When my husband and I were engaged, we looked forward to someday raising a family. We did have a few conversations about that Big Unknown: what if we’re unable to have kids?
But we--especially I--didn’t consider it to be a real possibility, or even necessarily a totally negative one. “Of course we’ll be open to life and try to have a family, but if kids aren’t part of God’s plan for us, we’ll be fine with that,” I thought. “Besides, then I’d be able to continue with my career. That would be nice.”
Now happily married and having discerned together that the time is right to try to conceive, months start to pass by. Despite our careful NFP charting and frequent visits with our gynecologist, we’ve not been able to.
Frustration set in, and emotions ran the gamut. Being unable to conceive when it suddenly seems like every other couple around is either expecting or juggling a handful of kids is really, really hard.
The words of a hymn my childhood parish sang jump to my mind with fresh relevance: “The kingdom of God is challenge and choice.” The presenting challenge: physical infertility.
With regard to how we approach this challenge, God gives us a choice: do we let ourselves fall into a sinful, selfish attitude of impatience or anger toward him, presuming to believe our wedding vows somehow entitle us to a child? Or do we instead imitate Our Lady’s response of unhesitating trust in God’s plan: Fiat, let it be done unto me according to your word?
Just as God had a unique, perfect plan for Mary’s fertility--one she had almost certainly not foreseen a moment before the Annunciation!--he also has a plan for yours.
Your seasons of physical fertility and infertility are willed by him for the sanctification of the world and the salvation of souls. In my own experience, this time of physical infertility has actually been incredibly spiritually fertile.
As Christ has been helping me carry this cross, He has been moving my heart in new ways. He has been planting gardens in my heart in places I didn’t know there were stones. He has been immersing me deeper into the mystery of his love as he and I and my husband live out that love in our marriage.
Where did his gardening work begin? With the label of “infertile.” In my mind, our being unable to conceive at this point in our marriage meant we were never going to have children. Further, as it appeared from our NFP charting that my body was the reason for our unsuccessful attempts at achieving a pregnancy, I saw myself as broken. Having had a rocky relationship with my body before, this feeling of brokenness was particularly poignant--and painful.
As I was praying (and crying, to be honest) after receiving communion during one particularly difficult Sunday Mass filled with many families, I heard Christ’s voice speak to my heart: “Is my life inside your body enough for you?”
When one is in a state of grace, Christ’s life is present in that soul. But when we receive him in the Eucharist, Christ comes to dwell physically inside our bodies also. My body is most certainly not broken, for the Most Precious Body of the creator of the universe lives safely inside me.
Christ’s transformative work on my heart has continued further. Although my body is not broken, medical help does offer assistance in restoring to the female body the ability to conceive a child and then sustain that pregnancy.
My husband and I began seeing a Catholic gynecologist during our engagement, when we noticed our marriage-prep NFP charting wasn’t looking like the examples in the textbook. When we found we weren’t able to conceive after we married, our doctor prescribed medication intended to normalize my hormone levels—and I resented taking those two little pills.
The Catechism teaches “spouses who still suffer from infertility after exhausting legitimate medical procedures should unite themselves with the Lord’s Cross, the source of all spiritual fecundity” (CCC 2379). I researched the jelly out of those two medications and found them totally within the lines of moral legitimacy. But I still begrudged taking them.
I asked my husband for his thoughts on the whole matter, including the Catechism’s perspective: “Honey, what do you think? Does ‘exhausting legitimate medical procedures’ mean I am morally obligated to keep taking those pills until I reach menopause?!”
My husband paused and thought for a time. I waited.
“I don’t think it’s morally wrong to eventually stop taking the pills, if time has confirmed they aren’t helping,” he began, “but we’re not there yet. Not enough time has passed for us to reach conclusions like that. For now, I do think a decision not to take them would say something about your openness to pregnancy. Is taking two pills really too much of a burden for you, if they may be helping your body function as God intends it to?”
That brought all my defensiveness crashing down. Here, Christ brought another tangled piece of my heart into his healing light.
I realized taking those pills is one way I am called to work with God and my husband to make our marriage one truly open to the arrival of children. This is, concretely, one way I can assent to my role as a co-creator with them.
My daily “yes” to taking the medications can embody, in a little way, my continual surrender of my desire for a flawless body, my ambitions for my career, and my fear of the unknowns that would accompany motherhood--all for the greater good of fostering a marriage that is fully open to the Lord’s plans, whatever they might be. Fiat, let it be done unto me.
Personally, this season of infertility has been a blessing in disguise. Christ has taught me in so many new ways what it truly means to be a wife and a mother.
As a religious sister once shared on a middle school retreat, God intends each and every woman he creates to be a MOM: a Master Of Magnanimity. We are called to be generous of mind and heart, willing to endure hardship and discomfort in order that great things might be accomplished through us.
For me, this has meant a daily surrender of my desires and fears while coming to a deeper acceptance of my body exactly how God has made it.
The lessons Christ wishes to teach you during this season might be different, but through all the challenges and choices, never doubt that he has amazing plans and the perfect timeline in mind for your fertility. Our loving, creative God will never be outdone in generosity. Never give up hoping in, trusting, and walking with him.
About the Author: Erin Buchmann enjoys daily Mass, outdoor adventures, crossword puzzles and Ben & Jerry's. She and her husband reside in Virginia but dream of the day they'll move back to the Midwest.