Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Catholic Perspective on Infertility in My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir

Below is a book review by one of our longtime SHE members, Gabrielle. Enjoy!

A Catholic Perspective on Infertility in My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir
Colleen Carroll Campbell
2012: Image Catholic Books
Several years ago, I would have loved to come across the book My Sisters the Saints by Colleen Carroll Campbell.  The author finds inspiration from six female saints as she goes through important life changes: Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Faustina of Poland, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Edith Stein of Germany, and Mary of Nazareth.  They become to Campbell as accessible and fortifying in her moments of doubt and anxiety as real life sisters. As I was reading about Campbell’s attempts to find spirituality and keep her morality intact through her college years, balance marriage and a career, and care for a sick parent, I found myself relating to her and her quest to find guidance with life decisions. But when she began describing her experience with infertility, it was like reading my own diary.

Being a Catholic woman facing infertility has its own unique challenges. If you find yourself in a fertility specialist’s office, you will most likely be told that IVF is your only option. Finding a physician and treatment that conforms to Church teaching is a full-time job. And even though you and your spouse are on the same team, you deal with the struggle differently by nature. My husband seemed to roll with the punches much better than me. I knew we were both waiting and praying for the same reason, but as a woman I needed to find a way to cope with all the emotions that seemed to knock me to the ground month after month. I looked for books, scoured the internet, but nothing was quite in line with my beliefs. I also needed to learn how to wait well.  It seemed like all I had was time, but I knew that time spent wallowing in my own unhappiness would not help me. I was in the spiritual fight of my life up until that point and I needed reinforcements.   

Campbell found her lifeline in the wisdom of the women saints. She recalls in her book how reading the writings of St. Edith Stein helped her to understand the feminine nature and the concept of spiritual motherhood—that motherhood starts in the heart. Any woman, regardless of her state in life, becomes a mother by making herself a gift to others.  And there is such a need for this in our own families and communities!  It’s a comforting concept to hold when your arms and home seem empty.   

In a visit to a chapel, Campbell finds stained glass windows depicting three of the saints written about in her book, Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, and Edith Stein:

Here were my heroines, my patronesses, my friends. Aside from Mary, the mother of Jesus, I could hardly think of three women I admired more. And the realization hit me with sudden force: Not one of them had borne biological children. Yet there they were, radiantly holy and beloved by countless spiritual children throughout the world, including me. Each had fulfilled, in her own way, what Edith described as the highest call of every mother: to nurture the spark of divine life in another’s soul.

[…]I knew in that moment that God wanted to do the same with me—that he could do the same, if I let him. He could make me a mother. He could even make me a saint. And he could do both without making me pregnant. He needed only my cooperation, my willingness to trade my own dreams and plans of motherhood for his (127-128).

Campbell reveals in her book a truth about the Catholic Church that makes our darkest days bearable:  we have the communion of saints.  They show us by the shining example of their lives--the lives that they made a gift for Christ and for others--that we too can carry our crosses. They show us how to offer up our sacrifices and make our suffering redemptive.

            In the midst of my own struggle to find the meaning and purpose of suffering through infertility, I found an online advertisement for the first meeting of a local support group for Catholic women experiencing primary and secondary infertility.  The group would become the S.H.E. ministry, with Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth as the saints that we look to as our role models. We have prayed over and touched relics of Saint Gianna and gained inspiration from her life and sought her intercession. Through the years, we have cried with each other over miscarriages, failed adoptions, painful and invasive medical tests and procedures, but also the illness and death of a parent.  By being there for one another through times of sadness as well as joy, we have been practicing the use of our motherly hearts. I consider these women my sisters now. I hope that others struggling through the pain of infertility find the resources that they need—the strength and help from the communion of saints, and the support of faithful women who are there to let you know you are not alone!