When Your Life Doesn’t Fit the Poster

When Your Life Doesn’t Fit the Poster

Yesterday, I was listening to a recording of a clinical psychologist who was speaking to an audience of Catholics dealing with infertility. His talk covered a number of struggles that he had seen in his patients, and one that stood out the most was this experience of an existential crisis.

“If I’m not going to have children, either by birth or adoption, then what is the purpose of my life?”

So often in Catholic circles (and society at large, for that matter), we try to tie our purpose in life to a specific, tangible mission. In the case of the married, this means raising children.

And this thought is pervasive. I remember being a young teen standing in a driveway talking to my Dad, telling him about discerning my vocation and wondering what I was here for. He looked at me and said, “I used to wonder about that too. You know what my dad said to me? Your purpose is to get married and have kids.”

Picture the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding: “Get Married! Make Babies!” This Mediterranean style of fatherly pontification was not at all foreign to me- my dad and his dad before him were both Italian.

And while this simple, straightforward way of directing the young may have done well to keep our families in line for centuries, it glosses over one important truth: not everyone is called to domestic life, and not everyone who IS called to domesticity will have everything work out as they would wish.

So what then, when the plan doesn’t play out?

I’ve heard a few answers. I’ve heard of some who say that they found themselves called to adopt, or even to forgo adoption and consciously dedicate their lives to the Church. These are beautiful things, but they’re very specific. They work for these particular individuals, but they’re not always helpful for everyone facing these challenges.

What about the rest of us?

What is the purpose of our lives when they don’t fit the poster?

The answer, I think, is very simple. And it’s our propensity to ignore or overlook the simple that leads us into so much distress as we continue to suffer through the searching.

Now, I’m much too young for the Baltimore Catechism, but I am aware of it’s famous beginning. Pardon as I paraphrase from memory:

Who made me?

God made me.

Why did he make me?

To know, love, and serve Him.

There you go. 

It really is that simple. Your purpose, no matter who you are or what your state of life, is to know, love, and serve God.

“Ok,” I can hear some of you saying, “I get that. But when I got married I thought I would serve him by raising children.”

This is where we need to bring up a spiritual concept called “abandonment.” specifically this means giving up (abandoning) our own will and desires and trusting our Shepherd to lead us where He wishes. He knows the way home, and even though sometimes we think we know better, we don’t. We’re just little lambs.

Furthermore, not only are we just little lambs, but we’re not God. We’re His servants. And as the servant, our job isn’t to say, “Ok God. I’m going to serve you my way by doing this thing I want.” No- He’s the boss. He’s the Master. He’s going to show us how He wants us to serve. This is why, even though some of our desires are good, they are just not what He wants from us at the moment. Hence the need for this deeper abandonment.

I can think of a lot of examples of this from my life. You probably can too. The time I wanted to be a retreat leader in high school and the committee rejected me. The time I wanted to study theology to become a religion teacher but the classes left me feeling like something was missing in my life. The time I wanted to adopt but was left with a horrible pit in my stomach and just knew this wasn’t what He wanted from me at the time.

We have great ideas, great desires, great potential to do great things. But none of it will work and none of it will be any good until we learn to abandon all of this and let our Shepherd carry us where He wants to go.

I don’t know where your life will go, or what great mission the Lord has for you. I don’t even know what my own mission is. But I do know that He loves you, and has created you out of this great love. Your job, and mine, is to trust.

3 Phrases About Catholic Family Life that Need to Change

Let me say right now that I fully support and accept everything the Church teaches as true. If there is error in the following, please let me know.

Full disclosure, I’m not a theologian, and the following article is solely my opinion.

Now that that’s out of the way…

In my life as a Catholic woman (28, almost 29 years), I have noticed that in our beautiful, rich, life-affirming culture as Catholics in this country, certain phrases or sentiments have taken root in our lexicon that:

A) Over-simplify the truth to the point of becoming false, and

B) End up hurting people unnecessarily as a result.

Notice that in all of these statements, the problem in the second half of the sentence. We get the “what” right, but our “why” needs a little refresher.

 

Phrase¬†#1: Women are sacred because¬†they¬†“bear life”.

Everyone assumes all women have wombs, and they extrapolate on that. (Example, Alice von Hildebrand in her final chapter of The Privilege of Being a Woman). “All women” have the capacity to bear children, therefore we’re sacred.

The¬†problem: Women are indeed sacred‚ÄĒbut not all of us have the capacity to bear children. In fact, not all of us even have wombs (I don’t). Not all of us are called to be physical mothers, and hinging our value on that doesn’t work.¬†At best, it’s only hitting the surface, and ignoring the tremendous depth of what it truly means to be created female. At worst, it’s hurting tons of women who aren’t perfect and making them question their¬†identity and sense of belonging as a daughter of the Lord.

Solution: Let’s avoid the kitsch and get right to the honest truth: Women have a beautiful calling from God to love and nurture and support and encourage and help everyone around them. God calls women to all sorts of beautiful vocations that reflect this: some to be mothers, some to care for the elderly, some to teach, some to guide, but all of us are called to LOVE.

 

Phrase #2: Marriage is like the Trinity because when husband and a wife love each other SO MUCH their love becomes a new person, a baby.

We’ve all heard it before, either in CCD, Catholic school, or even an occasional homily. It’s sappy, it’s cliche, and it’s not entirely true, either.

The problem: Here’s the thing: it’s true that marriage mirrors the Trinity, but this particular phraseology is ridiculous. The Father and the Son didn’t create the Spirit- the Spirit was there from all eternity. This statement sends the message that marriages to which God doesn’t grant children are somehow not complete, not successful, or worse, not even real. Furthermore,¬†many beautiful, sacramental, fruitful marriages do not result in children (CCC 1654).

Solution: Let’s re-write this: “Marriage mirrors the trinity in that the love of a husband and wife radiates new life.” Marriage is life giving, but this doesn’t always¬†mean physically.¬†It means that the love in the marriage generates a spirit of love that spreads outward, affecting the world around them. And that is a beautiful thing.

Phrase¬†#3: That’s a¬†“Good Catholic Family”¬†because they have enough children to fill up the pew.

This seemingly innocent phrase is commonly uttered regarding families with 6 kids under 10 with one on the way. Or, you know, a minimum of 5.

The Problem: NOBODY LIKES THIS. If you ARE a big family, you don’t want to be put on display, and you know that your life is far from perfect. You’re probably embarrassed when strangers say it.

If you’re NOT a big family, this kind of talk makes you feel like you are living contrary to God’s will. Almost every infertile or sub-fertile Catholic that I’ve met in my life has admitted to feeling supremely judged by their fellow parishioners. People assume that they are using contraception, or that they’re afraid to say “yes” to God, when really their “yes” just looks a little different. (Yes, I’ll accept this cross. Yes, I’ll accept another humiliating family gathering, Yes, I’ll accept another excruciating loss.)

This kind of talk, which is embedded into our culture as Catholics, is not only false, but also extremely hurtful all around.

Solution: Do we want to encourage the faithful living of vocations? Absolutely. Does holding up someone’s blessings as evidence of their faithfulness achieve this? NO. In fact, it borders on Osteen-esque Prosperity Gospel. Come on, people, we know how wrong this is. Think of the man born blind.¬†¬†Let’s talk more about the reality of life, the reality of crosses, the reality of holiness, and stop assuming things about other people, period. We know that blessings come because of God’s¬†insane generosity, not because of our glittery awesomeness.¬†Holiness comes from the cross.

You’re not a native

You’re not a native

I’ve decided that today I want to tell you it’s ok if you’re hurting.

It’s ok if you’re not doing great.

It’s ok if you’re feeling like you can’t handle the cards you’ve been dealt.

And it’s ok if you cry.

 

You know why?

Because you weren’t designed for this. You weren’t made for sorrows and suffering and crap happening in your life.

All of that stuff–that’s part of this fallen world.

But you weren’t made for this. This isn’t your true home.

You were made for Heaven.

So it’s ok that you’re having a hard time handling all this. It’s ok if you just need to lean your head on your Friend and cry. That’s what He’s there for. And He gets it. Because He made you.

 

Let me tell you a little story.

Once upon a time….

I forgot that I used to be normal.

I’d been on “infertility island”¬†so long, I’d almost forgotten that I wasn’t born here. I’ve been drinking the water and thought I was a native. Like Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, I’ve forgotten that I had a life before this island.

Then, as with the Lost Boys in Neverland, something triggered an ancient memory.

My mom shared an article on my Facebook page about toys in the 90s, asking if I remember Baby All Gone. Of course I do! She was only the coolest baby doll ever with the niftiest spoon of cherries that disappeared when you fed them to her. Coolest. Baby doll. Ever.

Wait a minute… baby doll?

Yes, I had one. And I loved it. And while my mommy was taking care of my baby sister, I was taking care of my baby doll. And in my little curly head I was assuming this was perfectly normal. I’m doing what mommy does and someday when I grow up I’ll be just like mommy and have a real baby too.

I wasn’t born on this island. I was shipwrecked¬†here at age 16. But this is not my true home.

It wasn’t always like this. I¬†wasn’t always like this.

I realized that I was being too hard on myself. I was echoing the voices of well-meaning people who have never been on this island.¬†You should be better at this, I would say. You’ve been here for over a DECADE. You should be able to handle it now. Why did you break down in the baby section? Why did you cry¬†on your way to the shower? You can do better.

The I saw the post from my mom, and remembered the truth.

I had a life before the island. I am not a native. I never was, and I never will be.

And truthfully, none of us are.

When we are wounded by the world,¬†we become so hard on ourselves. We say that we should be better at this. We say, “I should be able to handle this.”¬†But maybe that’s our pride talking, telling us to forget the truth about who we are, and¬†whose we are.

We are not from here. This is not our home; we are only pilgrims passing through. And so we¬†keep walking, keep trying, keep moving forward, but we can’t get anywhere on our own because we’re not made for this place. When people (including yourself) say, “You should be able to handle this,” remember the truth. You can’t handle this‚ÄĒat least, not on your own. And you’re not supposed to. That’s what God is for.

JesusgirlFootprints

Whoever gives up children for my sake…

Today’s Gospel has a very special place in my heart.

Peter began to say to Jesus,
‚ÄúWe have given up everything and followed you.‚ÄĚ
Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you,
there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters
or mother or father or children or lands
for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel
who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age:
houses and brothers and sisters
and mothers and children and lands,
with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.
But many that are first will be last, and the last will be first.‚ÄĚ

Mark 10: 28-31

I’ve been touched by this passage before, and¬†I was super excited that it surprised me at Mass today. It’s like Jesus was speaking right to us. Knowing that we will never have our “own” kids without a surrogate, and therefore giving up “our” kids for the sake of the Gospel. I know they say there’s no getting pregnant in heaven, but it reminds me that God is going to do something great, and somehow I won’t be sad about it anymore.

 

I promise I’ll write better posts soon, but I felt it was important to get this out there into the world today for someone.

Love,

Connie ‚̧

For Nothing is Impossible with God

For Nothing is Impossible with God

Any day you get to sing “Hail Holy Queen” at Mass is like, the best day ever.

I mean, maybe it’s because of¬†Sister Act, but singing “Salve, Salve, Salve Regina” at the top of my lungs in church is just… exhilarating.

But it was more than the music at today’s Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in DC that struck a deep chord with yours truly.

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (meaning Mary’s conception, not Jesus’), and day one of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

The gospel reading was the story of the Annunciation, when the Angel told Mary she would conceive Jesus. And the angels words end,

“And behold, your cousin Elizabeth has conceived in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren. For nothing is impossible with God.”

Nothing is impossible with God. Not even curing¬†“her who was called barren.”

I’ve usually avoided this gospel passage, for obvious reasons, but today, my reaction was totally unexpected. My reaction was…

Tears. But not the sad kind. The excited, hopeful, wow God is awesome kind.

No, I don’t expect a miraculous pregnancy (although, God, if that’s what you’re feeling these days, I’m not objecting). But I know that there is hope.

I’ve recognized that I am a wounded, broken person. There’s the physical- the broken, unconnected pieces of a uterus that never developed. But there’s also… and stick with me here… broken, unconnected pieces of woman-ness that never formed. That part of me that still feels like a confused young kid stuck in a woman’s body, and doesn’t get why the grown ups are happy and excited when new life enters the world. That young teen that’s completely oblivious to maternal feelings. In a way, my physical reality mirrors my physiological and spiritual reality. But that can change. And herein lies the hope.

Today, God, I offer you this broken, unformed uterus and this broken, unformed spirit of womanhood. I know that in your mercy, you will take these pieces and make from them a new creation, so that she who was called barren will become a real and complete daughter and servant of yours and for your glory, for nothing is impossible with God. Amen.

You Are Mine

You Are Mine

Pslam 139:13-14

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

“For you created my inmost being…”

I was born without a uterus. And though I never consciously¬†blamed God for this, of course he allowed it to happen‚ÄĒand that is something that needs reconciling.

While I never knowingly¬†said, “How could you, Jesus?” I know that deep down, part of me used to think that maybe this disease was a result of neglect on his part. I have thought, many times, “God forgot to give me a uterus.” I know that others, in their situations, have thought similar things: “Maybe God forgot to make a plan for me,” or “maybe God forgot to keep an eye on me, and that’s why this happened.”

The truth is that he never turned his eyes away. He never neglected me (or you) for even a second. He made us,¬†on purpose.¬†He did, actually and truly “knit me together in my¬†mother’s womb.” And you are, in fact, “fearfully and wonderfully made.” He created you‚ÄĒevery part of you‚ÄĒand you were never a mistake. You are his child, and he loves you more than you could ever imagine.

“Littleness”

“Littleness”

Any time we go through grief or suffering of any kind, we have good days and bad days. Sometimes we have good minutes and bad minutes. The other night I was having a bad hour (after a very good day, no less) and an image came to mind of ¬†“the poor little MRKH girl,” like “the poor little match girl” but without the dying part. And it made me think.

Perhaps it is in the carrying of our cross that we become all the more special to our Heavenly Father. Maybe it is our greatest pain that endears us to him. Maybe seeing us in our most trying agony moves his heart and makes him want to hold us. Like the way Tiny Tim was special to his father Bob Cratchet, maybe it’s the same with God. Maybe the littler we become and the more we recognize how desperately we need God, the more he yearns to give.

Feeling “little” isn’t a bad thing. Christ himself said that we must become like little children. The greatest saints all recognized their own helplessness and need for their Savior. Maybe that’s why children and poverty are such a popular theme in Christmas stories. Jesus came into the world as a helpless infant, and we are meant to recognize how small we really are. That’s why he taught us to call God “Abba”-the equivalent of “Daddy”. It’s only when we are comfortable in our littleness that we can reach our arms up to heaven and call for our daddy to pick us up.

tiny-tim-120305

The Shadow

The Shadow

Someone asked me recently why infertility is enveloped in secrecy. Why, if 1 in 6 couples experience something, do we experience shame?

Truthfully, I didn’t know what to say. A few weeks later, I came across an article on the Resolve.org (a secular organization¬†for infertility) about the emotional aspects of infertility. What I read had me completely floored.

“Shame is a searing, painful feeling associated with faltering self-esteem, and a sense of inadequacy, defectiveness and helplessness…As [infertility] becomes more and more evident, one’s self-image is assaulted… Anguish, self-doubt, and chronic sadness converge as couples come to think of themselves as failing, not only in realizing their own dream to reproduce and nurture, but failing their spouse, parents, and siblings as well. Because shame embodies the painful sense of self-defect, it is often hidden and disguised, even from oneself. The tragic story of chronic infertility is that, over a period of time, the sense of failure gradually and imperceptibly spreads like a shadow over a person’s experience, while simultaneously the sense of other competencies gradually becomes obscured.”

Wow. The last 10 years of my life have just been explained.

Within a year of learning I have MRKH, I quit music. I stopped singing, I stopped writing music, I stopped playing in the jazz band. In fact- I experienced what I have always called a “burn out” with music. I would get physically angry when I played my saxophone. After a long talk with my band teacher (who tried to convince me to stay), I quit.

What if it wasn’t a burn out? What if I was subconsciously frustrated with my reality, unable to process my new identity?

It makes perfect sense. It makes absolute. perfect. sense.

It explains why I went from an academically confident kid with big dreams and the world at my feet to an unsure, faltering, career-less young woman with no clue which way to go.

I stopped believing in myself.

I was ashamed over something that was out of my control.

I have been living under the shadow.

As one of my friends put it, “Everything you thought was real was now no longer true. Of course you started to question everything else.”

After all these years, I see it. Thanks be to God for revealing this to me.

The article continues:

“Ultimately what heals is the acceptance of the self with all of its weaknesses and failures. The goal, then, is to reach a point where you can accept what you see as failure and no longer have to conceal these feelings of shame. The process of coming to terms with infertility is long and gradual, but it is possible to transform the sense of failure into an empathy with yourself, an affirmation of your strength, an acceptance of your limits, a pride in your endurance, and maybe most of all, an empathy with others who, as partners in the human condition, also face defeats. In time, the shadow cast upon your life can fade and the light can shine through again.”

In the last year, I know that I have begun to heal. I am coming to accept myself. I am learning to accept my limits. I know that no matter how strong I think I should be, some things are just too much.

I also know that I have a new, unique calling. I know that being a 10 year “veteran” of MRKH and infertility, I have a chance to be a voice for the voiceless. I know that I need to share my insights, because they can help others. I know that even though writing about these things can be painful, it has to be done.

So even though I still don’t have a career, I know that I have a mission. Maybe this is only a sub-plot in the novel of my life. But I know that the time has come to step out of the shadow.

“Look to Him, that you might be radiant with joy, and your faces free from all shame.”

-Marty Haugen, “Taste and See”, adapted from Psalm 34.

 

To read the original article that inspired this post, click here.

He Cried More

He Cried More

Last night I went to my first healing service. I never would have gone on my own, but my mother-in-law has been inviting me for a few months now, so I went. Knock long enough and the door opens.

At one point in the night, I went to confession to a priest I’ve never met, and I told him about the trauma of learning at age 16 that I was¬†born without a uterus. I told him that I didn’t even feel like I belong at a “women’s night” when I’m missing something that is so central to what we perceive womanhood to be. Little girls play with baby dolls, and as Christians we hold a deep love and admiration for the mother of Jesus. I didn’t even know if I would be allowed to be married. I didn’t know how a potential husband would take the news. Pregnancies and talk of “starting a family” bring up a host of traumatic memories and wounds so deep that many will never understand. We talked about that for a long time. And he said something to me that no one has ever said before.

“As much as you’ve cried over this, since age 16, God cried more.”

The priest continued, “He loves life, He loves babies! He didn’t plan for this to happen to you. He is right there with you.”

I have never “blamed” God for MRKH, but I always just kind of assumed that he must be ok with it, since he allowed it. But there is evil in the world as a result of sin, and it has nothing to do with the paradise that God originally planned. There is physical evil, like Ebola and cancer and the common cold, and there is natural evil, like hurricanes and tornadoes… and being born without a uterus. He didn’t want this to happen. It wasn’t part of the plan. It grieves him too.

He cried more.

Anything-Can-Happen October

A week ago (while we were on our Great Western Vacation), I got one amazing piece of news. I’ve been chosen as this month’s Adopt-A-Blogger by This Cross I Embrace, a wonderful blog that I’ve been following for years, and mentioned in this previous post. I am so incredibly grateful for this. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your prayers and support. If you’ve never heard of this beautiful prayer campaign, check this out:

Adopt-a-Blogger

I’ve been asked to write a few paragraphs about myself, and truth be told, I don’t know what to say. My infertility journey is a little unusual. At age 16, when I still hadn’t gotten my first period, my mom took me to a number of doctors until someone was finally able to figure out the issue. To everyone’s shock, we discovered that I was born with MRKH- a rare birth defect that affects 1 in 5000 women: I was born without a uterus, cervix, and, well- check this website out for more information, if you’re curious as to details. That kind of shock doesn’t just literally affect the course of your life- it also creates a huge identity crisis. Was I actually female? Was I still like every other girl? Why did God make me this way? What was the purpose of this? Why make me female and Catholic without any hope of becoming a mother?

That was 10 years ago. In that time, I’ve done a lot of grieving, and I’ve come a long way. I learned that having a uterus isn’t what makes someone a woman (even though in our English language, we refer to a girl’s first period as “becoming a woman”). I’ve learned that being a faithful Catholic does not mean that your marriage must produce 6+ children. I’ve learned that my life has meaning and value, and that God does have a purpose, even if I can’t see all of it at once.

I feel like Dorothy at the end of the Wizard of Oz. There’s nothing in that black bag of cures for me- yet if I’ve learned that if I really want happiness, I can find it in my own back yard.

James and I are looking forward to adoption, and hopefully we’ll be able to start the process in the Spring. In these past 10 years, I thought I had done my share of grieving, and it seemed that I had come to peace with¬†my own loss. But, oddly enough, marriage has made me start grieving again. I’m grieving for my husband’s loss. I’m grieving for our loss as a couple. I (and we) need healing and help with this grief. If you are so kind as to participate in this wonderful program with TCIE, please consider praying for our emotional healing and for us to get through this new stage of grief, and for us to have courage and success with adoption, if it is God’s will for us.

Thank you, and God bless.