I want to talk about the lessons I’ve learned about masculinity from my experience of infertility as a husband and a man. There is a cultural notion, though perhaps not as prominent as it once was, that men ought to produce offspring. It makes one a man to promote his genetic material into the next generation. More than that, the Bible calls men blessed who see sons come forth in their youth (Ps 127:4).
As readers and friends of mine know, sexuality and sexual expression have been complicated in my life by struggles with same-sex attraction, understanding my identity, and wrestling with cultural messages about masculinity. I used to write more about this topic, but took a hiatus over the last eighteen months as a whole new facet of this struggle emerged for me. I didn’t write about it, though, because this new struggle wasn’t just about me anymore. Since uniting my life to my wife’s in 2012, all aspects of my heart and mind are entwined with hers. And this new struggle with identity, sexuality, and masculinity involves the very heart of Leeanne’s and my relationship. This new aspect of the struggle has a one-word name: infertility.
Infertility and Our Story
There was a time when I almost had to laughingly throw my head back when I would think about Leeanne and my experience with infertility. As if our life wasn’t complicated enough by my struggles with same-sex attraction, God in his providence seems to have chosen us to be one of the 6%-11% of couples that struggle with infertility.
Our fertility story goes the way many couples do, I suppose. We had been attempting to conceive from the very beginning of our marriage when, about six to eight months with absolutely no sign of conception we began to ask “is this normal?” Days, months, cycles, and now years later Leeanne and I are one of those “unexplained” infertile couples. Questions about the ethics of assisted reproduction, the goals of adoption, and God’s call on us to build a family have dominated our conversations for the last 28 months.
There are great blog posts about infertility around the internet (like here, here, and here), but at this point I want to shift focus. I want to talk about the lessons I’ve learned about masculinity from my experience of infertility as a husband and a man. There is a cultural notion, though perhaps not as prominent as it once was, that men ought to produce offspring. It makes one a man to promote his genetic material into the next generation. More than that, the Bible calls men blessed who see sons come forth in their youth (Ps 127:4). I believe that it is a blessing for men to see their sons come into this world. It is a blessing that I and many men have yet to experience, and may never experience. While all stand before the Lord, in one sense, equal as they are in Christ, that does not mean that all men will experience the same blessings in this life. That’s just not promised.
So, here’s what I’ve learned about my own masculinity from our experience of infertility as a young couple.
- I made an idol out of fatherhood – I’ve learned that I worshipped the idea of being a dad. I may have been more excited to be a dad than a husband. For some reason, I thought that, if I could be a really really good dad, I’d prove I was a good man. So, thus far, infertility has shown me that I have to worship God more than I worship the idea of fatherhood, and that leads to the second lesson …
- Take my cue from God alone – God, in his natural revelation and in the Word, has something to say about what makes a man a man. Part of being a man is being a father. But in his natural revelation, God has said that I am male. And in his Word, God has said that, yes, fatherhood is part of being a man, but so is work, and love and obedience, and leadership, and being husband to my wife. Rather than define my masculinity by my own thoughts and feelings, perhaps I should take my cue from God – if he has said I’m a man, maybe I should believe him.
- Delight for the sake of delight – There is a school of thought that says, without the possibility of conception, there is some spark missing from sexual expression. Very few people have that view, I think, but I did. There was a time when I, in guilt and shame related to infertility, found myself withdrawing from my wife. But God has been so good. Together, Leeanne and I have drawn closer together as we have acknowledged these heart issues. There was a time when sex was about conception. We have learned to delight for the sake of delight. We are learning more and more about being husband and wife. This last lesson might seem the most obvious to some, but in my story it has been the hardest and best lesson to learn.
I don’t think Leeanne and I are done learning lessons about being male and female. I don’t think the Lord is done teaching us about ourselves via our infertility experience. I don’t know how God will build our family but we remain confident that God will nurture children through us in our home. There is a lot we don’t know, and a lot we have to learn, but these last two years has shown me, above all else: believe God about and in every area of life – even in the most intimate aspects, like my understanding of my own masculinity.
Allan Edwards is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and serves as pastor of Kiski Valley PCA in Leechburg, PA.This article appeared on his blog and is used with permission.