As a registered nurse, I have patients who experience discomfort in different regions of the arm for a variety of reasons: frozen shoulder, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, the list goes on. Some of these conditions are very difficult to treat, and I’m very blessed that I don’t suffer from these or any other debilitating medical illness. However, my arms ache for a more subtle reason, a physical defect that causes chronic emotional pain rather than physical pain: the inability to bear a child.
“Empty arms” is a common cliché in the world of infertility, but it is one that doesn’t really apply to me. I have a wonderful husband to hold, and when I’m snuggling with him, nothing else in the world matters. But in between hugs, there is a persistent ache to hold a baby of my own. My Church tells me that this is a holy desire. Large families are a sign of God’s blessing. Couples with large families are applauded for remaining open to life. Masses frequently include prayer intentions for parents and families. Mothers stand up for blessings at the Mother’s Day Masses. Parishes offer a plethora of programs and activities for families. In a world where artificial contraception, abortion and stem cell research are widely accepted and utilized (even within some “Catholic” circles), the Church is right to remind us that life is a blessing and to provide support for families. But where does this leave people like me? I am open to life, but my arms still ache.
For ethical reasons, Church teaching restricts certain technologies that could help me to bear a child. I understand the theology behind these doctrines, and I respect them and comply with them.
But I am concerned about other infertile couples who might not be well catechized in this (or other) areas of Church teaching, or who feel invisible and isolated within a Church that provides very limited ministry in this area. Personally, I have hit many dead ends when seeking infertility support within my parish and diocese. I have never once heard a prayer intention at Mass for infertile couples. I have approached the Family Life director at my diocese several times to inquire about starting an infertility support group to operate within the context of Church doctrine, and each time I have been dismissed (this especially stings because my husband and I tithe and provide significant financial support to our parish and diocese). I am reasonably certain that there are numerous Catholics who in desperation have joined secular infertility support groups, which can be a tremendous source of temptation to resort to illicit infertility treatments. Aching arms can lead to desperate measures, in the absence of good catechesis and support.
I have been very blessed to have found an online support group at Yahoo called Catholic-Fertility, which has been my lifeline during the time that I have carried this cross of infertility.
EWTN has started to discuss infertility more frequently, and has several times featured Dr. Hilgers, an infertility doctor who has had great success in treating infertility using licit technologies. Last year at the EWTN Mother’s Day Mass, Father Frank Pavone gave a homily in which he acknowledged the pain of infertility and provided good catechesis on the theology behind Church doctrine regarding infertility treatment. Please join me in praying that Church ministry to infertile couples will continue to grow. And please keep me in your prayers; my husband and I are hoping to adopt in the future, and I trust God that one day my arms will no longer ache.
[Originally published May 29, 2007. Claire has since become a mother.]
(© 2011 Claire Boeck)