What advice can be offered to a couple who cannot have children?
This is not an easy question to answer for several reasons, not least of which is that I have no medical qualifications nor have I had to face this difficult situation. Consequently, I have not experienced the impact that childlessness can have on a husband and wife. In addition, advances in human fertility treatment means that couples now have choices that are not detailed within the scriptures and this can add to the dilemma they feel.
The question also assumes that advice is required, but this might not always be the case. Whilst some couples will really appreciate the uninvited guidance that can be offered, others will prefer to seek counsel rather than having it raised by someone else, no matter how sincere that person is. Much wisdom, sensitivity and sincerest empathy are essential prerequisites for anyone who would desire to act in an advisory or supportive role to these brethren and sisters.
Many people who are unable to have children have decided that the Lord has allowed those circumstances and they accept that as being His will for them. Unable to produce their own family they choose to refrain from considering any other option and have used this opportunity to devote the additional time and resources they have to the service of the Lord. Others, with equally tender consciences, believe that their situation enables them to think about options they otherwise might not have considered.
In summary, I believe that this is entirely a personal matter. Even though each couple should take into consideration any advice requested from family, friends and overseers, and should come to a conclusion before the Lord, knowing that they are accountable solely to Him.
Discounting surrogacy as being an appropriate option for believers, the choice that carries most ethical issues relates to in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment. Details as to the clinical procedure are readily available from reputable sites on the internet and need not be enumerated here. However, in addition to the considerable financial cost there is a moral issue relating to the embryos not used in the treatment process. Knowing what is done to these embryos might result in couples concluding that it is a process incompatible with their Christian beliefs.
If guidance is required then the husband and wife can be informed that there are at least three other options available within the UK, and many other countries. They could seek approval for adoption, they may choose to be approved for fostering, or they can offer short breaks (sometimes referred to as respite care). Perhaps one of the primary motivations for people considering adoption or fostering is the view that their lack of progeny enables them to offer a home and support to children who otherwise would not have the love and care they can show. The husband and wife will almost certainly hear anecdotal accounts of successes and difficulties encountered by people who have pursued either action but without ignoring these they are not necessarily reasons that should deter them.
The process of being approved for adoption or fostering is robust and very thorough but understandably there is good reason for this. The principal difference is in the legal outcome, as adoption is permanent and the child becomes the legal offspring of the adoptive parents. A fostered child can be with a family indefinitely, but that arrangement can be ended at any time for a variety of reasons.
Short breaks generally offers support to a family that has a child with a health need. This service provides immense help for the family and often enables a close relationship to develop between both families. In addition to local authority social services, there are a number of voluntary organizations that facilitate the adoption, fostering, or short breaks options.
We have several examples in scripture of God’s overruling in the lives of women who thought they were not able to have children. Sarah, Rachel, Hannah and Elisabeth all subsequently produced sons who were mightily used by God for the glory of His name and the furtherance of His kingdom. Perhaps a couple who thus far have not been able to have a child will, in due time, have their own son or daughter.
For others this will never happen and they have to weigh up matters before the Lord as to whether they will pursue one of the choices outlined above. The words of Solomon apply in equal measure to all of us, not only in relation to the issue being considered in this question but in all facets of life, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths’, Prov. 3. 5-6, NKJV.
In conclusion readers may wish to read two articles that appeared in Precious Seed International some years ago. In volume 67 issue 1 there is an article by Mark Kolchin entitled ‘The Challenges and Blessings of Foster Care’; and in volume 63 issue 3 there is a composite article entitled ‘Circumstances for Adoption’.
Questions for this column should be addressed to [email protected]