As I read through the list, I couldn’t believe it. I was part of the problem, saying many of those things before, and thinking even more of them.
“When are you going to start a family?”
“I’m sorry to hear you’re having trouble conceiving. You know, I had a friend who tried such-and-such remedy and they got pregnant the next month. You really ought to look into it.”
“Don’t worry, once you relax, it will happen.”
“Why don’t you just adopt? There are lots of babies who need good homes.”
I was reading The Infertility Companion for Catholics by Angelique Ruhi-López and Carmen Santamaría and had found a section of practical advice for friends and families, including what not to say to an infertile couple.
I felt embarrassed – sorry for all the times I’d put friends or family in a tough spot with my ignorance. I certainly didn’t mean to, I just didn’t know what to say or do to support or help them. Have you ever felt that way?
How do we support those we love who are carrying heavy crosses? What do we say when words won’t make it better?
My husband and I have a number of friends who have carried or are carrying the cross of infertility and have shared that this particular cross is a lonely one. They feel isolated as they watch friends and family members conceive with no problem; as they navigate the difficult, long and expensive process of medical intervention or adoption; as they feel the questioning eyes of other Catholics (Why don’t they have any kids? Are they contracepting?).
More than one friend shared that she felt like even the Church didn’t see her, didn’t know her grief. And a quick search of the internet reveals that we are seriously lacking in pastoral care to couples who struggle with infertility.
So when a friend and colleague at our diocesan chancery felt called to provide some sort of pastoral resource to couples carrying the cross of infertility, I felt grateful for her initiative and was anxious to help in any way possible. A small team set out to create a place where couples could go to read and share stories, find answers to their questions and get connected to good resources.
After reading through that list of things not to say and other practical advice, we knew it was important to include a section for friends and family members, too. And Ms. Ruhi-López and Ms. Santamaría were gracious enough to share excerpts from their book with us.
It was a humbling project. Listening to couples share their hearts, their longing, their suffering and their hope was an opportunity to walk alongside them, lift them up in prayer, and to say, “We’re here.”
A labor of love, InfertilityCross.com launched in early July. We hope it’s a place where those who carry the cross of infertility can solidarity, comfort and hope, and that it can be a help to friends and family members who, like me, find themselves at a loss for what to say or do.
The website has video and written testimonies from couples, answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about infertility and the church, a section for family and friends, and a long list of resources for couples, everything from strengthening marriage to discerning various medical interventions to dealing with suffering and grief. And we hope that it’s just the beginning of a greater pastoral outreach to those who carry the cross of infertility and those who walk alongside them.
At the risk of sounding like a plug for self-promotion, I hope you will take a few minutes to visit the site, to watch the videos and read the stories, and to share it with those who need to hear, “You are not alone.”
What have you learned in your experience of journeying with those who carry this cross? Do you have any stories or advice to share?
Copyright 2014, Megan Swaim