I met Hannah on Instagram, and certainly didn’t expect to find that a blog titled Little Way of Joy would be about her and her husband’s Chris’ journey with infertility. Hannah is genuine and honest. She shares how hard this journey has been, but also where she has been able to find the joy in it all. This is such an important part of our NFP discussion, and I pray that her vulnerability will touch many people. I will be sharing Chris’ story shortly. You can find out more about Hannah here: Blog | Instagram
To read Chris’ story click here.
TW: Let’s start with a little about you.
Hi I’m Hannah. My husband Chris and I have been together for about 6.5 years, and celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary at the end of May. We met through Chris’s sister. For me it was a “love at first sight” situation, but not so much for him. I waited 7 months for him to come around to the fact that we were meant to be together, and once he did we started dating and have been together ever since.
We are from a very small town in south Louisiana, and we love it here. Our families live close by and our favorite thing to do is spend time with our niece and nephew. We love to travel (last year we took a trip to London and Paris and we are itching to go back one day!) but we are definitely home bodies most of the time. We’re super competitive, even against each other, and we’re both very much old souls. Cooking at home together is typically a lot more appealing on a Saturday night than going out somewhere. Just throw in some Blue Bell ice cream and a movie we’ll inevitably fall asleep watching, and that’s pretty much the perfect night for us.
Chris and I aren’t the most exciting people, but I absolutely LOVE our life together. As cliche as it sounds, he’s really my best friend, and he constantly shows his love for me, in the sweetest, most thoughtful ways. I hit the jackpot with Chris for sure.
TW: How did you learn NFP? What were your expectations of NFP based on what you learned?
As part of our marriage prep, we of course had to take NFP classes. I knew about Natural Family Planning already, but I didn’t fully understand how it all worked, so it was a whole new experience for both of us. NFP was spoken of as being the most wonderful thing, and it seemed almost like if we followed it to try to conceive, we’d get pregnant in no time.
We both found it really interesting, and it definitely opened our eyes to just how incredibly perfectly made we are. Our instructor was an OB/GYN, and he was very enthusiastic about NFP, which is refreshing in a health care provider.
Along with our NFP classes we also had monthly meetings with a young couple from our parish who helped us in all our marriage prep, and who also praised NFP to the skies.
It was never mentioned to us that we might not be able to get pregnant, even though we were doing everything right.
TW: How long did you practice NFP before you discovered your infertility? Can you describe how you discovered it?
We wanted to hold off on trying to conceive until we had been married for a year. We followed NFP pretty faithfully for around 9 months, and then decided to start trying to conceive (TTC). We used NFP to chart and track my cycles and after a few months of TTC with still no baby, we started to get a little nervous. Everyone said that it’s totally normal for healthy couples to take up to a year to conceive and that we should just wait it out and see what happened.
Even though we listened to the advice of other people and waited on seeking medical answers to our questions and concerns, we definitely started feeling discouraged and nervous well before a year had passed. We eventually discovered, roughly two years in to trying for a baby, that we have a very slim chance of ever conceiving naturally. For Catholics who want to remain in good standing with the Church and in a state of grace, that’s a tough pill to swallow. We did everything we could that was allowed by the Church, and after a while we just gave up seeking medical help and decided to do our best to hand it over to God.
I did end up getting pregnant in December of 2016, and to say we were overjoyed is an understatement. It was actually because I was still charting that we were able to know I was pregnant. Unfortunately, I miscarried at 7 weeks, in January of 2017. Our sweet baby was a total surprise, especially considering we had just been told we’d likely never be able to conceive, and we cherished the short time we had with her before my miscarriage.
TW: Infertility is actually incredibly common and yet it’s rarely discussed or acknowledged. As a result, many couples who struggle with complete or partial infertility feel like outliers in the Church, and silently bear this cross. Can you share some of your experiences with this?
According to the CDC, roughly 1 in 8 couples experience infertility. This means most people know someone who cannot have biological children without medical intervention. This is a very common issue, and yet it’s not commonly discussed. I think this stems from the fact that people who have never walked through infertility have no clue how to respond to their loved ones who are struggling with that cross. Most of the time we just don’t mention the ache because of the responses that are given. It just gets too hard to hear, “Just stop worrying about it, that’s when it’ll happen!” or “Y’all need to stop trying and then you’ll get pregnant.” Or my personal favorite, “You should just adopt! My second cousin’s sister-in-law’s best friend’s sister adopted and she got pregnant right away!” The comments are obviously well-intended, and they absolutely come from a place of love, but they really don’t help. They often make things worse, to be honest.
Within the Church, where everyone should feel like they belong and are accepted, motherhood (and parenthood in general) is glorified as the ultimate goal for married couples, to the point that infertility is looked down upon. As someone who cannot have biological children, that mindset really stings. Yes, parenthood is incredible and a huge blessing, but we need to be reminded that biological parenthood might not be what God has planned for every married couple, and that spiritual parenthood also has a vital place in the Body of Christ. Having children period might not be what God has in store for every married couple, and that needs to be addressed and included in the Church.
With this as the overriding mindset in the Church, it’s very easy as a woman to believe the lie that I have failed in what I always believed was my calling to become a mother and give birth to lots of children. But the truth is I haven’t failed as a woman, and neither have any of the countless other women desperate for babies. It’s so hard to sit in church surrounded by couples who just got married and are already expecting babies, and to know that we’ve been married 5 years and while we have our little saint in Heaven, our arms are empty on Earth.
I’ve recently discovered that once I started openly talking about our infertility journey, I suddenly had a lot of couples coming to me and saying that they went through miscarriages too, or struggled to conceive, or can’t have children. It’s such a blessing to finally realize that what feels like such an isolated situation is really not so uncommon. It’s so comforting to find out that there are others sharing your struggle, and to be able to talk about it to someone who actually understands.
TW: You have just recently started the process of adoption (congratulations!!). While often proposed as a solution or even a replacement for couples experiencing infertility, adoption is in fact an incredibly complex and emotional path for a couple to pursue. What was the decision making process like for you? Were there key factors that cemented this decision (calling from God, personal experiences, etc.)? How has the process unfolded thus far?
Chris and I always said that one day we would adopt. It was something we were both very much open to. We’re staunchly pro-life and as such we want every single baby to be given the best chances at life, and we want women everywhere who are experiencing crisis or unplanned pregnancies to realize that there are options for them besides abortion. Most importantly, we want every single child to know that they are valuable and loved. We’ve felt for a long time that adoption is a way that we could achieve those desires.
After about two years of actively trying to conceive, and especially after experiencing the loss of our first baby, we started to realize that maybe God had placed the openness to adoption in our hearts because we were meant to take that path. It was so scary and daunting, and we didn’t start the process for roughly two years after we first started to seriously discuss it as a means of growing our family.
Adoption is really really difficult, in so many ways. It’s not something that can ever replace having biological children, and it shouldn’t be entered into with that idea in mind. It’s going to be a disappointment if you think that the adoption process will give you the same joy and excitement as pregnancy. It won’t. And honestly, it shouldn’t. It’s scary, it’s invasive, it’s stressful, it’s confusing, and it’s insanely time-consuming.
But it’s also such a beautiful journey. Being a parent through adoption means that we will be given the opportunity to love and raise a child that I did not give birth to, and a child who will be loved unconditionally not only by us, but also by his or her first family. That’s such a tremendous honor and privilege. We are currently an active waiting family, and we are waiting to match with an expectant momma.
There are so many emotions that go along with adoption, but I will say that the joy and anticipation are amazing. Not just our joy for this journey, but the joy and excitement we’ve seen in so many other people who are along with us for this ride. We could not be more excited about our adoption!
TW: A heavy cross like infertility can easily and understandably have a dramatic impact on your faith, even your belief in the goodness of God. How would you describe your journey of faith in light of everything you’ve shared so far?
Infertility absolutely tests my faith. I have always had a strong faith in God and in His love for us, but experiencing infertility and miscarriage seriously made me question His plans, especially the miscarriage. It felt like we had finally been given the answer to our countless prayers, and God just pulled it away from us as soon as we found out we were expecting. I honestly thought God had stopped caring what happened to me. Rationally, I knew that wasn’t true, but I couldn’t rationalize how a good and loving Father could ever allow something like that to happen. We had waited so long to see that positive pregnancy test, and yet God let our baby die before she was even born.
I struggled to go to church on Sundays after I miscarried. I never skipped Mass, but I also stopped putting my heart into it. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the altar, and I viewed anything about God with a lot of cynicism for months following our loss. It wasn’t until the day after my due date (September 11, 2017) that I finally started to let go of my anger (most of it, anyway). I completely lost it that day, and I realized that I could do literally nothing about the darkness I felt if I kept shutting God out of my heart.
From that day on, I decided to make myself actively give my suffering to Christ. It has not been easy (I’m not really good at handing over the reins) and I doubt it’ll ever be something that’s easy to do, but I can feel the benefits of it in my life every day. Knowing that I don’t have to carry my suffering by myself is so freeing. Understanding that God suffers when I do, and that He never wanted our baby to die, made all the difference in how I felt about Him and His plans for me and Chris and our future family.
He was always there, patiently waiting for me to turn to Him for comfort in my sorrow. Infertility has actually increased my faith and my trust tenfold. You don’t have much of a choice but to trust God in something like that, so I’ve learned that I might as well not fight it.
TW: Any final thoughts to share with those who are also struggling with infertility? With those who wish to help or advise couples like you?
If you’re struggling with infertility, whether that’s primary or secondary infertility, or miscarriage, please know that you are not alone. Please know that you aren’t broken and you aren’t less than. People will make comments intended to help cheer you up, but they might come off badly: give them some grace. Their comments come from a place of love, but also from a place of confusion if they have not experienced your struggle in their own life. Most importantly, please know that you are completely loved by the Creator of the Universe, and that Creator does not make mistakes. Infertility is a terrible cross to bear, but our crosses bring us to Heaven. We can only get to Heaven through the cross! So try to offer it up. I know that’s easier said than done, and goodness knows I struggle with that myself, but I can promise you it’s worth it.
If you know someone suffering through infertility, I can tell you from personal experience that offering advice usually doesn’t help. Please don’t tell them to relax – I promise you that doesn’t make them feel better. Just let them talk and be a good listener. Let them know that you are there for them whenever they need to vent or need a shoulder to cry on. Always remember that infertility is a medical condition: it has nothing to do with the mindset of the people suffering. It has nothing to do with whether or not they are “ready for children,” and it has nothing to do with how much God loves them. Be sensitive and loving, and recognize that infertility is an extremely emotional and painful part of their story.
And more than all of that, let them know that you love them and that God loves them, and that you are praying for them. While in many cases the words “I’ll pray for you” can come off as patronizing to those who are suffering, in the case of infertility, when there’s often nothing else that can be done, prayers are such a comfort. In my own life, I can feel the prayers of other people and they bring so much peace.