After five years of infertility, one might guess that my husband and I live in a state of perpetual hope, which is somewhat ironic because hope has always been a difficult virtue for me to understand. It often appears more as a longing or a wish, which hardly seems to live up to the understanding of hope as one of the three theological virtues. What is hope, really? And how is it lived out in the day-to-day struggles of life? Rather than answer my questions, my very wise husband directed me to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and it did not disappoint! The definition reads: “Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our strength but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.”
After some reflection, four main points jumped out of the overall definition: desire, trust, strength, and grace. My husband and I prayed, discussed, and sat with each of these points to flesh out what living in hope really means, particularly as it applies to infertility. Through our discussion of this virtue, we were able to connect with each other more deeply and understand the way we each internalize the cross of infertility. Ultimately, we discovered that the virtue of hope is way more than a wish.
My desire for children is intrinsically tied up in my identity as a woman; therefore, my lack of children has made me feel betrayed by my own body and lacking in a very fundamental part of my femininity. It can be a temptation to become so caught up in my grief that I take it all on myself. Early in our marriage I was guilty of this exact issue: I was so caught up in myself that I excluded my husband from carrying this cross with me. The Catechism’s emphasis on desire for Heaven pulled my focus back into place. Even more than my desire for children, which is a natural, good, and holy desire, I long to attain eternal life with my husband. Our suffering is our ticket there and we’ll get there easier if we work together to carry the cross.
I think it’s safe to say that trusting when we can’t see the result is one of the hardest parts of our faith. In fact, the aspect of trust strikes me as the hardest part of this definition! I have long struggled with the balance between trusting God and relying on myself without trying to take control or give up completely. My “Pennsylvania Dutch stubborn streak” often rears its head and I assert that I can fix this if only I stress less, eat organic food, pray more, etc. None of these things are inherently wrong, but they do not get to the root of the problem, which is my inability to accept and understand suffering. St. Ignatius said, “Act as if everything depended on you, trust as if everything depended on God.” In other words, the balance is not an either-or situation. So long as I ultimately accept His will over mine, I can continue to pray that this chalice pass from me, but Your will be done.
There is not a doubt in my mind that I could not have survived these past five years of infertility without the strength of Christ. I am still learning, though, how to grow in His strength. He is, after all, not only present in the Most Blessed Sacrament, but in each one of us. Part of my journey in learning to live in hope is becoming more open to vulnerably accepting the strength of Christ in other people. For me, that has meant sharing with others about our struggle with infertility. This has been hard and sometimes painful, but it has allowed for some much-needed connection and healing through others walking the same path. And it has even allowed me to act as Christ to other people! We, the Church, are Christ’s body here on earth. Part of living in hope is participating in our call to be Christ’s hands and feet.
The final point for living in hope is grace. This has been a surprising part of the journey of infertility and an unexpected source of healing and spiritual growth. Carrying this cross has broken me, but in the best of ways. And I can honestly say I am thankful for this gift. St. Josemaria Escriva said, “God in His providence has two ways of blessing marriages: one by giving them children; and the other, sometimes, because he loves them so much, by not giving them children. I don’t know which is the better blessing.” If I had seen this quote five years ago, I would have been horrified. And yet now, still very much in the midst of this sorrow, I heartily agree. As counterintuitive as it sounds, I have found innumerable graces, blessings, and gifts as a direct result of infertility, the most notable being my spiritual formation. Through this cross, I have learned to look for and see God working in our lives in ways that I undoubtedly took for granted in the past. Where previously I saw only pain, I’ve been able to see the multitude of ways God has and continues to protect and bless us even amidst our grief.
There are certainly better and worse days, but I found this virtue to be comforting when looked at in its completeness. It cemented where we, those struggling with infertility, fit into the Church. We are hope! We are constant, living examples of hope in action when we desire children, and yet desire Heaven even more, trust in God’s plan, rely on His strength through each other, and reap the innumerable graces He bestows on us for our steadfast hope. While it certainly doesn’t take away the very real pain of infertility, hope does give me cause to smile through the pain and a renewed sense of purpose in the midst of this trial.
Sydnee Blackburn lives in Pennsylvania with her husband Bren. To hear more from her visit: theonewithinfertility.com.