Saturday, February 22, 2014

Theology and Infertility, Part 1

I've been thinking a lot, and reading what is available, about what it means for a Catholic to be a spouse but not a parent.  I admit to thinking most about myself, as a wife-not-mother, but most of this will also apply to men like my husband, who is a husband but not a father.

There is a possibility that we will become parents someday, either biologically or through adoption.  But right now, we have been married more than six years and have no offspring.  We do not know when, or if ever, we will have children.  So in the meantime, without giving up hope, we must deal with a reality we did not anticipate at the outset of our marriage, that of being married for a significant length of time without children.

Our vocation as spouses is lived differently in some ways from the way spouses who are also parents live.  We have a tremendous amount of free time, compared to most of our friends who have been married for a similar length of time (most of whom have 2-4 children), and we get a lot more sleep.  We can leave the house at a moment's notice.  This is great when, for instance, a friend calls and says her car has broken down and she needs to take her child somewhere immediately.  I can drop everything and go help.  We don't have more disposable income because we don't make very much money, but some childless couples might be able to donate more money to charity, as well as time.

To some harried parents, this may seem on the surface like a blessing, but living it is difficult.  For almost three years I was a housewife.  I was at home all day, with nothing to do but look up recipes on the internet.  There were no children to distract me from my own thoughts or keep me busy.  I was tremendously depressed.  Thankfully, I now have a job and plenty to do, and I'm much happier.

Speaking of my job, I've noticed something about all the staff at the Catholic school where I work.  Many of the staff are in their 20s or early 30s and single, and three are women over 40 who are single.  Of the married staff, there are six couples represented by one or both spouses on staff.  Three of those couples are childless, two have one child each and struggled with infertility before finally being blessed with that single child (one is young enough to possibly have more, but the other couple are in their 50s now), and the other has two children (now grown up).  So, basically, people with lots of kids either choose not to involve themselves in education, or the school just doesn't pay enough, so people move on when they have too many children to support on the school salary.  From this standpoint, keeping this wonderful school running to educate the next generation of Catholics is a calling for those who have not been able to aid in actually giving birth to the next generation.  Our schools used to be staffed by religious; in the absence of religious, the schools can be staffed by the single and the infertile.


One thing that anyone dealing with a long-term battle with infertility must face is the question of how far to go in the quest of having a child.  Leaving aside the options which are immoral, we are left with various medical treatments aimed at treating infertility (medications, possibly surgery depending on the problem), and adoption.  We said, at our wedding, that we were willing to accept children from God.  This makes it sound like God is just going to hand you kids--and for most couples, He pretty much does.  But some of us have to work a little, or a lot, harder to make a family.  How far are we obliged to go?  Does welcoming children mean that we must seek medical treatment or adoption as far as health, finances, and other circumstances allow?

I submit that it does not, but that many Catholics don't understand that, and may even be repulsed by the idea that we wouldn't do absolutely everything possible in order to become parents.  But...is it possible that God does not call all married couples to be parents?  Is it possible that it's not some violation of our vocation if we throw in the towel and say, "Enough! I have done enough, and if God wants to send us a child then he will send us a child, and we will not go out and seek any longer."

This means that there will be some couples who never have children.  Yet, the Church has always taught that procreation is the main purpose of marriage--marriage has other functions, but this is the primary one.  As Gaudium et spes puts it:

"While not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account, the true practice of conjugal love, and the whole meaning of the family life which results from it, have this aim: that the couple be ready with stout hearts to cooperate with the love of the Creator and the Savior. . . .Married Christians glorify the Creator and strive toward fulfillment in Christ when with a generous human and Christian sense of responsibility they acquit themselves of the duty to procreate."

Where does this leave the childless?  Have we, through a fluke of biology not discovered until after marriage, somehow failed in living out our vocation?  No, of course not.  I will give a fuller answer to this question next time.



Saturday, February 15, 2014

It's Been a Year...

...since my last post.  I'm a little disappointed in myself in terms of blogging.  I didn't initially intend for this to be an "infertility blog," and I was annoyed that I found myself mostly writing about that.  Part of the reason I didn't want this to be an infertility blog is that I didn't really expect to be here, a year later, still childless.  But here I am.  I intend to start posting a little more regularly, if only because I feel a need to write and discuss these issues in a somewhat neutral forum, not because the internet is ever neutral, but because the few people who might read this blog are not my real-life friends that I have to not annoy by talking only about this all the time.

I suspected for a long time that I had PCOS, but for some reason I didn't feel very motivated to seek a diagnosis, change my habits, or really do anything at all about it.  I sort of took the attitude that if God wanted to send us children, he would.  I also wasn't too worried because I've always had fairly regular cycles.  Things couldn't be too bad, right?

Well, my body started behaving weirdly (I'll spare you the details) late last summer and continued for several weeks, so I finally went to the doctor.  After hearing my sad story, she immediately told me that she suspected PCOS, and confirmed her diagnosis with ultrasound and blood work.  The regular cycles are in some ways not as hopeful a sign as I thought, but the good news is that it does lesson my uterine cancer risk relative to women with PCOS who do not have periods.

We haven't investigated my husband's fertility.  There are morally acceptable ways of doing that, but frankly, it's yucky and at this point we'd rather not.

Please don't ask about the NaPro Technology center.  Yes, I know all about the Pope Paul VI Institute.  Yes, they could probably help.  Unfortunately, it costs money.  I live in Alaska, which is a very long way away from Nebraska, and we don't have the funds for even one trip there, let alone the money to pursue treatment that our insurance wouldn't cover.

Please don't ask about adoption right now.  We would love to, but we couldn't afford a normal adoption.  We could afford to foster-adopt, but my heart couldn't handle it.  The thought that I could have a child in my home, calling me Mommy, and that the child could be so easily taken away to live somewhere else, with someone else he would learn to call Mommy too, is too much to bear.  I have friends who are foster parents and I commend them for providing this much-needed service, but I'm too emotionally fragile for that.

Where does that leave us?  Treating PCOS with the normal means that conventional medicine offers--diet, exercise, and possibly medications like Metformin and Clomid.  I'm going to try diet and exercise first, even though it's super difficult for me.  I am the laziest person on the planet and I have no self-control.  Modern American food is literally made to be addictive, and I am totally addicted to sugar, grains, and all the things someone with my hormonal problems shouldn't be consuming.  I teach at a school where parents leave donuts and brownies and freshly-baked bread in the teacher's lounge right next to the copy machine all the time, and that's a little bit like putting a big plate of crack in front of a drug addict and saying, "you shouldn't touch that, it's not good for you."  Even though a little corner of my brain is saying, "Don't you want a baby a lot more than you want those brownies?" the rest of my brain is screaming, "EAT ALL THE SUGAR!"

My other mission right now is trying to learn to be ok with the fact that I don't have children.  God could still bless us--I'm 29, and theoretically have at least 10 more years to work on this.  But barring actual miracles, we will never have the big family we dreamed of (we're already an average of three kids behind, based on friends married at the same time +/- 1 year), and there's a possibility that we will never have any children at all.  I need to learn to be content with God's will, and to examine what it means to live out a vocation as a wife who is not a mother.  I've always equated wifehood with motherhood, but now I find that they are quite different things, and one does not always lead to the other.  My next post will be about my evolving understanding of theology and the vocation of wife-not-mother.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Practical Jokes

Dear friend on Facebook,

Implying that you are pregnant and then telling everyone that your "new addition" is actually a puppy and not a baby is really funny.  Really.  No one has ever done that before, and it's not going to hurt anyone's feelings.  Riotously funny.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Godparent!

Our first godchild, Lucy, was born at 10:15 this morning.  The mother's labor was easy--she went to daily Mass at 9am, and her husband barely had time to get back to the house after taking her home and dropping their toddler off with the babysitter.  The midwife also barely made it.  What a good girl to come so quickly!

I was afraid that I would feel jealous, but really I am just deliriously happy for them, and for myself and my husband.  We already adore Lucy's older brother, and I am sure that Lucy will be just as easy to love.  Her baptism was already scheduled, for February 12, the day we will officially become her godparents and accept the responsibility to pray for her and look out for her spiritual welfare forever.

Unfortunately, the blanket I was making for her is blue and white--I was convinced she would be a boy!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Prayer Request

I know I don't have a lot of readers, but if you are reading, will you please take a moment to say a prayer for the Wenzel family?  Father, mother and eleven children ages 11-28.  The father of the family has cancer that has metastasized to several of his organs.  Yesterday, one of the children, a young man about twenty years old, died.  I am not sure of the circumstances of his death, just that it happened suddenly.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Spiritual Parenthood

My husband and I were asked, three weeks ago, to be godparents for a baby who is expected to make his or her appearance in the world in February.  We are honored for a number of reasons: firstly, of course, anyone should be honored to be asked to be godparents for a child, because it's very important; secondly, even though we have lots of Catholic friends with young children, it's the first time we've been asked; finally, we've only known the parents for about six months.  It's an incredible sign of trust (and also, unfortunately, a sign about the unsuitability of their family for that role and the problem of being recently returned to the practice of the faith) to ask us to be a part of their child's life for...forever, pretty much.

Then, this morning, came a request from another friend.  Each of her four children has a different set of godparents.  Three sets are great.  But their five-year-old son's godparents are now agnostics, and she's concerned because the kid needs prayer.  Even the best-intentioned five-year-old boy can get into amazing scrapes, leaving even the most disciplined of parents bewildered.  She has asked us to be unofficial godparents for her boy.  My first thought was, "Of course!"  My husband and I love the whole family dearly, and to be part of the family in that way is very special.

But, then, the heartache of my own infertility, which has been at the forefront of my thoughts so often lately as my four closest married friends here are all pregnant, crept to the fore again.  Two requests to be spiritual parents in less than a month?  Is God sending me a sign that spiritual motherhood is to be my lot?

Maybe I'm reading too much into this.  Maybe it's just a sign that we're making new friends as adults for the first time (as opposed to college and high school friends) and taking on the roles that come with being adult Catholics. Our practice of the faith, because of our roles as church musicians (and my husband's role as parish employee), is very public, and our new friends can see us there, every Sunday, at prayer, and it's easy for them to discuss religious matters with us.  There's no dancing around, trying to figure out whether we are faithful Catholics and think with the mind of the Church--we're just out there, for all to see.  And some of our friends like what they see, enough to want us to be spiritual guides for their children.  It's very flattering, and we are ready to take that responsibility seriously.  Still, I can't help but wonder whether we will ever have the (sometimes difficult) job of choosing godparents for a child of our own.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Things to Love About Alaska #5

Last night I saw the northern lights for the first time!  Anchorage Daily News has pictures of last night's spectacular show.

And today, it's snowing.  Great big flakes have been falling for over an hour now.  On our way home from brunch with a friend we stopped at the store to buy a snow shovel and snow brushes/ice scrapers for our cars.  Then we took the dog for a 20-minutes walk in the snow.

We really do live in ALASKA!