Spirituality of infertility

Infertility Awareness Week 2014: A Catholic Perspective

infertility awareness~~~ This is being published to many other sites as well in an effort to bring awareness to the experience of infertility. ~~~

One in six couples will experience infertility at some point in their marriage. Infertility is medically defined as the inability to conceive after 12 cycles of “unprotected” intercourse or 6 cycles using “fertility-focused” intercourse. A couple who has never conceived has “primary infertility” and a couple who has conceived in the past but is unable to again has “secondary infertility”. Many couples who experience infertility have also experienced miscarriage or pregnancy loss.

This week, April 20 – 26, 2014 is National Infertility Awareness Week.

We, a group of Catholic women who have experienced infertility, would like to take a moment to share with you what the experience of infertility is like, share ways that you can be of support to a family member or friend, and share resources that are helpful.

If you are experiencing infertility, please know you are not alone. You are loved and prayed for and there are resources to help you with the spiritual, emotional, and medical aspects of this journey

The Experience of Infertility

In the beginning of trying to conceive a child, there is much hope and anticipation; for some, even a small fear of “what if we get pregnant right away?” There is planning of how to tell your husband and when you’d announce to the rest of the family. It is a joyful time that for most couples results in a positive pregnancy test within the first few months. However, for one in six couples, the months go by without a positive test and the fears and doubts begin to creep in. At the 6th month of trying using fertility-focused intercourse (using Natural Family Planning), the couple knows something is wrong and is considered “infertile” by doctors who understand the charting of a woman’s pattern of fertility.  At the 9th month of trying, the month that, had they conceived that first month, a baby would have been arriving, is often the most painful of the early milestones. At the 12th month mark the couple “earns” the label from the mainstream medical community as “infertile”.

As the months go by, the hopes and dreams are replaced with fears, doubts, and the most invasive doctors’ appointments possible. As a Catholic couple faithful to the teachings of the Church, we are presented by secular doctors with options that are not options for us and are told things like “you’ll never have children” and “you have unexplained infertility”; by our Catholic doctors we are told to keep praying and to have hope as they roll up their sleeves and work hard to figure out the cause of our infertility, with each visit asking, “How are you and your husband doing with all of this?”

We find it hard to fit in. We have faith and values that are different than our secular culture, but our childlessness (primary infertility) or small family (secondary infertility) makes us blend in with the norm. We have faith and values that are in line with the teachings of our Church, but our daily life looks so much different than the others who share those values and that makes us stand out in a way that we would rather not. We are Catholic husbands and wives living out our vocation fully. Our openness to life does not come in the form of children; it takes on the form of a quiet “no” or “not yet” or “maybe never” from God each month as we slowly trod along. Our openness to and respect for life courageously resists the temptations presented to us by the secular artificial reproductive technology industry.

Often times our friends and family do not know what to say to us, and so they choose to not say anything. Our infertility stands like a great big elephant in the room that separates us from others. Most of the time, we don’t want to talk about it, especially not in public or in group settings because it is painful and we will often shed tears. We realize it is difficult and ask that you realize this difficulty as well. We will do our best to be patient and to explain our situation to those who genuinely would like to know, but please respect our privacy and the boundaries we establish, as not only is infertility painful, it is also very personal.

One of the hardest experiences of infertility is that it is cyclical. Each month we get our hopes up as we try; we know what our due date would be as soon as we ovulate; we know how we would share the news with our husband and when and how we would tell our parents. We spend two weeks walking a fine line between hope and realism, between dreaming and despairing. When our next cycle begins – with cramps and bleeding and tears – we often only have a day or two before we must begin taking the medications that are meant to help us conceive. There is little to no time to mourn the dream that is once again not achievable; no time to truly allow ourselves to heal from one disappointment before we must begin hoping and trying again. We do not get to pick what days our hormones will plummet or how the medications we are often taking will affect us. We do not get to pick the day that would be “best” for us for our next cycle to start. We are at the mercy of hope, and while that hope keeps us going it is also what leaves us in tears when it is not realized.

Our faith is tested. We ask God “why?”, we yell at Him; we draw closer to God and we push Him away. Mass brings us to tears more often than not and the season of Advent brings us to our knees. The chorus of “Happy Mother’s Day” that surrounds us at Mass on the second Sunday in May will be almost more devastating than the blessing of mothers itself. We know that the Lord is trustworthy and that we can trust in Him; sometimes it is just a bigger task than we can achieve on our own.

Please…

  • Pray for us. Truly, it is the best thing that anyone can do.
  • Do not make assumptions about anything – not the size of a family or whether or not a couple knows what is morally acceptable to the Church. Most couples who experience infertility do so in silence and these assumptions only add to the pain. If you are genuinely interested, and not merely curious, begin a genuine friendship and discover the truth over time.
  • Do not offer advice such as “just relax,” “you should adopt,” “try this medical option or that medical option” – or really give any advice. Infertility is a symptom of an underlying medical problem; a medical problem that often involves complicated and invasive treatment to cure.
  • Do not assume that we will adopt. Adoption is a call and should be discerned by every married couple. Infertility does not automatically mean that a couple is meant to adopt.
  • Ask how we are doing and be willing to hear and be present for the “real” answer. Often times we answer, “OK” because that’s the easy, “safe” answer. Let us know that you are willing to walk through this the tough time with us. Frequently we just need someone who is willing to listen and give us a hug and let us know we are loved.
  • Offer a Mass for us or give us a prayer card or medal to let us know you are praying for us. Just please refrain from telling us how we must pray this novena or ask for that saint’s intercession. Most likely we’ve prayed it and ask for the intercession daily. Please feel free to pray novenas and ask for intercession on our behalf.
  • Be tolerant and patient. The medications we take can leave us at less than our best; we may not have the energy or ability to do much. Please also respect us when we say “no, thank you” to food or drinks. We may have restricted diets due to our medical conditions and/or medications.
  • Share the good news of your pregnancy privately (preferably in an email or card or letter and not via text, IM chat, phone call or in person) and as soon as possible. Please understand that we are truly filled with joy for you; any sadness we feel is because we have been reminded of our own pain and we often feel horrible guilt over it as well. Please be patient and kind if we don’t respond immediately, attend your baby shower or don’t “Like” all of your Facebook updates about your children. Again, it is really about us, not you.
  • Help steer group conversations away from pregnancy and parenting topics when we are around. We like to be able to interact in a conversation to which we can contribute meaningfully.
  • Do not ask when we are going to “start a family” (we started one the day we got married).
  • Do not ask which one of us is the “problem” – we are either fertile or infertile as a couple.
  • Do not say things like “I know you’ll be parents some day,” or “It will happen, I know it will!” Along the same lines, please do not tell us stories of a couple you know who struggled for years and went on to conceive or to “just adopt and then you’ll get pregnant” (this one actually only happens a small percentage of the time). Only God knows what our future holds, please pray with us that we are able to graciously accept His will for our lives.
  • Do not pity us. Yes, we have much sorrow. Yes, we struggle. But, we place our faith in God, lean on the grace of our marriage, and trust that someday, whether here on earth or in heaven, we will see and understand God’s plan.

Resources:

Infertility Companion for Catholics

Facing Infertility: A Catholic Approach

Reproductive Technology: Guidelines for Catholic Couples (From the USCCB)

 

Bloggers who contributed to this article (those with an * have children after primary infertility or are experiencing secondary infertility. They are marked as such so that if you aren’t up for possibly seeing baby/child pictures today, you can meet them on a day when you are, but please do take the time to go and visit them.):

Amy @ This Cross I Embrace

DM & AM @ Snapshots

K @ Lucky as Sunshine

L @ Infertile in Minnesota

Lora @ Abounding Love

Mary Beth @ Grace of Adoption

Mrs. Fitz @ Romans 12:12

Polkadot @ Making God Laugh

Rebecca @ The Road Home

Stephanie @ Blessed to Be

Stephanie @ Chateau d’IF

*A. @ All in His Perfect Timing

*Alison @ Matching Moonheads 

E. @ God’s Plan is My Joy

*Jenny @ All Things

*Katie @ Just Think of Lovely Things

*M. @ Joy Beyond the Cross

*Morgan @ Life as We Know It

*Sarah @ Fumbling Toward Grace

There is also a “Secret” Facebook group with over 150 members who contributed to this article as well. For more information or to join the group, email Rebecca at RebeccaWVU02@gmail.com.

Recognizing Jesus

Christ - Resurrection - My Redeemer Liveth 1 - Roger LovelessI recently had a bad spell at work after finding out a coworker was pregnant.  Having to compose myself and get back to work was hard, but after some deep breaths and prayer, I was able to continue working. The process of grief is also one that we at times feel should be easier.  For example, I still miss my father more than 10 years after his passing, but yet with infertility I am less patient with myself and I wish I did not get so upset when I hear of someone else’s good fortune.

I read a book by Peter van Breemen S.J., The God Who Won’t Let Go, that talked about Mary Magdalene visiting the tomb of Jesus and her grief at the Lord’s death (John 20).  She was so engulfed in her own grief that she did not even recognize Jesus when he spoke to her.  There are so many moments during this journey when the pain has been so great that I, too, have failed to recognize Jesus.

Mary Magdalene chose to turn toward her faith community in her grief instead of retreating from the world and isolating herself. This is a wonderful example of how we need to turn to those people and things that give us strength so we can face the situations that defy our understanding.

Infertility Workshop in Atlanta Archdiocese – Feb. 16

The Embrace Ministry of the Archdiocese of Atlanta is sponsoring an Infertility Workshop on Saturday, Feb. 16 at St. Brigid Catholic Church, 3400 Old Alabama Rd., Johns Creek, GA 30022 from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM. Topics will include Treatment Options for Catholics, Barrenness, Child-Bearing, and Assisted Reproductive Technologies in the Roman Catholic Tradition, Infertility’s Effects on Marriage, and Bearing the Cross of Infertility.

Registration is $15 and includes lunch. Register at: http://www.embracefamilies.com/events

Please join us for this blessed event! Click below for an event flyer with more information:

Infertility Workshop Flyer

Sarah’s Hope & Abraham’s Promise

When we attended the Future Full of Hope prayer service at the Diocese of Austin, we were privileged to meet the organizers of the Sarah’s Hope and Abraham’s Promise infertility and miscarriage support groups. They also hold occasional couples’ retreats with healing Masses – one is coming this Saturday, Oct. 20 at the Schoenstatt Shrine in Austin, TX. If you’re unable to attend, please keep those in attendance in your prayers. Here is a flyer you can download with more information on the retreat:

Sarah’s Hope flyer

 

Rituals

April 19, 2012I read in Tears of Sorrow, Seeds of Hope that “rituals seek change, not of God, but of us…The participants expect, and hope, to be different after a successful ritual than they were before…The ritual’s fundamental purpose is to escort the participants across a threshold, from where they are to where they need to go.”

We recently helped organize our first diocesan Mass of hope and encouragement for those experiencing infertility or miscarriage.  We did not know who or how many people would come.  Being at the Mass and seeing people there taking comfort in our ultimate Catholic ritual – the blessing of the Holy Mass – made me think back to this quote and the truth behind it. 

The quote I cite above comes from a Jewish book on infertility, so the Mass is not something that is mentioned or even thought of, but it resonated with me.

April 19, 2012We organized the Mass with the hope that this ritual would help people see the beauty in what God is doing in their lives amidst their pain.  There were pregnant women who came to the Mass, as well as those who longed for a child, people who had long ago suffered infertility and those walking the road right now.  There were people who participated that were not infertile but simply went to support a friend or loved one who has experienced this emptiness. 

The ritual of the Mass united us all.  There we all were, praying, receiving, offering – we crossed a threshold to a place of hope, and united our cross to Christ’s.

Learning to pray through infertility

Remaining faithful in our prayer lives is one of the biggest challenges when bearing the cross of infertility. Infertility can shake our faith to the core, but it is so important to persevere and remain close to God, even when we may not feel His loving presence.

Please read this beautiful, honest perspective on infertility – and specifically on praying through infertility – written by a faithful Catholic man:

http://blogs.nd.edu/oblation/2012/05/24/waiting-for-gabriel-learning-to-pray-through-infertility/

The battle

We had a great run in our Blog Book Tour and took some time off to recover from our “travels!” Thanks so much to the great blogs that hosted us and enabled us to share a message of hope for this cross of infertility. We hope you will continue to visit these lovely blogs and get to know the bloggers as they share their faith and pour out their hearts.

The past few weeks have given us an opportunity to further reflect upon this experience of infertility and how it affects so many areas of our lives. Here’s one such reflection:

The battle
Lately, I’ve come to think about more imagery of war in my prayer life.  Infertility can be seen as an adversary.  Like any good adversary it sneaks up on you.  It slowly reveals itself to you.  Month after month, disappointment after disappointment, it shows itself more and more.  At some point, though, we are forced to see the enemy and call it by name.  I am infertile.  Unfortunately this is not like G.I. Joe where knowing is half the battle.  It seems that once infertility is named, it claims a stake at the center of our lives.  Charts, doctors’ appointments, the passing of the months; it’s all measured by infertility.  Before we know it the enemy is gaining ground on us – infertility is taking over.  It is up to us to stop.  We need to fight back and hard.  We need to put on some extra thick knee pads and pray.  Surrender.  Trust.  When we do these things they are triumphs in the war and we begin to see the tide turn.  The war may not be over but we are on our way and we can claim victory because we know that God is on our side and He has already won.

Mass for those touched by infertility and miscarriage – Archdiocese of Miami

All are welcome to attend the Archdiocese of Miami’s first Mass of Hope and Encouragement for Those Touched by Infertility on Thursday, April 19 at 7:45 PM at St. Timothy Catholic Church, 5400 SW 102 Ave., Miami, FL 33165.

This archdiocesan Mass of prayer and intercession will be offered for couples struggling with the cross of infertility, miscarriage and pregnancy-related difficulties. All are invited to show your prayerful support. After the Mass, there will be a light reception with Catholic infertility-related resources at the parish’s McDermott Hall West. The Mass is being co-sponsored by the Family Life Office of the Archdiocese of Miami.

Please download these flyers below in English and Spanish and help spread the word!

Mass flyer

Mass flyer-Spanish

 

 

Webinar recording available now

If you were unable to view our webinar entitled, “Infertility: Spiritual Care and Practical Support for Catholic Couples,” it is available now. View it in its entirety here:

On Suffering – A Lenten Reflection, Part 2

Many Catholics are familiar with the phrase “offer it up,” but what does that mean and how can we offer up our infertility? “In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man [or woman], in his [or her] suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.” (Salvifici Doloris 19)

This can give meaning to suffering, which so often seems to be lacking.  I know then, through my faith, that my suffering has meaning, that just as Christ died for our sins and suffered, the cross I carry has meaning.

In the Second Letter to the Corinthians the Apostle writes: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesussake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh …. knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus” (2 Cor. 4, 8-11. 14).

I find it helpful to focus onSt. Paul’s use of the word body and his imagery of us carrying our cross in the body since infertility is a physical ailment.St. Paulsays it clearly: we can manifest the life of Christ in our bodies. We can be witnesses to God’s love no matter what happens. We can show others a different way of dealing with infertility. We can be afflicted but focus on Christ and know that He has suffered for us and joins us on the road of infertility – we will not despair.

And in the Letter to the Romans he writes: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12, 1).  While undergoing countless tests and procedures, it has helped me to focus on that image of my body as a living sacrifice. We bear the suffering of the cross but know that the story does not end there. Our faith in the Resurrection is what helps us to continue on the journey despite the difficulty. Paul’s words challenge me to show others Christ in and through my suffering of infertility. This is very difficult and there are moments when it seems almost impossible to do. For example, when recently hearing the news of another IVF pregnancy, the hurt and anger were deep.  Talking to a friend in the faith helped me to vent and gain the necessary perspective. 

The brokenness of infertility is also special in that it is a brokenness of our body that may not be obvious.  It’s not a physical deformity that can be seen by others, for the most part, but we may feel that our bodies have let us down, like they are not doing something they are supposed to do; we may even feel like less of a woman Also it’s a brokenness that many times goes unspoken — maybe because people don’t ask, are afraid to ask, or we may not want to share.

St. Paul, though, also reminds us that “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Cor. 4, 8-11. 14 – 1, 5). This is the key, however: to always remember that we are not alone in our suffering, that Christ is comforting us as well.

In Salvifici Doloris, the late Blessed John Paul II alludes to the maturity which suffering brings.  Tto suffer means to become particularly susceptible, particularly open to the working of the salvific powers of God. (Salvifici Doloris 27). It is suffering, more than anything else, which clears the way for the grace which transforms human souls.

Confession became an important sacrament and avenue for this transformative grace for my husband and me as we learned to let go of so much and seek God’s counsel. I have to be honest and say that confession is not the easiest of sacraments for me to participate in, and though I am a more frequent confession-goer now because infertility has brought to the forefront many of my failings and sins, I still need more of the grace received from reconciliation.

John Paul II said that, “Suffering is also an invitation to manifest the moral greatness of man, his spiritual maturity.”  By being a witness to others on the journey you can also inspire them in their own faith. Christ did not conceal from his listeners the need for suffering. He said very clearly: “If any man would come after me… let him take up his cross daily” (Luke 9: 23). The way that leads to the Kingdom of heaven is “hard and narrow,” and Christ contrasts it to the “wide and easy” way that “leads to destruction” (Matthew 7: 13-14). Our culture rejects the difficult road many times and looks for quick fixes.  Yet God says in Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

As we enter this Holy Triduum, may we remember that in coming to God and uniting our suffering with Christ’s, our journey will be easy as we place our trust in Him.