Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not more important than they? Matthew 6:26
He placed his little girl, my goddaughter, into my arms for the moment so that he could cut up his dinner, a nearly impossible task while holding a squirmy one-year-old. I received her willingly, and with a delight that washed over my entire being. It had been quite a while since I’d held a little child! She happily bounced on my lap as her parents enjoyed their dinner. Within this simple gesture, it seemed to me, was the truth that God fills our hearts in unexpected ways, if we are open to receiving what He wants to give.
When I think about the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, particularly the Annunciation and the Nativity, I think of the Blessed Mother’s profound receptivity, how she said “yes” to God through her Fiat, and how she bore the Savior of the World for all of us. I can see that this beautiful feminine attribute of receptivity is powerfully demonstrated in every earthly mother who also says “yes” to bringing a new life into the world. Especially given the “culture of death” in which we live, it makes sense that as a Church, we proclaim this truth loudly and boldly!
But for women like me who are struggling with infertility, this celebration of physical motherhood can sometimes feel painful and isolating. I can begin to believe the lie that I am not fully woman if I cannot share in the gift of welcoming new life into my body. Questions arise, like, who am I, if I cannot be a mother? What is my purpose of my femininity, my receptive nature, if not to birth and raise children of my body?
As I’ve asked Him these questions, the Lord has shown me that infertility is a great mystery that requires a deep receptivity, too, but in a way I had not expected. Instead of trusting that He will provide for my large family (a dream I previously held), He’s asking instead me to trust Him with my small one. Instead of trusting Him through sleepless nights and messy chaos, He’s asking me to rest and keep order so I can serve Him in unexpected ways, like through hosting friends and family and volunteering at my parish. Instead of identifying with my family relationships, my job, or my talents or failings, He’s asking me to receive my most important identity from Him, as His beloved daughter.
If infertility requires receptivity, then just as with physical motherhood, it follows that there will be fruitfulness. As I look back, I have received much through imperfectly bearing this cross these last few years: deeper friendships, cherished heartfelt conversations, greater awareness of others’ suffering, and a collapse in the false idea I once had that holiness “ought” to look a certain way. I have received greater intimacy in my relationship with my husband, an invitation to deepen my prayer life, and a sense of wonder at the miracle of life. And, as I grow in this quality of receptivity, I know He will continue to bestow gifts.
One of the most surprising gifts of infertility has been the love I humbly receive from friends or family through the generous gift of time with their children, whether for a moment’s bite of dinner, or, as with my thoughtful older sister, for an entire weekend adventure with Aunt Allie & Uncle James in Texas. At these times, I often think of my great Aunt Joan, a pious woman who loved God and shared that love abundantly with her entire family. She married my Uncle Jim in her forties and never had children, so in some ways, I feel closer to her now than ever, even though she passed away years ago. I vividly recall how Aunt Joan used to love holding babies, and how she would coo and smile at them in pure delight. As we grew older, her love for each of us never ceased. The memory of her voice tenderly saying, “sweet Allie”, remains a window into the vast love of God, echoing how He calls me uniquely by name. I can see that God bestowed on her such great love through her receptivity to Him amidst the crosses she bore. I pray that each of one of us struggling with infertility might be open to receive what God longs to give us, so that we fulfill our true purpose of becoming holy and giving powerful witness to His love.
Allie has been married to James for three blessed years and writes from Texas.