who struggle with infertility.

Timecodes
00:15
Bock introduces the topic and speakers
02:38
The struggle with infertility
06:00
Expectations leading to pain
09:48
How should the church address women who struggle with infertility?
19:20
Stories of infertility
28:50
Relational issues when facing infertility
31:15
The process of miscarriage
35:16
The grieving process
40:15
The financial impact of infertility
43:08
How does the blame game work?
44:48
How the church can better minister to those struggling with infertility?
Transcript
Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture. I'm Darrell Bock, executive director for cultural engagement at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. And today, our topic is infertility, and I have to tell you, when I became executive director at the Center, I never conceived of doing a podcast on this topic, so I'll have to tell you the story why. But first, let me introduce our guests. To my left is Sandra Glahn – who I know as Sandy, so that's probably what I'm gonna call her – associate professor of media arts and worship, here at Dallas Seminary. And how long have you been teaching here, now, Sandy?
Sandra Glahn
Teaching for 19 years.
Darrell Bock
Nineteen years, okay. And then Julie Shannon Fuller, who writes a blog about all kinds of issues. And what else are you engaged in? Are you – you went to seminary here, didn't you?
Julie Shannon Fuller
I am currently enrolled, and just turned in my dissertation, last week, so I will be graduating in May.
Darrell Bock
Very good, so, a dissertation on – ?
Julie Shannon Fuller
Infertility and childlessness.
Darrell Bock
There we go. [Laughter] All right, well, let me tell the story about how this happened. Well, a few years ago, when we were first doing the podcast, Sandy got up and did a chapel on this topic. And, you know, it's one of those things, for guys, it's not something we think too much about, perhaps, unless we're married and in the situation. And so, I made a mental note saying, "Well, this is interesting, and this is a common issue." And then, we met with a group of under-30 Millennials, in the fall last year, and we were talking to them about all kinds of issues. And in the midst of that conversation, I asked them, "What podcast would you like for us to do?" and without hesitation, infertility came up. And then, the second one was, you know, "Why should we come to church?" and I thought, "Well, that's an interesting mix." [Laughter] And so –
Sandra Glahn
[Crosstalk] connected.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, exactly. And we'll talk about that another time – that other one's also gonna come down the road, I think. But anyway, and so, we decided, well, you know, that was kind of a "check the box" a second time, so, yeah. So, I've asked you all to come in and discuss this with us, and Julie, I'm gonna let you start. How did this issue become a key for you? Just a short version now, and then we'll go into more detail later, and then I'm gonna ask Sandy the same thing.
Julie Shannon Fuller
Well, I was single most of my adult life, and got married at age 38, and we waited – everyone said, "Oh, wait a little while to start trying to get pregnant – you want time together in your marriage." And we waited about a year, and then we started trying, and due to my age and everything else, it took another year for me to get pregnant, and I just immediately miscarried. And so, that experience, I ended up – we went through about seven years of that active infertility season, and then, with three miscarriages. And so, I worked through a lot of the pain, and that burden, and that questioning God. And then, he's taken me down a path of wanting to kind of use that in ministry, to help women and couples and young women have a better understanding.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, there are actually two parts of this conversation, in some ways. It's just experiencing a miscarriage in and of itself, which is traumatic enough, and many women go through that. And then the whole infertility thing, which is a smaller group, but in some ways also a much more – I'll describe it as a gnawing experience, in one way. And Sandy, how about you? What's your –
Sandra Glahn
So, I'm the fourth of five kids, imagined a big family, that's what I – I thought I was gonna marry a pastor and have lots of kids. And when that didn't happen and we hit the brick wall of infertility, it was really a moral, ethical, medical, financial crisis. But it was mostly, for me, a crisis of womanhood: what does it look like to be a Christian wife. I was a freelance writer, and I started doing some writing; I was part of a consumer group for infertility patients. And then, I started taking classes here, just to get theology. And so, book number one ended up coming out of a class that I took, here, in writing, but I was writing about my infertility experience. And that was When Empty Arms Become a Heavy Burden was looking at the emotional and spiritual side.

Then, as I was working on my actual academic work, here, book two was really looking at all the different narratives that had infertility in them, and how we've taken them out and made them sort of a – assuming that the Bible's an unabridged text of infertility, instead of seeing how each of those stories function in its own narrative. So, for me, it's been a personal journey of three years of no success, seven pregnancy losses, three failed adoptions before we finally had a successful adoption. But also, sort of a professional journey, 'cause I never saw myself as having a career, and the Lord kept opening the doors, here – closing the doors to motherhood and opening the doors to other things.
Darrell Bock
Interesting, and I imagine that that story is not unusual, that, if I can say it this way, you kind of stumbled in to infertility, as opposed to having the expectation. I wanna start there; let's talk about expectations, a little bit. And I guess my question may or may not seem odd, but I'll throw it out there anyway, because I can trust you gals. And that is, how do our expectations, perhaps, set us up for more pain? And what can we do to help that tension?
Julie Shannon Fuller
That's a great question. My expectations set me up greatly, because I, my whole life – my dad was 1 of 9, and I love that family, and I grew up just thinking – I was an aunt at age 11, and I thought, "I'll be a mom. I'll be a mom."
Darrell Bock
You're around kids all the time.
Julie Shannon Fuller
Around kids all the time – and godchildren and all of that. And even through my single years, when my – I remember my dad kind of shaking his head, one day, and I said, "What's wrong?" and he goes, "I just wish you'd get married and have kids," you know? He meant it from a really great place. But I was probably in my early 30s, and just sitting there, "Well, Dad, it'd be nice to have the guy, first." [Laughter]
Darrell Bock
There is a prereq, there.
Julie Shannon Fuller
You know? Ah, it's a little important detail. And so, I think I went into it – I just assumed. I assumed. Because I think in our world, in the Western culture, we make – my opinion only – we make family in suburban America, it is the be all, it is the end all. And I don't think we help people understand completely who they are in Christ, and what their identity is apart from those labels, those roles in life. I mean, we do it with jobs, we do it with material goods. And I think for some women – not all women, but probably the majority – that's what we do. Would you say that? We have that expectation.
Sandra Glahn
Mm-hmm, yeah, my husband and I would go to parties, and people would ask him what he does, and they would ask me how many kids I had. And you think about, growing up, people didn't say to me, "If you get married and have kids," it was, "When you get married and have kids." And because I'm the fourth of five, people are teasing my parents constantly about, "You know how you can prevent that?" So in my mind, the "problem" is having too many, like, it never even entered my mind that the opposite would happen. So, some of it is, there's social pressure. There's certainly, because the church values motherhood – rightfully so – there tends to be an overvaluing of that, to where you hear messages like, you know, "The most important thing a woman can do is be a mother," or, "The highest calling of a woman is a mother."

That's just not true – the highest calling is to follow Christ. And in God's very pattern book, you know, you've got Aquilas and Priscillas, where their kids aren't mentioned; you have singles – you know, I think of Lazarus' sisters, Mary and –
Julie Shannon Fuller
We have Deborah –
Sandra Glahn
There are lots of single people in the Bible. But I think since the Reformation, right, we sort of emptied the monasteries of singles, and kind of went the other extreme, and marriage is the be all, end all. I think we're coming back a little bit, you know, relooking at some of that. But some of that, those messages, you know, 20 years ago, when we were really being formed, 30 years ago, it was even much more social pressure.
Darrell Bock
Stronger, yeah. And so, you create this expectation of what kind of the perfect life would be for the average woman in the church. I actually think that we don't do enough – would be interested, actually, in your opinion on this – we don't do enough to help young women think through where they are in Christ. I think the path is much easier for a man than it is for a woman in the church, if I can say it that way. And even though what would be taught, actually, to a man and a woman in some ways would be very, very similar in terms of your walk with Christ and discipleship, we have a wider path, in some ways, for the things we talk about with men than with women. So I'd like to probe that a little bit. If you were able to design and help pastors think through how they address their young women – and, for that matter, the ministers to women that churches now often have – what kinds of themes would you think would be important in –
Julie Shannon Fuller
This is a can of worms. [Laughter]
Darrell Bock
Well, let's see what happens.
Julie Shannon Fuller
Well, here's my take on – a lot of churches, and a lot of evangelical Christian churches, traditionally, women are – they come in and they teach kids, they might teach other women, and I think that's been a long history. And it's not that it's a bad one, but I know, from younger friends, they can go out in the world and do whatever they want. They're really now in the corporate world, there are less – wouldn't you say? – there are less –
Sandra Glahn
You're not constantly thinking through the grid of, "I am a woman. I'm just a person with skills that I'm bringing to the job" – much more so in the church, you're thinking that way, yeah.
Julie Shannon Fuller
Yeah, and so in the church they walk through the doors and women are telling women – in my dissertation, I talk about one of the women I interviewed, and how she couldn't have kids, and she was trying to find some meaning and purpose, and went to a church and offered to help out in the infertility ministry. And she was told, "Well, you didn't adopt, so, that's really – if you can't have kids, you need to adopt." So, a woman telling a woman. So I think it's kind of it's not – I don't want it even to become a gender thing, like it's male against female. I think that we all have to be intentional about learning how has God gifted each one of us. That was such a big turning point in my life, to go, "Wow, how has he gifted me? What am I to do here?" Instead of, we join together, and marriage is it. I think in the church we need to do a better job of helping people understand that, first of all.
Sandra Glahn
Yeah, going back to what you said about identity, I think you're absolutely right that – again, it goes back to that part, you know, what do people ask my husband, it's what you do. And for me, it was, you know, "How many kids do you have?"
Darrell Bock
Did he wave and go, "I have some, too"? [Laughter]
Sandra Glahn
At that point, we didn't have any, so then I'm bummed – you know, "Do I tell'em about our infertility? Do I tell'em I'm a writer?" you know?
Darrell Bock
Right, it's just, it becomes awkward immediately.
Sandra Glahn
It was very awkward for everyone.
Julie Shannon Fuller
It's a conversation killer.
Sandra Glahn
It was a killer, yeah. But I coteach a course in sexual ethics, here, and one of the assignments we give students is to look at masculinity/femininity curriculum that churches are doing. And one of their evaluations is, constantly, people are defining femininity for women going straight to the marriage text, right? And so, we're not laying out "What is a woman's identity?" we're laying out "What is a wife's identity?" And going back to Genesis – and sometimes reading the church fathers can mess you up a little bit on this, right? Because some of them thought that women weren't made in the image of God, but that they were made sort of in the secondary image, if they're married. And so, we need to begin by teaching women, "You are made in the image of God, you were made as a co-ruler, a co-creator, a co-companion, not just – "
Darrell Bock
It's just in Genesis One, at the start, I mean, yeah. [Laughs]
Sandra Glahn
Exactly. And a lot of us are warning about the dangers of feminism, warning about devaluing motherhood, what we're against, but we're not actually giving a foundation of who actually are you. And a goal for a woman is not to be married, it's not to have kids; it's to be Christ-like, it's to have the fruit of the spirit. And that might manifest in marriage, but it also might manifest itself in the marketplace, or it might do both. So we just sort of need to broaden our idea that we just devalue motherhood, and – we have done that, but there's a lot of other things we've devalued that we need to kind of relook at.
Darrell Bock
And you put that next to the church's kind of awkwardness, also, with the whole idea of singleness, and that combination plays –
Sandra Glahn
It's the same root, really.
Darrell Bock
It is, yeah, and so, you're locked in. Of course, the interesting thing about Genesis One is that, that text is, I think, clear that men and women are both made in the image of God. In fact, the whole structure of the creation story, I like to tell people, just to have some fun, that the creation story, actually, the high point is when the woman's created, 'cause it finishes the sequence. It completes the sequence, and there's something missing until she's brought onto the stage. And there are other elements of the way that works, too, the whole role that the woman is said to have as being a helper, which we tend to interpret in a very soft kind of way.
Sandra Glahn
Hamburger Helper, [crosstalk] helper, yeah.
Darrell Bock
Exactly, it is actually a very strong word; it's a word that's used to describe what God does. So it's not this kind of, you know, 98-pound weakling look, but it's actually, it really does complete the puzzle. And they were designed to function together as a team that complemented one another, with the recognition they needed one another in order to do that. And when you do that, of course, that puts pressure on building towards the family, et cetera, but the point is that its design is generic. It's not just about families; it's about how God has made the creation and how he's made men and women, and they're supposed to function alongside each other. So there's a huge theological base, here, that we're talking about.
Sandra Glahn
I saw a piece of research on boards, that came out after the whole Wall Street scandal. And the question was posed, okay, these were all-male boards that were unethical – what would happen if you had all-female boards? Research said just as unethical. The more ethical boards had men and women working together. Again, I think it goes back to Genesis: in some mysterious way – it's not just marriage, it's, we were made to partner together as we're having dominion.
Darrell Bock
What I find fascinating – and I think I've become more sensitive to this in the last eight-ten years, but – we recently did a chapel, as we often do, and I purposely put one of our New Testament faculty members, who's female, on the team. We were discussing the infancy material, and so, there's standard conversations you have about Jesus' birth, and there's the census, and what life's like in the First Century, and just all kinds of variety of things that you normally go through to try and paint the backdrop. And we're about halfway through this chapel, about 30 minutes, and Terry Moore, who I had asked to do it, spoke up and said, "Well, let me tell you a little bit about childbirth in the Greco-Roman world," you know. And I'm sitting here going –

And the moment she went there, I went, "You know, I don't know how many times I've gone through this passage; I don't know how many details of everyday life I've thought about – " I have at least thought about, you know, how old was this girl when this was all going on, and the context of the culture, which socks people, 'cause she's a very young teenager, in all likelihood. And so, I am telling people, you know, she's in the seventh of eighth grade, which blows people away to start off with. But the one thing I had not thought about to probe at all was? How childbirth works. And she had done, so she spent about four or five minutes in this chapel, talking about what it was like to be a woman in the ancient world getting ready to bear your first child.

You know, an angle I would, for lack of a better, I would have been completely – I was completely oblivious, it was not on my radar, I hadn't thought about it, it wasn't a place I very naturally go, obviously. And I was so grateful that she was there, because it added a whole other important dimension to the story. And because of how God made her, she had sensitivities that naturally went there, that, you know, I'm not going there unless someone taps me on the shoulder and said, "Hey – " you know? And so –
Sandra Glahn
But you asked, "What can the church do? What can we tell pastors?" That's a great example of looking at everyone in your congregation, and their gifts, and what voices are we not hearing, and where can we plug in some of these infertility patients who could do great work on a missions board, or great work on a, you know, whatever. Instead of just assuming there are certain roles that those women can fill – or men, too. I mean, this is a crisis for men, it's just more of a quieter crisis [crosstalk].
Darrell Bock
Yeah, I think that's true, and like I say, it's an area that impacts people. But I think one of the reasons – and in fact, it's one of the rationales for doing the podcast – is that, unless you have gone through it or been very close to someone who's gone through it, you don't know what it is to go through it. I mean, it's just – and so, to make people aware of this being, often, a significant battle in people's lives, in terms of how they see themselves and what they're about, is an important thing to realize. Okay, well, I wanna turn our attention a little bit – and we'll come back to this, 'cause I think on the other side there's still more to say. But I'd like to dive in to kind of this story, and this is gonna be a hard conversation, in some ways, 'cause I'm gonna ask kind of to walk us through the process of what this is like to go through. And Julie, we probably have time just for your story on the first half, and then on the other end of the break we'll pick up Sandy's story.

So let's talk about it. So, you came from this huge family, right, and you were expecting this to happen, and you had time to, "Okay, we've got our time for us – " It sounds like a title of a soap opera [crosstalk]. [Laughter]
Sandra Glahn
"A time for us – " yeah, I think it's a –
Julie Shannon Fuller
There's a song – I'll remember the movie in a minute.
Sandra Glahn
Yeah – love story.
Julie Shannon Fuller
Romeo and Juliet [crosstalk], yes, yes. [Laughter]
Darrell Bock
Exactly right, okay, and you say, "Okay, our time's up," and then, you dive in. And what I'm hearing, what I've already heard, that grabs my attention immediately, is that there are multiple attempts and multiple disappointments.
Julie Shannon Fuller
It's [sighs] – I'm trying to think of how to succinctly describe, because I didn't even realize I was infertile. And so, I think part of the problem is even recognizing, whatever age you are, that that's where you are. And so, again, I've started researching, you know, the whole google it, and talking to friends, and – and then I started seeing things about age and – I had never paid attention. Nobody told me – I mean, you hear, "Well, it's harder," but you don't really hear it. I'm very passionate, now, about young women understanding, and women who are in their early 30s and getting married, I'm pretty real with them about what they should do and not do. And, "Don't listen to doctors telling you to be patient and wait. Here are some basic things – please do this. Because if I knew then what I know now, I would've done it totally different, I mean, and you might be the same way."

But I had a friend who said to me – she had a friend who said, "I don't understand – this has taken over your life." She said, "Of course it has – I get up in the morning, and I have to take my temperature before I get out of bed, and I have to write it on my little chart. And then I get up, and I have to go to the bathroom, and I have to give myself a shot. And then I have to go in and make my breakfast, and it's a specific breakfast, so I have to be very care – " And so, it's just, like, this whole daily –
Darrell Bock
There's a regimen attached to it.
Julie Shannon Fuller
There is, and when you're in the middle of it, and when you recognize it, and you start going to doctors, and it's very confusing. And there's not someone that's kind of – I want to maybe be that voice of, "Here are just some basic things to look at." Because you have doctors saying, "Oh, you need to do this test, this test." The financial – none of ours was covered by insurance, and so then you have that whole piece of it, the emotional, the physical. And then, depending on what level you're in, and what treatments, and what surgeries, and all of that, then you have hormonal things going on. And a lot of times, people don't even know you're in the midst of it – you have to discover it. And then, everything that you go through is so embarrassing and humiliating – the tests for the men, the tests for the women, awful, humiliating. [Laughs]

I was so naïve. I have no pride left, for things like that, [laughs] because you just get used to it. But you have to discover all of these things, and you have to kind of do it on your own and with your doctor, so, it's really important for a medical team. And that's why I'm passionate about, the church needs to talk about it more, so that people feel – people get isolated. We live in little silos in the midst of this pain.
Darrell Bock
Sandy, we've heard at least a piece of Julie's story – what about yours?
Sandra Glahn
It probably wouldn't hurt to back up and define infertility. So it's defined as trying for a year without protected intercourse, without success, but it also includes pregnancy loss, the inability to carry to term. And it affects about – the studies vary, but – between about 12 percent of couples who are in their childbearing years. So, you look at ten couples, and at least one of'em is going through it.
Darrell Bock
On every row of your church, there's probably, like, one person.
Sandra Glahn
Yeah, on every row, there's probably somebody.
Julie Shannon Fuller
And after 35, they narrow that down to 6 months.
Sandra Glahn
Oh, yeah, to 6 months, not a year of trying.
Julie Shannon Fuller
So, pretty much, there's a big-time difference [crosstalk].
Darrell Bock
And I take it the curve in some ways also goes up, because the longer you wait, the higher the percentage goes.
Sandra Glahn
And a huge percentage of people who seek medical treatment go on to conceive; it's much lower for couples who don't. And one of the first ethical struggles is, you read those stories about women in the Bible who conceived, you know, God closed their wombs and then he opened them. So, for Christians, often there's an issue – I talked to somebody this week – the initial question is, "Is it okay to even go to the doctor for this? Or am I taking things into my own hands?" And so, my usual answer to that is, "Would you go to the doctor if you had cancer?" I mean, there are medical – 90 percent of the time, there's a findable medical reason [crosstalk] –
Darrell Bock
Yeah, just to find out is what –
Sandra Glahn
Just to find out, yeah, and just to know, because you should know that anyway. I mean, if there's something causing it, you might need to know that, you know, there might be a thyroid problem you need to know about – whatever. Anyway, we had to work through some of that, too, and all the way up through, "Is it okay to do in vitro? And when does life begin? And how do you manage your treatment?" So that's sort of the ethical journey that we were on. And I mentioned sort of the identity journey of, "What does it mean to be a woman? And do I have life? And is it okay to build a career? And if I start taking classes to build a career, does that mean I'm devaluing motherhood?" all of those questions. But in terms of the actual medical experience, I was pretty chill for the first couple of years, and it was my doctor who said, "You know, you've actually exceeded the definition."

I said, "I'm not infertile, I'm just having trouble getting pregnant." [Laughs] What's the difference? But at the time, to me, there was a big difference, like, I wasn't gonna "obsess like those women do," right? So, we started in on treatment, and, you know, it's love by the calendar, which is a total violation of your privacy. And the statistics show, it really does wreck your love life, because you're thinking about this thing, and you're constantly trying to decide, "Who do I tell what?" I remember going back to work, one day, after being at the doctor, and somebody said, "So what did the doctor do to you, today?" I said, "Could you rephrase that, or, 'How are you doing, today?'" [Laughter] It's just so awkward, and awful, and – and then there's also, the marital crisis is, typically, the husbands experience everything the wives do, but later.

And especially with the Internet, now, we can find support groups, we're talking about infertility, we're talking about adoption sooner than our husbands are, typically. So you can find yourselves on un-parallel journeys in terms of how much you work through it, since it's during your childbearing years –
Darrell Bock
What you're telling me is, guys are emotionally a little behind the women, there?
Sandra Glahn
Actually, that's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is, they're informationally behind, so they – because they're not in this –
Darrell Bock
Okay, that process is slower.
Sandra Glahn
So, they haven't even thought about adoption, yet, but you're already talking to your friends in this support group who are thinking about it. So, you know, the wives typically get ahead of their husbands. The other thing that happens is that, wives who are maybe more global feel like they need to process it all the time, 'cause it's a huge grief. And the husbands can just – their eyes glaze over going, "I want my wife back." So typically, people say the greatest loss for her is the inability to have a child, and the greatest loss for him is the loss of his happy wife. So he'll do anything to get her back; he'll sacrifice, but he'll say things like, "I'm willing to not have children, if that's what it takes," which she can hear as, "See? I knew you weren't committed," right? And so, you're trying to love, but you're just missing it.

Completely normal, but if you don't know that, you can really – couples might think, "I married the wrong person," or, "This is a horrible crisis." The other thing that happens is that it happens typically in the younger or earlier years of your marriage, and for most couples, it's the first grief they've been through together, and the first time they really find themselves on different pages. And so, it can be very isolating, as well: "This person I was close to, and we were always on the same page about, we are not on the same page about this; emotionally, spiritually, we're just at different places." So, that adds to the grief, in addition to not being able to have a child, is that relational angst of, "I'm going through this, and I'm kind of going through it alone, even if he's super supportive." So that's where I encourage churches to have support groups; not therapist-led support groups, just groups where people can get together and know that, typically, the wives will get together more often than the husbands.
Darrell Bock
Interesting, so, we really are putting out some layers to this. I mean, there's an identity layer, there's a medical regimen layer –
Sandra Glahn
Expensive, yeah.
Darrell Bock
– there's the relational layer of what this means for your marriage, and we've touched on the relations that are happening within the marriage. But it also produces – and we've suggested this already – some interesting pressures with regard to how you're relating to your friends. Another thing that I think might be interesting to explore a little bit is, I imagine this gets tricky for your friends who are having children or are raising children –
Sandra Glahn
"Survivor guilt," absolutely.
Darrell Bock
That's right, okay, and so their life is flowing along, along the path of the expectations – that's where we started – that you had, and it's traveling down that highway pretty nicely. And lo and behold, you know, here you are back at the gas station [laughter], you know –
Sandra Glahn
Yeah, so if I don't go to a baby shower, it might be because I don't wanna take the focus off the person being honored, and people might think I'm feeling sorry for myself. I mean, constantly, those social issues of, "I don't wanna go to a shower and hear, 'Your time is coming,' either" – I just don't want it to be about me. Or their child may be a grief trigger to me, right?
Darrell Bock
Which raises a whole other thing that's actually probably its own complete podcast, which is how often people around people in a situation will try and communicate something that's actually said out of empathy and out of concern and compassion, but it actually lands as a thud. [Laughter]
Julie Shannon Fuller
Yes, there are lots of those.
Darrell Bock
And so it totally fails to accomplish what it's seeking to accomplish just because the distance between what the person is experiencing and what their friend thinks they need is so great.
Sandra Glahn
So then, it falls on the grieving person to try to instruct, and you just [crosstalk] the energy.
Julie Shannon Fuller
And make them feel better.
Darrell Bock
Right, so, well, we can see there are many dimensions to this. And anything in this relational area that we kind of failed to mention? I have one other major topic that I kind of know I wanna go through.
Julie Shannon Fuller
Just real quick: People need to be willing to sit with people in that really awkward place. It's okay to not have an answer; it's much better to just sit and be present than, say –
Sandra Glahn
Weep with those who weep – yeah.
Julie Shannon Fuller
Don't pull out your Bible and start quoting Scripture at the inappropriate time. There's a time for that, but I had that happen when I was raw, and I just got mad at God. And so, there are just, there are different ways – I actually am really passionate – I do workshops on equipping communities how to walk well with people. Because I feel like they don't – nobody, I don't think, means to inflict harm and pain, and it's the people closest to us that really are the ones who do that – without meaning to.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, well, like I said, it can be well-intentioned, but it ends up landing in the exact opposite space, and so – well, here's another dimension of this that you all have already alluded to, and that I think – I'm gonna take a shot at this – it may end up being the most painful part of the journey. And that is what we might call the initial seeming success that doesn't work out.
Sandra Glahn
[Sighs] Disappointment.
Darrell Bock
So, the process of miscarriage, and that reversal of emotion. I think you've both mentioned that you both went through this, so, Julie, I'll let you start. It's about the most painful part of the trip?
Julie Shannon Fuller
Yes, yes, in fact, my third pregnancy lasted till the end of the first trimester, and so, everybody says when you can get there – and I was doing shots twice a day, and doing all kinds of things, and really working hard to make this work. And we knew it was our last shot, based on my age and the amount of time we'd put into it, and all of that. And it was really painful because we went in, we'd seen the heartbeat, we went in expecting to hear the heartbeat. And we had a less-than-sensitive sonographer who basically did the sonogram, and then immediately just started packing everything up and said, "You need to go to the doctor's office and sit and wait." And we were like, "What? Well, what? We wanna hear the heartbeat." She goes, "There's no heartbeat – it's no longer a vital pregnancy." And we just were devastated, because it was just so –
Sandra Glahn
That's the end of the road, for you.
Julie Shannon Fuller
Yes, and that's another thing, you know, the medical personnel that can't cry with everybody and they can't – but there's a fine line. [Laughs] And so, the biggest devastation of that was, "I am not gonna be a mom. And what does that look like in my life? What do I do now? Who am I?" And one of the biggest questions that I think people ask, when they're in the middle of it and then, in my case, when they realize they're gonna be childless, "Am I not blessed by God?" Because, back to the Old Testament, it's, "And then God blessed them and opened their womb," and people try to carry that forward to our New Testament living.
Darrell Bock
So the hill becomes a wall, and it's not gonna get scaled.
Julie Shannon Fuller
Yes, correct. And it's a lifetime. We were just discussing now, we're now going through seasons of friends who have – if they had kids young and their kids are having kids young, they're grandparents. And I found a whole new layer of pain of, "Oh, I don't get that, either." So it's a lifelong – it's just one of those thorns in the flesh, for life, that you have to work through and make your peace with God, and then embrace your purpose and your [crosstalk].
Darrell Bock
And it's different in your situation than it is for some. You know, I've had a daughter who's had a miscarriage, and I know what that experience can be like; I've had close friends who've had miscarriages. But there's always the expectation, on the other end, that, "If we continue, we'll get to have a child." But in this context, it adds to the uncertainty, and adds to the pain, and in two ways, the loss, but now the really more nagging – I imagine it ups the ante, to a certain extent.
Sandra Glahn
For me, I was a younger patient, so when I – we were getting close to the end of treatment, thinking, "This isn't working," and then I got pregnant. So, then for us, it was like that proverbial carrot of, "Do we stop now?" So, seven pregnancy losses later, we're, like, "Yeah, we stop now," but it kept us in the game for years, thinking, "Well, gosh, if I got pregnant, then this has gotta work." And it turned out to be an immune system problem, so my body attacked the embryo, but we didn't know that at the time, we didn't know what was causing it. So, yeah, and thinking we were almost done at three years, and then that extending into seven years, because I kept conceiving.
Darrell Bock
So, how do you get on the other end of that? I mean, or, do you?
Julie Shannon Fuller
Oh, absolutely, and that's, I think – and after I interviewed several women who've now had years of living and being childless, and – and when I say "childless," I wanna clarify that it is not "less-than" as a person; it is that, "I am missing that child." There are a lot of women who choose to not have children, and they call themselves "child-free," and they kind of push back against the "less" and don't wanna be thought of as a "less-than. And that's not what I mean when I say I'm child-less; I'm meaning, I will never fill that little spot, I mean, that's just what I'm gonna live with. But I think really truly learning your identity, learning who God created you to be, aside from any other role, just being in Christ. And then, having community, finding supportive community around you, finding ways to serve. We need to invite people in; we need to recognize women's giftedness –
Sandra Glahn
Meaningful work, yeah.
Julie Shannon Fuller
– and say, "Come in and work alongside us," not just in the nursery [laughs] – and especially not in the nursery if you can't have children. But I think it is, and it's a different process – it is a lengthy grieving process for – and with any grief, it's different for everyone. That's the other thing: you can't have an expectation of people to be over – and even those women who have kids after a miscarriage, they still are gonna grieve that miscarriage.
Darrell Bock
Oh, absolutely, yeah. And so, one of the things that I guess comes up, sometimes, is to say, "Well, is there – " It's a void, at least for some people, and so, how do you fill it? I mean, are nieces and nephews gifts, and that kind of thing?
Sandra Glahn
Change "Mother's Day" to "Mothering Day," honor everybody who's mentoring –
Julie Shannon Fuller
Mentoring's a big one.
Sandra Glahn
Mentoring's a big one. You know, Mother's Day is a hallmark holiday – the church doesn't have to do Hallmark; we can make our own. And mothering, when you look at Scripture, that's what we were made to do: we're supposed to be reproducing. So, to honor everyone who's doing that is also something that is a comfort.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, I think that this is an underestimated feature of the conversation. Because I know, at least in our family, in certain situations, the aunts and the uncles are able to do things with kids that mothers and dads can't.
Julie Shannon Fuller
Yes.
Sandra Glahn
Absolutely – they're always cooler.
Darrell Bock
That's right. [Laughs]
Julie Shannon Fuller
That's right, we are. [Laughter]
Darrell Bock
So, you know, so that can be a very important role. It's not the same thing as having your own, but it is an extended family, I mean, and it needs to be viewed that way.
Sandra Glahn
Right, the Body of Christ, where – we ended up adopting somebody who didn't have parents; we were the parents of the groom, on his wedding day. So, in the Body of Christ, kids without parents have parents, and parents without children have children. I also wanna say that something that was profoundly helpful for me was learning to pray the lament Psalms. And, you know, in America, we're in-right, out-right, up-right, down-right happy all the time, but that's the most common form of prayer, as you know, in the Psalms, is lament. And I, in my early twenties as a Christian, was taught you don't ask God questions, but the Psalms are full of questions. I was taught that you don't express outrage, and I had to learn the difference between [making fists] "Why?" and [opening palms] "Why?" right? But that I have permission to do that, that God actually gives me guides, "Hey, you're not actually ranting loudly enough – let me give me some guides," It was very freeing. [Laughter]
Darrell Bock
Yeah, "There have been a few people who have gone down this road, before."
Sandra Glahn
Exactly, exactly. But also the recognition, as I matured, that everybody has unfulfilled longings. Everybody does. And so, to grieve them, and to recognize them, but to also recognize my own mother, who had five children and always wanted to go back to college. I ended up adopting one child and got a Ph.D. And in some ways I'm living out her dream, and in some ways she lived out mine. And so, just the recognition that pain is pain is pain. We're not running the Suffering Olympics; we can empathize with each other. Even if you're a mother whose child just spit up on you for the 14th time and you're wearing a silk blouse, you know, I can empathize with that mother, instead of saying, "Well, it must be nice, 'cause you can have kids," recognizing that maturity says, "Everybody has stuff." And again, to weep with those who weep, not one-up them, not to quote Bible to them, not to tell them to, you know, "Cheer up."
Darrell Bock
So, we've gone through these various levels – we've talked about identity, we've talked about the regimen, we've talked about the relational, and we've talked about the pain of the losses. And there's one other element that I think needs to be brought up, and that is, the financial impact of what we're talking about, which obviously ends up impacting everything that's going on. And, I imagine, also impacts the dynamics between the couple. You've already talked about the dynamics just relationally, but –
Sandra Glahn
Yeah, the money comes into that.
Darrell Bock
– money comes into that bigtime, 'cause it ends up – people have gotta decide the costs, and this is not – to pursue this and try and get over it can be very expensive, right?
Julie Shannon Fuller
Absolutely, yes.
Sandra Glahn
Is. Is. Not "can be," "is."
Julie Shannon Fuller
Yes, I ended up – I think I went to four specialists, and had I don't know how many surgeries, and just trying to do things that might help things, and the medications, and the testing, and the bloodwork, and it all adds up. And I do know people who are going through now, and in the last few years, insurance has really changed a little as far as what's covered, but it still is a pretty big – and I think –
Darrell Bock
'Cause you said you weren't initially covered for some of what you were doing.
Julie Shannon Fuller
We weren't covered for any of it.
Sandra Glahn
It's considered elective.
Julie Shannon Fuller
And we never did IVF; we did all the way up to. And so, in vitro, I think, now is at about $10,000.00 a try, and I'm gonna say, I know a lot of people who have had to try that two and three and more times. So, it is very costly, and that adds a whole, you know, they say that financial is the biggest fight couples have. And so, that puts that whole emphasis on the money, which is sad, but it does, because you can – and I think that the emotional and the financial get caught up. Because earlier when you said, "I'm not gonna be one of those women," and I laughed, because you find yourself – I had a good, good, close person who said, "Draw your line in the sand early. You two sit together and decide where are you drawing your financial line in the sand." Because once you get caught up in the emotions of it, and the tests, and the loss, you're gonna wanna just put money, and money, and money, and borrow money, and she said, "That will harm your marriage." And that was one of the best pieces of advice I got. I mean, would you agree with that?
Sandra Glahn
Well, yes and no. In our situation where we were ready to quit and then there was a miscarriage, we had to reevaluate that money question of, "Gosh, have we almost got a fix? Are we almost there?" And so, it's just complicated. But you're right, a real source of tension can be, "I'm willing to go this far and pay this much; this is my whole life, this is a big part of my identity." And over here you can be going, "Uh, I'm not willing to pay that much, 'cause that's gonna destroy our finances." And so, one other area where you're just not really on the same page, and having to work through [crosstalk].
Darrell Bock
I just thought of another question – we're running short on time, so we're gonna have to handle this one quickly, but: How does the blame game work? You know what I'm asking?
Sandra Glahn
"Who's the infertility [crosstalk]?"
Darrell Bock
"Where's the problem?" you know, how does that work in all this?
Sandra Glahn
The best thing probably my husband ever said to me was, "I didn't marry you for your ability to have children, and this is our problem, and I'm going to the doctor with you, and this is not your problem." That was such a healing thing for him to say.
Julie Shannon Fuller
My husband was very supportive in that manner, as well. I also know that, in my own head, I was constantly – because I'm the one that had the problems. So, I had this constant little voice saying, "Well, you know, you've got this wrong, and this wrong, and now you found out about this, and so, it's really kind of your fault."
Darrell Bock
What about the feeling of let down that comes with that? In other words, that if you're the one who's discovered to have the problem, the feeling is, "I've just robbed someone that I love [crosstalk]."
Sandra Glahn
Oh, sure, I said to my husband, like, "You should find somebody who can give you children." He's, like, "That's nuts." You know? But still, I did, I mean – [Laughter]
Darrell Bock
That's actually probably theologically accurate, too. [Laughter]
Sandra Glahn
Yeah, exactly. But, I mean, I still think that. I still, as we get Christmas cards, and people our age have 17 people in the picture, 'cause they've got their 4 kids, and their kids are starting to get married and have kids, and I'm looking at that thinking, "I have robbed him of that." And that's where I'm really thankful I married somebody who believes in the sovereignty of God.
Darrell Bock
Well, we're really tight for time, and I'm gonna try and throw out one question, but it's gotta be answered fairly crisply. And it's this: You know, you've heard what we've said – what one other piece of advice would you give to the church in general as they think about this area? Is there anything that we haven't covered, or missed, that we should say? Or what can be done? That's a wide-open question.
Sandra Glahn
Don't leave out the husbands in a miscarriage, and infertility as well. Male infertility is devastating on the men, but it's devastating for them to watch their wives hurt, too.
Julie Shannon Fuller
Invite couples to be involved in areas; think out of the box; invite them to mentor other kids; invite them to be part of families. And offer grace when they may –
Darrell Bock
So you're talking about taking the couple that's gone through this, and make sure that they are in –
Sandra Glahn
Or in it.
Julie Shannon Fuller
Engaged in the family, in the church, yes.
Darrell Bock
Well, this has been a fascinating journey. I have to say, in all honesty, when I got up this morning and we were thinking about the podcast, I was sitting here going, "Well, this is something I know next to nothing about, but I know I should know far more about it than I do." And so, I really appreciate you taking the time to come in and talk us through your story and the advice that you have. My hope would be that pastors who listen to this, in particular, and people who minister to women directly, as well, and pastors of men, for that matter, that they all would take this seriously. Because I think this does produce a terrific amount of pain and potential tension in a marriage, and knowing something about it is actually a pretty important pastoral quality, and the more sensitive the church can be, the better off. So, thank you all for coming in [crosstalk].
Julie Shannon Fuller
Thank you for having the conversation about it [crosstalk].
Sandra Glahn
Thank you – yeah.
Darrell Bock
Glad to do it. And we hope that you've enjoyed your time here with us at The Table, and we hope to see you again soon.
Darrell L. Bock
Darrell L. Bock Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 30 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Sandra Glahn
Sandra Glahn Dr. Glahn serves as associate professor in Media Arts and Worship and is a multi-published author of both fiction and non-fiction. She is a journalist, and a speaker who advocates for thinking that transforms. Dr. Glahn’s more than twenty books relate to bioethics, sexuality, and reproductive technologies as well as ten Bible studies in the Coffee Cup Bible Study series. She is a regular blogger at Engage, Bible.org’s site for women in Christian leadership, the owner of Aspire Productions, and served as editor-in-chief for Kindred Spirit from 1999 to 2015.
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