Tales from the Valley

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

St. Josemaria on Marriage and Infertility

St. Josemaria on Marriage and Infertility

Of all the saints who have ever helped me along my journey, I have yet to find one who writes as beautifully on the topic of infertility as St. Josemaria Escriva.

Josemaria

If you’re a St. Josemaria lover or an infertility junkie, you may have already seen his most well known quote on the subject:

“God in his providence has two ways of blessing marriages: one by giving them children; and the other, sometimes, because he loves them so much, by not giving them children. I don’t know which is the better blessing.”

It’s a beautiful quote. I’ve seen it before. And I love it, I really do. You could meditate for hours on it and still not really reach the end of it. But this isn’t the only thing he’s ever said on the subject.

Recently, I was looking for this quote, and the magic of Google brought me to a larger passage of St. Josemaria’s. Someone had asked the question:

“The frustration caused by not being able to have children, leads, at times, to discord and misunderstanding. In your opinion, what meaning should Christian couples who are childless give to their married life?”

The Saint’s answer was brilliant. Here’s what I considered to be the highlights:

“Often God does not give children because He is asking them for something more. ….

There is, then, no reason for feeling they are failures …..

If the married couple have interior life, they will understand that God is urging them to make their lives a generous Christian service, a different apostolate from the one they would have fulfilled with their children, but an equally marvelous one…

God, who always rewards, will fill with a deep joy those souls who have had the generous humility of not thinking of themselves.”

I read this, and I was stunned. Thrilled. Overjoyed. Finally, there was someone (a Saint even!) boldly proclaiming the truth:

Marriage is holy, in and of itself. Even if God doesn’t give you children.

(If you want, you can read the whole thing here. Scroll down to number 8.)

As Catholics, we often think that we are failures if our families don’t include many children, running around and singing in matching outfits on an Austrian hillside. That not having several children means that we are less loved by God. That our marriage is worthless. But that’s a lie.

God has a plan for marriage—and he even has a plan for YOUR marriage, in particular. And the particular number of children he gives you (even if it is zero) is not what’s important.

What matters is your daily living of your marriage vows— your daily “I do” to your spouse and to God. 

Marriage is a vocation, a call from God, and “the vocation to love is in fact a vocation to the gift of self, and this is a possibility that no physical condition can prevent.” (That’s Pope B-16 for the win, by the way).

“…a different apostolate… but an equally marvelous one.”

Marriage is a path to holiness. And guess what? Everyone’s path is going to be unique.

This is the message that I’ve felt in my heart for a while now (ever since we felt God asking us to set aside our adoption plans), but finally they come out of the mouth of a Saint.

If I had read these words two years ago, I would have hated them. I would have felt my chest and shoulders tightening up and my eyes getting blurry. I would have thrown my computer. I’ve done that before.

I was so wounded and full of grief that I couldn’t have recognized the Lord even if he stood in front of me.

21 Since my heart was embittered
    and my soul deeply wounded,
22 I was stupid and could not understand;
    I was like a brute beast in your presence

Psalm 73: 21-22

I’m still wounded. I still have grief. But it’s different now.

I have hope.

I’ve learned that I’m not bound to procure children at any cost. If God’s plan means I’m not going to be a mother, it’s ok, because it’s not about here – it’s about heaven.

 

But what if you’re not there yet?

I shared the passage from St. Josemaria with a secret Facebook group of Catholic women dealing with infertility, and while many were just as excited as I was, some of the members had a less favorable take:

“This quote would only be helpful if I knew for certain that I would never have a baby. Then I could pick up and move on.”

This really summarizes our initial gut reaction for most crosses, doesn’t it? “If I knew for sure what the outcome would be, then I could get on with my life.”

Have you ever found yourself saying something like that? I sure have. It’s understandable, for sure. After all, we’re all human. We crave stability and certainty. But here’s the thing about the cross:

There is no human certainty in it. There never is.

Jesus isn’t asking you or me to reach a point where we feel safe and sure, and THEN pick up our cross. It can’t work that way – it doesn’t make sense. Instead, Jesus is saying, “Take up your cross and follow me.” He wants us to trust him.

He’s not going to give us the details in advance. Maybe because it would make things too easy. Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe if he let us see all of the pain up ahead before we’ve built up the soul-muscles to handle it, we’d quit before we even tried.

At the end of the day maybe faith is about learning to embrace the cross in the midst of all the uncertainty and instability and specters of hope. Maybe it’s about learning what “hope” truly means, and discovering that as much as we desperately want “x”, there is a wound in our souls even deeper, that requires something even more, that Jesus alone can satisfy.

And that’s where our certainty comes from, isn’t it?

That’s where our assurance lies: in Christ, who loves us deeply, knows us intimately, and is always at our side.

“Do not focus so much on the path, but on the One who guides you, and to the heavenly home to which he is guiding you” – St. Padre Pio

Dear infertile Catholic, it’s ok to be different

Dear infertile Catholic, it’s ok to be different

The world promises you comfort, but you weren’t made for comfort. You were made for greatness.

-Pope Benedict XVI

Last week, a marketer on Twitter assumed I had daughters. Granted, it was a doll company, so it wasn’t the world’s most unreasonable assumption. Still, though, it felt rather uncomfortable.

I politely tweeted back that I won’t be blessed with daughters as I have permanent infertility, but I have always loved dolls.

Crickets.

The next day, they tweeted back “I have a sister who is adopted. And you can be a mother to people through…” Fill in the blank with the same spiritual motherhood things you hear all the time as an infertile.

Now, I don’t bear these people any ill will, but I’m bringing it up here to say why is it that when people hear “infertility”, the first thing that pops into their head is that I’m interested in adoption?

Sure, plenty of people with infertility decide to adopt… but the two do not go hand in hand. Still, there is a lot of pressure on infertile couples to “just adopt” (as if it’s that simple). Why?

Maybe it’s because people are Pollyannas, always looking for an up side. Or maybe it’s because our society likes to have quick fixes, and sweep any pain or suffering out of sight as quickly as possible.

Maybe it’s a deeply ingrained assumption that marriage must always include children, at any cost, no matter what, or it’s not real. At least not as real as those marriages with children.

The truth is that God has a plan for each of us. And each one is unique.

When Christ calls you out on the water, what can you do? It’s wet and it’s cold and it’s scary, and everyone else thinks you’re nuts and tries to convince you to stay in the boat. But once your eyes are caught by his penetrating gaze, how can you do anything but move towards him, no matter what it takes?

Giving up our adoption feels like that–like stepping out of the boat when everyone is telling you that you need to stay put. And though part of me wants to cling to that security, I know deep inside that I have to step out onto the water.


 

Have you ever had a moment when you knew God was asking you to make a choice that no one else was going to understand?

 

 

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.)