A Letter From the Girl in the Pew

A Letter From the Girl in the Pew

Hi, it’s me. Can we talk? Remember that homily you preached at that wedding about a year ago? You know, the one where you said in a booming voice from the pulpit,

“The purpose of marriage, really, is children.”

Yes, that’s the one. Remember how you went on and on backing up that point? Remember how at the reception later, people were telling you how great it was, how true, how important? Remember how I stood there in that circle and nodded, agreeing that you have a gift for wedding homilies?

I lied.

Yes, I lied to a priest. To spare your feelings, of course.

I hated your homily that day. It wasn’t even my wedding, so why should I care?

Because it Hurt. Like. Hell.

You knew I was in the pew. You knew that I have MRKH. You knew that my husband and I will never be able to conceive. Was it your intention to say that our marriage has no purpose? That our marriage is useless? Or  that maybe it’s just second class? Were you trying to make us feel unwelcome and unneeded?

It may not seem like much to you, but to me it was a complete betrayal. You’ve told us to “be happy for others” but do you realize what you’re saying?

When Jesus carried his cross, he didn’t do it with a smile. And I’ll bet that when he fell, his comfort was not in the Romans yelling at him to get up and keep moving. You wouldn’t tell Jesus to quit saying “Why have you abandoned me?” and just be happy for those people who get to not be crucified today, would you?

Now of course, I’m not Jesus. I don’t claim to be. But like him (and like you), I have a cross. We all do.

You wouldn’t tell an amputee with phantom pain to be happy for everyone who still has all of their limbs. When your friend suffers an abusive relationship, you don’t tell them to be happy for everyone whose heart was never broken. No, no one would say that because it misses the point and ignores the wounds that these people carry. We all deserve compassion and understanding. We all deserve to be loved.

We love you very much. Perhaps that is why this hurts so much.

And in case you would like a little reminder, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states (paragraph 1660) that marriage has TWO purposes: (1) the good of the spouses and (2) the generation and education of children. These are both true, and we cannot overemphasize and ignore one or the other. If children were all that mattered, then my marriage wouldn’t be valid, and IVF would be encouraged. If the spouses were all that mattered, then we wouldn’t have to be “open to life”. Both matter. Both are important.

Otherwise, our struggle is in vain.

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.

Hope and Lemonade. Or Limoncello.

Hope and Lemonade. Or Limoncello.

“The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” Psalm 147:11

One of the greatest consolations in the world is getting a glimpse of God making lemonade out of your lemons (or limoncello, paisan).

I finally know why I have MRKH/infertility. It’s because of the Fall of Man and the general evil and sin existing in the world from the beginning. That’s it. That’s all. That’s why.

What has recently become therapeutic for me is exploring the what now.

I’ve been dealt a lemon, thanks to the existing evil in the natural world. How am I going to give this lemon to God and let Him create something beautiful with it?

I’m coming to believe that this is what “hope” means for those dealing with suffering or grief. We get so hung up on “hope” meaning waiting for a baby, a miraculous cure, or whatever kind of candy we can get from the miracle store. But that’s not how it works. Hope means believing that there will be something beautiful to come. God will turn our lemons to lemonade, and our limes into Key Lime Pie. If we place our hope in Him, God will make sure that our suffering is used to create a greater good.

The best part is when you being to sense the wonderful things coming from His kitchen.

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.

The Author of Life

The Author of Life

The infertility stories in the bible have one thing in common. They all end in a miraculous pregnancy. Abraham and Sarah conceived in extreme old age, despite the sins they committed in their distrust of God’s promise. Hannah cried in the temple and vowed to give her child to God, if only he would grant her request. God said yes, and Samuel was born. Elizabeth and Zachariah, the parents of John the Baptist were infertile and advanced in years, yet God answered their prayers, regardless of Zachariah’s doubt.

Some will point to these stories and say that if you pray hard enough, you will conceive a child. They claim that if you’re still not pregnant, it’s because you don’t have enough faith. There are even a number of books that espouse this notion.

I call bullshit.

You heard me.

The point of these biblical stories about miraculous cures of infertility point to one big TRUTH:

We are not the author of life. God is.

God is in charge. God has a plan. God has the ultimate power to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, in whichever way he chooses. Human beings may cooperate with God’s design, but we are not the ones in control. Period. He proves this time and time again in Scripture. Mary, a virgin, conceives. Lazarus is raised from the dead. Job’s life goes in all over the place. The widow’s oil and flour is always replenished, and as God cares for the sparrows and the fields, so too will he care for you (Matthew 6:26).

In our world, there are many beautiful, wonderful, faithful women who never conceive. Infertility is a symptom of our fallen world. It is not their fault. It’s no one’s fault.

God gives each of us different gifts, depending on his plan for our life. This is why we pray for his will, and for and increase in faith and trust on our part. Just because God can doesn’t mean he will. And even though he may say “no” or “not yet,” he always has a perfect plan.

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.

3 Things Infertile Couples Need from the Church

3 Things Infertile Couples Need from the Church

It has now been 10 years since I learned that I don’t have a uterus (MRKH). During this time, having sought the help of many faithful lay people, priests, theology books, saints’ writings, blog posts and support groups, I have noticed that there is a gaping hole in the body of Catholic publishing and public awareness. Catholics dealing with infertility have plenty of resources telling them what the church does and does not permit with regard to reproductive technologies. What they don’t have is enough spiritual support to help them walk the difficult road they face.

I love that Pope Francis talks about the Church as being a field hospital. It’s not just a place for the perfectly holy with perfectly working bodies who live in perfectly formed worlds. There is sin, there is suffering, and there is death. We live in a war zone.

I don’t know anything about pastoral techniques, and I don’t have a theology degree, but I have walked this particular road long enough to have a decent view of the landscape. Taking the last 10 years into account, this is what I would like the world to know:

Infertile people need help carrying this cross. They need validation of their suffering, confirmation of their place in the Body of Christ, and encouragement to walk the path set before them.

1. Validation of suffering.

Accepting infertility is a grieving process, not unlike grieving the death of a loved one. The pain is real. Don’t minimize it. Never tell someone to “get over it.” Even years later, something unexpected can trigger tears without warning (prime example: Facebook pregnancy announcements- especially with pictures). Your infertile friends are grieving. Minister accordingly. Ask them how they’re doing. Empathize. Tell them you love them. Help them feel loved. Help them know that God loves them and has a plan for them, in spite of their body’s failings. Don’t offer false hope, and beware of Prosperity Gospel squeaking its way in. Sometimes, more prayer isn’t going to make a baby. God will do what He wills, not what we will.

2. Confirmation of their place in the Body of Christ.

Simply put, many of us feel like we don’t belong. We’re surrounded by other couples who have been gifted with children.

Infertile couples need to know that their marriage has a purpose in itself, with or without children, which are a gratuitous gift from God and not a prerequisite to a faithful union or a required demonstration of fruitfulness. Being “open to life” means being open to whatever life God has planned for you, be it 10 children, no children, overseas missionary work, or anything else. Growing up in a family, it’s natural to expect children-but what right do we have to expect a gift? If we teach that certain technologies are wrong because children are a gift and not a right, then we need to carry that through and emphasize the fact that marriage is not made complete by the blessing of children- sacramental marriage is already complete to begin with. This teaching tends to get lost. We need to remember that children are not the only manifestation of fruitfulness in marriage. They are most obvious, but not the only. Let’s talk about other manifestations of fruitfulness: Charity, Hospitality and Sacrifice.

3. Encouragement to walk the path set before them.

Following the teachings of the Magisterium in the case of infertility may be the hardest thing that many of these couples have ever done in their lives. With some forms of infertility, the the only way to fulfill the good, natural, and burning desire for a biological child is through illicit treatments. Laying down these God-given desires and freely choosing to forgo these technologies (sometimes out of pure obedience rather than agreement) is a tremendous sacrifice. It is truly dying to oneself. This self-sacrifice can go on for years, or even a lifetime. If you know someone dealing with infertility who is trying to follow Church teaching- encourage them. Recognize their desire to please the Lord. Don’t beat them down with doctrine and never, ever say, “just adopt.” Adoption is a unique calling, one that the couple needs to discern separately.

The best thing that anyone ever said to me upon expressing my frustration with Church teaching was, “God gives us these rules for a reason. He knows what is ultimately going to make you happy. Somehow, I don’t think that IVF is going to make you happy.” Those words have stuck with me ever since they were said some six years ago, and they have become the biggest source of encouragement for me along this path. True, these words won’t work for everyone, but there is something out there to give life to The Way for each person who desires to walk it. At the end of the day, the best thing you can do is to help us to see the beauty of the Church’s teachings. Help us stay strong in our belief that this road is worth it. Be a friend along the road, even if it’s the Via Dolorosa.

The Bartender

The Bartender

Today I read a post by Amy at This Cross I Embrace, in which she shared a beautiful email from Rebecca at The Road Home. Rebecca’s email likens infertility to being stranded on an island.

What a perfect analogy.

Infertility is an island. A desert island. A beautiful tropical island with unpredictable storms and hurricanes. Some stay for a while, some stay for a few years. And I’m the permanent resident. I’m the bartender.

Amy is someone who was on the island for many years. I’ve read her blog sporadically since just after she arrived. Watching her come to grips with infertility and learn to give it all to God has been a great comfort to me. Amy’s blog has been a place where I could find someone walking the path with me.

She was here for so long on the island. I never expected her to stay forever, but as time went on, I think I forgot that leaving was even a possibility. I’m happy she has been rescued. It is indeed bittersweet.

Lightening

I’ve been here a while now. Almost a native. I’ve learned to expect the storms. I pour the drinks and listen to people talk about their troubles. They talk about hope, about waiting to be rescued, and wonder when their ship will come. I’m the safe place; I’ll always be here. This is my home.

Here on the island, occasionally ships come and rescue us one at a time. Never a boat for me, but that’s ok. One of the most beautiful things about being the bartender is meeting all the wonderful, beautiful, hurting, victorious souls who come and go.

island sunset

Why is there suffering? A Lesson from the Man Born Blind

Why is there suffering? A Lesson from the Man Born Blind

Recently I decided to read the Gospel of John from start to finish, one chapter at a time. This morning before work I read chapter 9, which is the story of the man born blind.

It was crowded. Jesus saw the blind man. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”

Jesus spat on the ground, made a little mud, put it on the man’s eyes, told him to go wash it off, then disappeared back into the crowd. The man did as he was told, and he could see.

Blindness is a cross. Like every other form of suffering, it is a symptom of our fallen world. It’s nobody’s personal fault.

Very few of us will receive miraculous physical cures for our sufferings. Those kinds of miracles happen, but they are rare. All of us, though, through our suffering have an opportunity to be an instrument for God to show the world some of himself. Like the blindness of this man in the Gospel, God can allow us to suffer so that his works may be made visible through us.

After the healing, the pharisees question the man, badgering him about how he was healed, and whether he believed that Jesus was from God or not. To the man who was healed, it was pretty simple: “One thing I do know is that I was blind, and now I see.”

The man doesn’t really know who Jesus is, but he stands up for the godliness of his healer, and is kicked out of the synagogue. When Jesus hears of this, he finds the man, reveals himself, and the man becomes his disciple. He knows that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God.

Why do we suffer? Perhaps because it is through our trials that God reveals himself to us. Through these experiences we come to see that we are completely dependent upon God. We have no control. We are powerless on our own. The one who opens the eyes of the blind and calms the tempest with his word offers his peace in our lives. All we have to do is place our trust in Him.

When Life Gives You Broccoli…

When Life Gives You Broccoli…

This morning I was reading the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 7), and I came across the well-loved passage, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be open to you.” Those are powerful words. We have a Father in Heaven who is all-powerful and WILLING to give us what we ask for.

Jesus goes on to say, “Who among you would give his son stone when he asks for bread, or a snake when he asks for fish? If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask Him!”

So there we have it. God is our Father. He’s there to provide.

So why is it that sometimes we ask for something, and it never shows up? We ask for healing of a disease, and our loved one slips through our fingers. We ask for a baby, and a pregnancy never happens. Our dreams for our life, perfectly good and holy, never materialize.

How is it that God answers our prayers and gives us every good thing, when sometimes it seems we are surrounded by brokenness?

I honestly think that sometimes, when we ask God for bread, he gives us a power bar instead. It doesn’t taste as good, it looks smaller, it’s kind of strange, and it’s hard to chew. You look at it and wonder, “How can this little bar satisfy me like that yummy buttery piece of white bread toast?”

Sometimes we stare at that power bar for years without eating it. We’re angry at our Father for not giving us the bread we wanted. We’re like stubborn children that won’t eat their broccoli.

But at some point, if we are trusting enough, we’ll find the courage to take a bite. We eat that power bar. We might not like the taste. It might be hard to chew. But after a while, we realize something.

Our Father knows what He is doing. He gave us exactly what we needed for the journey ahead.

He takes the pieces of our broken dreams and with them He makes a new creation.

I don’t know why I have MRKH. I don’t know why my friends and family are dealing with so much of their own pain and suffering. Maybe I’ll never know. But I know that for me, I will Trust in my Father.

Today I choose to eat that power bar.