We had waited for months and driven for hours for this appointment. Our journey in infertility and doctoring had taken us on some ups and downs but we both had a sense of finality with this appointment. We felt like we’d finally, maybe, get some answers.
We had been trying to have children for years. As time went on, our hope for conceiving naturally grew smaller and smaller. The weight of infertility lies in its cyclical nature. Just like a woman’s body, the cycle fluctuates between times of hope and times of disappointment, times of trying and times of letting go.
My husband and I found out we couldn’t have children at that appointment. It was a cold, snowy day in February, now two years ago. As we left the Twin Cities it was already dark. We weaved and circled on the freeway. It was snowing and the traffic traveled slowly.
The freeway felt how our journey in infertility had felt: slow and circling. We weaved and watched until we found our exit. Our turn off the freeway was via the “can’t have children” exit.
When we found out, Lent had just started and I remember bitterly abandoning any resolutions I had made, thinking to myself, “I’m giving up having children this Lent – isn’t that enough?”
I had always been the type of person where things worked out for me. I had quit jobs before having another job lined up multiple times and it always had worked out. I learned woodworking to build my own furniture and décor when I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted. I leaned in the direction I wanted to go and usually landed on my feet.
But infertility did something to me: it showed me how little control I have over every outcome in my life. It showed me how little control we have.
I had run into marriage the way I had run into the rest of my life: with this idea that I could lean and just land on my feet. I never considered the call of being a wife as something separated from the call of being a mother. To me, they were always tied together in one dream – to be a wife and mother.
During our years of infertility and doctoring, we had been asked by many people, close and not so close, about starting a family, our plans to have children, and so on. We were sure many people assumed our lack of children was by choice and because we weren’t ready to stop being selfish.
Each pregnancy announcement during this time was not only a cause of happiness for others but also a reminder of our sorrow for ourselves. In the months surrounding our final doctor appointment where we received the news that we couldn’t have children naturally, two of my husband’s sisters and two of my sisters announced their news of expecting babies. It seemed that not only did we have to give up children, but we also had to endure watching others live the life we wanted, from a front row seat.
Watching their lives from the audience made me realize that while infertility can prevent us from having children naturally, it can’t control who I become because of it.
When we experience suffering, even as Catholics, it’s easy, to subtly think, “Maybe this is what I needed, to make me better.” We want to believe that everything happens for a reason that we can understand. We want an explanation for our suffering where everything adds up.
But the truth is that we all experience suffering. We each have a cross and most of the time, the cross doesn’t make sense to us. One person doesn’t need infertility while another needs a crisis pregnancy. And once we recognize that the cross isn’t about us, it allows us to recognize God’s presence in our suffering.
Our experience of infertility has allowed me to experience both a deep empathy for others as well as the temptation to bitterness. And this is the cross: a splitting of the heart; but also, a widening, making room for others bearing the same cross, and the deep question that rises up, “Why me?!”
There is a bitter sweetness to the cross. When I see or hear others’ stories, the ones where expectations have been dashed or they’re realizing their lack of control, my heart is with them.
I think this is part of what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. It means that we sit with others in their suffering not trying to fix or make their problem go away. We help each other carry our crosses by remaining present with them through the struggle. It means that when others struggle, we resist imagining that we could handle that cross better than the cross we’ve been given or that crosses are something we deserve or earn.
I can’t call infertility a gift, but for as much as it has opened our hearts to grief and sadness, it has also opened our hearts just as deeply to gratitude and a joy that comes only from recognizing God’s nearness as we suffer. This is how it is with the crosses we are given. We each have one to bear, and as we experience the pain and suffering that it brings, we realize that it is there to stay.
This is how it is with the crosses we are given. The pain of each cross is unique to the one who bears it, but the experience opens us up to help others with their own. And even when we receive help in carrying our own cross, its weight leaves a mark on our lives. By its doing so, we become united with Christ in a particular way, joining our suffering to his as an offering of love.
Becca Crooks likes to ask questions, wrestle with words, and drink good coffee. She lives with her husband and two dogs in North Dakota where they spend as much time as they can outside. She shares her thoughts online at www.becwrites.com and can be found on Instagram under @beccrooks