The loss of fertility in our Catholic marriage: the grief, shame, and sorrow

Adrienne and I “met” on Instagram and became (long-distant) friends offline. When I found out about her story, I asked her to share here, because it’s the perfect example of why we shouldn’t make judgments about other people’s family size, because we very rarely know all of the details.

Nobody gets married and expects to deal with pregnancy loss, infertility, and even the complete loss of fertility. So often couples experience hard things and think they are the only ones, but that is never the case. That’s one of the reasons we started Surprised By Marriage. Through the crosses we experience, God can draw us closer to him and closer to each other. -Jen


It wasn’t something we saw coming. I didn’t even know the disease had been silently destroying me for years until 2015, when I was 32 years old. By then, we had already lost so much.

My husband and I were married in 2009. We had committed ourselves to a chaste relationship so our honeymoon was deeply special. We also brought home a tiny souvenir, though it would be two more weeks before I got a positive pregnancy test. 

Three months after the birth of our oldest daughter, we got pregnant again. This would come to be the first devastating loss we’d go through as a couple. At thirteen weeks pregnant, I lost our son. My husband baptized him in our bathroom, and we buried him at the Veterans cemetery where the sun rose and set just behind his grave everyday. 

Watching my husband cry as he baptized our first son in our home is burned in my memory forever. Losing our sweet John really taught us both how fragile life is. We both learned what a blessing both pregnancy and birth are. I would like to say the loss brought us closer, but this first loss taught us how not to grieve and process a miscarriage. We isolated ourselves from one another and failed to check in on each other. We didn’t come together in prayer. We were so broken in our grief, we were just trying to survive. It wasn’t until later that we circled back and admitted our mistakes during that time. 

The pain from adolescence returns

We would go on to have two more girls. As a teenager and young adult, I always had terrible cycles, which caused me deep embarrassment and shame. While the difficult cycles eased during the first couple of years after marriage, they became increasingly terrible again after our second daughter was born. After each birth, when my cycles returned, they were worse than before.

Following a very difficult pregnancy, our third child was born in December of 2013. Shortly after her birth, our daughter was diagnosed with failure to thrive. By the time she was five months old, she had already been admitted to the hospital for RSV and had significant health issues. Our other daughters were ages 4 and 2 at the time. Needless to say, life was overwhelming.

In June 2014, my husband was unexpectedly deployed. Days after his departure, I found out I was pregnant again. 

That night after testing, I miscarried again at five weeks. I could not deal with another miscarriage while my husband was gone. Without realizing it at the time, I went into denial and thought it was a false positive. He came home four months later, and soon after, we were pregnant again. Despite our youngest being less than a year old, we were thrilled. It was Thanksgiving morning when we found out, and I’ve never been more grateful on a Thanksgiving.

A pregnancy of joy and sorrow

That pregnancy, more than any others, felt laced with the Divine. There was a very distinct taste of Heaven during those first few months. I have never in my life been that completely joyful. I truly believe the Lord was preparing me for what was to come. 

In 2015, eighteen weeks into the pregnancy, I lost our second son. It was our third and most devastating loss. I found out at a routine appointment, when the Doppler was silent again. I remember screaming over and over, “Please, God, not again!” That night, I was admitted to Labor and Delivery for an induction as a woman labored and gave birth to a healthy baby next door. 

I felt as though I lived a sample of Christ’s Passion that night. My soul was burning in anguish as I labored through the night. A piece of me died that day. I didn’t understand why fertility and birth came so easily to some women but was so terribly hard for me. I wept to my husband, “What’s wrong with me?!” 

Finally, some answers

After my stillbirth, I finally started getting answers at a follow-up with my gynecologist. I found out that I had a clotting disorder, as well as endometriosis with adenomyosis—which is basically endometriosis’s evil sister. 

Unlike endometriosis, which is uterine tissue that grows on the outside of the uterus, adenomyosis grows within the walls of the uterus, slowly eating away and destroying the organ itself. There’s no treatment and no way to do corrective surgery (which can be done with endometriosis). With severe cases, most women end up needing a hysterectomy. My doctor told me I’d probably end up needing one, but that I had a good five years before then. I wish that had been true. 

A month later, in August of 2015—thanks in huge part to our Creighton provider and my gynecologist—we found out I was pregnant again. My anxiety was extremely high during that pregnancy. I was on blood thinners, progesterone, baby aspirin, and extra methylated folate. My prayers for a healthy baby were both constant and desperate. I needed this child to survive. 

One late night in April of 2016, after laboring for several hours, I gave birth to my third son. I held my son to my chest as both of us cried. I had finally given birth to a healthy son. God is so good.

Adenomyosis and its destruction

My cycles returned that summer, but my health deteriorated quickly. I was in bed all the time in immense pain. It wasn’t until November that I had another laparoscopy to remove endometriosis. My gynecologist found almost none…but he did find that the adenomyosis had eaten a hole through my uterus and destroyed it. My Creighton provider said that between my charts and laparoscopy results, we were sure to lose any pregnancies if we were even able to get pregnant again. 

My health continued to worsen. I could no longer get out of bed most days. My entire abdomen was in debilitating pain, and I was hemorrhaging. In an emergency appointment, my doctor leaned across his desk. “I know you wanted a larger family. I’m sorry. But we have to do this.” He was crying. I grabbed my husband’s hand and wept. 

The surgery was scheduled for his next available operating day. In the few days between, I begged for a miracle and pleaded for another answer. Proverbial doors and windows slammed in my face. I felt deep sweeping grief and shame. As a Catholic wife and mother, I felt I had failed. As I prayed through the emotions and we sought counsel from two priests, my husband patiently stood as a sounding board to my thoughts while affirming me we were doing the right thing—the only thing left to do. I needed a hysterectomy.

The morning of the surgery, I felt surprising peace. My doctor kept comforting me. My husband prayed with me. The day before, I had received Anointing of the Sick. I felt as ready as I would. Just before being wheeled back, I took my last pregnancy test. 

The grief and shame of hysterectomy

For the year following the surgery, I felt deep shame at the loss of my fertility. There were no books that I could find by Catholic women in my situation. Many Catholic women asked when we were going to have more children. Someone told me that having a hysterectomy was against Church’s teachings and another told me I’d committed a mortal sin.** This just added to my grief, pain, and shame.

During it all, my husband stood by, affirming me that my womanhood was still precious, insisting that I’d been brave and strong. He was angry for me and grieved with me. My husband accepted with great peace and saintly strength the cross laid upon our shoulders. Looking back, I’m grateful for his strength and prayer during my physical and emotional recovery. He truly lived out, in his quiet way, “in sickness and in health.” It taught us the importance of communicating our feelings and being receptive to the other’s feelings. We realized how critical it is to check in on one another. While we did the best we could, there are always lessons on how we can be more fully present for our spouse. 

I don’t feel the shame of the hysterectomy anymore. I can talk about it and feel the pain without it paralyzing me. The grief of losing my babies and my fertility will probably hurt for the remainder of my time in this life. But I’ve learned this over and over: God never lets Satan win. He always brings greater good out of suffering. Though I may never see it on this side of Heaven, joy always comes in the morning. 

Adrienne Stravitsch is an Army wife and mother of four children on earth. She has experienced multiple pregnancy losses as well as infertility. When she’s not homeschooling or loving on her husband and children, she can be found with her nose in a book or writing behind a keyboard. You can find her on Instagram @stravgirl, or her blog, Trust with Wild Abandon.


**Church teaching regarding a hysterectomy is explained in this post on the Vatican’s website (as a follow-up to this document). A hysterectomy is licit when medical experts deem the uterus incapable of carrying a pregnancy to term.

A Husband and Father’s Perspective on Pregnancy and Infant Loss

October is dedicated to pregnancy and infant loss awareness, and the voice of a husband and father on the topic isn’t something we hear very often. We’re pleased to share the story of Tim and Heidi Indahl, who’ve experienced every kind of loss together—miscarriage, stillbirth and infant loss. Tim is sharing from his perspective, and he tells their story beautifully, including how their losses have affected their marriage.

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Our Pregnancy & Infant Loss Journey- A Father’s Perspective

I (Tim) am not really sure where to start sharing about the loss of my children. Maybe I should start at the beginning of my story as a parent, which began with a miscarriage. I remember the excitement of learning Heidi was pregnant—I told everyone! I don’t really remember all the details, but I remember the ultrasound and no heartbeat. There should have been a heartbeat. 

And just like that, joy was turned to sorrow. I was slower to tell people we were expecting after that. With our second miscarriage, we shared the news with close friends…only to find out we’d miscarried again. One of our friends actually told us that we shouldn’t share the news so early and to think about what it did to them. I was so angry, but I didn’t say anything.

Another pregnancy

We didn’t have long to wait before we were expecting again. After making it well into the second trimester, it felt like there was nothing to fear. We learned we were having our first girl, and we (and our families) were excited beyond explanation. This was the first girl in our extended family too. We named her Kenna, and started calling her by name as soon as we knew she was a girl.

When Heidi was almost 30 weeks along, she realized she hadn’t felt Kenna moving. We tried all the things they tell you to try, but nothing helped. So I dropped Heidi off at the hospital and went to find something to do with our two young boys. 

I’m an eternal optimist, and I was hopeful they would find the heartbeat on doppler and we’d go on with our day. But Heidi called and told me they couldn’t find a heartbeat and to come as fast as I could—they were going to get an ultrasound machine. I didn’t have anywhere to drop off our boys, so I drove to the hospital with them. And I prayed. I prayed like I had never prayed in my life before. 

My prayer was frantic, begging God that this was all a mistake, that we would discover that everything was fine. I felt helpless and powerless. I ended up in a small hospital room with Heidi in the labor and delivery center, and the nurses took the boys somewhere.

When they finally did the ultrasound, there was nothing—no movement, no heartbeat, no life. The dam broke, and I cried. We all cried—Heidi, the nurse, our midwife, and me. 

Dreams that would never be

I had to call a lot of people about our weekend plans—some to change plans, some to cancel. I remember one call in particular: I was sitting on my bed, and I had just called and managed to leave a voicemail cancelling our planned trip and explaining why. Heidi had come into the room as I was finishing the message, and I broke down—sobbing violently, not even able to sit up on the bed. It was as if I had made it true by speaking it aloud. Kenna had died, and with her short life flashed the dreams of a father for his daughter—dreams that would never be for her.  

Then we had to go to the hospital for Kenna to be born. I wasn’t sure what to expect…would we be able to weather the challenges of labor, knowing our daughter had already died and that we wouldn’t be taking this baby home from the hospital? 

I remember her being born, cutting the cord, holding her in my arms and crying, holding Heidi as she cradled Kenna in her arms. We only stayed for a few hours, but oh how I wish we had stayed longer, cherishing the moments we could with our precious daughter.  

Tim Heidi Kenna

More losses

After many years, several moves, and 3 new members of our family, our story of loss continued.  First it was a miscarriage. I honestly thought we were past this happening, but I barely had time to process the miscarriage before we learned we were expecting again! 

The pregnancy seemed to be going along fine, until one night around 18 weeks Heidi woke me up in the middle of the night—she was bleeding. Somehow I just knew that our baby had died, and I dreaded going to the hospital to verify what I already knew. But we had to go, so we packed up all the kids and went to the emergency room. Heidi got settled in a room, and I bounced back and forth between her and the waiting room, where the kids were watching cartoons and playing with toys. 

A little bit of hope

After an ultrasound, we discovered a heartbeat!! There was no amniotic fluid, which was a problem, but the baby was alive! I was so elated, because I was so sure we had already lost the baby, that it didn’t really matter at that point. The baby was alive, and hope had returned to my heart.  

This was the start of a four month journey. The doctors didn’t really know what was wrong or what would happen. There were so many different tests, appointments, and suggestions about what we should do. Initially, they thought bed rest. 

Early on, I remember getting Heidi settled in our bed, and after coming downstairs, my legs collapsed under me and I started crying right there on the floor at the foot of the stairs. I’d been holding it all together, doing whatever was in my power to give Heidi what she needed, to be a support for her. In that moment it all felt like too much, but feeling the emotion gave me strength to stand again—to live this journey, wherever it would go. 

When it was time to deliver our daughter Siena, they brought me back to Heidi in the operating room, and I was so nervous. Despite knowing how grim things looked, I dared to hope—while at the same time knowing Siena might not even be born alive. I hoped she would be so that I could hold my living daughter, even if only for a time—that I could watch as her mom held her for the first time. 

The battle for our daughter’s life

When Siena was born, they quickly showed her to us, and then whisked her off to the team of doctors and nurses who would begin the battle for her life. I engaged in my own internal battle—pulled between my desires to be with Heidi and to follow our daughter. Heidi told me to go. I quickly went to the room where Siena was, just in time to witness Siena’s Baptism and Confirmation by a hospital priest, who means so much to me to this day. 

Tim and Siena.jpg

Then the doctors brought me to the head of Siena’s bed. For this brief time, I finally felt as if I could do something for my daughter. I had stood by helplessly for the last 19 weeks, knowing that I was powerless to do anything for our daughter. I didn’t know how much time we would have with Siena at that point, but in those moments my love could take physical form, even if it was just holding her tiny beautiful hand, caressing her face, kissing her head—pouring love over her in a way I physically had been unable to before that moment. 

I have never seen a room full of people work in concert to try to save a life like all of those doctors and nurses. In the end, they realized that we couldn’t save her, so Heidi and I decided to spend the remaining moments of her life holding her, together with our family. I carried Siena to our room, where I placed her into her mother’s arms. It may have been the hardest and most grace filled walk of my entire life. And then I held them both.  

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There aren’t really words to describe what I felt: sorrow, joy, love, peace, anguish. Siena was a gift—she reminded me of what is so precious about children, life, and family. She was a gift because her oldest brother got to hold her in his arms—something I deeply regret denying him as a 4-year-old with his sister Kenna. To me, Siena was—is—an embodiment of love, and her life encompasses all of our pregnancy and infant loss experience.

 

How Losses Have Affected Our Marriage

Our pregnancy and infant loss journey has had a huge impact on our marriage, so much so that the story of our relationship can’t really be told without it—particularly in the context of our faith. 

As converts to the Catholic faith, wading through Natural Family Planning has been a big piece of this. One of the things we appreciate about the wisdom of NFP is that we had to have hard conversations right away. Instead of just hopping on the pill (or another form of hormonal contraception) at the moment of loss, or putting off the decision to try again, we had to talk about where each of us was physically, mentally, and emotionally. In a couple of our losses, NFP also gave insight into potential problems so that we could make some adjustments before trying to conceive again. 

During our pregnancy with Siena, our Catholic faith gave us common ground for making decisions and language for communicating with caregivers. While we did face some resistance, a few weeks before her birth a doctor told us that many couples walked this road in his years of practice. Those who made the choice we made (to carry to term) were always in a better place six months later. That definitely held true for us, and once again I think this is because we faced difficult conversations rather than avoided them.  

With loss, comes the gift of grace

We have been given a huge grace in that hindsight makes it easy for us to look back and see how God has used each of our losses to move us from where we were at the time, to a place of restored relationship with God and with each other. 

Our first miscarriage—a perfectly formed 8-week baby and the only miscarriage we were able to see remains—really cemented our prolife beliefs. 

Our second loss solidified our leanings towards NFP (which we had only just begun practicing) and our relationship with each other. 

Our stillborn daughter Kenna opened our eyes to the Blessed Mother (and was probably the biggest impetus for Heidi’s book). 

Our third miscarriage carried the grace of prayer as a couple, discerning what we would do next.

Siena, our sweet daughter who passed away a few hours after birth, gave us a gift of community and bolstered faithful trust in a new way. We learned to just take the next step as we waited, not knowing what the final outcome would be.

Indahl kids

That said, we didn’t always see these gifts for what they were when they were happening! Instead, we have been shown that there is a lot of grace in being willing to do hard things, trusting that there is a way that God is using a situation to move us closer to where He would like us to be. 

Even when we couldn’t see how or why, we learned to just take the next step in faith. Leaning on this truth during pregnancy and infant loss has given us a great deal of trust in other challenging situations. If good can come from suffering the death of a child, then it becomes a lot easier to believe that good can come from other seemingly impossible circumstances!

 

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Tim and Heidi live on an 8-acre homestead in southeastern Minnesota with their seven living children. They have five children who had gone on before them—one to stillbirth, one to infant death, and three to miscarriage. Tim is an education professor and Heidi is a homeschooling and work at home author. She wrote Blessed is the Fruit of Thy Womb: Rosary Reflections on Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Loss, which is available at Our Sunday Visitor and Amazon. Her pregnancy and infant loss website is found here. Follow Heidi on Instagram and Facebook!

 

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Grieving Together

This is not a sponsored post. We did receive a free copy of the book but all opinions are our own! The Amazon link is an affiliate link. Please see our privacy policy for more info. 

There have been many surprises in our last 9+ years of marriage, but the biggest was losing our first baby boy. We didn’t see it coming, and we didn’t know if we would get through it.

I read books on pregnancy loss during the weeks and months to follow, but none of them talked about how it would affect our relationship with God and with each other. There were no Catholic resources on pregnancy loss back then, much less resources about grieving together as a married couple.

Thankfully, times have changed and resources are more available. I was thrilled to learn that Laura Kelly Fanucci (blogger at Mothering Spirit) was coming out with a book co-written with her husband. It’s called Grieving Together: A Couple’s Journey through Miscarriage. This is the book we’ve been missing! This is the book that we needed almost 9 years ago.

book - Grieving Together

Even though the focus is miscarriage, any couple experiencing any other loss (stillbirth, infant loss) will benefit from this book. They really do cover everything, including:

  • The physical experience of miscarriage
  • What the Catholic Church says about miscarried babies
  • How we can remember our babies
  • How we each grieve as mother and father
  • Prayers and quotes from the saints

Plus so much more. I’d recommend anyone to read this book, whether you’ve experienced a loss or not. There are personal stories woven throughout that give the reader so many different perspectives.

One of my favorite chapters is the one titled “Your Marriage after Miscarriage.” It didn’t hit us until years later how our loss affected our marriage. We got married in June, found out we were pregnant in August, and lost our baby in December. Those first few months of marriage happened so fast! We didn’t know what hit us, and we definitely didn’t know how to cope.

But Laura and Franco address how we each grieve as mother and father and how we grieve as a couple. It really would have been so helpful to have those insights when we were in the thick of it.

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Even though it’s been almost 9 years, and we have three more boys with us now, sometimes I feel a little silly that I can still get emotional about our loss. You would think we wouldn’t still need a resource about pregnancy loss. But grief is unpredictable.

It was only this past May that Logan and I both ended up crying over our sweet baby boy while on a marriage retreat. Grief can hit you years later! We often think about what our family would look like with another boy added to the mix.

We also think more about our baby, Levi, during the fall because that’s when I carried him. I still remember the ultrasound dates, the first time I felt him kick, and the day we found out he was a boy. The closer it gets to December 29, the more we think about the baby who really did change everything for us.

Levi

So whether you just miscarried or your loss was several years ago, read this book! Gift it to a couple in need. It makes a valuable resource for any couple, church parish, or ministry. It’s available at Our Sunday Visitor, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Free resources available include:

For anyone who has experienced pregnancy loss, know that we are praying for you!

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Unexpected loss

Logan and I were ready to have a baby as soon as we were married. But since my fertility was, well, not normal, it seemed like we would have problems getting pregnant.

To our surprise, we conceived only two months after our wedding. We were thrilled! We were married in June, found out we were pregnant in August, and I started a new job in September that I loved. Life was good. We weren’t making a lot of money, but we were so, so happy.

Even though I struggled a lot with morning sickness (that lasted all day), I was so thankful for the life inside of me. Logan was also so adorable when it came to me and my pregnant self – he looked at me with so much love. He kept telling me how he appreciated me carrying our child, he would kiss my belly after he kissed me on the lips, and he would tell my belly “I love you” after he told me. Despite his excitement, though, Logan couldn’t help worrying about something happening to our baby.

But according to my doctor, the pregnancy was going along swimmingly. A couple weeks into the second trimester, I finally started feeling better. When I was 19 weeks pregnant, we found out our baby was a boy! We decided to name him Levi Anthony and were even more excited to meet him a few months later. Christmas came and it was the best holiday we had celebrated as a couple thus far, and we couldn’t wait until the following Christmas when we would have a baby in our arms.

Just four days after Christmas, though, we ended up in the hospital. After several terrible hours of cramping, contractions, and bleeding, I delivered our son. He didn’t have a heartbeat. There are no words to explain the pain we felt that day and the months (and years) that followed.

At the time, Logan and I hadn’t even been married for seven months yet. We knew marriage would have its ups and downs, but still, we were completely blindsided by the loss of our son. It didn’t help that people kept telling us the statistics for divorce for couples who lost a child. Hadn’t we lost enough already? Was our marriage really doomed too?

Because Logan and I have very different personalities – as well as the fact that I was the one who carried Levi in my womb and Logan did not – we grieved very differently. I cried a lot and felt like I would never be happy again. Logan seemed to be handling it much better than me, so I didn’t tell him everything that was going on inside me.

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Holding our precious baby. It still kills me to look at this picture because Logan obviously did a better job at smiling than me…but I’m very thankful to have this. Our first family picture ❤️

I did journal about all of my struggles, though. Because I couldn’t bring myself to actually say those things out loud, Logan ended up just reading what I wrote and we talked after that.

That’s when I really started to see the beauty of the Sacrament of Marriage – Logan made sure I knew that I was not going through this loss alone. I felt like I was falling further and further away from God, so Logan made it his goal to not let that happen. After all, our main goal of marriage is to get each other to Heaven. Sometimes it feels so impossible, but maybe that’s part of why we go through certain trials – to remind us to help each other.

It was two weeks after we lost Levi that we finally talked about everything that happened. Most trials can cause a couple to grow further apart or closer together, and I can totally see how the former happens. It almost happened to us.

But thankfully we were given the grace to share our pain with each other. Logan told me that day that he wished he could have gone through everything with me at the hospital (since poor guy felt so helpless just watching me in pain all night, and they actually ended up not letting him in the delivery room), but I told him, “I wouldn’t have wanted you to.” Because really, my hospital experience is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone – especially not my husband.

Even though losing our son was harder than I ever would have imagined, I couldn’t help but feel so blessed to have Logan as my other half. I couldn’t imagine going through that tragic time without him. It was only after pouring my heart out to him – and realized he wasn’t going anywhere – that I finally felt I could start on the path towards healing.