Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Book Review: When the Cradle is Empty

When the Cradle is Empty is a book about infertility written by John and Sylvia Van Regenmorter and published by Focus on the Family and Tyndale.  When I decided a few months ago I wanted to read a book on the subject of infertility, I became overwhelmed by the options.  This actually was the first one I had perused before I gave up the search.  A couple of weeks ago, I went back and ordered this book, along with another.

The authors seek to answer tough questions about infertility, including chapters on the journey, the pain, holidays, marriage, family and friends' questions, prayer, treatments, miscarriage, infant death, secondary infertility, adoption, and moving on.  Yes -- it covers the whole spectrum.  In some ways it is an overview of information, but in other ways it speaks directly to the couple struggling to find words and explanations for what they feel.

The first few chapters were the hardest to get through because they were the most painful to read.  Chapter 1, "A Journey Begins," outlines the seven steps most couples go through in their process of infertility and pain.  I read this chapter through tears -- it seemed someone had peered into my life and written down my journey thus far.  Chapter 2, "Pitfalls Along the Path," opened up some wounds I've tried to close forever, such as the guilt over using "the pill," waiting too long to seek professional help, and playing the blame game.  Chapter 3, though only a few pages long, spoke of the loneliness and hopelessness of infertility, attempting to shed light on the question we've asked: "Why Does Infertility Hurt So Much?"

It seems the authors had intended those first few chapters to pry open their readers' hearts--as if this needs to be done!  They quote from Phil Nienhuis, a professional family therapist, who says, "One cannot begin to recover from pain, until he or she is willing to own the pain and acknowledge that it is real" (33).  Hope and help are on the way, they promise, in the subsequent chapters.

Chapters four through fifteen do indeed offer hope and help.  Some of the help is very practical, such as a list of agencies and organizations that provide infertility counseling and services; or the explanation of the different types of ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology); or the steps a couple goes through in the process of adoption.  Some of the help is spiritual, such as verses and stories that encourage and speak directly toward a hurting heart.  Some of the help is just plain common-sense, such as advising couples to recognize their boundaries or giving couples words to say when the inevitable questions come or even setting time-limits to how much time they spend talking about infertility.  And then, thankfully, some of the help isn't really help at all.  It's simply experienced people reminding couples that there may not be easy answers or fix-all band-aids, and that's okay.  We may never know the "why's" of infertility, but God is with us, and He is guiding this seemingly unsteady path.  The reminder of hope is always welcome.

For me, the book was encouraging because--as I already said--the authors provided me with words I haven't been able to find.  They shed light on emotions I haven't taken time to recognize or pains I haven't been willing to acknowledge.  It's all been there, of course, but there is something freeing about reading just what you want to say.

I also was encouraged because of some of the difficulties shared that I haven't had to deal with.  My husband, for example, is right there with me in all of this, which is a blessing.  He doesn't shut down or try to fix things and move on.  He feels the pain and sorrow just as I do.  We truly carry this together, and I know not all women have that support.  My close friends and family are sensitive and careful with me.  They think of me when sharing their pregnancies or joys of their children; they ask me about my hopes and desires; they pray for me.  And, although I hesitate to write this, there is another excruciating element of infertility I haven't had to bear: I haven't had to experience the pain of miscarriage.  I grieve over an empty womb, but not over a heartbeat that stopped.

I definitely recommend this book, not only to couples facing infertility but to their families and friends who may want a closer look into their hearts.  Not everything resonated with me, of course, but enough of it did that I would suggest anyone wanting to understand us better to read it.

I'll take some time over the next few weeks to share some of the things that stood out especially to me, but I thought I'd end with this one line that is just brilliant:

"Any comment beginning with 'at least' is likely to be unhelpful" (121).

How true is that?  "At least you're happily married." "At least you're healthy." Or--for my friends who have tasted the pain of miscarriage, infant loss, or secondary infertility--"At least you got pregnant."  "At least you have one."

Thank you, God, for caring about all, even the least of all.

To order the book from Bethany Christian Services, click here.


  1. Isn't it a wonderful feeling when you know other's are going through the same struggles and heartache as you? Knowing you are "normal" whatever that is right? I was not as blessed as you to find a book on infertility in the 70's. I would have loved that information, and to know I was not alone in my journey. Bless your sweet heart Candace. Rick and I will always have you and Rob in our hearts and prayers.

  2. "I grieve over an empty womb, but not over a heartbeat that stopped." This is a beautiful sentence and it's sweet that you can find some grace. I would like to read this book. Would you like to lend it to me?