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.

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Finding Our Purpose

This morning on Pinterest, I was reminded of St. Catherine of Siena’s famous quote, “If you are who you were meant to be, you will set the world on fire.” Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my purpose, the purpose of marriage, and the purpose of¬†our¬†marriage in particular.

Building the Kingdom. That doesn’t only mean¬†co-creating children, necessarily. It means living to the fullest in your state of life. Christianity without suffering isn’t Christianity, it’s Paganism. We can all be nice and get along. What makes Christianity different? It’s our willingness to bear wrongs patiently in the name of our God. Its taking up your cross daily, and striving to live according to the Gospel.

We want to adopt someday. We’ve visited several local agencies and are forming a plan of how to go about this. For some reason though, I don’t feel that¬†now is the time to start this process. We’ve only been married for a year, we have some debts we’d like to pay, and some traveling we’d like to do. We’d like to be in a position where I could stay home with the baby at least two or three days a week.

I feel like God is calling us to something else right now. I just don’t know what it is. And yes, we still have major emotional breakdowns whenever someone we know announces a pregnancy, but that has more to do with¬†grief and less to do with adoption. Does it makes sense to say we’re peaceful about our current childlessness, yet grieving our infertility?

And so we will keep praying, keep loving, keep being. We know that God has plans for us, and so far He has only led us to beautiful, beautiful things.

“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

Spring!

Spring!

True to the season, we have so much to be happy about right now. There is so much to look forward to, and so many things to process.

 

Our first married Easter was beautiful. We are truly blessed. My parents joined us for Mass, followed by brunch at our house. It was really wonderful. My sister had gone to the Vigil the night before, so she hung out in my kitchen and cooked while were at church.

 

Later, James and I went to his side for dinner. We had a wonderful time visiting with everyone. After talking with his mom, aunts and cousins over the course of the weekend, there was one recurring idea that was mentioned.

“Why don’t you guys put in the application, get the home study, and leave the rest in God’s hands?”

Wow. Honestly it’s such a mind-blowing idea, though it might not sound like it to some. It’s a little different than just deciding to “try” like our fertile friends. If you get pregnant right away, you usually have 9 months to prepare for the baby. If you get chosen right away, with adoption, it can be WEEKS or, in rare cases, DAYS before a baby is in your hands. Of course, it can also take several years.

That, perhaps, is why many have said to put it all in God’s hands. Nothing will happen without a home study, of course, but after that, leave it, and trust.

I think I can do that. Trusting can be hard, but it is something we’re not strangers to. I know that with our family, if we were stuck and needed baby stuff in a pinch, they would help us. As for careers and child care, maybe God will lead me to something I can do part time or from home. My other worry has to do with all the traveling I want to do. Can we take the baby with us? Will we be good at that? I mean if Will and Kate can take George to Australia, surely James and I can take our baby to the great cities of Europe. Does that sound ridiculous? I mean people live with babies every day in every city of the world. It’s more expensive, but it has to be doable, right?

Maybe this is where trust comes in.

The Beginning

The Beginning

Once Upon a Time on June 1, 2013, I married my true love, James. We had a beautiful wedding with 200 of our closest family and friends. Even though we had so many people, to us it felt small and intimate. Having¬†James’s uncle, a priest, as the¬†celebrant¬†made it all the more moving. James’s cousins were the altar servers, and our siblings, cousins, niece and nephew¬†were the attendants. For our dedication to the¬†Blessed Virgin, we used a rose from¬†James’s grandfather’s¬†funeral. My sister sang “The Servant Song” after Communion. We were surrounded by our family. It was perfect.

The Bells of St. Patrick's
The Bells of St. Patrick’s

We were so unbelievably happy on that day and we’ve been glowing ever since.

We honeymooned¬†on St. Thomas, USVI. It was Amazing. Capital “A”.¬†Neither of us had ever been to the Caribbean. We were more than impressed. When we weren’t lounging at the Marriott resort, we were exploring the 17th century Danish sights and hunting down postcard beaches. The day we spend on St. John was my favorite.

Trunk Bay, St. John, USVI
Trunk Bay, St. John, USVI

One more place crossed off the bucket list! I suppose I’ll have to do a travel post soon.

A few weeks after we came home, we went to Avalon, NJ with all of¬†our aunts, uncles, and cousins on James’s side.

Our Family in Avalon, NJ
Our Family in Avalon, NJ

It was probably the best beach vacation I’ve ever had, excluding our honeymoon, of course. I love our family so much and it was such a wonderful experience to spend so much time with them.

I know we’re not even 3 months in yet, but I have to say that I feel so blessed. I have a wonderful husband and the best family in the whole wide world. ūüôā

Three Blessings of a Long Engagement

Our wedding is finally upon us! I don’t know which is more exciting: our wedding (in 17 days!!), our honeymoon (St. Thomas!!!), or finally getting to live in our¬†beautiful home¬†together.

Looking back over our 2 year engagement, there is¬†so much to be thankful for. At the onset, I was not¬†excited about having to wait 2 more years after having been¬†dating for over 3 already. Now that all this time is behind us, I’ve seen how God has really worked in our lives over the last few years.

First,¬†we were able to buy a house. True, we do not live together, and 10 months of owning a home and letting my fianc√© live there¬†without me¬†has not been the most “fun” thing in the world. But, it gave us something to look forward to. It gave us security knowing where we are going to live after the wedding. And it gave us experience in sharing the duties and expenses of running a household. It was definitely an adjustment. The first few months were the most difficult, getting used to all of this. But now that it’s been almost a year, we’ve gotten the hang of things, and we’re happy.

Second, we were able to focus on preparing for our marriage, not just the wedding. We took our time with our Pre-Cana (marriage prep that Catholic couples go through). We met with a lovely couple on Sunday mornings after church. They would make us breakfast, and then we would take our coffee into their sunroom to discuss the big issues: marriage commitment, loving one another, faith, money, children, in-laws, and anything else we could think of. It was a wonderful, positive experience that we will cherish forever.

Finally, over the course of the last 2 years, our relationship with both sets of parents has developed. Not only did we adjust to our newly established permanence, but our parents had the time they needed to adjust to their children growing up and being married.

I still do not recommend 2 year engagements for everyone. In our case, I still don’t think we even needed it. But seeing the blessings that have come thanks to the added time, I am glad that things worked out the way they did.