Many Catholic married couples struggle with infertility, whether or not they follow the Church’s teachings on married love and the raising of families.
In the 2015 issue of Frankly magazine Sally Jones (a pseudonym) explained the sadness she felt as a regular Massgoer:
“Infertility is difficult all the time but sometimes the sadness feels much more raw – like at Christmas time…. Over a number of years I noticed that a lump would form in my throat and I could not sing the words ‘when a child is born’. While I understood the song is referring to Jesus, I felt this anticipation in a very personal way; the hope of new life seemingly denied to my husband and me.”
Researcher Erin Stoyell-Mulholland recently surveyed Catholic couples who struggle with fertility and found some common themes and frustrations among them: feelings of isolation and inferiority to other couples, struggles with the medical aspects, and a sense of being misunderstood or unfairly judged by other Catholics.
They reported that isolation was one of the hardest, especially once friends, siblings, and peers began raising their families.
“One woman said, ‘For a while it’s okay, but pretty soon all your friends have kids and they are off doing their own thing,’” Erin explained.
Added to this is a relative lack of mention about childlessness or prayers of petition for infertile couples at Masses.
Women reported struggling at times with medical issues including tests, fertility charting, medications, diets, or surgeries to try to diagnose and or treat their subfertility.
Some felt less “feminine” because of a culture of equating women with biological motherhood, even if the Church’s teaching is more nuanced in its promotion of spiritual as well as biological motherhood. Marriages come under strain, especially if one spouse begins viewing the other as a means to creating children.
Particularly painful for couples striving to live out the Church’s understanding of sexuality was the assumption of other church-going Catholics that they had few or no children because they were using contraception.
They also felt pained when Catholics and
non-Catholics couldn’t understand why they would not pursue assisted reproductive technology such as IVF or insemination.
“One woman told the story of how her Catholic sister suggested to her that she ‘get the baby any way that she can and then just raise it Catholic,’” Erin writes.
“Such suggestions can frustrate couples seeking to live out Church teaching because they imply that they could have a child if only they wanted one badly enough.
“Couples even spoke of well-intentioned friends offering to act as surrogates. Although they appreciate the sentiment, they also find these offers unhelpful and in some cases, they make them feel worse.”
Another frustration was the assumption that they could solve their problems simply by adopting a child – when adoption, while a beautiful solution for some, is not for all.
Thankfully, Sally Jones’ story has a happy ending. After 10 years and three devastating miscarriages her family now includes two beautiful children and “our three angels in heaven whom we hope to meet one day”. She credits the many prayers offered on their behalf and great medical support, including FertilityCare.
Read Erin’s two-part article on her study on Catholic couples’ experiences of infertility. Part 1 & Part 2
About Marilyn Rodrigues
Marilyn writes for a number of Catholic publications and is the editor of CathFamily. She and her husband Peter have five children aged 12 to three years. Her website is marilynrodrigues.com