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  • Writer's pictureRachel Walters

Fruitfulness in faith: my journey through infertility to Catholicism

The Fruitful Hollow has been a beacon of hope and understanding for many of us carrying the cross of infertility, encouraging us to be "Fruitful in the NOW". It's in this spirit that I share my story, from struggling with infertility to finding a home within the Catholic Church, a journey of pain, discovery and, ultimately, hope. 

My journey begins

My story starts where many of yours may: with a deep yearning for motherhood that seemed to be met with silence. As a Protestant, I leaned on my faith for support, but as the years passed, my prayers seemed unanswered, leaving my heart heavy with unspoken grief. I wrestled for years with my faith, bitterness and jealousy.

It is hard to point to a singular moment that brought me home to the Catholic Church. Still, one memorable moment was picking up the book Under the Laurel Tree by Nicole M. Roccas. Roccas is Orthodox, but she introduced me to many new concepts just as I started The Bible in a Year and The Catechism in a Year podcasts with Father Mike Schmitz to learn more about the Catholic faith.

A revelation in disguise

At the onset of my infertility journey, amidst the confusion and the heartache, I remember telling my mother, "I'm glad I'm not Catholic because it would make this worse!" It's a statement that, in hindsight, brims with irony. At the time, my understanding was clouded by misconceptions and stereotypes, primarily the belief that Catholicism, with its emphasis on large families, would only deepen my sense of failure and isolation. How wrong I was! 

Discovering a deeper connection through Our Lady’s family

Under the Laurel Tree taught me about someone I didn’t learn about while growing up a Protestant: Our Lady’s mother, St. Ann. I knew that St. Elizabeth, Jesus’ aunt, experienced infertility but I never knew that his grandmother had as well. I have no doubt that with two women so close to Christ experiencing infertility, we are special in His sight and He holds us close to His side. His grandmother and aunt experienced infertility because Jesus had to be born at a specific time. Our Blessed Mother and John the Baptist could not be born until the time was right. More than anything, this opened my eyes to the depth of God's timing. It was comforting to realize that I was not alone in my wait; even those within the story of our salvation had walked a similar path.  

Redemptive suffering

Through my Protestant lens, the prosperity gospel had deep roots, and there was no room for suffering. I had been told by people close to me that if I returned to the church I was raised in, God would bless me with a child. In my journey, the concept of redemptive suffering has been a profound source of strength and solace. This uniquely Catholic teaching has offered me a way to find meaning in my infertility, transforming my pain into a tool for spiritual growth and a means of uniting more closely with Christ. 

Learning that my suffering could be offered up in union with the Passion of Jesus Christ for powerful grace and salvation for myself and others was something I had never heard before! For someone walking through the valley of infertility, the pain and longing can often feel overwhelming and pointless. The societal and sometimes internalized stigma surrounding infertility compounds this suffering. However, embracing the concept of redemptive suffering has allowed me to view this struggle through a different lens, not as a meaningless burden but as a sacred opportunity to participate in Christ's own suffering and, in doing so, contribute to the sanctification of the world and myself.

Spiritual motherhood

Spiritual motherhood is another concept foreign to many Protestants; many times, it is because Fathers, religious sisters, and godparents are not part of the traditions. The idea of spiritual motherhood was a revelation. It suggested that my capacity to love and nurture wasn't limited to biological motherhood but could be fulfilled in myriad other ways. This was complemented by the profound practice of offering up my suffering in union with Christ's suffering.

The path to conversion

My conversion, unexpectedly, became the finishing flourish on all the hard work I had done in coping with my infertility. Even though I was encouraged by new knowledge and the rich traditions of the Church, the journey still wasn't easy. Doubts and fears were constant companions as I wrestled with leaving behind the familiar for the unknown. Yet, every step towards Catholicism felt like a step closer to understanding my own suffering. The Church's teachings on redemptive suffering, the value of God’s timing in every life, and the purpose behind our trials offered a new lens through which to view my infertility.

Despite my initial belief that being Catholic meant having lots of children, I discovered that the Church's teachings offered a much more compassionate and nuanced understanding of fertility. In my experience, the Catholic openness to life is a fundamental aspect of marriage, which, at first glance, seemed to underscore my own struggles. However, this openness also fosters a profound respect for the marital embrace and the creation of life, so much so that the topic of infertility is not shrouded in silence but discussed openly and with compassion. 

This openness contrasts sharply with my experiences in Protestant traditions, where, although children are indeed seen as a gift from God, the acceptance and use of contraceptives have, in some ways, pushed discussions of infertility to the margins. In those spaces, the struggle can feel isolating, with fewer opportunities to share and find support among peers who understand the pain of being unable to conceive.

Becoming Catholic didn't magically solve my infertility. Instead, it provided a framework where my struggles made sense in a way I hadn't experienced before. I learned the true meaning of being open to life, not just in the physical sense of bearing children but in the spiritual sense of being open to God's presence, grace and plan for my life, whatever that may entail. I found a home where my pain is not just seen but shared, where I found hope and meaning amid my suffering. My journey toward fruitfulness took on a new dimension, grounded in faith, love, and an unwavering trust in the path God has laid out for me.

Redefining fruitfulness

My conversion and embracing of these practices profoundly changed my understanding of fruitfulness. It's no longer solely about the children I could not bear but about the love, compassion and faith I can share. Observing the lives of Catholic religious sisters has been instrumental in this, offering many ways I can live out my call to be fruitful.

Conclusion: a journey ongoing

My journey through infertility to Catholicism has taught me invaluable lessons about faith, hope and the beauty of finding purpose in our pain. Those lessons continue as I dive deeper into my new home in the Catholic Church. 

May we all find the strength to be “fruitful in the NOW”, embracing the journey with faith and 

compassion and always seeking the light in the darkness. Remember, our fertility does not define our worth but the love we give and the lives we touch. Let us hold fast to believing that our struggles can be transformed into something profoundly beautiful and redemptive when united with Christ's suffering.

Here are some practical steps I took over several years to work through my doubts and grief.

  1. Counseling: Early on, I sought the help of a Christian counselor who helped me process my grief of infertility and work on self-forgiveness. This space to voice my grief, anger and confusion was crucial. It taught me that seeking help was a sign of strength, not weakness. One main lesson I learned from my counselor was that when dealing with primary infertility, we are doing the hard work that empty nesters have to do decades down the road. We can strengthen ourselves and our marriages if we work hard now. 

  1. Practicing gratitude: Each day, I began to write down three things I was thankful for. Some days, my list was: I woke up today, coffee, and my husband. It’s okay if you can only think of basic things. You may have months where you write down the same three things. When your outlook is negative, every situation takes on a negative tone. This simple act didn't erase my pain, but I started looking for blessings, and my focus shifted toward the blessings still present in my life. 

  1. Surrendering to God: Daily surrender became my daily choice. Through prayer, I offered my desires, pain and dreams to God, trusting His plan for me was greater than mine. This realization does not make this practice easy, but daily surrender has been crucial for me.

  1. Self-care: I learned to nurture myself, recognizing that self-care was not selfish but essential. Whether it was a walk in nature, taking a bubble bath, lighting a candle, reading a book or simply resting, honoring my needs became a priority. Many of us may feel that if we have no children at home, we haven’t earned the right to be tired or need self-care. We need to treat ourselves like we would our best friend. 

  1. Embracing creating: Creativity became an unexpected outlet for my emotions. Writing, art and cooking allowed me to express myself in creating beauty outside myself. Creativity can include gardening, sewing, crocheting, learning a new language or a musical instrument. Learning how to play the violin is something on my to-do list!

  1. Celebrating milestones: I made it a point to celebrate not just wedding anniversaries but also personal achievements and spiritual milestones. Each celebration was a reminder of the journey I was on and the growth that had occurred. It can be hard to hold space simultaneously for sadness and celebration. Still, we need to give ourselves permission to do this.

  1. Prayer: I have always struggled with spontaneous prayer. My conversion came with the gift of structured Catholic prayers and novenas that deeply resonate with me. These prayers, passed down through generations, provide words when I am speechless and offer a structured way to present my sufferings to God.

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