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.

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 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!
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Controlling your happiness

I’m sure most of you have seen these studies that reveal that parents report lower levels of happiness than their childless counterparts.  If you are anything like me, the fact that these two articles exist drives you a little crazy for two main reasons:

1)     There parents go again, completely taking for granted what others long to have so much.  How do they not recognize what gifts they have been given?!

And the second, perhaps more upsetting reason:

2)     If there is truth to these findings, does that mean that things won’t get better if/when I ever have children?  Is it actually possible to feel worse than I do right now?

These recent postings by Rae on the philosophical problem of happiness have also had me thinking about this whole conundrum of “happiness”.  It seems that a person’s experience and perceptions of happiness can only be influenced by internal and/or personal experiences, so happiness is inherently a “selfish” or “self-oriented” experience and cannot be based on some cosmic balance of right and wrong.  So, maybe happiness is influenced by some mix of hormones, habits, and personal situation.  But I think I can get more specific on the “personal situation” front.

The results of the articles above as well as the personal experiences I have had regarding the “desire-but-delayed-if-not-denied” fulfillment of being a mother in myself and in others, have led me to conclude that happiness is directly related to the control we have in our lives.

So I guess in order to understand where I’m going here, first we have to consider compared to who are parents unhappier? Compared to those who have chosen to intentionally not have children?  Or compared to those who cannot have children for reasons beyond their control?  I highly doubt that the control group was of the latter category.  I do not doubt that new parenthood has its fair share of challenges.  Being parents involves being completely selfless and putting the desires of someone else entirely ahead of your own, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the rest of your life.  I believe a large part of the “unhappy” lies in completely being out of control of what that little person does, eats, sleeps, etc.  A major event has literally made you realize that you are not in control of your own life anymore.

Similarly, those of us that are waiting to become mothers and fathers have also had this profound realization, albeit from a different angle.  I do believe that this is one of the major reasons of the psychological stress that women facing infertility: a loss of control of one of the most supposed basic actions of humanity, procreating.   In fact, the only ones that are under this delusion are the ones that are delaying children by choice, aka, the happy ones.  Of course the big myth is that we were ever in control, but I guess what matters to our happiness is our perceived control.  I believe when people finally get pregnant and/or adopt after trying to grow their family, one of the first lines out is “It was all worth it”, meaning “although that time of being out of control and lost was really awful, eventually I regained some control and got what I so desired.”  It makes sense.

It seems that no matter our lot in life, there’s no easy way out.  At some point, you must come to the realization and actualization (because thinking about and living it are two different things) that you are not in control.  And yes, that will rock your world and affect your happiness.  For those of us with the desire imprinted in our hearts to be a spouse or a parent, its the acceptance that you have no control over making your dreams of a family come true.  For already parents, while the feeling of being out of control might not come with the first, maybe it will come with the second or third child.  I think its possible to try to surmount the chaos and feign control with different parenting strategies, just as it is possible to try different fertility treatments to “master” the art of having children, but the truth is still there.

It seems that the most genuinely happy people I know are the ones who are best able to roll with the punches and see the meaning of the bigger picture because on the surface, we can’t control much of what happens.  My dad’s favorite quote is “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react.”  This is where faith and reliance on God become critical to having an inner peace (which may closely resemble surrendering to God’s will) which may not be the same as that “naïve happiness” that you once had, but it will be deeper and longer lasting.

Anyway, these thoughts give me comfort when I think about if and when we’re parents, will we really be better parents having gone through this time?  I think we will be, if not because we’ve already embraced the fact that we are not in control.  Or at least we’re trying to.

I know its a constant battle, but I am curious if there’s anyone out there that’s really been able to do that permanently.  I guess that’s the fun of being human :)

Victim souls?

I know some of you have sought spiritual direction (at least from what I’ve read on your blogs) for dealing with the cross of sub/infertility.  I’ve enjoyed reading what you’ve written and gleaning insight into my own life.  I also appreciate your answers to what has helped you “get over yourself” – like serving others and dancing! ha!   My husband sent me this video today unrelated to fertility, about the cross of being homosexual and Catholic.   I really do feel like anyone who’s not Catholic should watch this to better understand exactly how Catholic’s view this issue.  While I was watching it, I couldn’t help but realize how beautiful our faith is and how this idea of “victim souls” is a tiny comfort during the journey with a heavy cross.

Now, I don’t want to compare the cross of homosexuality to infertility (because I think it must be a much, much heavier cross to be homosexual – especially in our society today) but I did find it interesting look at the comparison of sub/infertiles being victim souls to a certain extent.

Yes, all people endure suffering and every person handles suffering differently based on our uniqueness as human beings,  so its impossible to compare and no one can have a monopoly on suffering.  One positive is that all suffering, so matter how small, has the potential to bring souls to Christ (such as the pregnant women out there offering the pains of their labor up for the infertile).  However, I do believe there is something unique in the suffering that is not common and goes against societal norms. Homosexuality and infertility are two examples of those crosses that go against what is accepted in our society these days (the recent eruption of comments on Sew’s post about abortion and IVF is proof that those of us not “OK” with IVF and sub/infertile suffer separately, some might say “needlessly”).  Of course its not an exact parallel, because fertility is over the whole life so there’s always some hope there of being “cured” so maybe we won’t know if we’re victim souls or not until the end of our life, but I feel like embracing the idea of being a victim soul and suffering for Christ is pretty helpful in “getting over myself”, at least a little bit.

Anyway, I do encourage you to watch this video! Let me know what you think!

The Desert

The husband and I went to “The Desert” this past Memorial Day weekend with his family, as is Memorial Day tradition.  His uncle owns a tiny one bedroom house out there and everyone piles in there to hang out, barbecue, and ride dirt bikes for the weekend. And yes, I rode an ATV.  By myself.  Which involved learning to drive stick shift.  And it was awesome (although I only got to third gear once).

So how do 16 people sleep in a one bedroom house?  Like this: 7 people in 3 tents, 4 people sleeping in 2 cars, 2 in a bed, and three on fold out couches.  To be fair, there was actually an empty bed in the bedroom, but no one wanted to (or could) sleep in there with his uncle’s snoring.  Also, there was room in the living room on another couch and with extra floor space, but there was a minor scorpion scare that prevented others from risking their lives.  But not me!  I was so beat that I made the conscious decision that on the off chance that I did get bit, there were enough people around me to sweep me off to the hospital.

Nevermind that the next day I found out that the nearest one was an hour away…

I had full intention of taking lots of cool pictures to show my family what exactly this “desert house” entails, lest they get any wrong ideas.  Only, I forgot my camera in the hub’s sister’s car after her birthday festivities.  So instead, all I have are these pictures from three years ago when we went.

The House

Old piano right outside the property

Showing the hubs what I’m made of

And then making up before a ride on the tiny bike…(did the big bike and the ATV this year)

Fortunately, his cousin is a professional photographer and took some cool ones that I hope to get my hands on.  Here’s one of us playing bocce ball at sunset.

The desert house has a special healing quality for my husband’s cousin (cousin-in-law?).  Several years ago he would go up there a lot after his divorce to get away from the world and have a space to think.  Last Memorial Day he proposed to his girlfriend out here.  I can see how its healing.  The place seems so desolate, so hopeless at first, but a closer look shows that its teeming with life.  Some of it looks like another planet!  This isn’t the world I knew, its not supposed to be like this. Yet, there it is.  Whether we choose to spend a lot of time there acknowledging it or not.

Its a place where shells of unused, burdensome things are left behind to make room for better things (like that old piano).  The life that is here has just adapted differently to survive in its environment, so it doesn’t look like what we’re used to, or at least what I’m used to.

I guess the obvious parallel is that I feel as if I’m going through my own desert of sorts.  These things and ideas that I thought sustained me are falling to the wayside and my feelings and thoughts towards things are taking new shape.  I fear growing bitter, I hope and pray I don’t grow bitter, but at the same time I know that what’s going on within me and what will emerge from this will be different as a result of going through this desert.  I know I won’t look the same and I know I better not look the same, or all this experience will be wasted.

I know the things I leave here will make room for better things.  Things that will last eternity.

Why I’m a Bad Blogger and Thoughts on Life

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m just a bad blogger.  I know this is partially because this blog doesn’t really have a point and I struggle between talking about personal things and writing about what interests me.  I also feel like I have commitment issues and I’m too easily distracted!  I’ll think of something really interesting to write about, think through the process of writing it, and then by the time I’ve done that I’ll feel no need to write it out anymore!  In general I struggle with putting my thoughts done in writing (Evidence A:  this research paper I’ve been working on forEVER).    I don’t want to say something incorrectly or make a bad point and then have proof that I said it so poorly!

I think I just need to be a little easier on myself.  After all, that’s why I wanted to start this blog to begin with.  Know thy faults, right?

Anyway, so many things have been happening lately that I’ve been finding it hard to keep track of my own thoughts.  But I did want to write a few things I keep thinking about after my grandma’s death.  Important thoughts, you know, thoughts on life and such.

1.  I don’t have many experiences with death.  I have lots of experiences with moving and leaving people and goodbyes, but I haven’t had many close people in my life die.   Like a forever goodbye, no possibility of seeing you in this world again.   That probably sounds silly and naive to people who have experienced the death of a loved one.  I guess I was just sheltered.  But then a week before I became Catholic  3 people I knew died.  [Well, one was a murder in my apartment complex, so I guess I didn’t know them, but I did live in the same building as them.]  Those deaths spaced so closely together hit me SO hard.  Like God was shaking me and telling me, “What I’m calling you to do is SO MUCH more than just about what concerns you in your little world.  This is real.”

Over time though, that feeling of “seizing the moment” wears off.  Eventually I get sucked back into my little world and what’s going on with this and that person and it becomes easy to forget the big picture.    There’s nothing like a death in the family to shake you up and realize that about 90% of what occupies your day is completely pointless.  In the end we will ALL die, and what will we have to say for our lives?  It’s hard to straddle that line between what’s important in the long run and what I have to deal with today.  I’m pretty sure these are normal thoughts after a loved one dies.

This time I think it will be different.  I feel like its hard to get sucked back in to my “normal” life now.  Maybe its just too early.  Maybe its because I was closer to her.  I’m not sure.

2.  Being surrounded by your whole family and generations that you’ve created has to be one of the best ways to die.  I know Grandma WhoWho was in such pain in the end of her days, but I know that having her little great-grandson there to smile and giggle made it better.  I could tell by the smile on her face the day she died. We literally had a party for my grandma (and my cousin’s birthday) on the day she died.  And though it was the “strangest party she’d ever been to”, we were all together.  And she knew she was loved.  I pray for the souls of those who die alone.  I hope they know they’re loved too.

3.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the fusion of the body and spirit, and how deaths naturally lead you to spiritual thoughts, even if you’ve ignored those questions before.  I’m sorry if this is morbid, but seeing my grandma’s body after she died and knowing that it wasn’t her, what made her her wasn’t there anymore, was a real wake-up.  This body is soo temporary.  I don’t know how you couldn’t believe in a soul and a place where your soul goes after your body fails you.

4.  According to my sister (and I agree), the point of life is to create life.  And my grandma did a great job of that.  She had four children who went on to have her grandchildren, so she created life in the literal sense.  She was also warm and open to friends and strangers.  She would talk to anyone and made friends so easily, partly due to the fact that she took such joy in the little things.  Although she outlived many of her friends she had SO many friends show up at her memorial service.  My grandma made friends and spread life so easily!  It made me think about how I would create and foster life.  In our NFP class we talk about how to be “open to life” that goes in right along with the section on infertility and we discuss how many ways one can be “open to life”.  Of course having children is what most people think of, but even after you’re done starting your family you have many more years to create life.  What will I do then?  My grandma played bridge.  I think I’ll probably learn bridge too.  It seems to be in the blood.

5.  I like praying with my family.  There were two instances where we joined hands in a circle and prayed for my grandma all together as a family, once before she died and once afterwards.  It was comforting.

6. Along this same line however, although I was with my husband, there’s nothing lonelier than sitting in church on Mother’s Day, the day your grandma died, without your family.  I don’t think I’ve ever wished I could share my faith with my family more than that day.

To Thee Do We Send Up Our Sighs

As most people know, today is Fat Tuesday, which means tomorrow is the start of Lent.   The start of forty days of prayer, penitence, and fasting, mimicking the forty days Jesus spent in the desert fasting, so that we may come to personally understand his suffering and grow closer to him.

Some people give up things that might seem petty to you and others give up things that seem too hard.  I don’t pretend to know what each person should or shouldn’t give up, but I do know that any self-denial and sacrifice is a good thing.

I’m in need of some particular help this year.  I know I’m in a place that I need to draw closer to God, yet I know there are things in my life that are literally stopping me.

Things that I’m using to fill the time, to daydream about things that are not meant to be right now, to avoid facing my responsibilities and my painful reality (that is all too recently involving feelings of hopelessness, confusion about what I will do with my life, idleness, etc.).

Not to mention this is a particular stressful time of the year right now with research proposals and impending graduations, among well, the other issues.

Maybe I’m being over-dramatic (forgive me, its been one of those days), but these thoughts have been lingering in my mind for a while now and it would just be best if I could clear my heads by clearing away these obstacles.  And so far I’ve been unable to do this alone so I’m enlisting some help.

I’ll be doing an “internet fast” for part of Lent and reading books at night instead of blogs during the day-time.  Since I don’t seem to necessarily have a problem avoiding reality/work by writing (in fact writing actually seems to help with my aforementioned issues) I may or may not choose to write on here during this time.

I guess there is no good reason why you should need to know this but since I write this blog to organize my thoughts I felt like I needed to lay it out here.  Plus, I do appreciate your prayers and I have been able to feel them lately, and they are helping me through so I guess I at least felt that I owe it to you.  And also to let you know that this time, my absence is intentional :)

This is all part of the plan combined with mucho fasting and daily prayers.  I need all the graces I can get right now since on days like this I know there is no way I’m making it out of this alone.

Remember how you gave your word to your servant,
for thus you gave me hope.
It was this that consoled me in my distress,
for your promise gave me life.
Psalms 119(49-50)

Vulnerability

With my self proclaimed ban on posting during the day and my home being infinitely more exciting at night with our new house guests, I’ve found it harder to keep blogging regularly.

I’ve missed being able to sort out my thoughts a little more.

One important thing I’ve realized this past few weeks is that none of us are alone.  Adoration cleanses hearts.  And I have a stellar group of people there to open up with when I finally make the effort.  Usually its opening up that’s the hardest part.  Showing vulnerability.  But isn’t that part of what we’re called to do?  Trust God and serve others?  Whether we look to the internet for support or for our families and friends, it feels good to give comfort to each other.

And it feels good to receive it as well!

Especially from wee little ones like this guy.

His smile will make you forget everything that’s off with the world and remember everything that is good.

And sisters who listen despite being sleep deprived from the realities of living with above cute little guy!

Conversations with good friends like this one help too :)

God is faithful.