15 November 2022

Jennifer Aniston and how we care for those trying to conceive

Written by Graham Nicholls

Earlier this month, Jennifer Aniston spoke about the stress and disappointment of trying to conceive a child under intense media scrutiny.

The actress, who is now 53 and is best known for playing Rachel Green in the TV sit-com Friends, was talking to Allure magazine about how difficult it was going through the rigours of IVF treatment which was ultimately unsuccessful. She also offered advice to younger women to have their eggs frozen as an extra insurance policy. Despite the emotional stress, Aniston concludes that she has ‘zero regrets’ in prioritising developing her career over having children.

This has provoked a lot of media attention, partly because of her fame and glamour but also because it is a subject close to the heart of many because of their personal experience.

We could critique the fact that Aniston illustrates a cultural trend towards making childbearing more about fulfilment and experience rather than about making families as God intended and to separate the idea of having children from a committed relationship (a marriage), with a father and mother as per God’s good design – a nice to have, but not essential.

And the comment about saving eggs is a reminder that many women like Aniston, (including Christians) put off having children until they feel financially secure or had reached a certain stage in their careers. There is nothing morally wrong with that but the reality is that for women, age has a significant impact on their fertility (typically a woman has nearly 40% of her egg reserve at age 20 and 3% aged 40).

But having said all that, we must recognise that not being able to conceive is a deeply distressing experience for any would-be mother and father. For a woman trying to get pregnant under the cloud of potential infertility, there is intense pressure to try and get all the factors right, feeling severe disappointment every month when it does not work adding the shame of being unable to perform the role you thought would very naturally be the next thing in your life.

It’s also true that for those who get medical intervention, there is a gruelling regime of trying to supercharge your body, which seems even more draining if not successful and has associated risks of longer-term damage.

All of these things take a physical and emotional toll.

As we read Jennifer Aniston’s story it should be a prompt to consider the Christian couples in our churches who are going through experiences like this. We want them to know our love and to know that God is with them and to respond as believers with hope, and even joy. How do we support them through the painful journey of potential or actual infertility?

It’s important we show compassion. Churches are, quite rightly, places where family and children are celebrated, but this means they can be an oppressive place for childless couples. We should not stop having children or feel guilty if we have large families and are enjoying it, but we need to make sure we are also being family.

Being family means we listen and learn. It begins with creating a family atmosphere in our churches and small groups where brokenness and vulnerability can be discussed and acknowledged.

Some of us can be quick to come forward with the ethical issues (‘don’t do IVF’), or the theological (‘it’s God’s sovereign will in a broken world and you need to accept it’). Instead, we all need to be pastors – listening to someone’s lived experience about what is happening to them. How does it make them feel about themselves, how do they reflect on God’s role in this? Where is the pain and the loss? And we can mourn with them and pray with and for them. And then to gently bring the gospel of hope, the assurance of God’s love and his perfect plans for all of us. We need to talk about suffering, not about it as a theological concept but as a lived reality. We grieve the real loss and sacrifice and admit that for some this is deeply painful because it changed the direction they thought their life was going. We might also need to help them thinking through decisions about whether to consciously accept they might not conceive and to look at other options such as fostering and adoption – not an obvious or easy thing to talk about and requiring sensitivity and patience.

I am not sure we are always good at this. We are sympathetic but sometimes it stops with a few platitudes. Sometimes we simply don’t care enough, or if we do, we shy away from the pain of not being able to fix it, so we say little or nothing.

We believe that God will comfort us in our suffering. So we must speak and reassure each other of the good plans he has to bring all his people to the ultimate fruitful marriage between Christ and his church, the family of God. And whether we are single or childless, no one can take this away from us.

Written by
Graham Nicholls
Graham is the Director of Affinity and provides strategic leadership of the ministry teams oversees the day-to-day operations and regularly writes and speaks in the media. Graham is also one of the pastors of Christ Church Haywards Heath. He is married to Caroline and has three grown-up children, plenty of grandchildren and a wild dog.

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