My husband, Stephen, and I wanted a honeymoon baby. We joked about it at first, then talked about it excitedly, planning how we might share the news with friends and family. We jumped into life together, hand in hand, ready to add a new person to our tiny tribe as soon as we’d said, “I do.”
Today, we are three years and six months from that very first moment of possibility. We’ve watched days stretch into weeks, hanging onto every symptom and sign, saying, “This will be the month!” with a confidence only the ignorantly blissful possess. We named our daughter, we named our son. We talked about them like we knew personally the little souls who had yet to arrive. We prayed and prayed.
A few months into our marriage I was diagnosed with PCOS. Specifically, I was not ovulating at all. It was something I had expected as I’d been dealing with symptoms for a long time. But putting a name to it made it feel more real. As we approached Advent that first year of marriage, we began fertility treatment. I was filled with the same hopeful, expectant waiting that parallels the beating heart of the Church as she waits for the birth of Christ. It was easy to embrace the spirit of Advent and Christmas that very first year. But as months passed by without a positive pregnancy test, I found myself increasingly discouraged in the heart of a physical and spiritual winter. So much of my time, energy, money, and spiritual life was poured into trying to conceive that year. I began to harbor resentment toward God for not rewarding me with what I desired. My prayer turned from a patient pleading to an anxious tallying of my readiness, as if I was owed something in return for my good behavior.
“Lord, don’t you see that I am open to life? That I saved myself for marriage? Do you see that I am ready? I can be selfless. I want a child. I deserve a child.”
I felt abandoned by God for the first time in my life. The cross of infertility was not one I felt willing to bear. As that year turned the corner and we approached Advent, again I was hesitant. I kept God at arm’s length, content to float near the shoreline instead of trusting Him enough to cast out into the deep. But by the third Advent of our marriage, I began to come around.
Bearing the Cross of Infertility through Advent
Advent is a beautiful season in our Church. The tender, hopeful waiting that surrounds the birth of Christ fills the air with a palpable joy. But how can we connect with that joy while we carry the cross of infertility? How do we prepare ourselves emotionally for difficult conversations during family gatherings? How can we fully enter into and embrace the season when we feel detached from our prayer life? Today I’d like to share a few things that have helped me throughout my own experience of carrying the cross of infertility through the season of Advent.
Being Rooted in Prayer
I know this is not new advice. It may be something that is already part of the process for you, but I cannot emphasize what prayer has done for me during this unpredictable journey. Even when it was the last thing I wanted to do, even when I thought the Lord wasn’t listening, I persisted. It wasn’t always profound or even joyful. But continually giving the cross of infertility over to God, sometimes multiple times a day, truly brought me out of the depths of my darkness.
Last year during Advent, Stephen and I committed to memorizing and reciting the St. Andrew Christmas Novena (also called the Christmas Anticipation Novena) each night before bed. We began on the feast of St. Andrew (November 30th) and continued until Christmas Day. It is such a beautifully visual, meditative prayer, and it did so much for our prayer life. I love this beautifully lettered version from Erica Tighe. I keep it with me on my phone throughout Advent as a reminder to pray it daily.
Maybe infertiltiy has caused a fault line in your prayer life. I encourage you to take everything to God and lay it down at His feet. No matter where you are on this journey, He will not turn you away. He knows your aching heart and He wants to help you carry the weight of this cross.
Calling It by Name
After my initial diagnosis I spent a lot of time trying to avoid the reality of my infertilty. I didn’t want to admit it because I was afraid to appear broken, to seem like less of a woman. I spent a lot of time wondering what my life’s purpose would be if my desire for motherhood was left unfulfilled. I struggled with body image issues and the side effects related to PCOS, but I didn’t want to attribute them to my health for fear that others would think I was using it as a crutch. When I finally stopped being afraid of the word and all its implications, I was free to begin moving forward.
This realization was especially helpful during the Advent season, when so many acitvities and events are family-oriented. Calling out the lies tied to my worth, recognizing the gifts and blessings that God had given me, and using those gifts to serve others helped me unite deeper with Mary’s fiat. I no longer felt disconnected from the beautiful moment when Mary says, “Let it be done to me according to you word,” because I understood what it meant to be open to God working in my own life even if the outcome wasn’t what I expected.
Deciding How and What to Share
After the first few months of our struggle with infertility, I felt called to share my experience through blogging. I know this is not for everyone, but I felt so isolated in my silence that I needed to speak out. I wanted to shed light on a topic that is often tip-toed around because of its inherent difficulty. I wanted other women who were dealing with this same cross of infertility to know they weren’t alone.
Although it was initially difficult to be vulnerable and open about our struggle, I truly believe it has helped make the entire process easier. I no longer wait anxiously for family or friends to unknowingly ask, “When are you going to start trying?” I have found that those who are aware of our situation have been so supportive and present.
Confiding in a Trusted Friend
Maybe sharing with the whole world is not what is best for your individual journey. But finding a person you trust who is willing to listen is so essential. I love being able to talk to my husband, and he is always the first person with whom I discuss my struggles; but sometimes I also need to talk to a girlfriend. I am grateful to have the support of beautiful female friends who have helped me during exceedingly difficult days. Although I wish it weren’t the case, a few close friends and family have struggled with the cross of infertiltiy as well, and being able to lean on one another for extra prayers, laughter, and solidarity makes a world of a difference. I have also found great support from groups online like the Catholic Women with PCOS Facebook group. Spiritual direction and attending therapy are also worth considering. Even the most supportive friends and family may not be able to be offer the type of guidance provided by a professional therapist or trusted spiritual director.
Preparing for the Unexpected
There are days when a pregnancy announcement overflows my heart with joy, and days when the start of my cycle completely wrecks me. Learning to expect either outcome has helped me prepare for these moments, especially as it relates to the holiday season. Be gentle with yourself and know your limits when it comes to these situations. Pray about the difficult questions you might face during holiday gatherings and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in how to respond charitably.
Trusting in the Lord
If trust is not the most difficult word in my spiritual journey, I don’t know what is. But I know that its difficulty is precisely why it is so important, especially in relation to the cross of infertitly. I cannot do this alone, and I don’t want to, but that requires an insane amount of trust in God’s faithfulness. This has not been easy for me. It is often a daily struggle. But making every effort to put my trust in the Lord has done wonders for my anxieties about infertility. I know that my life is a beautiful story written by a loving Creator, and I take comfort in that when nothing else can satisfy my heart.
Allowing Christ to Carry the Cross of Infertility with You
Today I am in a very different place, emotionally and spiritually. It has taken years to get here and I would be lying if I said I don’t have any more dark days. But my hope has been renewed.
Stephen and I have offered up our sufferings, uniting them with Christ on the Cross.
It is difficult to have hard conversations, to watch friends and family detach from their own hopes for you, to pray when it feels one-sided. But God is sovereign, and there are no limits to His love and His grace. And because of this truth, I finally felt the light on my face as the Lord bent down to pull me from my darkness. It is because of this truth that I look to Mary’s example when I step into this season of Advent and proclaim, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”
Those of you carrying the cross of infertility, too – if you’re comfortable sharing – how do you cope during this season of expectation?
Katie Waldow is a wife, youth minister, and blogger living in Ocean City, NJ. You can sometimes find her sipping lattes, often corralling her dog and two cats, always on Instagram. She loves praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet and dreams of one day buying an old house and converting it into a coffee shop. You can find out more about her here.