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Ink Slingers Marriage Motherhood NFP and contraceptives Vocations

The Cross of Infertility

hospital 1

“So, when are you going to have kids?”

It’s one of the most awkward questions I encounter and one of the most stressful, frustrating, and tear-inducing. It’s a question asked by well-meaning and caring relatives, friends that don’t know any better, friendly parishioners I know and by nosy busy-body parishioners I don’t know. And while I’m pretty good at hiding and dealing with my emotions, I still don’t know what to say to people when they ask that question, even after 6 ½ years of marriage.

Why?

Because my husband and I are in the midst of infertility struggles. Somehow, fertility struggles such as miscarriage and infertility are on the list of “taboo topics” to discuss openly and honestly within our Catholic faith and in society at-large. Plus, many times honest responses are full of emotion, making the topic difficult to talk about.

In a faith that values the preciousness and sanctity of every human life, a faith that rejoices and celebrates in the creation of new life, a faith that encourages procreation of new little souls with God, there’s not too much said if there are difficulties in getting pregnant or maintaining a pregnancy. People don’t know what to do (or not to do), or what to say (or not to say), to someone in these situations. Fertility and infertility are extremely personal. And for most, extremely private. And yet infertility and fertility problems are much more common than we often realize. There’s a good chance you know several people struggling with them.

What is Infertility?

Infertility is typically defined as the inability to conceive within one year, or not being able to carry a child to live birth. Woman who are able to get pregnant, but have miscarriages, are also considered to be infertile. Infertility can come in two ways: Primary, which is when you haven’t been able to have any children; and secondary, which is when you have been able to have at least one child.screenshot_2016-09-19-02-28-53

Infertility is often a silent, lonely, stressful, frustrating and tear-inducing cross. It can be an agonizing cross to couples who long to have children, and especially to those that have always wanted a large family like my husband and me. It can be a doubly-difficult cross when you’re Catholic, as having children is a typical expectation within the faith community. As with all crosses, it can be a positive experience or a negative experience. And most often, it’s a little bit of both. It is a cross that many woman AND men carry: 

  • Infertility is a disease that results in the abnormal functioning of the male or female reproductive system.
  • Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse (or 6 months if a women is over the age of 35) and/or the inability to carry a pregnancy to live birth.
  • 1 in 8 couples (or 12% of married women) have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy (so there’s a good chance you know multiple people struggling to have children).
  • Infertility is not always a woman’s problem. Both women and men can have problems that cause infertility. About 1/3 of fertility issues are a result of a women’s problem, 1/3 of fertility issues are a result of a man’s problems and the other 1/3 are caused by a mixture of male and female issues or cannot be explained medically. 
  • Approximately 44% of women with infertility seek medical assistance. Of those, 65% give birth. (The birthrate numbers are higher with NaProTechnology, but NaProTechnology can’t resolves all medical issues or unexplained infertility.)
    Information from Resolve.org

 

screenshot_2016-09-19-02-29-16The Cross of Infertility

Much of the time in dealing with the cross of infertility, I have been blessed to have a spirit of joy, patience, peace and trust in God’s plan. But it would be misleading of me not to admit that at times I struggle to have hope, to have joy, to have patience, to have peace and to have trust in God’s plan through this process and with this cross. There have been priests who have scolded me for confessing my frustrations with God; friends who have off-handedly mentioned they forget to invite my husband and I to hang out because we don’t have kids for their kids to play with. There have been acquaintances who have asked extremely personal questions, family members who have offered to be surrogates, and there have been numerous doctors appointments, blood work appointments, medications, surgeries and dietary changes.

The cross of infertility can be stressful, frustrating and painful. It can be emotionally, mentally, socially and spiritually draining; and yet it is a cross given from Christ not as punishment but with a purpose. It is an opportunity to unite to Christ on the cross. I have had the joy (and yes, I do mean joy) of offering up the difficulties, the pain, the frustrations, the emotions and more to God for many purposes and people throughout these past few years. No, it doesn’t take away the pain and difficulty, but it does provide a purpose for the cross.

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If you or someone you know is dealing with infertility, the Catholic medical group Pope Paul VI Institute has done extensive research and work in the field of fertility and infertility resulting in NaProTechnology (Natural Procreative Technology).

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Discipleship Faith Formation Ink Slingers Marriage Matrimony Misty NFP and contraceptives Respect Life Sacraments Spiritual Growth Testimonials Vocations

A Story of Love, Sex, and Sacrifice

A Story of Love, Sex, and SacrificeIn the past, those who promoted natural family planning (NFP) almost exclusively focused on the benefits it would bring to your marriage. But in recent years, there’s been a call from faithful lay Catholics to be more realistic about using NFP, lest couples be blindsided by the method’s sacrifices. I think there’s a middle ground with this subject, though, one that reflects both the beauty and sacrifice of following God’s plan and that’s sharing our stories. Story, after all, has the ability to resonate with people, to reach into the deepest recesses of the heart and confirm the truth in a way that dry theological reasoning rarely can. 

So here’s my story. 

In April 2003, my husband and I had our second child, a son born just 17 months after his sister. At that point, we were self-taught NFP users; I’d learned NFP out of the Couple to Couple League manual. Our lack of family support, along with our inexperience and lack of guidance on navigating the dicey postpartum period, turned our six weeks of healing abstinence into a three month dry spell. . 

At that time, it was admittedly harder for my husband than it was for me to abstain. I was exhausted from caring for two children under two, and still carried an extra 50 pounds of pregnancy weight; sex was about the last thing on my mind. One day I realized I couldn’t remember the last time we’d been intimate. I mentioned this to my husband, who said, “Oh, I remember. It was five months, two weeks, and one day ago.” I could tell from his face he was serious. 

He went on to share that I’d been so obviously uncomfortable and tired during the last trimester that he’d decided to just to give me massages and let me sleep more instead of initiating sex. After the birth, he knew we didn’t have a good handle on when I was fertile, so he didn’t bring it up then, either; he didn’t want me to feel tempted to acquiesce, which could bring about another pregnancy before we were ready. “I probably couldn’t have turned you down if you’d insisted,” he joked. “But I knew you needed me to be strong for us.” 

My husband had abstained almost half a year and had done so out of love for me and our children. He knew another pregnancy right away would compromise my health, and diminish our ability to patiently care for our two existing children. He’d taken on this enormous sacrifice without complaining about it once. 

Over the years, my husband has given me diamonds and pearls, a book signed by my favorite author, and a kitchen renovation that was the envy of my friends. But nothing will ever compare to that gift of self-sacrifice he made in 2003. I knew then our marriage could survive anything, because my husband was willing to sacrifice to serve me and our family. I still get teary thinking about it this great gift he gave me.

Yes, it was hard. Agonizingly at times. My husband, who had been Catholic for less than two years at that point, needed several discussions with our priest about abstinence and temptation. (I wish more priests realized how much they could help married men this way.) He learned to train his imagination to control his physical desires and reactions. He might have given in to sin from time to time, I don’t know. I don’t want to know. Even if he did, I know that “love covers a multitude of sins” and that Jesus lavished mercy on him in the confessional because he was at least trying to put the needs of his wife above his own desires.

A Story of Love, Sex, and SacrificeMy husband said the experience helped him grow closer to Christ, because he was often praying for the grace to stay strong. It helped him better understand our priests, and gave him greater appreciation for their sacrifice. It strengthened our marriage. It was probably one of the most spiritually fruitful periods of our 20 years together and it laid the foundation for us to survive the death of a child, a failed adoption, a cross-country move with financial hardship, bouts of depression (his and mine), and his severe post-traumatic stress disorder after his coworkers were murdered. As wonderful as it would have been to be physically intimate, even that can’t compare to what we gained in our relationships with God and each other during that prolonged abstinence. 

Many Catholics have told me they don’t agree with the Church’s teaching against contraception. “There’s no way using the Pill can be a mortal sin!” one woman scoffed. All I could think is that they’ve missed the point of Catholicism entirely. Our faith isn’t about rules, but about loving God and being loved by him. My husband and I don’t use NFP because it’s easy or convenient or more effective than condoms. We use it because we love Jesus. Through the Church, Jesus has told us that he gave us the gift of fertility and designed the marriage act to benefit us. He wants us to use our bodies chastely because it will help us grow in love and other virtues like patience and perseverance.

We expect our five children to practice certain behaviors and virtues. Our family rules don’t exist for their own sake, but to help our kids reach their fullest potential. They don’t always like the boundaries we set and sometimes, they refuse to follow them. But when they cooperate with their parents, they learn and grow and are able to become more responsible and loving people. 

Likewise, when we respect God’s design for sexuality and the marriage act, we’re able to grow spiritually and move toward the perfection He desires for us. When I think about all that comes from uncontracepted intimacy—an awe of God’s ability to create new life, knowing we’re “one flesh” with nothing between us, knowing we’re accepting the other fully and being fully accepted ourselves, a sense of purity in an act our culture has degraded…when I think about these gains, contracepted sex has nothing to offer anymore.

That’s my story, sisters. What’s yours?

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Ink Slingers Lent Liturgical Year Loss Martina Respect Life Spiritual Growth

When the Quiver is Missing Three Arrows

Behold the inheritance of the Lord are children: the reward, the fruit of the womb. As arrows in the hand of the mighty, so the children of them that have been shaken. Blessed is the man that hath filled the desire with them; he shall not be confounded when he shall speak to his enemies in the gate.

~Psalm 126:3-5 When the Quiver is Missing Three Arrows

As we sat in the recovery room waiting for our oldest son to fully wake up from his ankle surgery, the anesthesiologist slinked into the small recovery space, looked at three of the children I had brought with me, and peering over the top of his glasses, asked is this everyone? I responded no, we are missing two, three if we count Dad. 

What he said next took me by surprise. He looked at the nurse and said – in a tone that I fully interpreted as authentically sincere and polite – the quiver is full, to which she immediately agreed, saying yes, it is

Earlier in the day, I had made arrangements for the three children to hang out at a friend’s house, the eldest was off to nanny for the day, and the youngest was to go to preschool. It allowed me to focus on all the paperwork that When the Quiver is Missing Three Arrows needed to be filled out prior to surgery and to speak with the physicians, nurses, and anesthesiologists without the tap-tap-tap demands of the littles. Being that it was outpatient surgery, I had just enough time to bless my 14 year old son with the holy water I keep in my purse and see him off to surgery before heading to our friend’s home to pick up three of the kiddos, swing by our house to grab inhale snarf down lunch and scoop up school books to head back to the hospital. The doctor called en route and said the surgery went as expected and smoothly. The broken ankle was now stabilized with some serious hardware, making Jonathan – as he calls himself – an “inside-borg.” ::insert obligatory mom eye roll::

So, let me back up a bit to start tying details together. In November 2014, we experienced our first loss after six pregnancies and live births. Though I wrote about St. Gertie and that experience, nothing could really convey the sense of loss at that time. We would later experience the joy of another pregnancy announcement in January 2015 only to lose that little one one week later. While the entire year of 2015 was beset with grief, suffering, and trials of  both intensity and magnitude, I soon felt like more children were no longer in the cards for us. He {God} certainly hadn’t blessed us with any more pregnancies the rest of the year and closing in on 40, this was not some great shock to me. The baby shop has to close at some time, ya know? And…while no one I know in my personal circles {even my most vehemently pro-abortion friends} would tell me to be content with my six {and two in heaven}, I could feel my own emotions surrounding the thought of the end of fertility closing in on myself. 

Had I been open enough?
Have I been a good parent?
Did I deserve more children? 

Luckily, I know when I truly discern using faith and reason, that this isn’t how God works. He doesn’t just tally up our merit and then bestow graces based on our works. No. Far from it. But, there was my mind telling me these things. I know I’m not really all that old, certainly not in terms of fertility. Many, many girlfriends have gotten pregnant well into their 40s. But I’m not them and they aren’t me. Fertility is a fickle, tricksy hobbit that will do what it likes without my consent or knowledge. In the end, regardless of the number of children we have, we all grieve to some extent, knowing that door is closed. Maybe at regret, perceived or actual. 

When the Quiver is Missing Three ArrowsIn any case, we had found out on January 30 that we were once again expecting. And like many things in married life, it wasn’t a surprise. I think we all know what causes that, right? Sadly, I no longer  excitedly pull up a website to punch in my numbers to find out what my due date is. I did it anyway, though. I wanted so much to be excited. There it was – October 7, 2016. I always always go two weeks early to avoid car births {true story!} or, our anniversary and St. Padre Pio’s feast day, September 23. I felt relief and solace in that, regardless of the outcome. It’s a kiss from the Father on the forehead, I thought to myself. 

When the Quiver is Missing Three Arrows
Dr. K holding Josie

I immediately started progesterone in the hopes of giving this baby the best possible chance, but it was ultimately to no avail. Blood work continued to show slightly growing hcg numbers, indicative of an impending miscarriage. Dr. Kalamarides would deliver this news the evening of Fat Tuesday – what a lovely way to enter into Lent. Because we were on our way to see a screening of Miracles from Heaven, I no longer felt like I could be there and texted a friend who was walking with me through this newest miscarriage. I look up from my seat in the theater and I see her walking in!! She and I sat next to each other and I let her do all the bawling during the movie. 

It wasn’t until after an ultrasound on Thursday and then final confirmation from Dr. K on Friday, February 19 that we knew there was nothing more we could do. God had simply called this newest soul back home. 

Our monthly Catholic couples gathering was that evening and a couple girlfriends had messaged saying they would totally understand if we needed to stay home. My husband – my rock – said he would support whatever I wanted to do. In the end, I wanted to be around friends and not think about the miscarriage for a few hours, so we went and had a fun time chatting about everything else. 

Then the phone call.

I wasn’t answering my phone or checking FB, so my husband answered his phone. He said Oh my God! and immediately stood up. Ok, we’ll be right there, and hung up the phone. He looks at me and says they think Jonathan may have broken his ankle skating. The children’s ER confirms it’s broken in two places, splints him up and sends us home with a doc recommendation to follow up on Monday. The doctor immediately insists on surgery, and right away. 

Back to the recovery room, where my body has decided it will miscarry simultaneously while all of this foot stuff is going on. GREAT. JUST GREAT. THANKS A LOT, BODY. The anesthesiologist makes his comment and, while I know he said it in all sincerity, part of me should have been ready to mention our three missing arrows. Why didn’t I say something? Was I not ready? Is it because it’s not my normal to reveal such intimate details about our family? Did I feel like part of me would want to garner sympathy? I know I should have said something, but…I didn’t. And I should have.

Because if I don’t, who will?

It was a realization in that moment that part of losing a child is honoring their soul, no matter how brief their stay is in this world, by sharing that they are part of the family. 

I believe I have entered the final phase of grieving and healing.

 

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Adrienne Domestic Church Ink Slingers

Thankful for Pink, Glitter, Princesses and Ballerinas

A Halloween costume, not either of my girls.
A Halloween costume advertisement that depicts well what I’m talking about.

 

My husband and I have been blessed with a boy and two girls, and today I would like to talk about girls.  Our girls enjoy the girly things in life, and our lives are blessed for it.

Pink, glitter, princesses and ballerinas hold little value in our American society at large.  I’m looked down upon by some for allowing my girls to enjoy being girly.  Perhaps some judge me to be forcing gender stereotypes upon my girls because they enjoy typically “girly” things, and not only do I let them, but I encourage them in enjoying the pretty things they enjoy.  Enjoyment of the pretty, frilly and feminine is viewed as weak and limiting.   I feel alone in the crowd asking, “Why is enjoying pretty and feminine things inherently weak and limiting?”

At some point in elementary school I heard the world tell me femininity was weak and limiting, and I accepted that message and rejected my femininity.  Dresses didn’t have a place in my wardrobe except maybe to be worn to Mass on Sundays.  When I chose to join the school band for intermediate school I chose to play the trumpet because it was more masculine than the other instruments I was considering.  When I needed to choose a major, I chose Computer Science, and I felt strong when people commented how surprised they were that I would have chosen such a male dominated field.  I mention these two things because they greatly shaped my social interactions for a bulk of my life as I played the trumpet for 11 years and studied and was employed in the profession of software engineering for about 15 years.  I regret neither decision because I truly enjoyed both of them, and as it turns out, these choices led me to meeting my husband in college.

The only thing I regret is falling for the message that femininity is weak.  I am not weak because I am female.  I am not weak if I like feminine things.  I am not limited by appreciating the gender with which I was created.  My gender is not weak.

I’m told that as a woman, I need to suppress my fertility in order to not be oppressed.  This need of mine is so strong, I am told, that I need the government’s help in rendering myself infertile.  Furthermore, I’m told, infertility is my basic human right and my way to find equality in America.  I am told that I am being held back if the government doesn’t help me render myself as barren as a man.

Is it any wonder I learned to reject my femininity?

There is indeed a war on women.  America has no appreciation for things that are feminine.  America will eventually tell my daughters that their delight in pretty dresses and glittery nail polish is weak.  When my daughters are in middle school, America well tell them my husband and I, as their parents, don’t know how to make decisions in their best interest and that instead the school can make better parental decisions.   The school nurse will offer them a prescription for birth control pills and offer them help to obtain an abortion when the birth control fails, all without our,  their real parents,  interference.  Before they are even in high school, my girls will have heard America’s message loud and clear – they are automatically lesser because of their femininity – and that femininity needs to be stripped away in order for them to be equal to their male counterparts.

I want my girls to know they can enjoy their pink and tutus if that’s what they like.  I want my girls to grow up knowing they are equal to men even with their ability to conceive and carry babies in their wombs.  They need to hear that their fertility isn’t a handicap, and that they should demand to be supported as fertile females instead of accepting the “remedy” of infertility America wishes to give them.

I am thankful I learned that the Catholic Church is adamant that I am perfect just the way I am.  The Church is adamant that my fertility isn’t a handicap, but insists that my fertility and any children I may have are all  blessings.  The Church is so adamant about this that it insists I can learn about my fertility (NFP – Natural Family Planning) and work with the way God designed me instead of using hormones or surgery to render myself barren.  The Church is there to provide all women support when they are expecting a baby, reminding them their children are indeed wanted instead of agreeing with America that a woman’s baby isn’t wanted then offering an abortion.  I am also thankful that God provided me a husband who respects me just the way God made me instead of expecting me to take hormones or have surgery.

And I am thankful for pink, glitter, princesses and ballerinas.  I am thankful that every day our home is filled with little people who enjoy these things that would otherwise go unappreciated.  It is a joy and privilege to see my older daughter in a flattering feminine dress and kitten heels with glittery lip gloss.  It is a joy and privilege to see my younger daughter in ballet slippers and a tutu or her favorite Sleeping Beauty gown with matching crown.  Our lives are enriched because of their appreciation for the dainty and feminine.  Sure, it would be a joy and privilege to have them in our lives if they didn’t enjoy these things – I’m not at all saying girls must love “girly” things otherwise  it means that they are rejecting their femininity because that is of course untrue.  I only wish to challenge the notion that being female and even enjoying feminine things is neither weak nor limiting.  I hope all girls enjoy being female, but as an example to my point, behold a girl enjoying her femininity in a princess dress or tutu and you can’t help but smile just as much as if she were playing with cars in the dirt.  She is a gift us all, and so is her enjoyment of things we would otherwise overlook.  Please, please, don’t tell her she is weak for enjoying feminine things – let her relish in being a girly girl, and you too, let yourself relish in the privilege of being in the presence of a girly girl.

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Evangelization Faith Formation Ink Slingers Jeanne Matrimony NFP and contraceptives Pro-Life Issues Respect Life

Why we DON’T use Birth Control

Yesterday, the popular website, Buzzfeed, gathered 22 female employees for an article highlighting why the women use contraception. Other articles circulating social media had snippets of reasons that women use birth control. Most of these recent pro-birth control articles have been written in response the Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case.

The Catholic faith teaches that contraception is immoral. Why? Because sex is for babies and bonding and contraception serves neither of those purposes. It thwarts our call to be open to God’s gift of children and it doesn’t allow us to offer our spouse the fullness of ourselves as part of sexual love, because we’ve removed our fertility from the offering. The Church does recognize that women may need to use hormonal contraception for health reasons; article 15 of Humanae Vitae states that a woman may use hormonal contraception to control disease if she doesn’t implicitly intend to use it to prevent conception. Fortunately, there are other, healthier ways to overcome many of the problems hormonal birth control aims to fix and we encourage our readers to investigate those options.

To that end, we’d like to share some of our reasons for NOT using birth control. These are our beliefs and we don’t wish to force anyone to accept or follow what we believe, but we do wish to educate others on a perspective that is rarely offered in the media. Because while all faithful Catholics eschew contraception, our reasons for doing so are as varied as the women themselves.

We do not use birth control…….

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“Because observing and charting my fertility is empowering!”

“Because my fertility shouldn’t be treated like a disease and medicated away.”

“For I don’t want to ingest a class 1 Carcinogen, which is what the Pill has been designated by the World Health Organization.”

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“Because the hormones can lower your sex drive (and cause weight gain). And I like having a sex drive!”

“Because I consider working with my fertility a form of feminist empowerment.” 

“Because I don’t want the side-effects–especially the lethal side-effects!–of hormonal contraception.”

“Because I spend too much time and money on organic, non-GMO and hormone free foods to fill my body with synthetic hormones.”

“Because there are doctors who can work with my fertility to actually heal my reproductive health problems and they can’t do that if I’m on birth control.” 

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“Because my fertility is my superpower.”

“Because I don’t like how the hormones affected me psychologically.” 

“Because I don’t think it’s healthy for my body to think it is perpetually pregnant.”

“Because I think the delayed gratification of using NFP to avoid pregnancy is good for our marriage.” 

“Because having a family is on my bucket list and I want to be my healthiest when that time comes.”

birthcontrol

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“Because I cannot imagine one of my children not existing.”

“Because in addition to suppressing ovulation, hormonal contraception can prevent pregnancy by flushing out a newly conceived child before it implants. And I’m pro-life.”

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“Because I accept my body the way it is.”

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“Because fertility is not a pathology.”

“Because I am responsible and make mindful decisions, accepting the consequences to every action I make.”

“Because we like our sex environmentally friendly.”

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“Because I think the self-control needed for periodic abstinence is good for me and our marriage.” 

Because I don’t like the idea of drinking water with other people’s estrogen in it.”

“Because when my husband is willing to wait until my body says we can be together, it makes me feel respected and appreciated as a woman.”

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“Because I love the first little flutters of a baby growing within me.”

“Because a baby in mommy’s tummy makes my older kids so excited.”

“Because I love babies!”

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“Because it is against my faith.”

“Because I don’t like feeling like I’m solely responsible for our family planning; I want my husband to participate in the decision-making process as often as I do.”

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“Because the first thing my mom’s oncologist asked her when she was told she had breast cancer was, “Were you on the pill?”

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“Because I don’t think the very natural, normal condition of fertility ought to be medicated.”

“Because siblings are a gift.”

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“Because nothing in the world smells better than a baby’s head.”

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“Because sex isn’t a right, it is a gift.”

“Because I love that my husband desires all of me–including my fertility.”

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“Because I love the way my husband puts his hand on my pregnant belly.”
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“Because knowing where I am in my cycle every day gives me a feeling of control over my reproductive health.”
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“Because life is a beautiful thing. Always.”
ETA: We thank each of you for your comments and feedback. We encourage everyone–Catholic and non-Catholic–to research what the Catholic Church truly teaches about contraception and family planning, because this issue is one of the most commonly misunderstood tenets of Catholicism. Our beliefs about family planning are best understood within the context of God’s wholly positive plan for sex and marriage, which John Paul II beautifully explained in his series of talks commonly referred to as the “Theology of the Body.”  For more information on Theology of the Body, please visit www.theologyofthebody.net.