Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Darn Fertile People

When I see a pregnant woman out in public, one thing runs through my mind 9 times out of 10 – "Darn fertile people." This started very early on in my journey. It seems that everyone who is of child-bearing years is walking around with a swollen belly, pushing a strolling, or navigating their kids through crowds. It is easy to think that all these people get pregnant at the drop of a hat and take their fertility for granted. I knew that I needed to change my thinking one morning after mass. My husband and I stayed in the pew to pray – my mind (and eyes) were straying from prayer. In the corner, I saw a woman who was carrying a large bag happily talking to other church members. I imagined that she was carrying a baby bag packed with all sorts of goodies "Darn fertile people," I thought. A few minutes later as she walked past, I realized that it was a Hawaiian flower bag – definitely not anything remotely to do with babies! And she had no children or even a husband in sight. I realized that I was actually looking for reasons to feel sorry for myself.

When I see pregnant women and that "darn fertile people" thought runs through my mind, I try to remind myself that not all of these women have gotten pregnant easily. At least 10% of couples deal with fertility issues and depending on whose numbers you are looking at, between 1 in 5 or 1 in 4 known pregnancies end in miscarriage. I saw so many pregnant women this past weekend while we were out with my parents who were visiting from out of town. Each time I saw a pregnant belly or a woman holding a baby, I felt that familiar tinge of sorrow for what I don't have. This infertility stuff sure requires a lot of grace! But based on the stats, I can assume that at least a few of the women I passed have been through the ringer and don't take their fertility for granted. Many of them have also prayed for the blessing of a child and for the cross of infertility to be lifted from them.

Over the past few weeks, I have started a new prayer after receiving the Eucharist. I have been praying specifically for God to heal me from infertility and miscarriage. I also pray for the other women He has put into my life who are struggling with the same issues (including my new blog friends). Those moments after receiving the Eucharist must be powerful ones, so I want to be straightforward with God – asking for exactly what I desire in my heart. I try to remind myself that if I have the faith of a mustard seed, mountains can be moved.

When I walked into the hospital lobby the day before my laparoscopy, a pregnant woman passed by. The same "Darn fertile people" mantra started running through my mind, when I stopped myself. I remembered that I was having surgery so that one day, hopefully I will be the one walking through the hospital lobby nine months pregnant! I hope that the Holy Spirit will continue to whisper in my ear when I am in those "grass is greener on the other side" situations. I need Him to keep me on the straight and narrow!

"I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be hindered." Job 42:2

"Answer when I call, my saving God. In my troubles, you cleared a way; show me favor; hear my prayer." Psalm 4:2

"He said to them, 'Because of your little faith. Amen I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to the mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.'" Matthew 17:20

Reflection Questions

  1. Do I allow negative thoughts to cross my mind when I see another couple who has been blessed with the gift of a child?
  2. Are there ways that I can refocus myself away from negative thoughts and towards something more constructive?
  3. What specifically do I want to ask of God in my current situation (healing, hope, guidance, direction, acceptance, etc.)?

Prayer to St. Rita

(Patroness of sterility, infertility, bodily ills, sickness, sick people, desperate or impossible causes, lost causes, forgotten causes, difficult marriages, parenthood, victims of physical spouse abuse, widows)

Dear Rita, model wife and widow, you yourself suffered in a long illness showing patience out of love for God. Teach us to pray as you did. Many invoke you for help, full of confidence in your intercession. Deign to come now to our aid for the relief and cure of (name). To God all things are possible; may this healing give glory to the Lord. Amen.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hannah: A Model of Hope

A few weeks after our second miscarriage, my husband and I were asked to speak at our church's women's retreat. Our topic: Hope. "Who are we to speak about hope," I thought. The hope that we felt at the first sign of a positive pregnancy test had been shattered just a week or two earlier. I felt that God was calling me to use my experiences of IF in our talk, but wondered how I might be able to relay my experiences without getting into specifics with a group filled with friends and strangers, from young adults to grandmothers. I also wanted to be able to make it through the talk without breaking down in tears! That was when I remembered the story of Hannah in 1st Samuel. Hannah's story has been a source of hope for many women facing IF. It is perhaps the most detailed accounting of a barren woman in the bible. We decided to speak about two women of hope: Hannah and Mary. I spoke about Hannah while my husband spoke about Mary. Here is a modified version of my sections of the talk.

Read 1 Samuel 1-2:11 and 2:18-21

What can we learn about hope from Hannah's story?

First, Hannah knew suffering but did not despair. Women and men of faith are not without problems in this life – Hannah bore the cross of infertility. In the time of Hannah:

  • Infertility was looked on as a curse from God
  • Infertility was always deemed to be the woman's fault
  • Sons were valued to continue the family line and to provide for mothers as they grew older – after her husband's death, Hannah may have been left in poverty

I am sure glad we don't live in Hannah's time! Many of these problems are the result of the society at the time, but infertility causes deeper sufferings that cut across the generations. Women facing infertility often experience a crisis of identity. They see the world through a different lens and it affects their relationships with their spouse, parents, friends, and God. Infertility can lead to questions about one's womanhood, vocation in life, future, etc. Women experiencing this barrenness of womb often feel anger, grief, longing, isolation, questions, struggles, and sorrow. Hannah's heart was nearly crushed beneath the weight of her grief.

Secondly, Hannah offered her suffering to the Lord. We know that Hannah maintained hope because she persisted in prayer. Those who have despaired stop praying, but those who hope continue to persist. Hannah remained faithful to the Lord – she kept visiting the Temple each year– she went after God. We sometimes feel that God knows the desires of our heart and that we should stop repeating the same petition, but the bible teaches the value of persistence in prayer. Hannah's prayer in the Temple this day was different – we know that as she prayed, she cried. When was the last time that you felt so strongly about an intention that you wept in prayer? That is truly reserved for our most heartfelt and desperate intentions. After offering her petitions to the Lord this day, Hannah felt changed. "Once I develop this holy virtue of hope within me, I shall know at last what it means to be free of fears and doubts. I shall then possess the peace of God." – Excerpt from My Daily Bread by the Confraternity of the Precious Blood

The third thing we can learn from Hannah's story is surrender to the Lord. First, she surrendered her future to the Lord through prayer. Hannah then kept her promise by offering God the gift her heart had so deeply desired. Hannah cherished her child in a unique way because of her difficult road to conception. But she did not hesitate in keeping her promise to the Lord. She offered her son to the Lord's service as soon as he was weaned. The perfection of the virtue of hope is a complete self-surrender to the Lord's wisdom in all matters. (My Daily Bread) Hope is an exercise in trust.

Finally, we learn from Hannah's story that God is generous. We often hear it said that the Lord will not be outdone in generosity and Hannah's story exemplifies this. Hannah gave the gift of her son to the service of the Lord; He then blessed her with three sons and two daughters. Samuel became an instrumental leader of Israel. He was a prophet who chose and anointed David as King. Hannah's experience of infertility drove her to a particular kind of prayer. Perhaps He was withholding His blessing because He held her in high esteem. God needed a child set apart and dedicated to the Lord's service. If Hannah had not experienced such a struggle to conceive, perhaps she would not have been so generous in offering her first born son to the Lord's service. Hannah was formed and changed by the cross of infertility.

Hannah teaches us to give praise to the Lord in all circumstances, even when our future seems uncertain. Hannah's story must have been familiar to Mary. Compare the Magnificat to "Hannah's Song," the words she prayed after bringing Samuel to the Temple.

"She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly." 1 Samuel 1:10

"Then the woman went her way and ate, and her countenance was no longer sad." 1 Samuel 1:18b

"And the Lord remembered her; and in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, 'I have asked him of the Lord.'" 1 Samuel 1:19b-20

"For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me my petition which I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord." 1 Samuel 1:27-28

Reflection Questions

  1. How does Hannah's story resonate with your own?
  2. In what ways do you see Hannah as a model of Hope?
  3. How is the Lord forming and changing you through infertility?

Hannah's Song

My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in thy salvation.
There is none holy like the Lord, there is none besides thee; there is no rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.
The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and on them he has set the world.
He will guard the feet of his faithful ones; but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might shall a man prevail.
The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Monday, May 4, 2009

Knife through the Heart

Last week at work I was chatting with our new admin assistant. She asked me if I had any children – ugh! I hate to say not yet, especially since I have two babies in heaven, but I don't want to get into it with everyone. A few minutes later another co-worker came up to join the conversation. He works in a different department, so I don't know him very well. The first thing he asks is, do you have any children? Then he quickly follows up with, do you want children? Knife straight through the heart! Although I say that I don't have any children, I note that I have a number of godchildren and nieces/nephews.

"Oh no" he said, "unless you change the diapers, unless you pay the baby sitter, until you get a call from school to pick up a sick child, you don't have children." He went on and on with these scenarios. Obviously I know that being a godmother and an aunt is a big difference from being a parent. I don't try to pretend that I am a mother to these children, but I didn't want to look like a selfish person with no love for children. When he asked my co-worker to back him up, she agreed. It seemed like he was just twisting and twisting the knife! I sat there with a fake smile on my face, wishing I could escape the situation.

To top it all off, he then goes into the whole fake "Don't have children, they are such a burden" thing. He has joked around about this before and I'm sure most people just laugh along with him, but it is so not funny. Why don't people realize that? Why don't people think that perhaps there may be a reason that a couple doesn't have children and that you may actually want to try to be sensitive to that? There is nothing I desire more than what he was describing.

Afterwards, our admin assistant said that she doesn't really agree with what he said about not having children unless they are your own, but how could she not? In the eyes of the world, we are not parents. His comments hurt me even more than I realized. Over the weekend I had one of those Nothing is Ever Easy experiences while trying to get a blood draw and that caused a downward spiral of emotions. Luckily my husband came home just in time to comfort me. He reminded me of Luke 18 where Jesus said, "Let the children come to me." Even though I am not their mother, I have an important role in these children's lives (although I often feel like I am not living up to my end of the bargain). God has withheld the gift of parenthood from us, but he has blessed us abundantly with nieces, nephews, and friends who trust us enough to invite us to be their children's godparents. And in my heart, I know that I am a mother, both to my babies in heaven, and to our future children, however they may come to us.

"What strength have I that I should endure, and what is my limit that I should be patient?" Job 6:11

"Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage." Psalm 23:4

"People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them, and when the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. Jesus, however, called the children to himself and said, "Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." Luke 18:15-16

Reflection Questions
1. How do I handle difficult comments from friends, family, and acquaintances? Do I have someone to confide in and vent to?
2. Do I bring my cares to the Lord? Am I honest in expressing my feelings to Him?
3. In what ways am I already a mother?

I Heard The Voice Of Jesus Say ... (verse 1)
By H. Bonar (1808-1889)

I HEARD the voice of Jesus say,
Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down
Thy head upon My breast.
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary, and worn, and sad;
I found in Him a resting-place,
And He has made me glad.