In today's episode, we cover the very painful topic of infertility. If you, or someone you know, has struggled with infertility, or the loss of a baby today's episode will be an encouragement to you.
Mentioned in this Episode:
Connect with Dad Tired:
The Pain Of Infertility & The Hope Of The Gospel (with Matthew Arbo)
Jerrad: Matthew [2:33] so excited to have you on the show with us today man for the audience who may not be familiar tell us who you are and what you're up to these days
Matthew: My name is Matthew Arbo I am a professor at Oklahoma Baptist University its a liberal arts college it's just outside of oklahoma city and we've lived here several years we’ve got three boys 8, 6, and 2 and they're not here at the moment but they are all over the place my wife Ashley is a non-profit attorney.
Jerrad: Wow, when you say all over the place does that mean like they're all over the house or what do you mean [3:04]
Matthew: Yeah so they are yes they're rambunctious theyre rowdy and they feed off each other yeah that's exactly right
Jerrad: I see in the general sense of the term they're just all over the place they're bouncing off
Jerrad: I get what you're saying I was just like did they leave the house
Matthew: no great follow up question they're all they're just pandemonium rocus
Jerrad: yeah that's awesome well I know I got 4 so I know all about the crazy of home life, yeah man well were diving into a particularly hard subject [3:32] today the subject of infertility this is a subject that is not talked about very often especially in ratio to how many people experience the pain of infertility in some way and I'll just say this as we start we have been walking through journeying in life with many people who we’re really close to in particular there's someone really close to us who's been trying to get pregnant for years and years and they found out they're pregnant we celebrated that with them because it was a huge celebration we've been praying for years and then I we just found out this week that they lost their baby and so that sting is really personal for me and it feels even this week man I'm like it my heart is heavy and so one I guess maybe we'll just start with why do you think this subject is not talked about a lot based on how many people are experiencing the pain of this subject [4:27]
Matthew: Yeah it is so personal and it touches us or it touches someone close to us it's a pain that we find it really hard to approach even if it's with ourselves we don't know how to cope with it ourselves or we don't know exactly what to say or how to be present to others what they need from us and party that's well motivated in many ways we want to be there for people and don't really know quite what to do I think the reason why it's hard to talk about one of the reasons why it's hard to talk about is because there is such a lingering stigma associated with its wrongly placed but it exists nevertheless um I think couples who experience it often [5:07] feel a sense of isolation they may even feel shame and embarrassment and par for totally understandable reasons they may I mean if they can make it all the way through this way but they might just be thinking well everybody else seems to be able to do this naturally and we cant we can't perform this basic biological function that seems to be really common and there's all sorts of frustrations associated with that but that's one of just the stigma of childlessness [5:34] and that can be particularly acute in some christian circles within the church sadly so the embarrassment factor in this unknown of how long this could continue I mean how long how many years need to go by before couple of person feels open to saying oh you know we've not really been contrascepting it's that we’ve really been trying but we just haven't been able to conceive and it's a real source of frustration and anxiety so that talking about it seems to in some ways acknowledge this that there is this thing that has to be addressed and then not really knowing what to do after that so those are a few initial reasons why [6:08] it continues to be difficult to talk about it
Jerrad: Why did this subject become important to you?
Matthew: Well we had some really close family and friends who experienced infertility prolonged infertility and some of them still haven't conceived they either don't have children or they've adopted so the personal connections we've had with folks who have for many years worked through this themselves and talked with us and talked about their experience lay pastor in our church and so we have fairly regular conversations with folks in our church about their own experiences and the hardships and struggles that they have [6:43] even just very ordinary experiences like walking to the grocery store or seeing a child dedication service you know that can be really wrenching experiences this for them so it's just been living life you know with people and having those harder conversations and when people you love are hurting you want to come alongside you want to listen up [7:02]
Jerrad: Yeah you know one thing you said that there at the beginning was you just kind of you don't know what to say and I have found myself in that place as I've walked through life with some friends who are just they've experienced the pain of either loss or they just can't get pregnant and that pain and it's such a deep pain and you know when a friend or family member comes to you allows you to share in their grief what I'm experiencing personally is like I've run out of words you know it's hard for me not that I don't have compassion I have the deepest compassion I just don't know what to say to offer any kind of hope and that is a frustrating place to be as somebody who's walking alongside of somebody who's experiencing infertility or has lost a child what would you say to that [7:46]
Matthew: Yeah a lot of us guys want to be able to fix it we hear the problem ok what can we do about that problem and this is just in us we’re wired to want to fix it and here's a situation which we are powerless to do anything about this and so we're we're thrown back on on being present which is for many of us are also really really hard because you want to turn from that pain because it's not resolvable we can't do anything about that so what are we going to do and the only thing we can do often times is just be present and to listen that to offer words of affirmation that don't even try to solve the problem I'm so sorry that you're having to do this I'm so sorry that your baby was miscarried just very simple words and gestures are sometimes the best thing and sometimes the only thing that we can continue to supply but I think the key is is really just sticking with it showing up offer making the offer making the ask taking folks to get meals [8:43] or whatever you know they got you at having a real strategy that that really shows our steadfastness and I think that means the most to couples who are walking through that that you're just a friend and loyal and can be relied upon and that's a deep token of love that's received by them I think
Jerrad: Yeah and I think what's important too what you just said is making the ask like it's okay to bring up hard subjects this is true for any subject but when somebody struggling I think we dance around like should I bring this up or is this going to cause them more pain what I have found with my friends and my family is oftentimes they appreciate just having an outlet to share and it's like thank you for asking [9:21] you know it's hard it can be awkward but it's hard and it is hard to bring it up sometimes but man I what I found is it it it seems to be really helpful for them to have somebody to talk to about it
Matthew: Yes, yes
Jerrad: Yeah I had more thoughts with that
Matthew: One part of that second question you asked a minute ago I think in coming alongside a couple has been particularly true I think in my more pastoral experience within our church is helping and this can be really gradual really gentle and incremental helping a couple see that their purposes within God's ongoing work is not limited to whether or not they can procreate but God’s purpose for them transcends even that capacity [10:08] I guess the conditions of the New Covenant are no longer stipulated on whether or not the couple can have children of their own progeny but is stipulated on much more transcendent and surpassed things so they can see themselves as just a different way of being family within God's ongoing mission that large way of framing it up can be helpful it has to be really careful and gentle but that's really really key for couples that are going through this [10:35]
Jerrad: I want to camp there for just a minute because I think that's a really good point and I want to unpack it even a layer or two deeper put that in practical terms somebodys sitting across from you there's a couple sitting across from you they are deeply hurting and discouraged and have lost hope and they're tying that to their purpose in God's kingdom and they're just feeling hopeless it's like what do you say based on what you just said like the Theology of it but what do you say practically to that goal?
Matthew: Yeah that God God sees you and God loves you with an open heart he is present to you he will always be present to you and his purposes for you your place in his kingdom is sure and your faithfulness is enjoyed and appreciated and he will sustain you to the end [11:27] and no matter how hurtful this experience is in years past now in the years to come He is doing work in you and through you that you cannot possibly imagine and your place in the church is as important as any other family the single person the couple with many many children your purpose and place in the community of faith is so important and so distinct and so you you are part of this family and your place as a different kind of family is so important we all need to receive from you what you have to offer and it's it's unique you can offer something that many others in some cases no others can so there's a way of taking heart and having faith and hoping in that that God's purposes however mysterious they sometimes seem they are actually always good and he can meet you in your pain [12:23] and guide you in the ways of life
Jerrad: Man that's gospel truth that's good stuff man and I think that's probably the thing that if we're just honest and addressing the elephant in the room it's the thing that people keep coming back to those who are suffering from not being able to have a baby those who have lost a baby those were walking alongside of those people is that the question man it doesn't feel like God is good right now I've been praying and I've been praying and I see other people having babies is God even hearing me is God even good why would he not answer this simple prayer what would be an encouragement to them?
Matthew: When [13:01] it seems as though God is turning an ear from us or that our prayers just wander into the void and we don't have audience we don't do we have access to the power of God there could be any number of reasons for that but when it comes to this particular experience with infertility I think that sense of estrangement and loneliness is accentuated it's sort of heightened in a way but my experience is my own and it's not like others and and not only that I don't even have the God doesn't seem responsive to that he doesn't hear my prayer and there are cases in say in Genesis say where there's a kind of them of infertility Abraham and Sarah Jacob and Rachel it's a very interesting theme in Genesis that's easy to overlook but it seems as though when you turn there it seems well God answers all those prayers He overcomes all these instances of infertility He provides the child and there's a way of trying to render that so that's you know everyone who asks will receive in that way but that's not actually the point to those narratives they are actually telling a bigger story about God's redemptive purpose and what he intends and the good that He intends for us and the want that He has for us to rely fully on Him and thats so so hard its so so hard in the experience of pain and frustration and anxiety and honestly a sort of hopelessness to see to finding God the all the resources and power and grace and mercy we need to uphold us in a day and to uphold us for our lives doesn't mean that we get some solution that God will in an epiphany or in this grand gesture or in this wonderful miracle we will receive what we’ve asked for that may that happens to some but not for all but in any case whether it does finally or it doesn't it's the place for the Christian is the same in the sense that we are invited to live with Christ Jesus to learn from him to receive from Him [14:56] thats ubiquitous that's for all a universal task in discipleship so we don't have solutions say but we have an answer in Christ Jesus that day that day that we find our hope and yeah
Jerrad: Yeah I imagine that couples often come at this from different angles that the way that the wife is processing is probably different than the way that the husband is processing and I imagine that one now you've you've already have the pain of of going through this experience and now there's another layer or if it's hurting our marriage because we're not either grieving the same or we're not processing the same [15:34] and it's hurting us what I'm sure you've thought about that you've walked through couples with that experience what would you say to that?
Matthew: Yeah the book I wrote walking through infertility I use a story John lizzio the characters in the story and one of the kind of key points in the story is this there's the marital tension that they experience because of this and it's very common for couples who experience prolonged infertility very very difficult on the marriage and often descends into blaming and vitriol [16:05] and a sense we’re pathological about that we want to find so the culprit and we want to find who's responsible with the very interesting about that is that the data shows that the reasons for infertility are actually fairly even at that so that it is often the case that it's the some problem within the reproductive system of the wife and half the time its in the reproductive system of the male and even reproductive specialists don't fully know sometimes why couples cant conceive there's not really an explanation it's not the case that sort of fits more typically one side or the other in the rush just to find out what's sort of going on to explain it which is what we want to do if we feel that we can't bear the burden of that responsibility ourselves sort of forced it onto others and it takes a mature and charitable marriage [16:52] where the couples working together on clear communication to sort of get through that and probably in a way never get fully got beyond but that's essential to the maintenance of healthy committed loyal marriage under those circumstances and you're absolutely right that men and women will often grapple with us in different ways personally women generally speaking will be a little bit more open a little more trusting with their friends about some of these more vulnerable experiences whereas men are quite the contrary and will internalize [17:27] and feel a very pronounced sense of shame that it's really really hard to articulate so much of contemporary masculinity seems to be bound up in a certain sort of family and being able to have children and that since what the person will call a failure is so deeply wounding that it becomes almost impossible to share it but it's absolutely essential that they do particularly in the life of the church
Jerrad: Yeah there are lots of layers to this onion but two of them I think we're some packing a little bit is what you just addressed one just the personal relationship between husband and wife [18:02] so I imagine there's like a wife who we’ll just speak generally you know she's she wants to talk about this or she's hurting or shes still grieving and I imagine there's a lot of husbands who were like what I find when I'm working with a lot of men is the problems over I can't solve it I'm ready to move on I don't want to talk about it I don't want to bring it up I’m going to bury this I can't figure it out so I just why do we keep talking about it like I imagine there are a lot of guys who are saying why do we have to keep talking about it so on the first layer of the onion let's address that you know for the couple was having those conversations in their home and the man might be saying I'm tired of talking about it I don't talk about this anymore what do you say to that guy?
Matthew: That [18:42] talking with their spouse about this experience is one of the most decisive ways to reform and rekindle these bonds of unity that they share with one another I mean the bond the marital bond is a covenant its a promise to be for one another's good and if that's been pledged as marital vows do then talking about this means upholding that it means devoting the attention to nurture another person to hear what they have to say and to respect what they have to say and often I think what often enough anyway what might put the man off the husband off from having this conversation is because they just cannot deal with the possibility that they don't live up to the standard they haven't met the mark even if it hasn't been stated it was always there was sort of in the Horizon in meeting this person in marrying them and so the expectations there and when it doesn't when it isn't realized and there's nothing that can be done about it there's deep deep anger that often is associated with that [19:43] and anger at the world anger at themselves and then sometimes even with their wife but those having environs safe environs in which they could talk to one another about what they really feel is absolutely essential and in developing and nurturing that marital bond which if it doesn't if those conversations are had then that bond will will slowly erode and whither so that the conversation and openness to conversation about this is just it's just so so important
Jerrad: Yeah I just want to like I really want to emphasize for the listener who's listening right now so I'm just going to address the listening right now but man if you relate to that just pause and sit in that for a minute what Matthew just said there's really big if you don't talk about it if you don't address it it's going to be a detriment to your marriage [20:28] and if your listening is podcast I imagine you're trying to figure out how to lead your family well how to love your wife well how to stumble your way forward and so this is part of may be a part of you that has to die to yourself maybe this is up a section of your life that Jesus is saying I know it's hard to bring up I know it's hard to address this topic I know you've talked about it for months if not years and and this is hard but I need you to die again today where you lay down your own life and your own preferences and even your own willingness or your own desire to just shove it under a rug and bring it up again for your wife and for her sake and for her emotional sake and press into hard things because that's what we do as leaders as we press into hard things and so man if you're listening and you feel that pain this could be in any subject [21:15] but if you're listening and you feel that pain don't run from it man run toward it run toward hard things that's what good leaders do as they run toward hard things and and that would be my encouragement to you you know it's one thing to try to bring it up with your wife I imagine that's hard but I imagine it's a whole nother thing to try to bring it up with other guys and I think what you just said really speaks to that but I'd love to have you unpack that a little bit too is a lot of resources for women to process this not a lot of resources for men to process this right how do they go about doing this with other guys?
Matthew: Yeah first thing is your friends your true friends are your friends and if they cannot hear you and respect what you have to say and be willing to just lend that ear and to be present then I don't know what to say about the nature of that friendship
Jerrad: Find new friends!
Matthew: Yeah its seems like there's conditions associated with it that means that loyalty is not really there another I think this has been really helpful for some others is finding some folks that have also had this experience that may also be further down the road you know whatever ended up happening maybe they conceived or you know maybe they didn't those couples that are further down the road that have maintained their relationship their marriage remains healthy those conversations with the folks that are further down the road those can be so helpful and they have so much to offer so me and they can even be intergenerational [22:37] you know you have no idea and you know if you don't know folks that have personally gone through that that may be further down I bet you know your pastor or somebody close by might and then there's some counselors that are great with this to it might be worth thinking about and that even focus on expertise on infertility and and childlessness and child loss those can also be options for fostering that sort of conversation but with between guys man I mean your friends are you friends they are meant to be for you and the risk of saying something that seems to put you in some sort of odd light or that may expose you as some sort of fraud that you believe you know that you fear yourself to be [23:15] that those beliefs as sincere as you may feel them they're not felt by your friends and your friends your friends don't see you as the failure they see you as you're hurting that's how they'll respond that's the thing to believe about who they are for you Jerrad: Man on both the things we just talked about talking to your friends and talking to your wife one thing we talk about a lot in our family leadership program is for guys to learn how to name their emotion so I feel anger I feel frustration I feel hopelessness whatever but to name it and so if you can name it with your wife I'm just really angry I'm really frustrated I’m really hurting [23:49] really sad and to say that to a friend hey dude can I just tell you man like I'm in a season where I'm really hurting right now you're allowing somebody to to be used by God to minister to you it's going to help there's no way is not going to help right? Its like you said if you've got the friend whos not helpful than you just lose that friend bro there's lots of people that you can get like be friends with who are going to walk alongside of you in a really healthy way but yeah I think one thing you said Matthew that was so interesting to me that I had never thought about it from this angle is that we had kind of had these preconceived notions of what life would be I'm going to get married I'm going to have kids even if we never talked about it but I like here's what we can do and now I'm not hitting that goal man that is like for a man especially that is an angle that I don't think we've I've never heard anyone else talk about it like that but that is so huge for men that feel like we pride ourselves on this we're going to accomplish the things that we set out to accomplish in our life and I have no control of accomplishing this and now I've got a deep sense of shame I just want to tell the listener again man if that's you and you're sitting and shame the good news of the Gospel is your identity does not rest on it at your ability to have babies or more babies [25:01] that is not your identity you have a new identity in Christ and just going back to what Matthew said at the beginning you have purpose in the Kingdom regardless of your child-bearing abilities right now and so man really wanted a listener to hear that because I imagine there's a that was so well put that the way that you said that and I think it's such an interesting and helpful angle to really help guys understand that you may have had these preconceived ideas of what life would look like and he can't hit them and as a result you're feeling deep shame but shame is the one of the greatest tools of the enemy [25:35] and the gospel just wrecks all of the shame you need to rest in the gospel man this is helpful man it's a hard subject you tackle it on a much deeper level in your book tell us about your book and where everyone can pick it up
Matthew: Yeah so the book was published a couple of years ago it's called walking through infertility biblical theological moral council for those who are struggling it was published with crossway it's a very short book the idea was you can finish it in a sitting or two and so it explores some of these biblical these we talked about kind of like the fertility narrative and Genesis talks about Christian discipleship and the forming of our affections [26:13] that's also the nature of the church as a community that we give and receive from one another the gifts that God's given us and then the latter part of the book is kind of explores some fertility treatments that are available kid of provide some moral assessment so that the readers can can I get a sense of what's out there if they're commended some sort of reproductive treatment they can kind of see that there's some principles they might want to adhere to but the idea is that it just provides some guidelines an outline that they can take with them as they kind of walk through this and if it gives them any sort of supplement or any sort of assistance that's the idea yeah they can find that its in paperback or Ebook find it wherever you buy books
Jerrad: Well I think that's a great resource [26:53] pick that up for you for a friend or someone that you're you know you're walking along side of life that is experiencing this any other resources that you know of that would be like hey for sure grab the book but any other are there like online communities or any other things that you like it definitely if you listen this episode and it's and it's affecting you or someone close to you here's a resource you could check out right now
Matthew: Yeah there's a book that's published with tyndale I'm forgetting the title right now [27:22] it's exactly Chelsea the author and she has a personal experience with this my wife and I are not infertile we have some close friends who are but she is herself infertile and her husband and so there's a slightly different sort of account that's very personal and felt so I commend that book and there's a couple of others books that have come at last few years that sort of pursue some of these lines of reflection as you said I think the number one place to find support a consolation and help is within our local church communities and if within your community group or with your local friends as far as other online sources i'm not aware of a lot of really super great online sources in terms of forums but I'm not sure exactly where to comment for those Jerrad: yeah so I'll have you email me the book when you remember the title. If you look it up and then I’ll put that in the show notes so if you're listening right now just go to the show notes on the website and we'll make sure that book is linked there for you and we'll make sure the top books link there for you so both the books are there so you can pick that up right away Matthew thanks for taking the time to share a little bit of your heart and Shepherd us through this topic I really appreciate it man
Matthew: Yep thanks for having me on. I absolutely enjoyed it!