This is something I have been thinking about for a while now – how do I make visible The Gospel of Life as a barren woman? This is a hard question for reasons I will explain below.
For those of you unfamiliar with the phrase “The Gospel of Life” it is in reference to an encyclical that St. John Paul II wrote titled “Evangeliuum Vitae” about the worth, value, and dignity of every human person. It’s truly a beautiful encyclical. I read it in college and remember being deeply moved…I was literally highlighting every other sentence. Anyone else have books they’ve done that with?
Check out some of the gold nuggets that lie within (bold emphasis added):
“Man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God. The loftiness of this supernatural vocation reveals the greatness and the inestimable value of human life even in its temporal phase.”
“To all the members of the Church, the people of life and for life, I make this most urgent appeal, that together we may offer this world of ours new signs of hope, and work to ensure that justice and solidarity will increase and that a new culture of human life will be affirmed, for the building of an authentic civilization of truth and love.”
“We are asked to love and honor the life of every man and woman and to work with perseverance and courage so that our time, marked by all too many signs of death, may at last witness the establishment of a new culture of life, the fruit of the culture of truth and of love.”
“These can be summed up as follows: human life, as a gift of God, is sacred and inviolable. For this reason procured abortion and euthanasia are absolutely unacceptable. Not only must human life not be taken, but it must be protected with loving concern. The meaning of life is found in giving and receiving love, and in this light human sexuality and procreation reach their true and full significance. Love also gives meaning to suffering and death; despite the mystery which surrounds them, they can become saving events. Respect for life requires that science and technology should always be at the service of man and his integral development. Society as a whole must respect, defend and promote the dignity of every human person, at every moment and in every condition of that person’s life.”
Now why is The Gospel of Life hard for me to think about? Because a subtle lie creeps into my brain with me hardly noticing and here it is:
The Gospel of Life means that to be a good and holy Catholic, you must have lots of children. More kiddos =more holiness.
I’ll be the first to say I believed it without knowing I did. Even before getting married, I wanted 10+ kiddos and to be a stay at home mom….for many good reasons and for the subtle lie I listed above. I am an extremely deep analyzer by nature, which makes me more sensitive to noticing this subtle lie creeping into others’ comments and actions – whether they mean to be reinforcing it or not.
Here is an example of something I saw on Facebook that could reinforce this thinking:
Or this typical conversation: “I’m from a “big Catholic family”…. one of thirteen children.” Typical response: “WOW, you’re mom MUST be a SAINT!”
Now, this above Facebook poster did NOT mean to hurt my little barren heart. I get what he’s saying. Life is beautiful. God’s abundant blessings were upon these women and their bursting-at-the-seams families. It truly is a witness to openness to life within marriage and extremely counter-cultural in a nation that is very anti-life on so many levels. It’s one aspect of The Gospel of Life.
I affirm this aspect and let me say again, I am NOT bashing the poster or saying he had malicious intention or wanted me to think that more kids = more holiness. I know he absolutely didn’t. Nor was he likely even aware of how someone battling infertility could interpret his status update.
Nonetheless, the status absolutely crushed me. I cried a deep painful cry after seeing it. Not because I was angry or jealous…but because of the absence of children who may never be in our marriage. The sadness that we can’t partake in furthering the Gospel of Life in that way since we can’t bear children.
But then something dawned on me…something that exposed that subtle lie in my thinking and put truth in its place.
The Gospel of Life is so much more than bearing lots of children. I thought of so many Catholic infertility bloggers that I have come to really care about. I decided to re-write that status I saw on Facebook in a new way:
I just hung out with the blogger friends in my Catholic Infertility Support Group. In attendance, 100+ women, 0 children, plus several adoption applications in process…to put this in perspective, 0 of our children were there and one of the adoption applications was ours… The Gospel of Life!!!
Even as a couple experiencing infertility, we STILL are witnesses to The Gospel of Life because it’s so much MORE than having lots of kiddos. It can’t be reduced to reproduction. It’s about rejecting anything that steals life and dignity from humanity – contraception, abortion, euthanasia, murder, treating a fellow man or woman with less dignity than their very being demands by existence, artificial means of reproduction, unjust laws, and so much more. Realizing this, it’s obvious that ALL persons, regardless of their state-in-life are able to witness to and uphold the Gospel of Life.
Catholic couples experiencing infertility or sub-fertility have to stand for The Gospel of Life in a different way than couples experiencing abundant and blessed fertility…but they no less witness to it despite feeling less at times. Not only do we stick out for not practicing contraception in marriage and being open to life during the marital act, we also have to battle the mainstream infertility culture that screams “IVF, IVF, IVF,” etc. It can be easy to feel rejected from the “fertile-Catholic-crowd” but also rejected from the “mainstream-infertility-crowd” so we have banded together for support in this arduous journey.
We stand for LIFE in just as beautiful a way despite feeling like we don’t. A way that may never result in the physical blessing of children. A silent way in some aspects. We can also stand for life in other ways that stretch far beyond our reproductive abilities or lack thereof.
I have asked God to forgive my silly thinking that more kids = more holiness. Sometimes I wonder if infertility wasn’t a gift to keep me from going to a very prideful place. Only the Lord knows and I will get the details in another life. It is interesting how these subtle lies can creep into my (and possibly others’) mind over time. Like unwritten rules and expectations everyone knows but never says. By God’s grace, these lies will continue to be replaced with all that is true, good, and beautiful.
Thank you!!! I very much needed to hear this today!
A very beautiful reflection. For some reason it reminds me of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians, “Or if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” Personally, I find that couples who are able to adopt give a special witness to The Gospel of Life that cannot be given by biological parents . Those couples have sought to validate the dignity of life in a stranger. What witness, what love. I would also add that Mother Teresa, though I realize in a completely different situation that yourself, never had a single child of her own and yet was one of the biggest witnesses to the Gospel of Life in the past century.
I, too, needed to hear this! Thank you! I especially liked your rephrasing of the facebook post. Man, I don’t know how I could get through any of this without all of you.
I can completely relate!! Pre-IF, I would say, hear, or think things along the lines of “more kids = more holiness” and think nothing of it. Now, it’s a major, major irritation, not to mention wrong! (as you pointed out)
You are so absolutely right – those of us not blessed with children (biological or adopted) can still witness to the Gospel of Life because EVERYONE can witness to the Gospel of Life! (like you said =)) Our ability to witness to the gift of every human person, and to treat every human person as the beloved son or daughter of God they are isn’t dependent on whether or not our bodies are capable or reproduction, or whether or not a birthmother selects us. (When I write it out, it’s like, “oh yeah, duh!” but like you said, the subtle falsehood is really hard to resist day in and day out.)
One other thought: something that bothers me about people equating big families with Gospel of Life (and not to pick on the Facebook post you shared, but I do think that’s a common example/comment), it can come across as “humble bragging,” a kind of “look how blessed we are…look how much we’re living the Gospel of Life.” I would hesitate to share on Facebook: “Just took our elderly neighbor to the grocery store and then drove our disabled friend to get a new wheelchair…Gospel of Life!” because even though it’s true, it just doesn’t seem right to shout it from the rooftops…? I don’t know – I know we need witnesses to life, but I think humility goes a long way and also makes the world more comfortable for those of us who are living a much more hidden witness.
Anyway, sorry to blab on! Definitely a topic close to my heart too!
You struck a chord with that last thought about the “humble brag”. I actually love that phrase because of this blog article: http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/07/7-ways-to-be-insufferable-on-facebook.html
It had me rolling in laughter but then also just ticked when I would scroll Facebook. It’s VERY hard to resist using social media for self-promotion…but as Christians we aren’t called to bring glory to ourselves but to the Lord. A fine balance in deed. I absolutely think that this whole question of how to use social media in a way that glorifies God will be ongoing for many years. I think many people, Christians included, aren’t using it in a healthy or humble way. Myself included at times. It’s tough to resist “shouting from the rooftops” when something really cool or amazing has just happened. Picking and choosing the right things to share is key…and doing it in the right way. Just hard to balance.
My biggest pet peeve for now is all the mom posts of their kids…CONSTANTLY. It feels as if the kids are a tribute to the parents. I strongly believe that IF has shaped my view of social media and that if we ever do have kiddos, I will share about it on social media…but less often rather than more often. Lots of reasons for why I would choose that and I am sure you and others would feel the same. Mainly, I refuse to inflict pain on a continual basis to my friends who may be longing for the blessing I currently have but they will have later in life/possibly never have. I guess IF has made me more sensitive to possible hurting hearts out there.
Thanks for sharing that thought! If only we could go tell everyone on our newsfeeds this!
I totally agree with your thoughtful post, and all of the great commenters above 🙂 Thanks for returning dignity to those who believe(d) what you did, that holiness=more children by necessity. You are absolutely right, we can ALL participate in the Gospel of Life, with or without biological children. God bless you!
Wow…great post! I cried after I read it and continued to tear up in the car afterwards. I was trying to figure out why your post hit me with so much emotion and I think I’ve figured out two things. Number one…infertility is just not fair. It’s not fair that so many women who want children have a difficult time conceiving. It’s JUST NOT FAIR. And number two…I’ve never heard such beautiful words about the dignity of life. It just struck me to a core. That is a truth that I’m only recently coming to terms with. There is something very real and honest that Catholicism proclaims about the dignity of life and I’m very attracted to that. I’ve never heard anyone speak about life, like the Catholics do. Maybe it’s because I was raised Lutheran or maybe it’s because I wasn’t listening. Whatever the reason, I just thank you that you are a living example of the Gospel of Life. Your witness is leading me to Catholicism whether I like it or not 🙂 In fact, I’m meeting with our local priest on Monday 🙂
LOVE this post! So true! So good! So beautiful!
Wow, this really hit a chord. I can’t tell you how much I’ve struggled with this. One of the things I most looked forward to about getting married was that we were going to have a big family and show our family members (non-practicing) that being open to life is a wonderful thing!! It just kills me. I feel like everyone thinks we’re contracepting. In fact, one of my infertile friends actually got asked if her and her husband were contracepting after Mass, no less! Can you believe that? It’s no surprise actually, because we live in Ave Maria (my husband is a PhD student here) so we’re surrounded by tons of fertile young Catholics. Most women my age have 4 kids already. Anyway, I feel the same way at work. I want to share the Gospel of Life with people in my work environment who aren’t Catholic and I feel like I just look like another young women who wants to work and climb the corporate tower (which is the farthest from the truth!). But you’re SO right, the Gospel of Life is about SO much more. I just wish us standing for the Gospel of Life wasn’t so silent because I feel like it can be misinterpreted like it was for my friend.
Oh and I’ve heard so many comments as well that make it seem like more children = more holiness. In fact, I was at a BBQ with the Graduate students (who all have families) and someone said “my parents always said, you’re not a real parent until you have 4 kids” and then everyone started laughing in agreement and talking about how it’s not even hard until you have at least 4 and they all went on to talk about their big families they came from (and are building) and it left me feeling like I was less because we don’t have any children. As if my life isn’t hard at all because we don’t have any children therefore, I’m less of a Catholic and I’m less holy. I’ve just heard so many comments from people that are basically saying that having more children = more holiness. I know that’s why I’ve believed the lie! Not to mention that comment also left me feeling horrible because we may never even be blessed with 1 child! It made me think about a friend who finally conceived after 9 years of infertility so she has 1 son who is now 5. She said she gets comments all the time from people about how “she wouldn’t understand” because she ‘just’ has one as if she’s not a ‘real’ mom. I want to say to them, “UM hello!!!! The Holy Family ‘just’ had one child!” Ugh. The comments people make….
Anyway, reflecting on this in the past, I have thought how adoption can speak to the Gospel of Life in a way that being open to life can not and if we are blessed to adopt then it is an opportunity to share our story with others and share the Gospel of Life!
Sorry for the long post! I love that I’ve found a community online of other young IF Catholics (though I hate to find others on this journey). It’s just nice to relate 🙂
Thank you so much for your comment!
WOW….that story about your friends after mass. I imagined myself in that scenario and I pray she is far more gracious than I would be. I couldn’t have resisted the opportunity to “educate” about infertility…probably not in a manner involving charity. God forgive the ignorance of others! Without knowing it, others can nail us to the cross or strip us naked emotionally with their stupid and narrow comments. I’m tired of people not being emotionally intelligent. It shocks me how little that exists out there in the general public.
I feel for you…I also work and play in a very Catholic culture. SUCH a blessing on one level. SUCH a dagger on the whole fertility level. Yup – women my age have 3-4 kiddos now. I’m sorry you had to endure those comments about “not being real parents until you have 4 kids.” Did anyone look at you or even notice you present while they had that discussion? Are they so dense as to NOT realize there is a couple sitting there that has no children as they talked about that? GRRR. I again would’ve blown a choleric gasket and reminded them all of the Holy Family….and a dozen other examples of saints from small families.
I am grateful that in FOCUS, while not a majority in the least, there is about a handful of us battling IF, so the masses are starting to catch on and be more aware/sensitive about it. Sounds like you might be paving the way for IF in your community with a handful of others. It’s a rough road but it’s charitable to provide education to others on this cross…so they can stop being jerks without knowing it. I’ll be praying for you in that journey.
Are you around Ave in the summer? Are you in the Florida location or another site?
We are in Ave year-round and in the Florida location 🙂 I remember last summer a lot of FOCUS peeps came here for several weeks, were you here? Is that happening again this summer? My hubby and I would love to have you two over!
I know exactly what you mean a blessing on one level and a dagger on another to be in this Catholic culture. When those comments were made about the 4 kids no one really made any notice of us. It’s really strange, I feel like infertility it SUCH a silent cross, no body really talks about it or even asks me about it. Maybe it’s uncomfortable for people, maybe they think I do not want to talk about it. I would love it if someone asked me how I was doing. I would love it if someone acknowledge that I’m going through something really difficult that feels like I’m grieving a death every single month. There is one other couple that is going through it and we’ve been able to talk about it, share experiences and become quite close. So that has been really nice. Otherwise, I just have a really hard time being around everyone else and try to avoid it because of the conversations I end up in haha
I’d be interested to learn how you have provided education to your community. I’ve been interested in starting some sort of support group for women in our community experiencing IF. Do you guys have anything like that? The only problem I see with that is….is that everyone experiencing IF is trying to work there way out of that battle….so it’s a really weird thing because I could start a support group and then end up pregnant and I would hate to make anyone uncomfortable by my pregnancy (because I know how uncomfortable and sensitive I can be at times around pregnant women and I feel like that’s the very last place you want to see a pregnant woman is at an IF support group). So I’m actually afraid of getting pregnant if I start a support group! HA I’m crazy.
Good to know! Yes I was in Ave all of June this past summer! Shoot, wish we could’ve met. It was a rough summer to say the least – begging the local clinic to take my blood draws and let me ship them to PPVI in Omaha, NE…then finding a UPS to ship it…then scheduling U/S series in Naples…all without a car. LOL It was crazy to say the least. My husband and I will most likely not be there this summer although FOCUS is returning. We will likely drop in for a day or two here and there. If we do, let’s meet up! 🙂
Oh my goodness! That sounds awful. I wish I would have known you then because we could have at least helped with a car. I guess that’s in the past though! Let me know if you are in town at all this summer! Would love to meet up 🙂
oops, I meant to say: adoption can speak to the Gospel of Life, in a way that only having biological children can not… 🙂
Wow, there is so much here to think about. It’s easy to see how lots of children is counter-cultural and a way to bring and different witness to the world, but what about the idea of “love giving meaning to suffering and death”? There’s a lot more there that I have tended to ignore. It is also very true that we can be witnesses of the dignity of all humans when we choose what is hard over what might be easier because the easier road does not fully respect the dignity of persons. A lot to think about, thank you!
Thanks for your comment! You’re right, so many layers to be peeled back and discovered here. St. JPII left us with some seriously rich writings to sift through. The remark on “love giving meaning to suffering and death” is so counter-cultural but amazing.Thinking on this actually got me thinking about the elderly and how much more dignity they deserve from what they receive in typical nursing homes. Or lonely people in prison who long for someone to talk to or visit them. So many places to honor the dignity in others that tended to get overlooked.
Thanks for this post. I too decided before I was married that having a large family would be the way I would witness to the world. Before I knew I was IF, I would look at large families with approval, thinking their holiness was in front of everyone to see. But you are right–we are witnessing to the Gospel of Life without having children (even though sometimes I wish I had a big sign letting everyone know that). 😉
Hi Amanda. I just wanted to let you know that this post really speaks to me. I grew up in a very Catholic environment, and at age 16 I found out I was permanently infertile. When I was in college at Catholic University, I tended to avoid a lot of the campus ministry talks and meetings because of a perceived emphasis on NFP, being open to life, etc. It was always a huge trigger for me- I felt like there was this big club that I would never be a part of. I had thoughts like, “how can my future marriage be fruitful? How can I have a real Catholic marriage if I know we’ll never be pregnant?” It took many years of prayer before I could really accept the situation. Luckily I married a wonderful Catholic man who’s uncle is priest and knew our situation. We were able to focus our pre-Cana accordingly. He (our priest uncle) made our wedding homily all about how marital fruitfulness can mean dozens of things, not necessarily children. Emotionally, it’s still a struggle, but I love reading posts like this, and listening to our homily over again, and reading any and all Catholic materials that speak of marriage and Catholic marriage in particular that don’t focus on having dozens of children. It’s a wonderful blessing for those people, but a blessing, by nature, is a gift- and a gift is not something that should be expected, necessarily. There is a definite shortage of Catholic literature on this subject, and I am so happy to have found this. Thank you!