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.