Advent is meant to be a season of hope and expectation. We're busy getting ready for Christmas, and, in the middle of all the shopping, wrapping, baking, and decorating, we're preparing ourselves spiritually for the coming of Christ.
For many of us, however, the holidays can also bring out deep feelings and grief. For Catholics carrying the cross of infertility, Advent can be a particularly difficult time to navigate.
Every year, the media bombards us with toy commercials, scenes of families with young children around the tree, and the idea of miracles and your deepest wishes coming true. When your deepest longing is for a child of your own, the constant reminders of your missing miracle can be too much to bear.
Compound this with the idea that this entire season is about celebrating one miraculous birth in particular. Hymns about the Blessed Mother and the Christ Child bring to mind images of a life we long for. And in some stages of grief, we begin to question the goodness of God: "If God can do anything, even cause a virgin to give birth, why won't he let me have children?" And "If Christmas is about miracles, why won't God give me mine?"
These are difficult questions, and it can be hard to know how to respond. If you're going through this right now, what can you do to rediscover the joy of Christmas? And, if you have friends who are going through this, how can you help?
If you know someone struggling with this type of grief, the best thing you can do is to let them know that they are not forgotten. Pray for them. Send them a heartfelt card. Include them in your celebrations. Make a point of countering the secular idea that "Christmas is for kids" and celebrate knowing that Christmas is for everyone, young and old and in between. Understand that if your loved one is grieving infertility, they may not be able to come to all of the family celebrations.
If you yourself are struggling with infertility, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Take care of yourself. Infertility is a heavy cross, particularly at this time of year. It's okay to decline invitations to events that you know may be too difficult for you this year. Finding friends who share or at least are sensitive to this burden can make a huge difference. Traditions aren't just for passing on – they're for living. It's okay to be sad, but don't let grief stop you from participating in your favorite holiday festivities. Bake cookies. Watch Christmas movies. Deck those halls. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that “Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms. Their marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice.” (CCC 1654) One way to cope during this time is to look for ways to reach out and show some love to others. Opening your home to friends and family, volunteering, helping out at your parish, or simply helping a friend in need are all great ways to live out your vocation.
Finally, the best way to keep Advent as a season of hope, even in the midst of infertility, is to remember what Christmas is truly about: that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son. This love didn't end 2000 years ago – Jesus is alive today and continues to offer you his Heart, his Soul, everything he has, all for you. Stay close to Jesus in the sacraments and ask him to carry you through this. Know that nothing brings him more joy than to be with you. Focus on this great love and let yourself be held in his peace.
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