Sunday, July 13, 2014

plums in an orange-filled world

Our souls differ little from our bodies in terms of healing.  Both require time, proper care, and retirement from certain strenuous activities.  We are often tempted to return to our regular activities before we are ready.  Many times, after recovering from a stomach illness, I must remind myself not to eat chili when I begin to feel hungry again.  I should not walk several miles at a time while recovering from bronchitis. 

Similarly, I should not attend large Catholic family events without plenty of time to rest before and after.  Holy bellies and babies, Batman.

I felt little apprehension about assisting at our local Catholic homeschool conference.  I knew that it might be difficult to browse all the awesome books and have no use for them, but such is my life now.  I forgot about All. The. Babies.  I think the most common number of kids per family at this gathering was nine.  Almost every mother carried a newborn in a sling or would clearly do so soon.  Luckily, the members of this group are joyful, loving people.  They pass around babies like bowls of popcorn at a party.  Everyone reacted enthusiastically to the news of our upcoming mission.  Still, I needed some time to recover afterward.

Last weekend, my sister and I attended a beautiful wedding.  The new husband and wife beamed the entire time.  My date and I, however, battled strong feelings of cynicism.  I fully understand why the priest asks the couple if they are open to life.  Yet, is it necessary to mention children six times during the nuptial Mass?  Is it right to imply that babies are the couple’s purpose in life?  This is probably cranky brain talking, but I felt awfully left out, like I was somehow “less married” than the other couples present. 

Certainly, I find no fault in the couples who have been blessed with children.  I am thrilled and delighted that God has bestowed such adorable gifts upon them.  I do not wish this pain of barrenness on anyone.  I simply long for direction.  What is my purpose as a married woman?

My husband and I talked about this recently.  He expressed his desire to become involved in various ministries, since our marriage cannot bear its own fruit.  I had pondered the same course of action, but came to a different conclusion.  Originally, I thought we needed to get out and volunteer so we could prove that our marriage is fruitful.  I found little peace in this mental trajectory.  Finally, I uncovered the question that lay deep in my soul.

“Can I just be married and serve my husband selflessly and faithfully?  Is that enough?”

At length, and after much prayer, God answered me in the affirmative.  I told my husband that we do not have a fruitless marriage.  We were mistaken about what type of tree we are.  We tried for so long to make oranges like everyone else, only to find little purple plums on our branches.  What?!  Plums?!  I want oranges!!!  But, no.  Our marriage makes plums, and there is nothing we can do to change that.  Unfortunately, there are almost no recipes out there for plums. 

What I mean to say is that there is almost no pastoral advice readily available for those suffering through infertility.  I have scoured the Internet, books, and even real live people to little avail.  The blog-sphere has been the most helpful.  At long last, I found people who understood my experience.  These women offered me profound insights into finding peace on this rugged, dimly lit trail.  However, much of my comfort sprung from the fact that they were just as lost as I was.  I was not alone.  Their peace of mind and spirit was hard won.  They still need care and healing too.  Who will help them in this fight? 

When seeking truth, I like to go directly to the source.  In the case of spiritual trials, it seems most logical to ask the advice of Holy Mother Church.  I opened my Catechism to the section on married love and fruitfulness.  Unfortunately, I found footnotes in the tome longer than the section offered to guide the childless.  The section goes on for pages about the iconic nature of the love between spouses and their children.  It gives clear and concise wisdom to help us understand how to respect the dignity of these life-giving relationships.  At the end, there are about three sentences that basically say, ‘Couples who cannot have children matter too.’

That’s nice.  Pray, go on.

Books written for infertile Catholics are all penned by couples who eventually had children, either by birth or through adoption.  I need to know that my marriage still matters even though we may never have children at all.  I need examples of what fruitful love looks like without the visible manifestations of our love running around our house.  Even in other books written about marriage and family, those struggling with infertility are given a mere “P.S.” I am certainly glad the Church thinks my marriage is important, but what is it supposed to look like in daily life?  So many people tell me to stay busy, go to work, get a hobby.  I have no desire to be distracted.  I need real, lasting peace.  I need to know how to love my husband in the midst of this pain.  I need to know what to do with these dang plums. 

Then, when I do finally find a crumb of joy, I need to feel supported when I feel like the world is staring at me wondering why I am not killing myself trying to grow my family.  I need someone to respond to my worries that by being happy without children, we are living selfishly.  I need someone to listen to Don Bosco when he speaks about the importance of making our love visible.  It is imperative, he says, for people:

“…not only be loved, but feel that they are loved.”

If you have known me for more than five minutes, you know that I harbor no desire for cute placations.  I do not want pity.  I seek something real.  With this help, I want to love my husband better.  I long to serve my creator more joyfully.  I need to let go of the bitterness that clings to my heart.

My guess is that you are not a bishop or even a priest, and you are certainly not the Pope.  (I think.  That would be kind of amazing…but I digress.)  So, why am I spewing these needs of mine all over innocent lay people?  Because, I want you to maybe have a little understanding as to why I am floundering.  Why I don’t have many answers when people ask me questions about how I feel or what we are going to do.  Why I feel so angry and confused some times, and full of joy at others. 

God is so good, and He is carrying this weak little lamb.  Yet, He never intended us to do battle alone.  I want to be able to support others in my situation, but I may need someone to throw me a line first.  Pray with me that either I am completely missing what the Church already offers and can end my ramblings or that someone will break the silence and I no longer feel like this:


  1. This is such a beautiful post. I feel exactly the same way. The lack of "official" Catholic guidance on infertility is a problem, but there is getting to be so much stuff out in the blogosphere. Keep writing. I've started to try and meditate on the few little words the catechism does give us on childless marriage, and found it to be helpful. We're really breaking new ground.

    Also- there's a plum tart recipe I've always been meaning to try. This post, indirectly, may have just inspired me to stop procrastinating on that. :)

    1. Thanks, Connie. I have read your story and thought of you while writing this. I pray you continue to find peace and joy in your marriage too!

      Haha, that's awesome. I'm no baker. Let me know how it turns out :)

  2. I agree - such a beautiful post. And so very well written. Life is giving me plums instead of oranges too. And here I am with no clafouti recipes...

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I yearn to hear things about the fruitfulness of my childless marriage that don't involve the words "too", "still", or "instead". The sacrament is the same whether you get handed a child or not - so the grace you find in marriage has to be as well. Keep writing! :)

    1. Thank you. Yes, those words bother me as well.

      It is, indeed, the same grace and sacrament. I firmly believe that God intended for me to be married to my husband specifically. He knew we would not be able to have children. Yet, this is the path He has intentionally laid for us. If this is for our greatest good, how can we view it as an "instead?'

  3. I came upon your blog through Connie Ann's blog. My life and marriage are also full of plums instead of oranges. As I was reading this post I just kept nodding and smiling to myself at how you perfectly you articulated the exact thoughts, frustrations and questions I have had myself. Finding fruitfulness in a biologically unfruitful marriage has been one of the hardest parts of IF for me. Thank you for such an honest piece! God Bless you and your husband!

    1. Thank you! I'm sorry you are struggling too. Praying for you.