Waiting for Gabriel: Learning to Pray through Infertility

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

Contact Author

“Do you have children?”  For most thirty-somethings, this seemingly harmless question is the opening volley of a round of socially acceptable chit-chat.  Colleagues around the office fill silences with a discussion of recent pregnancies, first communions, and the athletic milestones of their children’s lives.   At the salon or barber shop, the shearing of hair is accompanied by regaling the barber with mundane details of one’s progeny.  “Sally is six, just lost her first tooth, and has begun to wonder about the origins of daisies.”  College reunions become an occasion not simply to reminisce about chemistry class or the bizarre rituals of freshman orientation but to meet the miniature version(s) of the guy down the hall, who used to set up a slip-and-slide on South Quad when the temperature climbed above fifty degrees.

For my wife and I, the question about the quantity and ages of our brood is never an escape valve from awkward social interactions.  It is the primary reactant that produces uncomfortable conversations with strangers and confidants alike.  “No children,” we say, our voices hopefully revealing our discomfort with the question.  Responses generally range from, “Oh, I thought you had a couple,” to “What are you waiting for?”, and an occasional “Oh.”  We smile.  We laugh a bit.  We say, “Maybe, one day.”   But, how can you tell a complete stranger, a trusted teacher, a friendly cleric, a college classmate:  “We’re infertile.”

The Diagnosis and Aftermath

When I was younger, I always wondered why the Scriptures were so concerned with the childless wife.  In the Old Testament, Hannah gives birth to Samuel after years of infertility, and sings, “The barren wife bears seven sons, while the mother of many languishes” (1 Sam. 2:5).  As a theologian, I’m well aware of the function of infertility in the Scriptures.  When the aged Sarah, the elderly Hannah, and the mature Elizabeth gives birth to a child, the reader is invited to remember that God is the major actor in salvation, not human beings.  The surprising reversal of infertility in the Bible is thus a sign of new life coming from death; an action made possible by God, who is the creator and sustainer of human life.  But that part of me, who has spent the last six years, praying for a child each day, cannot help but read Hannah’s song as a cry of relief.  After years of barrenness, loneliness, and tears, finally a child!

Of course, when my wife and I were first married, we did not even imagine the possibility of joining the ranks of Abraham and Sarah, of Elkanah and Hannah, of Elizabeth and Zechariah.  We happened upon each other before our senior year at Notre Dame and fell madly in love.   At the time, I was preparing to enter Moreau Seminary.  After meeting Kara while serving as a mentor-in-faith at Notre Dame Vision (a summer retreat program for high school students on the theme of vocation), I suddenly became aware that I was to spend the rest of my life with this woman.  Our first date was a frenzied session of discernment, asking whether or not I should give up my previously planned life for a girl I met five weeks earlier.  By the end of the date, I came to the conclusion that not only should I date Kara, but before me sat the woman who I would marry.  Happily, she came to a similar conclusion (mutatis mutandi), albeit just a bit later than me.  I chose not to enter the seminary, and a little over a year removed from one of the most angst-ridden first dates of all time, we were engaged to be married.   Like so many couples before us, our nuptials took place at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and the priest prayed over us, “Bless them with children and help them to be good parents.  May they live to see their children’s children.”  And at our wedding, jokes surfaced about when the first child would be born to this Catholic couple.  We, of course, hoped not long.

In our first year of marriage in Boston, where Kara was a youth minister and I was a doctoral student, we decided it was time to begin a family.   Looking back, we seemed to perceive that having a child would simply happen, once we desired it (of course, we knew the physiology of how such desire would need to be expressed).  So, the desiring commenced.

Month one passed.   Month two passed.  Month three passed.  Six months later, our home became the anti-Nazareth, as we awaited an annunciation that never came.  The hope-filled decision to conceive a child became a bitter task of disheartened waiting.  After a year, we began to see a barrage of infertility specialists, who based upon test results, concluded that we should be able to have a child.  No low sperm counts.  No problem with reproductive systems.  All in working order.  The verdict:  inexplicable infertility.

Unexplained infertility is a surprisingly miserable diagnosis.   Something about my psyche was prepared for a scientific explanation.  One in which the very fine doctors with advanced degrees from Ivy League institutions acknowledged that unless an act of God intervened, no human life would emerge from intercourse between Kara and me.   Indeed, a fair number of tears would have been shed on both of our parts.  But with the diagnosis of unexplained infertility, conception is scientifically possible.  With every slight change in Kara’s monthly cycle, a glimmer of hope rises in our hearts, only to be dashed with the arrival of menstruation.  Kind-hearted family, friends, and colleagues, who learn about our infertility, share stories about a mother or sister, who finally became pregnant.  They recommend “doctors”, who have a proven track record of curing infertility.  But unfortunate for us, we have no way of knowing if we will one day join the ranks of the middle-aged first-time parent.  And every trip to a doctor is a risk, because once again, we start to hope.  Aware now, of course, that hope alone does not fill one’s home with children.

The aftermath of our diagnosis was extraordinarily painful for both of us.  The diagnosis affected not simply our friendships, our own relationship, but particularly our spiritual lives.  If you speak to an infertile couple, committed to the Christian life, you’ll notice a pattern:  the sexual infertility gradually seeps into the life of prayer.  Each morning, I rise and ask God that we might finally have a child.  I encounter only the chilly silence of a seemingly absent God.  Early in the process, I found particular consolation in the language of the psalms:  “My God, my God why have you abandoned me?  Why so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish?  My God, I call by day, but you do not answer; by night, but I have no relief” (Ps. 22:2-3).  Like the psalmist, I had my enemies.  The well-intentioned barber who stated that the future grandparents must be anxious to get a grandchild out of us.  The friendly priest, who upon learning that my wife and I in fact do not have children, made it a point to say each time he saw me, “No children, right?”  The Facebook feed filled with announcements of pregnancies and births, a constant sign of our own empty nest.  God himself became my nemesis:  why have you duped me O Lord?  Why us?  We have bestowed some aspect of our lives to you, more than many in the world, and our only reward is pain and suffering.

Such self-pity, while pleasant enough for a time, is both exhausting and a sure way to end up not only infertile but a narcissist.  You begin to imagine that yours is the only life full of disappointmentYours the only existence defined by sorrow.  You close off from relationships with other people, particularly those with children, as a way of protecting yourself from debilitating sorrow.  You cease praying, because the words you utter grow vapid, insipid, uninspiring.  In this way, I entered into Sheol, hell itself, cut off from the land of the living.  Something had to change.

Infertility as School of Prayer

How did I find myself out of this hell?  First, I had to learn to give myself over to a reality beyond my own control.  Human life is filled with any number of things that happen to us, despite our desires.  We apply to the college of our dreams, only to receive a rejection letter, not because we are inadmissible; but because a fellow student is brilliant and receives what might have been “our” spot.  We are diagnosed with illnesses, to which we are genetically predisposed.   Our family, despite how much we love them, falls apart because of fighting among siblings over how to handle the remaining years of a parent’s life.  We die.  In some sense, the beginning of true Christian faith is trusting that even in such moments, God abides with us.  And the God who continues to bring life out of death invites us to offer our sorrow, our woundedness as an act of love.  As Teilhard de Chardin writes in his The Divine Milieu:

Christ has conquered death, not only by suppressing its evil effects, but by reversing its sting.   By virtue of Christ’s rising again, nothing any longer kills inevitably but everything is capable of becoming the blessed touch of the divine hands, the blessed influence of the will of God upon our lives.  However marred by our faults, or however desperate in its circumstances, our position may be, we can, by a total re-ordering, completely correct the world that surrounds us, and resume our lives in a favorable sense.   For those loving God, all things are converted into good.

For me, praying the psalms was the beginning of this conversion toward the good.  In slowly returning to the psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours, I learned that in uttering these mutilated words from a wounded heart, my voice became Christ’s.  My suffering, my sorrow, has been whispered into the ear of the Father for all time.  The echo of my words in an empty room called my heart back to authentic prayer.  I used short phrases from psalms throughout the day, whenever I was tempted to enter into self-pity, to call myself back toward openness to the Father.  The psalms became for me the grammar of my broken speech to God, a way to express a sorrow where words failed to suffice.

Second, I also began to meditate upon the crucifix in silence whenever I entered a church.  Such silent meditation became essential to prayer, for by gazing at the crucifix for long periods, I discovered how God’s very silence in prayer was stretching me out toward a more authentic love.  Meditation, as the Catechism notes, is a quest whereby “the mind seeks to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking” (2705).  Has God caused our infertility?  No?  But, have we been called to it?  Based upon the six years of infertility, perhaps that is indeed our calling.  In contemplating the silence of the cross, the image of Christ stretched out in love, I could feel my own will stretched out gradually to exist in harmony with the Father’s.  To accept the cup that we have been given.  And as my will was stretched out, I found new capacities for love available to me.  A new awareness that the “calling” of infertility has made me aware of the lonely, the vulnerable, the needy, and allowed me to perceive the true gift of a human life.  My meditation upon the image of the cross gave me the strength to go forward with the process of adoption; it sustains me as we continue to wait for a child; a child, who may need more love than we can ever give, more care than we can imagine; to enter into the suffering of the widow, the immigrant, the lonely, who also comes to Mass with a heart deeply wounded.

Third, in my formation into prayer through the sorrow of infertility, I have grown in appreciation for the silence and half-sentences of God.  The Catechism comments regarding contemplation or silence, “It is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, an attentiveness to the Word of God, a silent love.  It achieves real union with Christ to the extent that it makes us share in his mystery” (2724).  In fact, words often still hurt too much to utter; I at times have no energy to utter in prayer; all I have left is an imitation of the very silence I hear in response to my petitions.  Through entering into God’s own silence, I find my own bitter silence transformed into one of trust, of hope, of a kind of “infused knowledge” of God’s love that I have come to savor, to taste, to experience during this growth in prayer.  At times, this silence results in a gift of exhilarating bliss, as if for a moment I have totally united to God.  Sometimes, it is a restful silence in which I hear no speech.  I savor such moments–because only here, do I receive the balm for the sorrow, which so often floods my soul throughout the day.

Lastly, our infertility has slowly led me to a deeper appreciation of the Eucharistic quality of the Christian life.  For years, I talked with far too much ease about the “sacrifice of the Mass.”  Of the Eucharistic vocation of the Christian.  How all of our lives must become an offering, a gift to the Father through the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit.  Until I came to know the sorrow of infertility, these words were mere straw, to reference Thomas Aquinas, the Eucharistic poetic par excellence.

True self-gift is hard.   It’s hard to give yourself away to a God, who doesn’t seem to listen to your prayers.  It’s hard to wait for a child that may never come, to prepare your home with the proper furniture for what seems at times as a pipe dream.  It’s hard to love your spouse, as deeply as you desire to, when you’re distracted by the phantasms of sorrow that have become your dearest friend.  It’s hard to muster a smile when your friends announce that they will be having another child.  It’s just hard.

At these moments, I don’t know what else to do but to seek union with Christ himself.  To enter more deeply into the Eucharistic logic of the Church, where self-preservation is transformed into self-gift.  And the Eucharist continues to teach me that I can’t do it myself.  I can’t climb out of the sorrow, the sadness, the misery.  I can’t fix it all.  But, I can give it away.  I can offer it up.  I can slowly enter into the Eucharistic life of the Church, learning to become what I receive.   To become vulnerable, self-giving love even in the midst of sorrow.  Knowing, of course, that in the Resurrection such love has conquered death.  Where senses fail, faith alone suffices.  

For, it turns out we weren’t married that we could experience the joy of having children.  We were married that our lives might become an offering of love for the world.   To our nieces.  To our nephews.  To our friends.   To a child, yet to be born, but who we hope to one day welcome.  To a child, who has suffered more from neglect, whether accidental or purposeful, than we do from the absence of a child.  Our infertility isn’t about us.  It’s about what how God can transform even our sorrow into joy; how even in the shadow of this very real cross, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.

This then is the drama of a life of prayer.  I have come to know God’s grace even in the midst of this misery, this vale of tears.  It has not healed the sorrow, washed it away.  Indeed, there remain moments in which we are awakened to the extraordinary pain caused by this infertility.  Christmas is a dreadful holiday, a reminder of the dearth of stockings hanging from our hearth.   Infant baptism in the parish, of which Kara coordinates, can release a flood of sadness seemingly inappropriate to the festive occasion of a parish celebrating new life in Christ.  The images of ultrasounds on Facebook announcing child two and three among our friends remind us again that the only images we have to share is a picture of a new wood floor we might install in our home (of course, the wood flooring will be exceptional!).  The wound remains and can be opened at a moment’s notice.  But prayer has given it a shape, a reason, a participation in God’s very life.  That even through this suffering, the Word desires to become flesh in my life through a prayerful obedience to the will of a God, who I can’t quite comprehend.

Conclusion

Sometimes, I allow myself to daydream either about one day getting a phone call from our adoption agency or receiving news that Kara is pregnant.  This moment would undoubtedly be the happiest of my life, full of a grace that human words would express only in a stutter at best.  Marilynne Robinson gets close in her novel Gilead.  The protagonist of the novel, John Ames, finds himself married and with a child in the latter years of his life.   His death close at hand, he writes to his child:

I’d never have believed I’d see a wife of mine doting on a child of mine.  It still amazes me every time I think of it.  I’m writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you’ve done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God’s grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle (Gilead, 52).

Of course, such a moment may never come.   Nothing in a human life is promised.   It’s why learning to pray through infertility has been akin to learning to see the possibility of grace, never the guarantee.  Otherwise, would such moments be grace, a total gift, in the first place?  So we stand waiting for Gabriel.  Learning to hear the angel’s voice in new ways.   In time spent with our nephew and niece.  In time spent with one another.   In marveling at the wonder of children not our own.  In learning to give ourselves away, not because we want to join the community of parents, but because there are those who desperately need our love, perhaps for but a month.

And the more I enter into prayer, the more I see that in these grace-filled moments, Gabriel has already come.

Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum—Let it be done to me according to your word.  

 

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60 thoughts on “Waiting for Gabriel: Learning to Pray through Infertility”

  1. Tim – This is just staggering and incredible, thank you so much for sharing it. One of the great injustices of infertility, it seems, is the stigma attached to talking about it. It is, oddly, a silent stigma. And of course the very definition of stigma, stigmata even, is that it’s loud and public, so I grieve that this stigma is silent. As one of your best friends (I happily and proudly claim), I grieve that silence keeps you and Kara from your usual support systems. Silence because of manners and silence because it can’t feel good for you guys when we bumble at inconsiderate answers when you bring us hard questions.

    That said, the emotional clarity of knowing that parenting can (de facto) be what a marriage is for, but knowing that parenting is not a necessary keelson for marriage, well that’s just it precisely. I think you’ve uncovered something there that is right and true and good, and I pray (and you know how seldom I pray) that you and me and Kara and everybody else can hang on to that as the Truth and that some day not too far off, the pervading culture will understand that too. It’s not a comfort (cliches are for comfort) it’s just the Truth…it is.

    So much love to you and Kara, before I read this, while reading this, and after reading this. So much love.

    1. Thanks Adam. You’re always deeply in our support system. More than you can know. Looking forward to running into you again in the not too distant future.

    2. My husband was told that he was basically sterile , we fell in love and i didnt care whether he could have children or not i loved him , but as a christian i would also pray to the lord to bless us with a baby, everyone around us was having children and we couldnt .. What i didnt expect wasto find out i was pregnant last summer and now we are having a little girl im calling her christina . I now know that god saw me in the church every sunday and saturday as a child and heard my prayers thank you god praise the lord … Jesus rules !!!! x x

  2. Tim–I am humbled by your deep faith and by your courage in sharing yours and Kara’s story. Like you, Tom and I have been asked “Do you have children?” many times, and unlike most young Catholic married couples, we too must answer “Not yet.” In our case, the delay stems largely from concern over my ongoing struggles with depression and anxiety rather than with any confirmed infertility, but within a faith culture that places high value on marital procreation, it makes little difference. No matter how well intentioned people are, you somehow feel that you are failing to fulfill a fundamental criterion of being a good Catholic couple, and it hurts.

    Back when I was working on my MTS at Notre Dame, I wrote a paper for Maura Ryan’s course Ethics of Sexuality, Marriage and the Family, entitled “Beyond Procreation: A Wider Conception of ‘Fruitfulness’ in Christian Marriage.” In it, I used the work of ethicists Margaret Farley and Christine Gudorf to argue for “a less literal understanding of ‘procreation’ within marriage, a more inclusive conception of the positive contributions that couples in a sexually fulfilling marriage can make to the community beyond the provision of offspring.” Toward the end of this admittedly exploratory paper, I made this suggestion:

    Given the closeness of a married couple who nurture a healthy sexual relationship between themselves, one could argue that they as a unit represent the Triune God, the Father and Son inexplicably bonded in the dynamic love that is the Spirit. Moreover, just as the great love of the Spirit is sent forth to the ends of creation in order to bestow divine grace, so too does the fruitful love of a married couple flow beyond themselves to effect positive changes…within the greater community.

    I have no doubt that through your mutual love and commitment, you and Kara serve as a true instrument of the Spirit in the lives of everyone you touch. Please never doubt that. Peace be to you both as you search for the answer to your prayers.

    1. Thanks Kirstin. Thanks for both your thoughts and encouragement. And the peace you offer. Of course, you’ll be in our prayers as you continue your own journey.

  3. Thank you for your poignant sharing. You have brought tears to my eyes. I marvel at your beautiful faith. It has been 20 years since I went through infertility and God did eventually answer my prayers in a way that was more than I could have imagined. But, when I thought that God abandoned me back then, I turned from God. I know now that He was there all along, but I could not believe it in the midst of the great longing for a child. Your thoughts on prayer and trust are a true inspiration. I will be praying for you and your wife.

  4. Tim,
    Thank-you for offering this very beautiful and personal meditation. You will be in my prayers, and I will take your intentions with me as I go to the Holy Land.

    In Christ,
    Kevin

  5. Tim, may you and Kara be at peace as the will of God unfolds in your life. Your gift of each other is a treasure and the only thought I can pass on to you, coming from almost the other end of life, is to truly live only in the present moment. All any of us can do each day is to say, “how may my hands and heart and words serve you today, Lord?”

    I read your article with awe and tears reflecting on my own life and the lives of so many of my loved ones. Your deep faith and struggle encourages me along my own journey and will, I know, give strength to many others.

    You do not struggle alone, we all have our silent journeys in life, but we can reach out for each other and be the hand of God. I will hold you both in my prayers. Thank you for the gift you gave me today through your writing.

  6. Thank you, Tim. You have put together a beautiful collage of my thoughts, feelings, and prayers and those of my husband for the past five years. Countless times, I have wanted to take the leap and put all of this pain, hope, courage, and confusion down someplace permanent, but I never did it. Instead, I gave into the narcissism and pitied myself quietly for a time… and then dragged myself up again through prayer at mass as you and your wife have – over and over and over. You are right that we are supposed to turn our misery into something beautiful and that Christ is to be our perfect model of suffering. And I have come to believe that when our plans and desires are ignored by God, it’s because He has something in store for us that we cannot even imagine. I will be praying for your marriage and I ask that you’ll pray for ours. We conceived one time (after a laparascopic surgery to remove endometriosis) in almost five years, but we lost the pregnancy early – devastating, but reason for continued hope. I ask that you’ll pray for this little soul, too. Thank you for your courage and may God bless you richly.

  7. I saw your article as a link on a friend’s facebook. My husband and I, too were among the ranks of undiagnosed infertility for nearly nine years. Finally we became pregnant, but I suffered a miscarriage. Then the next year we conceived again and now have a little boy. I feel so empathetic to your situation. I was often in prayer and had to learn how to balance faith and hope with acceptance and submission. It was perhaps the hardest lesson in my Christian life and as hard as it is to say it, it was a privilege to learn that lesson. I will pray for you and your wife, for your physical and spiritual health.

  8. This is an incredible – beautiful and heart-wrenching and honest – theological reflection on infertility. I only wish I would have had this during the years that my husband and I struggled with the same cross. My prayers are with you and Kara, in what you have embraced as God’s calling and in the callings still to come. Thank you for sharing this; I will share it with others.
    - a fellow Domer

  9. Thank you for this touching and powerful piece, and for your example of turning to God during terrible trials. You and your wife will be in my prayers!

  10. Your six year journey through infertility mirrors my own seven year journey in so many ways – from unexplained infertility, devestation, seeming silence from God, grief, self-pity, awareness, and praying through the Psalms to a great deal of healing even though the wounds remain. It was interesting to read it written out. I found myself nodding my head the whole way.

    “The wound remains and can be opened at a moment’s notice. But prayer has given it a shape, a reason, a participation in God’s very life. That even through this suffering, the Word desires to become flesh in my life through a prayerful obedience to the will of a God, who I can’t quite comprehend.”

    Amen. God has taught me so much throuh my infertility and even given it a purpose. Amazing.

    God Bless.

  11. Thank you so much for writing this. I’ve been diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure, so my husband and I will never be able to conceive. I’m still in the “bitter” stage of dealing with all of this, and I have so much resentment toward God and my friends who conceived so easily and complain about pregnancies and their children (I know this is a sin, and I take it to Confession often). Please pray for me.

    1. J.,

      It’s not something that’s easy to take by any stretch of the imagination. When friends, even good ones, talk about the difficult of being a parent, it’s difficult not to say: “Yeah, really? You know what’s difficult.” But, I guess I’ve seen that difficulties now come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. And part of being human is being incomplete, being on the way toward a transformation that is not yet. To quote Augustine, “our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” Know that I’m praying for you–especially right now.

    2. Dear J–
      I came here to read this essay (which is wonderful, by the way) and reading your comment brought back many feelings for me. My heart goes out to you and I will be praying for you. Know that this bitterness will not last. Keep praying and working through it and you will receive graces you never imagined.

  12. Thanks so much for sharing this, Tim. You and Kara’s capacity for grace is truly a gift for those of us to whom you minister. I do wish that grace didn’t come laced with pain, but even so, I’m humbled by your witness and ever so thankful to know y’all. Y’all remain in my prayers.

    Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for all of us who wait beside you in God’s silence.

  13. Tim – I found your post through a Catholic infertile blogger. We have a pretty large network going here. :) Your post is wonderfully well-reasoned theologically and deeply personal; two things I very much appreciate. It’s great to hear a husband on the subject of infertility. We don’t get that a lot and I’ve often felt we as a community miss so much by not hearing a masculine perspective.

    My husband and I tried to conceive for two and a half years and were also diagnosed with unexplained infertility. Your words about how terrible this diagnosis is, is very true for me. We can’t blame or explain are inability to conceive on anything. I often wish I had endometriosis or PCOS to blame this physical condition on something. But, it’s not to be.

    We have accepted childlessness and are not moving forward with further treatment or adoption. After a lot of prayer, we felt God was calling us to accept our two-person family. Praise God, we have a wonderful, God-centered marriage. It’s often tempting however to believe and hope that we could be that couple that conceives after six, nine, ten years of trying. However, I find my mission as a Christian is to put infertility in the larger perspective as I think you did so eloquently, “In some sense, the beginning of true Christian faith is trusting that even in such moments, God abides with us.”

    God Bless you and your wife. You are not alone among the faithful and certainly never, never alone when you trust in the Lord. Thank you again for your post. It gives me so much hope for peace knowing that God does not forsake us even though it feels that way sometimes to our naive, human minds.

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words. I suppose, as you note, infertility is an “opportunity” (I use the term with quotes) to continue the discernment of what self-giving consists of in the married vocation. Know that both of you will be in my prayers as you continue your own faith journey.

  14. Tim, thank you for putting into words the unspoken pain that so many young Catholic couples dealing with infertility feel. My husband and I both teach high school and between faculty / staff pregnancies and the unplanned pregnancies of students we are constantly reminded of what we do not have. It is so easy to ask God why not us? – especially when the sophomore girl sitting in front of you 6 months pregnant obviously did not WANT a child like we do… it is such test of humility each and every day to remember that nothing is promised – even to those of us who are being ‘good’ and using NFP, etc.

  15. Though I don’t know you, I feel for you. I understand. We too suffer from infertility and are waiting to adopt. I struggle to find God in our hardship. Your article touched me. Thank you for sharing.

  16. Wow, Tim. I’ve struggled for the last three years with what I couldn’t call Infertility, as I’ve had six babies–but complete and inexplicable Shut-Down. I had five children, a miscarriage, a sixth child who died, and two more miscarriages. We were trucking along on the family path and we’ve hit a dead end. I cannot even talk about this out loud. I can’t pray about it without crying and making a sniveling fool of myself in the church or adoration chapel. But, through good friends who are living with Infertility, and through reading Mother Teresa’s letters in Come Be My Light, I’ve determined two things: first, that God is going to end my family here. Would He really do that to us? Death, death, death and death? Yes, He would, and He has. Second, I am going to stop complaining and crying and thrashing, and offer up my deep sadness for my dear friends. Thanks for your inspiring article–it has helped me to solidify those two resolutions!

  17. Thank you for sharing Tim. Your post could not have come at a more needed time as my prayer this morning was exactly this, “What more do you want from us Lord?” And lo and behold He has shared so much (not even just with this post) in the past six hours.

    Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum—Let it be done to me according to your word. ” has become one of our favorite prayers throughout these last three years. It definitely brings you closer in union with Jesus, Mary, and anyone who has had a difficult cross to carry. It also offers a sense of peace that God offers.

    Anyway, thank you again for this and it is truly an inspiration for us young couples dealing with infertility. Blessings to you and Kara as you continue your journey.

  18. Hey Tim,
    What a beautiful reflection. It makes me think of John 10:10 and the “fullness” of life and what that can mean in different contexts. Your reflection here is a great example of what faith and hope really are, and what the opening half of the “Our Father” means. May your marriage continue to be a sacrament to the world. Christ’s Peace.

  19. I just want to say thank you for this well-reasoned, well-said, and incredibly thorough post. Like Airing the Chapel, I’m an infertile Catholic and I found this post through a Catholic infertile blogger who I follow. Your words are truly beautiful and inspiring.
    Thanks,
    January

  20. Tim, thank you so much for this–beautiful. What a blessing to be able to lead people to deeper trust in God through your suffering. You and Kara are very much in my prayers.

  21. Thanks for writing this – really and truly. I was diagnosed with Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome – PCOS – late last year, which explains why my husband and I have had trouble conceiving – and can sometimes lead to infertility. I can only imagine how heart-wrenching unexplained fertility as a diagnosis must be.

    I read this after a pretty bad night last night. Someone close to me shared she was pregnant and while I truly am happy for her later I broke down crying. I told my husband I felt like we were being tested and I just wanted to know whether we’d passed or failed because this in-between was killing me.

    I really needed to read this today – because like someone else mentioned, I’m in the “bitter-I-can-maybe-fix-this” stage and I know we are not leaning on God the way we should. I can’t help but feel I’m not ready for that – I definitely feel like I’ve been somewhat abandoned and even though I know my behavior is somewhat childlike, I’m not ready to “make nice” yet.

    So thank you for writing this – for giving me some perspective, and for the understanding and compassion you’re bringing to so many others in the world.

    1. Please remember, fellow Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ. There is a moral, root-cause, safe, healthy and diagnostic approach to infertility which has a lot of success. Often times our fertility problems are a result of another disorder, an underlying issue. Sometimes an eating disorder (over or under weight), stress, anxiety, medications, PCOS, ‘dry’ cycles, irregular periods, thyroid problems, endocrine problems, pre-diabetes, and more….are discovered and are correctable. This approach is the Creighton Model FertilityCare System. Try it! It doesn’t mean you’re not trusting God. It just means you are under the care of God-fearing, Pro-Life, Pro-Love, Catholic-to-the-core healthcare because we need to also take care of ourselves — fertility is not a vacuum issue. Everything in the body is interconnected:)

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1qKeOb47rI (Part I)
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IH9OT6Zjxk&feature=relmfu (Part II)

  22. First, my prayers are with you and your wife as you struggle and bear this cross. Your perspective on infertility is honest, heart-wrenching and faith-filled. Thank you for sharing this, and especially for sharing the perspective of a husband who feels the pain of infertility. This must not have been easy to share, and I thank you for your courage.

    I, too, struggled with infertility and when my best friend also faced secondary infertility, we pooled together our resources, experiences and research to write, “The Infertility Companion for Catholics: Spiritual and Practical Support for Couples,” which was just published in March by Ave Maria Press and has an imprimatur. It is so important for those of us who are bearing or have borne this cross to share our experiences as you have, and to know we are not alone.

    We reposted your blog post here: http://www.catholicinfertilityjourney.com/?p=183

    Thank you again for your humble and faithful example. God bless you and your wife.

  23. This is beautifully written. We thought we were in the same boat after we married, but then with attempting morally acceptable medication, we conceived.
    I am a physical therapist and recently attended a con Ed cource where we were shown noninvasive techniques of manual visceral mobilization of the uterus, ovaries, and Fallopian tubes. It was amazing! The instructor shared many testsmonials of couples who were told to be infertil and after having this massage done, they were able to conceive.
    I am attempting to put together a research project to assess the technique as well as the outcome and see what science has to say about it :) I have spoken with an amazing Pro-life GYN in hopes to get her on board with me. This would be a wonderful option for those of us staying true to the catholic churches teaching on conception as well as address the yearning desire to fill Gods physical church here on earth.
    The technique I am talking about is taught across the country through the Institute of physical Art. There are many trained PT’s you can find listed on their site. See if one is in your area and please let me know if you attempt this type of massage. I’d love to hear your outcome.
    God bless!

    1. christina, just making sure you know about Dr Hilgers and Napro…….if not, take a look at his book on Amazon for starters. God bless.

  24. Tim, thanks for sharing your journey so profoundly. My husband and I endured 3.5 years of infertility before our baby came (thanks, NaPro Technology). Those years were such dark times and your reflections are reminiscent of that time in our lives. I’ve never forgotten our journey and its effects remain as we try for a second child.

    You and your wife will be in my prayers. If and when your parenting days finally come, you will have even more joy when it happens because you have suffered so much. Hang in there!

  25. Hi Tim,
    I often feel like announcing IF to friends and family is like standing naked in front of them, so I admire your courage in sharing your family’s struggles.

    Our infertility is not unexplained, but there are a variety of things going on and not one of them absolutely precludes spontaneous pregnancy. So I know how hard it is to live with the uncertainty of “Well, maybe this month.”

    One of the gifts that we’ve received from IF is the sense that we are called to adoption. Pregnancy may be in our future; adoption definitely is.

    It seems like you and Kara are waiting for an adopted child as well. May the wait pass quickly. You will both be in my prayers.

  26. Dear Tim,

    This is the first reflection on infertility I’ve read that was written by a man! Thank you for sharing your story, and like so many who have commented on this post, I understand you completely.

    My husband and I are going on a half-dozen years of infertility, and we are, finally, at peace. We don’t feel called to adoption, and while we are still open to life, we have stopped putting our lives on hold in hope that we’ll be pregnant soon.

    We no longer spend all our disposable income (and then some) on infertility treatments, and we never hold off on making plans because, well, what if we are pregnant by then? I don’t think anymore of how many months I’ll be pregnant at Christmas time if this round of fertility treatments works, or only make plane reservations less than 7 months out because, what if I get pregnant this month?

    It still is painful when other people get pregnant, again, and those stories of the couple who got pregnant, finally, at age 55, only really serve to scare me (I don’t want to have my first baby when I’m getting ready to retire!) And it’s only slightly annoying to be asked if I know about Dr. Hilgers, and yes NaPro is great, but it doesn’t cure everyone, and it’s definitely not free, although they are quite nice about working with what you have.

    We do get blue sometimes, but my husband is an eternal optimist, and he helps me to keep my eye on the ball. God has a different plan for us, and we have to be faithful to that. Every life has suffering, and this is mine.

    I swallow hard when my friends complain about how hard it is to raise kids, and I try to be sympathetic to their pain. “I can only imagine,” is what I want to say, but I would never say that to them. They really do mean well…they just don’t know. There is no way they could.

    But there are so many who have greater sufferings. And perhaps the greatest gift of infertility is that I am more aware of that. Overwhelmed mothers of four little ones are necessarily so focused on their own little brood that they can’t see what’s going on in the lives of others. But I can. I have the time, and I have the energy, to help others in their time of need. So, in the end, it works out, and maybe that’s all part of the plan.

    1. JDS,

      Thanks for your comment. I know what you’re saying about the universal desire to suggest a cure for fertility. You understood that I was saying, in some way, infertility is a kind of gift (albeit a painful one). And being infertile can allow one to participate in a form of self-giving love that (as you note) enables the infertile man or woman to notice the “overwhelmed mothers of four little ones.” In fact, infertility is one form of an array of disappointments that could strike the human heart at any time–the desire to be married, but have not yet met the person you hope to give your life to. Getting fired from a job, radically altering your career path, etc.

      So in other words, thank you for sharing a bit of your own narrative–and the spiritual insights, you’ve arrived at.

  27. My husband and I identify strongly with your essay, having been through years of fertility testing and an eventual diagnosis that assured infertility. Throughout the many years after the diagnosis and right up to my inevitable hysterectomy, I maintained the hope that there would be a miracle and that I would conceive and bear a child. Along the way, God offered another alternative.

    Couples facing infertility may wish to prayerfully consider if they have another calling, that of adoptive parents to a child or children with special needs. It’s not what most couple envision for themselves, but can enrich the lives of the parents, children, family and friends, and the community in ways that are a marvel to observe.

    Our decision was a difficult one and we struggled with it over considerable time. Most people don’t have dreams of themselves as parents of a child (or children) with disabilities, especially if it means knowingly and willingly accepting the calling. We had to prayerfully consider if we could learn to see beyond the physical, intellectual and behavioral peculiarities to encounter and love the child of God. I fluctuated between outright rejection and full embrace of the offer. The decision seemed easier for my husband, I accepted it with more trepidation.

    We ultimately came to understand ourselves as parents in need of children looking for children in need of parents and formed a family with two young brothers (our eldest was age 4 at the time), one with mental and physical disabilities. Almost 20 years have elapsed and we are blessed with two wonderful sons. We are daily grateful for our family and love our sons– and each other– with an intensity that may be unique to parents who have had to struggle so strongly to form a family and to meet the unique demands that parenting such a family entails.

    While seeking advice about our decision, we met with a friend in religious life. His observation of our lives and experiences was that we had been given the gift of the cross. At the time, I understood that to mean that much suffering and endurance was required of us. I’ve come to understand that accepting our cross really meant accepting our calling and with it came a more creative, fulfilling and satisfying life than I ever could or would have imagined for us.

  28. Wow… just wow. One of the most honest, humble, and beautiful things I’ve read. The evidence of grace in you is palpable. Thank you for sharing this.

  29. Tim, My eyes fill with tears reading this beautiful piece. My heart breaks for you and my dear, sweet Kara. I wait with you in hope… Love, Kelly

  30. Timothy, I cannot thank you enough for this beautiful article that puts so eloquently into words my husband Robert and my present struggle. I came across your article via a friend’s post on Facebook. I very much relate to your agony, the double edged sword in seeing friends posts on FB of their newest “arrivals” -to have genuine joy for them and yet sadness and an unrequited “hope” for our situation. I am grateful for your bravery in sharing your struggle and am grateful to have found it via Facebook!

    Thank you for helping put our situation into sacred perspective, for God’s greater glory.

  31. As so many others before me have said, thank you for this. My husband and I have been married 10 years and are childless, so we are not such a “young Catholic couple” any more. We still field questions and intrusions and sometimes it’s tempting to spell it out for the well-intentioned but inadvertently hurtful: We spent 7 years at countless doctors’ appointments, with 2 surgeries and a failed adoption to boot, at the cost of thousands of dollars.

    We tried all licit avenues and continued to pray and ask God for acceptance of our vocation. It turns out that in our case this might mean a two-person family. (And I might add I am so grateful to “Airing the Chapel’s” comment above, and introducing me to her blog.)

    The worst part of going through this (for me) is the isolation from others (the “childed” if you will). Posts like yours help abate that feeling (as the comments prove, none of us is alone).

    I have received many graces through my trials and this one has been no different, even as it’s been (possibly) the most difficult of them.

    I will be keeping you and your wife in my prayers. Thanks again for this post.

  32. Thank you for sharing your story. My wife and I are infertile LDS Christians (our story is here). We will soon celebrate our 15th anniversary. Like you, we have found this to be an unexpected and unpleasant trial, but it has presented us with numerous opportunities to bless others along the way. God bless.

  33. Thank you for sharing your story! My husband I of nine years of marriage have struggled through our own infertility issues. Four years ago we decided to live our lives as a family of two.

    I have spent years looking around for other Catholic couples whom to draw support from and I am very thankful that you have posted your story to share with others.

    May our Lord bless and keep you and your wife!

  34. Thank you very much for your post. After 5 years of longing for a child, it has become very hard to pray. I appreciate your incites on incorporating this pain into prayer life. My husband and I have found this trial very difficult. We are both in professions oriented around children, and while we are blessed in this work, it is challenging some days to care for others’ children and not come home to our own. I am also the cantor for many baptisms in our parish, trying to lead celebrations when all I feel is grief. Recently there was an article in America Magazine about Christ in the title of the Lonely One. This is often the only face of Christ I can see in prayer.

  35. Dear Tim,
    Thank you very much for sharing – my husband and I too are bearing this cross of infertility – for six years now and it has not been easy at all. I sometimes don’t know how to move from one day to the next but I do want to believe that God is with me, that He has not abandoned us. Your post has helped me.
    God bless you and Kara,
    Nicole

    1. Thanks Nicole. I really do appreciate these notes of encouragement and prayer. Blessings to both your husband and yourself. You’ll be in my prayers this All Saints Day.

  36. In all my time researching infertility I have never read anything so real, so close to home, this article spoke to me on a completely different level and I thank you for saying the things I’m too scared to utter, too proud to admit.

  37. Dear Tim
    Thank you for your amazingly authentic and well-written text about infertility. My husband and I have also been childless for 6 years and have also applied for adoption. Infertility is such a dark and confusing place to be and for years I struggled to find the “solution”. What finally gave me back a sense of peace and hope and even joy is learning to focus my eyes on Jesus and trusting His Word for my life and future. As such I can say that having reached the end of possible treatments and finding myself with my back to the wall filled me with great joy because now I learned to replace my struggle with His victory. He send His Word and healed them (ps107)…Haleluja

  38. This really spoke to me in such a time of waiting! We have been ttc for a mere 7 months, but that pain is so real. I feel like I am in that bitter place at times, then I move into being so very thankful for what I do have, an amazing husband, our first house….so many things to praise Him for! As the months tick by and the possibility of tests and potetial highs and lows awaits in the dark, I thank you so very much for a truly honest and biblical perspective of infertility. Well written and you put my feelings into words, such a great article! Blessings to you, and thanks again :)

  39. Tim:

    There hangs in my closet a pink-and-white Easter dress for a toddler girl I pray for each day. A daughter for my daughter and her husband, who like you and Kara, have been diagnosed with unexplained infertility. I pray for that little girl every time I walk into my closet. My most recent book was about the matter of child abuse — the epidemic of child murder in this nation. So you can imagine the juxtaposition I deal with — knowing all the stats about child abuse and crying out to God: Why? Where’s the justice in denying loving couples a home and yet allowing multiple children in home where they are neglected and beaten to death? So thank you for this. I knows these meditations of which you write.

  40. I chanced upon your blog accidentally. Thank you for this. I will be holding you and your wife in my prayers. May our Lord bless you and yours more than you can comprehend.

  41. Thank you so much for sharing… Like so many others who visit this site, we to have been touched by IF, for me the pain of seeing my husband go through bing told he was unable to concieve was almost unbearable, my love for him is so deep, but I know the victory of the cross, and everyday I confessed that Jesus is our healer, and as he would sleep I confessed that my husband was wonderfully and fearfully made by God so he is perfect and able to concieve. We were lead to an incredible doctor , who treated my husband and he is now able to conceive, medicine or not, Jesus is our healer…. Trust him… And yes, get into those Psalms and confess his holy word, by your will Lord let it be done ….my prayer for everyone visiting this site is to find the power and the glory that is found in the name of Jesus.

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