How to Confidently Comfort Couples Living with Infertility
by Dana Nygaard, LPC
Alan and Jenny’s Story
Alan stood still when he recognized the sound of his wife quietly crying in one of the upstairs bedrooms of his parent’s home. He felt sick to his stomach when he realized his beloved must be suffering alone with the sorrow of their infertility. Just that morning their hopes had been dashed yet again and the visit to his parent’s house was meant to be a distraction. Alan shook himself out of his reverie and found his way to the room where his wife was weeping. Unobtrusively he nudged the door open but stopped dead in his tracks, as he marveled at the sight before his eyes. Jenny was not alone after all but was surrounded on the queen-size bed by the women of his family. They silently wept alongside her sharing in her grief.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
The reality of Infertility
Infertility is a growing problem in the United States; research studies show that 1 in 8 couples struggles for a year or more to get pregnant. There are various causes, both male and female, but the outcome is the same: enduring months and years of childlessness. The issue provokes intense pain and suffering for couples experiencing infertility, ranging from miscarriages, stillbirths, and the inability to conceive. Each loss may generate a mixture of grief, depression, anxiety, relationship struggles, identity crises, health issues and financial difficulties. Their trials can lead to overwhelming shame and isolation.
“Infertility is a lonely disease. It is a feeling of loss before there’s ever been a found.” (Dr. Christopher Yancey, OBGYN)
Some Catholic insights on infertility
The first words God spoke to his creations, Adam and Eve, were in the form of a blessing - “Be fertile and multiply.” (Genesis 1:28). Children are a true blessing to married life, so it is honorable and wise to seek ways of overcoming infertility. Scripture is laden with narratives of women who experienced infertility, from the account of Rebekah in Genesis 25:20 to Rachel in Genesis 30. In 1 Samuel 1:1-28 we are introduced to the story of Elkanah and Hannah. Elkanah said to his barren wife, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why are you not eating? Why are you so miserable? Am I not better than ten sons?” The agony Hannah endured at not being able to have a child could not be abated by her husband’s love. Each of these accounts were crucial to God’s plan in salvation history. Keeping in mind that God loves the spouses more so than they love each other.
God clearly states that the begetting of children is the primary purpose of marriage. His generosity was evident when He made Adam and Eve co-creators in bringing forth life. One might wonder why God does not bless every married couple to fulfill his command to “Be fertile and multiply.” God is good and is not punishing couples with infertility problems. Rather in his infinite wisdom he permits certain sufferings to enter the lives of his children. The purpose in part is to have them rely upon him in all circumstances.
In 1987 the Church document Donum Vitae (The Gift of Life) states, “the desire for a child is natural: it expresses the vocation to fatherhood and motherhood inscribed in conjugal love. This desire can be even stronger if the couple is affected by sterility which appears incurable”. The document further reads, “Sterility is certainly a difficult trial. The community of believers is called to shed light upon and support the suffering of those who are unable to fulfill their legitimate aspiration to motherhood and fatherhood. Spouses who find themselves in this sad situation are called to find in it an opportunity for sharing in a particular way in the Lord’s Cross, the source of spiritual fruitfulness. Sterile couples must not forget that even when procreation is not possible, conjugal life does not for this reason lose its value. Physical sterility in fact can be for spouses the occasion for other important services to the life of the human person, for example, adoption, various forms of educational work, and assistance to other families and to poor or handicapped children.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) states, “A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift” (Children as a Gift). The Church acknowledges the wanting of a child as a legitimate desire and understands the heartache for couples who struggle with infertility. St. Josemaria Escriva shared his wisdom on the matter, “God in his providence has two ways of blessing marriages: one by giving them children; and the other, sometimes, because he loves them so much, by not giving them children. I don’t know which is the better blessing.”
At the very heart of Catholic tradition there is a template for addressing the needs of souls - The 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy. These acts of compassion are those by which we aid our neighbors with their emotional and spiritual needs: