Every year around July 25th, the anniversary of the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, Natural Family Planning (NFP) Awareness Week takes place. During the week of July 25-31, 2021, there will be an increase of posts, articles, and videos in the Catholic world highlighting NFP and how married couples can live God’s plan for their marriages. It did not take long for me to realize that my plan for my marriage, especially as it pertains to the welcoming of children, was not God’s plan. Yes, my struggle with infertility has been full of burdens, but those have made way for many blessings and opportunities for growth which have left me grateful and more trusting of God’s plan.
Sixteen years ago, I was walking down the aisle to marry the man of my dreams. We were both excited to begin our lives together and start a family. As we stood before God, our family, and friends we professed our vows. There was one moment of increased joy and hope when the priest asked, “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?” We answered a heartfelt and resounding, “We will!” Our desire for children was strong. We knew the Church’s teaching about marriage and family and were ready to fulfill God’s mission for us.
Yes, the thought of being responsible for bringing children into the world and raising them to love the Lord and be holy was terrifying. Would we be good parents? Do we have the skills? Will we mess this parenting thing up and cause lifelong damage to our children? Do we have all necessary resources to fulfill their needs? These questions and many more ran across our minds. All we kept hearing from God was, “Trust in me.” So we did. I was convinced that we would get pregnant right away, but that did not happen.
Months into our marriage people started to ask us, “When are you going to have kids?” We did not know how to answer. It never entered our minds that infertility would be a cross we would bear. We were open and willing to be blessed with a child, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2378) calls the “supreme gift of marriage.” We thought our desire for children would be generously met by God. However, month after month, year after year, we were plagued with the question, “God, why are you refusing us the supreme gift of our marriage?”
The cross of infertility was heavy. It seemed like everyone around us was blessed with babies except us. When there was news that a family member, friend, or acquaintance at church was expecting, our hearts would be flooded with joy at new life but also sorrow that we may never get to experience the joy of expecting. When my friends would get together for much needed girl time, the conversation would often shift to topics about pregnancy, birth stories, and breastfeeding. I had nothing to share and I couldn’t relate. I felt left out and sad wondering why God would deny us such a great gift.
After a few years of being unable to get pregnant, we sought medical help. After some tests and undergoing laparoscopic surgery I was diagnosed with “unexplained infertility.” Although the doctor had found endometriosis on my bladder, she said it was not the cause of our infertility. We wanted a second opinion. To make a long story short, we were told by two OB/GYNs and one fertility specialist that our chances of getting pregnant were very small because we would not consider reproductive technology that violated our Catholic faith. I was also told that my only hope for relief for my painful and irregular periods was artificial birth control which was not a path I was willing to pursue. I wanted to know what was wrong and if there was a possibility for my body to be healed and whole, but there seemed to be no answer if I wanted to follow the teachings of my faith. Although we were struggling with sadness, we knew God had a plan for us. We began to pursue the path to parenthood through adoption. In 2010 and then again in 2011, our family grew by two children through the gift of adoption!
In 2013, we moved an hour away from Houston which had a complete women’s care office that practiced NaProTECHNOLOGY. Other Catholic women who struggled as I did introduced me to it, and after prayerful discernment my husband and I decided to pursue this path to address our infertility. NaProTECHNOLOGY (natural procreative technology) is an approach to women’s reproductive health focused on identifying the underlying cause of abnormalities in a woman’s cycle and infertility while offering treatment that does not violate the Catholic faith. After speaking to our NaPro physician, I began to have hope. However, this process was quite taxing. I had to learn a new method of tracking my cycle (Creighton Model FertilityCare System), get multiple blood draws in the course of a month for several months to look at hormonal changes, change my diet, and undergo another laparoscopic surgery.
It was discovered that the endometriosis found during my first surgery back in 2009 had spread and had to be removed. My hormone levels were very low and had to be corrected. I had to take notice of certain signs every time I went to the bathroom so I could chart properly. I knew this was all for the purpose of achieving pregnancy, but I felt like a science experiment. I felt like I was broken and a failure as a woman. With every shot, medication, and mark on my chart, I was reminded of my brokenness. After starting my treatment plan, every month I started my period was a devastating blow. Month after month, it was revealed that it was not in God’s plan for us to get pregnant.
And the questions of “why” still lingered. One of the most painful thoughts was that I could not give my husband a child because I was the one broken. He NEVER made me feel that way. He was supportive, encouraging, and loved me through it all. We were in it together but it was so hard to look into his eyes and say, “No baby this month, my love.” We were doing what we could and had to just trust in the goodness of God’s plan even if that meant no biological children.
While going through all these medical things we were also in constant prayer. We would specifically ask God for a child but would end it with, “Your will be done.” We also invoked the intercession of St. Jude, who is the patron saint of desperate and lost causes. On the Feast of St. Jude, Oct. 28, 2014, we found out we were pregnant with our son who just turned 6!
I know the ending of this story is not the experience of every couple with infertility. My thoughts and prayers go out to anyone experiencing this cross. The grief of infertility still exists. Our hearts and home would love to welcome more children. I long to see my children holding a brand new baby brother or sister (they often ask for a sibling). I do not know if, when, or how this will happen, but we do know that God is good and cannot be outdone in generosity and love.
We have grown so much through our experience and I know we will continue to grow. My husband and I are in the process of discerning: Do we go back to a NaPro doctor and try to conceive again? Do we start the adoption process again? Should we be open to becoming foster parents? Or is God calling us to something completely different that we cannot even imagine yet? All we know for sure is that God has plans for us and we must trust in the goodness of his plan.
For all of those experiencing infertility, I’d like to leave you with the words of St. Pope John Paul II in a 1982 homily, “You are no less loved by God; your love for each other is complete and fruitful when it is open to others, to the needs of the apostolate, to the needs of the poor, to the needs of orphans, to the needs of the world.”