By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Tyla Cole always imagined herself having a houseful of children to love and care for. When she and her husband married eight years ago, they bought a five-bedroom house in Davenport, expecting they would soon fill it with the sound of rattles, coos and giggles. Two years into their marriage, however, the extra rooms were still empty, and they received a devastating diagnosis: Cole had fallopian tube defects and her chances of achieving natural pregnancy were “very slim.”
“We held each other cried for hours and hours,” recalled Cole, the Diocese of Davenport’s archivist.
Eight years into their marriage, she said the tears still flow, and the loneliness she feels is twofold — she feels the void of not having children, and the additional void of not being able to relate to her peers with children. Others often question why she does not have children, or offer unsolicited or hurtful advice, not realizing her pain and spiritual struggles. “I just pray to accept God’s will in my life,” she said.
Although the Center for Disease Control estimates that one in six couples will struggle to get pregnant or carry a baby to term, Cole said it is an issue that isn’t often talked about. “There is a need not being fulfilled out there. We don’t get the same support as someone with a chronic illness.”
Father Corey Close, parochial vicar of Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton, has an advanced degree in marriage and family life. “I feel such compassion for those in that struggle,” he said. “Essentially it’s a loss. … There is a profound loss and suffering in losing that beautiful gift of (biological) children.”
Fr. Close said parishes and fellow Catholics can help ease the burden, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach. He has observed that couples with infertility issues often feel embarrassed or ashamed, and therefore tend to be afraid to speak out or seek help on a spiritual level. He said it is essential for these couples to know that “it is not their fault,” and they should be respected and supported in their grief.
He suggested parish ministers discuss this population as one that may be in need of support, using input from those affected by the condition if possible. In one parish, a formal support group might be beneficial. In another, a more organic group formed by those suffering from infertility might be a better approach. He said priests and deacons can make a difference by including the heartache of infertility in the intercessions during Mass.
Judi Droll, retired RCIA director at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, experienced seven years of infertility before conceiving her first child. Now 68, she is working with her parish to create a grief and healing ministry that will be open to those struggling with the emotional aspect of infertility and miscarriage. “It is a very real grief,” she said, noting that the ministry may begin by the end of August. “Not everyone is given that miracle (of biological children) and we have to be there to support them, let them know there is someone there that cares. That’s one thing we have to get going and make happen.”
Cole said she would welcome the opportunity to “ hear from couples going through this now and dealing with whatever is coming their way … see how they cope, listen to their stories, maybe get some insight on handling it better.”
Fr. Close said that any Catholic wishing to show compassion for childless couples can do so by “praying for them, being there as a shoulder to cry on when they need it. Ministry, 99.9 percent of the time, is just being an ear or a shoulder to cry on. It’s easy to offer solutions, it’s a challenge to actually listen to someone and love them where they are right now.”
Some infertile couples may eventually conceive. Some may adopt or become foster parents. Others may discover other ways to express their maternal and paternal desires, such as through ministry or volunteer work. Fr. Close said, “If God never graces a couple with physical children, it doesn’t mean they cannot be spiritual mothers and fathers.”
For Cole, the first step is just speaking out. “I think if it was talked about more, more couples would come forward. We need to not be so embarrassed about it.”
One resource for couples enduring infertility and those who want to be more sensitive to the needs of infertile couples is “The Infertility Companion for Catholics,” published in 2012 and endorsed by the Pontifical Council for the Family. Written by two women with infertility, it provides a spiritual perspective on the emotions and faith involved in embracing the cross of infertility, while also describing the Church’s teaching on reproductive technologies.