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Our first fruitful year!

This blog post might be our longest one yet, but it is filled with testimonies of the goodness, generosity and grace of our mighty God. Members of our team are opening up to share with you what they have experienced in this year of fruitfulness with the Fruitful Hollow and then a bit about where 2021 took them personally. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for sharing your hardships, insight, emotions, joy and stories with us. Please join us in praying for many more years of fruitfulness with The Fruitful Hollow, and if the stories in this blog post inspire you to offer your talents and ideas to this ministry, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. So fetch yourself something tasty to eat or drink, make yourself comfortable and enjoy this first chapter in a story God is still writing!



The evolution of The Fruitful Hollow


Lauren Allen (Director)

A year ago, God hit me on the head and told me to act. It was a prompting so strong in my soul that I couldn’t help but jump blindly into action. What was I getting myself into? I had no idea, but certain phrases that I heard over and over again in my head guided my actions. I became the conductor of a train that I wasn’t driving, and those tracks have led me to this moment here with you. Grateful doesn’t even begin to explain what I feel. For a whole year now, The Fruitful Hollow has been a resource and a support network for Catholics facing infertility. We have published 54 blog posts, created 6 resources, founded the Sisters of Hannah mentorship ministry with 8 wonderful mentors, and we’ve been featured 4 times on various media outlets. We’ve interacted with people from all over the world! The top 10 countries that view our website are USA, Canada, United Kingdom, India, Singapore, Australia, Netherlands, Germany, Philippines and Brazil. When I reflect on this first year with The Fruitful Hollow I am honestly awestruck because, like anyone on our team would tell you: it wasn’t us. Time and time again we would have an idea for a blog post and the perfect writer would be knocking on our door the following day with the same idea. Building an international team was almost instantaneous (what, Holy Spirit?!) and I can no longer imagine life without the team who have become my sisters. We have become a beautiful family. God sent the perfect person for each of our needs. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. We are humbled and grateful. We have also never received or exchanged any currency - a whole year of so many amazing writers and workers who have donated their time, talents and treasures all for free? Tell me that’s not the Holy Spirit!


Katie S. (Managing Editor)

I went into 2021 not expecting much, not expecting anything new or different (mostly because all we could think about here in England was getting through lockdown after lockdown) so connecting with Lauren in January was exciting. I thought maybe I’d end up editing the odd blog post here and there but I had no idea how big (and time-consuming) a part of my life this would become. The Fruitful Hollow is now something I dedicate some time to every day - planning with the team, corresponding with writers, editing, re-editing, creating visual content, posting on social media and interacting with many of you - and I am so happy to do so! It is fulfilling and rewarding to pour energy into such a fruitful project and to witness the Holy Spirit taking our efforts and multiplying them, filling in the gaps and repeatedly surprising us. I don’t think a single team meeting has gone by without Lauren or Serenity saying “Woah, I just got goosebumps!” as an idea is born or a plan comes together. So often I have run to my husband saying “You are not going to believe this”, telling him the next amazing “Holy Spirit thing” that has just happened. It is an honor to serve on this team and a pure delight to grow close to my fellow team members while we use our very different talents and temperaments to make this ministry happen. I am excited to see what 2022 holds for The Fruitful Hollow!


Chelsea Voboril (Theological Editor)

A year ago I responded to Lauren’s Facebook post asking for someone educated in theology to edit and review a new website… “just for funsies”. I had no idea the speed or impact that the endeavor would take on. To have the opportunity to read some of the wisest, most vulnerable, most touching (and certainly on occasion tear-inducing) reflections has been an absolute privilege. My hope is that these reflections touched someone who thought they were alone in some aspect of their infertility journey, or reached someone accompanying an infertile couple and inspired them to reach out.


Serenity Quesnelle (Outreach Coordinator)

When I first connected with The Fruitful Hollow, the team consisted of only Lauren and Katie. We had nothing more than a lot of hope and desire to help other women carry the cross of infertility fruitfully. We were seeking resources and community that we ourselves so desperately longed for. In such a short time our team grew. Every single time we needed something or someone, God sent them our way. That’s probably the most beautiful part of this ministry to me: watching the Holy Spirit work wonders within it.


Ellen H. (Resource Coordinator)

This one year anniversary is really a wonderful opportunity to look back and see God's hand in everything - it is really amazing to see how the Holy Spirit works! Back around June of 2020, a close friend of mine encouraged me to put all of the knowledge I had gained during our years of infertility to use somewhere. I liked the idea but wasn't sure what I could do, since I didn't want to become a FertilityCare practitioner. I mentioned the encouragement my friend had given me to my spiritual director and he said that her prodding was a good one. He encouraged me to journal about it, keeping track of the lessons God had been teaching me and asking God what he wanted me to do with it. At the same time, another friend of mine was just starting her infertility journey and was looking for some advice on approaching the Catholic medical side of things. While I was typing up advice for my friend, I was flooded with the idea of how great it would be to have an infertility-based ministry: something with practical tips, spiritual tips and emotional tips; someplace where women could be matched with a prayer partner; a ministry that showed others how best to support others with infertility. I jotted all of these ideas down in a Google doc. While the ideas seemed great, it seemed like a daunting and overwhelming task to put together an entire ministry. I had no idea how to even go about something like that, so I closed that Google doc and didn't touch it again…


Until January 2021 came along and I came across a Facebook post about a new infertility ministry looking for writers. "I've always wanted to write!" I thought to myself. "I would love the opportunity to share all I've learned through writing for something like this!" And so, without a second thought, I emailed the author of the Facebook post. As I shared with Lauren all of the ideas that had been swimming around my brain since that previous summer, we were both in shock. So many of my ideas exactly matched what the Fruitful Hollow team had already been discussing! It was a match made in heaven! While I had no idea how to start the ministry I had envisioned, the Lord knew who would (Lauren!), and He placed the same desires on the hearts of the women on that team. While I only expected to write one or two articles, I ended up being invited to join the volunteer staff as Resource Coordinator, where I've had the opportunity to follow my heart's calling to create the infertility resources for women and couples that I wished had been there when I first started down that path myself. Having the opportunity to be a regular writing contributor has been a godsend to me, as by writing I begin to solidify and take to heart all of the lessons that God had been trying to teach me. I have seen the Holy Spirit work through each woman on our team and watched in awe, seeing them each blossom in full color as God works through the particular gifts, talents and skills He had gifted to each one and as He orchestrates all of these gifts to work together for this ministry.


Kristin D. (Sisters of Hannah Coordinator)

I am so humbled by this year of grace and how God has done so many wonderful things through so many amazing women! When I reached out to Lauren, at the encouragement of a dear friend, I never could have imagined that I would be picked to help organize, support and guide the Sisters of Hannah mentorship ministry. Each and every one of our team members is a marvelous woman of God. I cannot express how grateful I am for the inspiration of their faith, the bond of our sisterhood and the strength of this beautiful team. The efforts of our Sisters of Hannah mentors, Victoria, Dominique, Gillyan, Sarah, Megan, Devon and Jenelle cannot be outdone. I am so grateful for the sacrifice of time, energy and courage from our team and their amazing husbands. Without our supportive family members, this ministry would not exist! I have been involved in various ministry teams for most of my adult life and never have I witnessed the Holy Spirit move as quickly, clearly and beautifully as through The Fruitful Hollow and the Sisters of Hannah ministry. It has been an honor to hop on video meetings and accompany women through some difficult hours of their journey. To see grace, comfort and peace enter these conversations is so palpable and humbling. To date, our team of mentors have met with and assisted over 40 women since the last week of June. I cannot begin to wrap my mind around the possibilities to accompany even more amazing daughters of God next year.


Faith Downing (Regular Writer)

I came across the Fruitful Hollow for the first time while sitting in the parking lot waiting to pick up my son from preschool while my daughter slept peacefully in her car seat. I had recently learned I was pregnant with my third child. I was so deeply moved by the message of this ministry - the call to be more steeped in immense compassion and love. I immediately felt the call to reach out and see if there was a way I could help. Yet my thumb hovered in hesitation over the "send" button on my introduction email, as a doubting voice chided me: "what makes you think you have anything to say to women struggling with infertility? You have children. You've had pregnancies. How dare you." I let the guilt fester for a bit because it was true. Who WAS I to try to minister to the hurting hearts of women longing for motherhood? My bout with secondary infertility had been relatively short compared to the burdensome years of so many. Yet, it was in that desert season of my life that Jesus had orchestrated some of the deepest healing I've ever experienced. It was through that spell of feeling so failed by Him that He revealed just how sweet and true His goodness is. I wanted to share that truth with other women. I wanted to be part of the conversation that acknowledges the painful reality of infertility rather than shy away from it in discomfort. I wanted those women hurting and longing to feel seen and loved by Jesus in the way The Fruitful Hollow was working to do. So I hit send. Not long after, Lauren reached back out to me and with great love and kindness welcomed me to take part and I'm so grateful for it. By His wounds we are healed and so, too, from our own woundedness He can draw forth a well of healing. He can take our graves and make them gardens. He's done it for me time and time again and I'm praying earnestly, sister, that He does it for you too.


Rebecca V. (Regular Writer)

Since early in our infertility journey, I have written about our infertility, pregnancy loss and adoption process journey, but these pieces were private and shared with a relatively small circle of family and close friends. While we had been quite open about our journey, this hadn't extended to social media or the internet. There's a difference, after all, between sharing your story in person and having anyone you've ever been connected to on social media suddenly weighing in (with, inevitably, all sorts of advice about which novena to do or what therapy will solve your problems). Even worse is the prospect of having a fresh batch of students every semester googling their new teacher and suddenly being privy to their most difficult and intimate struggles. With time (and therapy), I felt like it was time to share my writing more broadly but the thought of trying to manage a website or blog on my own was holding me back from doing anything about it. And then came a friend's recommendation that I consider writing for The Fruitful Hollow. But would The Fruitful Hollow want my writing? Was it too raw? Would every bit of pain and anger need to be wrapped up in a pretty pious bow of faith, hope and love? Then I asked myself what kinds of blog posts I would relate to. They would be the posts by people who didn't have everything figured out. The people who were in the midst of a messy, painful journey and who looked for faith, hope and love in the midst of that. So I sent the team a link to my private blog so they could see the kind of writing I had done. If that wasn't the tone, tenor and content they were looking for, that was okay. But apparently it was. And so here I am.


Some of my posts have been the product of a long-time reflection bubbling onto the page (i.e. Fruitfulness is not productivity), but often they've been the result of a request or prompt from the team. Would you write about this theme, or that topic? And each time, these prompts seem to happen at the exact right time, while also presenting a challenge. How should I write about peace, when peace is often a struggle for me? How to write about a loss I am still grieving? And somehow, by the grace of God, words do appear on the page. And somehow, each time, I hesitate before hitting the “send” button to submit it. The post feels authentic to me and it's technically okay from a writing perspective but is it too raw, too unresolved, too [insert insecure adjectives here]? It is then that I am reminded of how blessed I am to write for The Fruitful Hollow. I have the confidence to write and submit because I can rely on the editors to make the final call on whether they want the post, and how and when to use it. I have a community that, while diverse in their experiences and at all sorts of different places in their journeys, reminds me I am not alone. And, on occasion, when a reader shares with me how the post resonates, I am reminded that God can bring good out of the pain of infertility.


 

Personal reflections on 2021


Lauren Allen (Director)

My husband Sean and I began 2021 in the midst of a NaPro journey. I had been diagnosed with LUFs and we were discerning our next step, which would have been a laparoscopy to see if I have endometriosis. The discernment process came to a halt abruptly on April 21st 2021. God hit me over the head again and called us to adoption. We are now active clients with a wonderful consulting firm and are officially “paper pregnant” (reviewing cases and awaiting our miracle(s)). Currently we are filled with joy and peace. Our infertility will most likely never go away, but I truly believe God supplies the grace to keep walking with Him. “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ dealers the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55: 8-10)


Katie S. (Managing Editor)

Well, 2021 was certainly fruitful! As well as helping launch The Fruitful Hollow, I took on a big new publishing client (editing is my day job too) and it was a big year for my family on our infertility journey too. We began a new chapter, which has been hard but, with the support and encouragement of some lovely family, friends and Fruitful Hollow team members, we have jumped into it feeling hopeful. “I can do hard things” became a bit of a mantra in our house over the past year! Meanwhile, 2021 saw the birth of our 8th godchild! Every minute that we are able to spend with those little ones is precious. I have stepped into 2022 knowing that it’ll surely surpass my expectations in some way, just like 2021 did.


Chelsea Voboril (Theological Editor)

2021 found me healing up from 2020 endometriosis surgeries and going on a journey of new medications. Currently the Pope Paul VI Institute is addressing my low progesterone and estradiol numbers, as well as a wonky thyroid. After making a decision to step away from a job in order to focus on my infertility issues, we are slowly making progress in getting my numbers all healthy! I started 2021 by choosing a word of the year (“held”) and a saint of the year (Servant of God Daphrose Rugamba). My word of the year in particular impacted and transformed the year in many ways. Particularly in the week leading up to Mothers’ day, my prayer around “held” transformed from reflecting on God the Father holding me to the Mother of God inviting *me* to hold the infant Jesus. Being invited to have a motherly embrace of my own was so comforting and humbling, and I rejoice in that reflection often.


Serenity Quesnelle (Outreach Coordinator)

[Sensitive subject: this testimony talks about pregnancy.]

At the start of 2021 I was in such a weird place. I had just decided to take a break from all fertility medication. My husband Andrew and I started to deeply discern what we wanted our family to look like. I connected with Lauren and The Fruitful Hollow team and now I can’t even imagine my life without these ladies, specifically their prayers and all of the unique things they each bring to this ministry. It’s been such a gift to be part of. In March I wrote a piece where I asked the question “You believe in God, but are you really trusting him?” It was a question I had been asking myself. In May, Andrew and I surrendered completely to the will of God. We had no idea what he was doing in our lives but we just surrendered. What that even means is hard to explain but I remember saying in prayer: “Lord, I leave all of this, all my fears, my worries, my desires, my plans, all of it at your feet. Do with it what you see fit. Thy will be done.” We were told the following week by our 6th fertility doctor that we would not conceive without pursuing IVF. And just like that a door was closed for us. Or so we thought.


On June 20th 2021, Father’s Day, after spending the morning so angry with God, I went to take a shower and “Amazing Grace” started playing. Something came over me to take a pregnancy test. I did and, to our utter and complete shock, it was positive. We are now awaiting the arrival of our baby boy, due at the end of February. Pregnancy after infertility has been an entirely new, unexpected and often very challenging experience. I hope to never forget the pain and heartbreak I experienced while in the depths of infertility while also sharing the goodness of God’s promises that my husband and I have had the honor of experiencing. I hope this next year brings you joy, hope and an understanding of God’s will in your life.


Ellen H. (Resource Coordinator)

My husband and I have been on a NaPro journey for over 4 years. We continue to take each step that we hear God calling us to take, whether that be a new medication, a new doctor, or an adoption course. Although we have no idea where our "end chapter" will take us, we do our best to be faithful in each next step, trusting that, in time, we will see how God has planned all of the puzzle pieces to fit together! In the meantime, we continue to grow our marriage, grow our memories, and find ways to fully embrace the "now" that God has given us.


Kristin D. (Sisters of Hannah Coordinator)

My husband and I married in 2010. After 4 years, with testing, medication and a diagnosis of co-factor unexplained infertility, we decided to pursue adoption. The process was difficult at times but we came to a place of peace and welcomed home our beautiful boy through private adoption in 2017. I’ve felt a nudge on my heart to help couples facing infertility for a while and was blessed to join The Fruitful Hollow in the spring of 2021.


Faith Downing (Regular Writer)

My word for the year for 2021, given to me in the quiet of prayer, was "behold." I remember entering the year expectant and perhaps even a bit apprehensive; how would this word - such a bold proclamation in the scriptures that often prefaced the most life-changing news - dictate God's working in my life? I was prepared for monumental asks from the Lord to follow the word He had placed on my heart. Instead, He cast a new light and painted a new understanding of this word's meaning for me, as the God of surprises so often does. It was not so much proclaimed over me in deep, angelic tones as it was whispered softly into the smallest moments of my day-to-day life as a wife and mother. Behold. Look in front of you. See. Witness. Ponder. It was an invitation to see with eyes of faith both the big and the small ways in which He was continually showing up for and reaching out to me. It was the profound manifested in the simple. And so, in sitting with this "behold", I often found God calling to me to simply be. To be present for the moment, whether it brought beauty or hardship, and to hold onto the grace I could undoubtedly find gifted there in the midst of it. It was as much a calling as a promise, a reminder that God was there being present to my every emotion, doubt, fear and praise and holding me through it all.


Rebecca V. (Regular Writer)

My husband and I have been journeying through infertility since mid-2018 and are currently hoping and praying for an adoption match to come through. I've written about our experience of pregnancy loss here and you can read about our journey towards adoption here.


Brittany Wahhab (Regular Writer)

Needless to say, 2020 had been a rough year, and turning 30 without the family I dreamed I’d have by then was soul crushing. It marked a 3-year whirlwind of misdiagnoses, terrible medical care in a broken system, and a loss of hope. 2021 was a turning point for me and the only difference was my complete and utter surrender to God. I remember taking a pregnancy test at the beginning of this year and for the first time sincerely prayed for God’s will, not mine.


In 2021, my husband and I began turning away from things, people and situations that were bringing us a lot of inner turmoil (including the temptation towards IVF, which had been advised by an RE as the only way we would become pregnant). We took the path that was more aligned with our faith and were guided to St. Gianna’s Clinic in De Pere by friends from church for a second opinion. We started working with an amazing team of medical professionals who respect the dignity and sanctity of human life. *Huge sigh of relief* The difference in care is like night and day, and I can finally say I fully trust the direction we are taking. The previous medical advice is long gone from our minds. We have had the blessing of optimizing our health and strengthening our courage, marriage and goals throughout a year that brought us a newfound sense of joy, faith, peace and hope. We began our NaPro journey at the end of February 2021. I prayed to God for months prior to our first NaPro appointment to show me if His answer was no and, if this was His answer, to be extremely clear so my own desires would not cloud my judgment if He was leading us down a different path for a reason. We received encouragement that my husband's low testosterone/male factor diagnosis and my dip in post-peak hormones did not mean we could not conceive biological children. After this encouraging news, I am confident we are right where he wants us. After a year of medical assistance, hormonal balancing and lifestyle changes, we are settling into our waiting season and trusting God in the process. We have made a stronger commitment to our prayer life together to listen closely to God's voice for our next steps, and we have found great comfort in receiving the same messages. Patience with our discernment process is incredibly important to us for each step we take. "Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; It speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; It will surely come, it will not delay." (Habakkuk 2:2)


Over the course of 2021 the Lord has led me through the completion of my first year in graduate school, expansion of our café and catering company, writing and designing for a university mandated by the United Nations where I connected with like-minded psychology professionals from around the globe, and writing for The Fruitful Hollow - all prayers that came to fruition. God works in mysterious ways and I accept and trust in divine timing. It has been as challenging of a journey as it has been rewarding, and I am inspired to see what the Lord makes of 2022 for all of us, and the journey to our first child.


“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

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