When Unexpected Infertility Paints a Different Family Picture

I always assumed I would have a large family. When that was not to be, I realized God was to paint a different picture of my future.

As I stared into my baby girl’s dark blue eyes on her first spring evening walk in the stroller, I was in awe looking at this beautiful little creation of God. Just as the tiniest of buds and leaves are appearing on the trees around us and the smallest shoots of branches are sprouting from the ground underfoot, new life is blossoming and blooming all around us, including within our six-week-old daughter. I remember thinking to myself that this is a new beginning, a new season, and a new start. 

The initial days after the emergency surgeries which occurred on the night of our daughter’s day of birth were so dark, as the shock, disbelief, and sadness of all that had occurred settled. I remember the automatic answer in my mind that would spring forth when yet another nurse would come in to draw blood and would ask, “Is this your first?” upon seeing Charlotte lying in her bassinet next to my hospital bed. The answer to that question would resound in my ears but remain unspoken. “Yes, and last.” I am so glad to say, now, nearly seven years later, I tend to now think in my head, “Yes, and thank God for her!”  

A few weeks after our daughter was born, a well-meaning friend asked me why I was so sad when she stopped by to meet Charlotte for the first time. I remember my breath catching in my throat and her question giving me pause. 

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Yes, hormones were all out of whack given my postpartum and post-surgeries state. Yes, the events of the last six weeks were unexpected. But there had also been some exceptionally beautiful moments thrown in the mix, too.  

The grief, even now, comes in waves and hits me seemingly out of nowhere; but then again, it is hard to rationalize with grief. Social media, at times, does not help…especially when I see pictures of others with multiple children; seeing these images makes me grieve for what I feel I have lost. 

I find that I still need to work on not comparing myself to others and to focus on what I can contribute in my own and unique way now, given the circumstances that we are currently in and facing. It is difficult to not look outward and engage in the “grass is greener” mentality, especially if we set high expectations for ourselves and perceive ourselves as not meeting standards, even if those standards are self-imposed. 

“God will wipe away every tear” (Revelation 7:17) was shared in a meditation I stumbled upon at the beginning of our only-child-not-by-choice journey. I remember reading it during those first 40 days. The meditation goes on to remind us that tears are a natural part of being human.

There is simply no way around it: at one point or another, each of us will shed tears of sadness. They could be the result of a sickness, the death of a loved one, a failed relationship, a dashed hope, or a host of other causes—but they will come. While many people spend their whole lives trying to suppress the pain and avoid the tears, our best strategy would be to find a way to survive these times of distress, not run from them (see Revelation 7:14). 

For us believers, survival means trying not to let these times of pain separate us from the Lord or each other. Reading this passage made me think of the friends and moms who delivered meals to us during those early months. On the darkest of days, I tended to want to just keep to myself, to shut myself off from people and the outside world…to hold on to the anger, resentment, and sorrow due to not getting what I had assumed I would get. But isn’t that how it is?  

We have an idea as to what something will look like. But it is never guaranteed that the plan will unfold the way we envision it. Coming from a large family, then having lived with my older brother’s large family and being around my nieces and nephews, through years and years of babysitting, through my vocation of teaching, mentoring, and coaching, and now living here in this little town that is huge on large families and homeschooling, I just cannot help but feel like I am entrenched in what I had always assumed I would have some day.

For so long, I thought I was preparing for the same things. And now, on a daily basis, I am reminded that my husband and I won’t be able to create our own large family, even though I had assumed that was what was coming next for us at the start of our marriage.  

Heather, our matron of honor, was such a source of reason and hope during those initial first difficult days. I’m so grateful for that moral support and the fact that she was willing to stand in the gap for me. She also said something that really helped to shift my line of thinking. She said that we are now painting a new picture (compared to what we thought we were painting before), and it will still be beautiful…maybe even better than the original. What an absolutely terrific concept! Ever since hearing that, I’ve actively worked to embrace the new masterpiece—or the process of creating that work of art—more and let go of the previously imagined picture.  

The change in the picture we were painting in stark contrast to the one that is on display stands out especially with regard to family size. When my husband and I first started dating, he had not really considered the size of his future family; but then, after prayer and reflection, he actually wound up wanting a larger family than even I had dreamt of. Yet now that is the one thing I am unable to give him as a wife.

Experiencing these feelings makes me empathize all the more with those who struggle with all forms of infertility. I do not know what the lesson in all this is. Perhaps it is to be more accepting of other plans. Maybe it is to let go of control. Or is it to grow in solidarity with those who are unable to conceive?  

Jesus knows that we all have scarred memories. Jesus promises to wipe away every tear we have ever shed. In the beauty and perfection of Heaven, there will never be another reason to weep. Try to imagine what your mind would be like if you were finally set free of every sad, resentful, critical, or angry thought. Are you suffering right now? Does the pain feel like a weight around your neck or a dark cloud over your head? If so, remember that a day is coming when every problem will be resolved, every memory will be healed, and every tear will be wiped away. Jesus, teach me how to survive in faith. Fill me with hope and confidence that you will come and set me free. 

This reflection, from a Sunday Mass shortly after Charlotte was born, gave me hope and helped me to realize just how much God loves me for me. The love I feel for Charlotte simply because she exists helps me to see that that is how God feels about me as His daughter. I ache when I see her cry. I do everything in my power to try to keep her from crying when she gets so upset. Think of how the Lord must feel when He sees us in pain and struggling. The way He must want to comfort us and wipe away every tear, just as we desire to do with our own children, is so reassuring to me.  

As I seek being led by the Good Shepherd, I am reminded that marriage is not about my wants or my husband’s wants. As of the completion of the sacrament, it is really about putting the other person first and about looking at what God’s will is for our marriage and putting it ahead of our individual wants and desires. This self-sacrifice, this denial for the good of the other all in the name of God, is what it is all about. It is a reminder I needed as I recently prayed over the psalms and listened to the song “Shepherd Me, O God” that was played during our wedding. 

In those first couple of weeks after our daughter was born, I soon realized that I had been focusing on what it is I wanted; what I thought our family would look like; what I desired; and what I feared. In actuality, I need to remember to not be totally self-sufficient and to continue to lean on and rely on others, especially on God, by putting my trust in Him and in others through recognizing that I don’t need to do it all alone. What a lesson in humility to accept help from others and to realize where our shortcomings are so we can work on growing through our weaknesses. 

I’m thankful for the opportunities to grow. God knows the areas in which I struggle, but He loves me anyway. Let us all truly move beyond our own wants, fears, and desires and more fully embrace what it is that God has in mind for us. And let us grow in the grace to accept whatever that may entail.


  • Megan Reister

    Dr. Megan Reister, a former hearing itinerant and special education teacher in Delaware and Pennsylvania—was responsible for deaf education, transition services, and early intervention services prior to becoming a college professor in North Carolina. She now enjoys conducting research, writing, and teaching as a Special Education and Early Childhood Professor in the Education Department at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

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