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Fertility Lost, and Found

by Tim Drake

Barrenness is a time that eventually arrives for every married couple. Unfortunately, it paid us a visit far sooner than we would have liked.

Tim Drake

The inability to conceive a seventh child has taught us a valuable lesson about fertility – that it’s a gift, it’s temporary, and that God can take back that gift at any time. We must make wise use of it while we have it. Unfortunately, my wife Mary and I did not make good decisions early in our marriage.

We both regret listening to the cultural pressures which said, “Wait to have children. Get to know one another. Develop your own relationship.”

Four years later, when we were ready to start having children, on our time, fertility didn’t cooperate. Little did we know that conception wouldn’t come easily. We miscarried our first child, Gabriel. It was a sad time, but one of learning the ways of the Lord.

Within our faith is the paradox that strength is found in weakness, life is found in death, and gain is found in loss. In reflecting on the loss of our first child, at times I’m still struck with grief over the child who I was never able to hold, whose face I won’t be able to see this side of heaven. And yet, the loss of his life somehow mystically opened me up to new life in the Catholic Church. Gabriel’s death coincided with my own movement toward RCIA and Catholicism.

Indeed, without the loss of Gabriel, our second child wouldn’t have been conceived five months later.

Elias was conceived just after the date of my own reception into the Catholic Church – March 19, 1995. We shared in the pregnancy of the Holy Family, giving birth to Elias Joseph just two days after Christmas. Our third and fourth children – twin girls Isabel and Claire – were born just 11 days after Christmas.

Today, we laugh at how we had said early in our marriage, “We’ll be happy to have children, just so long as we don’t have them around Christmas.”

Timing is key. I can see in God’s plan, how the loss of our first child led not only to Elias’ birth, but the timing led us to be open to each of our subsequent four children we so love. I can truly look at Gabriel’s passing and say, “Oh happy loss!” – for due to that loss, look at what we’ve gained – five healthy, happy, living children.

My wife, Mary, says she sees it the same way, and recognizes that through all of it, God was teaching us that fertility is a gift, and each life is precious.
Over the past couple of years, and in recent months, many close friends have conceived. While we’re always very happy for them, there is an inevitable sadness that results, when we think of our own inability to bring forth new life.

The reality is that unless God decides to pull an “Abraham and Sarah” on us, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever have another child. I wonder what gain will be achieved through pre-menopause? Might it be a deeper relationship with my children, my wife, with Christ, or with the Church? Might it be living for others more than for myself? Might it be a new hobby, a new job, or new friendships?

At times, Mary is saddened by the reality of our loss. At other times, she sees it as a new stage – allowing her to devote herself more fully to home educating our children as they head into the busy pre-teen and teenage years.

Husbands with wives facing infertility or menopause need to stand ready to offer to each other a comforting word or touch, and a reassurance that the love remains through that loss. It’s at this midway point that many people begin to wonder or worry about what’s next, perhaps even experiencing a mid-life crisis. There are many things to be chased after – careers, degrees, riches, recognition. All of these things pale in comparison to the gains I foresee.

It’s been said that the moment we’re born, we’re headed toward the grave. It’s true, and our later years involve many losses, but for what a gain!

It’s a reminder to me that earthly loss is all part of God’s mysterious plan. He’s getting us ready for another home – our eternal resting place, where as St. Paul tells us all loss will be gain.

Tim Drake, who lives in St. Joseph, Minnesota, is senior writer for the National Catholic Register and Faith and Family magazine. He is the author of Behind Bella: The Amazing Stories of Bella and the Lives It’s Changed (Ignatius Press).