Infertility often resembles a natural disaster. It spells destruction for those involved and creates fear and confusion among observers. Where it differs, however, is in its beginning, as quiet chaos in the midst of “normal” life with no visible rescue teams, meal trains, or trauma triage in sight. Once discovered, it overwhelms. For Christian couples desiring to grow their family unit, infertility can try their trust in God’s perfect will. Matthew Arbo’s book Walking Through Infertility: Biblical, Theological, and Moral Counsel for Those Who Are Struggling offers a theological lifeboat for couples facing the depths of infertility and seeking to understand its implications for their faith.
Deep questions lurk behind the hopes and disappointments along the road of infertility. Doubts hover beneath the myriad medical options ranging from selecting the next test or procedure to the repercussions involved, both physically and spiritually. The experience of infertility varies with each couple and within the couple, with each individual, which is where Arbo’s book begins. He opens with the story of John and Lizzy—the basics of their meeting and marriage, and then their unexpected leap into a battle with infertility. Added to their common responsibilities of college loans, a new house, and depleted savings they are forced to weigh the medical options that might assist them in their childbearing quest.
With both a pastoral and theological approach, Walking Through Infertility presents a realistic look into the details of John and Lizzy’s encounter with infertility, loss, and the variety of decisions that follow, especially as it relates to In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and the faith concerns it inspires. Arbo writes, “Its clinical artificiality and transactional character rubbed their consciences wrong, although they couldn’t quite say why. IVF appealed to them, in a way, but they would need some time to evaluate their options.”
The book discusses the shame of infertility as well as the blame. Arbo clarifies that John and Lizzy’s story differs from that of others and specifically describes how one’s experience with infertility exists on a spectrum. No one story looks like another. He carefully walks through the emotions involved while continuously offering the reassurance of God’s love and grace in a foundation of care.
Readers travel through an examination of the Bible’s infertility stories, a clear picture of Christian discipleship, the role of church family, and a moral assessment of treatments. Along the way, Arbo weaves a thread of God’s love into his narrative with the constant reminder that the Lord has neither forgotten nor forsaken the infertile.
“I did not write this book to rebuke you or to remind you all over again of what isn’t possible. Nor did I write it simply to give you checklist criteria for evaluating all your medical options. No, this book was written to help you see and understand that God is the Giver of life. You are his child. He cares deeply about you. When you hurt, he hurts with you. This book is for infertile couples at all stages, from first worry to full acceptance, and for anyone who wishes to better understand the experience of infertility and to minister to those in the midst of pain.”
Such sentiments resound with encouragement by directing readers to God’s character, his love, and the meaning found in a Christian walk apart from bearing children. Yet, Arbo presents this information in a way that applies to a wide-ranging audience, which is appropriate as many of those reeling from the fresh, raw pain of infertility may not be in an emotional or spiritual place to absorb this message. Friends and pastors need to reach out with a spirit of caution. Emotional and spiritual pain must first be met with empathy and understanding.
John and Lizzy’s story includes a necessary emphasis on the pastoral balance of biblical truth and life in Christ with a generous dose of compassion for those facing infertility. “Pastors came not with platitudes or naïve promises that another child would someday come along, but with a listening silence and gentle presence. They simply affirmed the pain by sitting with John and Lizzy and crying with them. When finally they spoke, it was to console.”
Arbo provides structure for those actively engaging with couples in their time of trial and decision. He also extends empathy to infertile couples by presenting every side of the issue and addressing the complex questions involved. Ultimately, the message of the book is simple: “You are not alone.” And while it will assist believers hoping to process their pain with both practical and theological understanding, it repeatedly reiterates that our final hope is eternal and unchanging with or without children.
Among the pages of Walking Through Infertility, readers will find redeeming words of rescue, which offer a helping hand to Christian couples confronted with the weight of theological and moral decision-making. Arbo patiently offers rich guidance for those seeking biblical answers, truths that invite peace amidst the chaos of infertility.
Cover image by Nynne Schrøder.
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