As a woman struggling with infertility, I often reflect on the hiddenness of my cross. It seems to have a two-fold hiddenness; first, much of my suffering is out of others’ sight, and even when my pain is witnessed by others, few recognize it as a genuine cross. Lately, God has encouraged me to reflect on a new aspect of the hidden nature of my cross. I am coming to embrace the invisible quality of my suffering, recognizing this often-unseen pain as an invitation into the desert and the intimacy He desires to share with me.
All of us who carry the cross of infertility have likely experienced many heart-wrenching moments of grief while alone and unseen, whether it be processing a new diagnosis on the car ride home, experiencing a miscarriage, or crying over yet another negative pregnancy test. Often, we are literally alone while we grapple with the pain. There is a particular pain in this loneliness – we feel hidden, abandoned, and devoid of comfort. Naturally, when we feel like we have no strength to handle the suffering, we desire to have another person physically with us in these difficult moments. I recently had surgery, and every time a wave of pain hit, I wanted my husband there with me, holding my hand, helping me to feel safe and anchored. I was apprehensive about being alone with my pain.
Unfortunately, even if we invite someone else to help carry our cross, they may not be able or willing. This is another kind of unseen suffering – the isolation we feel when others are present to us in our suffering, but don’t recognize it as such, or refuse to enter the experience with us. This is the experience of feeling brushed off and receiving a trite, “Just relax and let it happen,” after confiding about another cycle without a conception, for example. Often this second form of “being alone” is even more painful than the first, and we feel even more hidden than in physical isolation. In these moments, someone we hoped would be our Simon of Cyrene or Veronica compounds the pain we feel, and we long to be physically alone, because honestly suffering alone is easier than suffering around someone who doesn’t see our pain as valid.
As disheartening and isolating as both types of unseen suffering can be, I believe that the very hiddenness of the cross of infertility is where its real beauty is found. Our Lord tells us that the “Father sees in secret” (Matthew 6:4). He sees our secret pain, and He is right there with us. Not only is He always with us, whether we’re alone or in a crowd, but He always accepts any sacrifice we offer Him in love, no matter how small. He never tells us our suffering is invalid or insignificant. In fact, He constantly invites us to offer all our experiences to Him. He wants it all. All becomes fruitful when united to Him.
Further, there is a certain intimacy He offers us in our experience of hidden suffering. It reminds me of the verse from Hosea, “Therefore, behold I will allure her, and will lead her into the wilderness: and I will speak to her heart”( Hosea 2:14). Sometimes God calls us to the wilderness of suffering because He knows that’s the place where we will pay attention to Him – the place He will finally get our attention. He longs for intimacy with us, and often we don’t turn to Him until we feel utterly alone.
My struggle with infertility is one of the ways He’s calling to my heart. This terrible suffering, which I pray will be removed, is being used for a beautiful purpose. This suffering is my desert place where God longs to meet me and speak tenderly to me. It is the special path He is using to purify my heart until I desire nothing but Him alone.
I think of St. Therese and other cloistered women whom God called to sacrifice their lives in obscurity, to offer their hidden trials to the God who sees in secret. I was not called to the cloister, but I do feel God calling me to unite my often-unseen cross to His. Silent sacrifice has a particular beauty to it. It is all for Him. We don’t have the consolation of the approval or sympathy of others. In that way, we are given more to offer to God, because the same suffering is multiplied (both in pain and grace) by its hiddenness.
There is a further gift to this hiddenness; Our Lord wants to grow new life in the privacy of our hidden suffering. Remember, He calls us to the desert so He can speak tenderly to our hearts. There is fruit He wants to grow in the garden of our hidden suffering. I want to be receptive to the seeds He plants there. Perhaps there are certain virtues that can thrive only in the darkness of suffering.
While I don’t yet know all the fruits He desires for me, surely, I wouldn’t have been able to receive them otherwise. Perhaps there are virtues I will be better able to practice, acts of charity I’ll have more time to perform, or opportunities for service I wouldn’t otherwise have pursued. The one fruit I am confident He desires for me is trust – complete trust in His perfect will.
I’m not saying we should isolate ourselves on purpose- in fact I think it is very important for couples struggling with infertility to actively seek support- but when we, inevitably, feel invisible in our suffering, we have twice the sacrifice to offer up. When we find ourselves misunderstood or overlooked, we can turn to the good God who sees in secret.
There is no doubt that experiencing infertility is an often-hidden cross. When you feel alone, remember the call to greater intimacy with Our Lord, and the fruit of trust that He desires for you.
Katie Summers and her husband Matthew have been married for almost 5 years and live in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. When not reading mystery novels or drinking iced coffee, you can find Katie listening to podcasts while crocheting.