dear couple in the pew: i see you {on 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.

IMG_7666Because 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

57 thoughts on “dear couple in the pew: i see you {on infertility & invisibility}

  1. Kathleen Kelly says:

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

    • Laura says:

      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.

  2. aminimama says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

    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 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

    Find the Sisters on Facebook! or Follow us on Twitter!

    • Laura says:

      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 says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

    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!

  9. polkadot says:

    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 says:

      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.

  10. A Single Person says:

    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 says:

      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.

  11. connieann says:

    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 says:

      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.

    • Laura says:

      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.

  12. lindsay says:

    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 says:

      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.

  13. Paula says:

    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 says:

      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.

  14. Lisa says:

    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 says:

      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.

  15. Right with you . . . says:

    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.

  16. Trisha says:

    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 says:

      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.

  17. Theresa@OrdinaryLovely says:

    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 says:

      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.

  18. Ann says:

    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 says:

      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.

  19. Angela says:

    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. ❤

    • Laura says:

      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…

  20. Allison says:

    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 says:

      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.

  21. katezharvey says:

    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 says:

      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.

  22. K says:

    Beautiful. I am still sobbing 10 minutes later. We have a beautiful 5 year-old but had 4 miscarriages after that and now 2.5 years of infertility. It’s so hard when people ask “Is he your only child?” or they assume motherhood is so hard that we decided not to have more. We homeschool, and large, Catholic families are the rule in that community. I often feel so judged for not having “enough” kids. If only they know. Thank you for this post.

    • Laura says:

      Oh K, I am so sorry to hear of your pain and grief. It is such a hard and heavy cross to bear, especially when no one can see it and you feel that others are judging your life or family. I will keep you in my prayers, and I hope that you will know God’s love and peace right now, no matter what comes in the future. Thank you for sharing your story here and helping all of us to remember that we are called not to judge but to support each other even in heartache.

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