Saturday, October 5, 2013

Retreat. Relapse. Revelation.

We went on a retreat last weekend, deep in the mountain woods. We stayed at a big old home, normally meant for family reunions, I think. It was BIG! Eight bedrooms, a big kitchen, dining room, living room, basement. Mr. M and I got there early and he spent an hour transforming the basement "rec room" into a chapel =) Accomplished with the help of religious pictures from our home, gold-colored tablecloths, moving couches, stacking furniture, etc. (Forgot to take a picture!!) It was an incredibly peaceful room - you felt like you were tucked away from the world.

It's bigger than it looks from this angle. And there's a porch on the side and back.
 Context: the Wednesday before retreat, I had a painful test that yielded disappointing results. And the week before that, we had found out that our current apartment would probably not be approved in an adoption home study. Plus, being a married couples' retreat, our fellow retreatants were going to include a seven-month pregnant woman and a mother with her two-month old. (All the couples are good friends of ours, and they know about our IF struggles; but this was not going to be an infertility retreat, that's for sure!) So I knew this retreat would be intense - I was taking into it a very bruised and battered heart, bracing for more medical appointments in the coming weeks.
The retreat structure was simple: meals together, silence, talks by our spiritual director, time for silent prayer, rest, conversation with your spouse. The setting was so perfect. Tucked in the autumn woods, far away from traffic, no cell phone or internet service, ahhh. Lots of room to walk and think and pray.

View of the woods through the back screen door. Everything smelled so woodsy =)
I thought it would be intense...and I was right. 
The very first talk, Father walks us through a catechesis on marriage. "Matrimonial," he begins, "comes from the Latin word for Mother..." Oh darn it, why did I think I could get through this without tissues? I got up twice during that talk to blow my nose and dry my eyes. Once when the group was asked to describe motherhood, and all I could think was, That's not me, not me, not me

Father was quick to add throughout that a married couple's call to be father and mother does not depend on actually having living children. Its about their fatherly or motherly care for other people. My head gets heart apparently does not. As Father talked, I felt this chasm open up in my soul, the oceans of grief bubbling up once again, threatening to spill out of my eyes. Why not us? Why not us? my heart pounded. Motherhood...that's a door I've locked and sealed, because to look behind it is too painful.

From that first conference throughout the entire day on Saturday, I grieved as I haven't allowed myself to do in a long time. Through Father's words, through silence, through having nothing to do but pray and be still, God invited me to go with Him to a place deep within that I generally keep under tight lock and key: the place where my heart is bleeding and crying over not being a mother...the room where I keep all my hopes for motherhood, all my dreams for a future child. Come with me there, I heard Him say. I'm there too.

Beautiful mountain scene to lighten the mood =) We took this from a panorama near the house.
Maybe some journal entries can give a better picture of the state of my soul during the retreat:

Thoughts (1st break)

I can't hear what anyone is saying b/c the sound of pain, heartache, grief  & rage is so strong in my ears. It blocks everything else out. And no one else hears it, which is all the more isolating.

I just want to start running & not stop until I am far, far away & have left the pain behind - except that's impossible b/c the pain is in me, in my broken body, my fruitless womb.

I feel like I'm living behind a thick glass window & am screaming at the top of my lungs but no one can hear me & everyone else is acting as if nothing is wrong, everything is perfect, words like mother & father & child are just normal, run of the mill words instead of arrows w/ such power, such beautiful force that they pierce to my very soul & leave me wounded, bleeding, swords in my heart like Mary.

I know the anger is hiding grief, because if I stop shouting, I'll weep.

For the record, Father's talks on marriage were great. I took a lot of notes and plan to ponder them. But from that very first morning, it became clear that my retreat was going to be about addressing my grief, and my anger towards God. I felt so raw that it scared me...

By the afternoon, I felt so weepy that I skipped out on the final conference of the day. (It turned out to be about suffering and hope, ha!) I'm usually not a skipper, but I was afraid that I literally would start weeping in front of everyone and I'm not humble enough to do that...

So I went for a walk in the woods, and I came upon a bench overlooking an idyllic fall scene.

The most beautiful place I've ever cried my eyes out.
I sat on the bench and just cried. Ugly cries. Cries you don't want anyone to see. Sobbing, sniffling cries. Cries from the heart - Why, God? How long, o Lord? Where are you?? It felt awful and healing and terrifying and refreshing all at the same time. 

I thought a lot about grief in those moments. About the fact that infertility is such a unique kind of grief. No one has died (of course miscarriage is its own kind of grief - I haven't experienced that, so I can't speak to it), so why all the tears? There's just a huge lack. Someone is missing. Someone whom you've never met. Doesn't that sound strange?

And the grief doesn't hit and then fade. There's no clear break - the person is dead - and then you know that that's what you have to accept, that's what you have to wrestle with. (Hopefully it's clear that I'm not trying to minimize the grief after death - just pointing out some differences with IF grief.) But with infertility, there's such an uncertainty, it's almost unbearable! If I just knew that we would never conceive, that would be the hardest thing in the world to digest. But at least it would give us a clear message, a clear "no," and we could grieve and move forward. But every month is a "maybe" - every month there's hope, and then grief - it's like I was crying over the accumulated grief of the past 29 months of hoping for a baby. That's a lot of grief! It's like barnacles on a boat or something - every once in a while, gotta take the hose and get those suckers off!

So yeah. I had a good cry. It was cleansing, in the end. And I felt God there, there in my grief, more than I have for a long time. I'm sure He was there all the time  - I just was too angry at Him to look.


I'd be lying if I said the retreat was fruitless. On the contrary. To my broken, wounded heart, Jesus gave me such a word that I'm going to live off of that for a while...

It happened during mass on Saturday. I was grieving, yearning for comfort, asking God, What about us? We're not mother and father. Our marriage isn't living out physical motherhood and fatherhood. What do we do now?

From the stillness of the cross, I hear...Love. Just love.

Great. What a Sunday School answer! "Love" Come can't be that easy.

But then I got off my high horse and let it sink in. This is what I wrote in my journal later:

"Just love," Jesus says to my heart. "Just love and let me take care of the fruit."

Love is never wasted. There is always fruit. Sometimes that fruit is so physical, so tangible, that you give it a name, clothe it, feed it. ("That's the kind of fruit I want," I say to Jesus.)

But sometimes the fruit of love is intangible, unmeasurable, invisible. Invisible even in our own eyes. 

"How easy it is," I think. "How easy it is to have a child, to be able to point to someone and say, 'That is our fruit. That is our love, made visible.'" Again, my concern for outward things.

Love. A verb. Something to do, now. Small enough, big enough. Enough.

Love is suffering. Love is giving yourself. Love is entregarse [a Spanish word that means "to entrust yourself completely to another"]

So yeah. Love. That's the message I got from God. Love. Love my husband - maybe that love will be manifested in a child someday. Maybe it won't. Love those whom I serve. Love the poor. Love my friends. Who can argue with that? Love is always fruitful. That was the big word of comfort I received. I am not wasting my life!!!! it said to me. Even if I never become a mother, mine is not a wasted life because I can love!

It connects so well with my favorite line ever from Pope Benedict: The vocation to love cannot be impeded by an organic condition. (He's talking specifically about infertility there.) I want to cry with joy when I hear that. My vocation to love is not impeded by my inability to conceive, by the polyps in my uterus, by the lack of a child in our home! It's not!! I can still love, and my life can be beautiful.

In conclusion, I think I need a retreat about every month =) Barring that, just more time to be with God, to feel His comfort, to feel my own grief. This has been quite the journey, that's for sure.



  1. Beautiful--the retreat and the revelation. Thank you for sharing this!
    And yes, if only we could all go on a retreat every month :-)

  2. Ok, blogger ate my original comment. I am so glad you were able to open up and share your grief with Jesus! It is not a pretty door of our heart to open but it is so good when we share it with Him. I would love to go on a retreat every month around CD1 ;)

  3. What a beautiful reflection. It IS soooooo hard sometimes in the pain and anger to open our hearts to God (usually I experience my darkest/alone moments when up in the middle of the night). So amazing that even in the midst of relections on motherhood/fatherhood you opened your heart and allowed yourself to grieve. Plus I think its especially profound that you heard the call to LOVE just as we were approaching St. Therese's feastday. I think I will be working on that for the rest of my time on earth. Thank you for sharing your heart!!!!

  4. It sounds like you had such a fantastic retreat! It's never easy, of course, to go through all of that, but I love that you were so open with God and thank you so much for sharing that with us!

    While there are many facets of infertility and singleness that are different, there are so many things that you mention in this post that I recognize so much. There is someone missing in my life that I have never met, and yet there is this hole. Every day is a day that I could meet them, so it's hard to move past that. I have literally tried running with the pain was that bad. It felt like running could be the only possible thing that would help, and it didn't help in the slightest because I couldn't get even a second of distance from the pain. And finally, though spiritual motherhood is not something that I want to accept as the only fulfillment to my vocation, letting go and saying that I will serve God and love the people in my life, no matter what happens in terms of marriage and family...

    Anyway, I know it's not exactly the same, but I'm praying for you, and I'm so glad that you were able to let God into the rawness and the grief where He can heal!

  5. My heart breaks for you! Hugs!

  6. Your reflections on love made me think of that moment in Harry Potter when he confirms with Dumbledore that "Power that the Dark Lord knows not" means that Harry can love and Voldemort can't. Harry says (or thinks) "Big Deal!" because love doesn't seem like it can stand up to power or do much for anyone.

    But of course, Harry is completely underestimating what love is and what it can do. Your life will be fruitful. Your life is fruitful right now, because you can love.

  7. I love this entire post, but especially your description of IF as a "unique kind of grief." Of course I feel exactly what you describe, but I had never put it all together like that. I truly is a unique kind of grief. Sending hugs! So happy our Lord spoke to you :)

  8. I'm so glad you shared this...but upset i'm so late reading it! It seems this retreat was good for you. The best retreat I went on I skipped all the talks too and just walked outside with a priest, so, I understand how that can be incredibly healing to just lay it all out there. I love the way you clearly recapped this retreat. Do you think your husband had a similar experience? And I LOVE that Pope Benny quote!