For most of my life, any reference to "barren women" has conjured the biblical figures of Sarah, Rachel and Hannah—women who were married but infertile, until God graciously intervened. But as more fertile years have passed without a husband, I've started to think that single childlessness is a kind of barrenness, too.
Making a family at the sperm bank is an increasingly common response to that. And even women who presumably hope to raise children with the biological father are starting to bank their own eggs for future use, The New York Timesrecently reported—increasingly, with the financial help of would-be grandparents.
The Times story interviewed women from five different families, but it cites fertility clinic reports of a larger trend whereby parents accompany daughters who choose to bank some of their eggs. One doctor said the majority of his patients freezing eggs in the last two years had parents foot some if not all of the bill.
In related commentary on the NYT Motherlode blog, however, a 58-year-old writer and mother of two childless adult daughters argued that it was almost "too late" for the women in the story to be banking their eggs. (Of those who shared their ages, the youngest was 36.) Ideally, she said, parents would have the egg conversation "when the daughters are in their 20s, when egg freezing is most likely to make a difference." But as her own daughter notes, "To go through egg freezing as a 20-something is to admit an early defeat; to stake serious money and hormonal imbalances on the likelihood that the marital timetable may not go according to plan."
Whatever the ideal age to bank is, I will not be one of those egg-banking 30-somethings, though I'm barely a year away from what was once described to me as a geriatric pregnancy—age 35. (Friends recently assured me the correct term is "advanced maternal age.")
It's not for lack of interest in motherhood. In one photo capturing a childhood dress-up session, I'm garbed as a very pregnant mother who's burping a doll above her bulging pillow belly. Aside from someday writing a novel, motherhood was about the only adult ambition I had as a child.
But childhood was also the last time I thought seriously about changes to my appearance, in prayers asking God for curly blond hair and blue eyes. Adulthood has brought the ability to make changes to both my coloring and barrenness, but it has also brought a commitment to accepting what God appoints for me, from hazel eyes to the present singleness.
That doesn't mean I shun gatherings where I might meet single men or refuse things like dental correction. But there's a difference between wisely developing the raw materials God gives us, and trying to provide for perceived needs he isn't satisfying in the way or timing we think he should.
What do I mean by that? Development carries on God's work of creation by transforming raw materials and skills into food, gardens, buildings, and so on. I can't think of a single biblical instance where God condemned his people for such works, except when they were devoted to worshiping another god, or were carried out in violation of God's commands about caring for widows and the poor and observing Sabbath rest.
However, there are many cases of people disciplined for trying to provide for themselves—whether it was the treaties Israelite kings made with their neighbors or hoarding the prior day's manna despite God's command to not save it. As Larry Crabb describes it in his classic work Inside Out, these are all instances of digging broken wells. And each one stems from a sinful distrust of God's provision.
Distrust can seem somewhat benign on the grand spectrum of sinful behaviors. After all, isn't a little doubt of an unseen and generally inaudible God understandable? But that very questioning of God's wisdom and goodness is at the heart of the Fall itself: Was God really good to set one tree off limits? Did he really understand Adam and Eve's needs and desires?
A few years ago, an interviewer asked me a similar question about my decision to trust God with my body: What if marriage never came? I'd been asked similar questions before, but that day I sensed a sinister insinuation about his character behind it, and it roused a loyalty that surprised even me. "I know that God loves me," I shot back, more in answer to the accuser than the woman.
And it was not the rote, trite party line it might sound like. Over these many long years as a single woman, an unexpected loyalty to God has taken root in me, in response to deed after deed of divine faithfulness and kindness.
The adult life I long envisioned didn't have a lot of room for God, truth be told. As I imagined it, all my needs would be met almost as soon as I thought of them, primarily by the people right around me. Life in that view was like being moved by a symphony comprising so many players and parts that no individual's role in touching you could be distinguished from that of another musician. I wanted to live life smack-dab in the midst of that glorious cacophony.
What I've frequently gotten instead, however, is hunger, nakedness, and silence. Yet in that place of seeming emptiness, I keep hearing a solo violin or oboe whose song is so powerful as to draw harmonies and counterpoint around itself from the surrounding rocks and caves. As I listen, I'm surprised to find myself fed, clothed, warmed, and even singing along till the sound ricochets up to the very top of the canyon walls. It turns out the melody is richer and more distinct in barren places and wide-open spaces.
I gravitate to the densely packed bustle of concerts, cities, family life. But if God could show me so much through the spaciousness of singleness, what good plans might he yet have in store for a presently empty womb?
I am loved. And when I remember that, I can trust the lover of my soul with both my desire for children and the decision of what good gifts to give me. From him my eggs came. And to him I am entrusting them.
Anna Broadway is a writer and web editor living in the San Francisco Bay area. She is the author of Sexless in the City: A Memoir of Reluctant Chastity and a regular contributor to Her.meneutics.