Howdy! Allow me to give a quick intro for anyone reading today. My name is James K. If you read here often, you may have noticed there’s an Allie K. who also writes for this blog. I’m the man blessed beyond all reason (really – no exaggeration) to call her my wife for the past three years. A while back she asked me if I’d be interested in writing a bit about my experience as a man dealing with our infertility for the blog, and I agreed. I don’t claim to be a good writer or an expert on anything, but hopefully this little missive will prove helpful to understand the male ethos and a genuine picture into one man’s experience within a marriage that, while biologically barren, is spiritually fecund in so many amazing ways.
It’s hard to talk about fertility within the context of the sacramental without first talking about the sacrament, so let me start there. We are taught that the path of sainthood for a husband is modeled on the example of Christ in relation to the Church. Christ gave everything for the Church, sparing not even himself for her good. This Truth is woven into the very fabric of the masculine, and it’s a critical element of a healthy sacramental marriage. Men are made to fight, to sacrifice, to die – that’s what it is to be a real man (and something you’ll never see in a Gillette advertisement). We see it played out in the lives of the martyrs, countless saints, in the chivalric ideal of the Middle Ages, in the manners my mom and dad taught me as a boy, and even on the silver screen in movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Braveheart.” Fundamentally, it’s good for men to embrace this call to arms, this call to death – especially when it’s oriented toward others. This is our path to redemption; and in my case, marriage is the vehicle to travel that path.
Allie and I had discussed infertility before we’d gotten married. We’d both known couples who had difficulty conceiving, and leading into our marriage, Allie had concerns about her ability to have children, too. Where my natural disposition is to calmly react to whatever challenges arise when they arise, Allie’s disposition is to work through all the possible things that could go wrong and agonize over them before they happen. When confronted month after month with the pattern of excitement, hope, anxiety, and disappointment, early on in our marriage, I thought, “We don’t need to worry yet – we don’t even know that anything is wrong.” But as time went on, we found that despite our best efforts, we received no signs of pregnancy. As we began to take concrete steps to address the possibility of infertility, Allie became more and more worried.
A year into marriage, I was quite naïve about how to relate to my wife* (*I assure you that I still do not claim to completely understand how to relate to my wife – but it does seem to be getting easier by the year), especially through what should have been this, our shared obstacle. I knew what my vocational calling was supposed to mean; but, as the saying goes, “the furthest distance in the world is from one’s head to his heart.” I’ve found that, as a man, it’s easy to reduce infertility to a problem that lies in the individual, and from there to treat it like a dragon that can be slain once and for all. I began to fall into this pit and was setting myself up for failure by trying to tackle these doctors’ visits and ensuing procedures in a similar way. It was a dumb mindset. Marriage is built on two people, and where there are two people working for sainthood, there’s no room for pride and arrogance. Fortunately, God has clever ways to help sinners like me work through my sinfulness.
We started seeing a fertility doctor. Both Allie and I figured we’d confirm her fears about her fertility; but then something oddly graceful happened: after determining that things were mostly normal with Allie, the doctor recommended a semen analysis. We then learned that the “problem” wasn’t with Allie’s biology, but mine. We also learned that, frustratingly enough, there aren’t many ways for us to treat male infertility that are in line with Church teaching; so, resigned to follow the Church’s teachings, we found ourselves stuck.
I’d like to pause here to note that the day I found out that I wasn’t functioning properly in this procreative aspect of my marriage was one of the hardest days of my life so far (and one of the hardest days in our marriage). While the ultimate result was no different (that Allie and I were infertile), the circumstances of our infertility had fundamentally changed the way I interacted with my wife through this problem. Allie’s body isn’t the problem – it’s mine. Her hopes for biological children would go unrealized not because of her, but because of me. That’s a tough pill to swallow for a man who, a day earlier, thought he could save his wife from all her fears by accepting her as she is. I was now confronted with the uncomfortable need to ask my wife to accept me in the face of my deficiencies.
But here’s the beautiful part – marriage is sacramental. And while my ignorance caused me to initially frame this as a problem that two individuals deal with as individuals; the deeper Truth of our sacramental marriage is that the burden of our infertility is a cross that we bare both individually and as one. Allie must continually accept me in my brokenness, and I must continually die and allow myself to be vulnerable and broken for her. In this way, we both have pathways to grace; and we both can minister to each other.
We don’t have it figured out at this point – far from it. But at least we’re seeing fruit springing up despite our biological infertility. It isn’t easy; but as the Church reminds us, the pathway to heaven is through the narrow gate.
James is married to Allie, his wife of three years, and writes from the great state of Texas.