Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The infertile Catholic

It’s hard to believe that I was writing this post, literally the Monday and Tuesday of the day we found out about baby C and the day we were chosen. It was infertility awareness week...

April 23, 2012
In honor of Infertility Awareness week, I wanted to take the time to write a little more in depth about my experience as an infertile Catholic. This past February at the Vatican, the Pontifical Academy for Life gathered together experts to discuss infertility, how it is diagnosed, how it can be treated, and how it impacts couples. In his remarks to the group, Pope Benedict XVI said, “I would like to remind the couples who are experiencing the condition of infertility, that their vocation to marriage is no less because of this. Spouses, for their own baptismal and marriage vocation, are called to cooperate with God in the creation of a new humanity.…There, where science has not yet found an answer, the answer that gives light comes from Christ.”
At my freshman ordination at college, the dean of students announced in an auditorium, “Look to your left and look to your right, your future mate may be in sight!” Perhaps it was an inauspicious beginning - my mom was on my right and my dad was on my left. :) I remember those years in college well, watching with some degree of envy, friend after friend find a great guy, date for a few years, get engaged and start planning her wedding before graduation. I remember longing for the day when I would meet my future husband. I watched many friends get married (I was a bridesmaid in three weddings) and even several years down the road, I began to watch those friends begin their families. At the time, I had studied to some degree, John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and was very aware of the church’s teachings on marriage and openness to life. It seemed everywhere I turned, friends were finishing up their “5-year-plan” while I longed for both a husband and children. 
When I finally met my husband, everything was perfect. I was 29 when we met, he was 35. He said it took 14 years to find me, but he understood why God made him wait.  I engraved the pocket watch I gave him on the eve of our wedding with this verse from Song of Solomon: “I found him whom my soul loves.”
While engaged, my husband and I talked often about wanting a large family. Ten kids, we said. Or even more, God willing. I can remember having friends and family talk to me about finding a job as the wedding - and my move- came closer. Some people were supportive of our desire to start a family right away. Others... I knew they wanted to roll their eyes. The “get to know each other first” mentality. Granted, you learn so much more about each other - and about yourself, once you are married and living daily life together, but still. I’ve always wanted a big family and so had my husband. Why should we wait? We were open to life and we wanted many children. And, somewhat pridefully, I expected them. My husband and I had both waited for marriage; surely God would reward us with, as the church teaches, the supreme gift of marriage. 
So, no, I wasn't looking for a job outside the home - I just wanted to be a wife and mother. Perhaps if I were a woman who desired and chose a career before children, being infertile would not have hurt so much. But, I’ve never been a career-minded woman. And I’m surrounded by women who are just like me... open to life and large families... only their wombs are fruitful. 
I went from the joy of a newlywed - finally feeling after being single so long as though I fit in among friends - to feeling very much alone. Initially, we would get together with friends and enjoy one another's company. When more children began to arrive, the invitations dwindled. Families tend to get together with families. I can’t completely cast the blame; I too have not always initiated contact. But, it was hard not to feel abandoned - first by God, and then by friends. And honestly, it became harder and harder to attend gatherings. I never failed to be greeted by women and their pregnant bellies. Or the new moms with their sweet little bundles.

In those few years there were invitations to baby showers... I’ve only been to one since I got married. It was heart-wrenching. I went, I smiled, I laughed, I congratulated one of my dearest friends in the world, the mom-to-be, and I played games. And truly, I was very happy for her. She was, and is, a beautiful friend, faithful Catholic and now, mother. But during that shower my heart felt like it was pulled in opposite directions and my smile masked tears I couldn't bear to let others see.

Children are the supreme gift of marriage. Why then, was God withholding them from us? 
The questions kept coming. Why her and not me? Why does she have 6... 10... 12 when I would just like one? Would I not be a good mother? Why have you given me this desire only to see it unfulfilled? Ironically, that which should bring so much joy - the blessing of children - should bring so many tears and suffering.
In Scripture, we see the pain of the barren: And Rachel, seeing herself without children, envied her sister, and said to her husband: Give me children, otherwise I shall die. (Gen. 30:1)
A few months into our marriage, I went to a Catholic physician’s office. I was seen by a nurse practitioner who simply told me I’d have to wait a year and would I like to go into their little prayer room? We weren’t taught anything about charting.
A year into our marriage, my husband and I attended an NFP class. Unlike most of the couples there - engaged and wanting to avoid a pregnancy - we were there aching to achieve one. Finally, after that year, I made another appointment with a doctor to begin testing. Eventually I switched from that first doctors office. It is a good practice, but their main goal from what I could see was that of a crisis pregnancy center. They weren’t all that interested in -or helpful to- a couple unable to conceive.
I found a wonderful and compassionate new doctor and we began testing. First - I had low hormones. We tried that therapy. Then we tried surgery to remove adhesions from my colectomy 6 years prior to getting married. And continued hormones. And ovulation stimulation therapy. Two more surgeries to remove even more adhesions. And finally, several series of ultrasounds which revealed luteinized unruptured follicle syndrome - even with the stimulation therapy.
To those of you who have been blessed with pregnancies and children - I say this:
Be grateful. You are so blessed. You get to look at children who look like you or who may be the image of your husband. They may have his eyes or his dimples. You are able to hold the sweet hand of a child who looks at you and says, “I love you, Mom.” You have bubble baths, and reading books together snuggled on the couch. You have toys scattered throughout your home.
Please don’t forget about your friends who are infertile. Maybe they will not be always able to attend a baptism, or shower or your child’s birthday party. But please leave that decision up to them. It hurts even more to be ignored and left out completely. 

That is where I left off...
Writing from the viewpoint of an infertile Catholic who is now a mother still surprises me. My path to motherhood was not what I envisioned. But it was what God saw and planned. I don’t know why God had me wait so long, except that he wanted me to be C’s mother. It’s easy to see that now- when we are suffering, it’s much more difficult to gain such a perspective. I wouldn’t have him had I conceived, and that is something that breaks my heart to even consider now. All the tears, surgeries, hormone panels, drugs, and ultrasound series led me to the most beautiful and sweet baby boy.
I look at him now and wonder, what I did do to deserve him? I really was asked so little. So many others are more deserving than me - so many of you have been waiting longer. And my heart breaks for those of you still waiting. I know that my posts now bring pain to those waiting - and honestly, it’s why I’ve had a hard time writing. I hate that. I vividly remember what it felt like. And I constantly remind myself not to forget. My posts could be your CD1. I know I bypassed reading some blogs because of that. I do thank you so much for sharing in my joy when you are able. Please know that you remain in my prayers; very much so. 
And finally, to those of you still waiting... know that your suffering.. produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into (your) hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to (you). Romans 5:3-5 

8 comments:

  1. I love this post!!! It's like you reached into my head and put my thoughts into words.
    How interesting that you were writing this when you found out about C. :-). God has a sense of timing.
    I remember waiting to meet my husband, which seemed totals forever, and then like you, wanted to start a family right away. I broadcast it to family and friends that we weren't "not trying", then over the years hated when I was asked the question.
    Like you, if I'd learned NFP /charting, it would have saved me time in the diagnosis, but God had me right where He wanted me. Waiting for my son.
    My heart also aches for those still waiting. I haven't forgotten what empty arms feels like. You are an inspiration to me for sharing your story and in your faithfulness to God!

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  2. I love this whole post and the perspective of before you knew about C. and after. I also love the reminder that it can change at any time. Thanks for a reminder of hope for someone who's still waiting!

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  3. I had so many of the same thoughts and emotions too, although we married right out of college. We tried from day one to be fruitful and multiply (and never a day before that) so I too thought "what am I doing wrong that God won't give me the blessing of children?"
    In hindsight, He was leading me down the path to Isabella and Isaiah, our daughter and son. His plan from all eternity was that I am their mother! I just didn't know His plan. The waiting is the hardest part! The unknown is the second hardest part! For me at least.
    So glad that C is home with his Mama!!!

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  4. I have a hard time writing too...

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  5. Beautiful! This post could be me. I felt so many of these same things.

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  6. What a beautiful reflection! Thanks for sharing this..

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  7. I realize I am commenting almost two years after you wrote this, but I just want to say thank you for such a beautiful post. I am right in the middle of that "waiting" period and your post gives me hope that I might look upon my future children and know why God has asked us to wait for His perfect plan. I am so happy your son (and now your beautiful daughter) are finally yours forever! God Bless you and your family! :)

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