Most people I share my infertility story with don’t know how to respond. We live in a society that doesn’t really support the idea of “can’t” or “no.” For example, when I’m in conversation with secular friends, they get all excited and say, “I know how to solve all of your issues! Just do IVF!” As if that doesn’t bring its own issues physically, morally, and mentally…

 But the typical Catholic response isn’t much better. Redemptive suffering isn’t on most folks’ minds much these days. Even these friends respond overly encouragingly, as if to say “I know how to solve all your issues! Just pray! God grants miracles!”

But what if fertility is not my miracle?

I understand that God can do all things. I love and appreciate that. But there reaches a point where necessary and beautiful hope can merge into a kind of spiritual entitlement. And that can leave us bitter.

I have two older sisters. One, in her early forties, after years and years of trying, was told by her doctor that it simply “wasn’t going to happen” and that she should give up – especially given her advanced age. Surprisingly, she got pregnant about a month later and had my nephew– her miracle baby. Heading into their marriage in 2016, my other sister and her husband were skeptical as to whether they would be able to have children. To their surprise, she got pregnant about a month after their wedding and had my niece – her miracle baby.

This was the source of my hope for a long time: God grants this family miracle babies. When I first picked up this cross of infertility, I assured myself, I will get my miracle baby, too. And while I still pray for, hope for, and would love to have my miracle baby, I try to maintain a very strong line between hope and expectation.

Part of what makes miracles so beautiful is that they aren’t guaranteed. However, if we open our hearts, align our will with God’s will, and shift our focus to hope over expectation, we will notice that miracles are all around us.

When I was born, the doctors told my parents I would never walk due to a malformation in my hips. Without surgery, here I am, 27 years later, with no known hip issues, having danced for years, having run 5Ks, having walked the streets of Trinidad on mission. I am so thankful in my heart for the ability to walk. But I rarely thank God for it– if ever.

When I was two, I had a blockage in my tear duct, and the doctors said the only way to fix it would be surgery. My mother was terrified of her baby needing surgery around her eye. The day of the surgery, I developed a horrible fever, and they had to postpone it. When the fever broke, my eyes were fine. I am so thankful in my heart that God granted that miracle to me and my parents when I was little. But I rarely thank God for it– if ever.

A significant contributing factor to our infertility is the cancer treatment that my husband endured. Around our first dating anniversary, he developed a very concerning, persistent cough. After a few months, he finally went to see his doctor who immediately sent him to the emergency room. He had the heart rate of a 90-year-old man, which the ER discovered was due to a buildup of fluid in his chest. After draining two liters of fluid and running tests and scans, they discovered he had a grapefruit-sized malignant tumor, which was like a baseball glove around his heart. They diagnosed him with a late-stage lymphoma and immediately began treatment. While Conner’s cancer was terrifying in and of itself, the doctors told him it was a miracle that he hadn’t died from a heart attack due to all the pressure in his chest. I am so thankful in my heart for that miracle, but I rarely thank God for it– if ever.

I find myself waiting – frustrated – on my miracle, while ignoring the miracles that God has already granted me. It’s a miracle that I can walk. It’s a miracle that I never needed surgery. It’s a miracle that my husband is alive. And it’s a miracle that I think I’m entitled to more miracles, especially without a heart of gratitude.

If I live my life focused on the idea that I am entitled to the miracle of fertility, I run the risk of becoming bitter, isolating myself from others, and turning away from God. I find I am becoming increasingly bitter on this journey of infertility. I know that I have so many beautiful things in my life. I am so thankful in my heart for these things, but I rarely thank God for them–if ever. I keep looking to the future, wondering what miracle I will receive, and in the process, I neglect to cultivate a life of gratitude.

In the Bible, Jesus tells us to die to ourselves (Luke 9: 23-24) and to take up our crosses (Matthew 16: 24-25). These kinds of sacrifices feel like a lot to ask of people already struggling with infertility. It feels like we already give up so much, involuntarily. But sometimes we simply need to shift our hearts where we can.

My sister’s mother-in-law, Val, is one of the most beautiful people. She is so faithful, kind, and genuinely wonderful to be around. In reflecting on why Val is so lovely, I realized that I have never heard her complain about anything or speak ill of another. She truly embodies a heart of gratitude. As I reflect on how frequently I complain and compare myself to others, I realize that so much of my heart has become bitter. I want to be more like Val. I want to be more like Jesus.

For the last few months, I have added a new habit that has helped me soften my heart and increase in gratitude. I encourage you to seek the same peace in a small– but still grand– way. Every day, take time to intentionally reflect on five things for which you are grateful. If you find yourself complaining, take a moment to pause and intentionally reflect on what you could be thankful for in that scenario – what God has granted you in that moment. And soon, you, too, will become much more mindful of the miracles all around you.

Shelby O’Brien lives in Michigan with her husband, Conner, who she met while studying at Ave Maria School of Law. Shelby is a legal research consultant with a background in social work and leads Confirmation preparation at her local church. Shelby and her husband have one adorable cat named Daisy but have been navigating infertility since getting married in May 2022. Shelby is excited to join her sister, Amy, as a Springs in the Desert writer!