I was recently reading where E! News Anchor Guiliana Rancic and her husband Bill are going to “stop trying” for a baby for the time being. After two years of struggles and tests and procedures (virtually all of it public by virtue of their reality show) they have decided they need a break. And who can blame them? Infertility is a grueling and depressing struggle to go through. Especially for observant Catholics.
One of the statements the couple has made is about the two of them being a family. In many Catholic circles, regardless of reason, this is a controversial statement. It is true that God’s very first edict to Adam and Eve was to “be fruitful and multiply.” But are there not also Biblical stories of women who could conceive? What of Elizabeth, Hannah and Rachel (to name a few)? Were their marriages less valid, their family units less important than those bearing children? Of course not. So how have we come to this idea now?
Mothers of many will note they seem to be a pariah either way. Either an insult to those who cannot conceive or a joke to those who just can’t understand why families would want more children. But for an infertile couple in a place like a Catholic church with many large families, being in the minority is decidedly less than fun as well. And unfortunately, even the most well-meaning of us put them on the spot sometimes. How many of us have casually with no ill-intentions asked a woman married more than a year when she plans on having a child?
And let’s face it, as if being the only childless one of your friends isn’t bad enough if you want kids, there are all kinds of obstacles to becoming a parent any way other than naturally. Cost being the first among those. But as Catholics know, not all medical options are ethical.
And then there is everyone’s suggestion, “Well, you could always adopt!” It might be one of my life’s goals to get people to stop saying that to infertile couples. Not everyone can adopt for assorted reasons and there are plenty of people who should not adopt either. In the case of celebrites like Giuliana and Bill, we tend to think they should adopt becase of their position in society and their financial status. I mean, shouldn’t all celebrities be like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in this respect? But sometimes even adoption is not easy for a celebrity. Remember the story of Madonna’s adoption of her daughter Mercy from Malawi? World Series champ and Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels and his wife Heidi also attempted a Malawian adoption and were deemed unfit because of Malawi’s strict policies regarding visiting the country. Actress Jaime Pressley was turned away by China and Korea in an attempt to adopt because she was single (in talking to a friend who helps facilitate international adoptions, sometimes the rules on things like single parenthood can change month to month in a country). If it is that difficult for these people to get a child, one can clearly see it can be a huge issue for those of us without the name recognition.
But the flip comment about adoption raises another question. We tend to judge infertile couples in a whole different way than we do those who can easily conceive. We tend to brand a couple who does not pursue adoption immediately as “selfish.” Would we dare tell an expectant mother that she was selfish for not choosing to adopt a child and have one of her own? Of course we wouldn’t, so why do so many infertile couples have that attitude (even if it’s not explicity said) have that thrown into their faces? Is it because we view the infertile who would like a child of their own as being childish and wanting what they do not have? If so, in most cases, that is an unfair assessment as many, many infertile couples have wanted to be parents their entire lives, before they would even have been physically able to become them.
We tend to equate the term “family” with “married couple who have children.” We do not typically like to extend that term to “married couple without children.” A good friend of mine had a letter to the editor of Red Book published for not demonstrating in one of their articles that she and her husband are in fact a “family” although they are unable to have children and have not been able to pursue fertility treatments or adoption. Perhaps it’s about time this attitude was changed not just in our country, but in our pews. A married couple is, in fact, family to one another with or without the addition of children and it, quite frankly, is none of our business as to why they do not have a child or more children. The stigmatization of these couples only leads to paths we don’t want to go down: divorce, estrangement, lack of love for our neighbors. Let us begin to love our brothers and sisters in Christ and this love will teach us to be sensitive and accepting of situations different from our own in regards to families.