Saturday, November 22, 2014

"When are you going to have children?"

Mr. M's Musings again-

Preparing for the Thanksgiving/Advent/Christmas season is mostly a joyful process for Ecce and Mr. M. Time to get the old dust off of the decorations. Time to start signing hymns and carols. Time to put together a magical, culinary shopping list for a glorious gastrointestinal pleasing feast. And, above all, time to pray a little more deeply into the mysteries of the seasons of Advent and Christmas. Above all, it is primarily about Christ at our house. (Etymology lesson: holiday is a short hand way for saying holy - days!!! Put that into the secular mainstream and they wouldn't be able to greet you with anything at department stores without offending people!)

Yet, the holidays bring an extra challenge of preparation for those struggling with infertility. It is a time to prepare our hearts for the inevitable obstacles of the holidays. Yes, you probably know what I am talking about - dealing with all the little children running around, the pregnant relatives, the surprise pregnancy announcements over a cup of egg nog, and the questions. Our least favorite question - "When are you going to start to have children?" 

I wish we could say it was rare to get this question, but it is not. We got this question last year from a well-wishing cousin who we see once a year. To make matters worse, it came on the heels of his own completely unexpected pregnancy announcement. Ecce immediately headed for the bathroom in emotional upheaval and I was left face to face with the perpetrator of privacy. So my mind thought in a split second - do I brake out in anger here? Do I play the privacy card? Do I pretend I didn't hear him? What do I say? The holiday cheer was quickly slipping into holiday gloom.

I think I mumbled at first and then I was honest since he asked. "Well actually we are struggling with infertility." I didn't want to say it. I mean we have an anonymous blog for a reason. But I said it. So I left those words hang in the air for what seemed like an eternity. I didn't intend to be mean or to steal his joy, but I was just shocked by the question - so I gave him an honest answer. 

That was the most gracious response I could come up with at the time. But it's that time again and I need to get ready spiritually for the questions. So I am putting together an action plan ready with the right response this time. Here is what I have come up. 

To that soul-piercing question "When are you going to have children?" We could answer them with an equally invasive question "Did you have sex last night?" If that makes them uncomfortable because it is private, then perhaps they would realize that the result of that sex act is also private! But given that this blog post is not about "how to alienate your family this holiday," I am seriously contemplating giving this answer this year: "we have been blessed with none so far." 

Ecce in a moving piece has talked about "being blessed by one" here, but I think if we truly reflect upon our infertility that it has had blessings in it too. Despite the pain, I think we could truly mean it and say that "we have been blessed with none." Of course, infertility has been major heartbreak after major heartbreak. Most days, we would probably like to respond in scrooge like fashion that "we have been cursed with none!" Can you imagine the family's expression after that one?!

But really, do I wish I wouldn't have to say "we have been blessed with none so far?" Yes, I like privacy. Do I want the person's compassion? Yes, I need it for healing. And do I want them to know that we have been trying to have children and we are suffering! Absolutely. But I also want them to know that we remain blessed despite the broken biology. Even more importantly, I want them to know that family size is neither indicative of the absence of God's blessings nor proof of a holy life. And I want others to know how blessedness can come through brokenness. Isn't that the whole Christmas message after all? A light is revealed to the world in the darkness.  I think this phrase "we have been blessed with none so far" captures all of those sentiments and is a statement of our faith in a hope that goes beyond whether or not we receive children. It is statement of faith in what matters this holiday season - our love and fruitfulness in Christ. 

What do you think of my response? Too cheeky? Too awkward? Too unreal and other-worldly? 

What do you do with the holiday questions? 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mr. M's Retreat Recap

Well, Ecce and I had a wonderful retreat as she shared in her excellent post. We will definitely be pondering the many things learned at the retreat for the next several weeks or months. Here are some of the things that struck me during the weekend. I hope they provide nuggets for reflection in your own life and in that way we can extend the retreat's experience to you. I suggest you take some of these nuggets to meditation. That's what I'm doing the next few weeks after I collected them together!

1.) We are not alone; and community is so important. We all know this truth, but it makes a big difference once you meet other couples struggling on this road of infertility. It was so great to have a community to share this struggle with on this weekend retreat. Perhaps what I enjoyed best was just talking to other couples about their situations and learning from them on how they handled it.

2.) We are called to grieve and to hope simultaneously. It sounds paradoxical, but it is true. St. Paul tells us that we are "saved in hope" and Christ tells us "blessed are those who mourn." We need both and both are ok! Problems happen when you do only one or the other. If you just grieve, then the joy will be sucked out of your relationship. If you just hope, then you will just end up stifling all of that grief and it will manifest itself in very unhealthy ways, like rage or severe depression. Depending on who you are, we tend to either fall in the category of people that try to do away with either grief or hope. I have definitely been on the side of hope too long and try to stuff the grief in either myself or my spouse. This, I learned, is not good! I have found that it is okay to grieve. The key to joy is not suppressing grief, but finding a balance of both grief and hope. This is really freeing when you think about it. We tend to think that our marriages or relationships are in bad shape if there is grief. But grief alone doesn't signal doom. It is grief without hope or too much grief and not enough hope that is a problem. Likewise, our relationships are in bad shape if there is only talk of hope, happiness, and all those fluffy good cliche sayings we tell each other when we are down, like "God will provide" or "God will take care of it." These things aren't completely wrong, but if you don't let the grief bubble up then that is treating life in light of the Resurrection and not the Cross as well. No, we need to let raw emotions just be in balance with hope in God or our relationship will lose joy. It is always okay to feel the hurt.

3.) We find the proper balance of grief and hope by examining our own behaviors. These questions, printed as a really helpful self-examination for infertile couples, really hit home on the retreat and helped me to sort out that my balance was off: "Do I feel that if only I had a child, then my life would begin, then I'd be happy?" "If I were to weigh the number of times I daily think about my future child versus the number of times I think about glorifying God, would my concern for a child outweigh my desire to glorify God?" "Do I feel incomplete, unfulfilled, less-than because I am not a parent? Am I therefore seeking in parenthood what can only be found in God?" Yeah, these questions are soul-wrenching and tough, but so helpful to purify our hearts so we have authentic motherly and fatherly hearts! Lord make us have fatherly and motherly hearts.

4.) Just as it is unfair to us to be judged or perceived as less-than because of our family size, we should be careful to not judge others as unfit parents for their family size too. A temptation of infertile couples is to say that "she or he shouldn't be a parent; life is so unfair."

5.) Nowhere in the Bible does it say "life is fair." Just ask Job. In fact, it says "trust in God and He will help us through the pain of many unfair situations." This side of heaven things are not going to be worked out for us completely.

6.) It's not just "the Lord won't give you too much to handle," but also "we are walking with the Lord." Sometimes things are too much for us to handle. It is at this point that we need to turn them over to the Lord who is walking with us. The key is to see the Lord walking with us, suffering with us, and loving us. We can't do this alone. We need his strength. Only once we recognize this, then will we be able to recognize Mother Teresa's words.

7.) Rachel sums up infertile couple's feelings pretty well, "Give me children or I will die." How many of us have felt the same thing? It is a clear statement of the wound, but at the same time we don't want to fall into Rachel's wound here. The problem here with her statement is that our identity is deeper than our desire for children or whether or not we receive children. There is something always worth living for even when children do not come. If God is love, then who are we? We are loved. Regardless of the situation we are in, we are loved. Our deepest call is to be loved and to love. Ultimately, it is to be loved and to love God. God is what we yearn for - Rachel needs a radical transformation here. She needs to see we embody love. Dwell on that.

8.) "If Jesus can turn water into wine, imagine what he can do with a single tear?" - Deacon Tony on the retreat quoting someone else

9.) Men: be present, don't fix it. As guys we want to "fix" the problem of infertility, but there isn't anything to be done about it. It is out of our control. So we need to not "fix" but be present.

10.) One of the presenters courageously presented her rage about the situation of infertility and how she was essentially saying with her anger that "I am suffering because of your infertility [to the man]." She was giving her "infertility over to Satan" by allowing herself to rage. She forgot about the blessing of her husband and her loving home. She allowed anger to poison her heart and marriage. She then realized that she was desiring a "child in her image and not God's image." That's what she wanted that was driving all of this - she was not desiring a child as a gift who is in the mind of God, but mourning imaginary children she wanted on her own terms. Do we mourn imaginary children? Certainly there is a place for grieving the loss of our dream to have children together, but we shouldn't fantasize about a life other than our own with imaginary children from imaginary lovers who are not who God gave us. Otherwise, it will poison our life.

11.) Cry out that you are forsaken and that you are thirsty, but also allow God to answer. 

12.) "Are you fruitful?" The answer is already set to that question: yes you are fruitful because of your love for one another. But the real question is "Is there something more God would like to give us as a couple?" "What is the more God wants to give us?"

13.) Children are ________. After you fill in the blank, go seek that out. Let God fill it. Pray about it.

14.) Adoption is primarily about loving the child (and helping the birthmom), but there is no reason why it can't also be about your personal healing too. True, adoption doesn't take away the pain of infertility completely, but it can contribute to your healing of you wanting to be a mother and a father. And that is okay! God planned it that way to be healing not just for the child but also for the parent. Of course, we shouldn't seek a child out for our personal healing, but it is okay if it comes as a byproduct of trying to love a child who is coming from a hard place.

15.) For the men who struggle with infertility: are you strong enough to be weak?

16.) "Hearing is letting the conversation happen; listening is the work of the will." - Deacon Tony

17.) Say everyday to your spouse: "Have a good day with the Lord." 

18.) Fatherhood and motherhood is also everyone's deepest identity and it is rooted in the loving self-gift you give and not just children you have. Pray about it.

19.) Your greatest weakness can become your greatest strength.

Monday, November 17, 2014

retreat recap

I feel beyond blessed that me and Mr. M were able to attend the infertility retreat organized by Rebecca this past weekend. The six hour drive each way was totally worth it! While the experience is still fresh in my mind, I thought I'd share what impacted me the most.

1. Dropping the mask. I wear a mask a lot of days that hides my true feelings of sadness, anger, or discomfort in the presence of reminders of my childlessness. This is okay, because otherwise I wouldn't be able to function, go to work, etc. But this weekend was so refreshing because I could leave my mask at the door. Not that I was bawling the whole time :) But it was so good - albeit tremendously sad - to be with other people that get this pain, and we could share each other's sorrows in a real, genuine way.

2. The kindness and attentiveness of the priests. It always means so much to me when priests, our spiritual fathers, reach out with love and care and help us carry this burden of infertility. The priests on the retreat were a wonderful combination of fun, fatherly presence (including challenging us to carry our crosses well!) and prayerful presence. Just having them there, and seeing their commitment to the retreat, was a huge blessing.

3. Some powerful images. All the talks were great, but these images struck me the most: a desert, seemingly devoid of life, and yet with beautiful, fruitful cacti blooming in the midst of it; friends who are our rafts and keep us afloat when we think we're going to sink.

4. Affirmation + call to greatness. I was soothed to hear it echoed, "It's okay to be sad. It's okay to not have it all together. It's okay if it feels like life is more than you can handle." I need that affirmation because guilt wants to creep in and make me feel bad about feeling sad. It was a balm to my ears, heart, and soul to be reminded that yes, IF is awful and painful and it's okay to feel like crumpling at the prospect of facing another negative test, another week without a child, another pregnancy announcement, etc. At the same time, I was encouraged to hear a call to greatness and holiness, that with the grace of God my life can still be beautiful! Our marriage can be (is) fruitful, and with the help of God I can carry my cross nobly and persevere in hope.

5. The witnesses. WOW I was blown away by the stories of the presenting couples: some were childless, some had conceived eventually, some had adopted. But wow, to hear their stories of struggle and eventual peace was incredibly inspiring. And to see that the pain of IF never really goes away! Even 40+ years of carrying that cross, it still stings at times. That was both relieving in a way (a validation of just how hard it is) but at the same time, so, SO good to see the peace and deeper place of acceptance and joy that God took these couples who had suffered so much. Seriously, wow.

6. Paradoxes of IF. Rebecca gave a beautiful talk about all the tensions inherent in IF: grief and hope, living the life you have and yearning for the life you want, unity and procreation even when the latter does not come, and so on. No wonder IF feels so exhausting - it's such a tightrope of emotion, and as she said, it can change by the minute! I would add "unanswered prayers and trust in God" - that's a hard tension for me.

7. The beautiful people on the retreat. I was inspired by everyone. Our stories were each unique, each tear-jerking, each a sign of the cross that the Lord has given us. I felt like I saw my own pain reflected on others' faces, which was both beautiful and also heart-breaking, because I wouldn't wish this on anyone. We are the little ones, the forgotten ones, the ones following the Lord in silence and pain, and it is a powerful thing!

8. The right question. It's not "Why is this happening?" but "What do you want from me?" What are you asking me to do right now, Lord? I have such a hard time not jumping the gun and trying to look ahead to what's coming next. What does God want from me and Mr. M now, in this moment of pain but also closeness to Him? That's what I need to pray about.

9. Spiritual director. Get one!! :) I have a spiritual director, but he lives in my husband's hometown and I only see him a few times a year. I reached out to a priest I work with to see if he could meet with me because I am very aware now of how much I need this on a regular basis. We'll see what he says.

10. On loving Mr. M better. This is something that hits really close to home for me, thinking that I am causing my husband pain by all my grief. (Of course he grieves too, but differently.) Daily affirmations of why I love him, plus thinking "What if this is my last day with him on earth?"

11. Fruits of adoration. From my journal: "Lord, make my heart a mother's heart." "My life may end up looking different than many other people's, but that doesn't mean it will be any less beautiful!" "God's love > my pain." "We must step forward in HOPE, trusting God to illuminate our path."

So much more...all in all, it was fantastic. Difficult at times, intense, powerful, healing, all around wonderful. I'm so grateful.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

near occasions of sin

I went to confession the other day. I am trying very hard to make that more of a habit. One step in the right direction has been scheduling "go to confession!" into my work calendar every other Friday, and then just walking out the door and trying not to think about it until I'm there. (I am very blessed to work near a church that has confession hours every day.)

Not that I don't like confession! I really like having confessed, having that squeaky-clean-feeling soul and knowing that I'm as pure as a newly baptized baby. But actually confessing is hard! It's hard to face up to my sins and to say them out loud. Although it has been getting easier with more frequent reception of the Sacrament. (Imagine that :))

Anyway - when I went to confession the other day, I had a thought. You know how in the Act of Contrition you promise "to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin"? Well, I was thinking about how one sin I am really struggling with is the sin of jealousy. (That should come as no surprise!) I think confession has been playing a big part in reducing jealousy's grip on me.

However - how exactly am I to avoid the "near occasion of sin" when it comes to jealousy? Because I am tempted to jealousy:
-- when I wake up in the morning and think about how so-and-so is pregnant and I'm not
-- when I go to mass at work and see the pregnant woman from a different office (who got married less than a year ago, not that I keep tabs on that kind of thing...)
-- when I go to the mall and pass a group of moms
-- when I get another pregnancy announcement from another friend
-- when I spend time with a pregnant friend or mom friend

And so on. The list is veritably endless: anywhere I could possibly encounter a pregnant woman or mom, or anytime I might think of such things, I'm tempted to jealousy. No wonder I felt like I needed confession more often! There is literally no way to avoid all these "occasions of sin" - of course I'm not going to quit my job, stay at home 24/7, cut off all contact with anyone who is a mother or who could become a mother, etc. It's very different than an occasion of sin that you can reasonably avoid, like not going to the bar, not spending time with people who gossip, etc.

Just another example of why infertility can be so very difficult! And so very daily.

However - to end on a positive note - I also think that the daily-ness of infertility, and its attendant temptations, gives me an opportunity every. single. day. (hour?) to take up my cross and follow Jesus. That's how I'm trying to look at it anyway, because that infuses meaning into what otherwise would feel like constant drudgery (honestly, it still feels like that on some days). I am stockpiling treasure in heaven each and every time I'm faced with an opportunity to harbor jealousy and choose instead to pray for the person and move on in hope.

Occasions of sin can become occasions of grace.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Prayer Intentions Anyone?

Mr. M again -

Gracefully, we are blessed to go on an retreat this upcoming weekend just for those suffering infertility. I can not express how excited I am for this retreat. It comes at the perfect time for us (i.e. a very low time in our lives), a time filled with great suffering and heaviness. But I believe retreats are not just about me or us. It is also a time to carry with us, in a special way, the prayers of our dear brothers and sisters who travel this road of suffering with us. So, if you have any prayer intentions that you would like us to pray about this weekend, then please leave us a comment or email us by Friday morning (we leave around that time).

I will write each intention down on a piece of paper, wedge it between the pages of my bible, and pray for you every time I open the Bible (which is frequent on a retreat). I will also remember you in my daily prayers, rosaries, and masses. I am sure Mrs. M will do something similar. So please send us your intentions and we will "prayer bomb" you this weekend as one of my friends likes to call it :-)