I 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.
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:
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:
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.
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 Jesus‘ sake, 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.
I was reading a devotional recently that talked about suffering. It discussed the temptation we fall into of asking “Why me?” Instead, the devotional asked, “why not me?”
The question struck me because I had never thought of it that way. Why not me? Why can’t I carry the cross of infertility? Why can’t I be the one who is an example to others?
The question haunted me for quite some time and I thought of it often in prayer. What good reason did I have for not walking the road of infertility? Why, because I wanted things to be nice and easier? Were any of these reasons really good reasons? I know that through difficulty I would grow but it’s so comfortable not to, so comfortable to not learn to trust completely. When we may feel betrayed by God we should pray to change our cry from “Why me?” to ‘Why not me?” Our suffering makes us more human, better able to relate, and help and minister to others. There is a level of compassion that can only be achieved when the suffering is shared, when we share in Christ’s cross.
In Matthew 16:15 Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” We answer this question in how we live our lives. It’s a constant question we are asked and that we are answering sometimes without even realizing it but others are looking to us for that answer. Others see Christ in the way we respond to our suffering. How we carry our cross is an answer to Jesus’ question.
Pope John Paul II wrote in his apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris (The Christian Meaning of Human Suffering) about situations that bear the sign of suffering and he cites the lack of offspring as one such situation. (paragraph 6).
One of the most common human responses to suffering is to question why, but as the Book of Job explains, suffering is a mystery for which our answers are insufficient and inadequate. However, as Pope John Paul II explains in his letter, the answers in Scripture do not end with the Book of Job. He makes reference to the “Gospel of Suffering” written by Christ. Sometimes the suffering is a repeated fight with my own pride, which theologians say is the primary sin. Pride leads me to subtly buy into the idea of my right to a child. I think sometimes it is because it is too painful for me to believe that God is truly saying no to our request. God is so loving that it is hard for me to understand the love that allows me to suffer so much. “Love is also the richest source of the meaning of suffering” (Salvifici Doloris 13). As St. John says, God is love, so only God can reveal the meaning of my suffering to me.
St. Gianna Beretta Molla said, “One cannot love without suffering or suffer without loving.” At times, it seems almost cruel to see so many people around me become pregnant. I can even understand why infertility leads some people away from their faith – but at those moments, I ask God for the grace to persevere, trust and love as He did amidst the suffering.