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-K√ľster-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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Anima Christi

Anima Christi

Soul of Christ, sanctify me; Body of Christ, save me; Blood of Christ, inebriate me; Water from the side of Christ, wash me; Passion of Christ, strengthen me; O good Jesus, hear me; within your wounds, hide me; let me never be separated from you; from the evil one, protect me; at the hour of my death, call me; and bid me to come to you; that with your saints, I may praise you forever and ever. Amen.

Anima-Christi


When I was a child, I found this prayer in a book¬†that I kept in my room. I would pray it over and over, completely mesmerized. I don’t remember how old I was, but I remember having¬†to pull out the dictionary for “inebriate”. Is it weird that whenever I hear that word, my thoughts immediately go to this prayer?

Within your wounds, hide me.

When I was a kid, I remember picturing being tiny and Jesus being like a giant, keeping me tucked in his pierced side and me being perfectly content, as close to him as possible. I never thought that was weird. Oh, the mind of a Catholic child.

Now that I’m an adult, this line has new meaning. We know that we are particularly close to Jesus in our suffering, for it was then that I carried you.¬†Perhaps asking Jesus to hide us in his wounds means we are asking him to allow us to suffer with him. Perhaps it is about taking up our cross and joining him, uniting our wounds with his. Maybe it’s asking him to keep us close in suffering. This beautiful line makes me think of St. Th√©r√®se and her desire to be small and insignificant. It makes me think of¬†what St. Faustina learned from Jesus, that “If the angels were capable of envy, they would envy us for two things: one is the receiving of Holy Communion, and the other is suffering.”¬†It’s something I could spend the rest of my life contemplating and never quite understand. Perhaps that is what makes it so beautiful.

I don’t really know why, but this prayer always fills my with a strange and wonderful fire, like a burning peace, if that makes sense. It is so powerful. If you’ve never prayed it, I strongly encourage you to give it a try.

Does anyone else find the Anima Christi to be particularly moving? What is your favorite prayer? Is there one in particular that really speaks to you? I’m thinking about making prayer discussion a recurring topic here at TFTV.

Hope and Lemonade. Or Limoncello.

Hope and Lemonade. Or Limoncello.

“The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” Psalm 147:11

One of the greatest consolations in the world is getting a glimpse of God making lemonade out of your lemons (or limoncello, paisan).

I finally know¬†why I have MRKH/infertility. It’s because of the Fall of Man and the general evil and sin existing in the world from the beginning. That’s it. That’s all. That’s why.

What has recently become therapeutic for me is exploring the what now.

I’ve been dealt a lemon, thanks to the existing evil in the natural world. How am I going to give this lemon to God and let Him create something beautiful with it?

I’m coming to believe that this is what “hope” means for those dealing with suffering or grief. We get so hung up on “hope” meaning waiting for a baby, a miraculous cure, or whatever kind of candy we can get from the miracle store. But that’s not how it works. Hope means believing that there will be something beautiful to come. God¬†will turn our lemons to lemonade, and our limes into Key Lime Pie. If we place our hope in Him, God¬†will make sure that our suffering is used to create¬†a greater good.

The best part is when you being to sense the wonderful things coming from His kitchen.

So, we haven’t talked in a while…

In the last few months, I have felt an unusual stirring in my soul. A pull. A tug. Whatever you want to call it.

I don’t know what it is he wants, but I know God wants something.

When I was a child, I was completely in awe and would love nothing better than to spend hours in prayer. This fervor faded a little bit when I was started¬†college. It never completely went away, but saying I’ve had a 10-year spiritual dry spell wouldn’t be completely inaccurate.

In the last few months, I know he’s been calling me back. I have this overwhelming sense that there is something he wants me to do, but I have no idea what it is. I can’t see the big picture. All I can see so far are the little steps.

He asked me to start reading again. Every morning before work, I read as much as I can from the bible over breakfast. So far I’ve been through the Gospel of John, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and 1 Samuel.

He’s been nudging me to pray the rosary at various unusual times. A few times in bed after my husband was asleep, and occasionally at other points. This is kind of strange, as I never really liked praying the rosary, even when I was younger.

I stumbled across St. Gemma. Never heard of her before, but I can’t stop reading about her.

Last month, on what happened to be a Thursday, I had an overwhelming urge to pray in front of the Eucharist. I went before the tabernacle at 6, and by the time I looked at my watch it was almost 7. What happened during this hour was unlike anything I had experienced since I was a girl. Non-stop tears, and an inexplicable desire to wear the hood of my jacket. So I did. And more tears. More about this in a future post.

I don’t know where this is leading. I’m trying to be patient.

I can’t focus on anything else.

 

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.

When Life Gives You Broccoli…

When Life Gives You Broccoli…

This morning I was reading the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 7), and I came across the well-loved passage, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be open to you.” Those are powerful words. We have a Father in Heaven who is all-powerful and WILLING to give us what we ask for.

Jesus goes on to say, “Who among you would give his son stone when he asks for bread, or a snake when he asks for fish? If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask Him!”

So there we have it. God is our Father. He’s there to provide.

So why is it that sometimes we ask for something, and it never shows up? We ask for healing of a disease, and our loved one slips through our fingers. We ask for a baby, and a pregnancy never happens. Our dreams for our life, perfectly good and holy, never materialize.

How is it that God answers our prayers and gives us every good thing, when sometimes it seems we are surrounded by brokenness?

I honestly think that sometimes, when we ask God for bread, he gives us a power bar instead. It doesn’t taste as good, it looks smaller, it’s kind of strange, and it’s hard to chew. You look at it and wonder, “How can this little bar satisfy me like¬†that yummy buttery piece of white bread toast?”

Sometimes we stare at that power bar for years without eating it. We’re angry at our Father for not giving us the bread we wanted. We’re like stubborn children that won’t eat their broccoli.

But at some point, if we are trusting enough, we’ll find the courage to take a bite. We eat that power bar. We might not like the taste. It might be hard to chew. But after a while, we realize something.

Our Father knows what He is doing. He gave us exactly what we needed for the journey ahead.

He takes the pieces of our broken dreams and with them He makes a new creation.

I don’t know why I have MRKH. I don’t know why my friends and family are dealing with so much of their own pain and suffering. Maybe I’ll never know. But I know that for me, I will Trust in my Father.

Today I choose to eat that power bar.

“Our Hearts Are Restless”

“Our Hearts Are Restless”

Now that January is almost over, it’s time to assess how I’m doing with my resolutions. I’m happy to report that 2 out of 3 are going remarkably well. I’ve stuck to my Jorge Cruise diet, and I feel great. I’ve even lost about 5 pounds so far. SNAPS!
My second resolution was to enjoy my house more. This one is definitely working out for me. I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing differently. Maybe it was an attitude adjustment. Either way, I’m really enjoying it. Also, my job is becoming more bearable when I think about the reason I have to go to work.

My third resolution was to grow deeper in my Catholic faith. This one has been a little tricky. My participation in the Sacraments is about where it has always been. James and I always go to Sunday Mass together, and that will never change. I’ve been to Confession once this year, and will go again soon.

It’s not this outward participation that is my problem, though. My prayer life is minimal compared to what it used to be in the past. I seem to be experiencing some sort of aversion to long prayers. I think that what I need to do is just force myself into a habit of prayer. Love is an action, not a feeling. Loving God requires commitment, like marriage. You know that you love him, but sometimes you have to remind yourself, and act lovingly even when you don’t feel like it. You have to “put in the time” whether you want to or not. Eventually, it will pay off.

Perhaps this is a little bit like St. John of the Cross and his “Dark Night of the Soul”. I don’t seem to be interested in praying, yet I have a desire to be more interested in praying. I’ll just pray anyway. As St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord.”

What’s the point of Confession?

Last night, in the midst of all the shopping and wrapping and baking, my fianc√© and I¬†decided to go to our parish penance service.¬†If you’re not¬†familiar with Catholic penance services, they do a few readings from the bible, have a short homily, and then everyone lines up to receive the Sacrament of Confession. Several priests from other parishes were there to hear confessions, including one from my beloved old parish, St. Mary of the Mills.

Going to confession is one of those things that provokes¬†a lot of uncertainty from people, whether they are Catholic or not. Plenty of people argue that there’s no need for it. Why tell the priest your sins when you can tell God yourself?

The official answer is that through the Sacrament of Confession, God forgives us of our sins and grants us the grace to be stronger in the future. This is a textbook answer that works for some. It’s not compelling enough for everyone.

There’s no answer that would satisfy everyone, but the reason I go is pretty simple. It’s wonderful to be able to tell someone all of your problems, and have that person listen, give you a thoughtful answer, and tell you not to worry about it anymore. That’s basically what confession is. Most priests will listen as if they’re your best friend. They’ll give you advice you never thought of. They’ll tell you that God forgives you.¬†When you’re really troubled,¬†it makes a huge difference to¬†hear someone actually say, “I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

The best part of it all is that there is someone who will listen. They’ll listen, and they’ll never tell a single soul. It’s sacred. Confession is an¬†opportunity to talk to someone in total secrecy and know that they have your best interest at heart. With everything that goes on in life, how could you not want to take advantage of that?