While I was in an important meeting at work, my doctor’s office called with an urgent message that my doctor wanted to discuss the results of my recent blood test. In a mad dash, left the meeting early to call my doctor’s office, and notified a co-worker to stand in for me during an upcoming presentation I would miss. Thankfully, my blood test results weren’t life or death, but my doctor wanted me to begin taking thyroid medication that day. This is just one of the many examples of how the path of infertility affects my life – particularly in my occupation.

Dealing with the cross of infertility often feels like a job in itself. Medical treatments and managing emotions not only impact our occupations, but are also time consuming, unpredictable, and costly (Collins, Megan Edwards, “The Impact of Infertility on Daily Occupations and Roles”). We may need to make work arrangements around surgeries, side effects from treatments, doctor appointments, and unpredictable blood test appointments. We often spend weekends, days off, and lunchtimes disputing insurance or medical charges, navigating multiple pharmacies, and managing administrative errors. Just last month I declined a work trip so that I could make medical appointments that would be timed to my cycle. I bear a mental burden from having to appear normal at work despite so many distractions from infertility. Sometimes this leaves me smiling or faking my way through my real job in an emotionally superficial fog.

Connecting with colleagues at work can be difficult and isolating. Out of a sense of survival, self-preservation, and courteousness to others, I am often guarded in my reactions to certain comments and situations at work. This is particularly true when finding out someone is pregnant or when receiving baby shower invitations for work acquaintances (which often come with frequent updates). When confiding in a colleague about our infertility journey after she asked about our desire for children, she suggested using artificial reproduction technologies (ART), which are contrary to our Catholic faith. Suggestions like this further the feelings of isolation I feel of not fitting in at church nor in the secular world. In addition, explaining Catholic moral theology at work to someone who isn’t Catholic and may have personally used ART can be a challenging confrontation on top of the already heavy mental weight of infertility, so I typically choose not to engage.

Navigating work conversations becomes an Olympic sport as colleagues try to get to know me, only to say something triggering. The same day I experienced the urgent call from my doctor regarding the blood test, I attended an after-work holiday party. A colleague who had just come back from maternity leave made an offhand comment to me that I “should try having kids some time.” I’ll never forget the time I asked a colleague at a company retreat how her children were doing only to have other colleagues who overheard me interrupt and ask if I wanted children. Because of these awkward, naïve encounters, I’ve noticed I have grown more aware of the questions I ask others. I have more compassion for the struggles others face that affect their work lives. I imagine my struggles are only a small fraction of what those with serious health conditions and family situations combat.

I have been hesitant to share my health issues, particularly at work, as I find them to be personal. I don’t want to appear uncommitted to my job, nor do I want others’ knowledge of my struggles to limit current and future professional growth opportunities. The duration of this journey of infertility is not guaranteed or known. However, it’s not lost on me that not having child responsibilities affords me the time and resources for more vacations with my husband, medical treatments, and date nights, to name a few. There are many times work provides me with an outlet to forget about our infertility issues. Work can fill me with a feeling of productivity or success at something else, even though growing our family seems to evade us.

As a woman, I am made to bear children. This is a “job”, or a role, that I desire greatly. However, I sometimes feel broken, knowing my body isn’t cooperating. Lately, I have been trying to come to terms with the expectation of what I thought my life would be like at this point and the reality. What’s my purpose – or job – as a woman if I can’t have children? This thought runs through my mind at least once or more a week. To combat this lie of the devil, I try to pray about my identity as a daughter of God and remind myself that God delights in me just as I am (Psalm 37:23-24, Zephaniah 3:17).

To recall God’s truth during spiritual attacks I often reflect on and learn more about the lives of the saints, who have also experienced great suffering. During the month of March, we honor the role of St. Joseph in the holy family and as a model for us in our work. Here are five lessons St. Joseph teaches us as we navigate our jobs and the path of infertility.

  1. Spiritual Parenthood

Just as St. Joseph served as a foster father for Jesus, we can live out our spiritual motherhood or fatherhood by mentoring others at work. As he accompanied Mary, our mother, St. Joseph is a model of tender compassion toward others and the crosses they bear.

  1. Obedience

St. Joseph receives direction from the Lord many times throughout the Bible, and he obeys. He doesn’t divorce Mary quietly; he stays by her side. He finds Mary a place to give birth to the baby Jesus, protects his family, and flees for Egypt in the face of danger. St. Joseph does not question the Lord or doubt His directions.

  1. Patience and Silence

We never hear St. Joseph say a word in the Bible, though as our Savior’s foster father we know St. Joseph was in a constant state of communion with God. St. Joseph teaches us the value of silence with God, and of adoring Him. He also models carrying his crosses with patience, not spite, and shows us how we must face our isolating and often hidden cross of infertility.

  1. Faithfulness

St. Joseph’s decisions are full of faith in God. When God provides direction, we do not hear of St. Joseph’s complaints or excuses. His actions point to God our Father and his trust in the Lord’s providence.

  1. The Value of Effort/Hard Work

Our jobs on earth are to glorify God (1 Corinthians 4:12, 1 Timothy 5:8). St. Joseph shows us that carrying out this work can be menial, long, and hard. It can go unappreciated and may be of humble means (not everyone is a celebrated martyr or missionary for God).

In closing, let us pray the prayer Pope Francis shared in 2022 for couples suffering infertility and for children without a family (Aleteia):

St. Joseph, you who loved Jesus with fatherly love, be close to the many children who have no family and who long for a daddy and mommy. Support the couples who are unable to have children, help them to discover, through this suffering, a greater plan. Make sure that no one lacks a home, a bond, a person to take care of him or her; and heal the selfishness of those who close themselves off from life, that they may open their hearts to love. Thank you.

This post was written by an anonymous Springs in the Desert author.