St. Maximilian Kolbe

Song Amidst Sorrow

Ten men stand gathered in prayer.  Maximilian Kolbe leads the group and begins to sing.  The men join him in song, and their praises echo from within Cell 18 of Block 11.  The men are shut in an underground bunker in Auschwitz, sentenced to die because of a prisoner escape.  And yet, in the midst of this great darkness, the men were singing. Their leader, Kolbe, chose to be there.  One of the men chosen to die had been Franciszek Gajowniczek, a Polish army sergeant. But Gajowniczek began to cry out, “My wife! My children!”  Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward courageously, saying, “I am a Catholic priest from Poland; I would like to take his place, because he has a wife and children.”  And so after two weeks in the bunker, watching the men around him die, continuing to pray and sing, Maximilian Kolbe–instead of Franciszek Gajowniczek–died from a lethal injection of carbolic acid.

Biography

Maximilian Kolbe was born Raymund Kolbe on January 8, 1894 in Zdunska Wola, Poland.  At a young age, Kolbe had a vision of the Blessed Mother offering him two crowns–one white and one red–for perseverance in purity and for martyrdom.  Kolbe asked to receive both crowns.

The vision ignited within Kolbe a desire to serve Christ.  At 13 years old, Kolbe left to attend the Conventual Franciscan Seminary in Lwow.  He took the religious name Maximilian in 1910. He was ordained a priest and returned to Poland in 1919.

Kolbe taught the faith through radio broadcasts and publications.  His monastery near Warsaw gave shelter to Jews during the Second World War.  After his monastery published a series of anti-Nazi pamphlets, Kolbe was arrested and sent to Auschwitz on February 17, 1941, for hiding Jews.  

In July 1941, one of the Nazi commanders found that some prisoners had escaped. He ordered the execution of ten men.  When Maximilian Kolbe courageously volunteered to take the place of Franciszek Gajowniczek, the switch was allowed.

After two weeks, the guards came in with a lethal injection of carbolic acid.  They needed to clear the cell to make room for additional executees. Kolbe calmly accepted his death, never ceasing his prayers for the men that were persecuting him.

Franciszek Gajowniczek was reunited with his wife in 1946, but his two sons died in the war.  He attended Maximilian Kolbe’s canonization in 1981 and survived to the age of 93. Each year on August 14, he returned to Auschwitz, honoring the man who gave his life to save him.

St. Maximilian Kolbe and I

There are some saints that chose us, rather than us choosing them. I first remember hearing of St. Maximilian Kolbe, the saint with both the crown of martyrdom and the crown of heroic virtue, when I was in middle school. His story, that of a priest in a concentration camp that gave his life to save another, has stuck with me ever since.

For nearly two years now, St. Maximilian Kolbe has held a special place in my heart. Upon learning that I was pregnant, Maximilian Kolbe became one of my patrons as I asked for a healthy pregnancy, safe delivery, and healthy baby.

Madeleine’s middle name was originally going to be Cecilia. Neither Nicholas nor I felt strongly attached to the name. When we discovered we were having a girl, Nicholas and I knew that her middle name needed to change. There needed to be some connection to Maximilian Kolbe.

Nicholas suggested “Kolbe” as her middle name, but I felt it was too masculine. For a week or so, we prayed and struggled to find alternatives with a tie to St. Maximilian. Finally, we went to Mass.

During Mass, Nicholas turned to me and asked, “What about Immaculata?” It was perfect. Not only was it a tie to St. Maximilian Kolbe through the Militia Immaculata he founded, but also it was a tie to the Blessed Mother and a nod to me, as my birthday is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

He has been her patron ever since.

I first became fascinated by St. Maximilian Kolbe after a trip to Poland in 2015. There was no time to visit Auschwitz, but I saw multiple mentions of him throughout the trip. His courage and selflessness impressed upon my heart the great value that is a human life. Upon my return, I made him the subject of one of my creative writing assignments.

Maximilian Kolbe continued to pop up in various ways. I was working on an application to Dynamic Catholic in 2016. The topic I was assigned for my sample writing assignments? St. Maximilian Kolbe.

Last week, I began setting up my classroom. I looked at the saint outside my door, the saint designated as my classroom patron: St. Maximilian Kolbe, Patron Saint of Journalists.

I very nearly cried.

Just today, Nicholas informed me that St. Maximilian Kolbe’s birthday is January 8th. I was baptized on January 8th. Clearly, I am meant to have a connection with this saint.

This year, in all of my classes, we will be beginning class with prayers written by or asking the intercession of St. Maximilian Kolbe. He is a saint that demonstrates that there is light amidst darkness, hope amidst despair, love amidst great evil. And that is the sort of saint that many of us need in our lives to continue to hope when all else seems stacked against us.

St. Maximilian Kolbe, Pray for Us

St. Maximilian Kolbe, we ask you to help us to grow in selflessness and generosity.  Inspire us to sacrifice ourselves and our desires for the good of others. Help us to remain joyful even in the midst of great darkness and suffering, and to pray especially for those that have wounded us.

St. Maximilian Kolbe, you were willing to give your life to save the life of another.  Help us to more deeply recognize the sacredness and infinite value of each human life. Grant that through your prayers, all families, prisoners, and drug addicts may find joy and peace in Christ.

If you would like to read more about St. Maximilian Kolbe, you can find a creative piece I wrote on him here.


TTC: On the Other Side of NFP 

This is a post written in the midst of our infertility journey that I had not gotten around to publishing.

When Nick was hired by the Athenaeum (Cincinnati’s Seminary) in late February, I couldn’t have been happier. We had jumped into marriage trusting in God’s timing, and here was an answered prayer. After going out to dinner and celebrating, we began talking about the changes the new job would bring.

I was excited to move to Cincinnati, which had always been one of the two cities where I wanted to live. Nick was happy to be working for the Church and assisting the students at the seminary. We started looking at apartments and town homes, ready to be out of UD Student Housing.

As we discussed what we both felt to be a true start to our lives together, our discussion turned to children. Nick had a steady, stable job now, with amazing health insurance and a comfortable salary. Before that point, Nick was a graduate assistant at UD and we were living in student housing as part of his assistantship. I still had a semester left to finish my undergraduate. It was easy to see that we shouldn’t rush into trying to have children, though building a family together was one of the deepest desires of our hearts.

I remember the profound joy I felt when Nick and I decided to intentionally build our family together. In previous months, we had remained open, but we wouldn’t have said we were trying. At first it was easy to remain hopeful and excited each month, but after a few months of trying, it began to weigh on both of us.

Suddenly, communicating about my fertility became a big deal and a source of anxiety for me. I wanted to allow Nick the chance to initiate, but I knew he also needed to be aware of the changes in my cycle. I didn’t want to put pressure on either of us, but as the months passed I felt a growing sense of urgency and the need to take advantage of every opportunity. It was exhausting for both of us and it became a strain on our marriage.

In our marriage prep, we’d heard about the stresses of NFP. We’d heard about the difficulties of choosing to abstain during times of fertility rather than choosing a form of birth control. We’d heard that NFP could cause fights and at times resentment.

Everything we’d heard about the difficulties of NFP prior to our marriage was in the context of using NFP to avoid having. children (or TTA).

Clearly, we weren’t using NFP to avoid having children at this point in our marriage. It followed then, that there should be no difficulties caused by using NFP, no stress, no strain on our marriage.

We didn’t have to abstain at any point in my cycle! We didn’t need to worry anxiously about being pregnant when we weren’t ready! From the point of view of anyone that was currently trying to avoid having children by using NFP, we’d struck gold, and we should take advantage of this fun and exciting time in our marriage.

And while for a few months we felt that excitement and gratitude for our situation, as stress and worry about fertility mounted, the excitement and gratitude faded away.

Our marriage prep failed us. I realize that may seem to be a drastic statement, but I believe it’s true. When the couple you bring in to talk about NFP is the couple that “gets pregnant when the husband sneezes” (something the wife actually said while teaching us about NFP), the only side of NFP that you will hear about the crosses that come with NFP are those related to trying to avoid children. But there are a whole other set of crosses and struggles when a couple is trying to conceive (TTC) and it doesn’t happen. Even if the couple doesn’t ever meet the standards for being called “infertile” (6 months to a year of trying, depending on age as well as the doctor you ask) trying for two, three, four months is still stressful. It can still create issues that need to be addressed. The Church does newlyweds a disservice a when the struggles that come with TTC (and not just avoiding children) are not included in the marriage prep discussions about NFP.

I truly believed that trying to build our family would be a time of joy and excitement in our marriage. Sometimes, it is a time of joy and excitement. But other times, it can be a time of frustration, stress, and worry. It can drain Nick and me, although in different ways. It can cause tension and resentment between us, something we were not prepared to work through when it came to the intimate issue of building our family. As newlyweds that followed the Church’s teachings on sexual morality, intimacy was already new to us. It was already a struggle to communicate about issues related to intimacy, simply because we didn’t even have the language or the knowledge of how to do so—as is true of all newlyweds that choose to follow Church teaching. Now, because we were trying to have children, there was an added set of issues we needed to discuss with each other related to intimacy—on top of simply figuring out how to communicate with each other about intimacy in the first place.

I truly believe that had our marriage prep included a discussion on the tensions that can arise in a marriage while trying to build a family, that we could have dealt with some of these issues more gracefully. It would’ve helped to simply know that what we were going through was normal. It would’ve helped simply to know that we might expect some additional tension at times. We had learned things about arguing, finances, dating each other while married, compatibility, temperament, and love languages. We certainly didn’t follow through with everything we learned (and are still working on it, as are all couples), but simply having the knowledge was a great help to us. It helped us feel that we had at least some of the tools we needed to address the situations that arose between us. But when it came to building our family together—and intimacy in general—we did not feel that we had the tools we needed, and so we had to seek out the knowledge ourselves.

I know I am not alone in this struggle. I know of many married woman that say that they felt wholly unprepared for the struggles that came with marital intimacy. I have had numerous discussions with other couples about how the Church needs to be more upfront about issues that can arise with sexuality in a marriage as well as how to deal with them. I have read countless stories about women–and their husbands–who were utterly blindsided by the problems that accompanied trying to have children.

For those that have started trying to build their family, whether it be the first or seventh time, know that you are not alone in these struggles—whether it’s the first, third, or seventh month, or whether it’s been years, it doesn’t matter. There are always difficulties that accompany the TTC side of NFP. I believe this is the silent side of NFP, the side that people don’t talk about, because after all, Catholics can easily pop out ten babies. And we all know that NFP is all about creating happy families, because that’s what good Catholics do, right?  We all know that NFP is the natural option for family planning, and so it naturally follows that when you don’t abstain during fertile times, that your body will naturally do what it’s created to do!

These statements aren’t true, and yet within Catholic circles we seem to silently accept them as such. Trying to have a child isn’t as simple as checking in with your spouse monthly and deciding that yes, we are ready for a baby! Deciding that you are ready does not mean a baby will follow, and yet this was the impression that was given in our marriage prep–and the impression I believe is given among most Catholic circles. There were almost elements of the prosperity Gospel, since there was this idea that if you follow God’s plan for sexuality and don’t use birth control in your marriage, that God will bless you abundantly with children and shower blessings on your marriage. We should follow God’s plan for sexuality out of love for Him and because it respects our spouses. We should not be convinced to “buy in” to NFP by hearing the stats about how couples that use NFP have better commmunication, better experiences with intimacy, etc. We need to be honest with couples preparing for marriage about the difficulties that can arise with sexuality, trying to avoid children, and trying to have them—in so far as is appropriate and prudent for couples that are not yet married.

We reached a point in our marriage where intimacy was a chore and an obligation. Intimacy became a source of anxiety as I examined my chart and started feeling “it’s not enough if we want a baby.” I relied more and more on my understanding of health and cycles to try to optimize our chances for success—acting as if I could control whether we had a baby. I pinned the success of my health goals on two pink lines at the end of the month. I made Nick feel objectified and as if I was only interested in having a baby. I felt Nick didn’t care enough and didn’t understand what I was going through. It resulted in a myriad of issues that all came to a head around our first anniversary, pushing us to question whether we needed marriage counseling.

Thankfully, because we were able to recognize the issues that were disrupting and straining our marriage, we were able to develop a plan of attack to address these issues. We began having intentional, vulnerable conversations with each other about our struggle.  I was able to listen to Nick’s concerns and adjust the way I approached him and our fertility so that both of our needs were met. I began focusing on the many blessings in our marriage, and this ignited a new, deeper intimacy between us. We were able to do this because our marriage had a strong foundation in our faith.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of all newlywed couples in the Church that are experiencing this struggle.

We need to have frank, open conversations about the struggles couples can encounter in their sexuality, especially when using NFP for any purpose. I would strongly encourage those involved in marriage prep to have multiple presenters for the NFP talk, so that a variety of experiences, struggles, and blessings that come from using NFP may be presented. There is no singular experience of NFP or married sexuality, and the way we prepare couples entering into marriage should reflect that reality. When we avoid these difficult discussions out of a misplaced sense of propriety, we are doing a disservice to newlyweds. There is a difference between speaking imprudently about one’s very intimate experiences with one’s spouse and seeking to educate and inform those entering into marriage about the difficulties they may encounter.

Despite the Church’s beautiful teachings on Theology of the Body, speaking about the struggles and joys that accompany married sexuality still remains somewhat taboo. We remain silent so to avoid scandal, but in being silent, do we produce scandal by failing to adequately prepare couples for the realities of married life?

We cannot remain silent on these issues, and yet while these realities require frank discussion so as to adequately prepare couples, they also require a certain delicacy and restraint. These are matters of a deeply intimate and personal nature, and we must recognize and treat them as such. We must maintain the sacredness of the intimacy shared between the couple. Walking this fine line is certainly difficult, yet I firmly believe that it is a line we must walk if we wish to truly form couples in the Church’s teachings on sexuality.

We cannot continue to fail newlyweds. There is much that needs to be reformed in marriage preparation, and I strongly believe that the treatment of sexuality is one topic desperately in need of greater emphasis in marriage prep. If we are bold, yet prudent, in our discussion of married sexuality, we can address a myriad of potential issues before they even begin in a marriage. We can encourage those in need of healing from previous experiences to seek help. We can invite couples into the struggles and sufferings that married life carries with it, particularly with the use of NFP for any reason. Ultimately, in choosing not to be silent on these issues, we can raise up a stronger and more faithful Church, built upon the foundation of strong and holy marriages.

Entering into the Visitation: Announcing Visitation Bible Study

The Visitation has always been one of my favorite images. I first came to love the Visitation because it tells the story of St. Elizabeth, my namesake. As I grew older, I came to love it because of the beautiful friendship and joy it showcased between two beautiful, God-fearing women–Our Lady and St. Elizabeth.

When I went off to college, I left behind one of my dear friends. She and I had grown with each other throughout high school, sharing our hopes and dreams, our heartaches, and our faith. She had been and continues to be, a formative person in my faith and life. She is the type of friend that after months apart, will talk to you for hours upon meeting you again. She visited me in Rome and we traveled to Krakow together. We have shared so many joyful memories with each other and we have poured out our sorrows to one another.

It is my friendship with her that began to draw me more deeply to the Visitation.

During one of our visits with each other, after mass, I was praying. I was reflecting on the beautiful gift of our friendship and the tremendous blessing it had been to my faith. And as I was praying and reflecting, I felt God speaking to my heart, “I will make of your friendship an image of the Visitation.”

I then began reflecting on the Visitation as an image of true and authentic friendship. I saw in the Visitation a meeting of souls. I sought to live out the beautiful love Mary and Elizabeth had for one another in all my friendships. I fell in love with the Visitation Mission of the Sisters of Life, in which they meet with women in crisis pregnancies and strive to journey with them as Mary did with Elizabeth. This image of love and friendship, of rejoicing in another’s joys, of being fully present to another became a central image of my spirituality. The Visitation is so close to my heart that Nicholas proposed to me on the traditional feast day of the Visitation.

I want to help others to enter into the joy of the Visitation. I want to help others enter into the joys and sorrows of those around them. I want to facilitate the meeting of souls that Mary and Elizabeth experienced with one another. And for that reason, I feel God calling me to begin a Bible Study for that purpose.

The mission of Visitation Bible Study will be to explore how we can enter into the struggles and joys of one another with a particular focus on the cross of infertility. Visitation Bible Study will seek to explore authentic love and femininity through the stories of women in the Bible and the friendships they shared with one another. It will examine how we can support one another in our struggles and joys–whether fertile or infertile, married or single. It will examine redemptive suffering as lived out in the lives of Biblical women and propose a method for living out redemptive suffering in our marriages and friendships. It will use the Eucharist as a model for being fully present to one another and for giving ourselves fully to Christ. It will seek to rediscover joy in the midst of suffering through encouraging authentic, Christ-centered friendship.

Visitation Bible Study will begin here, on my blog, but my hope is to eventually form a local, small community of women around it. Every Sunday, I will release a new reflection on a particular passage. Eventually I may compile these reflections into a book format, but for now, I want it to be available to anyone that can make use of it. The archive for the Bible Study will be located here: Visitation Bible Study. The reflections will be written in such a way that they can be used for personal study or adapted for a group. I hope that they will inspire others to form their own communities and share the Bible Study with others. Visitation Bible Study is the beginning of a ministry that I pray will expand and grow into a broader ministry focused on ministering to those struggling with infertility while creating a network of support with the mission of forming an entire community in the image of the Visitation.

We will begin with reflections on the Visitation, and then work through portions of Genesis. We will journey with Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Hannah through their sufferings and joys. We will walk with Ruth and Esther, examining their faith and courage. We will explore Exodus and the establishment of the covenant, applying the isolation, fear, and eventual trust of the Israelites to our own journeys. We will study Mary and Martha, looking at the need for rest in Christ in our lives. We will seek to understand the Eucharist and what it means to live a Eucharistic life. We will examine Christ’s Passion and death from the point of view of both Mary Magdalene and Our Lady of Sorrows. And finally, we will end with the resurrection and the ascension of Christ, seeking to understand how the resurrection should change how we view our sorrows and the sorrows of others.

We frequently forget how to walk with others in the midst of their sufferings. We forget how to approach others while they are carrying their crosses and wipe their faces as Veronica did for Christ. It is more comfortable and convenient to focus on our own sufferings and our own lives, rather than reaching out and seeking to enter into the lives of others. Opening up about our crosses and entering into the sorrows of others takes effort and a brave vulnerability. And yet, we are a Church of sinners. We are a hospital for the broken. And it is only through being present to others in our brokenness and their sufferings that we can begin to heal through the grace of Christ.

It is my hope that this meditation series might be a beginning to more deeply living out Christ’s call to love and mercy in the midst of sorrow and suffering. Please pray that this ministry may reach all that need it and that it may truly be guided by the Holy Spirit. I would love to hear topic suggestions from readers. The first meditation will be posted on June 5—I look forward to journeying with you all in prayer. 

Please see the Update given on the Bible Study and Blog on 7/26/17.  

Becoming an Image of the Visitation

And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;  for nothing will be impossible for God.” -Luke 1:36-37

I have often found that when others learn of our struggle with infertility, they don’t know how to respond.  Often they want to journey with us and support us, but sometimes their words can be unintentionally hurtful.  Rather than rushing out to the hill country like Mary to rejoice with Elizabeth in her joy and her sorrows, they find themselves crippled in reaching out to us.  Especially when a friend finds themselves expecting a child, they often do not know the best way to tell us that is considerate of our struggles and at the same time allows us the opportunity to share in their joy.

Infertility is a very silent cross.  It is not something that you can see, like poverty, hunger, cancer, disabilities, and other visible crosses.  There is a silence that surrounds infertility because it involves a very personal matter.  And sometimes, when those with this struggle do speak up, they are dismissed.

I attended the Greater Cincinnati Women’s Conference on March 1 of this year with a beautiful woman who has become a great friend.  While there, I was sharing some of my struggles with some other women. I was also talking about my desire to build a ministry that would meet the needs of couples struggling with infertility.  An older woman, one of the speakers, overheard me talking and decided to involve herself in the conversation.  Her heart was coming from a place of true love and concern, and yet her words were hurtful.

At the time of the conference I had been married for thirteen months.  Upon hearing that I had only been trying for thirteen months she said to me, “Oh, don’t worry about it then! It’s only been just over a year and Dr. Hilgers gets 88% of his patients pregnant! You’re on the right track, and look, God has even given you a vocation out of this struggle! You’ll be just fine, don’t get too worked up about it.”

I felt crushed. I felt foolish for sharing my struggle with these other women.  I felt like my suffering didn’t matter, and that I was making a big deal out of nothing. I felt that because I’d only been struggling with fertility issues for a little over a year, that my infertility wasn’t a “valid” cross that I was carrying.  I started to wonder if it was all in my head.  I started worrying that perhaps my own stress and anxiety were the cause of our inability to conceive. I felt lost and embarrassed that I had even bothered to open up to these women. I thought that perhaps I was just being a drama queen and was complaining of my struggles unnecessarily to these women.

When people open up about their crosses, we have the beautiful opportunity to become an image of the visitation.  We have the option to set out and travel to the hill country in haste to rejoice with our brothers and sisters in Christ, to share in their sorrows, and to carry their burdens with them.  We have an opportunity to become an image of Christ to them and to recognize Christ within their hearts.  And when we dismiss the sufferings of others, either by saying that they haven’t gone through their suffering long enough, or not to worry, or that it isn’t a big deal, we miss that opportunity.

When Mary visited Elizabeth, Elizabeth rejoiced with Mary, saying “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:42-44)  She recognized Christ incarnate in the womb of Mary, as did her infant, John. Mary then responds by rejoicing with Elizabeth in the Magnificat,

And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
47     my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
48 For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
    behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
49 The Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is from age to age
    to those who fear him.
51 He has shown might with his arm,
    dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
52 He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
    but lifted up the lowly.
53 The hungry he has filled with good things;
    the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped Israel his servant,
    remembering his mercy,
55 according to his promise to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Mary then remained with Elizabeth for three months.  She rejoiced for “she who was called barren is now in her sixth month.”  And though we do not know specifically  what happened in those three months, we do know that Mary loved Elizabeth with a perfect love.  Mary served Elizabeth in her need.  And we can guess that Mary helped Elizabeth when she was in pain, comforted her when she was weak, and tended to her with gentleness and attentiveness.

We need to imitate the Visitation, especially with those who are suffering.  Rather than dismissing someone’s struggles, especially with infertility, we need to acknowledge how difficult they must be.  We need to try to enter into their journey and understand that this has been a daily cross.  There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about our struggles in one way or another, because I have to track my cycle and chart every day.  Rather than telling them “Don’t worry about it!” or “Just relax!”, we need to acknowledge the struggles and pains of their heart.  We need to journey with them towards Calvary.  We need to look at them and see Christ suffering in them.  Even just listening can be an effective way to enter into another’s sufferings.  Speaking of things that have helped us in our struggles can be particularly effective.  For example, rather than saying, “Have you tried praying the Divine Mercy Novena?” look at them and say, “That pain sounds so difficult to carry.  I know when I’ve been struggling that I’ve found comfort in the Divine Mercy chaplet.” Acknowledge their pain, and give advice from a perspective of active listening rather than simply trying to fix their problem for them.

Infertility is an intimate and heavy cross.  Because it is so personal, it is difficult to speak candidly to others about it.  Many are simply unaware of how their comments can be hurtful, even when they are trying to help.  I am part of a few online support groups for women struggling with infertility, and so I asked them what was helpful and hurtful when trying to walk with them in their journeys.  I found a singular theme in what they said was helpful: don’t be dismissive to our suffering and have an awareness of the impact of your words.

Just the other day my husband and I attended a marriage enrichment opportunity.  The man greeting us asked us if we had kids yet, to which we said, “No, we’re still newlyweds.” It was the easiest response. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that statement.  It’s a common conversation starter. But be aware that even that question can be a reminder to those with this struggle about their cross. What truly hurt was what followed, when the man said, “Oh that’s smart, waiting a bit.”  Nicholas then interrupted him and told him, “No, we’ve been trying. We want children.”

Journeying with others means not making judgements on some of their most private decisions.  Family planning should not be fodder for casual conversation.  Even those who don’t have infertility but have the opposite struggle can be hurt by remarks on family planning.  Saying to “fertile myrtle”, the woman with three kids under three who is pregnant yet again, “Was this one planned or a surprise?” can be invasive and potentially a reminder to her of how deeply overwhelmed she is and how much fear she carries about being able to be a good wife and mother with four children so young. Saying to the family with two children undergoing private financial hardships, “So when is the next one coming?” could be a reminder of their deep desire for more children and their harsh reality that they can’t handle another one yet.  Journeying with others means accepting their situation as it is and looking at them with concern and love and simply saying, “How are you doing?”

When I was discerning with the Sisters of Life I learned about their Visitation Mission which met with women in crisis pregnancies.  One sister said something particularly impactful: “When we sit down to talk to these women, the first thing we ask them is ‘How are you doing?’ Often we are the first person to ever ask them that question. They pour their hearts out to us, and we just listen, letting them know they are loved.”

Just listen to us.  Let us know that we are loved. Let us know that you see us struggling. Remember us on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, for we pray for our children every day and love them, though they are not yet in our arms. For those of us called to adoption, we pray that our children may be safe and loved wherever they are, for we do not know how or when our children will come to us and it is possible that they are already on this earth.  Pray for us, dear friends. Pray for us, ask us “How are you doing?” Give us the opportunity to open up about our struggles, and if we are ready, we will.  And then when we’ve finished talking, if you are lost as to what you should do, just ask “Is there any way I can help you? How can I journey with you in this cross?”

Most importantly, just be aware. Be aware that there are those struggling to have a child. Be aware that not every married couple without children is contracepting. Be aware that dismissive comments such as “You’re so young!”, “Just relax!”, or “Don’t worry!” are hurtful. Know that giving advice such as “Have you tried x?” or “have you thought about adoption?” can feel invasive and doesn’t acknowledge our sufferings. Be aware that the way you announce your pregnancy to your friend could be hurtful.   Some women prefer an email and text so they can mourn privately and then still respond to your announcement with joy. Some families would prefer that if you are a close friend, that you call them or tell them in person, depending on the distance.  You know your loved ones, so consider their needs and their situation when you decide how to share your good news.  But tell them directly.  And then invite them to journey with you through the joys and struggles of your pregnancy.  Challenge them to imitate the Visitation with you.

I would like to take the time to thank those that have been a true image of the Visitation to us.  These are people that have entered into our journey with us, encouraged us, and helped us to know that we are loved and supported.  The man who asked us if we had children later apologized to us after the event, recognizing how we had been hurt, and so I would like to thank him.  I am going to avoid last names here since I don’t have permission to use them, but I would like to thank my dear friend Grace for her constant friendship and support.  I would like to thank my parents and Nick’s parents for their love and prayers. I would like to thank Rebekah, for being a true friend to me, opening up to me about her fears, and for listening to me.  I would like to thank one of Nicholas’ dear high school friends, who knew about our struggles and announced her pregnancy to Nicholas with true consideration for our struggles.  I want to thank all those that have prayed for us. And I would like to thank all of the people that have opened up to us about their struggles after reading these articles. You have made us feel deeply supported and loved.

Finally, I would like to thank a couple with whom Nicholas and I hope to become dear friends.  Devynn and Clifford, thank you for opening up your lives to us. Devynn, thank you for inviting me to the Women’s Conference.  Thank you for listening to me as I poured out my heart.  Thank you for sharing your own fears with me. And thank you to both of you for so considerately telling us about your joyful pregnancy and then inviting us to journey with you through it as your little baby’s soon-to-be godparents.  The two of you were a true inspiration for this post, as it was your invitation that began to show me how imitating the Visitation is a true model for ministering to those in their sufferings and their joys.

To all those that have sought to be with us in our joys and sufferings in this journey, thank you. Keep imitating the Visitation with all those whom you meet.

For it is our sincere hope, that at the end of this journey, we will be able to rejoice with one another saying, “This is the sixth month for her who was called barren;  for nothing will be impossible for God.”

This is the fourth post in a series for National Infertility Awareness Week. The other posts are below.

Infertility as Disease: Accepting and Navigating the Medical Side of Infertility

Gratitude: The Gift Amidst the Cross

Put Out Into the Deep

A Cross Not Without Purpose