National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW) begins on Monday, April 22nd this year and continues through Friday, April 26th. While I have never gotten involved before – “celebrated” definitely isn’t the right word – I couldn’t help but notice that the starting date for this year’s national recognition correlated with an important day in my own infertility journey.

If you are like me, you have also struggled to accept infertility as part of your story. For as long as I can remember, I have had a strong desire to be a mother; even as my twenties have waned into my thirties, the pain continues to take time to subside, and I suspect it may never fully go away. The heartache, doubts, and fears continue to fester in tiny corners of my heart as the Lord, like a good and patient doctor, continues to triage and tend to these parts accordingly.

When my husband and I were going into our third year of marriage, as the spiritual darkness was getting worse, I had a profound experience of grace, a bright light in the tunnel of darkness. It was April 22, 2021. I was attending daily Mass on the campus where I work, in the Madonna della Strada Chapel, which is named after the Jesuit devotion to Our Lady of the Way. Until Mass began, I hadn’t made the connection that it was the feast of Mary, Mother of the Society of Jesus. On this day, the Society of Jesus – often referred to as the Jesuits – rejoices that just as Jesus gave Mary to John to be his mother (and John to Mary to be her son), so too, does Jesus give Mary to be the mother of every man called to join the Companions of Jesus (Compania de Jesus).

Mary has played an important role in my faith journey, but, as I continued in my journey of infertility, I felt distant from this Blessed Virgin since she could be a mother, but I could not. I dare to admit that envy began to root itself in my heart. The pain welled up like an infected splinter, followed just as forcefully by shame at my feelings and doubts. Surely this was not what God desired for me?

I shared this pain with God and with Mary as I looked at her statue after Communion. Then, as if time stood still, I imagined Mary’s fertility – the fertility that I so desired. I imagined her sharing with me that her greatest fertility was not (necessarily) of her womb, but of her heart. For it was this “fertility of heart” which allowed her to respond with a generous “yes” to the angel of the Lord, and which commits her to continue saying “yes” to spiritual children around the world. I imagined each man, from Ignatius and the early Companions to those just entering the Society.  I imagined our Blessed Mother looking tenderly after each one of them as her own son. I was pierced as I realized that my desire for fertility was “too small” for God’s plans. He and His Mother were inviting me to a fertility of the heart which would enable me, too, to receive others as my own spiritual children – to be a heart that shelters, guides, and brings sustenance to others.

The theme for this year’s NIAW is “Leave your mark.” Sharing this part of my story is one small way I can leave my mark. Another way to look at this theme is to consider what mark the Lord has made in your life – especially through your fertility journey. What is the Lord trying to communicate to you through this mark? If you are like me, you have heard that physical motherhood is but an icon of the true, authentic motherhood – Spiritual Motherhood. Perhaps the Lord is also inviting you to reconsider this call that you were once quick to dismiss as a “consolation prize” – for it is so much more. You, my friend, are not alone. We are in good company. Let us proclaim this Good News together as we #changetheinfertilityconversation this NIAW.

Sarah Romero lives in the great state of Texas with her husband Eric, whom she met at a Teen ACTS Retreat during high school. Sarah is a Campus Minister with a passion for education and formation of the heart. Sarah and Eric have experienced infertility since the beginning of their marriage in 2019, yet they remain open to the ways the Lord is inviting them to deeper healing, wholeness, fruitfulness, and faithfulness in this sanctifying vocation of love.