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Homosexual rights activists gain influence in public schools (10/17/04)

Church’s prayer births children’s ministry (10/17/04)

Partner program revitalizes dying church (10/10/04)

Church music festival attracts variety of visitors (10/10/04)

Churches urge compassion for alienated smokers (9/19/04)

Youth ride wooden waves in church parking lots (9/12/04)

A/G, COGIC join forces through inner-city campus (9/12/04)

Christians respond to victimized women and children (8/29/04)

Growing slavic church shares new facility (8/29/04)

Couple embarks on capitol prayer tour (8/29/04)

ADHD requires multifaceted treatment approach (8/22/04)

Small congregation grows — by planting churches (8/22/04)

‘Under God’ stays in Pledge of Allegiance, at least for now (8/8/04)

Church reaches out to those feeling loss (8/8/04)

Churches act pre-emptively to reduce risk of abuse (7/25/04)

Credit cards ensnare record number of Americans (7/25/04)

Church helps out with donated CD, recycled buses (7/25/04)

New wave of pastors minister to emerging adults (7/18/04)

‘Walking Witnesses’ raise thousands for missions (7/18/04)

Healing center offers alternative medicine (7/18/04)

Growing number of Hispanics impact economy (7/11/04)

'Busy' couple finds time for compassion ministry (7/11/04)

Hand-copied Bible leaves 40-year legacy (7/11/04)

Pastor ends hunger strike when strip club promises to sell (6/27/04)

‘Military survival kit’ requests inundate A/G (6/27/04)

Fourth of July outreach draws thousands (6/27/04)

Drivers warned to steer clear of distractions (6/27/04)

Pastors face more counseling demands (6/20/04)

Church uses touch of ‘flavor’ to reach community (6/20/04)

Outrageous self-expression often starts, stops at home (6/13/04)

Runner raises $5,200 for Convoy of Hope (6/13/04)

Euphemisms tempt Christians to conveniently shed sin, guilt (5/30/04)

Funds for Easter play buy groceries instead (5/30/04)

Identity theft threatens millions of Americans (5/23/04)

Spanish speakers face challenges, opportunities in United States culture (5/16/04)

Health experts implore Americans to get fit (5/9/04)

Leaders say Christian faith stems recidivism (4/25/04)

Riders feel at home in Orlando sanctuary (4/18/04)

Churches try to keep human touch with new media (4/11/04)

Christians see Passion as ministry opportunity (3/28/04)

Tutoring improves lives, opens doors for evangelism (3/21/04)

Cybertheft costly — especially for Christians (3/14/04)

A/G women seize new ministry opportunities (2/29/04)

Investment in early spiritual maturity reaps rewards (2/22/04)

Christian families respond to foster care opportunities (2/15/04)

Childless couples grapple with emotional roller coaster, faith challenges (2/8/04)

Few men seek help from abortion grief, guilt (1/18/04)

Women who answer God's call provide valuable local ministries (1/11/04)

2003 PE Report stories

Frontline Reports

2002 PE Report stories

2001 News Digest stories

2000 News Digest stories

Childless couples grapple with emotional roller coaster, faith challenges

By Ashli O’Connell (2/8/04)

Donald and Tracey had dated since high school. They put off marriage until they finished college and wed in 1995. Like many couples, they looked forward to raising a family. But three months after their wedding, Tracey suffered kidney failure. She endured four years of dialysis.

Tracey, now 31, eventually underwent a kidney transplant that saved her life but left her with a damaged fallopian tube and scar tissue on her left ovary. Because her right ovary had been removed earlier, the couple knew their chances of conceiving had diminished considerably.

A fertility specialist in Jackson, Miss., confirmed their worst fears: Donald and Tracey (last name withheld) have less than a 12 percent chance of conceiving. Even if Tracey becomes pregnant, it is highly unlikely that she could carry a baby to term.

According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2.1 million U.S. married couples are infertile. An additional 6.1 million women — about 10 percent of the reproductive-age population — have an “impaired ability to have children.”

Most infertile couples can be treated with conventional medication or surgery. Those who can’t must choose between in vitro fertilization, adoption or relinquishing their dreams of raising a family.

Fertility issues are significant for Christian couples. Is in vitro fertilization an ethical solution? Is adoption a rejection of God’s promise for a biological child? Are couples putting their own dreams ahead of God’s plan if they choose not to adopt? Whatever a couple decides, experts agree that family, friends and the church can play a vital role in support and healing.

“People don’t realize infertility is a monthly roller coaster ride,” Tracey says. “You build up faith, get disappointed and then the ride starts over again the next month. There are few people who understand these issues, unless they have been through it.”

According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, less than 5 percent of infertile couples choose in vitro fertilization, a costly procedure not usually covered by insurance. Conditions in which IVF is considered the most effective choice include blocked, severely damaged or absent fallopian tubes, or severe abnormality of the sperm. IVF also can be used to circumvent infertility caused by endometriosis (misplaced tissue in the female reproductive organs), age-related infertility, or unexplained infertility of long duration.

“Two ethical issues arise with IVF,” says Christina Powell, 36, a medical research scientist and a credentialed Assemblies of God minister in Boston. “These are the production of ‘extra’ embryos which may not all be implanted in the uterus, and the possibility of selective reduction (abortion of one or more fetuses) being recommended if multiple embryos develop during one pregnancy. For the Christian couple, all decisions must be made in light of the sanctity of human life, with the realization that embryos represent the beginning of a new human life.”

Alternate methods of assisted-reproduction technology exist that circumvent these ethical dilemmas. One method, gamete intra-fallopian transfer (GIFT), doesn’t result in the production of extra embryos that must be stored or destroyed, because fertilization takes place within the woman’s body instead of the laboratory. Another method, an advanced technique of IVF called blastocyst transfer, all but eliminates the need for selective reduction and storage of extra embryos. This method more closely mimics the natural conception process, Powell says, but, like GIFT, will not work in all cases.

“During consultation with an infertility specialist, it is of paramount importance to determine if the doctor shares or at least is willing to respect your values regarding the sanctity of human life,” Powell says.

Couples who do not see IVF as a viable option often pursue adoption instead.

Ed Crawford, administrator of the Assemblies of God’s Highlands Child Placement Services and Maternity Home in Kansas City, Mo., has seen hundreds of couples fulfill their longing for a child through adoption. “Adoption is an everybody-wins situation,” says Crawford. “A child is granted the gift of life. A young lady, unprepared for parenthood, is able to provide a loving two-parent family for her child. A young couple, unable to give birth, have the longing of their hearts fulfilled.”

Adoption, like IVF, can also be cost-prohibitive and there are some risks involved. “Background information and medical histories may not be complete, particularly on the biological father,” says Crawford. “There is also the curiosity of adopted children to know their roots that sometimes causes anxiety for adoptive parents. But, as any adoptive couple will attest, the fulfillment and joys of parenting far outweigh the minimal risks that may accompany an adoption.”

Adoption was the answer to a longtime struggle to have a child for National Evangelists Representative James O. Davis and his wife, Sheri Renee. The Davises suffered the devastating loss of two pre-term infants before they adopted 14-month-old Olivia XiaXu from China.

“Adoption is not God’s second best for our lives,” James says. “Since that day, her world and our world have completely changed forever.”

Childlessness is more than a physical and financial issue. Infertile couples not only require help in determining the medical factors causing their infertility, but they also need support for emotional and spiritual issues. “The grief experienced by those struggling with infertility challenges is real, often deep and sometimes shrouded in silence,” Powell says.

Donald and Tracey live with some level of that grief every day. “It’s hard to encourage yourself after being disappointed for the 200th time,” Tracey says.

A struggle with fertility also can disrupt a marriage. Months of failed attempts at conception invariably take a toll on a couple’s relationship.

“Infertile couples are at risk for marital tension that could lead to divorce,” says David P. Mann, a professional clinical counselor at EMERGE Ministries in Akron, Ohio.

Mann, who had a personal experience with infertility with his wife, Renee, says childless couples sometimes become more focused on conceiving than on nurturing their relationship. “The pursuit of having a baby can put more emphasis on the possibility of adding another member to the family than on cherishing the person God has already given you — your mate,” he says.

Mann, 46, recommends infertile couples focus their energy on the marriage relationship and keeping communication lines open. “Couples can prepare for the emotional roller coaster ride by acknowledging it and making it a priority to check in with each other, allowing the other to talk about what they are feeling and praying together,” he says. “This is a time when questions of faith arise. Couples need to feel safe sharing their questions with each other and know that their faith is not weak because of those questions.”

Though Mann and his wife couldn’t conceive and chose not to adopt or attempt IVF, they found healing. “There came a moment of acceptance,” says Renee, 48. “No more tests, no more surgeries. We have learned to be content with what we do have, and God has given us so much.”

Like Donald and Tracey, the Manns believe infertile couples need support from other Christians. “We need to acknowledge the loss infertile couples go through,” says Renee. “The loss may be through never conceiving, failed attempts in treatments, miscarriages or stillborn births. These couples go through a grieving process and it is important that their loss is acknowledged.”

Prayer is certainly a powerful resource for infertile Christian couples. Cedar Park Church in Bothell, Wash., has been praying for infertile couples on the last Sunday of January for several years. The event at the Assemblies of God church is called Presentation Sunday in commemoration of the presentation of Jesus in the temple 40 days after His birth. Many churches around the country have joined them in praying for couples who are desiring to have children. More than 185 babies are known to have been born in response to Presentation Sunday prayer services.

In time, couples unable to conceive may find fulfillment in adoption or in a greater freedom to minister compared to couples with parenting responsibilities. “However, those who desire to offer support to infertile couples should not rush them to the place of resolution and healing,” Powell says. “Listening is more important than offering solutions or attempting to make things better.”

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