IT WAS expected. They knew it was coming. It happened nearly every time they met new people, or those they hadn't seen in a while: "Do you have any children?" they are queried. To most couples here is the golden opportunity to open their wallets to their children's photos and pleasurably show the interested inquirer their offspring. But in anticipation of this question nearly one out of every six couples in the United States (one out of 10 in Britain) brace themselves emotionally. Twinges of pain are felt. Their disappointment of being childless is relived anew. Other reminders of what is considered their failure are everywhere: a friend's announcing she's pregnant, an invitation to a baby shower, a diaper (nappies) commercial on television. Likewise, the cries of the newborn wafting from the nursery as baby readies to nurse at mother's breast; a bright-eyed child looking over Daddy's shoulder or c1utching at his hand while gazing up lovingly for answers; a son receiving honors at graduation as he answers to his family name — these blessings are denied to millions of couples (whose numbers are increasing). And with this deprivation comes a pain that most people never knew existed, for they have not experienced this trial of life. But some would not even consider it a trial, but freedom! Freedom to enjoy pleasures of life, freedom from the travail of childbirth, freedom from disturbed sleep at night, freedom from soiled diapers (nappies) and freedom from the constant responsibility of child rearing and its attendant expense from birth to or through college. These are the couples who have decided not to have children. Being a parent ranks low on their list of priorities. Some feel they would not have the time required to do a good job of child rearing and do not want to risk it. Others have become dependent upon two salaries to meet their living standard and do not want to change the pattern. Children, they say, should be raised by parents, not day-care centers. But several million couples would give up this "freedom" at a shot! Nothing in life, they feel, would fill this void except the birth of their child.
Some even conceive and the birth process is on its way! The parents' long-awaited dream is becoming reality. Then — the miscarriage. "I am sorry," consoles the doctor, "but your wife cannot carry a baby to full term." New torment overwhelms the couple. It was almost in hand. Hopes have lifted and lowered, causing body stress and anguish anew. Other millions, for varied causes, never reach conception. A physical problem may affect ovaries, uteruses or Fallopian tubes. Or a hormonal problem may prevent the monthly production of a ripe egg, ready for fertilization. Inherited abnormalities and premature menopause are other causes of infertility. Some put off having a baby for economic reasons, waiting until their 30s when their careers are established and they've fulfilled other pleasures of life. Then they begin to think about having a baby. At this point a problem they didn't anticipate hits. They realize they may have waited too long — their bodies are past peak fertility, highest for both men and women in their mid-20s. They learn they may also have affected their reproductive system by this delay.
What Is Infertility?
Couples are said to be infertile when no pregnancy occurs after a year of having sexual relations without using contraception (the average couple achieve success within this time). Some find this far too long and are terribly distressed by midpoint. Yet they should not panic because only 63 percent of couples conceive during the first six months. Becoming pregnant becomes an all-consuming goal of the childless couples' lives. Basal body temperature is checked each morning, sexual relations are on schedule and vacations are planned around medical procedures. Infertility investigation may include, for a woman, a daily temperature measure to show if and when she ovulates. During phases of her menstrual cycle, her uterus lining will undergo biopsies to see if it is responsive to hormones. As blocking of the uterus and tubes can be a cause of infertility, the doctor will check by use of gas or dye. An optic instrument called a laparoscope may be inserted through the abdomen for a visual examination of her tubes. Blood hormone tests, chromosome and immunologic studies will be made, as well as scrutiny for infections. An evaluation of the man's sperm count will be undertaken. Testing will be done to check his circulation and look for any evidence of abnormal tissue or hereditary flaws. The prostate gland, hormones and immunological system will also be checked. Although it may take years, about two thirds of infertility cases can be resolved by these modern medical techniques.
Years of Fertile Ability
A woman is most fertile between 16 and 18, but this is not the best time to give birth. In many societies the pelvic bones have not reached their full extension. Passage of the baby can be difficult. A woman's bones reach maturity between 20 and 25 and conception is fairly easy, as these also are highly fertile years. Her maturation makes her aware of the necessity of proper care for both herself and her unborn baby — the new life she carries within. This is a good age for marriage. Medical problems may begin to develop between 25 and 30, but if she is happily married and continues to take good care of herself (which would include the choice of a good doctor, a licensed midwife and hospital or birthing center), these should not negatively affect the baby's birth. As she gets closer to 30 it is not as easy to get pregnant and to keep the pregnancy to full term. Between 30 to 35 a woman having her first baby is likely to show symptoms of medical problems, including endometriosis. This is sometimes called the career woman's disease — a disorder in which tissue from the uterine lining implants elsewhere in the abdomen and can create scar t issue. Hypertension and diabetes can appear now also. The chances of malformed babies are increased at this time. The woman's tissues become stiffer and miscarriage or premature birth can also occur. If she smokes, the chances of such occurring become even greater. Smoking hardens the vessels around the uterus, which in turn decreases the supply of blood needed for healthy development. The problems become even more pronounced between 35 and 40, but that does not mean that pregnancy is not possible. Common sense, good health procedures and medical advice are recommended. As there may be signs of early menopause with ovulation becoming irregular, a woman more than 40 has a slimmer chance of conceiving. Though a normal woman is born with 100,000 eggs, when a woman is 40, so are her eggs. But with expert care she can conceive and deliver.
With the superabundance of a woman's eggs, and a man's normal 40 million to 500 million or more sperm emitted during each act of sexual intercourse, it would seem pregnancy should be fairly easy. But the sperm must have open pathways in the male body from its formation onward — and all through its journey to the egg. If there is a faulty link anywhere in this path, infertility can result. Timing is also important, for the ovum may live as little as 12 to 24 hours, and sperm only one or two days. In up to 40 percent of all infertile couples it's the man who turns out to have the physical problem. Upon realizing this, the husband can have a severe reaction. To some this means that he is not a complete man — his sense of masculinity is directly involved. Because of this mistaken attitude, men often do not want to consult to find out if it is so. This behavior is beginning to change. In another 40 percent or so, infertility is female related. Ten percent of families have a combined problem. In another 10 percent of cases no reason can be found. Some physicians state that as many as one fourth of infertile couples conceive within two months of consulting a physician. This is with no treatment whatsoever. So there is a significant emotional factor in infertility. Much of the increase in infertility is caused by the surge of venereal disease. The pill is also blamed, as is the IUD, which on occasion causes pelvic infection. Some researchers believe men are producing diminishing quantities of sperm and that environmental chemicals may be to blame.
Tension Rides High
Much emotional tension exists in the home of the childless couple. By some, artificial insemination is tried. Others opt for adoption. Divorce or separation seems the way out for others after years of trying for a baby. What a tragedy! Many say they can't talk about their situation. Some women consider themselves a disappointment to their husbands and feel uncreative. Some don't have the support of their mate. Others find scheduled performances. of sexual intercourse so, demanding that impotence enters the scene. But for others, their relationship is strengthened — this trial has brought them even closer together; it solidifies their marriage. Together they share a problem not experienced by the majority. And closer they should grow! God gave sexual expression in marriage as a wonderful means of showing deep love and affection to each other, as well as for procreation. On their wedding day it was just the two of them — and after the children of fertile couples leave home, it is still the two of them! Thus in a real sense, all women grow into infertility. Some have not thought of that. Certainly the lack of children that were not there in the first place shouldn't pull them apart! Many well-known women of the Bible were barren for some time. Look at Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah and Elisabeth. Each had been barren for a reason. And while they were childless they didn't know why. They longingly waited until God determined the time that their barrenness should end. During that time some tried their own "solutions" to the problem as some do today. For those who do not conceive or carry a baby to term — those who are left as childless couples — this article is directed. After all the stress, the time, the expense and the emotional seesawing, the couple are left where all couples normally start — childless. Like a death of a family member, mourning takes place. But childlessness brings a strange kind of mourning, for there is no body over which to mourn. Yet it is real. Both husband and wife, who often grow closer together because of this problem, experience it. It must be worked on and accepted, for only then a really productive life may resume. Other avenues of expression must be embarked upon. It has always been this way — childless couples throughout history have made up about 10 percent of the population. In this pilgrimage upon earth, none of us walk exactly the same path of experience to reach his or her goal at life's end. All go through trials, and they come in such a wide variety of forms. Taken together, all trials are experienced by humanity, collectively, at life's conclusion. Of course, to the one experiencing it, that trial is the greatest. Nothing equals it. One might desire to trade one's trial for another's — after all, isn't the "grass always greener"? And childlessness is a major trial to many! It is not to be minimized. It has to be accepted. How the couple react to it is of great importance. As I write I am surrounded by my children. My first ones arrived in the 1950s. How excited I was! Thorough preparations were made for their arrival. I studied all I could about children. As the big day approached — September 7 was the "due date," I recall — I could hardly wait! All was in readiness. I had tried to remember every detail; I left nothing to chance. I didn't want to give them a wrong beginning! I knew how important that was. And I didn't want to lose them as they grew. I already had seen some of that happen to others. Day and night my thoughts were on my children. I got to know them thoroughly. Their successes were mine; their shortcomings showed me where I needed to work harder. Why should I be writing on childlessness then, the reader may wonder in skepticism. How can I understand the childless reader's plight? Well, this is why: The children mentioned here were never born of me. They are my students. Childless couples must come to look at their barrenness as a situation in life they must accept and live with. They could look for means to help individual children who are parentless because of wretched home life. They could work with groups in which children are involved. Such groups are often looking for leaders! One never knows where his or her influence can be of benefit. In earlier years of world's history, single or childless relatives often played a sizable part in nieces' or nephews' education and training. And they still can today in many cases. Childless couples must face life with strength. Expect that occasional unthinking remarks will be made by friends, relatives and strangers about your childlessness. But the childless, too, may have said the wrong words to a person newly widowed, or may have corrected, in error, a couple who were having child-rearing difficulties. Look at life optimistically. Accept your childless state as fact. Trust God to make any changes in his time if he so wills. With him nothing is impossible. Even Sarah in her "deadness" at 89 laughed when she heard she'd be a mother! (Note what this did to infertility charting!) Lazarus came forth from the dead. Is anything too hard for God? Accept life as it is and go on in faith. In the future, with your interests and energies channeled into helping others and not expended every month looking for signs of pregnancy, some of you reading this may find you'll be rejoicing over what perhaps you had long before stopped expecting! Leave all in God's hands!