“There’s nothing harder than learning how to receive.” -Over the Rhine
When we started out as newly marrieds, learning NFP, we didn’t know anyone else who was married with children. Nearly all of my friends were single, and none of Atticus’ married friends lived nearby. We were basically on our own. It was both good and not so good. When we got pregnant during the first cycle, lost the baby, then took more than a year to get pregnant again, it was uncharted territory for us. During a routine google search, I accidentally stumbled upon the “Catholic Infertility blogs” when I was desperate, hoping and praying for another baby. This lovely woman opened the door for me into a world of women who were struggling like I was and now am again.
When we conceived Maggie, we still did not have any friends with children. Now that we’ve lived here for more than three years and attend a parish where people live the Catholic faith in full, we know many people with many children. We’ve accepted that by running in circles with Catholics who are open to life, there will be a lot of life always swirling around us. As my friend once said, “Babies come with the territory.” We love that.
What I didn’t realize was just how many people, so close to me, were struggling with fertility too. They gradually emerged, and it seemed for every family with four, five, or six children (or more!), there was one with aching hearts and waiting arms. It actually surprised me. I wasn’t expecting to be in such good company in my sub-fertility. It still surprises me to know more women who struggle with fertility than who don’t.
I often talk to God, my husband, sometimes the dog if no one else is around, about the fact that some people who have so much keep receiving more, while some people whose hearts are broken into a thousand pieces while waiting still continue to wait. I sometimes ask God, “Are you for real? Is this some kind of joke?” What seems particularly special is when people use contraception, go off, and immediately get pregnant. It is so tempting to say to God, “Oh, are we rewarding bad behavior now?” Then I shake my fist at the sky and throw a pity party for me and all my friends. For all my friends. Not just the ones like me, who struggle to conceive. But for those who also struggle with what seems to many like “too many” conceptions.
We’re two sides of the same coin. It’s the coin that’s part and parcel of embracing the moral law regarding sexuality. God’s law is clearly and concisely summed up as such:
A child is always a gift. A child is only a gift.
Families with many children witness to a selfish, fearful culture the truth that a child is always a gift. Even when you’re overwhelmed and wondering how another body is ever going to fit in your house, your heart. Ask any mom of more than 3 kids, and she’ll tell you about all the strangers who feel a need to comment on her family size, ask her if she knows how that happens, or tell her all their reasons for not having more, as though they had to justify it to someone. A large family serves as a reminder of the gifts that our culture, desiring above all to avoid suffering, have rejected.
My friends who keep having babies, they listen when God tells them to open their hands, and even when those hands are overflowing, they do not close them.
On the other side of the coin is me and all my sub-fertile friends. The secular culture puts us on the “IVF pipeline”. You try for a year, then they put you on Clomid. If that doesn’t work, their bag of tricks is empty and you’re shunted off to the land of artificial insemination, donor egg harvests, and creating human beings in petri dishes instead of through the loving embrace of husband and wife. Rather than trying to help a woman become healthy enough to conceive a child “the old fashioned way” these doctors play God, saying “You just let me worry about it. We’ll get you pregnant, one way or another.” The biggest problem with going down this rabbit hole is that it turns the gift of human life into a commodity. For $15,000 you too can have a 25% chance of carrying a pregnancy to term…oh, and by the way we create and discard 26 human beings for every live birth! How do you like those odds?
The couple who believes that children deserve to be created in the loving embrace of husband and wife, and not in a petri dish in a labratory, has no voice in modern discussions of infertility, aside from NaPro technology, which is largely unknown and undiscussed in secular circles. Discussion baords, magazines, awareness campaigns, all are focused on the alphbet soup of technologies which reduce the gift of life to a science experiment.
There is no place outside of the Church for people who know that we don’t have a right to have a child whenever we wish, and only whenever we wish. Just as the family with many children accepts children as the gift they always are, the family which suffers from infertility but refuses immoral technologies accepts the truth that children are only gifts. They are not trophies, they are not possesions, and they are not an earned right. There is nothing any one of us could ever do to “earn the right” to be given a human life to grow, nourish, and help lead to heaven. The definition of a gift.
We listen when God tells us to open our hands, and even when they remain empty, the most painful emptiness of our lives, we do not close them. We refuse to revoke our openness because God has not gifted us. We refuse to revoke our openness because God has gifted us “too much”. That’s what it means to be open to life, to learn to receive. You tell me, what lesson can be harder to learn?