The agony of infertility comes in waves for Tamara Labat.
She is no stranger to pain. As a child, when she was sexually abused and shuttled among five schools in Missouri and Oklahoma, Labat, now 23 and married, carved out her safe house.
Every school had a library. The stacks of books were true friends that helped her escape the horrors of a childhood violated. She learned to cherish the silence; she could control the message and no one could tell her that what she had experienced had never happened.
A book could take her places she had never been. The stacks helped her hide.
“The librarians were my best friends at school,” Labat said. “They knew me by name. They loved me, and I loved them.”
Because of all her forced family moves, Labat was the lost penny in every new school she attended. Her perceptive classmates found out her mother was on food stamps and used that information like shiv.
“There was bullying,” Labat said. “Some of them would turn around in class and ask me, ‘Why are you so smart?’ And one of my friends would tell them, ‘Because she is!’ I would say, ‘I’m sorry I know things that you don’t.’”
When things at home got really bad during her senior year in Missouri in 2012, Labat dropped out, without much hope. Her aunt and uncle – Michele and Scott Williams – offered to give her a fresh start if she came to live with them in New Iberia, Louisiana.
They made only one demand: “You have to do well in school.”
“That was my thinking in life,” Labat said. “My brother and my sister, neither one finished high school. I wanted to be different. I had a goal, and I was going to reach it. I was going to walk across that stage.”
Labat arrived so late and had missed so much of her senior year that she had to start her entire year over. She made a few friends through Westgate High School’s drama club, but mostly she studied and endeared herself to the Westgate librarians. She graduated with a 3.0 GPA.
Her Uncle Scott, an oilfield electrician, had an idea one day during a 14-day shift on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. He turned to his young coworker, Travis Labat.
“You’ve got a job, you’ve got a car; you’re coming home to meet my niece,” Uncle Scott told him.
When they got back for their 14-day break, Williams threw a big barbecue, and Travis came over to meet Tamara.
“He told me, ‘Get dressed, you’re going on a date,’” Tamara recalled. “My uncle told me, ‘Give Travis your phone number.’ Travis told my uncle, ‘I was going to ask her for her number, but you have to give me a chance.’”
Tamara and Travis were married in 2014, and in 2015, she became Catholic. The Labats have moved into Immaculate Conception Parish in Marrero, and they have been trying for the last four years, without success, to conceive.
Tamara has been to several doctors. She was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), a common hormonal disorder that causes abnormal menstrual cycles and cysts that can affect the ovaries’ ability to release eggs. One in eight women suffers from infertility.
She has tried commonly prescribed medications, is due for another and is waiting to receive training in the Creighton model of fertility so that she might be a candidate for NaProTechnology, a science that monitors a woman’s reproductive health using natural means.
Sometimes, especially when Travis is away for two weeks working on the oil rig and she is alone, doubled over with cramps, she wonders what inscrutable test God is asking her to take. She joined a Catholic women’s PCOS support group on the internet but left in tears when she was criticized for being angry with God and not wanting to attend Mass, where she would see young mothers holding their babies in their arms.
“I was told I was a horrible person,” Tamara said. “They told me I needed to go to a good confessor and that I had to go to Mass no matter what. It made me feel 10 times worse. I couldn’t go to Mother’s Day Mass. I couldn’t bring myself to see all the mothers stand up and get blessed. I felt empty and betrayed. I felt like I had done everything I could, and God turned his back on me.”
For a woman robbed of her childhood innocence, this new pain seemed infinitely worse.
“I think for some reason infertility has been a bigger struggle than all the other things,” Tamara said. “Women are supposed to get married and have children, and when the doctor tells you you can’t get pregnant, you think, ‘Now, I’m not going to do what I was meant to do.’”
Her pastor at Immaculate Conception, Father Jimmy Jeanfreau, counseled Tamara to return to Mass. “He told me the church is a community, and I might be blocking myself from the community,” Tamara said. “He encouraged us to come back.”
Some days, Tamara can barely get out of bed because she is in so much pain. Her husband’s family has been nothing but supportive. She worries about the stress on Travis. That’s why she would love to form a support group and perhaps even have an occasional Mass celebrated in the archdiocese for couples who are having trouble conceiving.
“It takes such a toll on the woman, but it also puts a toll on your spouse,” Tamara said. “You have to have a really strong relationship to work through it. There have been times I have sat in my husband’s lap and cried. He doesn’t talk about it much; he’s more of a silent person. But the worst part is that he can’t help me. He feels bad because he can’t make me better.”
The Labats will keep trying. They will keep praying. Tamara teaches fifth-grade CCD classes at Immaculate Conception, and what a day it would be if she could make an angelic announcement – about the child conceived in her womb.
“All my friends and family members who mean something to me have told me I would be an amazing mom,” Tamara said. “I love children. I eventually want to go to college to become a teacher. I want a big family and I want to do all the things I didn’t have a chance to do. I want to be a better mother than I’ve seen. I want to give my kids a stable home and a stable family.”
She has not yet decided what book she would first read to her own child snuggled in her lap, but it probably would be either “Little House on the Prairie” – “I love classic, wholesome books” – or “The Man Who Loved Clowns” – a novel about a 13-year-old girl, Delrita, whose Uncle Punky has Down syndrome. Delrita both adores and is embarrassed by her Uncle Punky, but when her parents die tragically in a car wreck, Punky’s enduring love for Delrita is an anchor to a teenager in despair.
“I don’t read books over and over,” Tamara said. “I read that book at least 20 times.”
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached by firstname.lastname@example.org.