Follow You Anywhere

I have spent the last five years of my marriage fighting to be the one in control, fighting to have the final word, fighting to be the one to lead. I have been so determined that being equal to my husband is to have equal say and equal contribution that I missed a critical point: the point of dying to oneself and ones desires and seeking instead the good of the other.

I didn’t know what our marriage truly meant until this past year of marriage. It took the breaking of my heart multiple times over until I was so broken down that I feared there was nothing left. I had nothing to give. And I feared that my heart was so torn to pieces that I couldn’t receive love in turn.

And then I saw Nicholas, my husband, die to himself for me, over and over again. I saw him let go of his needs for tidiness. I saw him put away his need for time alone to sit with me and be present. He encouraged me and helped me get into therapy. He was patient with me, through all my emotional outbursts, the worst of my postpartum anxiety, the crushing temptations of postpartum depression. When I was ready to metaphorically walk away, he grabbed my hand from the rubble and firmly said, “no, I will not leave you.”

And so, with love, my walls began to break down. I saw my husband’s service and love to me anew. I saw how in dying to himself he had helped to make me new, and I determined to do the same. And so, when my husband began searching for new employment, I said simply, “I will follow you anywhere.”

And that simple phrase, “I will follow you anywhere” became my refrain for the past year. When I didn’t believe in myself and my husband was the one coaching me through, I had to reply, in trust, “I will follow you anywhere.” When faced with the decision to either keep teaching full time or to resign my position, my husband encouraged me to resign, seeing how much that school had exacerbated my anxiety, and so, I said, “I will follow you anywhere.” When Nick began applying to places as far as Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina, I looked at him and simply said, “I will follow you anywhere.”

And when I stopped tried to lead, stopped fighting for control, when I gave myself over in trust to Nicholas’ leadership, when I responded with a “yes” instead of a “no” while kicking and screaming, when instead of saying “my way or the highway” it changed to “I will follow you” from a place of trust and love, our marriage shifted. No longer was it built on sandy shores near high seas. Instead, it became an impermeable fortress, built on solid foundation, immune to the outside conditions. It will stand no matter the trials, and indeed, the trials will make it stronger.

And so when Nicholas looked at me and said, “I have a job offer at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh,” even though it meant leaving behind all that we know, leaving behind the friends we have just started to grow, leaving behind so many memories, even though it would be easier to stay, I looked at him and said,

“I will follow you anywhere.”

And though this new journey scares me, though it means leaving behind friends and living further away from family, I have trust in the Lord and His providence. I know that this new adventure will mean dying to myself in a hundred new ways. I trust that God will use these little sufferings for His Glory. For through this journey, the Lord has shown me my husband’s strength and created in me a new understanding of our marriage: our marriage is something beyond ourselves, a source of supernatural grace, something that can sustain us in the hardest of moments if we allow it. And so I look forward to building a new home on solid foundation for our family and our marriage, that we may be led to a deeper trust in our Lord. Through it all, I will continue following Nicholas’ leadership, and in doing so, trust that I am also saying to Christ, “I will follow you anywhere.”

The Daughters of Job(e)

I will never forget the moment when Nicholas first shared ideas for future baby names with me: it was November of 2014 and I was in his pickup truck as he was driving me to the airport…for a discernment retreat with the Sisters of Life.

At one point, he looked at me and said, “do you know what they say about the daughters of Jobe?” I did not, and so he promptly directed me to open the book of Job, 42:15, “In all the land no women were found as beautiful as Job’s daughters.”

I remember laughing and thinking to myself, “whoever marries this guy will be one lucky girl. I hope she knows it.”

That weekend, I spoke to Sr. Virginia Joy, the vocations director at the time, and she told me, “keep your heart open to marriage. Perhaps God has someone in mind for you that you will meet while you’re in Rome.” I laughed. I was certain of Christ’s plan for me, and marriage wasn’t part of it.

Just two months earlier, I went to Mass with a group of friends and met Nick when he was invited out to lunch with us. He was just starting his graduate program at UD, while I was in my second year there. If you ask Nick what his initial impression of me was at that time, he will simply say, “intense.” If you ask him if his impression was accurate, he will emphatically state, “Yes!”

At the time, Nick had a girlfriend of two plus years and I was determined to be a sister. There was no thought of romance between us.

I knew Nick had been having a difficult time adjusting to UD (I know now that UD was not his first choice for grad school, and the assistantship he was given has now been divided into two positions), so when many of our friends went on retreat one weekend, I invited him to ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s. He was quiet. It was unacceptable. I remedied this by abruptly breaking the silence and unceremoniously saying, “So, tell me your life story.” Amazingly, he didn’t think I was entirely crazy…and he told me about his life, in detail, as we walked together after finishing ice cream.

One thing we both shared was a love for Traditional Latin Mass. And so, Nicholas drove me to mass each Friday and each Friday we would have breakfast together. Looking back, it is easy to see how Mass brought us together. We became closer through our love of tradition as well as our love of coffee and bagels. When my roommates drove me nuts, I knew I could go to Nick’s apartment and write a paper in peace without disruption. I didn’t have to say anything and we didn’t have to even be in the same room, but he became a quiet source of comfort for me without my even realizing it.

But of course, we were only friends. So much so, that Nicholas actually told me his entire plan for how he would propose to his future wife (he didn’t change it, by the way, and his proposal to me is what started his rosary business). I remember meeting his then girlfriend at the time, and Nick later asked me what I thought of her. My response was simple, “I don’t know who you are around her.”

So after that discernment retreat in November, I began preparing for my study abroad in Rome. Nicholas helped me move out of my apartment. We continued texting each other throughout that Christmas break, and at one point, we realized, “wait..we could actually work really well together as a couple!” We made a pact that if neither of us was married or in religious life by 30, that we would marry each other.

And so in January 2015, I went to Rome. I began a 54 day rosary novena asking God to make the path forward clear to me. I will never forget when I was in Chapel at Santa Maria in Trastevere, and I heard Christ asking, “Will you give it all to me?” I knew this was asking me to lay it all down, to let go of my dreams, to let Christ lead. And I thought that it meant that marriage was not my vocation.

I spent the next three days miserable, until I was in Santa Maria Majore. Note the length of time: three days.

I was in prayer, still mourning the dreams I had of marriage and children, but determined to follow Christ. I then felt a strong prompting to meditate on the sacrifice of Isaac. As I reflected on this, I began to realize: God asked Abraham for his only son so as to give Abraham an opportunity to demonstrate his trust in God. God, in return, rewarded Abraham. I recall being promoted to reflect on Christ placing my hand in Nicholas’ hand, as he led us to the altar together, as Christ led us to the Cross. I heard simply, “You have shown me your faithfulness, now see the one I have prepared for you.”

For three days, I had felt utter misery, but I had trusted. Then, on the third day, there was the resurrection: God’s full plan revealed to us.

It is for that reason among many others that one of the central parts of our marriage and family mission statement says, “We will keep station at the Cross in anticipation of the resurrection.” It is why our daughters, Madeleine and Mariana, are named for Mary Magdalene and Our Lady of Sorrows respectively: these are the two women who remained at the Cross with Christ.

We have certainly had our share of crosses: family members passing, infertility, my anxiety, my RA. But there have been so many joys as well, so many resurrections amidst the Cross.

I met Nicholas in September 2014, we began courting in March 2015, were engaged in July 2015, and married January 2016. Our romance is one I never expected and could never have written, and God’s hand in our relationship is so clear to me. I am deeply grateful for him: he is my rock, my quiet place of comfort, my constant, my cross. Christ has chosen Nicholas to help sanctify me, and I am astounded by the gift of our marriage.

And what they say is true, by the way: the daughters of Jobe are the fairest in the land.

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

It was my first Mother’s Day mass after being married.  The previous month I had an experience where I was sure I was pregnant. I can’t explain this experience, and no test I took that month was positive.  But the next cycle did arrive later than usual and with more pain than normal.  During the consecration, my husband and I began to sob.  We felt a sense of loss that we couldn’t explain, a sense of deep heartbreak. And then during the blessing for mothers, the priest saying mass didn’t include Godmothers or spiritual mothers, so I didn’t stand up for the blessing.  And I cried even more, because I so wanted to be able to stand up for that blessing.  It was after that experience, that my husband and I decided to seek medical help for fertility because of my medical history. Making that decision was very emotional for me, because it meant opening up a very private part of our lives to medical intervention.

Infertility is not merely a cross or a struggle.  It is a symptom of an underlying disease. According to RESOLVE, about 12% of married women (1 in 8 couples) have trouble getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term.  Of those struggling with infertility, approximately one-third is related to female causes, one-third related to male causes, and one-third is attributed to both or is unexplained. Trying to figure out what is causing this struggle has been a trying and long journey. Besides my hormone levels and pain, we have very few clues as to what could actually be behind our infertility.  The CDC lists numerous possible causes for infertility in women, including but not limited to Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), improper function of hypothalamus or pituitary glands, obstruction of the fallopian tubes, abnormalities of the uterus, and endometriosis.  Infertility in men can be caused by varicoceles, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, heavy alcohol use, improper function of the pituitary and hypothalamus, and cancer treatments.  However, many of the causes of infertility remain unknown.  It is my hope that our scheduled consultation with a NaPro surgeon might give us some answers.  Sometimes a couple can be perfectly healthy in all respects though, and still struggle with infertility.

Infertility needs to be treated as any disease would be.  I am grateful for the experience I had with Napro-technology as a teenager.  Rather than simply handing me the pill, they showed me how to track my cycles.  I learned more about my body, my cycle, and how I was affected by my cycle.  I learned more about what should happen when my reproductive system is functioning normally. I took bio-identical progesterone timed with my cycle to help adjust my hormone levels. I learned from my experience with Napro-Technology as a teenager that I should expect medical care that respects my dignity and seeks to provide me with a treatment that addresses the underlying cause of my symptoms.

It was natural then, when we decided to seek medical advice for achieving pregnancy, that we turned to Napro-Technology (NaPro) again.  Developed by Dr. Hilgers at Creighton University, it is a system of treating infertility that is rooted in Catholic theology and modern science.  I am immensely grateful for my doctor and the doctors that trained him in this system.  NaPro is an alternative approach to infertility treatment.  Many treatment systems begin with trying to identify physiological causes of infertility, but then move into artificial reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination, IUI, IVF, and others. NaPro sets itself apart from other treatment systems because it uses knowledge about the women’s cycle and hormone levels based upon her fertility charts to treat her.

Unlike common suppressive or destructive approaches, NaProTECHNOLOGY works cooperatively with the procreative and gynecologic systems. When these systems function abnormally, NaProTECHNOLOGY identifies the problems and cooperates with the menstrual and fertility cycles that correct the condition, maintain the human ecology, and sustain the procreative potential. -NaProTechnology site

Since NaPro is rooted in Catholic theology, I know that none of the treatments recommended by my doctor will be contrary to Catholic teaching.  The Church teaches that the procreation of children should remain within the marital act.  Having experienced the heartbreak of infertility, I can understand why couples turn to artificial means for having a child, and they have my deepest sympathies.  We should not treat parents who have turned to artificial means of treatment harshly, nor should their children be treated differently, as their children have equal dignity.  That being said, for my husband and me, we know that these are not an option for us.  I see in treatments like IVF and IUI the same sort of approach that using the pill to treat all cycle issues results in–treating the symptoms and not the disease. This is precisely part of Dr. Hilger’s motivations for creating the system of NaProTechnology, after he observed a paradigm shift in the treatment of infertility.

“Until 1978, most of the effort in medicine in evaluating and treating women with infertility was placed in trying to identify and treat the underlying causes.  In 1978, in vitro fertilization produced a paradigm shift.  It led to a “skipping over” the causes and this continues up to the present time to be the foundational management approach.  In essence, this is a symptomatic or Band-Aid approach to treatment, not one that gets to the root causes.” -NaProTechnology site

Fortunately, NaPro is just as effective (and in some cases more effective) as IVF and it is less expensive.  Treatments used by NaPro involve hormone correction, fertility-focused intercourse, use of modern fertility medications such as Clomid or Metformin, and surgery to correct possible endometriosis, tubal occlusions, and other physiological issues. NaPro results in pregnancy in 38.4-81.8% of cases, depending on underlying causes (NaPro textbook, pg 691).  IVF, however has between a 20-40% success rate.

If you are struggling with infertility, there are options for you.  You don’t have to spend $10,000-$12,000 on fertility treatments.  You can seek treatment that helps you understand the underlying cause of your fertility issues. There is hope, and there are doctors that don’t use NaPro that take a similar approach.  I do know that NaPro isn’t for everyone, and that many Catholics approach NaPro as a miracle fix for infertility.  It can actually be hurtful to couples with this struggle when NaPro is approached as the “end all be all” infertility treatment.  The reality is that 20-60% of NaPro patients don’t get pregnant, depending on the underlying cause.  There is nothing that any person can do to guarantee a pregnancy. Sometimes that is hard to accept. The greatest blessing of using NaPro is remembering that children will happen in God’s time.  We cooperate with Him by seeking medical help and better understanding my fertility, but in the end, the Lord is in control.  It is God who creates and gives life.  And while I sometimes want to shout at the Lord, “Why not now, God?” I know that this suffering is not without purpose.  I know that His timing is perfect, though His timing doesn’t seem to match my plans.

Through it all, I learn to let go.

I let go of control, I let go of my pride.  I let go of my desire for having a child to be easy.  I am humbled each time I have to take medicine so that my body can do what it already should. For a time I would spend the evening crying after every blood draw, as they were a reminder to me that my body was broken. I now begin to look at every pill, every medication, every procedure as part of my labor. For after the fall of man, God said to Eve, “I will intensify your toil in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16).  I have come to understand that toil in childbearing is not limited merely to the actual birth of the child.  For those with infertility, it is all that they undergo in order that their bodies may function as they should.  It is all that they do to try to cooperate with God in procreation.  I still struggle with accepting the medicalization of this process.  It feels like medicine is invading something that should be very private and deeply personal.  I still struggle with the stress that comes with trying and hoping again each month.  But I have learned that when I hand these things over to Christ and say “Not my will, but thine” that I feel a sense of peace.

My husband and I are helpless in a sense–there is nothing in our power that we could do to guarantee that this month will be “the month.” But what we can know is that Christ holds us close to His Heart.  He walks with us as we try to walk with Him on the path to Calvary.  And when we reach Calvary, we cling to hope.

For we know that on the third day, there will be the resurrection.

 

This is the third post in a series for National Infertility Awareness Week. You can read the first two here: Gratitude: The Gift Amidst the Cross and here: Put Out Into the Deep