May 22, 2013

When my husband and I realized that having biological children on our own may not happen, we knew that we had some research to do to find out what we would be open to. One thing we agreed on upfront was that we didn’t want hesitations, ethical dilemmas, or potentially heavy consciences. We wanted to have the conviction, certainty, and assurance that what we were doing was in full accord with God’s Word. Because of this, we sought spiritual guidance from trusted pastors and read the best books we could find to educate ourselves about all the choices that were in front of us.

In our reading and conversations we began noticing phrases like “may be allowable” or “might not violate the one-flesh union” or “might be compatible” with Scripture. There lacked a sense of certainty, and we soon began to understand why. Any alteration to the natural and God-ordained process of creating an eternal soul should require some hesitation and a proper sense of fear and awe, shouldn’t it? Considering whether to interfere with this process certainly made us cautious. We had to ask ourselves, “Has God given us the right to do these things? Would this be a God-pleasing way to grow our family?”

What we realized over the years, both through our infertility struggles and also through my husband’s own pastoral studies, is that dealing with Christian ethics isn’t about trying to find the lesser of two evils or making an educated guess about whether the choice you have in front of you contains a “sin-full” option and a “sin-less” option. It isn’t about trying to find out “How far can we go?” It’s about finding the ideal, the perfect target, and doing everything you can to achieve that ideal.

However, our modern minds tend to be more occupied with the space outside the target than with the bull’s-eye. So what is our bull’s-eye as Christian couples seeking to bear children? It’s the Genesis model—which clearly spells out the ideal for creating a biological family. God gave Eve to Adam in marriage. Adam knew his wife. Eve conceived and then bore a son. This is how it was meant to be. Couples who are able to have children in this way need never doubt whether they are acting in accordance with God’s will.

But that’s not how it always happens, is it? In chapter three of Genesis sin entered the world and turned everything upside down. In ancient days and even now, barrenness, miscarriages, and stillbirths rip away the fruits that are meant to be born from a couple’s most intimate sharing of one another. And in the 21st century, we have seen this ideal procreation process intentionally rearranged, redefined, and even rejected. In the secular world, marriage is certainly not seen as essential anymore to be intimate, conceive and bear children. Conception can be suppressed so as to more fully enjoy the intimacy without the responsibility of the bearing and rearing. And when conception is desired but not achievable, it’s often seen as necessary to forego intimacy in an effort to medically intervene and help the life-creating process along, outside of the womb. Women today even have the option to skip the marriage, intimacy, and conception altogether and go straight to just giving birth by participating in an embryo adoption.

Is this too far? If not, where does one draw the line?

In her book He Remembers the Barren (Lutheran Legacy, 2011), Katie Schuermann presents questions that we who are barren should all be asking ourselves when considering whether to engage in a medical procedure that is not meant to heal a broken body but rather to circumvent God’s original process. “Do you wish to ‘make a baby’ at the risk of hurting your neighbor? Do you think that having a baby is the only thing in life that can make you happy? Do you put your identity in motherhood rather than in your baptism? Will your faith in Jesus be upset if you do not conceive?” (p. 43).

The various reproductive technologies available today are tempting to the barren couple. For us, after attempts to strengthen and heal the body proved unfruitful, we changed our aim to the adoption target and, by the grace of God, have hit it twice. Biological connections just weren’t meant to be in our family. No, we weren’t able to follow the Genesis model, but we like the Exodus model just fine!

“When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son” (Exodus 2:10a).

Rebecca Mayes is a contributor to the blog She lives with her husband and two sons in St. Louis, Missouri.