By the Office of Family/Respect Life Ministry
April 21-27 is National Infertility Awareness week. According to the CDC infertility is described as not being able to get pregnant after one year or longer of trying to conceive a child. About 10% of women in the United States suffer from infertility. It can be a great burden for married couples, who desire to have a child and live out their married vocation to be open to life, to be faced with infertility.
Kevin and Angelica Conway, former parishioners at Holy Family Church in Syracuse, have relied on God and the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony during their journey with infertility. After being diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) at the age of 17, Angelica was told by doctors that it may be difficult for her to conceive a child. As both Angelica and Kevin have strong Catholic roots, they embraced God’s design for marriage and practiced the Creighton Method of Natural Family Planning. After many months of trying to conceive, Kevin said, “Our frustrations loomed but one thing stood strong: our faith. We were faithful that God would provide [a child] when the time was right.”
The Catholic Church is filled with compassion and empathy for couples struggling with infertility. In Her wisdom, she offers guidance and hope on how to understand and approach infertility in a way that protects the dignity of the human person and respects God’s divine plan for married love. As the U.S. bishops affirm, “the male and female bodies are made to be able to procreate together. When infertility is apparent, the challenge is to diagnose and address problems so these bodies can function as they should — and there is no moral problem in doing this, any more than there is in other medical treatments to restore health.”
Like many women who face infertility, Angelica was placed on multiple medications, went through numerous procedures and tests, at-home injections, phone calls, and doctor’s appointments. She even adopted a gluten-free diet, all to be told there wasn’t anything “wrong.” Throughout this trial, the young Catholic couple decided to move closer to their family in Buffalo. Angelica recalls, “The stress and toll it was taking on us was just so much sometimes. I felt that as a woman, this was the one ‘job’ I was meant to be able to do, and physically, I couldn’t. It was so heartbreaking for me, as much as I wanted to be a mom, Kevin was just as much longing to be a dad.”
The pain and grieving that come with infertility can be all-consuming. It can be difficult to be around others who already have children or are pregnant. Social-media outlets can be triggering as they are filled with pregnancy announcements and photos of babies and happy families. If you are experiencing infertility, please know that you are not alone. There are many stories in the Bible of women, such as Sarah, Rebekah, Hannah, Rachel, and Elizabeth, who were infertile for many years and were finally able to conceive a child even when they had thought it was impossible. These stories have been a source of great hope and inspiration to many couples experiencing infertility.
Kevin and Angelica can relate to these stories of sacred scripture, as it was during a time of waiting and letting go that they were able to naturally conceive their first child. As Angelica reflects on that moment, “God had been with us the whole time. We just needed to take a break and let Him lead the way.”
The USCCB offers seven considerations for couples who are faced with infertility:
Start with prayer. From the beginning of time, God has a beautiful plan for each of us. Seek God’s guidance and let the healing power of prayer strengthen you.
Connect with others. Mentorship from couples who have also struggled with infertility and spiritual support groups can help you to share your experience, as infertility can leave couples feeling alone in their suffering.
Seek to understand the Church’s teaching. When a husband and wife are united as one, they give full expression of their love through both the unitive and the procreative aspects of sexuality. These two aspects are intricately intertwined and are not meant to be separated.
Learn the difference between ethical and unethical interventions. Treatments that help facilitate conception through marital intercourse are morally ethical. However, any treatment or procedure that introduces a third-party donor or substitutes a laboratory action or anything else for intercourse, such as artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization (IVF), are morally unacceptable.
Beware of treatments that destroy life. In vitro fertilization (IVF) often involves the tragic loss of human life. Children in the embryonic stage are frequently discarded, or frozen, without ever being implanted into their mother’s womb or selectively “reduced” if multiple babies are implanted inside of their mother.
Make a plan. Learn about medical options that are consistent with Church teaching, such as Natural Family Planning, and other treatments that also respect your marriage and any children who may be conceived.
Keep your marriage healthy. It can become easy to focus more on the process than on your spouse. Staying intimately connected through communication and mutual decision-making is essential.
The Conway family would like to share with others, “We know that there are many couples that are faithful Catholics, pray, do all the ‘right’ things, and still cannot conceive. We feel for you. Keep your faith and dive deeper into it. There were days when we felt like we could not do this, and on those days, we let God do the talking in our prayer life. Know that whatever the outcome is, it’s all part of His magnificent plan for us (Jeremiah 29:11).”
If you are journeying through infertility, we encourage you to pray to Our Blessed Mother, as she will lead you to the heart of her Son. Take comfort in Philippians 4:13, as St. Paul reminds us that “[We] can do all things through Christ who gives [us] strength” and know that Jesus weeps alongside you (John 11:35). You are lifted up in prayer by your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Please visit the following Catholic resources for more information:
• Diocese of Syracuse Natural Family Planning
• The Gianna Center of Syracuse