Monday, April 2, 2007

The Infertile Catholic

Having written much since the inception of this blog about the incomparable joys of motherhood, I have been meaning for quite some time to share our story about the struggle of infertility. I know what it means to live a Christian married life without babies, and I remember the unspeakable pain suffered on account of an empty womb and a quiet home. And so this post, my friends, is dedicated to those beautiful couples, who have been given one of the greatest crosses set against the tabernacle of holy marriages - the cross of infertility.


When I was first married nearly ten years ago, I dreamt of nothing more for my life than motherhood. I wanted ten children. For a vibrant, youthful twenty-three year old who had only taken the first steps on her marital path, I recall how rare it was at that time for young women my age to desire a large family. But I was not surrounded by common modern women whose idea of fulfillment was a successful career and one or two children down the road. Perhaps in some ways infertility would have been easier had I been among such company. I was blessed with friends and family who not only admired the bountiful home, but pursued it with every bit of grace given them. And their families were indeed beautiful.

That beauty multiplied for each family as their fruits multiplied. This was where the combination of being Catholic and barren began to weigh more heavily on me. I celebrated the births of first babies and second babies and third babies, and though I was happy for each and every one of those miracles, I couldn't help but feel very alone. Isolated from my closest friends and abandoned by Divine Providence.

The questions seemed endless. Why not me? Why is she expecting her sixth child while I stand here with none? Couldn't I have one baby? Just one, Lord, that's all I'm asking. What is wrong with me that I have no children? Would I be a terrible mother? The Church teaches that marriage is primarily for the sake of procreation. What does that mean for my own marriage? Has it been in vain, since we are not achieving our primary purpose as a married couple?

The questions were all legitimate in my own mind. Even Holy Scripture shows us the heart of the barren woman through Sarah, Hannah, and Rachel.

And Rachel, seeing herself without children, envied her sister, and said to her husband: Give me children, otherwise I shall die. (Gen. 30:1)

In the catechism we see the compassion of the Church for the couple who cannot conceive:

Couples who discover that they are sterile suffer greatly. "What will you give me," asks Abraham of God, "for I continue childless?" (CCC 2374)

I held onto these "pearls" Alice so beautifully speaks of with every bone in my body.

Two years into our marriage my husband and I began seeing infertility specialists. We then spent the following two years enduring much testing and a long list of treatments, including various pills and intramuscular injections, some of which required needles more than three inches long. Fortunately I was not bothered by any of it. After all, it was a means to an end. And I was willing to do anything within Church approval to attain that end. But I am very sanguine tempered. For the melancholic or choleric person this too would have been a heavy cross.

As a young Catholic wife without children, the company of friends was often a heavy burden. Ironic that those we love most and desire only the good for can, through no fault of their own, bring about our suffering . It seemed every friendly gathering involved the common young-mother discussions of breast-feeding, birth stories, slings vs. baby carriers and such. I remember smiling through those years, asking questions of the new-moms about their natural births or their decisions to co-sleep with their infants, all the while pretending I was just as interested in the subjects as they were. And truthfully, I was interested to a certain degree, but I was also hiding behind a veil of tears that no one could see.

Through those years I attended and hosted many baby showers for friends. They were agonizing. Not because the joy of celebrating new motherhood was absent. On the contrary, I always delighted in the good of others as though it were my very own good. But such celebrations were difficult on account of the stretching of oneself in opposed directions, the right hand towards happiness and rejoicing for a friend, the left towards pain and agony for oneself. I remember feeling like Edmund Campion as his limbs were stretched on the rack, only without the grace of his holiness. How could a person's soul be so contrary?

I look back on those years with the fondness of a woman wearing rose-colored glasses. I see them now only as a huge blessing, without which I would not have the two souls before me. Today I am grateful for my infertility, and I no longer desire to bear chilren in my own body. It is easy to look back on our past with the certitude that all was accomplished for our greater good. It is difficult to look at our present trials with the same perspective. But God has ordered things so perfectly, that He allows us to learn from our mistakes, and to make spiritual progress even with setbacks, and many of them. He saw it so perfectly that on His fateful steps toward Calvary, so familiar to us during the Lenten season, He fell three times. And three times He rose again.

For those faithful couples to whom children have not been granted but place themselves in the generous service of others, may we who have been blessed here on earth, build their mansions in heaven.

31 comments:

Jenn Miller said...

Just beautiful, Kristen. I was blessed with that "just one" but felt your pain when we tried for ours. And I am surrounded by very fruitful family members and friends.

It's such a blessing from God to have the peace in His plan for your family.

Thank you for sharing this wonderful post.

Cheryl M. said...

Beautiful post, Kristen.

Blair said...

Beautiful as always. What a precious cross Christ has given you, and a beautiful way in which you carry it.

Marie said...

Thank you Kristen!
As a person who has dealt with infertility, I completely understand of the pain and suffering you talk about. I'm still going through my calvary. I trust that in his perfect timing I too will rejoice in having a little one that I can hold in my arms and love. In the meantime, I will carry my cross as valiantly as I can with every bit of His grace to help me along.

God Bless You!

Amy Parris said...

After our first, we tried for a year and a half before we were blessed with number two. During those agonizing months I realized how women who are infertile feel.

Even though I have been blessed with three beautiful children, I have never forgotten those feelings and I pray for women who would like to conceive every day in my prayer time.

It's so encouraging to see your faith through it all. What a witness you are!

Michelle Halpin said...

Lovely post, Kristen, as usual. After Jack (our second), we experience secondary infertility for about 4 years. I was diagnosed wtih PCOS and told I wouldn't have any more children, and this by a faith-filled NFP only, pro-life catholic OB! It was so hard, thinking there would be no more babies. While our suffering was merely a drop in the ocean of your sorrow, I know your pain just a tiny bit. But God bless you for your faithfulness and joy even while you carry your cross! You're right, it is such a heavy cross for a Catholic couple. But now you have your two sweet little girls, with hopefully more to come...God is good!

E Caughron said...

Kristen, This is beautiful. It made me cry for you and Pat, both for your suffering and what has previously been described in the adoption stories of your two and one failed adoption. How strong Our Lord must know you are to send such a cross. My prayers to you.

Ladybug Mommy Maria said...

Kristen,

This is a beautiful post.

God Bless you and yours,
Maria

Suzanne Temple said...

A very thoughtful post, Kristen!

Alice said...

Kristen, I am in awe of this incredibly beautiful and moving account. What a treasure your words are for all of us.

This was the perfect post to read at the outset of Holy Week. May God bless you always!

Kristen Laurence said...

Thank you, everyone for such warm comments, and for your prayers. We suffer this cross no longer. The sadness disappeared with the birth of Gianna, and we have not felt it since. But many couples who read our blogs suffer from childlessness today. My hope was to foster a better understanding of their silent pain.

Thank you again!

Lottie Hilgefort said...

Kristin,

Reading your story was like reliving my own. I too have adopted three children and consider my infertility to be a blessing. I cannot imaging my life without my Drew, Cecelia and Gianna. Looking at your profile was like looking in a mirror, homeschooler, catholic, gardner, cook - we are sisters in many ways.

Check out our website at www.catholicinfertility.org. We would love to post your story on our site if you would be so intersted.

Peace,

Lottie Hilgefort
lottie@throughthefamily.org

Jeanne said...

After reading this I had to ask my husband to remind me of any tears I had shed while we tried to conceive. I really don't have any painful memories. Whatever pain we suffered has been completely taken away. We are so totally blessed to have our children through adoption that I can't imagine it any other way. Thank you God for these particular children we would not have if we had physically conceived! We love them so much and so completely. I too shudder at the thought of my life without them. Thank you God for my infertility! Thank you God for adopting us. We are Your adopted children and without You this joy would not be possible. Thank you Kristen for writing about the beauty of adoption.

Dee said...

Kristen,
I could have written this myself. Except for the being catholic part, your words were my life until 8 years ago when we adopted our first daughter. Thank you...you have a gift for writing and expressing what others feel.
Dee (MFava@aol.com)

Anonymous said...

Kristen:

I have been reading your blog for some time. As one who has experienced infertility first-hand, graduated long ago (2nd class) from your alma mater and has been surrounded by the abundant families of friends and family, your post resonated with me. Sadly, my husband and I were never able to pursue adoption because of various other medical issues. God bless you.

stephanie said...

Thank you for sharing this so beautifully. We seem to be blessed with abundant fertility (which can be a totally different kind of cross in its own way) and have a difficult time understanding the feelings of those who struggle with infertility - especially those in our own family. This post has helped me "see" so that I may be more empathetic and compassionate towards them.

Mimi said...

Oh my goodness, what a beautiful post. Thank you.

Jamie said...

Beautiful Kristin! Tears filled my eyes the whole time. Thank you for being here and being such a wonderful example to so many!

FloridaWife said...

Absolutely beautiful and well-thought out post! Amazing how you persevered through showers, even hosting them! It was certainly more difficult on you, as opposed to me, since I'm not surrounded by many people with children. You are a beautiful woman for how you carried your cross!

FloridaWife said...

Kristen, do you mind me asking what was determined to be the cause of your infertility? If you don't want to answer, you can just delete this comment. I was just wondering is all...

Kristen Laurence said...

Floridawife, no I don't mind at all. I wish I had a better answer for you. We fell in the 20% (at that time) of "unexplained infertility" cases.

God bless you. I had hoped you would read this, and wondered if it would please you. I was so happy to have read your comment. Thank you!

FloridaWife said...

Thanks for answering, Kristen. I knew you had adopted but I didn't know what was behind it all. This post brought all the pieces together. Thank you.

Jane Ramsey said...

Beautiful, Kristen.
Isn't it amazing how the Lord turns our sorrow into joy?!

Lili said...

Dearset Kristin -

Thanks to my internet- savvy "sister-in-love" as the Wendells say, I learned recently about your blog, and have been hoping for a syzygy of time, internet connection, working computer at home, and energy to look you up! I'm so glad to find you available on the net. God bless Google!

I miss you and hope to get back in touch with you!! What a joy to see you so happy, and as always, you sound sensible, balanced, and grateful. Thank you for encouraging (me) all of us to be faithful to our calling and to fight for what we know we need to be/do. What a good big sister you are. And I'm looking forward to exploring more of your blog and finding out more of what you are experienceing and learning these days.

Of course this topic was the first to grab my eye. Battle-stations at the ready, I'm getting good at being able to use this word to describe myself without breaking into tears. I'm magnetized and repelled by this concept. To simply state that this applies to me sounds so fatalistic, and yet, not to say it sounds like denial. To keep hoping period after period that THIS one will the THE ONE seems like a neccessary way of life, and yet, there is a point when one really must set up an alternate route and walk two paths simultaneously.

After almost 8 years of infertility, we are again doing more fertility testing, and also have hopes that we will be able to adopt a baby this September! Please keep this in your prayers, as I know you will w/o my even asking. I know you and especially Gianna have been praying for us all this time! What fun it would be someday to be able to discuss the merits and demerits of formula versus goats' milk, and 1001 ways to make happy memories for our children!

I really respect you for hosting this blog and sharing your heart with all of us. Also, I have always thought of you and Pat as heroic for being so assertive with both fertility work and with the grueling adoption process. I feel so foolish to have "wished" all these years rather than striding intentionally into the world of possibilities and insisting that one of them must be for us. My attempts to move forward with either of these two dirctions have never gotten very far, and yet, while it seems that the road-blocks have been pretty real, looking back, I can't help but think of wasted time. Discouragement, deep unhopefulness and even rejection of my place as a woman and a wife have been constant temptations that have kept me busy trying just to continue and cope. There have also been many, many lovely times when I could see the mercy of God in our life, and overall, I truly have been blessed and protected by an abiding love for God and a sense of the massive Presence of True Love and Truth that shakes me, claims me, sounds me, anchors me, and keeps my eyes open.

But it has been a long time to wait for what seems to come so easily, frequently, and even unwantedly for others. I cringe every time someone asks how long we've been "trying", as though, provided we're true Americans, someday we'll necessarily achieve our dream. Practice makes perfect! The inflexibility of the reality of daily childlessness,when drinking a simple cup of coffee seems sinful because caffine hampers proper hormone production can tend to make me oversensitive, compulsive, and petulant. My poor husband! Many's the time I've endured my way through Sunday Mass (rather than worshiping my way through) trying to hide big hot tears not of rapture but of misery, and then disgusted self-loathing for being miserable about others' blessings, in the form of wiggling kiddoes and beautiful families all around. Oh the microscope of the heart- just let me forget myself for a while!

I know it is an even more mysterious cross for my beloved husband, who has often felt so powerless in the face of this reality, along with being frustrated that I wasn't doing more about it. Thankfully, he is also both optimistic about things working well, and he has a tendency to forget the bad times, so his enthusiasm and hopefulness gives me comfort and strength.

I keep praying that the pain of women who want children will be offered as a cry for mercy for all the mothers who don't. I especially pray for the women who are opening their hearts and bodies to their lovers, but closing thier wombs with contraceptives, that they will discover and respond to the need for that holy boldness of giving oneself entirely to the beloved and receiveing everything he is and has and will be. (Of course this entails as step one a sacramental marriage!-- That anyone hopes to get through a long-term, intimate relationship without sanctifying grace seems to me an extreme act of optimism, to the point of malignant (as in tumor) naivete) I that ahope that a return to a healthy way of life, so well begun in this modern "environmentalism" as it is called, will someday bloom into a renewed love of human life and respect and care for others, especially the proper care and education of children. If that can be the destination, then we will be able to live through the process somehow. If God will give us the grace to love our way through the culture of death, and my that I really mean LOVE-- the kind of love that gives life, whatever that may mean (Sancta Maximilian Kolbe, O.P.N) then that is the goal that we must be dedicated to, like centurions, like mothers.

Big talk from a little woman somewhere in the farmlands of Oregon. St. Therese-- make me little in your way, that I may love also in your way.

Kristin-- I tend to have huge responses to things, and ruminate about the whole process for a long time, so I hope you don't mind my once every 2 or 5 years popping back into your life or your blog. But it was a quiet moment when I got back from work today, and the dishes and the laundry and making donner somehow just didn't call to me the way this funny littl flat thing on the counter did.

Lots of love to you et all.
I hope to hear from you soon. You probably don't have our current contact info. Well- I'll ask Erika if she has yours-- she and John and Katie just moved out here-- please pray for Linda, John's mother- she is probably very close to death. Her cancer has been a long battle, and she is a wonderful friend that we will all miss so much. She's the kind of woman you love right away, and who loves you too. What a gift to have such a beautiful mother!
I must go and prepare a salad for my Owne True Louve-
Every blessing to you Kristin!!!
Lili

Stacey said...

Hi, I found you through a fellow Little Flower, Heather Dent's blog. I haven't read all your posts on building your family, but I wanted to tell you that I loved this post and I can relate in so many ways. We have 2 and we long for more. We are surrounded by large families and I often feel like a failure for only having 2!! Oh Lord, grant me the grace to carry this cross...

Mark and Rebecca said...

Just catching up on your blog. This is a beautiful post. Sometimes God's plan A, is our plan B.

For reasons other than infertility, I too went through years of hurting deeply for a child. I too hosted the showers, celebrated the births, and sat through endless mommy conversation. I know this does not compare to your pain, but I do understand.

I too am now so grateful for what God did and now is doing in my life. He has ordered my steps and not made any mistakes in His plan for me.

Heather Mobini said...

Hi Kristen,
I've really enjoyed reading your notes on your blog especially this one (The Infertile Catholic). My husband and I have been married for two years with no signs of any future Mobinis. We have not done enough medical treatment to know what the issue is but is has definitely been a difficult time. I took it for granted that I would be able to get pregnant right away as I am the oldest of 12 children, with my mom giving birth to #12 just about a month ago. I know God has a reason for everything He sends us in life. My husband and I were just licensed as foster parents last week so we will be to reach out to children who need a safe home and much love during the sad times they are going thru. Please pray for us!

We actually used to live in Orange County; are now in SW Florida. I wish I had had the opportunity to meet you while in the OC. It is so difficult to find likeminded Catholics there! Thanks for sharing. Stay strong for Jesus and Mary!

Heather (bigsisof11@hotmail.com)

Anne Marie said...

Thank you for your blog and this post. I've stopped by your blog but I don't recall seeing this post before. I’m mentally sorting through (bloging through) my own infertility history right now and it’s comforting to read the experience of others. Thanks, Anne

Shauna said...

I just found your blog and wanted to thank you for sharing your infertility story so beautifully. "And truthfully, I was interested to a certain degree, but I was also hiding behind a veil of tears that no one could see."...what a beautiful way to word the opposing emotions of infertility.

Aubrey said...

I realize this is an old post, but it really is beautiful - and so well described the feelings you go through when you struggle with infertility, especially when you live in the Catholic/Christian world that really does see children as a blessing. My husband and I have just started our journey through infertility, and it has been difficult. But thanks for your perspective from the "other" side - if there is such a thing. It is encouraging to know that I can get through this, and that it does get better, and that God is good - in all that he does.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your story. It resonates with my own experiences on so many points. I hope that our story will end as happily as yours. We are in the process of adopting ourselves after years of heartache and loss.