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.