On Infertility & Identity - A Letter from Jess

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Dear Friends,

I once thought I knew what it meant to be a Catholic woman. My impressions were shaped by growing up in a large Catholic family, encountering prime examples of living the faith in our church community and by learning of the saints. I was aware from a young age of what a vocation is and prayed about mine often. My ‘faith like a child’ was passionate, sincere, at moments extreme, and I never saw it as a moveable thing. In time, I found the man God had created for me and gladly accepted my marriage vocation, eagerly anticipating having a home full of children, ready to be a shining example of saying ‘yes’ to life in a beautifully-Catholic way. We were not only open to life for the whole of our marriage, we awaited that new life with the anticipation of a child counting down the days until Christmas.

Ten years into our marriage, though, our house and arms remain empty, our hearts broken by years of infertility and the burden of holding on to unfulfilled desires. For the first time in my life, in the midst of this crisis, I found myself struggling with the question of what it means to be a Catholic woman. What does it mean to be a Catholic woman when your best idea of how to do so is having a pew full of children? How could God call me to marriage but not motherhood?

As Catholics we’re taught of our suffering to “offer it up,” to bear our burdens with gratitude that we can join them to Christ’s and help bring others into salvation. It is a narrative I had spoken many times before; I’d spent time reflecting on the redemptive beauty of suffering and believe it to be an essential part of our faith. “Your Will, not mine,” is much easier in theory than reality, though.

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It is easy to proclaim submission to God’s Will when you believe that God will grant you the desires of your heart; however, when faced with the actuality that God might say ‘no,’ I have fallen apart. More than just the question of whether I’ll ever be called to motherhood, I came to question my worth as a Catholic woman.

Like so many facing the reality of a life they never wanted, I have encountered parts of myself I wish I never had to know: bitterness, anger, despair, doubt. My once unmovable faith has been shaken to the core, troubled by questions that may never have an answer in this world. And an overwhelming feeling of shame that my faith should be stronger, my cross more-readily accepted, my suffering more willing, spiritually paralyzed me. What right do I have to pray when my heart is so full of ugliness? How can I claim to be a faithful Catholic when I can’t embrace the lessons I’ve learned and taught my whole life?

Yet there is something else I’ve learned of as a Catholic, and that is God’s Mercy- a Divine Mercy big enough to handle all of the human feelings we can’t stifle, expansive enough to welcome us back with love no matter how many times we fail miserably. In that Mercy I am learning that being a Catholic woman doesn’t mean I will always have the grace to carry my cross willingly; it means I know where to find that grace. And I’m learning that God wants what we can give Him, nothing more, and despite my barrenness I can still be fruitful through love and any good I can bring to others. God asks nothing of us that He hasn’t already given. So when He calls us to wait on Him, demanding the patience of a saint, remember then that He will also be patient with us as we work toward that sainthood.

In Love, Jess

Get to know Jess

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I'm Jess, a 34 year old classical singer, pianist and music educator.  My work is a fun mix of teaching group piano to grade schoolers, college voice, and singing in operas and concerts.  

What do the first two hours of your day look like? 

Well, I’m not exactly a “morning person.”  So usually the first hour hour of my day involves snoozing the alarm, snuggling with a couple of lazy dogs, crawling to the coffee pot, and by the time I’ve had enough caffeine to snap into action I have about 15 minutes to get to work.  Did you know the closer you live to your job the harder it is to get there early? And I live pretty close.  In my life prayer happens throughout the day.

What's your favorite part of your current occupation?

Whether making music or helping students discover their own ability to do so, my life’s work is centered on creating.  I love the elements of discovery and surprise involved in the creative process.  When students discover the beauty or enjoyment of something, I get to experience it again as though it’s the first time.  And when I’m making music myself, each performance is different: with different energy and nuance, so there is always something surprising and new to encounter.   

Tell us about the first time you experienced a strong sense of belonging in the Catholic Church. 

I could never forget it!  1997, Paris, France at World Youth Day with Pope John Paul II and 2 million other Catholic youth. I’d never seen so many people on fire for our faith.   

Tell us about a woman you look up to. 

I look up to both of my grandmothers and have a healthy dose of each of them in me.  One raised six kids, survived cancer and a massive heart attack, has the patience of a saint and a wicked sense of humor; I look up to her for the how strong and resilient she is.  The other raised 5 kids, is a self-taught artist and a convert to Catholicism who has been a source of wisdom and wit on matters of living and faith alike; I am inspired by how fierce she is in both her life and art.  

Favorite character ever. Go! 

Doctor Who, hands down! Probably because I have an unhealthy fixation on time travel and fantasize about time traveling a little too much.  I just now realized that I have my sister to thank for introducing me to Doctor Who AND to my husband!