Karen was Catholic. Mark was agnostic. Both grew up believing that their perspective on religion was the truth. They had very different upbringings (in part, because of their parents’ divergent beliefs), but they set aside those differences when they met in college, in favor of mutual respect. Each accepted the others’ right to believe what they wanted.
When they married – despite the opposition of Karen’s family – they planned to wait a while before actively trying to start a family. That plan changed when Karen got pregnant, shortly after the honeymoon.
“We had our daughter less than a year after we got married,” Karen said. “My parents thought that was great. I’m from a large family, and that’s what they expected we’d have. Lots of kids. But I wanted to focus on my career. So, without telling them, Mark and I started using birth control. Of course, the Catholic church is totally against it – so whenever I’d go, I’d confess. Mark thought that was ridiculous.”
“Who cares what the priest thinks about us using birth control?” Mark interrupted. “That’s not his business. I thought the whole thing about doing penance for making a responsible choice was crazy.”
“But it mattered to me,” Karen insisted. “I felt guilty, but not guilty enough to stop using it. This was my solution. It let me do what we felt was right for us, and still believe that God was forgiving me. Then, we decided to have a second child – and we couldn’t. After 18 months of trying with no success, I went to my Ob/Gyn. She referred me to [an infertility clinic].”
“We didn’t go for months,” Mark said. “She was convinced this was punishment from God — that we sinned by using birth control, and now this was how we’d have to pay for it. We started arguing about it – about church, about going to the doctor, about having more kids. All of it. She quit going to church. She was crying all the time. I was getting angrier and angrier….”
“That’s when a friend told me about this group at her church for infertile couples. We started going and felt such incredible support. It was exactly what we needed.”
“Hearing other couples’ stories was great,” Mark recalled. “It convinced us that everything we were arguing about and going through was normal. And the book helped Karen a lot.”
“It did! All these bible verses and stories I’d heard before, but with no judgment. Just insights and great questions to talk about.”
“She started journaling, writing things in the margins of the book, and at the ends of the chapters. She was leaving Post-It notes all over the house with these quotes — they were pretty different from what she’d always heard in the Catholic church.”
“One of the best discussions,” Karen said, “was about Romans and the verse that says ‘nothing can separate us from God’s love for us’ – not our parents’ disapproval, not condemnation from the church, not rigid doctrine, not judgment we feel from the priest, or edicts given by the pope. That was great. We talked about how the feelings, and thoughts, and experiences that are part of the infertility process can make people feel separated from God’s love — but they can’t really separate us.”
So, how did their story unfold?
“Three months after we finished the class, we decided to do IVF,” Karen said. “We never could have done it without all the support we felt from the other couples.”
“Karen got pregnant with Matthew, and left her church,” summarized Mark, “and we started going to the church where we’d gone to the group. I was baptized there two months ago – with Matthew.”
What did they learn from their journey?
“The God Karen grew up with – who I never wanted anything to do with – isn’t actually the God in the bible. This journey taught us both about a God we didn’t know. And we might never have known Him, if it hadn’t been for infertility.”
“I agree,” Karen said. “Everything happens for a reason. That was the reason for us.”