A few weeks ago I was sitting with a group of friends. One was crying and sharing about her miscarriage earlier that week. It was her fourth one. Another had gone to the doctor earlier that week to see why she was having trouble conceiving again. One mom wasn’t with us because she was suffering a miscarriage that weekend.
Another mom in the groups was seeking adoption after having had a few children, 1 still birth, and being unable to conceive for the last several years. Another mom shared about her two previous miscarriages that I didn’t even know about. I know women who have had a Fallopian tube removed due to an ectopic pregnancy, or are unable to have children as the result of cancer treatment.
Everywhere you look, you know someone struggling with infertility or subfertility. It could even be you. Often it is a silent and lonely struggle. In a culture that often doesn’t see fertility as a blessing, the Church is so big on being open to life that it can overlook those who want to be open to life but their bodies just aren’t cooperating. There is pain, anger, sadness, frustration, and loneliness. Like all crosses, there is redemption in the suffering, but I want to encourage you in some things that you can do while seeking to be open to life.
1. Look at the Physical Causes
If you haven’t done so, please take an NFP class, as identifying your temperature, mucus, and fertility patterns can help with some underlying causes. For example, a low temperature could mean a thyroid issue. Blood tests can help determine hormone levels, ultrasounds look for PCOS, and exploratory surgery can confirm endometriosis. Even diet can be a huge factor in optimizing fertility, so I recommend the book Fertility Cycles and Nutrition by Marilyn M. Shannon.
Now, not all infertility can be treated in an “easy fix.” Sometimes we just don’t know what the cause is. But by seeking an NFP doctor or NaPro Techology doctor, you can look into any natural, Church approved ways of growing your family. Please don’t go seek out just any fertility specialist, as methods such as InVitro fertilization, sperm donors, surrogates, etc. separate the unitive and procreative act of sexual union and are not moral ways of having a child.
2. Find Spiritual Encouragement
We don’t always understand the greater plan that God has for us. It seems hard, like there could never be any good that comes from our struggles. But reading the stories of barren women in the bible such as Hannah, Sarah, and Elizabeth can help you trust in God’s plan. Hannah (1 Samuel 1) wept bitterly and prayed to God to conceive a son. The Lord did answer her prayer, but when he became of age, Hannah returned her son Samuel to the temple, giving back to God what He had given to her. She saw her son as a gift. Abraham and Sarah were barren until they were old, past the age of conception. After promising Abraham numerous descendants, God gave to them just one son. And God asked Abraham to sacrifice that only son, sparing him at the last minute (Genesis 21-22). Elizabeth was also old, past child-bearing years, when she had her only son, John the Baptist. John didn’t give Elizabeth and Zechariah any grandchildren, but as the herald of the Savior, John gave to them the spiritual children of the entire Church! (Luke 1)
Other things that can help: meditating on Christ’s passion and seeking companionship with other women struggling with infertility.
A great book to read: The Infertility Companion for Catholics: Spiritual and Practical Support for Couples.
3. Other Ways To Be Fruitful
St. John Paul II said infertile couples are able to be fruitful when their married love is "open to others, to the needs of the apostolate ... the needs of the poor ... the needs of orphans" and to the world. (John Paul II, Homily 1982). When I was working as a youth minister, there was a young married couple that had been struggling with infertility for several years. During this time, they were generous in giving their time to help serve the youth of our parish. Their married love was a big witness to the teens, and I was incredible grateful to them for sharing their fruitfulness in this way.
After having one child, another friend shared with me her struggle to have more. While driving 5 hours to see a Napro Technology doctor to find answers, she at the same time opens her home to other mothers and offers to watch their kids to they can do errands. This couple is also Godparents to several kids, and finds fruitfulness in this spiritual parenthood.
Additionally, Pope Francis writes in Amoris Laetitia,:
“Some couples are unable to have children. We know that this can be a cause of real suffering for them. At the same time, we know that “marriage was not instituted solely for the procreation of children… Even in cases where, despite the intense desire of the spouses, there are no children, marriage still retains its character of being a whole manner and communion of life, and preserves its value and indissolubility”. So too, “motherhood is not a solely biological reality, but is expressed in diverse ways”. Adoption is a very generous way to become parents. They will never regret having been generous. Adopting a child is an act of love, offering the gift of a family to someone who has none.” AL 178
None of these suggestions will solve your problems, but are rather ideas to help you on your journey. Like Simon of Cyrene, the Church is here to help you carry your cross and find your salvation through it. If you are struggling with fertility issues, you are in my prayers, and I offer up my own struggles for you that God may give you peace, answers, and encouragement.
Catholic Reproductive Guidelines for Treatment of Infertility: