“I’m happy with just you,” he whispered into my ear as I lay wrapped in his arms that day.
My amazing husband and co-pilot on this journey of infertility reassures me of his love for me on a daily basis. However, his words on this decision day traveled even deeper into my heart, into my personhood as a woman, and into my identity as a wife.
I was laying there allowing myself to just receive his words knowing that our recent decision to not continue with our infertility treatment did not just affect me. He had the grace to accept. I, too, wanted to ask for this same grace.
Let me share with you how we arrived at this decision:
I have shared in past posts about our infertility treatment journey including five years of different NFP doctors, testing, blood work, ultrasounds, medication, hormone treatment, etc. We were blessed for the past two years with an amazing local NFP doctor who had some more extensive options for us that she dubbed the “closest treatment to IVF for Catholics.” Over the course of the past year, we had decided to go through three “rounds” of this particular treatment. My doctor recommended to do up to six!
It was a blessing that after one round of treatment, we met our health insurance out-of-pocket maximum so everything else was essentially “free.” Due to timing of schedules, over nine months, we still were only able to do three rounds.
While the first two rounds brought more of a peaceful demeanor with them, it was this last round that was particularly difficult in the sense that while were we doing the treatment, both my husband and I developed horrible two-week long colds. I then had issues with my sciatica acting up. My chronically ill husband coming down with a cold always knocks him out. He also had started a new job and was dealing with the stress of transition. Oh, and we were carpooling to work now, so he was bringing me to early morning appointments. There were some major hurdles that we were presented with – I won’t go into further detail.
The results of all three rounds did not end in pregnancy, however, my doctor still said she believes I had finally ovulated. The next appointment was one I was dreading, because I knew she would ask me if we would like to move forward with another round.
I know that we are not the only one faced with this fork in the road: to keep going or not to keep going? How am I supposed to decide this? I don’t want to play God. What does my husband think? How do I know the long term effects of medications on my body? There were too many unknowns. Even further questions emerged like – if we stop treatment, do we pursue adoption? Or are we not called to pursue children at all? How do we discern this process as a couple?
“I’m just happy with you.” Those words my husband has said to me over and over again were now being said by our Lord to me. “I’m just happy with you, my child. You do not need to be a mother for me to be proud of you.”
For us, there were some clear confirmations that happened to help point us to the decision to end our treatment and not pursue adoption. I want to emphasize here that there is not ONE way to discern and that everyone’s decision is personal and we need to respect that fact.
For our discernment, we took into consideration our finances, emotional, physical and mental health, and what God was speaking in prayer. We were careful not to invite in too many outside voices, if any at all. (This can be tricky because the more you disclose with your loved ones, often times the more opinions they have about it.)
The best book on life discernment that I have ever read is called What Does God Want? By Fr. Michael Scanlan (past president of the Fransican University of Steubenville).
This book helped lead me into prayer. I was recently reflecting on the scripture from Luke about asking:
“And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened.” – Luke 11:9-10
For most of my life, this scripture always translated into – Ask God for what you want, seek it out, then it will be given to you. Easy peasy. But….not in this situation. I had been asking for years for God to grant us children and nothing. However, this recent prayer time He had revealed something different to me:
God never says to us – Ask for want you want and if you seek it out, I will grant your request. He does not get that specific with us. He just says, “…it will be opened;” or in some versions, “…you shall receive.” He does not say WHAT will be opened or WHAT will be received. He only promises us that we will receive something.
I realized that day that God does have good things in store for us and God does want to grant us gifts. It just may not be the exact thing I was asking for, but maybe God just wanted me to ask. Maybe that is what I had been misinterpreting all along. The focus shouldn’t be on the gift, but on the asking. Because asking for something encourages me to trust the giver. In asking, I have to first acknowledge that I am in need, then know what I need, and then how to ask for it.
I realized that God had been asking me to trust Him to give me good things.
This brought me back to that moment with my husband. I was able to ask God for the grace to accept. This was the final step in our discernment: to accept that this is what God has for us.
And if God is not providing for us here, where is He providing? Where is He leading? Where is He making space? These questions are still being answered in my life. It is an overwhelming feeling to be able to better receive what God has for me and where God is leading me, instead of clinging to what I want for my life.
“Jesus, I desire to grow in trust of your deeper care for me. By asking you, I trust you will provide even though it may not be what I want, but more so what I need. Amen.”
Recently, I was speaking with a friend about our vocations. She, a recently married women, married later in life to a healthy man and now pregnant with their first child. And me, a married woman of five years to a chronically ill man, with no children. There could have been a focus on differences between us throughout the conversations and feelings of being misunderstood because we were in “different phases in life.” However, this wasn’t the case. Instead, we chose to focus on the similarities in our situations and to be grateful for where the Lord had us in our individual lives.
These similarities do exist. You may have to go digging for them.
One of the similarities that we discussed was that we were both women, chosen daughters of God to live out His will in this world, at this time. There is so much here to digest with another sister. Why is it a struggle for me to discuss this more often with women? It brings me to tears just letting this sink in – this should be the most important thing to my heart, this is the reason I exist – however, it’s a struggle to allow this to be enough most days.
This is our reality: to know, to love, to serve God.
Another topic of conversation was our vocations. We both had experience in Christian/Catholic circles, in various ministries, formation and also the professional world. We’ve been talked with, preached at and prayed for at different times over the years regarding the topic of vocation.
So much so that for me, this had become quite the glorified ‘false’ idol.
When I was single, I longed for this moment when God would present me with my vocation. I anticipated it at every turn and contemplated it at night falling asleep. When? Who? How? It was as though I began to desire the vocation itself more than God Himself. If I’m honest, I began to think once I “arrive” at my vocation, then…THEN…I will experience my true self, true joy and true completion.
This did not happen. In fact, it was the opposite because I had this hope and expectation that it would be so amazing that my disappointments were felt even more intensely. Marriage was not the end for me.
Then came the expectation and hope for children, for a complete family. Ok, Lord, if marriage isn’t my true joy and completion, then having children and becoming a mother will be! I thought that this would at least come into fruition. I may have been mistaken about my vocation of marriage, so it must be my vocation as a mother. This is how your will is going to play out in my life and this is where I will arrive at my vocation.
Maybe I was wrong the whole time. Just maybe I didn’t have a clue how this whole vocation thing worked. Maybe I was receiving mixed messages, or perceived certain formative teachings to be truth for everyone. “The order of vocation of marriage for a Catholic woman is: courtship, marriage, multiple healthy pregnancies and babies. The end.” The breakdown of this premonition slowly transitioned from a teaching I learned and believed, to the case for most women I knew, to “why not me, what’s wrong with me?”, to “I deserve this too!”, to interiorly grasping or forcing, to anger and resentment at my husband and at God, then myself.
This idol of the vocation of marriage and motherhood that I’ve created within has now fallen off the pedestal of my heart.
I was so exhausted from holding it there on top for several years, forcing it to be true for me. Because it’s not, nor it may never be. Visually placing this image in my mind is helpful for my heart and head to move towards acceptance of my reality, of the will God has for my reality.
He steps into to gently say, “My will is beyond what you could ever imagine. Why do you trust in false idols, instead of trusting in Me? I came to break you free from false idols. I came that you might have Life, and have it in Me.”
Through prayer, I quickly realized that this idol of vocation didn’t just fall off the pedestal in my heart, the Lord pushed it off. Just as He overturned the tables in the temple: “They came to Jerusalem, and on entering the temple area he began to drive out those selling and buying there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves…then he taught them saying, “Is it not written: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples’?” – Mark 15:11, 17
Those people had a false sense of security by selling their goods in a place of worship, just as I had found a false sense of security in my vocation. I realized that His heart and will for me was to be with Him, in all things. And to make Him my idol.
Because when I experienced Him on that pedestal, that is where I experience TRUE joy and TRUE completion because it doesn’t matter what my vocation is, or how many children I have or if my husband is healthy or not, or any of the concerns of my heart. With Him, and only Him alone, is where I know I am truly loved AS I AM. And my heart can accept this truth.
I choose Him and only Him, because I choose to trust Him. And if I truly trust Him, then I have to trust what He brings into my life and what He doesn’t. I have to trust Him over myself. I have to trust that if the answer is ‘no’ or ‘not yet,’ there is a reason for that and He may be protecting me from something I do not know about. Admitting that my vocation was a false idol in my heart was the first step to acceptance. Because now, I do not want it there, I give the Lord permission to knock it off the pedestal every day.
My prayer for you is that you can experience freedom and acceptance in your lives over false idols, that you have the grace to admit what those idols are, and be open to what the reality of God’s will is for you!
My Lord, I offer you my thoughts: to be fixed on you;
My words: to have you for their theme;
My actions: to reflect my love for you;
My sufferings: to be endured for your greater glory.
I want to do what you ask of me: In the way you ask, For as long as you ask, Because you ask it.
Lord, enlighten my understanding, Strengthen my will, Purify my heart, and make me holy.
Help me to repent of my past sins and to resist temptation in the future.
Help me to rise above my human weaknesses and to grow stronger as a Christian.
I’ve always been able to enter into the season of Advent fairly easily as the days got shorter and weather colder and I felt free to give myself permission to join with Mary’s soul in the joyful expectation of our Lord’s birth and also the Second Coming. I fed off of the anticipation and appreciated the welcomed quietness of the season.
This way of praying became a bit more difficult after being married four years ago and trying to get pregnant. It started to feel as though I was in a constant “Advent” season, but also “Lent” as well: a fair mixture of waiting and suffering simultaneously. There was a serious lack of joy revolving around our infertility. Even the joy of Easter has been hard for me to enter into over the course of our marriage as it seemed like the spiritual joy was non-transferable to our reality in this area.
There is a lot of beautiful writing and reflection circling the internet and devotional world about the season of advent in regards to “waiting in hopeful expectation.” Yet, how do I enter into this call if I do not have hopeful expectation and am sick of waiting? Does this make me a bad Catholic?
Let’s break this down and define our terms:
- Wait: stay where one is or delay action until a particular time or until something else happens
- Hope: a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen; a feeling of trust
- Expectation: a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future
So basically it sounds like the call can be translated into: “stay and trust in the desire you have, believing that something will happen in the future.”
Stay. Stay? My first reaction is why would I want to STAY in my infertility?! The dreaded day in and day out reminder of my weakness and bodily imperfection; the reminder that I am a broken human being. Lord, are you asking me to stay in this?
This is uncomfortable. This is a place of vulnerability and of hurt and disappointment. Why would I want to stay here? I want to run from this dark hole in my heart that I attempt to fill every day with something…
As I meditate on this call the Lord is asking of me, I am reminded that our Mother Mary stayed in this place of uncertainty, being uncomfortable, vulnerable, and seemingly unlivable conditions during advent. She stayed.
Suddenly, I find myself asking for the grace of Mary to remain here. Even though I am not wrestling with these thoughts and feelings while I am pregnant as she was, I can still relate. Lord, give me the grace to stay in the uncomfortable, in the hurt and disappointment. I ask You to meet me there.
He is also asking me to stay in my desire, to trust. What was my desire? I surely desire to have a child and be healed of infertility. This was a screaming desire of my heart! However, I felt as though He was asking me to go deeper. What was my ultimate desire?
Eternal life. If I am honest, this ultimately trumps my desire for a child.
I felt as though He was asking me to stay in my desire for eternal life, not stay in my desire for a child. And I have to choose to believe that this will happen someday in the future, as my hopeful expectation.
Suddenly, this was making sense to me. On the surface, Advent could be seen as a season of waiting for healing and pregnancy, however, the Lord wanted to remind me of the deeper meaning and truth. Ultimately, I can only wait in hopeful expectation, for eternal life. This is what He promises us. He doesn’t promise me a child, or even healing.
He promises me eternal life.
“O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!”
The “O” Antiphon for Dec. 20
This post can also be viewed at springsinthedesert.org. Springs in the Desert is a new Catholic ministry devoted to helping women and couples struggling with infertility to process and move beyond their grief to find the fruitfulness God has planned for their marriage.
How to deal when things don’t go my way
Due to my husband’s health issues, there are often time when he needs to cancel on me last minute as it is hard for him to predict how he will be feeling the day we have something planned. This is obviously not an ideal situation for me, or him, or anyone for that matter.
This recently happened when we were planning to go out for a concert and even though we talked in length about it way ahead of time and prepared his schedule so that he would have enough energy for that day, he still wanted to cancel last minute. My inner child decided to throw a temper tantrum. My love language is quality time and upon feeling completely rejected, I shouted – “But you PROMISED me!”
This led into an argument of wills (and feelings). Eventually, we came to a compromise. He would push through the concert and just take the following day off of work. Yes, this is what it had to come to…
Now, believe me, I am someone who clings tightly to what other people and God promise me. God shares with us so many promises throughout scripture. I analyze each detail, find ways to apply it to my life and feel encouraged by it. However, I’ve noticed when things in my life are not going the way I want them to, I immediately go back aggressively shouting – “But you PROMISED me!”
“The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.” Is. 58:11
When a loved one’s promise is unkept or when I misinterpret God’s promise to mean something different, I tend to place the blame back on the one who made the promise. I think this is a pretty rational thing to do – you make a promise to me, you fail to keep it, that’s on you. This has caused me to lose trust in the past because if someone isn’t able to keep their promise made to me, it causes hurt. This can spiral down even further into the mindset of – why would I trust someone who hurts me and does not keep their word?
What I need to keep learning over and over again, is that this way of thinking does not leave room for mercy and forgiveness for my loved one and for myself. You see, if I am asked to forgive numerous times as scripture teaches us, I must do so even when I am hurt.
My natural reaction of anger/hurt when a promise is broken with my husband is not how Jesus is asking me to respond. It’s a mere reaction. My response needs to be one of mercy. “I know you are not intentionally trying to hurt me or reject me, I forgive you.”
The same concept applies to when I FEEL like God is not keeping His promises. This is difficult because I can only believe what I interpret to be true. “Who can know the mind of God?” (1 Cor. 2:16) He promises us so much, yet I still cannot know exactly what He means when He is promising those things to me. I am only left with my assumptions or what I “hope” them to be.
Instead of reacting in anger/hurt, I am called to respond with mercy – Maybe I misinterpreted what His promises are for me regarding xyz situation, there could be another promise to this problem and I may not be able to recognize it quite yet. I will keep hoping and trusting.
He whispered back to me…
“Cling tightly to Me. Keep hoping, keep trusting, keep waiting on Me. I am hope. I am trust. I am with you.”
I know that His most important promise is eternal life, and that is way better than going to a concert here on earth any day.
(disclaimer: this post does not end with a pregnancy or miraculous healing)
I was diagnosed with endometriosis back in 2013 after a laparotomy surgery. The doctor found that it was Stage 3 (out of 4). He was able to remove it all, thankfully. This helped me a lot to feel less pain each month. I charted my health with Natural Family Planning and was able to help diagnose it. I was so grateful for that! This happened the year before I met my husband and we got married, so I assumed there would be some difficulty getting pregnant.
We met and got married in 2014 and started trying right away. However, after about 6 months, nothing was happening. The doctor met with us and we tried several healthy options including a seman analysis, ovulation inducers: Clomid and Letrizole, HCG shots, hormone supplements, ultrasounds, etc. Nothing seemed to be working.
After 4 years of all of the poking, prodding, scheduling intimacy, charting and stress of this battle began to weigh on the both of us. Maybe God didn’t want or need us to have children…could this actually be true? How far do we get in this journey until we stop testing? Do we make that call? Do we seek help?
For those who have dealt or are dealing with struggles in fertility know that this can be such a burdensome cross. It takes a toll on your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. It’s exhausting. It’s trying on yourself and your spouse, your trust in God, and relationships with others.
Oh, did I mention that my husband also suffers from chronic health issues himself?
So, here we were as newlyweds in our young 30s and trying to manage these massive health issues. Thanks, God! I wasn’t sure how to deal with the reality that we may never have biological children of our own. He was just trying to get through each day without getting a migraine. It’s been four years of wrestling with God in these issues.
Where are you while we are suffering with these issues? There was definitely a sense of abandonment and hopelessness that was present.
We did have support from our local Catholic community and our families as well. What typically were private issues, are now forced to be made public and were inquired about a lot from those that care for us. Not to mention the comparison devil, which was especially strong in Catholic circles of healthy people having a lot of children, a lot.
This did take a toll on our marriage as we both were trying to deal with the reality of our lives. I was trying to wrap my mind around being newly married, being a caregiver, and that my marriage was not living up to my expectations. I felt like God didn’t think I was worth a good marriage, healthy husband and children. My husband was operating at about 40% most days with his health and trying to stay above water, while holding down a job and trying to love me the best he could.
Somewhere during my life, I started to believe the lie that “I am in control of my life.” I believe that the Lord knew that I needed a good “interruption” in my soul. When we believe that we are in control, we only trust in ourselves and it becomes a breeding ground for pride.
I realized that I stopped looking up and only looked at myself.
And I ran with it, I fought so hard to stay in control because I did not think that the sufferings He was offering me with the right ones. I wanted different crosses. This is where the anger began. My heart was so angry at this perceived injustice that was being given to me. I felt as those I was a beggar on the street and all the Lord thought I was worthy of were scraps and leftovers. I felt like I was no longer His daughter.
These crosses began to consume me and BECOME me. I was trying so hard to keep my life and marriage in the tiny expectation box that I had prepared my whole life. To be honest, I was not open to “Your will be done,” that I prayed each week. I found too much comfort in my idealism and expectation. I had stopped finding comfort in Him.
How do we find support for these challenges if there are no foreseeable solutions? How do we ease our hearts from grieving a life that is not what we want? How do I know He loves me when the circumstances of my life do not reflect that?
I am sure there are sufferings in your lives that can also relate to the above questions. I believe that God allows us to experience certain crosses specific to ourselves for a reason. We may never know that reason, but there are some consistent themes that He intertwines within them.
He was asking me to release control.
He was asking me to find my identity only in Him.
I spent years in prayer begging Him for explanations, begging Him for help, begging Him for healing.
He wanted me to shift my perspective.
I became so exhausted from these crosses and realized that something needed to change because I was in a deep desolation. By the grace of God, I decided to take a day to sit in prayer and listen to Him. I decided to spend time with Him even when I struggled to trust Him. Why?
Because this is what we are called to, sisters. We are called to a commitment. Believe me, I am as emotional as they come and there are days where my feelings are the only truth I believe in and it is very tough to pull myself out of them to be more logical. I knew that even though I didn’t feel as though God was loving me did not mean that He wasn’t.
So I decided to talk to Him about that in prayer.
He was very patient with me. He showed me that with many things in life, there is a different perspective that was not just mine. He asked me to try to view these crosses as He would see them – from His heavenly perspective.
I learned that day that the Lord does love me. He loves me to the point that He wants my soul to grow into a deeper relationship and reliance on Him alone. I received this image of Him looking at me in the eyes, tilting my chin up to His, as He whispered –
“My love for you is greater than you will ever know. I want you to keep your eyes fixed on Me. I want to carry these crosses for you. I am here. I gave you these specific crosses so that you can share them with others.”
What He was saying was two-fold: I can share these crosses with others 1) to make my load lighter and 2) to help others to feel less alone in their suffering.
This was the redemption to my suffering.
“But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength,
so that through me the proclamation might be completed.” – 2 Timothy 4:17
I was being asked to share my experiences with others so that they may come to the Lord. This was precisely why He was allowing me to experience suffering: to deepen my trust in Him, to be vulnerable and to lead others to Him.
Is this also what Isaiah was speaking about in his prophecy about Jesus?
“…by his wounds we were healed.” – Is. 53:5
Maybe He uses my woundedness to heal other souls. If the Lord can make my suffering redemptive for just one other person, I will gladly cooperate and consent.
That day, the Lord was revealing to me His reasoning for my suffering, not because He needed to, but because He had to invite me to actively participate in it. I spent so much time resisting instead of participating. Now was my chance to respond to this invitation in becoming a spiritual director and practicing spiritual motherhood with women.
How is He redeeming your suffering today?
I pray that you can trust Him when He says He loves you and He has good plans for you. Sometimes your perspective is not the only one. Ask Him today how He sees you, see your situation and what the promise He has for you in that situation.