The Advent and Christmas seasons, with their focus on pregnancy and childbirth, can be “bittersweet and tender times” for those experiencing infertility.
“They might not be as sensitive as Mother’s Day, but they still are painful,” said Ann Koshute, co-founder of Springs in the Desert, a Catholic ministry dedicated to assisting couples affected by infertility.
As a resource for navigating the coming weeks, the ministry will offer “Praying through Infertility,” an online retreat from Dec. 4 to 6.
The free sessions will combine pre-recorded videos that can be viewed on demand, along with a Facebook Live segment on Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. EDT. The St. Andrew Christmas Novena prayer, which honors “the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born,” will conclude the virtual gathering.
The retreat will be led by Andrea Mahoney, a certified lay Catholic spiritual director and blogger from central Pennsylvania; Phil and Stacey Huneck, who are active in youth ministry at their Indiana parish; and Father Paul Varchola West, parochial administrator of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Byzantine Catholic Church in Levittown.
Koshute said the goal was to give participants “a little break, a little time away with the Lord” amid the holiday hustle and bustle.
And although it can be “scary to pray with your spouse,” she said, seeking God is vital for addressing the loneliness and hurt that infertile couples battle.
According to Resolve: The National Infertility Association, some 7.3 million Americans from various demographic groups face infertility.
While many tend to think of infertility in regard to young couples, Springs co-founder Kimberly Henkel said the term actually embraces a “broad spectrum” of experiences.
“We have people who have undergone miscarriage, both male and female infertility, younger and older couples,” she said.
A number of “temptations and lies of the devil can infect the thinking” of those who experience infertility, said Koshute.
Women physically unable to conceive a child may mourn for husbands deprived of fatherhood, she said, and find themselves thinking “if only he hadn’t married me, he would be a parent.”
Some may wonder if being infertile is “a punishment from God for a sinful past,” Koshute added.
Post-abortive women who experience infertility are particularly at risk for “buying into the notion that they are not really forgiven or healed,” she said.
Men can “feel helpless” when confronted with infertility, said Koshute, since “they have a natural tendency to be goal-oriented and to want to fix the problem.”
Mahoney noted that same desire for control can lead couples to “try to cut a bargain with God,” or to “leave God behind” altogether in favor of “getting the best doctor.”
Yet an authentic relationship with the Lord is ultimately the best medicine for the heartache of infertility, said Mahoney, and the first step is evaluating “how we approach him.”
“As a spiritual director, when people come to me and say, ‘I’m having trouble connecting with God,’ 99% of the time, they have the wrong image of him,” she said.
Viewing the Lord as “a taskmaster, an angry policeman or an aloof father” inhibits prayer, said Mahoney.
Such a distorted perspective also indicates “we have a wrong image of ourselves,” she added.
By cultivating “trust, vulnerability and faithfulness,” doubts and desolation can be eliminated, and a true encounter with the God of compassion can take place, Mahoney said.
Simply “showing up” in prayer on a regular basis can lead to breakthrough, she said, and married couples can look to their own relationship as a starting point.
“There are days when you may not feel loved or feel like loving your partner, but you’re still committed to the relationship,” said Mahoney.
At the same time, said Koshute, retreat participants “don’t have to be at a certain level of holiness” in order to sign up.
“Just come and be with the Lord for a little while, and hear the stories of other people,” she said. “We come bearing what we have; sometimes it’s beautiful, and sometimes it’s broken, but either way, God accepts it and loves us for it.”
For more information on Springs in the Desert and to register for the “Praying through Infertility” Advent retreat, visit www.springsinthedesert.org.
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