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.

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

One Year Into Happily Ever After

This month we celebrated out first anniversary. James surprised me by planning a whole weekend of fun, romantic dates. Saturday we went to Mount Vernon, which I’ve never visited. As a history person growing up in the DC suburbs, I know, it’s surprising. Sunday morning we went to Mass at St. Patrick’s, the place of our wedding. After Mass we walked around Ellicott City and the Baltimore Inner Harbor, and had dinner at Rusty Scupper overlooking the water. After dinner, James took me to the hotel where we spent our wedding night, and the staff had put up a sign for us and scattered rose petals on the bed. Everything was so beautiful. I cried. In a good way.

That weekend of celebrating was kind of like our first year- happy, excited, totally in love and completely elated. We still feel like we’re on our honeymoon.

Yes, we have challenges, but we’re dealing with them together. I don’t know what lies ahead, but I think, thanks to God’s help, we’re holding hands as we go along.

Year 2 of Connie and James is forecasted to be another fun one. Hopefully we’ll be going to the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and Newport Beach, CA in the Fall, and touring the United Kingdom in the Spring. We may continue pursuing the adoption process, but after our last agency visit we learned we might not be in a good enough financial position yet. While I think I might like the idea of spending a few more years to ourselves, the emotional side of infertility is currently our most difficult struggle- but that’s for another post.

No matter what lies ahead, we know we can continue to be as happy as ever, as long as we keep God first, always.

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

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.

“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.

Pepperoni and Pachelbel

Pepperoni and Pachelbel

When we left our home in 2010 to move in with my grandmother, I felt as though my childhood had officially died, and my family with it. I love my grandmother very much. Losing my home, though, was something that affected me greatly. Throughout those years, James was my rock. Spending time with him was my home. It gave me something to hope for.

Now I feel more like myself than I have in years. I made pumpkin bread on Saturday. On Sunday, I made homemade pizza while listening to Super Hits of 1720. James didn’t even know I had that CD, that’s how long it’s been. I had forgotten how happy I get while listening to Pachelbel and Bach. Harpsichords just do it for me. Go figure.

My life has changed so much. Every day I wake up and thank God that I am finally married to James. I still can’t believe that it actually happened! I am so overwhelmingly happy.

Romans 8:28 We know that all things work for good for those who love God,who are called according to his purpose.

 

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 fiancé 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.

2013: The Best is Yet to Come

2012 began with a morning stroll down a quiet Duke of Gloucester Street with James. It was unseasonably warm, and the blue sky and warm sun filled us with hope and excitement. After 12 months of various ups and downs, and learning to adjust to my new identity, the year ended with a crackling fire in the cozy basement of our darling new house.

The holiday season was very good to us this year. We decked our newly purchased halls and had a merry time doing it. We hosted our first holiday party (2 in fact) and hung our first outdoor lights. We each had a birthday, and it seemed the whole month was one long feast of merriment. Most importantly, this Christmas season gave us an opportunity to step away from all the stress and think about all the wonderful things that we have done this year.

Strangely, the night before my 25th birthday, I found myself in a state of panic. “I’ll never be 24 again,” I said to myself. “How is it that my 20s are slipping by? What have I to show for it?” Silly, I know. I’m engaged, I have degree, and I own a single family home. Not to mention the numerous bucket list items I have fulfilled already. Still, that night I felt so much anxiety, like none of that had mattered at all and that I wasn’t good enough. I had spent so much of 2012 worrying about jobs and money that I hadn’t spent near enough time enjoying my life.

So, I have resolved to spend the New Year of 2013 being happy. Actually, I have 3 resolutions this year. First, to enjoy my house more, as that is the only reason I trudge through my job each day. Second, to grow deeper in my Catholic faith and read more spiritual literature, both alone and with James. Third, I’ll be keeping to Jorge Cruise’s eating method the entire year. My dad lost 40 lbs in 2012 by eating like Jorge, so I’ve decided to do the same. My plan is that these three small resolutions will feed off of each other and grow into a better-adjusted, happier me.

So much good is set to happen this year. In less than 5 months, I will finally marry the love of my life, and I will finally get to live in the home we are building together. Following the teachings of our Faith and living apart has not been easy by any stretch, but engagement is almost over now, and we know our sacrifice will make things all the more wonderful when our marriage finally begins. I’m so happy that 2013 is finally here, and that the best is yet to come. I’ll be seeing you.

Marriage Advice from a Pumpkin Patch

I told James that I wasn’t going to be happy this Fall until I had carved a pumpkin, baked a pie, and raked leaves. Check numbers 1 and 2.

My Jack-O-Lantern of 2012

We got our darling pumpkin from a redneck on the side of the road. First thing he says when we pull up is, “So who’s paying?” When we said that I was the one with the cash, he said “It’s always that way with young people. The girl pays and the guy’s just standing there.” “Well it’s all both our money anyway,” we said. “Oh, are y’all married?” “Almost,” we answered.

So began the conversation. He told us about how he and his wife divorced after 10 years and then became best friends until she was struck by a car and died. You could see the heartbreak in his watery blue eyes. He told us that the worst thing you can do in a marriage is be jealous. “If y’all go to a party, doesn’t matter who she’s talking to, as long as she leaves with you that’s fine.”

I guess the moral of the story is that marriage is hard enough, so don’t sweat the small stuff. Like my grandfather used to say, “Keep your eyes wide open before marriage and half-shut after.” What is it about “forever” that makes people start getting petty and forgetting their friendship? I hope we always remember that we are best friends, and that nothing is ever more important than this.

Why does everyone spend so much on weddings?

Flipping through bridal magazines trying to get some cute ideas for our upcoming big day, I started getting a little sick to my stomach. No, not cold feet. I was a little sickened by some of the extravagance, to be honest. It seems like so many people spend so much time and energy on the wedding without putting much effort at all into preparing for a life together.

I grew up in a Catholic family, and so did James. We were taught that marriage is a Sacrament. This means that marriage is much more than just a civil contract, it’s sacred. In it, two people are joined forever by God, who gives them the grace and strength to live out their vows. This puts it on a level way beyond our secular view of marriage. Take a look at the Catholic marriage vows:

“I, (name), take you, (name), to be my (wife/husband). I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you, all the days of my life.”

That’s some serious business.

I want our wedding to be about our enormous family and the life we’re beginning together. I don’t want the Plaza in June, the $15,000 gown, or the $5,000 carriage ride in Disney World. Just my James and our family and close friends (which adds up to over 300 people so we really have to scale it back! We’d like to keep it 200 MAX, preferably less). Now it’s true, having a party for 200 people that involves food and dancing is very expensive. But that doesn’t mean it has to be extravagant.

Look at the difference, for example, between Kim Kardashian and Kate Middleton. Two very expensive televised events, but that’s where the similarities end. Kim married a guy she hadn’t dated for very long in a Hollywood glam ceremony where everything was the absolute most expensive it could possibly be. It was extravagance for the sake of extravagance. Will and Kate had been dating for YEARS. They showed the utmost dignity throughout the engagement and wedding, and didn’t make a show out of their love. It was expensive because it was the royal family, but it was tasteful. You could tell that they truly loved each other and had been waiting for that moment for a long time. Will and Kate’s wedding displayed true love. Kim and Kris’s wedding displayed extravagance.

I also don’t like all this emphasis on the wedding being all about the bride. It’s not just my day, it’s his day too! It’s OUR day. I’m sure I’ll have some crazy stressed out moments along the way, but I want to always remember that the bridesmaid’s earrings have absolutely ZERO consequence. What matters is that James and I are being joined together in a lifelong commitment to love and honor each other for the rest of our lives. That is what we are celebrating. And that is priceless.