I read an article yesterday that gave me pause. Not only because it is morally ambiguous, but because it brings into question whether or not we should cross certain lines. I don’t want to wade into the moral debate right now and I know which theologians I side with in the debate. It made me think about my struggles with secondary infertility and miscarriage. It has been a long and excruciatingly painful road, but it’s been a road of great grace and growth as well.
Motherhood is deeply engrained in women. It is one of the reasons it is so vehemently attacked in our culture as the culture unhinges itself from reality. There are some women who say they don’t want children, but I’d wager the reasons are complicated and a lot of the time selfish. We have been told that our careers are more important than anything else. No, human beings are more important and being a mother changes us at the deepest levels of reality. It forces us to look hard at ourselves and see where we need to grow and change. It teaches us how to love sacrificially, which hurts. It’s meant to because only love that hurts is real love.
This Cross is a painful one for women and men who carry it. I’ve lost four babies in miscarriage and I have multiple friends who also have had miscarriages or not been able to conceive any children. There’s something about being a Catholic who can’t “be fruitful and multiply” that causes an even deeper pain. We constantly hear about being open to life and the good of a large family. I’ve sat through homilies on it. I’ve read articles and books on it. There are countless times I have sobbed my way through Confession telling various priests that I don’t understand why every child since my daughter has died. Why can my friends and others have children in abundance, but I can’t? My own daughter frequently asks me why friends of ours can have another child and I can’t? There are constant reminders of what I can’t give my daughter–a sibling–and that my body is rather broken in this department.
This pain couples feel who either cannot have a child or who are suffering from secondary infertility after having a child or children can drive people to desperation. Even Catholics can turn to immoral practices like IVF in order to try to have children. In fact, IVF preys on this desperation for profit. Our culture is told that having children or not having children is up to us. This is of course a lie, but it’s one we all buy into in one form or another.
I see this mentality to a lesser extent when people have said to me after a miscarriage that I can always have another child. Even people in the pro-life movement with me will cast aside my miscarried children and tell me that God will eventually send me another child or to just have faith. My lack of faith isn’t the problem. In fact, it was my forcing myself to have miscarriage after miscarriage even after each one decimated my body that demonstrated my lack of faith and obedience. I wanted it my way, even though I spent nearly four years in an ever deepening postpartum depression because I wouldn’t listen. Unlike many other women whose bodies can recover more quickly after a miscarriage, it takes me at least a year. My hormones wreak havoc on me physically and mentally.
My hormone issues are complex. I can conceive children easily, but I can no longer keep them. I’m now convinced that my daughter is an even greater gift because her twin sacrificed herself and went Home so she could live. The only child I have carried to term was originally conceived with a twin, which made my hormone levels skyrocket. My OB/GYN admitted that may be the only reason that pregnancy was different from my others. Even though losing Victoria has been painful for us and Michaela, God used that pain to give us our daughter here on earth.
What I have had to accept is that I am not everyone else. My path is not the same as my friend who has five children, or two children, or three children. I always wanted a son to give to God in the priesthood. I see the great need and so many families don’t want their sons to be priests. When I was pregnant with Andrew–who I lost 2 years ago–I said if it’s your will God to even send him to places tormented by violence then I will trust in You. But, once again. This was never up to me.
We forget so often that it is not up to us. It is up to God. The more we fight against this truth, the more miserable we become. We hold on too tight and place our will before God’s will. This always leads to our misery and pain. We don’t get to understand everything in this life. The vast majority of it is mystery. I don’t know why God has chosen to give my husband and me one child and not more. What I do know is that we have to reach a point when we relinquish our will and say: “Not my will, but Your will, Lord.” This is what we get wrong in our desire to become parents or to have more children.
During the years that I was struggling with my desire to have more children and the repeated miscarriages, I would talk to various priests about it. I would express my frustration, confusion, and pain. I always knew in the back of my mind that my particular hormone issues make my case more complicated since each miscarriage caused greater postpartum, but I’d try to ignore this reality. I’d accuse myself of being selfish for not trying to have more children even though the postpartum was so bad that I’d lost sight of myself completely for 3.5 years.
I even struggled quite a bit after my last miscarriage even though I was free of the postpartum depression. The NaPro shots dulled the symptoms a bit and regular exercise helped quite a bit, but I knew that the situation was precarious. I now can’t take NaPro shots, so I have nothing to help sustain a pregnancy or offset a very real possibility of postpartum depression. Plus, I have no reason to believe NaPro will be effective for me since my last pregnancy ended in the same manner as the previous three.
I know it’s difficult to not be able to either have a child or have more children. I face it every single day. I am constantly re-aligning my line of sight to Christ so that I am not comparing myself to others. Telling me I don’t have enough faith or I need to wait and see is to ignore what God has clearly told me. For His reasons, I am not going to have more children. Adoption may happen, but now that my husband is chronically ill, we aren’t so sure. I am finally listening to God.
The same priest over the course of the last few years has told me that it appears God’s will is for us to only have one child. I finally started listening when he rather directly told me he doesn’t think I will have anymore children. First, because he’s not usually that direct and second, because he keeps saying it and I keep ignoring him. Only when I really listened did the weight I was carrying lessen. God has given me an amazing daughter and she should be my focus. This is easier said than done, but it is correct. I must live the life God is asking me to live, not keep holding out for a different one.
It’s important that we come to accept God’s will in our lives. If we don’t, then we will suffer, not because God is being malicious, but because we can only be truly happy living in accordance with His plans. Some of the kindest and motherly women I know have never been able to have their own children. What I have noticed about all of them is that they give their love to all children they come to know. They shower them with great love, care, and affection. Many of these children don’t get that affection at home, so these women are a gift to those children. In God’s infinite wisdom, he saw the gifts of these women and asks them to spread their love outward beyond their immediate family. While my personality is different from these wonderful women, I sense that God has something He wants of me too. I just don’t know what it is yet.
We have to remember that motherhood and fatherhood are great goods, but they are not the highest goods. God is the highest Good. He is Goodness Itself. Loving and serving Him is the meaning of our lives and at times we place the goods of this life above Him. If we are placing our will above His then we are putting our desire for children above Him. We are not following His call “to be fruitful and multiply” if we are ignoring the individual call He has in mind for each one of us. There are limits that we must live in relation to fertility and parenthood.
Even if parenthood is a great good, it cannot come at the cost of compromising our moral understanding or violating God’s law. We can’t constantly rail against God because it leads to our own misery. At some point we have to stop beating against Him and rest quietly in His arms. We have to give it all back to Him and remember that the glories of Heaven will make all of the pain, agony, toil, loss, and confusion all worth it in the end. That’s living faith, hope, and charity.