Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tales from therapy

I met with my awesome therapist this past Saturday and told her that I was doing quite well. Overall, this is true. Thank God, I haven't had another major angry episode since the chart-ripping incident a while ago, which I'm really happy about.

In general, I feel at peace most days and have come to a new level of acceptance about our current situation as a childless couple. I'm less anxious about what others think about me/us and more able to enjoy the blessings we've been given, even though that doesn't mean my heart isn't always longing to be a mother, which it is. Every single day.

My therapist and I agreed that we didn't need to meet monthly anymore, but on an as-needed basis.

But I had one particular thing I wanted to talk about with my therapist, and it's related to my feelings of anger at the Father's day blessing two Sundays ago.

I'm not sure how to put this into words, but I think it's worth trying. (And I'm sorry in advance if I say something wrong or insensitively.) Basically I've been feeling really frustrated with how some people in our Church talk about children and childbearing.

Sometimes I get the impression that people think having children is as easy as not using contraception. And then the implication is that if you have a "small family" (whoever decides how that is defined), you're probably using contraception, statistically speaking at least. If you have a "big family," you automatically get the Catholic gold star of approval.

I feel frustrated with how sometimes childbearing is spoken of as something you do, vs. something you receive as an un-earned gift.

I feel frustrated when I hear large families being lauded, and never hear praise for faithful infertile couples. Like the other day in conversation with some folks planning a mass, someone said, "We found a family with 9 kids to take the gifts up to the altar. What a witness!!" to which there was much head-nodding. And I thought, "I wonder if anyone would ever think that Mr. M and I were a witness? Would anyone ever ask us to take the gifts up? We're following Church teaching, after all. Isn't that a witness?"

(Please know that I am not at all meaning to criticize big families. I'm sure it is really hard to have more than whatever the socially acceptable number of children is, and I'm sure it's a heck of a lot of work to raise a big family! I think my gripe comes more from sometimes sensing that people laud big families as if their family size were entirely in their control: "How great and generous of them to have so many kids!" Yes, it is an awesome thing to accept many children into your family. But no one can take credit for having a big family as if it was entirely their choosing.)

I guess what I'm getting at is that I feel frustrated on a pretty frequent basis with the way people within our Church family talk about having children as if children were a "when" and not an "if."

For example, I read an article the other day about how the reason Catholic schools are failing is that people don't have as many children as they used to. Now sure, fine, lots of people contracept and artificially limit their family size. But as an infertile woman, I felt so lousy reading that article. The author only mentioned infertile couples once, and then only to comment how bad it is when infertile couples resort to IVF. Ugh.

So yeah, there are times when I feel personally responsible for demographic decline, Catholic schools failing, etc. etc. For goodness sakes, don't people realize that there's this thing called infertility and that not every Catholic has the large family they desire??

Or I'll read articles by NFP-skeptics who say NFP is bad because it has led to smaller family sizes. Same reaction: are these people living in an alternative universe where you're completely in control of how many kids you have?

Or I'll read reflections from engaged women who talk rosily about "when" they become a mother and all the wonderful homeschooling they're going to do, and how they don't care what society says, they're going to have 10 children, and I just cringe and pray that they never experience infertility because it will be a huge shocker to their plans!

I don't know. I know this sounds so pessimistic and is awfully poorly worded.

And I know I could just steer clear of articles with titles like "One-child families: boring" and "The solution to everything: large families!!!" (the first one is real; the second I made up). But the thing is, these are articles coming from my fellow Catholic brothers and sisters. My fellow pro-lifers. My fellow followers-of-Church-teaching. And I think it's pretty lousy that I have to tiptoe my way through certain articles and/or conversations, guarding my heart and leaving comments about how "You know, having a large family isn't guaranteed to anyone..." and "Not all infertile couples resort to IVF..." and "NFP isn't just to avoid pregnancy, but it can help couples struggling with infertility to get pregnant."

More than that, I dread to think about infertile couples who have left the Church because they felt like they didn't fit in, because they didn't feel that their marriage was valued, because they got a message (however wrongly interpreted) that Good Catholic Families (TM) fill a mini-van, at least. Infertility ministry, and just plain accurate theology about children and child-bearing, is not catering to a special-interest group but being welcoming in the best sense and truly evangelistic.

Okay, off the soap-box...

My therapist acknowledged that this is difficult, and that it's okay to be angry when I feel unappreciated by the Church or feel unfairly judged. She told me that when she and her husband were struggling with infertility, on three separate occasions people approached them to tell them that contraception was wrong (!!!!) I would have flipped out.

And I need to remember that God is my ultimate judge, no one else. I'm far from a perfect Catholic, but I have a clean conscience before Him that Mr. M and I are living out marital chastity, despite appearing outwardly like contraceptors (maybe to some anyway). It's all part of the hidden cross of infertility, I guess. And maybe it's good that I'm going through this, and learning to look for God's approval and not man's. Because man's sure doesn't happen often for infertile couples. At least not in my experience.

So that's my rambling tale from therapy. And hopefully my next post will be happier and include more pictures =)



  1. I love therapy. That's my first thought! My second is that I completely resonate with your feelings of frustration at how people seem to put those who have had children on a pedestal, as if it is their own accomplishment. I 100% feel that agitation, as well, when I hear people talking so affirmingly of couples with children. As if the lives that we lead are somehow less meaningful. And sadly, I have let that horrible implication infiltrate my own thinking to make me feel somehow lesser...I have perpetuated that frustrating judgmental lie in my own self!! Anyway, I could get on a soapbox too. I just wanted to tell you that I understand exactly what you are saying! :)

  2. Thank you for sharing. When my husband and I first started dating we attended church with his parents at a very conservative Catholic church. Everything was in Latin and the families were very large (several "buses" filled the church parking lot). Around our engagement when we found out we may have problems conceiving, I started dreading going to Mass there. Eventually, we switched to a more contemporary church (and by contemporary I mean post Vatican II). The switch was good for us because this church had a lot more young and single people. We felt less like a sore thumb and more like just one of the crowd. I completely understand your feelings about being forgotten or missed understood. Sometimes, I think God would like me to stand up and educate people when they make such insensitive remarks. Sometimes I do, but other times I'm either afraid and just too emotionally tired to explain. I'm praying for you!

  3. I know what you mean. My situation is a little different, but I constantly hear about married people (of course, we assume they are parents of many) and those in the priesthood and religious life. As a single person, I am- apparently- chopped liver. I also feel bad for people that have been divorced. Maybe they tried to do everything right, and their spouse skipped out anyway, or perhaps the spouse was abusive. Either way, they may be trying to live faithfully up to their marriage vows by not re-marrying. Yet no one ever reaches out to minister to them, either. I think there's a lot more we need to do for all those that do not fit into the appropriate boxes.

  4. "Sometimes I get the impression that people think having children is as easy as not using contraception."

    Oh boy- I've gotten that one many, many times!! And you're right, it's so sad that only the large families are looked at as the only available witness. It's simply not true. God plans families - some small, some large. But I think those who can get pregnant easily forget that so quickly!

    Oh, and I too would have flipped if anyone had approached me about contraception. Ugh. Judgmental stares and looks are the worst. Sometimes I wanted to wear a sign. :) But pray for those people too - because they honestly have no idea and they are judging without having any idea who you are and your story.

    Praying for you!

  5. One thing DM and I have learned is: no matter who you are or what you are facing people are always going to have something to say. There are always opinions, concerns and judgements. Outsiders to your life will never know the whole story or feel what you feel. Most people are NOT out to get you or hurt you but sometimes their actions and words do. ...That is why there are so many Bible verses like Eph 4:29. Or ones that say to be quick to listen and slow to speak...

    I also know that in suffering/trials it is always so much more easier to spot what you don't have.
    It's easy to let your worst fears entertain your mind and even cause you analyze situations incorrectly.
    In suffering it is all to easy to let the very thing you want becomes an idol in life...
    In suffering there is not a lot that people can actually say or do to make the pain go away.
    In suffering with IF it is all too easy to equate life celebrations of others to mean that you are not being valued. This is a dangerous equation... Nowhere in the Bible does it say that the praises of men will determine your value... most of the time it is the opposite.

    I say all of this coming from a heart very burdened with the weight of IF... for DM and I, our mistakes where those above... we let our fears get to us. We let ourselves think we knew what everyone else was thinking, we let the wanting a baby become almost like an idol because of the way we were obsessing over it...

    We found such freedom in turning our focus to God. We found freedom in making sure that the only one we pleased was God and not our fears... or what others thought...

    I hope your suffering will be short... Praying for you!

    1. Thanks for your (and everyone's) comments, AM =) Everything you say here is 100% right. Learning to not care about what other people think is important, and hard, no matter what the circumstance. There is real freedom in Christ and His love!

      I guess overall what bothers me the most is not so much that people can say hurtful things re: our situation of IF, but that people say things about childbearing, the place in children in marriage, etc. that are just plain wrong, like saying/implying that every couple has kids or that marriages without kids are somehow not fully marriages. I'm sure a lot of my reaction comes from insecurity, or pain at our childlessness, but some of it comes from frustration as theological/pastoral inaccuracy. I can let it go (almost) for myself, but I really get angry on behalf of other IF sufferers who might have a more tenuous relationship with the faith or their parish. Hearing messages that makes you think your marriage isn't valued because you don't have kids is not just "offensive" - it's wrong. Theologically wrong, pastorally wrong, etc.

      So that's my little diatribe =) But I so so SO completely agree with what you said and find you (and the others) so inspiring for this difficult journey!

    2. I think you are going to be one of many amazing catalyst in seeing re-education and getting help to those who are hurting. Keep writing :)

  6. It is hard to be unfairly judged by a Church and people who are supposed to be all-loving. Darn that human nature. I wish more people would step into other people's shoes for awhile before they say things ... don't people think a little that "maybe there's someone who is infertile, or single, or recently lost a baby" before they laud the 9-child family taking up the gifts? Like you, I think it would have been nice if one person would have stepped in to suggest something to that effect during your conversation.
    And yes, it still gets me when all the women who are engaged / dating / married plan their lives with rose-colored glasses, dreaming of the When, not the If. We know better.

  7. I know exactly what you mean. I feel like everyone stares at DH and me at mass wondering when we are going to have children. I know part of that is my own insecurities. My church is full of large families that Home school. It is so hard! Thanks for posting.

  8. I think its great you're talking to a therapist. Just want to say that out-front while I then proceed to commiserate with you on everything else you wrote! I read something on the internet that upset me the other day (surprise!) and it was an article talking about how so and so could deal with their post baby body because "they were among the elite ranks: mommies" and I just wished so badly to be able to speak with her and let her know another perspective. So you're reproductive organs work, congrats. So your body is a healthy, normal body and you decided NOT to abort. Gold star for you! Yes, being a mom is important and special but its not really something you get to CHOOSE to do, it just happens to you! Unfortunately for Catholics nowadays, so many people do choose to REFUSE this gift, or even acknowledge that its a gift worth humbly receiving, which then makes the whole equation so backward and frustrating. And we get this crazy pendulum swing of now just focusing on REALLY BIG families which, let's face it, isn't always the best solution for everyone either! But for me the light bulb moment was when I realized that I was worried so much about people THINKING I was using contraception because ::drumroll:: I had done the same thing prior to getting married. If I hadn't outright judged families then at some level I at least wondered. That was hard to swallow. I realized at some point I was one of those judge-y churchy people that I hated so much when I was agnostic. Sometimes I wished I could go back to the "old days" when people just accepted the children they were given and we could get rid of the suspicion if someone was "sinning" by using contraception to begin with. (Did those "old days" really exist?) Of course then I would have just had the problem of being pitied by everyone for having no/few children. Now I just try to talk about NFP freely as if all Catholics (and really people, actually) just KNOW about it because, well, they should.

    1. All that to say that at my "catholic mommy" group the other day (where literally, all of the women involved have had at least 2 years of infertility or repeat miscarriage, except for the woman I'm about to talk about) this woman casually mentioned how she was getting comments about if all those children were hers, etc., and how to deal now that her children understood. And I had the realization that for her, she gets awkward comments everywhere she goes, just maybe not in Catholic circles (although, I'm sure my catholic MIL would make comments to her, so that's not entirely true!) whereas I don't get any comments anywhere I go, except in my Catholic circles (and really, I don't get comments directly, its like what you say earlier, the implication...). I guess either life you get, as a Catholic woman open to life you're bound to comments that disturb the heart. And it really sucks when they are from people that value and have the same priorities as you do :(