C. J. Parke
Waiting for fruitfulness: infertility before marriage
Waiting can be so difficult. Maybe it’s waiting for results from an exam, or for someone to respond about plans. No matter how big or small the matter, hardly anyone likes to wait. My mom waited throughout four years of doctors appointments and exams to find out I was diagnosed with a chromosomal disorder called Turner Syndrome, and now I sit here at the age of twenty-six, waiting to see what God will do with this reality in my life. Turner Syndrome (TS) is a condition where a woman is missing half her sex chromosomes (so a singular X instead of XX), and as a result everyone with this disorder is infertile. While this reality always floated around in the back of my head growing up, it came crashing down hard when the doctor showed me the results of an ultrasound I had at the age of nineteen, which confirmed that there were no eggs. From then on, there have been countless frustrated, bitter, tearful demands to God to fix this, asking why a God who is love would allow me to carry this awful cross. And I am still waiting for answers, even as I know God is holding me close through every sob and heartache, just asking me to trust in His love and plans.
After that devastating appointment, my real waiting period began: a seemingly unending wait to see how God will use this awful blow. A wait for Him to show me how I could actually be fruitful (despite being about as barren as a person could physically be), especially if I am called to marriage, which leads me to another kind of waiting I am (not always patiently) experiencing: searching for my future spouse. Since the confirmation of my infertility, the thought of having something big to “disclose” to a more serious boyfriend has clouded any dating with the shame- and anxiety-filled knowledge that one day “the conversation” will have to happen. I find myself waiting (it never leaves, does it?) until I’ve discerned I can trust this man with the most vulnerable part of my heart, with knowledge that would change the way he would have to see me and our future together. Will he want to foster or adopt? Is potentially not having kids at all ok?
There are very few things that leave me as terrified as thinking about having that conversation in a dating relationship, which is so hard when I come to really like (maybe even love) a man who makes me laugh, supports me, leads me to God and makes me a better person. When he off-handedly mentions telling future kids and grandkids his favorite college stories, the fear, guilt and despair creeps in. However much I tell myself day after day that I am a worthy and loved daughter of God, it is a struggle not to reveal to the man in front of me the mental and spiritual war going on in my head. It is so so rough; something I wouldn’t wish even on my worst enemy. But I breathe and hope that my mind and soul will remember my worth so I can go back to laughing with him about an absurdly long homily or arguing about who may die in the final season of Stranger Things. Maybe the guilt and shame will subside for now and I will believe for a few moments that I am deserving of this man’s (or any hypothetical significant other’s) love. The thing is, though, our worth never changes, and it is the determined, pervasive work of the Bad Spirit to use our greatest vulnerabilities to make us doubt that we deserve the love of anyone, but especially the love of God and the love of our significant other.
It wasn’t until I had talked with my spiritual director and with the Sisters of Hannah that the shame that was making a deeper and deeper crack into my soul began to abate. Honestly, the guilt I had about my infertility and the way it would affect my marriage had led to multiple panic attacks during Mass and left me doubting I was worthy of receiving Communion. Getting to know my Sister of Hannah mentors allowed me an insight into marriages where spouses are loving each other so deeply through the painful reality of infertility while waiting to see what their own unique journeys would bring. Hope started to heal the deep wound in my soul. My spiritual director and I were talking about the story of the hemorrhaging woman that waited years before being healed by touching Jesus’ cloak, and in that conversation I realized two things. Firstly, God will always heal us in the ways we truly need, even if not in the way we want or expect. Secondly, we cannot begin to cope with or heal from our physical/spiritual wounds unless we bring them to God without shame, just trusting that God will always listen and respond, even if the answer is not when or what we always want or anticipate. Part of the answer will be a spouse that embraces the part of you that you find unbearable and helps you realize the unexpected and unique strength that this journey of infertility has given you.
Whether you are married when you discover you are infertilie or, like me, you are searching for the right spouse to help carry this cross just as you will help them carry theirs, do not get lost in the wait for the next painful part of your infertility journey. Take a deep breath, pray, and let yourself be loved just as much as you pour out love into all the different areas of your life. Maybe that’s in volunteering, bringing new parents some meals and offering to watch the kids so they can rest, or simply buying a coffee to welcome a new coworker, but let God open your soul and mind to all the ways you are already fruitful independent of having a spouse or children. It is a hard process and there will be times when the shame, longing and hurt may be overwhelming but you breathe, pray, reach out to our Creator who so perfectly loves you, and allow yourself to be wrapped in God’s love. Do not be afraid to reach out and touch God’s cloak, because when He turns around, the only thing you will see is a God who is love, ready to love you even more perfectly than any spouse could.