dear couple in the pew, i see you (infertility & invisibility)

Dear couple in the pew across from us:

I see the way you grip each other’s hands when you notice us. I see the way you try not to cry while you watch our kids. I see the way you kiss her forehead quietly; I see the way you lean your head on his shoulder, blinking back tears.

I see the way both of you stare straight ahead, willing yourselves not to think about it.

I see you. 

While my husband and I are trying to corral the Mass chaos of three small kids, your eyes catch mine and then quickly look away. Turning from the sight of someone who has what you want.

Anything to keep from dwelling on what a young, growing family means to you.

I see you at the grocery store, too. At the park. At the restaurant. At the work party, the neighborhood potluck, the family reunion.

But somehow it feels even more painful when I see you at church. Maybe it’s because I know you’ll have to watch our motley crew for a whole hour, not just one quick turn down the store’s aisle or a sidewalk’s length at the park.

But mostly it’s because I remember sitting right where you are.

Praying with Kleenex balled in my fists, praying with tears at the corners of my eyes, praying for the strength not to envy, praying for this to be the month, praying to a God I clung to and yelled at, all at once.

I know the way you’re thinking, because I used to do the math just the same. Early 30s, I bet. Three kids. They’re so lucky. Our time is running out. It’s never going to happen for us. I hate this.

I wish I could tell you it gets better. I wish I could make the miracle happen for you. But besides my prayers – which you always have, and always will – all I can tell you is this: I see you. 

I see your pain and I see your struggle. I don’t ignore it or forget it just because my arms are full of drooling babies and squirmy toddlers.

I remember that is one of the worst side effects of infertility. Not just the crazy hormone swings or the monthly disappointment or the gut-twisting ache when yet another friend calls with yet another excited pregnancy announcement.

It’s the invisibility. The way you feel like the world can’t see your pain.

And the awful truth? The church doesn’t always see your pain either.

Rare are the prayer petitions for couples suffering from infertility or miscarriage or stillbirth. Even rarer is an outreach ministry, a support group, a prayer chain – any resource to tell you that this community cares for you and grieves with you and hopes with you.

But things can start to shift once we start seeing each other. Once we remember that we are seen. Once we remember all the ways that the Body of Christ can be wounded.

Because when I see you, I remember those days, months, and years of infertility. I remember not to take my kids or my chaos for granted. I remember to pray for all those who are in pain or who are longing.

So while you’re sitting there at church on Sunday, feeling alone in your pew and alone in your heart, remember that someone out there sees you.

That there are those of us around you who have lived with that heartache, whether we went on to have children or not.

And we never forget what it feels like to grieve, to cry, to curse, to pray every Sunday, every day, again and again, for the one chance that will change everything. Or for the strength to accept a life that looks different from what we hoped.

We see you. And when we see you, we can start to be part of the change.

Part of the church that can pray for your pain. Part of the community that can support you in your struggles. Part of the Body of Christ that remembers that without each other, we are not whole.

This is how we learn, how we love, how we grow. By seeing what is invisible. 

And I see you.

In love and hope,

From the mom in the opposite pew

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78 Comments

  1. Kathleen Kelly on 25 August 2014 at 7:55 am

    wish that could be printed in Church Bulletins across the land….It is such a silent issue, and couples need our support !

    • Laura on 25 August 2014 at 10:26 am

      Thank you!! There is so much silent suffering…yesterday after Mass we listened to a man share his story of job loss and unemployment, and he is starting a job transition support group at our parish. It made me think of how every Mass is thick with stories in the pews, but how few of them we know. The more we see, the wider our hearts stretch, I think.

    • Maame on 18 July 2018 at 2:26 pm

      I wish the church would do more for couples going through infertility. It is such a dark (room) lonely place. I always used to tell my husband he could not go to the dark room with me…. I feel sad for couples who are going through this unpleasant experience. God finally opened the window of Heaven and blessed us with a beautiful baby girl. Till today i still cannot enjoy Mother’s day even though i am a mother. I grieve and pray for others who are not. All i can say is do not give up… keep praying, and thanking God. One day he will send you your miracle.

  2. aminimama on 25 August 2014 at 10:08 am

    From the woman who is staring down the last 4 days of the two week wait with fear, anticipation, hope, faith and still trying to steel myself for disappointment so I don’t completely fall apart (as most of us don’t have that option: Thank you. Thank you for this, not only because it helps me to know that I am not alone, but also because you are a symbol of hope- that whatever the outcome, I will survive. God bless you, Sister.

    • Laura on 25 August 2014 at 10:27 am

      Oh, my heart goes out to you. The 2 week wait is so hard. Emotions charging all over the place. I am keeping you in my prayers in a special way today. Whatever comes next, God will be there, too – that is always our (challenging) call to remember & trust, isn’t it? Peace & hope your way…

  3. Claire on 25 August 2014 at 11:43 am

    Thank you so much for posting about this topic. Infertility is definitely underdiscussed in the church, and the support is limited, particularly for those who never go on to achieve a pregnancy.

    • Laura on 25 August 2014 at 2:13 pm

      You are welcome, Claire. Thank you for your perspective as well. I couldn’t agree more – there is definitely a call for our church to do more for this kind of suffering that is all too common.

  4. Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde on 25 August 2014 at 4:39 pm

    crying. we are done trying and grateful for Marguerite. (and grateful for ONLY ONE. only one brown child to raise.) but wow. your words still hit a soft spot of ache, want, desire, woe. love, thank you. mabk

    Melissa Borgmann Kiemde, Visitation Companion Vocation Partner melissa@visitationmonasteryminneapolis.org 612.247.1151

    We invite the Spirit alive in you to consider the Visitation Sisters of north Minneapolis, an Order steeped in tradition that responds to the present. Come Join the Sisters of the Visitation in north Minneapolis http://www.visitationmonasteryminneapolis.org

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    • Laura on 26 August 2014 at 2:35 pm

      Oh, friend, I am so moved to know this spoke to you. I read something recently on infertility in which the author described meeting a mother who answered the question of “how many children do you have?” with the response, “We were blessed with one.” And how much unknown pain/suffering/circumstances beyond a parent’s control were summed up in those words…Your family is on my heart and in my prayers today.

  5. ecce fiat on 25 August 2014 at 8:23 pm

    A very thoughtful post. We are the couple in the pew, the store, the park, everyplace where there are moms and dads and kids and we do feel invisible, so thank you for reminding us that we are seen.

    …but I was kinda hoping that the end of the post would be walking over to the couple and saying hello, making a connection. Because I don’t just feel unseen, I often feel overlooked and ignored. I can’t tell you (and you probably remember!) how loved I feel when one of the moms at church says hello or even just smiles at me. It makes me feel less “other” and like we are sisters in Christ, which of course we are.

    • Laura on 26 August 2014 at 2:38 pm

      Yes, sisters in Christ. Yes. You make such an important and essential point – that we must do all we can to make people feel “less other.” I think my view of “seeing” is broaden than merely looking at someone. It’s more like what Christ meant when he said “Come and see” – be changed, be converted, be transformed. So I absolutely think that seeing must lead to reaching out in concrete ways like you describe. The first step is to notice each other, of course, and then to follow where God leads us to be the change we hope to see in our communities, church, and the world around us. Thank you for sharing your perspective here – I am so grateful for it.

  6. Anna on 27 August 2014 at 11:56 am

    Laura, this post describes perfectly what mass was like for me for 2 and a half years. You are completely right when you say that for some reason infertility is feels the worst while in church. I think for me a big part of it was also being afraid that people would think we didn’t want kids, that we weren’t open to life. We so wanted to show the world that we believe God’s plan for marriage includes children, but weren’t able to. It was frustrating and heart breaking.

    Thank you for writing this. Now, in the craziness of life with a 15 month old, it’s easy to forget what it was like. It’s easy to forget that there are others who need my prayers and support. Thanks!

    • Laura on 28 August 2014 at 2:45 pm

      I hear you, Anna. I was right there with you. Hoping and hurting. And also secretly, selfishly maybe, wanting to prove to the world that we wanted kids. But what we believe can’t always be so easily revealed by the outward facts of our life, can it? The experience of infertility has helped me to become more gentle about jumping to any conclusions about what I perceive to be the facts of someone’s life. And what a great reminder to keep our prayers going, for others. Thank you.

  7. Natalie Marie on 27 August 2014 at 6:22 pm

    This is beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. Too many struggle silently with infertility. I was once told that I’d never have children, and was incredibly blessed to find out 3 months into marriage that we were pregnant. Although I don’t know the pain that one feels when they try and can’t conceive, I do recall just how scared I was at the thought of struggling with infertility. It’s easy to take the gift of fertility for granted, but that’s the reality: it is a gift.

    • Laura on 28 August 2014 at 2:47 pm

      Thank you so much, Natalie, and for sharing your own story as well. Fertility honestly is a gift, isn’t it? That’s not a cliche. I am in awe, and always will be, of the fact that we ended up being able to have these children. I feel like I hold this gift with sacred reverence.

  8. Joan on 28 August 2014 at 8:20 am

    I can’t thank you enough for writing this piece. My husband and I have been trying to conceive for a few years now and are dealing with the complications of endometriosis on top of the pain of infertility. I find the most difficult part is the loneliness and invisibility of the struggle- you’re awareness of this means more than you can imagine!
    Thank you again!

    • Laura on 28 August 2014 at 2:49 pm

      Thank you for your own words, Joan. I am so moved to know that this spoke to you. You and your husband will continue to be in my prayers.

  9. polkadot on 28 August 2014 at 8:13 pm

    Thank you so much for writing this. It brought me to tears because it was both thoughtful and true; I often feel invisible or even left out, especially at Mass, because we have been married for a while and have no children due to infertility.

    • Laura on 29 August 2014 at 6:17 am

      You are welcome, polkadot. I will be praying for you and your husband, especially at Mass this weekend.

  10. Heather on 28 August 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Maybe it’s me you’ve seen. My husband and I…Thank you for this. Just thank you.

    • Laura on 29 August 2014 at 6:18 am

      Oh, Heather, thank you for the gift of your words as well. It could have been you and your husband; it could have been so many of us. I will be praying for you.

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