Tales from the Valley

"Not all those who wander are lost"- J.R.R. Tolkien

The Couple in the Pew

The Couple in the Pew

This is my article that was published in the Catholic Standard a few months ago. I found it online today and thought you all would like to read it.

The couple in the pew: the impact of infertility

By Connie Poulos
Thursday, April 23, 2015 2:26 PM

There is a couple sitting in the pew on Sunday. You know they have been married at least one, two, three years now. No children yet.

If you’ve spotted me, or any of the thousands of local Catholics dealing with infertility, our childlessness is not by choice.

The desire for children is deeply rooted in our human nature. We see this in the excitement and hope of those trying to conceive. We see it most profoundly in the pain experienced by those for whom this desire is unfulfilled.

According to a recent study, one in six couples struggle with some form of infertility. Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after a year of trying, or the inability to carry a pregnancy to term. Infertility can be primary (no living children) or secondary (unable to conceive or carry an additional child). Affecting men and women in equal numbers, infertility is a true medical condition and not the result of stress, “not doing it right” or “not relaxing.” Worse still, it is a real emotional and spiritual trauma that can potentially wreak havoc on a husband and wife.

The inability to achieve something so natural, so expected, so inherent to the dignity of marriage, cuts at the heart of our sense of self. Broken dreams serve as a painful reminder that children are indeed a gift; they cannot be created on demand. They cannot be earned. We are not the Author of Life, God is.

Emotionally, there is no way to “get over” infertility. It is a continual loss, day in and day out. Even years after acceptance, something unexpected can trigger uncontrollable tears. Baptisms, Mass readings mentioning pregnancy, pregnancy announcements and receiving a shower invitation are all situations that can re-open the wound. Holidays are hard. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day Masses bring a unique degree of torture. Why should all these happy events cause such grief? Simply this: the wound is too deep. The weight is too much to bear.

Part of this cross, unique to Catholics, is choosing to put God above our own desires. With some forms of infertility, the only way to fulfill the good, natural, and burning desire for a biological child is through illicit treatments. Laying down our God-given desires and freely choosing to forgo these technologies (sometimes out of pure obedience) is a tremendous sacrifice. Many friends and family cannot understand why we choose this. Instead of supporting our faith, they act as though we are bringing pain upon ourselves, and plead with us to try IVF. What keeps us going? We trust that in his wisdom, God does not give us these rules to make us miserable, but because he knows what is ultimately going to make us happy.

Learning to live in an infertile reality is like climbing a mountain barefoot in a blizzard. First things first, hold tight to your spouse and to God. No matter what is causing infertility, the important thing to remember is that this suffering, this pain, was not given to you by God. Suffering is a reality of our fallen world, as unavoidable as earthquakes and hurricanes. As much as we cry over infertility, God cries more. He loves life; he loves babies! He cries for those who are unable to conceive or who lose a child. The beauty of our faith is that we believe that our suffering itself is fruitful. We have hope that God can and will use our suffering to create something glorious. “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

Even in the cross, there are gifts to be explored. Infertility opens our eyes to the reality that fruitfulness in marriage takes many forms, and that our call to life and love is a daily occupation, regardless of our circumstances. Infertility, viewed from the cross, reminds us that the gift given in marriage involves a new life, even if it may not be expressed in the beautiful gift of children. All married love is fruitful. The light of Christ that comes out of the sacramental union shines forth into the darkness of our fallen world. “The vocation to love,” said Pope Benedict, “is a vocation to the gift of self and this is a possibility that cannot be impeded by any organic condition.”

When God calls us to marriage, he calls us to love and honor our spouse all the days of our lives. He calls us to be open to whatever life he has planned. Our vocation to marriage is as real and as serious as any other vocation. A family of two is no less a family. We are a visible sign of God’s love.

If you or someone you know is struggling with infertility, we would like to invite you to the upcoming Archdiocesan Morning of Hope and Healing, to be held on Saturday, April 25 at 10:00, at the Saint John Paul II Shrine in Washington, DC. Planned with all types of infertility in mind, we welcome all those who carry this cross, along with their friends, families and supporters. There will be simultaneous translation into Spanish for our Hispanic faithful. For more information, please visit http://www.adw.org/event/mass-hope-healing/ or email or call Mary Hamm in the Office of Family Life at hammm@adw.org; or 301 853-4499.

(Connie Poulos is a local Catholic blogger at http://www.TalesfromtheValley.com . #Visible Sign is a column on marriage and family life produced by the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office for Family Life. For more information, see http://www.adw.org/visiblesign.)

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Blessed are the Invisible

Blessed are the Invisible

You know that dream, the one where you’re screaming for help but no sound escapes your lips? It’s terrifying. You desperately need help, but no one sees your plight. You are invisible.

Many of us feel this way in our suffering, especially if that suffering is infertility, singleness, or difficult marriages. We have a hard time finding spiritual support, and we feel completely alone in our journeys. We feel like we are forgotten by our fellow Catholics. Why?

The Church is made of humans, and humans fall into judgement. Humans beings make assumptions like, “The more children you have, the better Catholic you are,” and “Anyone without a happy marriage and several children must be in a state of sin.”Amidst these assumptions, those who suddenly find themselves single or without children tend to shrink back and hide. They’re ashamed and embarrassed, though they did nothing wrong. And you know what happens when good people are ashamed for no reason? They keep their mouths shut. They’re afraid to be outed as a misfit. They accept their invisibility, and the shroud of secrecy is allowed to grow. When the secrecy grows, the judgmental stay ignorant, and the stereotypes continue. This is not what God wants.

JesusNeverSaid

I’m here today to tell you, all of you who are invisible, to have hope. Rejoice in your invisibility. Yes, it is awful to be one of the misfits, the different, the hidden people on the margin. But we have a God who sees what is hidden. Ours is a God of the marginalized.

Jesus spent much of his earthly ministry saying over and over again that those who are smallest are the most precious to him. He lifted up the powerless: women, children, and backwater fishermen. He ministered to the lepers, the sinners, and the poor. His message wasn’t for those with perfect lives. It was for you.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” You are suffering, you have a problem, you are powerless, you need God. Therefore you are blessed, because he has promised you his kingdom.

“Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.” I’m sure you’ve done your share or mourning. You will find comfort, even if it’s not in the way that you would expect.

And when people judge your cross, remember this:

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Each of us is called to something different. God wants us to live our lives for him, whatever that entails. If your life doesn’t fit the mold, live it anyway. He loves you just as much. In fact, he has a soft spot for you.

Jesus always roots for the underdog. ❤

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.

“One small step…”

Knowing that I will never be pregnant, no matter how hard I storm the gates of heaven, is something that has taken me many years to accept. I still have my off days. Some days are smiles, some days are tears, some days are calm, and some days are far from it. Some days, the best days, are beautiful opportunities for growth.

It might not look like much, but it was a milestone for me today when I created my adoption board on Pinterest. “Adoption is the new pregnant” is my title, after a shirt I saw on the site. It may be a little overly cheery for those facing the sharp pain of infertility (including me on my off days), but I think I am finally ready to embrace this line. Pretty sure. I hope.

While attempting to focus on the positive and scouring Pinterest for adoption pins, I found the blog of this amazing woman. She’s in her 20s, like me, and she’s been down the same road. Like me, she has known since her teens that she could never be pregnant. I’ve only read some of her blog so far, and I find it to be well beyond inspirational. It was exactly what God needed me to see at this point in my life. Thank you, Mrs. O’Brien, if you ever read this. And thank you, God, for helping me and James along this road.