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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  1. Theresa@OrdinaryLovely on 31 August 2014 at 9:26 pm

    This was a beautiful and heartfelt post, Laura. Thank you for taking the time to remind me how fundamental it is to our faith to recognize the varying needs of women in our Church and in our community, to validate them and to reach out to them. Your post was timely, because lately I’ve been mulling over how to support women struggling with infertility (or suffering from multiple miscarriages) without seeming insincere, as I have several healthy, fabulous children (and a miscarried child in Heaven). Sometimes it’s difficult to speak to women with these crosses b/c i feel like I have to downplay the blessings I have in order to be sympathetic, but of course it’s wrong to minimize the blessing that my children are. I think it’s so tricky to show support and love when you clearly can’t say and mean, “I know what your’e going through.” Perhaps a simple but sincere assurance of my prayers is the best thing under the circumstances…

    • Laura on 31 August 2014 at 10:02 pm

      I couldn’t agree more, Theresa. I struggle with this, too, now that we have three children. I think the fact that you are wrestling with this question is the very proof that you want to offer other women your authentic compassion, and I believe that will come through. Especially since, as you say, promising your prayers and wanting to be there for them through their struggles are probably the two biggest gifts you can offer. Thank you for caring so deeply about these questions, even as you have been blessed with children of your own.

  2. Trisha on 31 August 2014 at 2:55 pm

    Thank you for this. I worship with a small intimate church & I am seen thankfully! I spent 14 weeks working with a birth mom & for reasons I’ll never know or understand she decided not to let me adopt the baby. At 26 weeks it appeared her water had broken so I went from a small group of people knowing to everyone knowing because I wanted people to know we needed prayers. Thankfully for the baby her water didn’t break! Everyone was so excited that it was finally going to happen for me that I felt like I let all those people down when she changed her mind 2 weeks later. It is so hard waiting & needing people’s support. I’m single so I need support from others because I don’t have a spouse to help share the burden but at the same time I have to share my news so I don’t become overwhelmed & they help me keep grounded in reality. Luckily I have a pastor who gives me a heads up when he is going to preach about something he knows may be difficult for me to hear in my situation. The most difficult thing for me is to see people in public not valuing their children or putting their needs first. Being in the dcotor’s office wating room & seeing a 4 year yearning to engage with her mom who was totally engaged with the game on her phone. I’m sure she is a good mom & needed a break but I just wanted to scoop her up & tell her I would read her a story. Another pet peeve is people saying oh your life is going to change so drastically once you have a child. Sleepless nights, etc. I’m counting on it & look forward to spending those nights snuggled up to a fussy kid. My last pet peeve is when people say you don’t understand you aren’t a parent. I teach so I have a good idea what a parent would do. Thankfully I don’t get those responses much.

    • Laura on 31 August 2014 at 9:56 pm

      Trisha, thank you so much for sharing your story. I am so heartened to know that you have such a supportive church community. What an amazing blessing in the midst of all you are going through and journeying towards. Maybe we each need each other’s perspective, on both side of the fence, to know that the grass is never greener, that our hearts are full of longing. I will keep you in my prayers and pray that you will find some healing and comfort in the midst of your heartache.

  3. Right with you . . . on 31 August 2014 at 10:43 am

    This is spot on. I’ve been the one in the pew with the balled up tissues and I’ve been the one with three squirming babies/toddlers. It’s important to talk about this issue. Thanks for writing so beautifully about it.

  4. Lisa on 30 August 2014 at 12:27 pm

    I cannot thank you enough for posting this–it’s as if you were able to climb inside of me and know exactly what I’m feeling. For some reason, church is one of the places where I am reminded the most of our infertility. So many beautiful families in one place. Your acknowledgment of this issue is wonderful!

    • Laura on 31 August 2014 at 9:52 pm

      Thank you, Lisa. I am so moved to know that it struck a chord. I remember feeling how ironic it was, that church was one of the hardest places to me. Keeping you in my thoughts and prayers.

  5. Paula on 29 August 2014 at 7:42 pm

    Thank you for sharing! We recently found out that more than likely my husband and I will not be able to have biological children and our hearts are aching. I am a teacher and I was moved to preschool this year so it is even more of constant reminder of our struggle. We believe in miracle and we pray that when we go next week to find out the results of more blood work that we will receive good news. Infertility is not something that is discussed openly…it is a silent struggle for couples. We have told a few friends and family members, but what do you say to the other friends and co-workers who constantly ask “When are you going to have a baby?” Thank you again for sharing.

    • Laura on 31 August 2014 at 9:51 pm

      Paula, thank you for sharing your story here. Yours is such a good reminder of how even well-meaning questions can wound inadvertently. And to be surrounded by children all day in your work must make this cross you’re bearing even heavier. I will keep you and your husband in my prayers, for the miracle your hearts are longing for.

  6. lindsay on 29 August 2014 at 4:08 pm

    Thank you for writing this. As someone who’s experienced three miscarriages with no baby, I’m not completely sure I am considered infertile, but I still feel the pain of someone who wants children and is for some reason unable to have them. I so appreciate your acknowledgement of the pain and hurt of being invisible. Thank you, thank you!

    • Laura on 31 August 2014 at 9:49 pm

      Oh, Lindsay, my heart goes out to you. That is so much pain and sorrow to bear. Absolutely another invisibility. Thank you for such an important reminder. I will keep you in my prayers.

  7. Nell @ Whole Parenting Family on 29 August 2014 at 3:17 pm

    So so so beautiful. The invisibility and the presumptions are what are the hardest for me to see my friends & family endure who suffer with fertility issues. Thank you for being a voice on their behalf.

    • Laura on 31 August 2014 at 9:40 pm

      Thank you, Nell! You are absolutely right that the presumptions and the loneliness are the hardest. We have so much more to do as a church, especially.

  8. connieann on 29 August 2014 at 1:29 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. After 10+ years of permanent infertility, I know how much is lacking in the Catholic community in terms of recognition and support for the suffering of infertile couples. This post brings so much comfort to me. Maybe someone see us during Mass. Maybe people will start to care more. Maybe, just maybe, more people like you will make this cross just a little bit lighter. Thank you! God bless you guys.

    • Laura on 29 August 2014 at 3:22 pm

      Thank you, too, connieann. You have carried this cross for so long. I pray that you will be seen and that you will know the support of a loving community. We have so much room to grow in our parishes in the way we reach out to all kinds of silent suffering.

  9. A Single Person on 29 August 2014 at 12:29 pm

    I am really grateful you posted this. It’s salt in an open wound to feel unseen. I think I’m in a different boat than many of your readers, though. I also can’t have children, but it’s because I haven’t found a spouse (and at this point, it’s unlikely that I will in time to have children). I feel everything you said you see in the couple you’re writing to, just without the shoulder to lean my head on. 😉 I also note the passing of every month; adorable babies and happy families haunt me at Mass and Target and the park; my friend’s pregnancy announcements are met with genuine excitement but also an all-hands-on-deck attempt to keep envy and even bitterness at bay; my prayers are so tearful; when my friends say “the baby is the size of a pea this week!”, I can’t get it out of my head that I will never have a pea-sized human right *here*–and I can feel it in my body where it would go; I struggle every day to accept a future that is so much emptier of life than I’d once hoped. But I am not the childless married couple across the pew. I’m just a single person. The single life, when you wanted to get married and have a family, is its own kind of infertility, and I do feel like the agony that goes with it is unseen. Not every single person feels as I do, but I think I’m not alone. Perhaps it would be helpful to try to remember to “see” the single people who are like me, too?

    Again, thank you for this post. It means a lot to me (and to my friends struggling with infertility) that someone out there is taking the time to sympathize.

    • Laura on 29 August 2014 at 3:21 pm

      Thank you so much for sharing your story and perspective here. It is so important for us to remember that it is not only married people who feel this pain. Infertility has so many different shades and hues – it doesn’t look just one way. You will be in my prayers.

  10. GraceofAdoption on 28 August 2014 at 11:12 pm

    Thank you. For sharing this. Five years ttc, it is still so tough.

    • Laura on 29 August 2014 at 6:18 am

      You’ve had such a long road, GraceofAdoption. I will keep you in my prayers. Thank you for stopping here.

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