When your child experiences infertility: your story
On July 26 the Church celebrates the feast of Sts. Anne and Joachim, parents of Our Lady, and the fourth Sunday of July is therefore known as grandparents day. Our Catholic tradition regarding Sts. Anne and Joachim touches both infertility and grandparenthood. We learn through some sources that Sts. Anne and Joachim experienced infertility until an old age, at which point they were able to conceive Mary through much prayer and sacrifice. We then acknowledge that they became grandparents to our Savior, Jesus Christ. They stand at a unique juncture of praying for infertility and grandparents. We consider that in this post: our parents who may yearn for biological grandchildren, but see that unfulfilled in their child's infertility. We asked some parents of couples on The Fruitful Hollow team a bit about their perspective on their child’s infertility journey and we are grateful to them for sharing their experience. If you are the parent or grandparent of someone carrying the cross of infertility, perhaps you will relate to what they share here.
Sharing their journey
When your son/daughter and their spouse first shared that they were experiencing infertility, how do you remember that moment? What kind of emotions or thoughts came up for you?
Parent 1: It was a gradual revelation as they dealt with some medical issues. We were hopeful that issues would be resolved. We wanted them to know we love them and would help in any way we could.
Parent 2: I was hopeful and thought that it would be temporary. I had had friends who suffered through years of infertility and finally were able to conceive and have children.
Parent 3: Sadness. I felt this couple was truly meant for each other and children would add to their lives. I also felt they could use our prayers and somehow they would someday have a family of their own.
Parent 4: It has been a few years since they told us they were struggling with infertility. Hearing that they were going through this and knowing that there isn't much I could do or say that would be of any help was very hard. As a parent, you just want to help and to take away the pain and sadness they are experiencing. All I can do is listen if they want to talk.
Parent 5: Initially I assumed it was a temporary thing. It was very early in their marriage and I thought that it would happen for them eventually. I guess I still think that it might. I am one of six children and my husband is one of nine. I got pregnant very quickly so I assumed it would be the same for my children; I never really thought about infertility. Although I knew of couples who never had children, I always assumed that it was their choice not to, instead of considering that they might be bearing the cross of infertility. As their journey has progressed, I have struggled to find words to comfort them. The strongest emotion that I have experienced is helplessness. I’m sure I have said all the wrong things along the way. They are now parents through adoption and it is a beautiful thing to witness. Although adoption is a very difficult journey, it is truly a blessing and my husband and I truly feel that this was God’s plan for them. We are very proud of the life that they are making for our three beautiful grandchildren. Although one isn’t officially ours, we love her and are happy to have her in our heart family.
How have your expectations of family life changed? Have you had to do your own grieving surrounding this topic? If so, what has that grief been like? (As a reminder, the 5 stages of grief include: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.)
Parent 1: Another of our children and their spouse have had struggles with infertility so some of the feelings and concerns were not new to us. Through our own marriage we have learned not to have too many expectations because God has a plan for us that may not be what we expect.
Parent 2: I am sad that they may not get to enjoy having their own children and all the happiness that children can bring throughout one's entire life. I am saddened by the grandchildren that we may never enjoy as well and the whole cycle of life that I imagined. Yes, I grieve - for them and for us. As far as the stages of grief go, I guess I denied it at first by thinking it was a passing stage.
Parent 3: We have been extremely lucky with our family. With seven children of our own, I have felt that every one of them has chosen a spouse who truly suits them. We have experienced grief over a miscarriage and news that one of our daughters-in-law could not have other children due to medical problems, but we have not ourselves experienced many changes.
Parents 4: It has become increasingly hard for me to listen to my friends and co-workers who do have grandchildren. My emotions range from jealousy or envy that they have grandchildren and we don’t, to anger around always hearing about their grandkids and seeing their pictures and videos and not having some of my own to share. My daughter and her husband would be amazing parents. Why does our Heavenly Father give a child to couples who abuse and neglect their children instead of giving them to my daughter and her husband?
Parent 5: My expectation of family life is the same. I view “family” in the larger sense of all of those we love and journey through life with. Family is more to me than just father, mother and children.
How have you supported your son/daughter and their spouse through this difficulty?
Parent 1: We try to be available to listen, learn, support and assist financially or with our presence as needed.
Parent 2: I don't think I've been very good at this. I tried to be hopeful but I later realized that that came across as being uncaring. I’ve learned that just listening is what is needed, without trying to make things better. Compassion and understanding, acknowledgement and companionship through the pain and loss is more what is needed.
Parent 3: We have stood behind them in whatever decisions they have made. It is for them to decide what road to take and know we will always be there for support.
Parent 4: I am not sure that I have been of much support. I have gotten to the point where I know if I ask where they are at in the process of exploring other alternatives (ie. adoption or foster care) I probably only cause them more pain.
Parent 5: Although we have tried to support them through this journey, I’m sure we have fallen short many times in this regard.
What do you hope that your son/daughter and their spouse know in the midst of this?
Parent 1: That we love them and that God has a plan for them and their marriage.
Parent 2: That we understand what great pain they are living and we will support them through any and all treatment and choices that they make.
Parent 3: That we love them and pray that their bond will continue to stay as strong as it is now. They have been through a lot with the adoption process and are working hard on raising their son, the answer to our prayers.
Parent 4: That we are here for them and no matter what happens, to never give up on faith and hope and the love they have for one another.
Parent 5: I want them to know that God loves them. I don’t believe that he intentionally gives us the struggles that we endure in life, but He is always there to walk beside us through them. I also want them to know how proud we are that they have chosen to grow their family by accepting and loving children that weren’t born of their womb, but in their heart. We love all of our biological and adopted grandchildren equally.
What you know now
What is one thing you have learned about couples experiencing infertility?
Parent 1: I’ve learned not to make assumptions about a couple’s struggles, especially being careful not to make judgements about the choices of people we don’t know well. Sometimes having few or no children is not a choice!
Parent 2: I have learned how difficult it is for them to navigate through childlessness. When everyone around them is having babies, they are reminded of what they don't have at every turn. I’ve learned that it is hard for them to envision the possibility of a future without children and that the rest of the world doesn't really understand their pain.
Parent 3: Each couple has to work together and decide how they can deal with the problem and what options are possible based on their finances and what road their future will take. Each couple is unique and the answer for one couple may not work for another.
Parent 4: One of my aunts has a son and daughter-in-law who are also struggling with infertility and have been for at least eight years. I am told that the number of couples experiencing infertility has increased in the last couple of decades and some of the reasons may be due to environmental issues, diet or genetics.
Parent 5: I have learned how isolating and painful the journey of infertility is. I think it is beautiful that this ministry has grown and flourished and continues to bring people together from around the world. My hope and prayer is that it continues to be a valuable resource for many.
What is one thing you wish others knew about couples experiencing infertility?
Parent 1: It is with them every day. No matter how strong their faith, it is difficult and painful.
Parent 3: It is necessary to face the problems together as a couple and show each other just how each one feels in order to decide the best path to follow.
Parent 4: I would simply ask others to pray for those couples who are struggling with infertility.
Parent 5: I wish others knew how painful and isolating infertility is, and how hurtful seemingly innocent comments can be.
How has witnessing your son/daughter and their spouse experience infertility affected your faith life? How has it impacted your prayer for them?
Parent 1: I admire that it does not affect the strength of their faith. I pray for them every day.
Parent 2: They are in my prayers daily. I question why now and then, but I have a strong enough faith to know that there has to be a reason.
Parent 3: We have seen them extremely happy while anticipating an adoption, then very depressed when it did not occur. But their faith held and in time all of our prayers were answered. We pray for them and our other children every day. Our prayers may differ over time but we always pray for their continued happiness.
Parent 4: My husband is far better at praying and talking with God daily than I am but, I have made an effort to thank God every day for my family and all that he has blessed us with, offering a special intention for our daughter and son-in-law.
Parent 5: My prayer for them is that they continue to grow in their faith and rely on God to comfort them on their journey. He is walking step by step with them.
If you are a parent, grandparent friend of someone who has shared that they are carrying the cross of infertility, this blog post will give you lots of information and ideas about how you can support them on their journey. Thank you for taking the time to think of them and consider how to help them.