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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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Amy M. Ink Slingers

Keeping Up – Balancing Material Wants versus Spiritual Needs

balance photo

 

The neighbors bought a new car, installed a new pool, got a promotion, a new job… Our friend’s child earned higher grades, got a better scholarship to college.  Sometimes it is as simple as looking at someone else’s life and thinking that they have it “easy” – less debt, more opportunities to succeed.  It’s easy to lose sight that we are on a different path than they are.  It’s easy to forget that we don’t know what happens in the privacy of their home or in their mind or heart.  It’s also easy to forget that we are not called to be in this world, keeping up with the Jones’.

I feel like I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I don’t personally compare myself or what I have to those around me.  However, I am getting caught up in whether or not my children have the same opportunities or material things that other kids have.  The thing is, the kids don’t seem to care.  Oh certainly there are some things they want to have because others have them.  They usually understand though when we explain that we have something else in mind or that we simply can’t afford X, Y or Z.  

We still struggle with finding that balance between want and need. I recently read that life isn’t about finding the balance because it is a constantly changing landscape.  It is striving to the ever-changing circumstances and adjusting to maintain.  

As school winds down for the year, I am usually more eager for the summer vacation than my children are.  The break from homework and routine is welcomed by everyone. This year especially I was looking forward to school ending.  Sleeping in a little (I use this phrase loosely), not worrying about deadlines for a few months, more hands to help with the baby and toddler, time to just be…

A week into summer and we are floundering a little.  Ok, the kids are doing fine.  I am floundering a little.  Adjusting to having everyone home but not necessary available at the same time.  Practice schedules and games are still factors.  Things aren’t falling into place like I had imagined they would.

Be patient I’ve been told.  We’re still adjusting to having a newborn in the house again.  Everyone is just getting used to being home together and having different responsibilities.  

I came into the summer with high expectations and many plans.  I made a list.  I have projects I want to finish, and in my mind the kids would love to help.  But I also want them to have free time, time to just be kids, unstructured and young.  The two things seem to conflict each other more than I thought they would.  It also could be that we are one week into the summer, and I would love these projects to be finished.  Some of these projects have been around for years!  Perhaps my timeline is a little off?

Then come the flyers and emails for camps.  The kids like to do the local sports camps.  The sport changes for each one.  But then we are back to trying to keep up…  This friend is also doing that camp or an overnight camp or…  the list continues.  Where do we draw the line?  

Again they do understand the limits, but oh the guilt…  Are we hurting them if they aren’t able to do the same things as their friends?  Logically, I know the answer is no.  Emotionally, it hurts though to see them left out, even if it is by our choice.  

The balance between routine and free-for-all and between keeping up and keeping sane seems to be very similar.  Neither is a goal to be attained.  They both change with the changing seasons of life.  

No project or routine or free-for-all time is going to work if we don’t have God’s plan in mind first.  Discerning His plan for our day, each day, is the best way to start the day.  When Jesus saw a crowd, He went up the mountain first to pray.  Then, He began teaching.  He only began after He sought contact and grounding with the Father.  As much as we’ve been floundering, perhaps it is because we haven’t been seeking God first.  

Keeping up with others also is much less important than keeping up with God and His plan for us.  We need to seek God’s plan first.  Only then can we find peace and stop floundering.
“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.” Matthew 5:1

Keeping Up

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Current Events Ink Slingers Michelle Spiritual Growth

See You in Philadephia… Or Not

pope francis in the usI have something to confess; I am sad that I am not getting to attend the World Meeting of Families that begins in Philadelphia tomorrow. I’m not only sad, I’m a little bit mad too. I want so badly to be there- to see our Papa and to be surrounded by people excited and on fire for faith. We had plans to be there and yet here we sit at home. It just seems so unfair.

A very dear Jewish friend of ours told us about the Congress before we had ever heard about it. In February 2013 she asked me if we were considering going. She lives in the Philadelphia area and when I said I wasn’t sure, she insisted that we must be there for it. She opened her home to us (all of us!) and said if we could get there she’d take care of the rest. And so for the two and a half years our family has planned to go to the Congress, the Festival of Families, and the Papal Mass.

But then life happened and our dream of heading out to Philly to see the Pope and hang out with a couple million of our closest Catholic friends seemed to disappear into thin air.

When Hopes Come Crashing Down

It’s hard when something you have hoped and planned for doesn’t come to fruition. When the reasons are ones out of your control, well, it makes it even worse. I’ll be honest and tell you I have been sulking a little bit. My heart yearns to be in Philadelphia; I long to hear our Papa speak to us in our own language, on our own soil. I want to be a part of something so much bigger than myself. But, God has other plans and those plans don’t include us heading to Philadelphia for the world’s largest meeting of Catholic families.

why mePart of my sadness about not going to Philadelphia is rooted in why we can’t go. We’ve had a series of events happen in the last couple of months that brought us (literally!) to our knees. As crisis after crisis overtook our family, we found ourselves fighting to just keep our heads above the rising flood waters. It seemed as if the devil was attacking us from all sides. We felt hopeless and overwhelmed. Suddenly going on a trip was extravagant and impossible. It seemed so unfair that after all we’ve been through we also can’t go on our trip. It was easy to begin to think “why me?”

I’ve tried to reason that I can watch the coverage on television and that I will have a better view of the Mass and the events that are happening. I’ve even reminded myself over and over again that I don’t do well in crowds and this is going to be an insanely large crowd. I’ve thought about the logistics of traveling through the crowd with so many little ones and the fear I would have about possibly getting separated from one another. But in my heart I know that I would much rather be there in person, experiencing the sights, the sounds, and the holiness that will surround the event. There is just something about being a part of this important event that calls out to my soul.

God Reminds Us of His Plans

As I sulked, I began to pray. I asked God to comfort me and to assure me that my not going to Philadelphia was within His plans. As I prayed I was led to a scripture I know very well. In fact, it is a scripture that we often share when we talk about God’s plans for our family…

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Jer 29:11

How appropriate that God would use this verse to remind me that He has a plan! Even when our problems and our worries seem to overwhelm us, God still has a plan! It may not be what I have in mind, but in the end it will always be better than what I could ever imagine myself.

As much as I long to be there and as long as I have planned to go, God has a reason for me not being there. It’s hard to trust in God’s plans when we have our minds and hearts set on something else. It’s hard to let go of a dream that we’ve held for so long. But God calls us to trust Him in everything.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

As the World Meeting of Families begins tomorrow, I pray in thanksgiving for all those who are able to attend. I look forward to reading updates by friends who are blessed to be there. I have made the decision to be joyful instead of sad. I am going to watch the coverage on television and I am going to snuggle with my children on the couch as we share our faith together in the comfort of our home. I will trust that there is a reason God wants me to be here in rural Georgia instead of in Philadelphia with fellow pilgrims.

I can’t wait to see the fruits of this Congress and our Pope’s visit to our country. I pray that his visit will open hearts and minds to Christ’s love and that all those who encounter the Catholic faith through the coverage of the World Families Meeting will also encounter Christ.

Love is the mission this week… I pray we all will become fully alive in Christ’s love no matter where we are in locality or in life.

glory of God

 

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Domestic Church Erika Faith Formation Prayer Sacred Scripture Spiritual Growth Testimonials

Transitions

I have been an avid horseman* for as long as I can remember. After turning her back on me for a moment as a toddler, my mother found me surrounded by half a dozen large horses in the pasture. Later, I got my own pony and eventually  transitioned to full sized horses. If I wasn’t riding, I was just with my horse(s). In inclement weather, I read about horses. Even my punishments growing up were related to horses: grounding from riding my pony or from reading my horse-related books. Even today, as a horseless-horse-enthusiast, I constantly use equine terms and practices in my daily life. My philosophe is that life follows the same rules as horsemanship: transitions are key.

My first pony

Transitions, in horsemanship, are changes in speed. The best of transitions look effortless, elegant, and graceful; horse and rider move seamlessly. To achieve smooth transitions, there are several steps communicated to the horse at exactly the right time. Failing to properly prepare the horse results in choppy, ugly, and bumpy transitions. In life, transitions are the changes we go through as we age and mature. Each transition must occur in order to live, but there are small steps that can ease them and ensure chaos doesn’t reign. Skipping these small steps can lead to disastrous consequences.

What’s around me?

My 4-H show pony

One of the first requirements for smooth transitions is awareness. Horses are very reactionary as flight animals. Every change in the environment, vocalization, weight shift, and mood can induce the horse to react. As a rider, awareness is essential to communicate effectively with the horse. Quietness is a prized trait in a horseman because it allows the horseman to prevent negative reactions from the horse. Great horsemen are said to have quiet hands guiding the horse, quiet legs moving the horse, and quiet minds focusing on the horse and the goal. In life, awareness of God is essential. God is not only in control, but also present and more than willing to bestow blessings if asked. However, distractions are everywhere concealing God’s presence and blessings. That’s why it is essential to actively seek God in everything–even distractions. Sometimes God hides His blessings in sadness and disasters, but He’s always present and waiting for signs of awareness. In quiet contemplation, God reveals Himself to those who seek Him.

What am I doing?

My home-bred riding and driving horse

Another key requirement for smooth transitions is a goal. As sensitive animals, horses are capable of easily detecting or abusing the rider’s intentions or confusion. A clear goal, even a simple “go from point A to point B”, gives the horse confidence and almost instantly yields greater harmony between horse and rider. At times, the horse seems to read the rider’s mind simply because the rider is focused on the horse and their combined goal. One of the most used clichés is “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” Often, this cliché seems true as the best-laid human plans result in chaos and confusion. However, the error isn’t the plans; it is the exclusion of God from those plans. God has plans for each and every one of His creations. These plans are written in our hearts and revealed through quiet time with God, prayer, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Mass, and reading Scripture and Faith-filled writings.

Pause and think…

My pregnant with cancer driving horse

Smooth transitions are also preceded by a ‘half-halt’. Basically, a half-halt is a subtle cue from the rider for a minuscule pause from the horse. While it isn’t a specific cue for change, it distinctly alerts the horse to an upcoming change. Large transitions, like from a halt to a gallop or vice versa, may require several half-halts as preparation. They must be appropriately timed for the desired effect. Poor timing diminishes the effectiveness and the transition suffers. In life, the equivalent of half-halts are moments of prayer. Like a half-halt, prayer doesn’t have to be obvious or time consuming to be effective. Prayer prior to large changes in life, like marriage, buying a home, changing careers, etc, is infinitely more effective than prayerful supplication after these changes have taken place. A simple, “God, what do you want me to do with my life?” can suffice as long as there is an opening or slight pause to allow God to answer.

 

Let’s do this…

My borrowed driving horse and his friend

Following the half-halt is the actual cue for transition. Obviously, the cue is very important to the transition; without it, the transition wouldn’t exist. Since horseback riding is a dynamic relationship between horse and rider, change is constant and predictable. Like the half-halt, the cue must be timed very precisely, more precisely than the half-halt. In addition to precise timing, the cue must be proportionate to effectively communicate the command. A large transition or disobedience requires a strong cue; while a weak cue may not produce a transition at all. Similarly, life is a dynamic relationship with God, with God supplying the cues. Many times God’s cues are very subtle, while other times they’re like a 2-by-4. Subtle cues from God are best heard in the stillness after a half-halt of prayer. During trying times, God sometimes has to use a 2-by-4 to combat the inattention, disobedience, and lack of time given to Him. However, He always gives cues to those who ask Him for guidance.

Whew, that’s finished…

Sharing the love with my daughter

Once the transition occurs, the final step is praise. Depending on the rider’s effectiveness, praise can be subtle, almost undetectable to all but the horse or effusive. Since horseback riding is dynamic and training occurs every time the rider is with the horse, sometimes excellent preparation results in mediocre or even dismal transitions. An honest attempt, even without spectacular results should always be rewarded. God also deserves praise even through transitions that seem bad. After all, without God no transitions would even be possible. As the Author of our lives, God knows the plan, and provides ample guidance. For this, He deserves praise and gratitude. He will ultimately reward His Faithful with Heaven.

 

 

Life with horses has helped me live a better life with God. My transitions haven’t always been as smooth as I’d like, usually because what I want and what God wants differ. When I’ve followed the steps to graceful transitions, God has blessed me abundantly. I’ve given God free reign. You should too!
*I use the term horseman because I don’t need to feminize the term to preserve my femininity. I also use the term horseman synonymously with rider because that is the most common form of horsemanship. I based my description of transitions on the discipline of dressage (French for training) and is often the foundation of other disciplines.