Like many women, when I was in my mid twenties, I longed to have a baby. There is something mysterious that kicks in that makes a woman swoon at the fragrance of baby powder. Forget the perfume counter—head for the baby department and go goo-goo-ga-ga over teeny-tiny booties, Pooh printed receiving blankets, and those marvelous onesies. Ahhhh… I love the fresh, sweet scent of a baby.
In spite of the warnings from our mothers about how, even with protection, a girl can get pregnant, so “don’t have sex until you’re married,” for some of us, getting pregnant is not so easy. And for others, it is impossible. Even with all the new medical magic that helps scads of women with uncooperative uteri get pregnant, still there are those who just cannot conceive a baby of their own.
To want a baby and not be able to conceive causes great agony. And the grieving process—the death of the dream of becoming a mother—can be lengthy and exhausting. Sarai, Abram’s wife, longed year after year for a baby. She wanted to give her husband a son. Long after she was of the age to conceive, God told Abram that Sarai would in fact have a baby of her own. Growing impatient with God’s time delay, Sarai and Abram decided to “adopt.”
There were no adoption agencies in Biblical times, but surrogate adoptions were provided for in ancient times. Here’s how it worked: when a woman was unable to conceive, her husband would have relations with another woman and the barren woman would claim this baby as her own. In Abram’s and Sarai’s case, the surrogate mom was Hagar, Sarai’s Egyptian maidservant.
One source I read said that this was accomplished with the surrogate mom “sitting on the lap of the adoptive mother during both insemination and birth.” No wonder modern medicine has labored so intensively to come up with alternative methods for barren couples to conceive!
Women, can you imagine if you were Hagar at the time of delivery? (Men, you’ll just have to hang out with Abram for awhile, pacing outside the tent…) You’ve gone through many hours of sweaty, painful labor and finally its time to start pushing—but wait! “Where’s Sarai? Somebody get Sarai in here STAT!” You are in no mood to wait, let alone to maneuver your aching body onto Sarai’s lap, and then make sure “your” baby drops between Sarai’s legs so the baby will become “her” baby. Um… I don’t think so!
This entire process was further complicated by the fact that, after she became pregnant, Hagar despised Sarai, and Sarai was jealous of Hagar because she was with child. Sarai mistreated Hagar—with Abram’s blessing— resulting in her maidservant running away. But an angel appeared to Hagar in the desert and encouraged her to return to her mistress, which she did.
In giving us “the rest of the story,” Genesis makes no mention of whether the surrogate process was followed. I’m guessing that it didn’t, but that’s my “Not with my man, you won’t, sister!” cultural, Christian bias. Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, but the enmity between Sarai and Hagar persisted and a split in the family eventually occurred. And we think that families today are dysfunctional!
Miraculously, Sarai (now know as Sarah) gave birth to a son who she and her husband, Abram (now known as Abraham) named Isaac. Just like us, Abraham and Sarah were impatient with God’s plan and took things into their own hands. But their Divine Walking Buddy kept his promise, walking with them through their wavering faith. We may meddle and mess things up, but God is faithful.
“For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV