Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 15, 2008
Infertility can be a minefield in marriage
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
When married couples begin their quest for a child, they are united in their desire to have children. They try out baby names, throw around hypothetical child-rearing scenarios and generally revel in the joyous journey they are about to take.
But then gradually or all at once, infertility creeps into some marriages, bringing with it questions, doubts and fears. It can silence the couple's light-hearted banter and chips away at their unity.
"Infertility tries the strength of marriage," says author Julie Irwin Zimmerman in her book A Spiritual Companion to Infertility.
An estimated 10 per cent of married couples worldwide are unable to conceive or have experienced infertility at some point in their lives. The stresses infertility places on a marriage are numerous.
"Infertility is a minefield for the happiest of couples, and sometimes a death knell for a shaky relationship," Zimmerman says.
"Infertility can drive a wedge between us and our spouse and leave us guarded around the one person we should be able to trust with our enormous sadness."
But she says that through open communication and good will toward one another, "infertility can make our marriage stronger and give us the confidence that, no matter what the crisis, we can weather it as a team."
Zimmerman knows her marriage was strengthened as a result of their struggle with infertility. "Having survived that, I feel like we can face anything together."
In A Spiritual Companion to Infertility, Zimmerman uses her experiences to help others understand the myriad challenges that arise while struggling with infertility.
The book explores issues such as Infertility, Miscarriages, Step-parenting, The Morality of Treatment, Moving On, Adoption and Deciding to Live Childfree.
Zimmerman, a journalist who lives in Cincinnati with her husband and two children, walks readers through an array of options available to infertile couples, and weighs the teachings of the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations against varying points of view on modern methods of conception.
Each chapter concludes with Scripture quotations and prayers for reflection, making this book a good companion for anyone on the spiritual journey of infertility.
Many people experiencing infertility become depressed and anxious. Zimmerman cites a study that found that over half of infertile women considered their infertility to be the most upsetting experience of their lives, with those surveyed showing levels of anxiety and depression equal to women with cancer or HIV.
Some wonder if God is punishing them for a sin or failing from long ago. Zimmerman rejects that view. "No matter what we have done, no matter what sorts of skeletons live in our closets, infertility is never a punishment from God," she says.
"It is a chance for God to work in our lives. In one person's life infertility may be a call to start a support group at church. In another it may lead to working for a group that helps women in crisis pregnancies. Maybe it's simply a chance to pause and reflect more deeply on how we can be Jesus to the people we encounter everyday."
In her book Zimmerman discusses the morality of treatment, noting that most Christian churches approve the use of in vitro fertilization as long as the eggs and sperm derive from the couple that wishes to become parents.
"The teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, however, oppose IVF, even when the spouses' eggs and sperm are used," she notes.
"Catholics oppose IVF because conception takes place outside the act of lovemaking and outside the body, and because it requires the involvement of people outside the marriage."
Catholic leaders are also concerned about the fate of unused embryos that are either frozen or, ultimately, discarded.
ADOPT OR LIVE CHILDFREE
For those couples that choose not to pursue fertility treatments or for those whose treatments don't succeed, there are two primary options: adopting and living childfree, said Zimmerman, who adopted her first child.
"Ending the pursuit of biological parenthood can be a wrenching time, but both adoption and childfree living can be wonderful options, full of excitement and satisfaction."