The Infertility Companion for Catholics: A blog book tour and giveaway!

Today I have the pleasure of introducing a new resource that maybe all of us at one time or another wish existed.  In fact, maybe its lack started us to writing about infertility on our blogs or made us start a blog all together.

An actual book about infertility for Catholics!  Novel idea, eh?

The book is The Infertility Companion for Catholics: Spiritual and Practical Support for Couples, written by Angelique Ruhi-López and Carmen Santamaría and published by Ava Maria Press.

The idea for this book was born out of the experience of two friends, Angelique and Carmen, who live in Florida and who both had unexpected obstacles in their journeys to growing their families, including infertility and secondary infertility.  While they didn’t journey simultaneously (first one friend, then the other), their shared experiences helped them to see the need for a very Catholic resource and eventually drove them to write this book. Over these next two weeks you’ll see from the schedule here that a bunch of different bloggers will be participating in the “Blog Book Tour” to give you reviews, excerpts, interviews, and giveaways surrounding the release of this book, which has been scheduled to conveniently coincide with Infertility Awareness Week, April 22-28th.  How smart is that?

Angelique and Carmen, just hanging out, writing books together :)

The book title does say a lot about whats in it: practical and spiritual support.  When I first heard about this book I really did think to myself (and maybe out loud), Oh please don’t be just another Catholic book telling us don’t do IVF.  Don’t get me wrong, for many people, this is an important topic that needs to be clarified from the get go.  We’ve all heard that “Oh, my friend so and so did IVF and she was Catholic” so clearly, this is an important moral question that needs to be addressed and discussed in a very loving manner because many, many people out their haven’t heard this message.  However, I was just praying that this book didn’t stop there!  To tell someone what treatments are off limits without offering the alternatives and support to make it through a now even more estranged journey (which is where most Catholic materials I’ve read seem to stop) is a bit like – forgive the bad analogy – throwing someone in an ocean, telling them they can’t use a raft, and then expecting them to just learn to swim and make it back to dry land on their own.  Sure, maybe some will figure it out, but a great deal of people will struggle and flail in the process.

So back to the book, the first chapter reads very instructive and well, practical.  Helping the reader to answer the question if they meet the scientific definition of infertility and a rundown of some common diagnoses.  Before going into what the Church teaches about artificial reproductive technologies (ART), there is a great little chapter about what our faith has to do with infertility at all, including references to familiar bible stories and a background to theology of the body.  For many, this is the confusing leap between why the church is even concerned with what couples do privately, and I loved that this was included before the actual details of the Church’s stance on ART! Afterwards there is a chapter on treatment options available for Catholics which addresses specific and again, practical concerns that Catholic may have with traditional approaches to infertility treatment and how best to navigate that path, including both author’s experiences.

Finding the correct spiritual support is a huge part of making it through experiencing infertility in one piece and even then it can be a close call.  This was where we get to my favorite part of the book!  The part that I was really hungry for, help finding the meaning and peace in the midst of all the cloudy emotions and remembering Jesus in all of it.  The next few chapters, Discerning God’s Will, The Cross of Infertility, and Bearing the Cross: A Spirituality of Infertility, all address these more intangible difficulties of infertility while calling us out of the darkness of despair to remember our purpose as Christians.

Probably the most valuable part of the book for me was the description and explanation of the St. Ignatius spiritual discernment exercise.  This can obviously be found elsewhere, but the application to one’s own infertility journey is very, very valuable and a good reminder to what its really all about.  And this is where I will give props to my husband for “being right” and I will hopefully not upset the blogging community too much, but this is an extremely big advantage to not blogging about every detail of the infertility journey and is probably why as some point along our paths, most of us have taken a step back from doing so.  This community provides an invaluable resource of support and love in what is otherwise a very isolating journey.  However, discerning the next steps in something so personal and spiritually important as the steps tied to the growth of your family is really between you, your husband, and God.  But saying that and knowing how to do it so you get that calm and peace in your soul are two different things.  The St. Ignatius steps laid out in this book were extremely helpful to proper discernment for dealing with any big decision, but especially infertility related ones since it can get so confusing emotionally.  Its always good to remember to have that quiet time between just you and God to pour your heart out and then really, truly listen.  Good stuff!

There’s a lot more to this book, including a very necessary chapter from Carmen’s husband talking about the male perspective of male factor infertility which I applaud him for writing and telling a much needed perspective that is non-existent in the blog-world, as well as a chapter on Infertility’s Effect on Marriage, dealing with The Loss of Miscarriage (including instructions on what to physically do after a miscarriage as well as support network resources), and Opting to Adopt.  There is also a great chapter on How Family and Friends Can Help, which would be great to give if you’re having difficulty explaining to those trying to understand infertility how they can support their loved ones and that in a mine field of things not to say, there really are things that can help.

The fact that the book was peppered with inspiring quotes, bible verses, and catechism references makes it very biblical and Catholic resource that really helps tie the suffering of infertility directly to our faith.  Each chapter has a list of further references at the end that will help the reader find more information on a topic of interest.  Although at times it can be confusing to remember who is writing each chapter (Angelique and Carmen switch on and off) and it would have been nice to have a reminder as each chapter started, a strength of this book really is the perspective of two women, one who faced infertility and one who is currently facing infertility.  The difference in tone of their writing is subtle, but perhaps its like reading the blogs of women who have become pregnant and had children vs. those that are still in the midst of the struggle.  There is a difference, maybe a wisdom or confidence that comes from experiencing faith and prayers completed vs. an inspiring  rawness of someone still following faithfully in the struggle that makes a difference in relate-ability and ultimately makes the book a stronger resource for all of those dealing with infertility.  It is really a great resource for those starting off on this journey or looking for more resources to support them along the way.


 Finally, in being given a chance to read and review this book I was also given the opportunity to give one away to a reader!  I’ve never actually done a giveaway before but am super excited to be able to have this as a giveaway prize!

Anyone can enter and the rules are simple: just leave a comment with your name (or pseudonym), email (only I will see your email – so I can tell you you won!) and one thing that you would look forward most about reading this book.  Or the one thing you wish this book would address if you didn’t see it addressed up there.  If you don’t feel comfortable commenting I’ll accept an email entry as well :)

I’ll close the comments in a week, April 24th, aka Baby Moonhead’s “official” LMP due date, select a winner at random and send you this book!

You can either try to win this book for yourself or for a friend who you know would appreciate it, both are great ideas!

Thanks again for reading and a special thanks to Angelique and Carmen for letting me get a head-start on the blog tour to accommodate for our blessed extenuating circumstances over here!

Sarah’s Hope – An infertility retreat opportunity!

Who needs a retreat?

Who wants to go to Texas?

This is what Texas looks like in April!

I wanted to share this opportunity with anyone who’s interested in attending a weekend day retreat for those struggling to conceive or dealing with pregnancy loss.  This is seriously an answer to many prayers, so I hope someone finds this information useful or can send it to someone who would be interested!  Sent to me by a friend in Austin, Texas!

We are excited to announce the date of our first retreat for couples struggling to conceive or with pregnancy loss! You and your spouse are invited to join us on Saturday, April 28, 2012 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Schoenstatt Shrine in west Austin (225 Addie Roy Road, Austin, TX) at the Sarah’s Hope & Abraham’s Promise Retreat!

The retreat will feature discussion on topics related to Catholic fertility issues as well as the opportunity for reconciliation and a Healing Mass with Fr. Charlie Garza from Santa Cruz Parish in Buda. We are delighted and humbled that our Prayer Team will be praying for us throughout the day at Eucharistic Adoration. Let us know if you know of anyone who’s not officially on our Prayer Team who might want to take part in a holy hour for us on April 28th to pray for our intentions!

The day promises to be a beautiful one that will renew us on our journeys to parenthood, so please go ahead and e-mail us at or call (512) 736-7334 to register for the retreat. We’d like to get a headcount so we can plan accordingly. There is a $30 suggested donation to attend, and lunch will be provided.

If either you or your spouse are unable to attend, we’d still love to have either one of you, so please join us if either can make it.

Let us know if you have any questions! It is our sincere hope that you will prayerfully consider attending.

In Christ,
Cari, Erin and Jen

Please contact me or the email/phone numbers above for more information.

Here’s also more information about the monthly support group.


If you do end up going, it would be nice to hear how the weekend went so that we can incorporate some things into our group out here in California.  Thank you!

Catholics on Motherhood and IVF

I had a post going about Catholic motherhood, but then I saw this opinion piece this morning about how the family who were victims of that horrible mistaken embryo transfer thinks that the Catholic Church should reverse its decision on IVF.  I read that they were Catholic when I heard about the story the first time and my ears went up a little but hey, lots of Catholics don’t follow Church teaching on contraception and the same is with IVF.  Did anyone else see this?

One thing is for sure, the Church re-explaining its stance on ART was definitely not a personal attack on this specific family – as the author states there have been Church documents explaining the theology behind this for quite a while now.  There was probably just general confusion after this widely publicized story, and rightly so.  I feel similar frustration when people tell me “Oh, so and so did IVF and they’re Catholic.”  ::sigh::  There is a lot of general confusion on this teaching and clarification is obviously necessary.

Also, the document referred to (Dignitas Personae) points to the improper generation of a human being, not the human being itself.  I know I’m going to upset people here, since couples who do IVF have been suffering and would love more than anything to have a child of their own genetics – and I have personally felt that same suffering, but this is akin to saying that rape denies the resulting child the proper perfect generation.  That statement says nothing of the dignity of the resulting person.  As Christians we don’t believe that the ends justify the means.  Means are equally important.

Biological motherhood is a beautiful and glorious thing, but it is not the end all be all and point of our existence.  Despite any insensitivity we sub/infertile women feel in the pew on Sunday, if the Catholic Church believed and taught that, then any and all treatments would be licit.  But it doesn’t.  There is something beyond motherhood and our own desires that matters and that is God’s creation, the sanctity of life.

This is the ultimate proof that Catholics are not about filling the pews but about something bigger.  Principles, true theology beyond our own desires.  This is why we should be weary of churches that promote motherhood at the cost of the sanctity of life and the unborn, without concern for how it happens.

Anyway, did you see this article?   What did you think?

I am intrigued that  a couple who believes in life at conception would be OK with freezing their babies.  I wonder if they would think differently if another couple had mistakenly received their frozen embryo and aborted, as they would have had every right to do?  God bless them for their generosity, but their personal experience clearly points to a flawed system that no amount of rules and precautions can protect against.

Lenten Purging

The priest of our university chapel this past Sunday mentioned that Lent is like taking our car to the car wash.  There’s a layer of grime and dirt covering the car (especially now, during pollen season!) and when the car emerges it is bright and shiny and you remark Wow!  Is that the real color of my car?! Like our soul, emerging from Lent.

This has not been my lenten experience.

My husband asked if I had any thoughts after Mass and we talked about the homily and readings, as we usually do, and all I could think was that I rarely say Oh, how pretty and shiny when remarking on myself or my soul but rather Wow, how ugly and gross.  Perhaps this is because we are only 1 week in.  Maybe I’ll be singing a different tune at the end of Lent?  But I think the Father left out a huge detail of how painful the Lenten car wash is.  It is not so much a quick jaunt through some sudsy water so much as a deep, scalding scrub with an old pummus stone.  Ouch.

The things I struggle most with (or at least the most obvious things)  are addictive things, refreshing my email, checking Facebook, little mindless clicking games to fill the time, and yes, checking my blog reader.  I recognize the frequency that I do these things as just being there to fill the time and not intentional.  So part of my agreement with myself has been to only intentionally do these things, unlike last year when I gave them up completely.  I guess this practically amounts to only doing them on the weekend, my designated “free time”.  Like last year, I reserve the right to write my thoughts on my here, and unlike last year, I’ll probably take advantage of that.

(Well, except for Facebook, which I am once again convinced is the closest thing to innately evil that I can believe in and so am giving up for the whole 46 days.  Especially after watching The Social Network, I’m convinced I’ve unwittingly bought into Mark Zuckerberg’s plan to take over the world! Drat.)

Anyway, to say this has been difficult is an understatement.  I sit in an office/lab all day with little human interaction, my thesis does not talk back (or write itself), and my roommates are out of the country.  So I get lonely.  Just taking these things away leaves a cranky Alison, frustrated because I can’t click but I don’t know what else to do.

So I’m taking a page out of last year’s book and whenever I get really frustrated, or get that click-y urge, I’m going here:  Universalis. And I will pray the most relevant prayer.

And I’m offering it up for my Prayer Buddy  (amongst other things).

I guess this car was dirtier than I thought.

Empty arms and empty nets

Last spring we happened to share with the priest who witnessed our marriage that we were going through some issues trying to conceive.  This was still fairly early in our “attempting” so I just happened to mention in passing if he could include our desires to grow our family in his prayers (he was actually over to bless our house), especially because he had some formative spiritual direction for us when we discerned we should be open to our fertility.  Being the thoughtful and involved Father that he is, he mentioned that he had recently heard of several couples who were having the same issues and asked if we would all like to get together for mass and dinner.   A few weeks later he followed up with an email, asking if a date three months in the future was OK for us to get together. 

Sure, I thought. But I’ll probably be pregnant by then. Then I’ll probably feel really silly for agreeing to all this.

(In case anyone doubts I have the power of positive thinking).

Anyways, turns out I wasn’t pregnant, but we did have a lovely night of Mass, dinner and socializing with 3 other couples who were also experiencing difficultly conceiving.  There were two “older” couples and two “younger” couples – relatively speaking.  There was a range of “time trying to conceive”, basically ranging from almost a year (us) to 8 years.  Yes, you can bet that I felt like the weakest person in the world being there alongside couples that have carried this cross for much, much longer than I have.  At that point I was used to having my anxiety and fear being blown off for not trying long enough by fertile friends and was a little anxious at being blown off by these new infertile women.    However, it was a great experience and most of the couples understood that not conceiving is not conceiving and we all share a common bond, no matter the length of time.  They had supportive things to say, even if for part of the night I did feel like their ‘project’, with them telling me words of advice like relax because there is nothing else you can do, take one day at a time, and to have faith because that first year is the hardest.  I did start to feel a bit of a “pain Olympics” (or where infertile women like to compete over how ‘infertile’ they are), which was probably only apparent from my view, but this was to be expected I guess and minimal.  After all, I was just starting the journey as they were able to tell me about significant mile-markers and scenery changes along the way.  As with most things, it really helped having examples of other couples facing this hardship and surviving, “mentors” of sorts that could provide concrete examples of hope without diminishing the pain I felt. These couples gave me hope for my future that these tears would eventually dry up when talking about sub/infertility with strangers.

Perhaps the most miraculous moment came during Mass when the Father did a semi-introduction of us all to each other in the homily (after we had officially met but before eating dinner) and revealed the most amazing news yet – that the couple who had been married and open to life for 8 years, after at least 3 surgeries and multiple adoption failures, was yes, finally pregnant with their first pregnancy.  Praise the Lord!  They conceived sometime after the first email was sent and the date of our gathering.  They hadn’t actively tried anything in over a year, and there they sat, shedding tears of joy after waiting so long to receive this gift from God.  The whole room was in tears at this miracle.

I realized then that this was not a short term journey and the longer I counted months by days, the more I was setting myself up for heart-ache.    My vision of thinking well, at least I’ll probably conceive in the next few years suddenly stretched to a decade.  Am I strong enough to endure a decade of this – or even more? I admit I was terrified, but I’m glad I got that reality check early on.  Heck, when I would express doubt in us being able to conceive around the 6 month mark my husband used to jokingly threaten me with “Do you want to go to that Loving Embrace group where real infertile women are so you can feel embarrassed for being so sad?”  I knew then that I was weak.  These women were warriors and their faith, so solid.  At least in hindsight.  I was so, so weak.  I am so, so weak.

Perhaps the second “Ah ha!” moment of the night was during the homily again, when Father talked about his history and involvement as director of vocations.  Some of you may wonder what a celibate priest has to say about yearning for children, but the similarities were more than obvious.  As director of vocations in a small Italian order, he moved to Texas to expand more than 25 years ago.  The house they owned that he longed to be filled to the brim with young men exploring their callings sat mostly empty.  He could count the number of vocations on one hand and they were much, much less than he desired.  That he prayed for.  He often begged God to tell him that if He desired such a good thing and was there willing and ready to serve and mentor these young men, why did He not send them?  His empty nets mirrored our empty arms.  But even our 8 year empty arms paled in comparison to 25 years but luckily, its not all about the ‘pain Olympics’.  He reminded us that our desire for children and his desire for vocations both pointed to a similar longing, a longing for God.  A love of God so strong that you want to share it with others, no matter your vocation.

They were beautiful words to help me realize that longing for God IS universal, even if the specific cross of infertility is not.  Now, whenever I pray for those empty arms out there and the parents longing to fill them, I also try to remember those empty nets and pray for God to fill them as well.

Teaching NFP as a subfertile couple

Believe it or not, one of the first things I thought of when we didn’t get pregnant right away was

Oh great, now no one we know is going to believe that NFP works.

And I don’t think that was a crazy thought.  I’ve been in the NFP world long enough to know that when women or couples are considering usage of NFP, barely anyone actually does their own research (though these amazing people do exist – and can I include myself in that list? ha!).  In fact, I would venture to say that after hearing about NFP for the first time, the overwhelming majority of people rely purely on anecdotal evidence when discerning whether or not to use NFP.  For example, the couple that taught them NFP may be old and totally ‘out of it’ or they knew someone they once heard of who got pregnant using NFP or the couple teaching them has 6+ children so NFP must not work.

I wanted so badly to be that teaching couple that people could relate to.  And I know that in reality that translates into making a good first impression.  Being that young couple that looks just like them.  Still in school, trying to figure out how to foster the best marital relationship.  My husband and I feel so passionately about promoting healthy marriage and this being such a huge part of my conversion story, we just knew that this was our calling.

But now part of me feels like we have just another reason for people not to believe us when we stand up there, explaining the scientific details of how NFP works.

Oh, they can’t get pregnant.  No wonder they’re down with NFP.

And it sucks.  I don’t want to be another anecdote.  And I don’t understand why God would give us such a calling and at the same time, such a handicap to hurt our effectiveness along the way.

But, eventually, I know its not about us or what we do or say that will change people’s minds anyway.  I could shout from the rooftops what a gift fertility is (and I have and will continue to do so) but that doesn’t mean people will listen.  It is not people that change people.

When we get a new class of clients, before we start our first NFP class we make small talk and study those faces, some eager, some bored, some there for the other one.  They don’t know anything about us, maybe other than we’re going to talk to them about mucus and sticking thermometer’s where? (correct answer: mouth!).  But a single question will bring everyone together and remind them why we’re here.

We just ask about their upcoming wedding and there’s an instant smile on everyone’s face. An excitement that we all can relate to about the new relationship about to occur, as the bride looks at her soon to be groom and gushes about the details of the event.  An appreciation for this new, sacred relationship.  After all, that’s why they’re pursuing a Church wedding and taking the necessary classes.

And then as we warm up to each other, there are always those same first questions. Somewhere along the lines of

“So you guys are going to teach us how to not have 20 children, right?”

And that’s when my heart sinks.  I realize how different my husband and I are.  How our path is not the common path.  I remember that naivety that I see in their faces.  The thought that oodles of children and the associated financial and emotional drain is the biggest marital concern that everyone is trying to avoid.  The innocence that there’s not something worse out there that’s capable of tearing at the very seams of your marriage.

I just want to grab them by the shoulders, shake them, and tell them now that they should be so lucky! I want to save them from planning out their life and getting their hopes set on dreams that they have no control over.  I want to tell that even if things don’t go as planned and they have a ‘surprise’ baby that was not orchestrated in the month they set aside, that there are still worse things.

But I don’t.  People don’t change people.  The spirit does.  We laugh and continue on, because our path is not the common path.  Even in our NFP class, we’re instructed to not spend too much time on the infertility slides because statistics say that the young couple sitting in front of us will get pregnant.  And while I once held my breath that everything would be OK with our client’s fertility, when I do hear from past clients about their new pregnancies, I breathe out a sigh of relief.  And I am once again reminded that our path is not normal.  Normal people get pregnant.

As a subfertile couple teaching couple, those Duggar family comments make me realize how even though our path may be different, we can still focus and teach about what a gift fertility is.  Because we believe so strongly that if there’s one thing that’s worse and threatens the sanctity of marriage more than oodles of children and the associated strain they cause, one thing that’s worse than the physical and emotional pain of infertility, its the lack of appreciation and respect to that gift of fertility.

And we’re there to provide an example and to teach that if they keep their focus on God, they will be able to get through the things that life throws their way if they just stick together.  Because ultimately, that’s what we’re doing too.

I just hope they see it like that.

Not meant to be? Discerning parenthood

“I think clearly God is telling you guys you’re not meant to be parents right now.”

I was catching up with a friend the other day and this was what she came up with after I had filled her in with the going-ons of our life these days.  All I could think of in response was,

“Well, duh.”

I wasn’t upset she said that, because it is probably the most direct and obvious statement of the truth I’ve heard in a while.  In fact, if I were to get upset, I guess the response would be purely an emotional one, more along the lines of “Well why doesn’t God listen to ME because I WANT to be a parent right now” and not actually refuting the truth of what she said.  That would be besides the point.  Her statement still rings true.  It stings and is hard to swallow probably because yes, in my situation, it is true.  I don’t believe God could be making a mistake right now.

I have to remind myself as a married couple we have been called by God to be open to fertility, not necessarily to be parents on demand – which very well may have been our desire.  I think back to how we discerned to no longer use NFP to avoid pregnancy and I remember the decision vividly.  While the decision was complex and personal, it was blatantly clear we no longer had just financial reasons and while neither of us had graduated and had certain jobs, we would have been in a position to properly care for a child had one come along in 9 months.  I’m slightly embarrassed to say that it was not that we had a strong pull that now was the time for us to become parents, although part of me wishes it was so I could have more clarity on our move from here, its just not true.  And in hindsight, I would consider it a blessing that it didn’t happen that way for us.  It was only that our just reasons to not share our fertility with each other were gone, which thankfully, is more than enough reason to not use NFP.  While one great benefit of NFP is that it can help you target your fertile time to achieve pregnancy, NFP’s main purpose as far as morality is concerned is to help those with just reasons to avoid pregnancy.  I do not believe the Church teaches anywhere that NFP is meant to be the default condition of all married couples.  What it ultimately came down to for us was that we knew by using NFP to avoid pregnancy, we were literally holding something back from one another.  Yes, we had not contracepted and done anything immoral, but we were both conscious of the fact that we were not entirely giving ourselves to one another.  For just reasons, our fertility still remained guarded.  And over the course of a few months, it became clear to each of us, first separately and then together, that we weren’t being called to hold back from one another anymore but to take what came.

Take what came.

What came is that we discovered that the opposite of a call to avoid pregnancy is not a call to pregnancy, which unfortunately, many people of varying degrees of fertility believe.

1664 Unity, indissolubility, and openness to fertility are essential to marriage. Polygamy is incompatible with the unity of marriage; divorce separates what God has joined together; the refusal of fertility turns married life away from its “supreme gift,” the child

This is why the comment,

“Perhaps God’s just telling you guys that you’re not supposed to be parents right now”

is so funny to me.

What else could God possibly be telling us?  We have given him ample opportunity for Him to bestow on us the ‘supreme gift’.  Just as I don’t believe He makes mistakes with “oops” babies, I know that if we give Him the openness of our fertility, He’s not up there saying “Oh crap!  Those little guys missed the egg again!  Sorry Moonheads, I’ll try harder next month!” In fact,  I believe that only by giving Him the openness of our fertility after responsibly discerning parenthood can we be certain that our desires aren’t getting in the way of His will.  Just like we can’t accidentally become parents, we can’t accidentally not become parents.

Which then brings me to the statement which I do find rational disagreement with,

“Why don’t you just adopt?”

I’ve stated the call to not use NFP to avoid pregnancy is not necessarily a decision to become parents.  God gets to make that decision.  For us, God has made the decision to not make us parents so I do believe I should approach our journey to continue to be parents with the utmost prayer and selflessness, which of course is not an immediate decision.  I’ve talked to other women who felt, much like I did, that the first year of not postponing pregnancy felt more like a year of being a mother without a child, rather than just a woman with no children (which is in reality more accurate).  I believe that it was because somewhere in there, in either my anguish to hide the fact that I wasn’t pregnant or in order to try to keep hope alive and prepare for what still may have come statistically,  I made the decision that I was to be a parent.  At this point I’ve realized I have no power to make that decision.  (I will add in here for those who wonder that my husband has remained level headed and not had to play these mind games with himself.  One difference of how infertility affects men and women!) The fact that God is so clearly not making use of our biology, is a large, harsh, but realistic sign to me that perhaps not only am I not to be a parent right now, but not at all.  Maybe we are supposed to fulfill our desires to become missionaries or some other non-traditional way of serving others, as opposed to parenthood, at least at this moment.

In order to “just adopt”, I would want to be sure that God is calling me to parenthood, which does not necessarily follow from not being able to have children biologically and in fact may be a large sign that we’re not.

I must also add that while adoption may not necessarily be the conclusion for all infertile couples for a variety of reasons, I do believe this period of being open to fertility is quite necessary as a step towards adoption.  I don’t know of any couples that have used NFP to avoid pregnancy while pursuing adoption, although that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.  God can use this time to plant this seed, prune us and see if we are called to parenthood.  However, that of course means that the time of working through the grief accompanying infertility is also necessary for adoption.

In short, I’ve learned (the painful way) that being open to fertility is not necessarily the same as discerning parenthood and that for some people, the painful way is how discerning parenthood has to happen, because God does not accidentally leave those childless.

Only say the word

Yesterday marked the start of Advent, the period of preparation preceding the Christmas and the birth of Christ.  We wait in preparation of what glory is to come.  I’ve been waiting to wait for this.  Does that make sense?  It seems that waiting is my natural state these days, so it only seems natural that we’d have a world-wide recognized liturgical season to make it feel more like a group effort :)

One of my favorite lines during the the Mass is after the Rite of communion, before the congregation is invited to come up to receive the Eucharist.

Fr: This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Happy are those who are called to his supper.

Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.

How simple and beautiful.  The definition of humility.  I feel like I could ponder this line forever.  Today I am struck by what a great mystery the Eucharist is and how we are all so unworthy.  No one is ever “holy” enough to literally receive the Lord, now into their body  or once upon a time, into their home.  How could we be!  It is only through pure faith, only by His will, that it is or was even permissible.

So beautiful.

In other news, Advent Prayer Buddies started up again.  I don’t know if its possible to have such amazing results as last time, but I know I can pray for my buddy with more faith than I had then.  Maybe God will surprise us all.  

What does your Catholic world look like?

Sometimes I find that reading blogs is a bit like opening up a random book to the 9th chapter and trying to understand what the story is about.  Oftentimes, if I don’t know who the writer is, what their faith formation is like, what they’re about, then their blog will have no context and I’ll often be confused by the things they write about.  Context is key.  I’m always seeking to know why and I believe that many why questions can be answered by understanding where the person is coming from.  I’m assuming the same thing could happen to someone stumbling upon my blog, so I thought I’d give a little context about the “Catholic world” that my husband and I are from so that you may understand our experiences and faith formation a little better.  Maybe some of my writings will make more sense.  Maybe I’ll just confuse you even more.  There is a lot more to my faith world in particular, but I’ll stick with the Catholic one for now.  Either way, here’s a glimpse into the  “Catholic worlds” we live in:

The Catholic world we grew up in:

– For me, was non-existent.  The only things I heard about Catholics were short quips from my Grandma or Mom, that weren’t “friendly” to put it nicely.  I heard about these people who left the Catholic church (like my Godmother) and who felt so “free”.   I once went to mass with a neighbor friend  after a sleepover and thought it was funny that they called it “Mass”, like “weight” (I was science nerdy from the get go).  A statue at a local Church (I think the same one I went to with my friend) got the stigmata and I didn’t understand why that would happen, or why people would care.    (We were raised Lutheran and attended services for most of my childhood, which I recall being eerily similar to Mass when I finally went).

– For my husband, was ubiquitous with his culture.  Everyone was Catholic in his family even if no one went to Church or received the sacraments regularly, although his immediate family did make an effort to go most Sundays, missing a few here and there.  His parents worked multiple jobs to afford to send the kids to Catholic private school in an area where cost of living was very expensive.  He remembers singing songs and bringing flowers to Mary during school, having Priests coach his sports teams, and influential ethics teachers that challenged him to follow his thoughts to their logical end in order to determine their validity.  His family still doesn’t understand what this “NFP” class is that we teach.

Catholic world of our young-adulthood

– In grad school we both went to a very Catholic retreat series, called Awakening. Although I was not Catholic when I went and I do not attribute going to my conversion (I wanted to leave at times and the really religious people scared me), it was a profound experience in my life that helped me realize that it was OK to ask these questions that I was wondering about.

– I eventually start RCIA several months later to learn more from the source, since my books won’t talk back to me.  I make many good friends with the older students who are converting.  Many couples wanting to get married are in my class and at times I feel I’m the only one asking questions.  In spite of that, we have great discussions regarding the Trinity, morality, end of days, and the real presence in the Eucharist.  At the final retreat 2 weeks before Easter we play Pictionary with Catholic themes and I choose “Natural Family Planning” and no one guesses it.  I have to explain what it is after time is up.

– Through Awakening we met a large, active young adult group who was strongly catechized and on fire about their faith.  Coming from a background where I never saw this, these fellow adults were a great inspiration to me to see others actually living their Catholic faith.  Have never felt so open talking about these things with people and give a talk on Faith at one retreat.  There are several religious vocations that come out of this group and others that seriously discern a vocation but end up returning.  Many couples go on to marry and have kids.  A few later divorce.  Many of our friends wear scapulars, veils, attend daily mass, know the histories and prayers of many saints, and generally pursue these sorts of very Catholic activities that were very foreign to me at one time.

– During my RCIA process I am told by Catholic friends and Mike’s family that sometimes he can be “too strict” about Catholic rules and if I want another opinion, to just ask them.

– Once we were engaged, many Catholic couples came up to me and told me how great the marriage prep classes were, except for that horrible NFP class they had to take.  We usually tried to stop the conversation there by saying how excited we were about that class.

– We had to combat much resistance from the University Student Center in order to teach our NFP classes there.

– In our NFP classes, minus most of the Awakening friends that we advertise too, about 90% of the other couples turn in their application listing only one address and refer to their pets during the class.  Most have never heard of NFP before and take the class for requirement.  However, getting married in the church is very important to them and we are surprised by the number of positive comments after our classes.

–  We have made great friends with the NFP teaching crowd who has really brought us under their wing and mentored us during these earlier years in our marriage, teaching us that being “open to life” means so much more than just having children.

– Our priest who witnessed our marriage is very active in our lives and has had a couple dinners with us and several other couples who have been trying unsuccessfully for years to have kids.  He is a blessing in our lives.

– Sometimes my non-Catholic family goes to Mass with us, but most times they don’t.  When we’re in town, most times we go to Mass with my husband’s family, but if we all wake up to late or there’s something else scheduled on Sunday, we go by ourselves.

In short, my Catholic world is what I consider “normal”, but it may not be what you consider normal.  I like reading other Catholic blogs sometimes because I feel a solidarity that there are other people who really believe this stuff, instead of going through the motions.  While I know the Catholic Church teaches the same thing everywhere, sometimes the extent to which the parish follows and encourages each other can vary greatly.  So I ask, what does your Catholic world look like?  Not to point fingers, but to understand a little better where we came from and who you all are.

You can answer in the comments if you like or in your own blog post :)  Just let me know if you write one so I can be sure to read it!

And I don’t mean to be exclusionary of reader’s with other faiths, I have just been thinking about this issue as it relates to Catholics for a while now and wanted to pose the question.  Please feel free to answer if you want to and you’re not Catholic too!

Confidence and Fertility…and how I lack both

So I tried not to mention fertility when I wrote that last post on humility and self-confidence, but you all had to know that it was lurking back there somewhere.  Its always lurking back there somewhere.

I had some really good suggestions and comments from people but the one that struck me was the one from Leila.  She said:

I think that TRUE humility (as opposed to false humility) goes hand-in-hand with self-confidence. If one is truly humble (meaning, one knows his place in the world and his place with God), then there is great confidence going forward. There is little chance that the truly humble would think that their talents and gifts, etc. came from anyone but God. So, they can be confident, because they can take credit for nothing. It’s all God’s doing, and God’s gifts.

I think there-in lies the problem.  I often wonder if I’m alone in this, but I’ve realized that my fertility (or lack thereof) has really taken a toll on my confidence more recently.  When I converted to Catholicism, I finally gained that confidence that I had previously been lacking through my faith.  I understood the greater plan for life, our purpose for being here, what happens when we die, and had an incredible peace about life.  However, trials in life test your faith and this is a big trial.  If faith is tested, confidence will shake too.

Going first to the obvious, to put it bluntly, I can’t perform a seemingly normal function that is the basis for the continuation of life.  For whatever reason, its become apparent that I’m “not good” at having children.  This makes me feel like less of woman.  Less female. To someone who already had body image insecurities (who doesn’t?), that maybe I didn’t look as “feminine” as others to begin with, the fact that my body isn’t cooperating in the reproductive realm seems to really seal the deal that somehow I’m less female.  That really messes with your confidence.

Of course, one could argue that it doesn’t take one female to make a baby but that three are involved.  So then together, my husband, God, and I are not good at creating children, so I shouldn’t take it so personally, but I’ve found that coming to that conclusion is only possible after first pondering my own lack of femininity.  In other words, this still has an effect on my confidence and who I am, whether I want it to or not.  Kind of like a automatic reflex.

If one is truly humble (meaning, one knows his place in the world and his place with God), then there is great confidence going forward.

I think that’s where the dichotomy lies. In realizing my sub-fertility over this past year, I’ve truly questioned my “place in this world” and with God.  Who will I be if not a mother?  Its not something I had considered.  It was something I had taken for granted would just happen.  Even though I thought I had no plans for my life, the semblance of what was there has been replaced with a giant question mark.  Of course I can have no humility OR confidence because I have had the foundation for who I will be severely shaken.  I do not know my place in this world.  Also, part of me doesn’t want to accept that God gave this to me, after all, why would He?  That would be too cruel.  What if its something I’m doing.  If I could just eat healthier, do more yoga, pray more, love my husband more, stop being so resentful, then maybe I would get pregnant.

The key to having confidence in my current situation (and hand-in-hand, humility) is to truly accept that God gave me this trial of sub-fertility purposefully, even if I don’t understand why.