“My Fertile Imagination”
Dear Less-than-fertile Catholic Mom,
I remember, during the year I was writing my first novel, walking away from a traditional reproductive endocrinologist’s office. She was the third or fourth I’d visited (I’ve since lost count). That doctor had just told me, “There’s nothing we can do for you,” mostly because my boundaries as a practicing Catholic stood in her way of selling IVF to me. I was walking back to my office, absolutely hollow inside, and into that emptiness the thought popped into my head:
“Would you rather be published or pregnant?”
I should’ve recognized that kind of ultimatum as being from Satan himself, but I didn’t. I was too startled—and too tempted to believe such an ultimatum would give me control over my uncontrollable situation.
On the one hand, I’d wanted to see my name on the title of a book for longer than I could remember, even longer than I’d wanted children. On the other hand, nothing could fill the emptiness in my heart, even in my physical body, left by the previous three years of trying and failing to get pregnant. Having a novel published was my lifelong wish. Having a child with my husband was my vocation—and one I felt that I was failing my husband and my God in my inability to fulfill.
A better daughter of the King than I would have turned the choice over to God and said, “Your will be done.” I, however, brushed the idea aside with panicked superstition, afraid to make the wrong choice.
As if I had a choice.
Twelve years later, I see that I did have a choice on both counts. I could have pursued IVF in order to achieve my dream of parenthood at any cost. On the writing front, I could have taken my husband’s joking advice to re-title my novel Jane Eyre Has Sex.
I knew he was joking, but I laughed in shock at the suggestion. “But she doesn’t!”
“The publishers don’t care.” My husband shrugged. “They just want money, and sex sells.”
[Spoiler: That’s not what I called it.]
Strangely how, in the case of both of these desires, I easily could have sold my soul to get what I wanted. In both cases, I didn’t. Was it easy to get so many BFNs on both those little plastic sticks as well as in my mailbox and inbox? Um… no. In fact, that was probably the longest dark night my soul has experienced since my “reversion” in early young adulthood. I’d like to say I suffered through it all gracefully, but I didn’t. Most days I was a tightly-wound ball of self-pity. In fact, in the days leading up to Mother’s Day 2003, I found myself highly emotional and wrote a letter to my pastor, asking him to remember the infertile members of our parish when he asked for all the moms to stand up so they could be applauded.
Wanna know why I was so over-the-top emotional that cycle? Turns out I was pregnant with twins—the spontaneous kind. This miracle resulted in my previously agnostic husband signing up for RCIA. Over six years later, after a whole other saga (see “There’s nothing we can do for you,” above), we gave them a little sister thanks to the gift of NaPro Technology.
Now, I’m thankful for the children I have, but I’d be lying if I said that I don’t watch the other Catholic families around me, each with their bevy of children, and wonder what it would be like to be them. Still, I’ve since had several of those moms ask me about my books and listened to them complain about how they wish they had time to write or even had something to write about.
So now, when I’m tempted to wail at God about giving me a routinely infertile body, I thank Him for giving me a fertile imagination.
Whatever our pain, it takes a lot of trust and healing and practice to get the prayers of our hearts from “How could You?” to “Thank You.” Even after having gotten to that point, there are still some days when I go back to “How could You?” Still, I can look at how far God has walked with me down this road. I now see in the snapshots of my memory the finger of a loving, creative Father making even this sick body into a vessel of His grace.
“Would you rather be published or pregnant?”
It took over a decade for me to realize that, in giving both my imagination and my body over to the Lord—kicking, screaming, whining, but still giving—He gave me both. If I had insisted in having things my way right away… I shudder to think what lessons I would have missed. I shudder to think what love I would have missed.
And I wonder what characters—Cate, Gene, Staz, even Jane and Thorne—I would have missed the opportunity to “parent.” I wonder what readers I never would have “met” and gained the opportunity to pray for. Our Catholic faith seen through the lens of our culture may just seem like a barren wasteland of self-denial and totally avoidable suffering. But do we call the back-breaking work of tilling soil for planting “totally avoidable suffering”?
Okay, enough about me. Let’s talk about you, Less-than-fertile Catholic Mom. God has given you an empty field and a bag of seeds, but our God loves surprising us, so there’s a good chance there’s no label on that bag and you won’t know what will sprout forth until you get out there, dig up the soil, plant… and wait. Look around you. Where are your fields right now? In your marriage right now, obviously, but what else is there? God is so generous. Where else can you plant your seeds of spiritual motherhood? At work? At your parish? On your blog? Are you being called live out literally the spirit of adoption? While you pray over these things, where do you need healing—body? mind? spirit?—in order to make your seeds fall on the most fertile soil possible?
So your womb is not fertile—not now, maybe not ever. That is not the only empty space where God can do His work in you and use it to fill the earth. “Be fruitful and multiply,” my friend. I imagine that you will.
Read more in the Mom to Mom series.
Erin McCole Cupp is a wife, mother, and lay Dominican who lives with her family of vertebrates somewhere out in the middle of Nowhere, Pennsylvania. When Erin is not writing, cooking or parenting, she can be found reading, singing a bit too loudly, sewing for people she loves, or gardening in spite of herself. Both of Erin’s books are available on Amazon.