A month ago, I joined millions of women who have gone before me, making the difficult yet freeing decision to close my womb through surgery.

After getting married at age 35, I unsuccessfully tried to conceive a child for over five years. And then my general reproductive health issued what felt like an ultimatum: I experienced such intense pain and bleeding during my monthly cycle that something must be done.

The Centers for Disease Control found that 27 percent of women in the U.S. use female sterilization as their method of birth control. And according to a leading reference in reproductive health, Contraceptive Technology, "Sterilization continues to be the most commonly used contraceptive in the United States… with 700,000 tubal sterilizations and 500,000 vasectomies performed in the U.S. annually."

Ironically, after years of trying to conceive, I would "get my tubes tied," a procedure that stops a woman's eggs from traveling from her ovaries into the fallopian tubes. As my monthly cycle became unbearable, my gynecologist recommended an endometrial ablation, an outpatient procedure that destroys the uterine lining and would likely help with my symptoms and prevent a hysterectomy. Just one catch, of course: pregnancy afterward was dangerous and extremely risky. My doctor said I would need to use birth control; since I reacted adversely to hormones, permanent sterilization seemed like the best option. At this point, I called a truce with myself. Together, with tears and some groaning before God, we decided to move ahead.

Still, as a follower of Christ, I wondered: Should God be the one to close my womb? Of course, many Roman Catholics and conservative Protestants do believe this. And as people who live by the Bible, this reservation does not seem unfounded. When Abraham sinned by asking Sarah to lie, God kept all of the women in Abimelek's household from conceiving (Gen. 20:18). In Hannah's story of infertility, it says God had closed her womb (1 Sam. 1:6).

In both cases, closing the womb was a curse—but the wombs were ultimately opened in response to prayer. In fact, in the Bible, we read story after story of God helping the infertile, bringing life to the once-empty wombs of Sarah, Rebekah, Hannah, Ruth, and Elisabeth. "For nothing will be impossible with God," the angel said to Mary the mother of Jesus, after announcing Elisabeth's pregnancy in old age.

Nothing will be impossible. For my husband and I, pregnancy was not impossible, but it also had not happened. It doesn't for many couples. Surely, God could have allowed us to get pregnant and bear a child, but as we grew older, the fulfillment of that longing became highly unlikely. And in that terrifying place, I began to realize that God had never promised us children. He had simply promised us himself. I actually felt a measure of comfort in having a surgery that would help me to view myself not simply as a walking uterus with fallopian tubes, but as a child of God who is defined by far greater things than her ability to give birth.

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Plenty of Christian women find themselves in similar situations—wanting to remain open to having a child but confronting the physical and emotional toll being placed on them as they approach the end of their reproductive years. Still others are content, sometimes even overwhelmed, with the children they already have, and they make what feels like a practical decision not to have any more kids. Whatever the reason, the decision can be a difficult one—it can be hard to discuss and even harder to find emotional and spiritual support for the journey.

I began to realize that God had never promised us children. He had simply promised us himself.

One woman shared her story about an unexpected pregnancy at age 40, which prompted the couple to schedule a vasectomy for her husband. With five children already and pregnancy complications, plus the worry of parenting at an older age, their family seemed complete. "Yet a part of me really grieves knowing for certain that we won't be welcoming any more birth children… Aren't children a blessing, whenever they come?"

Another shares, "After marrying a widower when I was 38, and adopting his two children, we soul-searched about whether or not to have additional children…Earlier in my life, I had sensed a desire for that, [but] we sensed a completeness. There was this overwhelming sense: 'It is well. It is well.' My husband had the surgery and we've never doubted the decision."

The stories go on, but a common thread remains: the decision to close your womb to the possibility of future children is a personal one, influenced by many factors. While others in our lives often hold strong opinions about if and when women should seek such procedures, perhaps we can all agree about the difficulty and significance of this decision.

Throughout Scripture, the ability to create and nurture life, given by God, is treated with reverence and longing. As God created humans in his image, he would also give those created to represent him the ability to bear children and to fill the earth. In this way, we are reminded of the creativity God passed on to his image-bearers; we are right to delight in bearing and raising children. "Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him" (Ps. 127:3).

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Yet if we believe the Bible's story of redemption, we must also acknowledge other realities. Not everyone can or chooses to bear children, and not doing so does not indicate punishment, but a reminder that God blesses in individual ways. We serve a God of infinite creativity who cares for each of his children impartially. Also, we live in a broken world, and God lovingly ministers to those who suffer physically from its effects. Mercifully, he often uses modern medicine as a means of grace to alleviate our suffering. Women and couples who find relief through surgery involving their reproductive system often experience healing physically, emotionally, and spiritually, viewing medical intervention as a gift from God.

Even as the Christian community has begun to open up about infertility and sexuality, our churches and communities still seem to be mostly mute on the subject of closing our wombs. In this, the Church has an opportunity: it can and should offer safe spaces for individuals to discuss the theological and personal reasons for ending our reproductive years. It is a sacred and sensitive conversation filled with spiritual implications.

Finally, most women will face many choices regarding their reproductive system in their lifetime, and many will face a decision about whether to end their fertility for health or personal reasons. Whatever choices we make, we should do so with reverence, care and the support of spiritual companions. As we do, we agree that our reproductive systems are a good gift from God. And we affirm that decisions about them should be filled with intention, care and the Christian hope that God will continue to bear his good fruit in us whether our wombs are open or closed.

Suzanne Burden holds an MA in theological studies and blogs at suzanneburden.com. She recently coauthored the book Reclaiming Eve: the Identity and Calling of Women in the Kingdom of God (Beacon Hill Press), available online with the Reclaiming Eve Small Group DVD (July 2014). View her videos on women of the New Testament and find her on Twitter.