One of the things I’ve gotten used to is the growing number of baby announcements among my circle of friends.
I’ve transitioned from the marriage phase into the child phase in a relatively brief period of time. I’ve witnessed the joy and excitement that comes from friends who have shared their announcements, but I’ve also seen the fear and anxiety that arises from an unplanned pregnancy. For the longest time, that was the face of pregnancy: excitement or fear. But lately, I’ve heard more about the complications: infertility or miscarriage.
For the most part, we don’t hear very much about these complications in everyday life. It’s often shoved under the rug or listed as a taboo topic. Or, it could become the elephant in the room about which no one talks but everyone knows.
And yet, these complications are quite common. Certainly, some who experience these complications – particularly miscarriage – are reluctant due to their experience of grief. This is, after all, the loss of a child – a long hoped-for new life.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 6 percent of married women ages 15-44 are unable to become pregnant after trying for one year, and about 12 percent of women in the same age group have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy full term regardless of marital status.
But infertility is not only experienced by women: a 2002 National Survey of Family Growth discovered that 7.5 percent of men younger than 45 reported seeking help from a doctor. That may seem like a small percentage, but that’s 3.3 to 4.7 million men.
In terms of miscarriages, as many as 75 percent of all conceptions miscarry – meaning that many women may never know they were actually pregnant. Once a pregnancy is confirmed, 15-20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage.
I think, however, that these topics are beginning to come to light.
Just a few weeks ago, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis held an infertility Mass, held in proximity to the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Shrine known for its healing properties.
As I attended the Mass, I was surprised by the number of people in attendance. I was surprised because it seemed like such a contradiction. Too often the media represents the prominence of those individuals who have chosen not to have children: who have chosen abortion or the ability to “choose.” And yet, here, I was surrounded by couples who earnestly desired to have children.
The largest message was the healing power of God and that infertility and complications are given as a cross that many people may have to carry.
In that example, we are called to remember the crucifixion of Jesus and his love on the cross.
During the reception, the Office of Natural Family Planning provided resources and there were Catholic doctors that were devoted to Natural Family Planning and NaPro TECHNOLOGY that have been successful in achieving pregnancy. But what seemed most helpful was the sharing of stories: the feeling that complications to pregnancy were not something that couples had to experience alone.
Often times God places people in our lives for a particular reason, and I think this was particularly true for a couple in my Ph.D. program. They’ve openly shared their experiences with miscarriage and infertility, and it was through them that I learned about the Mass.
And yet, despite their obstacles, they held on to their faith: and God granted them a son.
Now, as they continue to overcome similar obstacles again, I am constantly reminded of the strength of their faith and their love and appreciation for family.
This Lent, as we are called to reflect on the crucifixion and the crosses that we all bear, perhaps we can also reach out to those whose crosses can, at times, be unbearable, and reach out to them. Just as Jesus stumbled under the weight of his cross, so many in our Catholic community stumble and need our assistance.
Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.