In Essays on Woman, Edith Stein talks about how every woman, whether married, religious, or single, is called to live out her feminine vocation of motherhood. She also details how working women can use their unique gifts and feminine attributes in the workplace. These words spoke to me so much when I was a single twenty-something with a desire for marriage and children but was, frankly, nowhere near that point in my life.
At that time, I was working as a mother/baby nurse, studying full-time at nurse practitioner school, and living at home with my six siblings. I found so much fulfillment in living out my call of motherhood through caring for my patients, learning how to be a primary care provider, and being a daughter, sister, friend, and godmother to the amazing people God had given to me.
What I want to talk about today, though, is not how I’ve found fruitfulness through the work that God has called me to, but about how your fruitfulness has been a blessing in my life.
Within the first month or two of dating my boyfriend, we discussed if each of us, individually, wanted children and how many. Since I was working as a Natural Procreative Technology (NaPro) nurse practitioner, I knew very well that fertility was not a guarantee. I asked him what he would do if he wasn’t able to have children, and then we talked about how a couple who is not able to have children could live out their motherhood and fatherhood in other ways.
Fast forward a couple of months later, and I was undergoing my first, of what ended up being three, surgeries to diagnose and treat endometriosis and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). My boyfriend visited me afterward and I sobbed while lying on the couch, overcome with emotion that based on the findings from my surgery, I may never be able to have children (although additional surgery would increase my chances). I told him that I would understand if he wanted to break up with me. He told me he wasn’t going to break up with me because of my medical diagnosis.
Given my experience working with women with various causes of infertility, I knew the possible implications of my new diagnosis. I felt vulnerable since this information came to me while dating and therefore prior to a potential marriage. I had suffered with significant menstrual cramps, irregular cycles, and a host of other issues for a long time, so I’d known for a while that I could have endometriosis and PCOS; now, with definitive diagnoses, my future was more uncertain. However, I also knew that God calls married couples to be fruitful in many ways, not solely through physically bearing children.
Dear sisters and brothers, you are the ones who have taught me this. I am privileged to know so many couples, personally and professionally, who have a common mission and vision for their marriage. They share in a common work by mentoring other couples, teaching Theology of the Body, or opening their homes in hospitality to others, to name a few examples. Some of these couples have physical children and some do not, but they have all answered God’s call to fruitfulness in their marriage.
God has allowed infertility to exist, and this means that He wants to teach us truths about Himself and His Church through it. Because you don’t have physical children, when you answer God’s call to fruitfulness in your marriage, you become mother and father to all those God brings into your lives in ways that those who have physical children cannot be. You are “wounded healers” who, like Christ, allow your wounds to be a source of life and healing to others. You image the Blessed Mother, who became the new “Mother of all the living” and brings all her children to her Son. These are the truths that you show the world through your witness of motherhood, fatherhood, and Christian marriage. Your vocation is so good and so beautiful. I know that saying this doesn’t take the pain of infertility away, a pain that you should allow yourselves to feel and that I see every day in my profession.
I do not know if I will have physical children of my own if I get married one day, but I do know that I have a great desire for my potential marriage to be fruitful. I desire to have a common mission with my husband in which we show God’s love to the world in the way He calls us and in a way that we can do better together than individually. Thank you for igniting these desires in me and thank you for the gift you are to the Church. Please know that I am praying for you and rooting for you on this crazy journey to Heaven.
Caroline Gindhart is a nurse practitioner at Divine Mercy Womens Health in Camp Hill/Carlisle, Pennsylvania. She received her nursing degrees from Penn State University. In her professional work, she diagnoses the root causes of infertility and treats in a way that cooperates with the woman’s cycle using her training in the Creighton Model and NaPro Technology.