After 14 years of infertility, my wife recently miscarried on her 5th IVF attempt. We took the miscarriage and buried it on a green Yorkshire hillside near a flock of sheep and thought about the future. We both believe that we will have children one day. It’s promised in our patriarchal blessings and numerous other priesthood blessings we’ve received. We live in an age when this is technically possible, given enough time and money, and a willingness to try egg donors and surrogate carriers if necessary. I know a couple who did 10 IVF’s and finally got one child. But IVF’s typically cost 15 – 20K each, not to mention 100K for a surrogate. It’s not something we can afford to keep trying indefinitely.
The question arises, why doesn’t God pitch in to help out a bit? There has been so much prayer and fasting on our behalf. Our names have been on temple rolls all around the world for years. We were on an adoption waiting list for 4 unsuccessful years before giving up. Statistics tell us that if we do enough IVFs one of them eventually will work. But when it does, will it be God who finally answered our prayers, or science, without God’s help? In trying to understand, we’ve entertained six possible explanations for why God might not be answering our prayers:
Answer #1: “It’s not the right time.”
Maybe God is waiting for the right moment. My wife has a successful career, one that may not have been possible if we had had as many children as we wanted. Perhaps God wants my wife to go further in her career first before having kids. Or maybe He has a special spirit that MUST come from a certain donor egg, which we will finally use during the 7th IVF, not the 6th. Maybe He is waiting for us to move to a certain location first because He has some kind of plan for the child that includes a certain school and certain friends. We most likely would not be living in England if we had had children.
But these explanation seem a bit outlandish given that God usually allows his daughters to get pregnant at the most inconvenient times, often straining marriages and relationships to the breaking point emotionally and financially. Not to mention the children born to unwed teenage mothers and through rape. Are those the “right moments?” And how could my wife’s career be more important to God than her motherhood, given what our leaders repeatedly say in General Conference?
Answer #2: “There is something we need to learn first.”
Is God waiting around for us to develop a certain level of patience, after which He will bless us? Will God finally help us succeed on the 7th IVF, but not the 6th, and not the 8th, because 7 IVFs is just the right amount of time God needs to refine us in His fire, or build an extra wing in our heavenly mansion? Where does it end? How much is enough? What do we need to learn before we are ready to move on?
Sometimes I think we see God like a genie in a bottle. He will answer our prayers after we’ve gone through a certain routine: righteous works, humble desires, sufficient faith. After we pass the test, God is magic, granting us whatever physical things we want, like manually helping out embryos in the womb. So we constantly ask ourselves if we are rubbing the bottle the right way. Is there some secret technique we need to learn first? Elder Eyring’s General Conference talk “Where is the Pavilion?” reinforced this idea. His daughter-in-law wanted a 4th child, but was having no success. Finally, instead of repeatedly asking God for another child she prayed: “I will give you all of my time; please show me how to fill it.” This apparently was just what God was waiting to hear, and two weeks later she got pregnant.
This question “what do I need to learn first” has continuously afflicted my wife. Is God waiting for her to quit her career, start babysitting other people’s kids or learn to use a glue gun, demonstrating to Him that she is ready to be a stay-at-home mom? Or is He waiting for her inner Mother Theresa to emerge, for her to be willing to adopt a special needs child from Africa or join the foster care system and help save the world? We could have adopted these kinds of children long ago if we had been willing. As a professional woman who struggles with feelings of worthlessness at our family-focused church, these are the questions my wife routinely asks herself.
Answer #3: “God has more important things in mind for us than giving us children”
God sends billions of people to this planet who will never have posterity, whether it’s because of infertility, the inability to find a partner, or premature death. What makes us think we are more special than these billions? What makes us think we are more special than the numerous single women in the church who won’t even have the chance to get married? Maybe having children is not the most important thing to God. After all, our children are really not our own. They are spirits on loan for a short period of time, after which they will become peers. Yes, children create bonds and teach parents important lessons, but maybe these lessons and bonds can also be created in other ways. Maybe God doesn’t answer our incessant prayers to have children because He is waiting for us to pray about other, more important things, like our desire to draw closer to Him, to develop more charity and love. It is our spiritual path is the most important thing, not our material desires.
Answer #4: “God answers our prayers through modern technology”
Maybe God doesn’t intervene in any of our IVFs, because science is perfectly capable in our day and age of giving us a child. God doesn’t do for us what we are capable of doing for ourselves.
This seems to make sense to me. But it is difficult for my wife to swallow because it feels like giving up on God. What use are prayers, if God isn’t going to help anyway? Why give Him credit when it does work? Why say it is a miracle? And why would God want us to waste so much hard earned money on such an imperfect and drawn-out process when He could easily step in to make it work?
Answer #5: “God does not alter the course of nature (or very rarely)”
When the early saints sold everything they had and crossed the plains, God could have been a little more easy going on them. Why did He send early ice storms that year? Why cause the temperature to be just low enough to kill dozens of their children? Why didn’t He answer their tearful prayers? Isn’t He the God who calms the storm, who says “peace be still?”
Deadly ice storms still sweep across the plains of Wyoming today. They are as fierce and cold as they were in pioneer days. But the people on the plains today aren’t living in tents pushing handcarts. They live in warm houses with double glazed windows. The people in these warm houses go to church on Sunday and bear testimony of how God has blessed them. But has God really blessed them? Why didn’t they die in the ice storm last night? Was it because of their blessed righteousness? Or was it because they happen to live in a culture that builds cheap, strong, warm houses, that offers free education and well paying jobs?
Maybe the rough, unforgiving God of the pioneer storms is the same God we have today. The only difference is that we have built for ourselves a safety net from this rough God, a safety net of warm homes. God is not blessing us. We are simply protecting ourselves from Him, from the inhumane power of Mother Nature. When Mother Nature decrees that my wife shall be barren, maybe Her decrees are as unalterable as Her decree that ice storms will come early this year. We build safety nets to protect ourself from God, and we hire scientists to work around His unalterable decrees.
Answer #6: “We don’t have enough faith”
This is my favorite explanation. I believe in the power of faith to work miracles. But that faith is a gift. Doctrine and Covenants says “To some is given the gift to heal, to some is given the gift to be healed.” Maybe my wife and I simply do not have the gift of faith to be healed. Few people do, through no fault of their own. Maybe God doesn’t want us to have this faith. But we DO have enough faith in science to keep pouring money into fertility clinics and adoption agencies. I firmly believe that our faith in fertility clinics WILL give us a child.
My wife has a cousin who did one IVF and the doctor told her she had poor quality eggs. So she gave up, deciding she would never be able to have children. She has no faith. But if she would just look into it, she would be able to see that she COULD get pregnant if she kept trying, if she saved more money, if she went to a healthy egg donor. But it is too painful. She has lost her faith and wants to move on. But we will not give up. We have faith in science, even if our faith in God falters.
I believe in an interventionist God of miracles. I have a blog dedicated to accounts of miracles in the last days. I believe God CAN and DOES intervene to heal the sick. But most of the time, God does not intervene. I don’t always know why. At various times, I’ve entertained all of the above explanations. But I still sometimes feel overwhelmed by the contradiction between the simplistic Magic God of LDS culture, who is said to awaken through a certain formula of righteousness, patience, and faith, and the silent God of our infertility.
- When God has not answered your prayers, what has been your explanation?
- Which explanation of the above do you prefer?
- Have you had similar experiences with infertility or other trials of God’s silence?