Day 26: When Empty Arms Ache

pregnancy test - negative

(Photo credit: Konstantin Lazorkin)

Guess What!?! It’s a BOY!!


Those words are supposed to be joyful and celebratory. A new life is beginning! Probably 99% of the time they are met with cheers and “woots” from friends and family.

I would rather find a quiet corner and cry. Not always. But sometimes.

As the body of Christ I am supposed to rejoice with those rejoice. And no one wants a downer when they have good news. So, I smile and wish them well. I do wish them well. I’m not the woman who wanted the baby cut in two, so that no one would have him. I rejoice with them.


Today, would you mind if we paused for a moment to weep with those who weep?

We were about three years into marriage when the decision was made to abandon any means of birth control. Life happened; we started the 5 years of 7 addresses as mentioned in my About Me page. Next thing we knew, it was suddenly 8 years later and we finally decided to go to a doctor.

“In 8 years [of unprotected sex], there’s going to be a mistake at some point.” This is how the doctor chose to tell us that there most likely was a problem. And so the testing began. Luckily (?), we didn’t have to go through too many tests before we got a clear red light and were told in no uncertain terms that we would not be able to conceive by natural means. There was a slight possibility of conception using drugs or with laboratory manipulations, but even with that there were no promises.

So much of marriage is a give and take. I have always loved the times when my husband and I stood in the same corner on an issue from the get-go. Churches were one place that happened (we both often had similar reactions on visiting a church). This area was another. Neither of us had the desire to go further medically, primarily due to friends we have seen walk that road.

And that brings me to today. There’s no more monthly wondering and hoping. Yes, there’s adoption and that’s a huge need in the world; but we’re not there yet and that’s not what this post is about (I’m sorry if I sound peevish; but instead of sharing empathy, people tend to jump to adoption right away).

Today we mourn what is lost or, rather, what never was.

Dear Father,

There are so many passages in scripture that talk about the blessings of having children. I know it’s part of the original directive to Adam & Eve, to “be fruitful and multiply.” So, as women and men who are not able to have children, these verses sting. Are we not blessed? 

Yet, God, I know that the consequences of this fallen world lead to many broken things, including reproductive systems. I know that you are not a vindictive God out to punish me or other women who are not able to bear their own children. I don’t blame you.

But do you know how it hurts? Are you aware of the aching emptiness, Lord? That this longing is never satisfied

Ah yes, I am reminded that you do know. You not only see my tears, but you keep track of them. I pray that you would provide comfort for those of us with barren wombs and empty arms. 

The odd thing is that, in this past year, I have felt that God is whispering hope to me about this. I am not sure what it means: if I will someday have a baby, if I might foster or adopt in the future, or if I will find fulfillment and satisfaction in God rather than this need. Who knows? But, in specific and sometimes weird ways, I have found hope.

In turn, that has made it easier to be joyful for my beautiful friends who have recently given birth or are now pregnant. My husband and I have been able to minister to others in ways that would be limited if we had children in our home. The most obvious example, is the week we spend every summer at Camp CUMCITO with low-income children from the Kansas City area. So, despite the pain, I have some measure of peace.

Father, for anyone reading this who does not have this hope you’ve given me, guide them to the truth you want them to know. Help them see your hand at work even in the loneliness and emptiness. Whisper to their soul your message of hope.

In Jesus’ name,

Thank you for letting me share from my heart today. Infertility or barrenness can be a lonely road. Not wanting to burden others, the pain is often stuffed inside. It’s easy to think that a pregnant woman or a mom would not understand this pain, and then feel isolated and alone. It’s not true, of course, but that is the lie that wants to be believed. Thank you for listening and praying for anyone you know who has not been able to have children. If you think this would minister to someone, would you share it?

This is Day 26  in 31 Days of Prayer for the Hurting, click the link to find the entire series.

I’m also linking up to:

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  1. Thanks for this post. I too was not able to have children. Even though I knew down deep that it wasn’t going to happen, I always held out hope that it still could because God is a God of miracles. I had to have a hysterectomy a few years ago and of course that meant for sure that I would never have children. I had made peace long before the hysterectomy about not having children, the irony has been though, that in some ways as I’ve gotten older and I know for sure that the door is closed there are times it makes me more sad than it did before. I see friends who now have grandchildren and I grieve for the lost grand babies too. But, if I am totally honest, there is a part of me that is ok with not having children. My husband and I left it in God’s hands and we chose not to pursue fertility options. We felt that if God wanted us to have children he would make it happen, if not, then we would accept his choice. The very day, in the wee hours of the morning, that I finally left it all at God’s feet and gave up my will, I felt that he whispered to my heart that someday I’d have children to love – that evening my nephew was born. My husband and I had an immediate bond with him and have had many wonderful times with him over the years. We couldn’t love a child of our own more than we do that young man. He will always belong to us just a little bit. I know he will always be in our lives and someday, God willing, he will have children, that will be our “grand babies”. We could have chosen foster care or adoption, but the time never seemed right and then we felt we were too old. I can look back over my life and see many instances where God fulfilled his promise for me to have children to love – either students when I was a teacher, or the times we worked with children in our church, or the single mom and her children that we helped for a season. We have been blessed and I know that God always has a plan we don’t see. Still, it is hard when people ask you if you have children, or when Mother’s Day rolls around. Sorry this comment is so long 🙂

    • Sadie Grace – thank you for sharing your heart. Mother’s Day about 5 years ago was the first time I truly felt the sorrow as I was helping my toddling niece into my sister’s church and greeters kept telling me, “Happy Mother’s Day.”

      You said one other thing that resonates with my pain. There’s no one for me to leave a legacy with. I think of that with silly things like furniture that’s been handed down for years and with more profound areas like carrying on the stories of my life. At this point, that ends with me.

      • I think of the legacy too sometimes, but I’ve learned to think in terms of my niece and nephew and hoping that they will cherish the family pieces someday. And I guess as far as my stories, maybe I need to write them, then they’re there if anyone wants to read them. I guess there are a lot of issues with this not having children thing aren’t there? I tell my nephew that it is up to him to carry on the family name, because if he doesn’t’ have sons then he is the last of our branch of the family to keep the name going. He smiles at me sweetly because at his age you don’t really have a reference for how important these things seem. And really, at the end of the day, if we define ourselves by how God sees us, then I guess everything else gains perspective. For my post today I am providing links to some of my favorite blogs. I have included yours because you have inspired me more than once. I haven’t posted yet as I am still deciding all the blogs to include 🙂 Thanks for your honest voice in a world that has it’s priorities out of whack.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story, Janice! Your vulnerability is so challenging and humbling. Thank you!

  3. Thank you for sharing Janice!!! I too suffer EAS (Empty Arm Syndrome). I know that God has a plan, and His plans for each of us don’t look the same! I love how you say that so many people skip empathy and go right to adoption. So true. Having been adopted ourselves my husband and I are pursuing adoption to expand our family. However, I know that answer isn’t for anyone. I am also saddened (and somewhat disgusted) by the number of people who tell me that as soon as we adopt we will get pregnant. Sigh. This is not always the case, although it does happen. But it does show an insensitivity. I would be ok without ever giving birth, but I do want children. My best friend, however, deeply desires to give birth. She and her husband are pursuing a different path than us to have children. I have other friends who have never had children and never will. Yet, as you mentioned, they have had a huge impact in the lives of others’ children. These people have come alongside me in ways my own parents never did. What a blessing they have been to me! God bless you for sharing your heart and may He continue to lead you on the path that He has for you and your hubby! Thanks for giving us all a chance to weep with those who weep.

  4. Thanks for sharing your heart, Janice. I am sorry that you and Tom are not able to have biological children. I hear what you’re saying about the ache that you know will not ever be totally relieved.

    I believe you are leaving a legacy, that it’s totally possible for people to build an amazing legacy regardless of whether they have children. The work you do at Camp CUMCITO MATTERS. The work and service you do at Karis MATTERS. The ways you love and serve your extended family MATTER. I think you really are building a great legacy.

    I am sorry that you are hurting, though. I so appreciate the ways you are seeking God and His plan and His hope for you, and I pray that He will bless you far beyond what you can even imagine right now.

  5. Amy

     /  October 30, 2012

    Janice, I am catching up on your blogs this afternoon.. I am a few behind. Reading this today makes me see newer ways to pray for you and the women around you. That is special to me. I see how much you love and support the women around you and I am so thankful. The line you wrote “but instead of sharing empathy, people tend to jump to adoption right away” is a line I am so glad you put in there. It made me really think. I know most of us have no idea how to empathize when a woman shares what you have shared. We are afraid of what to say. I think it is similar when people die and those around have no idea of what to say. I hated that when my mom died when I was 12 years old. I just wanted people to say “this stinks”. I also thought that many times as I worked in the ICU and my patients suffered loss. We have no idea of what to say. This post made me connect the two and the similar desire of weeping with those that weep not just making some “fix it” comment. I am so blessed by you and your love for Jesus. Thanks for sharing all this and I also thank you for being a wonderful parent to my children too. Just like Alison said as you serve at Camp and Karis and Columbia. We thank God for your heart to serve and not sulk. To reach for joy and fight anger. To desire joy for others and not complain. You are a blessing and we thank God for Tom and Janice all the time!

  6. Janice, I am so glad I saw your reply this morning on the (in)courage post as it has led me to your beautiful post. I too have been through the heartbreak of infertility and I love how your honesty encourages empathy rather than the “it will be okays” of so many well-meaning people who have no idea what to say. It is wonderful when we are able to follow God’s leading and make peace with whatever His plan is as we give it all to Him and trust. My husband and I did foster and eventually adopt but we were truly called to it. Peace comes in letting go of what we thought should or would be and listen for His calling and follow the path He sets before us. Blessings to you as you rest in Him and seek.

    • So exciting you were able to adopt. We just celebrated a similar circumstance with a family at our church. I love adoption stories!

  7. Sarah

     /  November 9, 2012

    Thank you for sharing your heart on such a sensitive issue. I too am walking through this infertility journey (we have been trying for 6 years now) and can definitely relate to the opening of this post. I must admit that I am not where you are in this journey yet. A piece of me is angry with God and wants to know why He is withholding this from me. I am struggling with guilt as well since before we ever realized we would have problems trying to conceive, we started the adoption process and were given a beautiful 12 month old from China now over 3 1/2 years ago. I never want to take anything away from her, yet I still long for the experience of pregnancy too. For several years I though I was “over” this infertility emotional roller coaster, but last year when my sister-in-law announced her unexpected and unwanted pregnancy I was hit with all these emotions all over again. I feel horrible for even saying this because my head knows better, but some days I feel as though God plays favorites and I am not one of those shown favor, wonder if He truly loves me, etc. I feel like I am standing in this line with a ticket just waiting for my number to be called (the fertility line I guess-ha!) and people that have been standing in this line with me are all slowly having their number called but I am still standing here waiting with almost no one else around. I want to get to that place where I can walk out of that line on my own without having my number called and be OK with it and at peace. Just not there yet….

    • I’m praying for you today, Sarah. I so appreciate your openness in sharing your frustrations. Take those to God and tell him how you feel. As Amy said so eloquently earlier – this stinks. My only suggestion is to keep going back to the promises in the Bible. Psalm 84:11 says that God withholds no good thing from those who walk uprightly. For me, if God hasn’t given me children it’s either related to this sinful, fallen world, or that, in this moment, it’s not a “good thing” despite how I may see it. We have to trust his sovereignty sees more than we can see today, even though it may hurt. Thank you for sharing this.

  8. I do not know what this pain feels like, but I have watched my cousin go through this for years. I am happy to say that today after years and years of trying, she is a mother to a beautiful little girl. I do not understand why some have to endure, but I can say I will pray for you. And I can say I’m sorry. May God’s peace and comfort and hope be yours today. Thank you for sharing your pain with us.

  9. Maria Dupuis

     /  January 6, 2013

    I do know what the pain feels like, I understand the desire to carry on family traditions from generation to generation, I relate to wanting to use my nieces and nephews as surogate children and I agree not being able to accomplish my hopes and dreams ‘stink’. I could walk around with bitterness and resentment for the way my life is today but I choose to be happy where I am, after all I believe happiness is a choice. But having said that, I admit I have my moments of depression, I try to keep them to small doses because I know if I don’t the pain will kill me. I keep saying “one day the Lord will have to explain why I love children so much and am so good with them and yet He gave me none” The past few years I have been employed as a nanny for 2 families. The mothers are so overwhelmed by their responsibilites some days. I see those positions at having the best of both worlds. I get to play with the kids, earn money, then leave them behind and return to my quiet, peaceful home. I don’t have to save for their college education or pay for braces on their teeth. I can just love them and play with them, feed them healthy and keep them safe under my watch. But once in a while I wish my home was filled with their laughter too and wonder why it’s not. I have thought about adoption and foster care but the timing never seems to present itself. It saddens me I don’t have grandchildren to look forward to in my old age and I worry what will happen to me when I am old, there is no one younger to come to my aid if I am in need. So I pray for my health and the opportunity to work until I die and hope for independence until the end. I keep faith, my life is in God’s hands and he will continue to provide for my needs now and in the future. I add the women who posted here to those prayers now and will remember to add the people I may not know who also have empty arms that long for children. AS always, thank you for this blog and may it bring you many blessings, as you have been a blessing to us also. xoxo

  10. Maria Dupuis

     /  January 6, 2013

    I just want to add one thing, that is a prayer for the men with empty arms also who yearn for sons and daughters not meant to be. They don’t always speak the words or share those feelings but I know they exsist. May the Lord bless them also and guide them to peace.


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  • Hi, I'm Janice. I'm part bookworm and part creative. I love both science and music (and the science of music). I'm stumbling around trying to grow closer to God. Click the photo to read more about me.

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