The Stages of Grief, MRKH style

The Stages of Grief, MRKH style

I’ll be throwing a few personal details out there with this post, but if it helps one other girl struggling with MRKH or the prospect of permanent infertility, it is worth it. I truly believe that God has been holding my hand through the entire ordeal, and that his grace makes all things possible.

In the months leading up to the discovery of my MRKH, I became profoundly spiritual. I would spend every available moment in the church that was across the street from my high school, praying before the Blessed Sacrament. I was the sacristan of the school chapel, and the chaplain was my spiritual director. I had a deep desire to give my whole life to God as a religious sister. I know now that this was our Lord’s way of preparing me for the trauma that would soon enter my life.

Outside I look completely normal, and up until that point I had developed normally for a teenage girl, so no one suspected anything was different. Finally, when I turned 16 and I still hadn’t menstruated (even though I felt cramps), we knew something was wrong. After a long series of doctors and tests, a laparoscopy finally proved that I had “congenital absence of uterus and vagina.” I learned later that this is also known as Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser Syndrome, or MRKH.

When I first heard the news, I was calm. I’m going to be a nun, so this doesn’t matter, I thought. Not a big deal. Let’s call that Stage 1: Denial.

Next came the identity crisis. Also known as Stage 2: Anger and Confusion

Stages of Grief: MRKH Style

True story: this question plagued me for a long time. People associate womanhood with motherhood. In our culture we call getting your 1st period “becoming a woman.” As Catholics, we hold a deep love for the mother of Jesus. Growing up in a big family, all of the women I knew were mothers. Female conversation topics almost always included children. Where did this leave me? If I didn’t have a womb, was I truly a woman?

After much anger, tears, and throwing theology books (looking at you, Alice von Hildebrand), I came to realize that being a woman has nothing to do with one’s body parts, or lack thereof. My faith teaches that God created me female on purpose, and that even my soul was created female. After a lot of over-thinking and crying, I figured it must be true. Womanhood is more than skin deep. And it is so much more than reproduction. But what about marriage? Would I be permitted to marry in the church? Thank God I felt very close to my spiritual director at the time, and he guided me to Canon Law that stated, yes. Absolutely. Sterility is not an impediment to marriage, and impotence is only an impediment if it is permanent and irreversible (mine was easily corrected). Marriage and sex is about more than the ability to bear children. My future marriage would be valid.

After the identity crisis (which lasted at least 2-3 years), we hit Stage 3:  Bargaining.

AKA, learning to trust.

I knew that the Church was opposed to IVF and surrogacy. I had a decent knowledge of why, thanks to Catholic high school. But I still wrestled with accepting this. Being in love with Jesus, I never wanted to knowingly disobey his Church, even if I disagreed (thank you, Mom and Dad, for filling my head with tales of great Saints who became my childhood heroes). And so, it was in this frame of mind that I lived the next several years of my life.

I knew there would be no special dispensation for IVF. I knew if it was considered a sin, it was bound in heaven. But still, I thought there should be some “ethical” way of doing the illicit. Though I would obey the Church, I frequently opened the conversation about it, hoping she would change her mind. I even published an article on this blog in 2010 (6 years after diagnosis) about why I thought the Church should change her stance on IVF (though I’ve since removed the post).

I think I hit Stage 4: Depression not long after my wedding. I was so unbearably sad that my husband and I would never be blessed with a child that was genetically related to us. We would never see what that looks like. Our love would never be “fruitful” in the traditional sense of the word.

Thanks be to God, I married a man who was similarly committed to obedience. Even before marriage, we trusted that these rules were given to us by God not to make us unhappy, but because he loves us and knows what is best. I believe it was the grace from the Sacrament of Marriage that opened my heart to the truth about IVF, and led to Stage 5: Acceptance. Even if you don’t kill any embryos, and you collect sperm in a “licit” way, it doesn’t matter. The act of marriage is so profoundly sacred and beautiful, and absolutely nothing should get in the way of that. We have a right that, if we are blessed with biological parenthood, it will only be through each other. Our bond is sacred. Nothing should mess with that, or cheapen it. The marital relationship should not be subject to manipulation, for any reason. This is a beautiful thing.

(Note: if you would like to read an in-depth explanation of the Church’s teaching on IVF, written by a Catholic dealing with infertility, please see this awesome post from Conceiving Hope.)

Clearly, as evidenced on this site, I still grieve. I’m sure this is a thorn that will be with me all the days of my life. I will always need God’s help. But I write because I want you to know that there is hope, even though it might not be what you think. Hope is not the confidence of a miraculous cure, but the confidence that God is with us and will sustain us. He has a plan. I know this. And no matter what you’re facing, he will carry you through.

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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.