the stigma and the scars

I hate to admit it, but there’s still a stigma attached to infertility in our society. Merriam Webster defines stigma as “a scar; a mark of shame; an identifying characteristic, specifically a diagnostic sign of disease.” The best definition I found for it was a “spoiled identity” (Goffman, 1963). There is often a stigma attached to infertility for us because that which should be a mark of femaleness – the ability to give birth to babies – is “scarred” or “spoiled” in barren women.

For a long time, I fought against this stigma. I didn’t want to believe people saw me as spoiled. I didn’t want to believe they saw me as someone to be pitied. But that’s a classic case of sticking your head in the sand. What was actually more helpful was to admit that people do attach some kind of stigma to an infertile woman, even when they don’t mean to, and even when they shouldn’t. So when I was finally able to say, “Yes, I am sterile, and there’s a stigma attached to that,” it helped a lot.

This might seem obvious, but for many people, it’s not. We all prefer to ignore pain and frustration, to sweep them under the rug and act like they’re not there. But that’s not courage. Courage is “strength in the face of pain or grief.” The key phrase here is “in the face of.” You cannot be in the face of something if you refuse to look at it. With Jesus, we can face these facts head-on: we are infertile and there’s a stigma attached to that. Then we can declare these facts don’t have the final word. Jesus does.  

What was Jesus’ final word? We see it in His actions on Calvary. Jesus made our scars His own when they nailed Him to the tree, and by His wounds, we are healed (Isaiah 53:4-5).

And what does Jesus say now about our infertility, about this stigmatized part of our identity? He says, “You do not need to be a mother in order to make me proud. You do not need to bear a child to make me love you. You do not need to be like other women to fit into my kingdom. In fact, you don’t need to do anything to earn good standing with God, because I have earned all of that for you in my death and resurrection.” Then He says, “Remember, you are not what you lack and you are not what you have. You are not what you’ve done and you are not what you will do. Instead, you are mine. Simply mine. So fear not, and follow me.”

As Christian women, this is our new, unspoiled identity: His.

This identity comes unspoiled and remains that way forever. (Hebrews 10:10,14). It is an identity that can never be taken away. (John 10:28)

Let me tell you what this new identity does not mean. It does not mean because you are in Christ, you infertility will no longer be part of who you are. To tell ourselves that would just be another case of sticking our head in the sand, and that also doesn’t actually honor what Christ has done. Instead, it means our “spoiled identity” can be redeemed within this new identity. We no longer let the stigma mess with our heads. Instead, we have the courage to bring ourselves to Christ and say, “All of me is yours, including this. Do with it what you will.”

From as best I can tell, there will always be some kind of stigma around infertility because we still can’t do what “women are supposed to do.” But that’s when we remember it’s not about our doing. It’s about what Christ has done, and He has made it so I can say, “I am sterile, and I am unspoiled. And I am made new by His scars.”  

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