What Are the Biggest Challenges Facing Infertility Ministries?

What are three of the greatest challenges that infertility ministries are facing today?

That’s what we discuss in this first interview in our Easter 2024 series, “Rebuild My Church,” and offer us, the Church, the Body of Christ, actionable ways to help overcome those challenges in an effort to bring renewal from within.

I am joined today by my friend and special guest, Ann Koshute, the co-founder of Springs in the Desert, a Catholic infertility ministry.

Infertility Ministry Challenges and Solutions

Challenge #1: Most discussion of infertility in the Church is focused on NFP and morally licit fertility treatments (ex. NaPro technology), which can correct reproductive health issues, optimize fertility, and result in pregnancy. There is very little written in Church documents or the Catechism that addresses infertility and the physical, spiritual, emotional, and marital consequences from a pastoral perspective. This can leave those struggling with infertility feeling “unseen” by the Church, and wondering whether their marriages can be life-giving at all.

Possible solutions: It is not possible, of course, to dictate what the Church does or does not proclaim or write in official documents. However, there can be a “grassroots” movement of awareness, education, and deep thought about these issues that can exert influence in the local parish communities, dioceses, and perhaps beyond.

This requires ministries supporting those struggling with infertility/loss to:

  1. Have a solid understanding of the Church’s teaching on marriage and family; and to see children as gifts (not rights) that come into being through a co-creative partnership with God.
  2. Have an active prayer life, grounded in the Sacraments.
  3. A willingness to share personal stories/experiences that show the reality of this cross, while pointing toward hope in Christ.
  4. An active presence on social media, and taking any opportunities for writing, speaking, and teaching to better create awareness and to educate.
  5. Influencing the conversation around infertility/loss so that it is not seen as a “niche” problem for a few, but one that impacts marriage (not just that of the couple who is suffering), and faith (again, not just the faith of the couple who carries this cross).
  6. Re-imagining marriage preparation and how we talk about NFP and fruitfulness.

Challenge #2: Because infertility is most often discussed in terms of “solutions” (medical treatment, diet, saying certain prayers/praying to particular saints, looking for “miracles,” etc.) there is often a lack of understanding of the prevalence of the issue among clergy. This can leave them without the tools to pastorally accompany couples who seek their counsel. Because infertility is often a “hidden cross,” and clergy may not have experience with it, they sometimes lack sensitivity toward the issue and those who come to them for support.

Possible solutions: This is, again, a kind of “grassroots” effort, since we can’t mandate seminaries to teach about the pastoral implications of infertility, or get in front of every single priest, deacon, or bishop with the message.

  1. Individuals/couples carrying this cross can speak directly to their pastor and share the struggle. This can be difficult to do, since it’s such a sensitive topic, but resources and support are available through Springs in the Desert.
  2. Bishops and staff of diocesan offices must be made aware of the prevalence of infertility/loss, and the need for sensitivity in pastoral care. This includes the use of language (“infertile,” “miracle,” just two examples) and resisting the temptation to “fix” the problem (ex. prayers, novenas, saints; suggesting adoption too quickly or without having established a relationship with a couple).
  3. More resources are needed to make clergy aware of the issue, why it’s so pastorally sensitive, and how to more fully integrate those struggling with infertility/loss into parish life by inviting them to share their time and gifts in service.

Challenge #3: Related to this is an overall lack of awareness and sensitivity in our parish families. The myth of “the big Catholic family” as a measure of holiness (or selflessness) can lead people in the pews to make assumptions and judgments about childless couples, or those with only one child (contracepting, selfish); to ask intrusive questions (“When are you going to start a family; what are you waiting for; which one of you is the problem?”), offer “advice” (try this, do that, pray more); to downplay the cross; or to find nothing in common with couples who don’t have children, thus excluding them from conversation.

Possible solutions: This one is perhaps even harder than the two challenges above, but it goes hand in hand with them. Pope Francis speaks about the need for the Church to reach “the margins,” and the isolation couples feel only compounds the suffering. They feel like outsiders, possibly judged by others, and simultaneously hidden and exposed. Just as it is necessary to create awareness and offer support to our clergy as they minister, it’s important to make our brothers and sisters in the pews more aware and sensitive to the issue.

  1. With the clergy’s help, re-imagining how we celebrate Mother’s Day in the Church – not to downplay a mom’s inestimable value, but to recognize that all women are mothers at heart, called to love, nurture, and protect. There need not be a “competition,” but a recognition of how the intrinsic motherhood of every woman is necessary and a blessing to all.
  2. Better catechesis on the Sacrament of Marriage, the giftedness of the child (not owed or deserved), NFP, and a more expansive understanding of fruitfulness (one that doesn’t make children simply another “menu item,” but which shows that every Christian is called to be life-giving in a multitude of ways, and that we aren’t limited to being “fruitful” in only one way.)
  3.  More catechesis/discussion/prayer about the meaning of suffering, its redemptive qualities, the need for presence rather than “words” or solutions, while not overly spiritualizing it. A better understanding of “healing” would also be helpful, so that the concept is not limited to a “cure” or solution to a problem, but a deeper spiritual reality.

Learn more about Springs in the Deserhere, and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Ann is the co-founder of Springs in the Desert, a Catholic infertility ministry. She holds a Master of Theological Studies from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at the Catholic University of America. She and her husband Keith live in Central Pennsylvania and are Byzantine Catholics who married in 2011. In addition to her work as Executive Director of Springs in the Desert, she also writes and speaks at conferences, retreats, and pre-Cana programs. In 2021, Ann was appointed to the USCCB’s National Advisory Council by Most Rev. Kurt Burnette, Bishop of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic.
Read Ann’s column in The Eastern Catholic Life

About Author

Creative, Entrepreneur & Silly-Heart. Christ has called her to bring the broken to His Sacred Heart. Calls Austin home with her mountain-man husband, Mike, who she loves to travel through life with as well as around the world.

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