I could tell she was nervous. She laughed a little too easily, a little too mechanically, kind of like an animated Eskimo in the Disney World “It’s a Small World” ride. Her husband was calm, a little too calm, patting his wife’s knee and speaking in a soothing, almost therapist-like voice. We didn’t know them well, but they’d asked to visit that night to talk about infertility. They’d known my wife, Maria, and I had lived through years of it, and they wanted to seek our advice about reproductive technology. The doctors they were seeing had given up on the more routine infertility treatments and were now counseling some extreme measures, such as in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination. They were worried, it became clear as we sipped coffee and ate banana pudding, about the cost.

“Why don’t you adopt?” I said. “For the amount of money the doctors are asking for this, you could adopt two children. And you wouldn’t have the risk of continually failed treatments.” The wife’s eyes darted back and forth from her husband to her coffee cup.

“Well,” she said. “We’d love to adopt … you know, someday. We think it’s a great thing. But first we want to have our own kids. I am happy to adopt, but I want that first baby to be mine.” The husband followed up, elaborating on what she’d said. They loved the idea of adoption, but they really wanted to be able to see their own eyes staring up at them in the face of their child. I put down my coffee cup and leaned forward.

“So, here’s the question,” I asked. “Do you want most of all to be parents, or do you want most of all to be conservators of your genetic material?”

Maria fidgeted in her chair, giving me the look that means, “Are you going to be this rude to our guests?” She was right. I felt the liberty to be so blunt, however, because I’d had almost the exact same thought process this couple had, and I’d wished I’d had someone there to pop me on the jaw. I knew the fear in their faces because I’d seen it in mine. But I also knew the joy they were bypassing because I almost passed it up too.

Remaining open to adoption

The special toll that infertility can take on humans, who are designed to welcome children, also means that infertile couples are often reluctant to think about adoption, at least at first. The couple we counseled in our living room said they felt as though adoption was “long-term babysitting.” That’s a common sentiment, one that I shared myself at the beginning. Adoption seems to many infertile couples (including Christians) to be a second-best option for those who can’t in any other way have children “of our own.”

So, if you’re infertile but reluctant to adopt, what should you do?

Recognize that this doesn’t make you a horrible person, and it doesn’t mean you’re not going to adopt eventually. If you’re a follower of Jesus, you know that the human heart is an awfully complicated set of emotions and motivations. You also know who is Lord over it.

Pray and ask the Father to show you whether you should adopt. Ask him, if it’s his will for you to be a mother or father through adoption, to give you a desire for it. Ask God to expose any sin or weakness in your life that could hold you back from adopting. Ask him for wisdom in making this decision. He’ll do it.

Don’t do this alone. Ask your close friends—and older saints in the faith—to join with you in praying for God’s will in all this. Freely confess to them your confusion and ambiguity about adoption and request they pray with you that if God wants you to adopt, you’ll sense a growing desire to do so.

Call the pastors of your church to come to your home and anoint you with oil, praying for God to free you from infertility by granting you children (James 5:13-18). Ask your pastors to pray for God to do this for you either through childbirth or through adoption and if it’s adoption to make you, as the psalmist put it, willing in the day of his power (Psalm 110:3). If you do this, don’t be surprised if God doesn’t start drawing out of you a growing excitement at the prospect of adopting a child (or children). And as he does so, don’t be scared by it. It probably means he is pulling you toward your new family, getting you ready for it.

Finally, be assured that if the Lord should direct you to adoption, it won’t in any sense feel like some sort of consolation prize. Your affection for your child and the permanence of your relationship will be as real to you as if you’d birthed him or her yourself. I know you can’t imagine that now, but it’s true.

Avoiding sin through disappointment

Infertility isn’t hopeless, but it is dangerous. If you’re grappling with a so-far unanswered plea for children, let me stop and warn you about something. Remember that your life is being lived out in a world that’s more than what you can see. You bear the image of God, you resemble Jesus, and so you are a target for demonic principalities and powers who seek to turn your affections away from your Lord. Every one of us has weak points sized up by these rebel forces, and your struggle with infertility is no exception.

It’s easy to become bitter, envious, and covetous when you want children and fear you can’t have them. Moses tells us this is precisely what happened to our foremother Rachel when she wanted children desperately while her sister had them easily (Genesis 30:1). You can find yourself snapping at the supermarket clerk who asks if you have children, as though she asked what you look like naked. It’s easy to refuse to attend your best friend’s baby shower because you wish you were having one yourself. You likewise can easily shut down your emotional life as much as possible, numbing yourself to keep from getting hurt further.

If you find yourself mistrusting God’s goodness to you or caving introspectively in on yourself or unable to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep, recognize what’s happening—and that it isn’t good. There are many, many infertile persons who don’t have any such struggles, but I did, and there are many who do.

The most perilous aspect of this is the fact that very few of your friends will call you on it. Your best friend may withstand you to your face if he or she hears you brag about yourself or mistreat your mom or boast about the great pornography you viewed last night. But, except in the most exceptional of circumstances, he or she will be reluctant to say anything about sin that seems bound up with infertility. If your friends aren’t or haven’t been in that situation, they’ll feel cold and heartless by bringing any of it up.

That puts you in a very vulnerable situation, a situation—if you give in to it—that adoption or pregnancy can’t undo. Be sure, before you assess any of your options, to discern—through self-evaluation, prayer, and counsel from godly pastors and friends—what kind of spiritual collateral damage is being done on your affections and conscience by your life situation. If it’s little or none, rejoice with gratitude. If it’s significant, seek repentance and God’s favor to overcome it—and then proceed toward your goal.

Taken from Adopted for Life by Russell D. Moore copyright © 2009. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187.