“Ask a Priest: Why Does God Allow Some Couples to Suffer Infertility?”

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Q: Why does God allow good people to suffer in pain of infertility? God said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And yet, couples go through the pain of having no children. People who are not ready, who don’t want kids, are the ones who are easily get blessed with a baby. -N.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: No doubt, infertility can be one of the heaviest crosses a married couple has to carry. The Church, in its 1987 document Donum Vitae (The Gift of Life), notes that “the desire for a child is natural: it expresses the vocation to fatherhood and motherhood inscribed in conjugal love. This desire can be even stronger if the couple is affected by sterility which appears incurable” (No. 8).

The document continues: “[S]terility is certainly a difficult trial. The community of believers is called to shed light upon and support the suffering of those who are unable to fulfill their legitimate aspiration to motherhood and fatherhood. Spouses who find themselves in this sad situation are called to find in it an opportunity for sharing in a particular way in the Lord’s Cross, the source of spiritual fruitfulness. Sterile couples must not forget that ‘even when procreation is not possible, conjugal life does not for this reason lose its value. Physical sterility in fact can be for spouses the occasion for other important services to the life of the human person, for example, adoption, various forms of educational work, and assistance to other families and to poor or handicapped children.'”

True, God gave the command to married couples to “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). Yet, children are always a gift. No one has a “right” to a child. No one can demand a child from God.

The Catechism touches on this point in No. 2378: “A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The ‘supreme gift of marriage’ is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged ‘right to a child’ would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right ‘to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents,’ and ‘the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception.'”

This notion of child-as-gift might help to explain the difference between the line in Genesis — which blesses fertility within married life in general — and the reality of infertility in a particular marriage.

Elsewhere in Scripture we read of couples that struggled with infertility, such as Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 25:20). Then there are the stories of Rachel (see Genesis 30) and Hannah (see 1 Samuel 1). All these accounts proved to be key moments of God’s plan in salvation history.

It is good to remember that God loves the spouses even more than they love each other. God is not out to punish an infertile couple or make their lives unbearable. Rather, he in his wisdom will allow certain sufferings in the lives of everyone, in part to help them draw closer to him.

What this can mean in practice is: A couple experiencing infertility may have the call to go deeper in their prayer lives. This will help them see their painful situation with the eyes of faith. Perhaps God is allowing them an opportunity to grow in humility and patience — they discover that life won’t always work out as they planned.

Infertility can also be an opportunity for the couple to deepen their love for each other. Suffering often brings people closer together. It might prompt them to re-examine their priorities. Perhaps they will focus more on spiritual goods. Perhaps they will have to re-examine their own attitude toward each other. “Can I grow in love for this person, even though I might never have a child with him/her?” (Conversely, God can allow babies to enter the lives of reluctant couples, in order to help the spouses grow in generosity.)

Infertility can also afford couples the chance to reconsider what it means to be a parent. Spouses might dream of having their own child, but what about adoption? More than a few couples have found great joy in opening their homes and hearts to an orphaned or abandoned child, or a special-needs child. Such couples also might find impetus to dedicate themselves to pro-life work, to help save the lives of others’ babies.

Couples could also look into the morally acceptable ways of assistance in the field of fertility, such as NaProTechnology.

A key ingredient in all this, again, is prayer. Often, infertility is a mystery whose answer is found only in prayer.

Couples struggling with this challenge can find solace in staying close to the Blessed Virgin Mary and trusting in the workings of the Holy Spirit. All this can help couples see that the greatest fruitfulness of their lives ultimately depends on their closeness to Jesus. I hope some of this can help. God bless.

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