Wednesday, May 7, 2014

I Didn't Know "Open to Life" Would Be *This* Hard


Before we were married, and way before we knew infertility was going to be an issue, I had a pretty clear image of what it would mean to take our "open to life" vow seriously...

BabiesbabiesbabiesbabiesbabiesbabiesBABIES!

No wait, that's what the rest of the (non-Catholic) world thinks "open to life" means.

After equipping myself with the knowledge of this awesome science called the Creighton Model and getting the hang of the Church's teaching on Natural Family Planning (NFP), my image was a little more like...

Get married.
Avoid pregnancy using NFP for a year.
Baby.
Avoid pregnancy using NFP for another year.
Baby.
Avoid pregnancy using NFP for a year or two.
Baby.
Avoid pregnancy using NFP for another few years.
Last baby.
Lots of avoiding pregnancy using NFP in my late 30s and all of my 40s until...
Menopause.

... all the while discerning at each step along the way if we really had grave reasons to avoid or postpone pregnancy. It definitely seemed like it would be hard at times, but I was up for the challenge.

And all that probably sounds like what you'd expect of your typical fertile Catholic wanting a larger family and excited about embracing the Church's "open to life" teaching.

I also imagined "open to life" would mean...

Lots of sleepless nights.
Wrinkes and gray hairs and a saggy stomach.
No more vacations for a while.
No more casual hang outs with friends for a while.
Spending approximately $1,000,000 on groceries per month.
A slave to my washer and dryer for the rest of my life.
Getting into serious debates about [insert commonly debated baby thing here] with other moms all the time.
Never being able to poop or shower in private.
Having my ears attacked by cheesy kids tunes and cheesy kids movies all day long.
Cheerios all over my car.
Cheerios all over my house.
Cheerios all over my life.
Multitasking like a mad woman.
Acting as a mediator between fighting children.
Contantly worring about my children for any and every reason imaginable.
Desperately pleading with God for NFP to work so we can avoid having yet another one right now.
Spending all our savings sending our kids off to Catholic school or college or getting them married.
Becoming a teacher, maid, chef, role model, parent, and saint, all in one.

Gosh, that sounds like A LOT. It would definitely not be easy to be that selfless for so many baby-growing, child-raising, teen-shaping years. What you are doing is hard, reeeeally hard. So, to those of you in the trenches -- I salute you! And look up to you! And am in awe of all you do.

But, I'm also extremely jealous.

Yes, that's right. Jealous.

You may think I'm entirely crazy, completely out-of-my-mind nuts for being jealous of what you do. But it's the honest truth. As I sit here typing this, right here and now, I'm BEGGING God to give me all those challenges of parenthood. BEGGING Him.

Because at this point in my life, "open to life" doesn't look the same way for me as it does for you. Not at all. Sure, I get to be intimate with my husband whenever I want without having to worry about conceiving "at the wrong time." Sure, I get to pick up and go on vacations or go out with friends at the drop of a hat. Sure, my car and house and life are devoid of Cheerios. But I'd trade all of that, and way more, for everything you have, easy.

When I reflect on what I used to think "open to life" looks like, at first it seems like I'm not really living that vow at all. But the reality is "open to life" just takes on a whole new meaning when you're struggling through infertility.

If you've ever....

Sought the best doctors to get answers about your infertility...
Had very invasive treatments and surgeries involving your "private parts"...
Tried several different medications (that often make you crazy) to heal your broken, infertile body...
Changed your diet to increase your odds of conception...
Timed intercourse cycle after cycle to catch that perfect moment...
Done everything in your human power to conceive a child...
Opened your heart to the roller coaster of adoption...
Let go of your dreams of having your children look like the perfect mix of you and your spouse...
Filled your home with baby items before any indication that a baby is coming your way...
Put yourself out there to be possibly "rejected" by a birthmom...
Chosen to go forward with an adoption, even when you knew it was a risky situation...
Opened your home to a child from a hard place...
Let go of all you thought parenting would be so that you could be the perfect parent for your adopted child...
Found other ways to using your mothering skills...
Ministered to the needs of the poor, hungry, dying, marginalized, hospitalized...
Become a spiritual mother to those around you...
Celebrated the pregnancy, birth, and adoption announcements of everyone around you, because you really are happy about new life! (while inside your heart is breaking and a good ugly cry is about to pour out)...
Woken up still saying YES to every day, even though you know it'll be another childless one.

... then you're absolutely, positively "open to life" too. Even without a bunch of babies to show for it. We may not look "open to life" to that random stranger, but we know in our hearts we are. None of this would hurt so much if we didn't say YES to LIFE with all that we have, every single moment of every single day. You're in the trenches too, my friend, just not the same trenches you thought you'd be in.

I used to think "open to life" meant having lots and lots of babies, whenever God wanted us to, and I knew that had the potential to be challenging. But my "openness to life" isn't like that at all. It's far different than what I imagined it would be.

Is one harder than the other? I'm obviously not sure. I don't know what it's like to be a mom yet. But if I had to guess, based on who I am and how I feel today, I'd rather be struggling to keep up with all my babies than have no babies at all. I'd also guess that most folks would feel that way too.

While we don't lack sleep or free time or money, we lack something much bigger, much more meaningful... We lack the ability to co-create life. We lack the love in our hearts that only a parent knows. We lack a very special kind of joy.

What I know most of all is this: when being "open to life" with all that you have doesn't actually result in a creating new life, it hurts a lot.

My prayers are with all of you who are "open to life" in this non-traditional, unexpected way. You're beautiful, you're strong, and your life is full of meaning, even without 10 kids in tow.

Father, your will be done. We are open to life, but most importantly we are open to you, the Author of Life. Take our lives and let them be whatever you desire for us, wherever that may lead. And let us feel at peace through it all. Amen. 



41 comments:

  1. Beautifully written, Stephanie. I really love this post.

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  2. What a beautiful, heart filled, Spirit filled post. I loved it. It felt like you were talking to me and putting my thoughts into words. Being "open to life" is so painful when it's not coming easily or not at all in the classic sense. Hugs, friend. God knows your daily struggle and holds you close.

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    1. Hugs to you too! Thank you for such kind words.

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  3. This is beautiful, and you are, too!

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  4. Yes! I can totally agree...almost 11 years being married. But what I've learned that being open to life for us is being thankful for where we are right now. Doing that has been the most peaceful. Thank you, Jesus.

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    1. Yes, absolutely! Being "open to life" is being open to your own life! A great point!

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  5. Stephanie, this is beautiful. What a great reminder that openness to life doesn't always look the same way. Your faithfulness inspires me. I'll be praying for you and others in your situation.

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    1. Thank you, Annie! It means a lot to hear that from a mom. I want you to know that your "open to life" is just as beautiful and just as challenging. Hugs and prayers for you on your journey!

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  6. Stephanie, thanks for this great gift of a post! I love everything you said, and it certainly rang true for me. Friends and family that don't know my full situation are constantly asking questions, or worse, tip-toeing around the idea that we are "waiting" for some reason or another. If only they knew. But, as you so beautifully put it, Jesus knows. He knows of our pain and suffering, and He is redeeming it for the glory of His kingdom. Keep that adorable chin up! You are an inspiration, friend!!! Prayers!!!

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    1. YOU are an inspiration. Thank you for the kind words, friend! Hugs and prayers!

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  7. So true! So beautiful!! It is hard! Thank you!

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    1. Thank you, Ecce! It's so hard. So happy us IFers have each other. Don't think I could do any of this alone.

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  8. YESSSSSS!!!! This is wonderful. I remember back in high school and learning about the concept of being "open to life" in marriage. It was basically explained that if you are open to life, you will use NFP and have a large family. Done and done. Sooooo much was missing in that class on what truly being open to life means. You nailed it here. We going through the trenches of IF are totally open to life in a very radical way - a silent way that only God will be able to fully see. Thank you!

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    1. I wish, so much, that more like this was being taught to young ones in school and especially to couples during marriage prep! If only we could have heard more about this cross. Sure, not everyone experiences it, but a lot of us do. Thanks for your kind words!

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  9. Wow, this is so beautiful and so well-said! I fought back tears as I read this. Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Thank you for reading! Glad you enjoyed it.

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  11. This was beautiful...I really like the last prayer...it's all about God's will...and we are open to life but most of all we are open to you. I just read something like that in the magnificat...it really stuck with me.

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    1. It IS all about God's will... which is so hard to accept sometimes, but I suppose that's what "open to life" really is all about. Thank you for your kind words, friend.

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  12. You're right, being open to life is really hard when God keeps saying no. I know comparing our struggles with others doesn't do any good, but I think you make a good point in saying that most people would rather be struggling to keep up with babies than to have no babies at all. I feel like that statement might help give a little perspective to someone who has not faced IF. I know I would trade my infertility in a heartbeat.

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    1. Yes, absolutely! I really don't want to take credit away from moms who face some really big challenges of motherhood. They work so hard and do things I can't even imagine, just for the good of their child(ren). And I agree that comparing crosses doesn't do any good for anyone. I just hope that this speaks to moms out there and helps them understand our childless journey a little better. I also hope this speaks to everyone in the IF trenches. Hugs to you!

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  13. Yes, yes, and yes. Well said. Hope today was easy on your heart!

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    1. Thank you, friend. You are very kind! <3 I hope the same for you!

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  14. Mr. M here - phenomenal post. It really gets at the point that openness to life is way more than simply practicing NFP, although that is a big part of it.

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    1. Thank you, Mr. M! NFP is definitely a BIG part of it. I wish when we learned NFP, we had heard a little bit more about the possibility of IF. Even if we never struggled with infertility, it would have been nice to hear about it, to help us be more compassionate to those going through it.

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  15. One thing I do know, and that is that God is faithful to those who are faithful to Him. Blessings...and a wonderful post!

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  16. This is such a wonderful post, I absolutely LOVED it...our stories and our openness might look different from others' but no less Holy and no less beautiful! A phenomenal reminder to pray on and keep close to our hearts. Thanks for this, as always! :)

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    1. I'm really glad you connected with this post. Actually, I'm sorry you have to relate to it at all! I wish none of us had to know what "open to life" felt like as an infertile. But we do. And I'm happy I'm not alone on this journey. Thanks for the kind words!

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  17. I loved this post Stephanie - your heart and devotion is inspirational. You ARE going to be a mom, I know it, all the way down to my bones. I'm so glad you have a support group here, so you feel less alone.

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    1. Mary, you are so sweet. Thank you for the positive words. I wish I could feel it in my bones too! I'm glad you feel it for me. :) And yes, the support I get on here is incredible. So happy to have this special online community.

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  18. I know I'm very late reading this post from a few months ago, but I came here from your comment on Cari Donaldson's recent blog post about infertility. You really hit the nail on the head of why infertility is such a horrible suffering for us who are "open to life." Thank you for your beautiful words.

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    1. Thank you for your kind comment. I hate that you have to know any of these emotions too. But I'm glad we have this supportive community here. I don't know how I'd be able to do IF alone, with everyone else having babies around me. It's so dang tough. Hugs!

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  19. This is so beautiful. A blog I follow shared it on FB today, and I was so moved to read your words. We've been on all sides of the equation - infertility, miscarriage, babies - and being open to life now means way more than I ever imagined it would. So hard while we were in it, but I am grateful for the ways God has stretched what I thought I believed. Thank you for this.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Laura! I'm sorry you've been through infertility, and miscarriage as well. Many heavy crosses, my friend. I'll agree that while it's hard when we're in it, I'm still so grateful for where God led me during that time, how He helped me grow, how it changed me for the better. Sounds like you are too! :)

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