Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Auntie Seraphic & Infertile at 20-Something

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I am writing to you because I am 2- years old and infertile.

I don't really know what to do with this information when it comes to dating. Obviously I'm not going to bring it up on the first date, but when is an appropriate time to say something?

I just feel like I'm pulling an unintentional "bait and switch" on any man I date. If asked, I just say I want a large family because I don't want to get into anything more complicated right off the bat. Yet even though I do indeed want a large family, I am not able to bear children. I would want to consider adoption, but my husband would need to be open to that as well. This is not exactly an immediate issue since I am not currently dating anyone, but I would be lying if I said that it didn't weigh on my mind.

This is especially frustrating because all of my friends are 20-something undergrads with no immediate plans for children in their future. Admittedly, I am too, but they have the option of pregnancy someday and will never have to sit down with a potential husband to have the 'Children' talk. Many of my friends don't understand why my inability to bear a child causes me any concern at all. One girl remarked that I should consider myself lucky because I'd "never have to remember to take a pill every day". Augh.

Any advice or thoughts you might have on this matter would be greatly appreciated!

Infertile at 20-Something

Dear Infertile at 20-Something,

First, most men don't go around consciously looking at young women as potential mothers. If they are good men, they see them as people, attractive people, they might like to meet and be friends with. If a man falls in love with you, he falls in love with you, not with a dream of healthy, eggy ovaries.

In general, in the USA (at very least) women are more interested in children then men are. Many men are unsure if they even want children, and for many Catholic men the idea of having close to a dozen children, because they are faithful to Church teaching, is a very scary one. So I don't want you going around thinking that no Catholic man will ever want to marry you just because you can't conceive and give birth.

How soon you tell a man that you can't conceive and give birth is up to you. This is very private, personal information that so far you have shared with girl friends, and their "helpful" comments haven't helped you very much! And my policy is that women should never be as informal and chatty with guys as they are with girls. Men are not the same as women, and they chat more to exchange information than to create emotional bonds or work out feelings about difficult issues. If you tell them stuff you only need to tell a potential husband, they may feel a bit panicked that you are discussing marriage stuff so soon in your relationship.

I believe that women shouldn't discuss our BIG ISSUES, our illnesses or tragedies or sins that still haunt us, with men until they have become our really good friends, men who we think might be in love with us, and might want to marry us, and whom we want to marry. At that point, we tell them the things that will affect them as well. It is not a bait and switch. It is saving very personal information that belongs to us (and no-one else) until the appropriate time, the time in which we feel comfortable explaining something very personal to us that it is now obvious that the man should know. I did not tell my husband my BIG ISSUES until he began talking marriage.

One terrible example (not from me--this is not one of my Big Issues) is herpes, which apparently many, many people have these days. I know a beautiful woman who got herpes from an abusive boyfriend, and after she dumped him, she married someone else. Obviously her herpes was information her fiance had to know, and that had implications for him, and was not something she would tell just anybody at any time! And yet he married her. He married her because he loved her.

So I think the important thing is to say that you are not tricking a man by keeping your personal health private. The only man who deserves to know about your infertility is the man who loves you and has made it clear he wants to marry you. Only then do you have to make it clear that the children you have together, if you do, will be (barring a miracle--I don't know your circumstances, but sometimes women who were always told they were infertile turn out not to be) adopted.

In short, a man who falls in love with you will fall in love with you, and he will not feel ripped off if you explain to him about the baby situation at the right time. If anything, he will feel concerned for you, and feel compassion for your own suffering in the situation. That's how true love works.

On a personal note, I would love to have babies with my husband--not babies in general, just HIS babies. But we married when I was 38, and I'm 40 now, so we only have a slim chance--if HE is fertile--sometimes men aren't either, and you don't know unless he gets tested. I care about this more than my husband does; he just loves me for me.

I hope this is helpful.

Grace and peace,


Irish Miss said...


I don't know anything about the cause of your infertility, so I don't know if this will help you at all, but if it could, or anyone else who is struggling with conceiving children, I would suggest that they look into NaPro, and the Creighton method of Natural Family Planning. As a medical student, I have been to several lectures on their methodology this year, and am very impressed by the amount of problems they can diagnose after a month or two of charting. There are both surgical and non-surgical ways of addressing many of the causes of infertility. Their applications are nothing if not interesting, and have been catching on in both Catholic and non-Catholic medical family practices and with OB-Gyns, because of the advances that NaPro makes in diagnosing and treating causes, not just effects.

Finally, I loved the post on Notre Dame! I just graduated and know most of the people you mentioned, and was so happy to read the detailed description of your time there. Go Irish!

Anonymous said...

Good Advice Seraphic! However, I was in a serious relationship with a man and as soon as he found out I wasn't going to be able to have children or it would be very difficult for me, he ran away as fast as he could. I look back now and think, I am lucky I told him when I did or the relationship would have continued on and it would have been a more difficult break up when he did find out. I am not advocating for a tell all on the first date, but I know how his response devasted me and I understand, as someone with fertility problems, the anxiety this creates as a good Catholic girl wanting to marry a good Catholic boy who wants to have a big catholic family.

Seraphic said...

Anonymous, I'm very sorry that happened to you. One good rule of thumb is that if a man runs away as fast as he can from you, he is not Mr. Right.

Because we are addressing a very young woman, I am wondering if you could elaborate on the "running away" part. Did he say "This is too heavy--so long" or did he sit down and explain to you that he had dreamed all his life of having a house full of his own kids and regretfully admit that he didn't love you enough to give up that dream?

One of the things I always stress is that, although sometimes it is helpful to generalize, all our relationships are with concrete unique people, and just because one concrete unique man acts one way, doesn't mean another concrete unique man will, too.

This is particularly important for women over 35--whose fertility is now an issue and who look on painfully as some men their age or older attempt to woo 20-somethings--to remember. Our advantage is that many men are more mature and easy-going at 35 than they were at 25--thank goodness.

Meanwhile, I still hold that one's fertility (or health issue of any kind) is one's own business and only needs to be divulged when one deems it necessary for a man to make an informed choice about marriage. Sadly, this will of course mean that a man might have to choose between siring children and marrying the fertility-compromised woman, and sometimes a man will pick his dream of children over the concrete, real-life woman. This, of course, is very painful. All I can say to that is that some women make the same choice when it is the other way around.

Anonymous said...

As a Seraphic non-Catholic who has lived with infertility, I hope you don't mind if I weigh in on this issue.

First, and this is not only for the infertile letter writer but also for other women who may think themselves infertile: you aren't absolutely infertile unless you have clearly been diagnosed as such. If there is any doubt, it is worth seeking a second opinion. Many 'infertile' women -- myself included -- have children with intervention because the conditions that compromise our fertility are treatable.

Second, out of curiosity, I read a little about NFP and, while noting it has a lot in common with practices most fertility doctors advise their patients to follow as preparatory to treatment, it is also essentially a passive approach to family planning. If you already know you are not perfectly fertile and practice NFP for a period of time without success, it would be my recommendation to pursue more aggressive forms of therapy, many of which appear, as far as I can tell, to be acceptable to the Catholic church. These include treatments that encourage ovulation to take place.

Third, while the focus is often on female infertility, men are nearly equally likely to be infertile (less so only because they do not physically carry a fetus). Accordingly, even if a female fertility problem is suspected or known, it is also in a couple's interests to have the husband tested.

Finally, although media reports imply that most women seeking fertility treatments are past 'normal' childbearing age, they do not make up the largest population of patients at most fertility clinics. Rather, women in their twenties to mid-thirties are the largest patient base. There are many causes of infertility, most (although not all) treatable with interventions acceptable to the Catholic church.

I knew I was infertile from my mid-twenties onward, married at 30 and started trying to conceive at 34. We sought fertility treatment early because of the known issue, and I conceived a year later. The interventions that helped me get pregnant appear to fit with Catholic doctrine.

SS: I hope you don't mind the anonymous comment -- I've sent you a private note so you know who it's from.

Seraphic said...

I know who it's from! I'll just state for the record--as I know my brother would like me to do--that neither the above commentator nor I is a medical doctor, and when discussing issues and fertility and infertility readers should talk to a medical doctor. Another resource is the Centre for Bioethics & Culture Network in California, the president of which I met at Notre Dame. Their website is www.cbc-network.org.

Sheila said...

Personally, in that situation, I'd wait till several dates in, when the topic of "do you see yourself having kids someday" comes up. And I'd just answer, "Yes, I do, but I will have to (want to/plan to) adopt them." And say you don't really want to talk about your personal health problems, but that you don't believe you will be having any biological children. That's all they need to know -- but I do believe they should know it within a few months or so. You wouldn't want to break both of your hearts if it turned out to be a non-negotiable.

Another possibility is simply to ask, as I asked my husband before we got serious, "If you weren't able to have kids, what would you do? Would you be open to adoption, or not?" His answer was that he'd be disappointed, but probably not adopt. That was good enough for me; it may or may not be good enough an answer for you.

Though -- if you're open to adoption, it really shouldn't be. We put too much focus on biology; children who are adopted are just as valuable. I knew a family who had ten adopted kids. The wife knew well before she met her husband that she was infertile, but her husband was okay with that, and they began adopting once they were married. They have a really beautiful family in a rainbow of colors. So it's not like some well-meaning, child-loving guy would have his dreams totally destroyed unless his dreams specifically involved his kids having his nose... in which case, isn't that pretty superficial?

Anonymous said...


I am anonymous that you asked to expound on the "running away" part. I won't go into all the details here, but here is the short version. We had been dating for 6 months and things were getting serious. We were talking about marriage. I started to have some womanly problems that severely effected my health. He stood by my side for the first two weeks after my diagnosis and said "we will get through this", but when he realized that this was something that was here to stay for the rest of my life and the fertility issues that would come from it, he was out the door.

I will say that I have dated a man since then and while our relationship didn't work out for other reasons, we did have a conversation about fertility problems (it kind of naturally came up because mutual friends of ours were having problems). He re-assured me of his commitment to a relationship regardless of fertility problems. It was very comforting.

As a woman that struggles with the issues related to fertility, I can say that sometimes you feel a bit less than womanly when you have to deal with the day to day details of womanly disorders. For me, I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome so there are a lot of other related health issues. It is comforting to know that the man you are dating will stand by you in that.

I don't mean to belittle any advice about being prudent with these issues, I just understand how difficult it can be.

Seraphic said...

Thank you for sharing your story. Maybe it will help other women facing the same issues. Too often women think they are alone in a problem, with no idea that other women have been through or are going through the same thing.