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Habakkuk’s Hope provides comfort for infertile women

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The prophet Habakkuk foretold the invasion and desolation of his country Judah, but still rejoiced in God’s sovereign purposes.

In the same way, a ministry at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary seeks to help infertile women find comfort in God and his purposes despite their circumstances.

Appropriately named for the prophet of hope, “Habakkuk’s Hope” began in March 2001. The ministry meets once every month and seeks to comfort, encourage and provide information for women who are experiencing infertility.

Patti Withers, who works in the office of Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr., began to see the need for the ministry within her own circumstances. Withers and husband Michael — a master of divinity student — sought to start a family in May 1999.

However, doctors soon discovered that Patti was suffering from breast cancer. Upon completing cancer treatments, doctors told Patti, at the time 36, she would have to wait two years before attempting to have children.

“Suddenly, I went from fertility to cancer treatments,” she said. “Given my age and medical condition, the prospect of waiting two more years was devastating. There are a lot of pregnant ladies and babies at Southern Seminary.

“Daily surrounded by reminders of the very thing I wanted and didn’t have — may never have — my thoughts turned to the third chapter of Habakkuk. I didn’t have a baby, but in spite of that I could, like Habakkuk, rejoice in the Lord. Soon, I began to see a need for a ministry that might help others at the seminary who were struggling with infertility.”

Withers says attendance remains small nearly two years after the founding of Habakkuk’s Hope, but she’d like to see more women come and receive encouragement.

“Unfortunately, there is often shame associated with infertility,” she said. “It is an extremely private issue and it is often hard for women to talk about it.”

William Cutrer, a licensed obstetrician/gynecologist and associate professor of Christian ministry at Southern Seminary, serves as faculty sponsor for Habakkuk’s Hope.

The co-author of “When Empty Arms Become a Heavy Burden,” Cutrer says infertility is more common than the average person might think, with approximately one in six couples suffering from it.

“My experience as an infertility doctor and a pastor has brought me into the lives of many dear people suffering profoundly from infertility,” Cutrer said. “The medical evaluation is invasive, very expensive, and church people, unfamiliar with the subject, tend to say the most insensitive things.

“The support Habakkuk’s Hope offers — a place for women to process verbally their experiences and emotions — can be very healing for them and strengthening for their marriages.”

One area in which the average person can minister to an infertile woman is by carefully guarding their words, Withers said. Many persons, most of whom mean well, say insensitive things to those suffering from infertility.

Common careless phrases include, “You just need to relax,” “You just need to have more faith” or “You can always adopt,” followed by a personal anecdote about a friend who adopted children.

There are more encouraging things to be said, Withers said.

“The best thing you can say is how sorry you are that they are going through infertility,” she said. “‘Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.’ Remember, Job’s friends were at their best when they simply sat with him and said nothing.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: PATTI WITHERS.

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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