Tuesday, April 22, 2014

At the Mercy of Hope: Infertility Awareness


This week, April 20 – 26, 2014 is National Infertility Awareness Week.  My friend-in-real-life Rebecca, who blogs about infertility at The Road Home (and wrote this post last year on starting over on your wedding night), asked me to share this post from the hearts of women going through infertility.  Read it, visit their blogs, enter in, and during this Easter octave, pray for redeeming, living love and for sustained hope.

Infertility Awareness Week, 2014: A Catholic Perspective 

One in six couples will experience infertility at some point in their marriage. Infertility is medically defined as the inability to conceive after 12 cycles of “unprotected” intercourse or 6 cycles using “fertility-focused” intercourse. A couple who has never conceived has “primary infertility” and a couple who has conceived in the past but is unable to again has “secondary infertility”. Many couples who experience infertility have also experienced miscarriage or pregnancy loss.

We, a group of Catholic women who have experienced infertility, would like to take a moment to share with you what the experience of infertility is like, share ways that you can be of support to a family member or friend, and share resources that are helpful.

If you are experiencing infertility, please know you are not alone. You are loved and prayed for and there are resources to help you with the spiritual, emotional, and medical aspects of this journey

The Experience of Infertility

In the beginning of trying to conceive a child, there is much hope and anticipation; for some, even a small fear of “what if we get pregnant right away?” There is planning of how to tell your husband and when you’d announce to the rest of the family. It is a joyful time that for most couples results in a positive pregnancy test within the first few months. However, for one in six couples, the months go by without a positive test and the fears and doubts begin to creep in. At the 6th month of trying using fertility-focused intercourse (using Natural Family Planning), the couple knows something is wrong and is considered “infertile” by doctors who understand the charting of a woman’s pattern of fertility.  At the 9th month of trying, the month that, had they conceived that first month, a baby would have been arriving, is often the most painful of the early milestones. At the 12th month mark the couple “earns” the label from the mainstream medical community as “infertile”.

As the months go by, the hopes and dreams are replaced with fears, doubts, and the most invasive doctors’ appointments possible. As a Catholic couple faithful to the teachings of the Church, we are presented by secular doctors with options that are not options for us and are told things like “you’ll never have children” and “you have unexplained infertility”; by our Catholic doctors we are told to keep praying and to have hope as they roll up their sleeves and work hard to figure out the cause of our infertility, with each visit asking, “How are you and your husband doing with all of this?”

We find it hard to fit in. We have faith and values that are different than our secular culture, but our childlessness (primary infertility) or small family (secondary infertility) makes us blend in with the norm. We have faith and values that are in line with the teachings of our Church, but our daily life looks so much different than the others who share those values and that makes us stand out in a way that we would rather not. We are Catholic husbands and wives living out our vocation fully. Our openness to life does not come in the form of children; it takes on the form of a quiet “no” or “not yet” or “maybe never” from God each month as we slowly trod along. Our openness to and respect for life courageously resists the temptations presented to us by the secular artificial reproductive technology industry.

Often times our friends and family do not know what to say to us, and so they choose to not say anything. Our infertility stands like a great big elephant in the room that separates us from others. Most of the time, we don’t want to talk about it, especially not in public or in group settings because it is painful and we will often shed tears. We realize it is difficult and ask that you realize this difficulty as well. We will do our best to be patient and to explain our situation to those who genuinely would like to know, but please respect our privacy and the boundaries we establish, as not only is infertility painful, it is also very personal.

One of the hardest experiences of infertility is that it is cyclical. Each month we get our hopes up as we try; we know what our due date would be as soon as we ovulate; we know how we would share the news with our husband and when and how we would tell our parents. We spend two weeks walking a fine line between hope and realism, between dreaming and despairing. When our next cycle begins – with cramps and bleeding and tears – we often only have a day or two before we must begin taking the medications that are meant to help us conceive. There is little to no time to mourn the dream that is once again not achievable; no time to truly allow ourselves to heal from one disappointment before we must begin hoping and trying again. We do not get to pick what days our hormones will plummet or how the medications we are often taking will affect us. We do not get to pick the day that would be “best” for us for our next cycle to start. We are at the mercy of hope, and while that hope keeps us going it is also what leaves us in tears when it is not realized.

Our faith is tested. We ask God “why?”, we yell at Him; we draw closer to God and we push Him away. Mass brings us to tears more often than not and the season of Advent brings us to our knees. The chorus of “Happy Mother’s Day” that surrounds us at Mass on the second Sunday in May will be almost more devastating than the blessing of mothers itself. We know that the Lord is trustworthy and that we can trust in Him; sometimes it is just a bigger task than we can achieve on our own.

Please…
  • Pray for us. Truly, it is the best thing that anyone can do.
  • Do not make assumptions about anything - not the size of a family or whether or not a couple knows what is morally acceptable to the Church. Most couples who experience infertility do so in silence and these assumptions only add to the pain. If you are genuinely interested, and not merely curious, begin a genuine friendship and discover the truth over time.
  • Do not offer advice such as “just relax," “you should adopt," “try this medical option or that medical option” – or really give any advice. Infertility is a symptom of an underlying medical problem; a medical problem that often involves complicated and invasive treatment to cure.
  • Do not assume that we will adopt. Adoption is a call and should be discerned by every married couple. Infertility does not automatically mean that a couple is meant to adopt.
  • Ask how we are doing and be willing to hear and be present for the “real” answer. Often times we answer, “OK” because that’s the easy, “safe” answer. Let us know that you are willing to walk through this the tough time with us. Frequently we just need someone who is willing to listen and give us a hug and let us know we are loved.
  • Offer a Mass for us or give us a prayer card or medal to let us know you are praying for us. Just please refrain from telling us how we must pray this novena or ask for that saint’s intercession. Most likely we’ve prayed it and ask for the intercession daily. Please feel free to pray novenas and ask for intercession on our behalf.
  • Be tolerant and patient. The medications we take can leave us at less than our best; we may not have the energy or ability to do much. Please also respect us when we say "no, thank you" to food or drinks. We may have restricted diets due to our medical conditions and/or medications.
  • Share the good news of your pregnancy privately (preferably in an email or card or letter and not via text, IM chat, phone call or in person) and as soon as possible. Please understand that we are truly filled with joy for you; any sadness we feel is because we have been reminded of our own pain and we often feel horrible guilt over it as well. Please be patient and kind if we don’t respond immediately, attend your baby shower or don’t “Like” all of your Facebook updates about your children. Again, it is really about us, not you.
  • Help steer group conversations away from pregnancy and parenting topics when we are around. We like to be able to interact in a conversation to which we can contribute meaningfully.
  • Do not ask when we are going to “start a family” (we started one the day we got married).
  • Do not ask which one of us is the “problem” – we are either fertile or infertile as a couple.
  • Do not say things like "I know you'll be parents some day," or "It will happen, I know it will!" Along the same lines, please do not tell us stories of a couple you know who struggled for years and went on to conceive or to "just adopt and then you'll get pregnant" (this one actually only happens a small percentage of the time). Only God knows what our future holds, please pray with us that we are able to graciously accept His will for our lives.
  • Do not pity us. Yes, we have much sorrow. Yes, we struggle. But, we place our faith in God, lean on the grace of our marriage, and trust that someday, whether here on earth or in heaven, we will see and understand God’s plan.
Resources:

Bloggers who contributed to this article (those with an * have children after primary infertility or are experiencing secondary infertility. They are marked as such so that if you aren’t up for possibly seeing baby/child pictures today, you can meet them on a day when you are, but please do take the time to go and visit them.):



There is also a “Secret” Facebook group with over 150 members who contributed to this article as well. For more information or to join the group, email Rebecca at RebeccaWVU02@gmail.com.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Wedding Song Linkup: You Are the One



Around a year ago, I wrote a post about choosing your first dance song (clickety click if you like knowing important details of other people's weddings as much as I do, or if you're in the market for your song).  I have many, many vices, but if I have an ultimate vice it's nosiness, and was so excited to see Grace's wedding song linkup.  I guess burning to know other people's first dances is among the more harmless of things to poke my nose into, but for whatever reason, there's something so telling to me about the lyrics that mean something to a couple--even when it's friends I know well, hearing a song that's special to them feels like a deeper look into their hearts and their view of each other.  I tend to envision wedding songs as the words the couple would express to one another about how they feel, which is pretty personal stuff, yeah?  It feels like a privilege to be given that glimpse.

Anyway, our song.  Andrew and I loved the song "In My Arms" by Jon Foreman, but both of us felt like it was a little too intimate a choice to be dancing to in front of 200 people.  Not just because of lines like, "Love, we sleep apart for the last time," but because it's such a delicate whisper of a song that we wanted to keep it just between us for the time.  Looking back, I kind of wish we'd gone with it anyway--I think I've gotten a little bolder in the last two and a half years--but that doesn't stop us from still dancing to it at home now and then.

We also considered my very favorite song, "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel, but the tempo didn't feel conducive to slowish dancing, plus it's like a five minute song, and we didn't want the spotlight on just us for quite that long.  The tune we ultimately settled on was "You Are the One" by Matt Hires.  Here's the story, as I last told it:

On a night in August almost three [now almost four!] summers ago, my brand spanking new fiance and I went to the movies to see Despicable Me.  Afterwards, we took pictures in a photo booth (an item I could hence cross off my bucket list) and drove home to my parents' house on starry back roads.  Somewhat impulsively, we stopped in the Adoration chapel at my church on the way. 
As we got ready to leave, I started the car and rolled down the windows.  Instead of getting in, Andrew held out his hand and asked me to dance.  I sang along to the music in the CD player, and just like that, we had our wedding song.
So there you have it.  Never did I think I'd be some kind of Taylor Swift-ish parking lot dancer, but I cherish that night, and if I think about it, our wedding was actually our second dance to that song.  Thanks, Grace, for indulging my curiosity.  I love reading these sweet stories!  And off I go to snoop on, snoopers.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Return To Me: Thoughts on Blogging, Babies, and the Blessed Mother


Back on Friday, I was so excited to start bringing this blog back from the dead, and truly I am.  At the time my most recent post went up, Andrew and I had just gotten home from spending the night in the hospital with our sweet baby boy.

In the middle of the night last Wednesday, Aaron started screaming hysterically in his sleep, on and off for about three hours.  It sounded clear to us that he was experiencing either a good amount of pain or of fear, but since he didn't wake, we chalked it up to a night terror sort of thing.  I figured I'd let him sleep the morning away and then end up with a happy, well-rested baby, but after Andrew left for work around sunrise, Aaron continued screaming on and off, then began throwing up continually, like the more-than-typical-spit-up variety.  The more he puked, the greener it got, which Google told me indicates bile loss and is fairly serious.  After trying not to panic and calling the pediatrician, off we headed to the emergency room. As I was packing up to leave, Aaron was completely listless--no eye contact, no nursing (his refusal to eat was what started to really concern me) no interaction at all, and my baby who ordinarily fights sleep with all his heart wanted to do nothing but sleep. I thought we were in the clear after he finally nursed for a few minutes near the end of our ER stay (this was before I knew we were about to be admitted to the regular pediatric ward), but no sooner had he finished than up came some more green and out came some blood in his diapers, three in a row.

All that bile loss and bloody poop resulted in an IV drip, ultrasounds, an X-ray, and ultimately, an overnight stay in the hospital for my poor little man.  Andrew and I agreed it was one of the scariest experiences of our lives (and my husband almost took out a doctor in his frustration).  Thanks be to God, Aaron accepted some Pedialyte that evening, slowly perked up again, and eventually started nursing again during the night.  Amazingly, whatever sickness this was seems to have been a quick-hitting virus, and my baby has been contentedly eating and sleeping away and seems even smilier than before.  I told my sister-in-law this weekend that as long and as difficult a day it was, Aaron's easy recovery has almost made me forget about it already, not in the sense of willfully blocking it out, but just in the sense of gratitude for such a speedy return to his normal, happy demeanor.

Why am I talking about my baby's poop and vomit and clumsily trying to connect it to my blog?  I mentioned Friday that writing my manuscript has coincided with having a newborn, and both of those things have taken priority over blogging, rightfully so, over the past few months.  I'm excited to return to more regular posts, but at the same time I've felt a little guilty just wanting to hop on the computer the second Aaron falls asleep, and I've missed my other hobbies, too.  Mamas who dash off daily posts and birth stories just days after getting home from the hospital, I salute you and you better believe I gobble up those birthin' tales.  For me though, I've come to prefer and be at peace with way less screen time than I've had lately, and if that means more time with my menfolk then I'll gladly take it.

So this is a return to my blog, but in a moderate way.  The other night in the hospital, nursing Aaron in the chair we slept in (all. night.), I was thinking how, as crummy and scary a situation as we were in, my sense of presence felt renewed, and being present, without all the usual distractions I surround myself with while nursing or generally taking care of him, is so freeing for me.  All I needed to do at the moment was feed my baby, hold him, and let him get better.

Much as I love the Rosary, I'm honestly kind of delinquent about it a lot of the time, but have made efforts to recommit myself to it this Lent.  Something about this being my first Lent with a son, I feel like I've been able to see through Mary's eyes in a new way--the closeness, the deep love, and yes, the shared sorrow, between her heart and Jesus' is a new revelation for me.  In each mystery, she is present and is loving her son in the profound way of feeling every emotion and experience the person you love is feeling, to the same degree they are.  I get it now (and I'm sure I'd feel pretty similarly if I had a daughter, since the love of a mother and child is so powerful regardless of whether it's a boy or girl).  I think Our Lady has been pulling me back to her these last few weeks, out of my spiritual laziness and into a different, deeper knowledge of her heart, and I'm so thankful for that grace.  And so I return.

Mamacitas, I'd be so interested to hear your take on sharing time between your blog baby and your baby-baby!  Thoughts?




Friday, April 4, 2014

7 Quick Takes, Volume 29: Out of the Blogging Coma

{story of a soul, condensed}

It being Lent and all, calling this a blog-surrection seems…inappropes.  So suffice it to say I'm now back on the blogging train and this train is bound for…you know.  Here's the rundown of life lately.  Visit Jen at Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes!

{1} Remember my book-writing announcement from a while back?  If not, it's because I've kept it mostly on the DL out of self-consciousness.  Telling people I'm writing a book feels hard to talk about in a humble way, something about the word manuscript sounds like such serious biz, and not to mention I didn't start working on it in earnest until a few months ago, despite having nearly a year to complete it (the delusions of a first-time mother…I thought maternity leave would give me hours of uninterrupted writing time once I was free from the shackles of the workforce and other responsibilities.  Ha.).  But, I am now happy to say that I've just completed the first draft of my still-far-from-release book on Catholic marriage and have just sent it off to Pauline Press!  Arleen, if  you are reading this it's been great to talk through all the writing stuff with you!

{2} So, if you're able to read between the lines, all this internet silence has been the fruit of writing my tail off in another medium over the last few months.  Back in January, I also started nannying for a one-year-old little girl after deciding not to go back to work.  I love being able to bring Aaron along, and it's been a very satisfying preview of what it will be like to have a one-year old and a very…enlightening insight into taking care of two babies who are only eight months apart.  I understand now why God made Irish twins at least 10 months different in age.  But really, this work is such a gift, between the little bit of extra income and the ways my heart's being stretched in patience and just the pleasure of playing with the two of them.

{3} Speaking of whom…I now have an almost 6-month-old, you guys.  Aaron rolls over both ways, chews on everything he can get his hands on (literally, he can get his hands on things now and pick them up!), can mostly sit up by himself, babbles away constantly, loves standing and jumping on our laps, and yes I know other people's babies do similar things at this age but this baby is mine and I'm so in love with him.  Here's the man himself at 3 months…


Baptism Day.  He's also a card-carrying Christian now!
4 months…



and 5!



{4} Despite all that love and delight, sleeping is starting to feel like a battle.  Aaron sleeps in bed with Andrew and I, more out of convenience than out of a predetermined decision.  We didn't initially plan on co-sleeping, and though it's been really sweet and enjoyable, we've been feeling like it's about time to get him on his own.  Between having a one-bedroom apartment, the little dude waking almost every hour to nurse, and both Andrew and I not feeling entirely right about letting him cry it out (in the instances we've tried, cry-it-out has almost instantly escalated into scream-it-out, which, in our minds, is entirely different and has left all three of us tired and upset), we're not really sure where to go from here.  Somewhere along the way I've developed an aversion to any and all parenting buzzwords--that's not to say I don't do certain things that maybe fall under different parenting philosophies or actions, I just don't like calling them by their names because it feels reductive to me, if that makes sense--so while I'm not a fan of the term "sleep training," I am still all about teaching this baby how to fall asleep!  Advice, anyone, on gentle ways to do it?

{5} In the past year, Aaron has been one of about six babies who will be future playmates!  My pregnancy overlapped with five of my friends', and the past few weeks have brought a spate of new springtime babies!  Two of my college friends have a brand new son, Andrew's brother and sister-in-law are welcoming a baby girl, and my friend Teresa (check out her blog) is due to welcome her little bambina any day now!  Oh, I love it.

{6} On the subject of friends and their blogs, my friends Beth and Jenn just started their own.  Links are attached to their names.  Enjoy.

{7} For whatever reason, this crop of new babies has got me thinking hardcore about names for more of my future little ones (future--I'm not pregnant!).  It's not like I haven't considered name after name for years (I'm a girl, after all), but I've been thinking about them in earnest and constantly suggesting new ones to Andrew.  I seem to have developed a thing for finding names that are sort of uniquely Catholic without being totally out there; things like saints' last names as middle names, for instance.  Naturally, that gets my nosy self curious--tell me your favorite baby names; I promise not to steal!  At least not for the next year or so…

Enjoy your weekend and check back Tuesday for a new post!  My new, more manageable-feeling writing goal is two posts a week, plus a return to updating Captive the Heart's Facebook page with extras you won't find on the blog.  Like the page on the ol' FB here.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Pierced: Thoughts On the Presentation


Okay, first of all, how do you mamas do it?  Taking care of a baby and a blog ain't no small thing.  I've been at peace lately with posting less often, as I take the time to work on my book and spend as much time as I can with my sweet boy.  I figure the internet will always be there, but I only get my Aaron at two months, then three months, and every month after for such a short time in his life.  Add that to a general lack of much inspiration, and I've been feeling like I'd rather stay quiet, and be alright with it, than be stressing myself out trying to come up with new posts.

Moving on.  Until yesterday, I'd had no idea the Feast of the Presentation involves the blessing of candles, that it only falls on a Sunday every seven years, or even that it's also called the Feast of the Encounter, commemoration Simeon's wonder-filled encounter with Christ.

Maybe it's my lack of knowledge that had me grasping at nothing for a long time when it came to meditating on the Presentation during the Rosary, until a few years ago.  In the Marian prayer group I belonged to in college, we spent one meeting meditating on this mystery, the Presentation, through Our Lady's experience.  Specifically, Simeon prophesies to Mary, "you yourself a sword will pierce" (Luke 2:35).

It's a beautiful but scary thought, meditating on the Presentation this way--I'd pray, Jesus, Mary, pierce my heart.  Break me open; break my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh…but don't break me too much.  In my mind, since Simeon's prophesy foretold Mary's pain at the foot of the Cross, the joy of Jesus' welcoming into the community was overshadowed by sorrow.  Suffering brings so much grace, but I had a lot of trouble understanding why such a promise would classify as joyful.

I think it wasn't until becoming a mama myself, and reconsidering the Presentation as told to me in yesterday's homily, that I could really see the joy.  Letting your heart be broken open, letting yourself be pierced, so often bears a deeper love and deeper understanding--it's a closer, deeper encounter, I can see now, with Jesus Himself.  Of course, I thought, a mother's love for her child runs so deep that she'd feel any of his pain as if she were experiencing it herself.  Of course their hearts are so closely united to the point of tears.

But, that closeness doesn't go away in times of joy.  If anything, I'm thinking, two hearts can be united in joy as much as in trial.  Being broken open doesn't necessarily mean being heartbroken, just being brought deeper into the love of Christ and into the heart of another person.  Jesus, Mary, break down the walls of my heart that I might come to know you more.  Bring me into deeper and deeper communion with you, with my husband, and my baby.  Let my heart be brought to life by your living flesh.  Amen.

Thoughts?  I love learning about the Rosary and would be so glad to hear any additional knowledge or reflections you have.  And by all means, if you have any advice on parenting and blogging at the same time, share away!


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