Aching for Motherhood
This Mother's Day, Shanda Springfield will take a seat at her church, Full Gospel Christian Center in Jonesboro, Louisiana, and celebrate the occasion with the other mothers. She can rejoice on Sunday because she is a mom. But for 13 years, she struggled with infertility. That painful circumstance left her aching, miserable, and often absent from church whenever the holiday rolled around.
Springfield, 38, isn't alone in avoiding church on Mother's Day. Many find the public recognition of mothers from the pulpit too much to bear when their desire to have a baby of their own hasn't been fulfilled.
"Infertility is rarely mentioned in the church," Springfield says.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 10 percent of the adult U.S. population face reproductive challenges. One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage.
Like so many other women, Springfield wanted to be a mom for as long as she could remember.
"It never occurred to me that I couldn't conceive a child," says Springfield, who began trying shortly after marrying at the age of 22. "I expected I would have several by the time I turned 30." After surgery to remove ovarian cysts, Springfield believed she would be able to conceive a child. But month after month, her hopes went unheeded.
As Springfield and her husband Jason continued to pray for a child, she found herself surrounded by friends and family members announcing their pregnancies.
"I couldn't take one more baby shower," Springfield says. Approaching a decade of barrenness in marriage, she began to question her faith. Springfield questioned whether God had forgotten her. Or if she had committed some terrible sin for which the Lord punished her.
"I asked God why me?" Springfield says. "I was a good Christian woman who loved the Lord. So why would God withhold this blessing?" Springfield concluded that she had failed as a woman.
Even though they have three children, Heather and Chris Riggleman understand those feelings. Heather Riggleman, 33, attends New Life Assembly in Kearney, Nebraska, and deals with secondary infertility. After a devastating miscarriage and diagnoses of endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome, she began to question why she could no longer conceive.
"What made it worse were the comments I received," says Riggleman, who has been married 16 years. "People didn't understand because I was already a mom. I had good Christians tell me that my family was complete and that it wasn't God's will for me to have any more children."
Riggleman would welcome additional offspring.
"God hasn't removed that desire from my heart," she says. Although Riggleman tried fertility treatments, she ultimately determined she didn't feel comfortable with in vitro fertilization (IVF). The Assemblies of God notes that artificial reproductive technology is an area fraught with concern.
But Steve and Tammy Domark, who attend Calvary Church in Naperville, Illinois, prayed about IVF after a year of infertility and felt at peace with pursuing the option. Tammy, 44, now has four healthy children -- ages 7 to 11 -- all through IVF. She found the three years of struggling with infertility to be sorrowful.
"I never experienced miscarriage, so I can't imagine," Domark says. "But I suffered. And other women truly suffer."
However, like Riggleman, Springfield briefly tried fertility treatments but ultimately sensed God didn't want her to pursue motherhood that way. She and her husband looked into adopting a baby from an agency, but found the process too expensive. By age 32, at the 10-year-mark in marriage, she finally asked God for peace to accept that she may never be a mother.
"I told God that if He never gave me children, I would love Him and praise Him anyway," says Springfield, who is attending Southwestern Assemblies of God University via distance education with hopes of eventually becoming an elementary schoolteacher.
Three years later, she and her husband received a call that a baby had just become available for placement for immediate adoption. A doctor friend knew of an eight-month-old boy whose grandparents asked the doctor to find him a good home. Within three days, Springfield had become a mother.
"God remembered me, just like He remembered Hannah," Springfield says. "He may not have opened my womb, but He opened my heart."
Springfield says she loves being a mother to Asa, who is now 3. But she also distinctly remembers her struggle with infertility and continues to ache for those who still suffer.
"The experience has made me more compassionate and aware of how other women hurt," Springfield says. She urges pastors to acknowledge the issue of infertility and to allow women a safe place to grieve.
Riggleman agrees. She says the church has an important opportunity to minister to moms and to women who desperately want to be moms but aren't.
"Just because I have infertility doesn't mean I'm not whole," Riggleman says. "We need to listen and be there for women. There are no slaphappy answers to give them. It's OK to go through the pain and hope with them."
Especially on Mother's Day.