Our cross And our Blessings
7/1/2018by Elizabeth Kirk
Suffering from infertility expanded our understanding of fruitfulness in marriage
My husband, Bill, and I married a bit later in life, and in preparation we discussed just about every possible source of conflict: money, work commitments, communication styles — even who would get which side of the bed! We considered carefully the ways in which we would share responsibilities and balance our interests. We both came from families with seven children and had a realistic understanding of the blessings and burdens associated with large families. However, we never once talked about — or even thought about — the possibility that we might face infertility. The most painful cross in our married lives is one that we never anticipated.
Facing infertility was devastating, for it goes to the very heart of what it means to be married and to one’s identity as a woman and as a man. After all, children are the visible sign of spousal union and love (in a child, the two are literally made one). St. John Paul II spoke about how the ability to conceive and bear children gives rise to woman’s particular “feminine genius” — that is, her special ability to give and receive the human person in love. A woman unable to conceive and give birth may therefore question her worth as a woman. According to some studies, women struggling with infertility report equivalent levels of anxiety and depression as women with cancer or heart disease. For the man who suffers from infertility, the inability to actually provide a family may be as stressful as being unable to provide for his family.
Accepting this burden is difficult and, in the end, requires the willing embrace of the cross. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Spe Salvi, “It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love” (37).
In our case, we pursued ethical medical treatment through NaProTechnology and reproductive immunology. With the help of that treatment and a miracle from Our Lady of Good Help in Wisconsin, after seven years of marriage, we did conceive a little one whom I then miscarried late in the first trimester. Despite the outcome, we were so grateful to have been given the gift of that little life, to see the heartbeat on the ultrasound and to look forward to meeting one day in heaven.
Very early in our journey, our conversations about building our family developed into a more expansive concept of what it meant to be fruitful in marriage. Through prayer and conversation, we understood that what we desired most was to be a mother and father together to a child who needed parents. This was our motivation to pursue adoption as a way to build our family.
We are now parents of four beautiful children. We were thrilled when we were chosen to be their parents and honored that we were trusted to be “Mama” and “Papa” to them. Whether biological or adopted, a child is not a possession or a right, but rather a gift. We know what an enormous, selfless decision adoption was for their birth families, and we are so grateful as we strive to be worthy of their sacrifice.
In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis observed, “The choice of adoption and foster care expresses a particular kind of fruitfulness in the marriage experience” (180). For me and my husband, our struggle with infertility helped us to understand that at the root of what it means to have a “fruitful” marriage is the same basic vocation of every follower of Christ — to be truly open to God’s call to reflect his creative love.
ELIZABETH KIRK is a lawyer, independent scholar and public speaker who lives with her family in Overland Park, Kansas. Her husband, Bill, is a member of Ascension Council 10932 in Overland Park.