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. […] are great blog posts about infertility around the internet (like here, here, and here), but at this point I want to shift focus. I want to talk about the lessons […]

  2. 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.

  3. a summer of paradox « mothering spirit on 1 September 2014 at 4:25 pm

    […] Instead I sat down one early morning in the dark and finished writing the world this letter. […]

  4. d spencer on 2 September 2014 at 2:47 pm

    A lovely post- we too have been on both sides as it were -thank you and God bless

    • Laura on 3 September 2014 at 10:51 pm

      Thank you, d spencer. On both sides, yes. It is so important for all of us to keep seeing each other from both sides.

  5. Ann on 3 September 2014 at 7:35 pm

    So beautiful, has me in tears as it speaks right to my heart! Thank you for writing this, having 5 miscarriages and now struggling through the adoption process I daily encounter so many women suffering in silence. Post like this let them know they are not alone.

    • Laura on 3 September 2014 at 10:50 pm

      Ann, thank you for your words. You have been through so much. I will keep you in my prayers, both for your healing and for your adoption process. I hope that you will know you are not alone in your longing.

  6. Angela on 5 September 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Hi Laura,

    Thank you for your insightful post. I read it through tear-filled eyes. My husband and I were married over 6 months ago, and as practicing Catholics, are completely open to life. Both of us come from very large families, so we thought children would come very naturally for us. Trying to conceive for the past half year without achieving pregnancy has been so difficult, especially when people ask, “Any baby news yet?” When I hear pregnancy announcements of friends, I try with all my heart to be happy for them, and I am but I also usually end up collapsing into my husband’s arms in tears. We are that couple at Mass. For some reason I feel my empty womb more poignantly at Mass. I suppose it is because the Author of Life, our Lord, is present in the Holy Sacrifice, and I pray so passionately for Him to help my husband and I to create life in my womb. What I have been praying for as of late is to suffer well, to suffer for the love of the Lord. Truly what I want is for God’s will to be done in my life, and His will right in this moment includes my husband and I not having a baby yet. I try to see the situation in this way: it is a privilege to suffer for our Lord, and to obediently accept whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. This is not to say that it will not be difficult, or that the journey will be free of tears, but, I believe that trustful surrender to divine providence leads us ever closer to Christ’s Heart. I try to offer my prayers to conceive with a hopeful, faithful, and loving heart. Jesus I trust in You. Mother Mary make me a mother like you. <3

    • Laura on 7 September 2014 at 10:03 pm

      Angela, your words speak to such a deep faith. I am so sorry to hear of your heartache, but I will be praying for you and your husband, that you will find consolation in God’s love. Whatever lies ahead for you both, your faith will keep you grounded in that most essential Love. Peace & prayers…

  7. […] week I was chatting with a friend about how my letter to couples struggling with infertility went viral and how I struggled to write in the aftermath. After all, our infertility story ended […]

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  9. Allison on 15 September 2014 at 1:49 pm

    I should not have read this while at work, so many tears! Mass has become essentially impossible for my husband and I. It’s just gotten too hard. The final straw was when a woman approached me after Mass one Sunday and said she was praying that my husband and I would stop contracepting and be open to life. My husband and I have been struggling for three years, through countless doctor visits, through countless hours driving 100 miles in each direction to get to the nearest NaPro clinic, through two planned surgeries, one emergency surgery, two blood transfusions, and an ocean of tears. And yet all that inflicted less pain than that woman did in one moment. Yesterday, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, was the first Sunday my husband and I have been to Mass since Easter (at a different church than before). I can’t say that I felt any special solace of returning. I was on edge the whole time, working so hard to keep so many emotions at bay and off my face. But I made it through! Please pray that I continue to have the grace to accept small victories and the courage to survive large heartache. Thank you for seeing me.

    • Laura on 15 September 2014 at 2:17 pm

      Oh Allison, your words bring me so many tears as well. What deep, deep pain you have known – and what injustice to have more heaped on by a stranger’s cutting words in a space that should feel safe and sacred. I am struggling to think charitably towards this woman who must have felt that she needed to speak a prophetic word on behalf of her own beliefs, but the assumptions we carry can wound others so deeply. I will pray for her heart, but I will hold you and your husband in my prayers for a long time. The Feast of the Holy Cross – isn’t it such a paradox and a wonder that God can somehow transform what is most cruel and painful about our lives here into something unimaginable but beyond the good we can hope for? I hope that you will keep going and know God’s love with you as a faithful companion, even in your pain. Peace and prayers with you.

  10. katezharvey on 22 January 2015 at 8:57 am

    Laura, your words are so beautiful and poignant and made my heart hurt with how true they are for me. My husband and I have been struggling to conceive for a year and a half and you’re right, the invisibility is so, so, so painful. On top of the incredible longing and yearning and heartbreak every month that goes by, there’s a lingering feeling of shame and vulnerability. A few of your commenters said it perfectly–will people think we aren’t open to life? And when other believers say things like, “God will bless you with children when you are ready,” do they know how deeply painful that is to hear? I know this isn’t what they mean but what I hear is that I’m not ready, that something is wrong with me, that God must think I’m not worthy, that I must need to do/say/change something in order to be blessed with this amazing miracle. That I must not deserve this. Perhaps what they mean is that God will bless us with children when HE is ready.

    I was led to your blog through your recent post on FaithND (fellow ND gal here) and I want to say thank you so much for your healing words. This post is beyond lovely. Prayers for you and your family.

    • Laura on 29 January 2015 at 10:13 pm

      Kate, my heart aches for you. Thank you so much for sharing your story here. I hope you can see from all the other comments that you are absolutely not alone – in your pain or in your hope. I will keep you in my prayers and hope that you will find God’s peace even in your waiting and dreaming.

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