Sunday, November 27, 2016

So, How'd We Get Here?...Foster-Adopt

   If you have been following my blog for awhile, you know that I have not been open to foster-adopt in the past. In fact, when it was suggested to me by another blogger, I shut the possibility out of my heart and mind. Now here we are pursuing the very thing I was closed to. There is a crib set up in our room. I am buying baby clothes and looking into baby carriers. Our medicines, supplements and knives are all locked up and our house is baby proofed.

   We got the official call this week that we are certified so, we are done with our classes, interviews, home study,  CPR/First-Aid certification and all of the paperwork! We are officially a waiting family with our agency. We will hopefully get a call from the adoptions department this week to set up a meeting to talk about our matching options and preferences. In the midst of all this, I find myself thinking, "Is this real? Can this really be happening?" Yes, it is real and it is happening. We are moving forward with growing our family through foster-adopt! It is all very exciting and nerve racking!



JJ and I before a pep talk.



JJ and I after a pep talk. 


   So, what has changed? Me. I have changed, or rather God has changed me. Let me explain why I was against foster-adopt in the first place. It can really be boiled down to fear, pride, and control. I wanted my baby on my terms whether that was through biological means or taking home a newborn from the hospital via a private adoption.* I did not want to let go of control; and quite frankly I was afraid of suffering in this way. I was keeping a part of my heart locked up so that I would not be hurt. I wanted control of how our children came into our lives because, of course I know better, right? Wrong. God knows better. He knows what I need and how our children will come into our lives.

   So the first part of giving up control was to let JJ lead in how and when we would grow our family. This took the pressure off me so God could just work on my heart in areas He wanted me to grow. It also allowed me to have trust in God and my husband; knowing that they would protect my heart. I was in this waiting period for about a year and a half. I was waiting on word from God and word from JJ on where to move and when, if ever. At first it was frustrating, but I really prayed for docility. As I waited, I worked on my prayer life and made sure I went to Confession with my SD every couple weeks if I could, but at least every month for sure.

   Little by little, I noticed that I was OK with the time of waiting; I was even enjoying it. I was just trying to be the best wife I could. Then, when we took care of Ma Crow, I had no time to think about growing our family.  Taking care of Ma Crow was a time of growth for our marriage. We were challenged in ways we had never been challenged before both individually and as a couple. Once I had more time after she transitioned to my SIL's and then back home, my heart ached again. It ached for children and that self giving love in service to another. My heart ached for that family time of welcoming another human being into our home to share our faith and traditions.

   That is when JJ and I had a serious conversation, and lo and behold he was feeling the same ache as I was. I asked him if he had sought some direction for our discernment. Since he had not, I suggested he should, because often times God's answer is not as clear as a yes or no. Plus, I knew neither of us would move unless told to by someone in authority that we highly respect. We both are naturally cautious and slow. So, the organized mind that I am, I gave JJ a deadline on when to seek out advice. I also gave him three priests to choose from; since he is phlegmatic. This helped him to not feel overwhelmed in this huge life changing decision. The priest he went to knows us both very well and his advice was to pray one novena to St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, and then make a decision. After that, we were to not look back, whatever our answer was! This was key advice, since JJ and I tend to over analyze our decisions.

   So, we prayed the St. Joseph novena in March and made the decision on his feast day; which also happens to be my mother's birthday. On the feast day, came to the decision to pursue adoption and even more to pursue it through the foster care system. I was shocked that my heart was no longer set on private adoption. God had been doing something in that time of waiting and exercising docility.  He had opened my heart and gave me courage. JJ and I also felt that it was important for us to continue to save our money for a home and not spend a ton of money on a private adoption. Yes there has been some costs to us to become certified foster parents, but it has not been nearly as much as private adoption costs.

   There were three major things that held me back from foster to adopt, and I still struggle with them:

   1) Not being able to name our child from birth. Names are so important to us and as parents, it gives us an authority over our children. Well, with foster to adopt you do not have that authority; not at the beginning anyway. I really had to give this to God and keep in my heart all the baby names I have loved over the years and hopefully, if it be God's will, I will get to use them some day. If not, there they will remain in my heart.

   2) Not being able to baptize the child until they are legally adopted. Again this is an authority issue. You can always ask the bio family, but if they say no we have to respect that. I had to give this issue to God as well and I still complain about it to Him every now and again; okay, maybe more often than that.

   3) Not being able to breastfeed. I know that there are other ways to bond, but I really had a struggle to get over this hurdle. I know there are mamas who have not breastfed, yet have a wonderful bond with their children, as well as have their children be healthy in body and mind. Hey, I was not breastfed! So, there you go.

   With all three of these internal obstacles, I had to admit that I had no control and that God is ultimately in control. All I can do is be a conduit of His love. This is how God wants to sanctify me: by giving up control and just trusting Him. There is so much unknown with foster to adopt. We have no idea if our 1st or 10th placement will join our family forever. It is hard for others to wrap their minds around why we would do this. The simple answer is that it is a calling. God has opened my heart to accept this calling. He has given me peace about what we are stepping into. I am so grateful and humbled to parent the children that will come into our lives. We want to be Christ's hands, feet and shoulder to the children that we will parent. We want them to know that God loves them and they have so much dignity, no matter what their background is. We are opening ourselves up to heart break, and in that we find Christ. God, give us strength! St. Joseph, pray for us!




*I just want to say that I am speaking from my experience. I am not against private (domestic or international) adoption. I am very much for it. I think it is as needed as foster to adopt. I know there are different crosses and sufferings with private adoption. At this point, that is just not what we are being called to. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Illumination of Dark Hearts and Shadowed Minds

     Weird title huh? What could I possibly write in this post?

     I know it has been a while since I have written. There are times where I feel I have so much to say and times where I can not fully express what I am trying to say. If I could describe the past 6 months-1 year of my life, it would be boiled down to the following two words: growing pains. You know when you would get those aches as a kid because your body was growing and your parents said, "Oh, it's just growing pains."? Well, that is what I feel has been going on with me, not physically, but on the emotional and spiritual level as well as in my marriage. I have been reflecting a lot lately since Ma Crow left our home.  As I have been reflecting on my time of “hands on” service to her, JJ and I discovered a lot about the state of my soul, psyche and our marriage. The experience in care giving has taken my mind out of the shadows about what it is to be a mother, my perfectionism and the state of my soul.

     Let's start on the "Dark Hearts" part of this post. I realized in a deeper way the fleeting emotions of the heart. I realized my concupiscence and how I easily fall into sin because of it. It brought me to my knees begging God for mercy. Appropriate for this year of mercy huh? While taking care of Ma Crow 24/7 with JJ, I found myself so tired that I would snap at him and even at Ma Crow. I wanted to drive a wedge between JJ and I so that I could have an excuse to leave him to deal with caring for Ma Crow alone. Not that I would leave him for good, but I wanted to go stay with my family so it would be easier on me. I am ashamed to even type those words, but they are true and that is how I felt at the time. I realized how weak I am when it comes to giving of myself and not getting much back in return. At the end of long days, JJ and I could barely hold a conversation as we were both so tired; yet we yearned to spend more time together. I recognized the way in which the enemy was trying to use this situation to get us off guard. I would hear lies echoed in my heart like, "You will lose him." or, "He cares more about his mother than he does you." and, "Your dad left, so you will be just like him." These fears started to consume my heart and I would pick fights with JJ for random things. For the record, there were legitimate things that JJ needed to address while we were caring for Ma Crow, as well as after she left.

     I do not want to give the impression that I am all bad and JJ is all good. If I think about it in this way, that is when the enemy wreaks havoc on me. We must confront the lies we hear and light them with truths... more on that later. Meanwhile, my emotions were trying to run the ship and, with the grace of the sacraments, God was able to reveal this fact to me. Confession and spiritual direction from two different priests helped me to see the bigger picture and look beyond myself. I realized how selfish I was being and that up until then JJ had been my rock; now it was my turn to be his. It was when I confronted this darkness in my heart and asked Jesus for mercy and help that I was better able to serve JJ and Ma Crow. Even the times where I was done and did not want to do a single thing for anyone else, God gave me the grace to keep going. He not only gave me the grace to keep going, He gave me the grace to do it with joy! By the end of our time taking care of Ma Crow in our home I was sad that we could not do it anymore and I was going to miss her.

     Shadowed minds. This can happen when you are naturally exhausted and sleep deprived. Things start to seem hazy and your path looks so unclear. There were so many times where I had no idea what to do or how to handle a situation. Grant it, we needed to give ourselves a learning curve because we had not taken care of a stroke patient before and we had no idea what to expect. We had no clue she got up so many times at night to use the restroom, that we would not be able to just take her wherever we wanted to go or the emotional baggage that comes with a fully grown elderly human being. We had to change our way of thinking from, "Ma Crow is here for rapid recovery." and, "We run the show." to, "What is best for us all as a family." In the spiritual life, your path to God can seem like a shadow or like you are looking at the road through a veil. We will never see clearly until the day we meet Him face to face. There will always be some sort of haze because of our concupiscence. The wonderful gifts that help us clear the haze a bit are Confession, Mass and mental prayer. I have to say, when I can’t get to daily Mass or confession as often as I'd like, mental prayer is such a saving grace for me. The constant dialogue of, “Help me Jesus!”, “What do you want from me?!”, and, “Have mercy on me!”, keeps me coming back to Him over and over.

     After Ma Crow left our home, we knew God was calling us to a time of heavy discernment. There were things we realized that we wanted in our life, and taking care of Ma Crow helped us to realize that. Times of discernment seem especially shadowy though, don't they? The waters always seem murky when trying to find a clear answer, and as you try and push away the shadowy reflection, it just becomes more distorted. The questions arise of what to do, for how long, in what way and how do we get there? I am already a very methodical person and plan a journey meticulously before stepping out the door (can you say Bilbo Baggins?) But, with the things of God you can not do that. It really is an adventure and I do not like adventure because of my natural tendency toward fear. I love how God wants to release me from my fears, though there are many.

     I should have known that this is THE reason God wanted me to marry JJ! Since from the start of our marriage it has been an adventure. For our honeymoon, JJ and I went on a road trip up north. We had no map to get us there. We just knew we could take PCH and get to our destination eventually. A simple 4 1/2 hour drive turned into a 7 hour excursion with wrong turns, gas station directions, sightseeing, back roads and Hershey Kisses raining in our car (literally!). It was an adventure, but there was a safety and security there. I was not worried when we would get to check into our hotel; I was a joy filled beaming new bride. I am guessing the grace of the sacrament had a lot to do with that. The point is that I trusted and did not have fear; even though the way was not certain.

     Now, God is asking me trust Him in the same way I did then. Through much discussion, prayer and discernment, JJ and I have decided to pursue adoption through foster care. There are so many things I have to say about this decision. There has been so much peace given us about this decision, even though we know what heart ache could and will await us. We are ready. We are ready to open our lives up to a child who needs us, whether that be for a limited time or their whole life. We are not saints; we are simply answering a call. We know that we will have struggles and believe me, there are so many things about this process that are illogical and quite frankly, stupid. But, I am willing to submit to the call that God has laid out before us. We have gone to our initial classes, done finger printing, finished our application and will have our initial home inspection this upcoming week! We are so excited and are trying to enjoy the process and journey as much as possible before the real work of parenting starts.


     So, big news huh?! WAIT, there's more!

     We are also picking up where we left off with our NaPro Dr., in hopes of trying to conceive again. I underwent some initial testing to get a baseline of where I am at. I had an u/s that indicated LUFS was still an issue. This time she saw it on my right ovary, but my left ovary looked as if it could have ovulated, though she could not confirm. So, we now have a plan from our NaPro Dr. that we will follow in hopes of trying to conceive. Again, there was so much discussion and prayer between JJ, myself and our spiritual director that went into this decision. God has given me so much peace about this process. I do not feel like I am beating a dead horse with going back to NaPro. I actually feel hope and determination; no matter what happens. As our NaPro Dr. was laying out the cycle plan to me with ultrasounds and blood tests, I chuckled and said, “Oh, I remember this.” She replied, “Are you ready for this?” My answer was simply, “Yes, with God’s peace, I am ready.” If my NaPro Dr. is not ready to give up on us and she has hope, then I am not ready to give up. I trust her judgement and I know she would tell me if she didn’t think it was possible. So our new cycle plan will start next cycle!   


     We are ready. Ready to submit to the call that God has laid out before us. We are, "Opening wide the doors to Christ.” There is a peace and fortitude that is pushing me along that I did not feel was there beforehand. I felt like I had peace, but I was still afraid of God’s answer. I am no longer afraid of what will or won’t be His plan. I just want what is His plan. As we move forward on this journey of two huge and time consuming ways to grow our family, we would appreciate any prayers on our behalf. We are already praying for our children and how they will come to us. We are especially praying for those children and families we will encounter in the foster care system. As Mother Luisita* would say, “Adelante (onward)!” We keep moving forward trusting in God and knowing His will for us is better than our own.

     *Venerable Mother Luisita was the foundress of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart here in Los Angeles. You can find out more about her here.  


Friday, March 4, 2016

Fruitful Redemption: Spiritual Helps for the Infertile Catholic

    A couple of weeks ago, I awoke one morning to the promptings of my guardian angel reminding me to read an article that was brought to my attention the day before. It was on the "spiritual test" for those suffering with infertility. To say that the article lacked any consolation and comfort would be a huge understatement. So, armed with coffee in hand and some of my favorite music on, I am going to write what I feel and know to be a more comprehensive, compassionate and truthful perspective on the spiritual side of infertility for Catholics. The original article can be found here at US Catholic. There is mention of Catholic couples doing ART and IVF, so be warned. Now, I am no theologian but I have been told by various priests, who have a passion for the theology of marriage and family, that I have a knack for understanding Church teaching in this regard. I will be pointing out what the Catechism of the Catholic Church states about the subject of infertility; which the article failed to do.

   So, let's get down to the basics; first on what the Church says about infertility and couples who struggle with this cross. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) it states:
  
   "Couples who discover that they are sterile suffer greatly....Research aimed at reducing human sterility is to be encouraged, on condition that it is placed 'at the service of the human person,'...
Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple are gravely immoral. Techniques involving only the married couple (homologous artificial insemination and fertilization) are perhaps less reprehensible, yet remain morally unacceptable. They dissociate the sexual act from the procreative act." (Excerpts from CCC #2374-2377)

   In summary, using artificial reproductive technologies that separate the marital act of the spouses is a no-no; such are IVF and surrogacy. The CCC goes on to say:

   "A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift...A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged 'right to a child' would lead." (CCC #2378)
  
   This paragraph always digs into my heart as I realize that a child is a gift and for some reason I am not receiving that gift. This is where it can feel like the Church is turning you away if you are infertile. But wait, there is more:

   "The Gospel shows that physical sterility is not an absolute evil. Spouses who suffer from infertility after exhausting legitimate medical procedures should unite themselves with the Lord's Cross, the source of all spiritual fecundity. They can give expression to their generosity by adopting abandoned children or performing demanding services for others." (CCC #2379)
  
   Now, this can seem like a cop out from the Church and just a consolation prize to some. I can see how a person could take it that way, but the suffering that you endure from infertility can actually be such a source of fruitfulness that you could have never imagined; a spiritual fruitfulness that you may not have received if your path were easier in this regard.

   The Church is not condoning the use of whatever means necessary to make you happy nor is the Church leaving those living with infertility out in the cold. As someone who has been living with infertility for 7+ years, there have been many low valleys that I have been through. Like other couples, I have questioned the existence of God, asked why is God punishing me, tried to do penance for past sins so I can get what I want and prayed many novenas in order to bug God so much that He just gives into my desires. I have cried like Hannah while pouring my heart out to God and have shaken my fist at Him until my arm almost fell off.

   I would like to say a word about redemptive suffering here. Your suffering has purpose; even if it is just to remind you that you were made for more than this life. You were made for Heaven. When you are suffering, it is a good reminder that God wants to draw close to you. You can not run away from the way in which you are to be sanctified. You just can't. Believe me, I have tried. I have learned that the suffering I experience here on earth can be used for a greater purpose; for example, to pray for others in need. The very fact that I am willing to use my suffering to bring about good, unites me with Christ more closely; as He brought about salvation through His suffering. Now, none of us are going to bring about salvation for the whole world because that is found in Christ's perfect sacrifice, but we can imitate Him and unite ourselves with Him; thereby making our prayers more powerful. Through infertility and miscarriage I have drawn close to God in a way that I do not think I would have otherwise. For that, I am thankful. No, I am not thankful for losing our child; I am thankful that God brought about good through this soul wrenching suffering.

   There are so many peaks and valleys that we have in our spiritual lives, but those living with infertility (whether primary or secondary) can often experience the valleys more often than the peaks. This goes to the fact that infertility is a deep spiritual suffering that happens at the core of your being. Part of being human and Catholic is to pro-create and raise up the next generation; us infertile people can't do that in the traditional sense. So often times infertility can make one feel less than human or less masculine or feminine. Spiritual suffering is extremely debilitating, since it deals with not just our relationship with ourselves and others, but it deals with our relationship with our Creator. Our relationship with God our Father and Creator is the most important one of our lives and when we are hearing a repeated "No" to this very strong, beautiful and natural desire for children, it is a crushing blow to that relationship. This can give us a skewed view on who God is and we have to confront our false ideas about God.

   Infertility makes you confront the Creator vs. creature relationship that often times people have not dealt with before, unless they have dealt with past deep suffering. Infertility is an area of suffering where you realize you ultimately do not have control. Even though your desire is a holy and noble one, there are no amount of Hail Mary's that can change the will of God for your life; though there are an infinite amount of Hail Mary's that can change YOU.  So I would like to lay out some spiritual advice and help for those living with infertility.


   1. Your feelings are a good indicator on what is going on inside. Do not ignore the feelings in hopes that they will go away or just be fleeting like other feelings. These feelings of sadness, shame and anger due to infertility will not go away. These feelings are valid! I have heard from women who have crossed over and have adopted, are fostering or got pregnant and carried to term that these feelings still linger. Sometimes, they may linger your whole life. Confront the feelings in prayer, therapy and Reconciliation. I suggest all three of these strategies because it is best to care for the whole person when you are dealing with such suffering.

   2. Work on your relationship with God. Simply put, fall in love with God. This may be very difficult because you are pissed at Him for this infertility business, but HE LOVES YOU SO MUCH. He wants to lavish you in His love and suffer with you, for you are His beloved. Read scripture, in particular for women, read Isaiah 62:1-5. This scripture always reminds me that God will not let me go and He will continue fighting for me until I take my last breath. Pray the stations of the Cross or the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary so that you can walk with Christ in mutual suffering. When we suffer with someone, we grow closer to them and this suffering can actually aid in our relationship with God. Deepen your prayer life and conversation with God. Don't hold back your hurt because He wants to know all about you; even the wounds we try and hide.

   3. Cling to the Sacraments of Confession and The Eucharist. This will help you to realize that, even though you are validly suffering greatly, it does not give you license to sin. There have been so many times where my confessor has stopped me and made me realize that I am taking my pain out on others, especially my husband! Confess those sins or talk about the temptation to do IVF and illicit ART treatments. Chances are, the priest has heard it all! At Mass I started to say prayers of thanksgiving after Communion instead of asking God for what I want. Before Communion, I petition Jesus and after, I just thank Him. Sometimes it has been difficult to say "Thank you Jesus" when I am on the verge of sobbing over another cycle day 1. This has helped me to have a more grateful attitude and perspective for what I do have. It reminds me that God is on my side no matter what, and for that I am truly thankful. My confessor also suggested that if I pray a novena, to pray the same novena over again in thanksgiving, no matter what the outcome. I do have to say I am praying less novenas now, but making the ones I do pray more purposeful.

   4. Seek spiritual counsel. Spiritual direction can be such a great resource if you are discerning adoption, foster care, medical treatments or childless living. Now, this one may take some time, since it is hard to find a spiritual director; let alone one that is a right fit for you. I recommend a priest or religious sister if you can find one, but a trusted person who is faithful to the teachings of the Church would be sufficient as well. You may have to try out a few different ones if you are not comfortable after a couple meetings. You should trust the person and their advice should be tailored to your particular spiritual dilemma; not just a generalization. Not many priests are versed in pastoral care for infertility, but they at least need to be compassionate. I had to go through a few different priests before I found my regular confessor who is a trustworthy priest that has compassion toward my situation. Remember though, the role of the spiritual director is not your counselor or therapist. Do not put that responsibility on them. The role of the SD is to help guide you through your spiritual life and discernment. Do not expect them to give you all the answers if you are not putting work into your prayer life.

   5. Fall deeper in love with your spouse. How can this help you with the spiritual suffering of infertility? Our spouse can be a great consolation from God while living with infertility. Take part in the marital embrace and not just during the times where you are trying to conceive, but other times as well. Initiate that spiritual and physical bond between the two of you that is only shared between you alone. Now, I understand that couples living with infertility are often wounded when it comes to the marital embrace because it has not produced the fruit that they were hoping for, but now is the time to work on this wound. Seek therapy for this issue if need be so that you can find healing in this area.
Another way you can deepen your relationship with your spouse is through prayer; so pray with one another. A homework assignment I gave to one of my infertile couples recently was to write down 10 ways that they are fruitful in their marriage; not having anything to do with children. Write down and acknowledge what you as a couple bring to the table and how you can you use those gifts to build up the Kingdom of God. You will be surprised to find that so many blessings get overlooked!


   So there you have it. Five ways to combat the spiritual difficulties that come with infertility, all the while staying faithful to the Church's teachings. I am not an expert, well maybe I am, but I still struggle. I have my moments, even after 7+ years. I know there are women who have dealt with this for much longer and have stayed faithful to the Church, so I know it is not impossible. This is not a fix all list either where you do all of this and magically you will feel better about being infertile. I don't know anyone who feels good about being infertile but I do know people who have been given peace. I hope this is helpful to all the Catholic couples living with infertility and if you have any suggestions that help with the spiritual side of infertility, please, do share!