Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Marriage and Infertility

This post should really be titled Sex and Infertility but I did not have the guts to title it that. Hey, I still have some modesty! Most people think that people trying to have a baby have so much fun as they have sex anytime and hope for the best. It must be so nice to have so much sex right? Wrong! This is just another misguided philosphy that feeds our world's disordered view of sex. Marriage is not just about sex or procreating, if it was then JJ and I would have a really sad marriage. There is much more to marriage than having sex. Don't misunderstand me sex is more than great, it is supernatural and when you realize that there is a possibility of creating new life it is mind.blowing. There is a wonder and awe about sex that is out of this world, especially the procreative aspect.

Imagine this wonder and awe fading slowly as you realize the possibility for new life diminishing cycle after cycle. That is what it feels like when you go through infertility/subfertility. There is a part of sex that feels like it is missing. This becomes a challenge and a struggle to subfertile couples in their marriage, in particular their physical intimacy with one another. It can become so mechanical and just about the act of procreation. As they chart and try and time intimacy for the most fertile and optimal time it can become more like a routine. Now routines are not bad like wake up, pray, breakfast, workout, shower, go to work, come home, dinner, sex... Haha, I threw the last one in to see if you are still paying attention! I have to admit in the beginning of TTC it was fun to carve out time for intimacy, making sure we did not have any scheduling conflicts or skipping out on things we were invited to because it was during our "fertile" time.

After about a year or more of this same type of routine spouses can start to feel a laundry list of negative emotions connected with sex. You can start to feel the pressure and not want to disappoint your spouse if pregnancy does not occur or you can become angry with one another because your dreams of becoming a parent are slowly fading and this is where the blame game can come into play. Another thing that can happen is that one or both spouses become tired of having sex, yes you heard that right people can get tired of sex! Spouses can get into a routine of only having sex during their fertile time and not during other times. These situations create discord that effects all other aspects of their marriage. Not to mention spouses can start to go through feelings of guilt if they have used contraception before or had sex outside of their marriage. They may start to blame themselves for their infertility or think their infertility is a punishment for their past sins. Even if they have gone to confession they still need to work on forgiving themselves for their past mistakes and allow God to redeem that aspect of their life. Needless to say infertility/subfertility can be a HUGE roadblock in the physical aspect of a married couples life.

Then there are those who have miscarried and when you add that to the mix it becomes a big heap of crap that the couple has to deal with. After our miscarriage I started to associate sex with death and was afraid that if we conceived again, that baby would die too. There was fear in my heart and it took God's perfect love to drive out that fear along with my husband's imperfect love and saintly patience. I imagine this fear and anxiety is greater for those who have miscarried multiple times.

The Church says using sex just for its unitive aspect without the procreative aspect, i.e. using contraception is a grave sin because you are separating sex from its procreative aspect. Well the opposite is true as well, using your spouse just for the procreative aspect is wrong too! You can not separate the unitive and procreative aspect of sex, they must always stay together. This can become a struggle and hidden sin in a subfertile couple's marriage. Plus it is not so romantic to say cycle after cycle "Today is probably peak day honey, let's procreate" (I just realized that no one has probably actually said this). I know there have been a few times where we have abstained out of obligation for the "use days of greatest quantity and quality" rule. Don't get me wrong it is an instruction that increases the chance of conception and I give this instruction to subfertile couples that I teach but as the pirates say "they are more like guidelines than actual rules." In the beginning of TTC I would encourage couples to stick to the guidelines but after 6months or a year it can get frustrating so in my opinion I think it is ok to bend the rules a bit, don't tell my supervisor I said that ;)


There is an aspect of being a CrMS practitioner that I really love, it is when I get to give my couples the SPICE Index. What is this you say? It sounds so risque. Well SPICE stands for Spiritual Physical Intellectual Communicative and Emotional which are all aspects of the couples sexual contact with one another. You see sex is more than just the physical act, it involves the entire person and not just when they are having sex. So in other words the couple should always include the SPICE element to their marriage even if it is a time of abstinence. The couple should work on the spiritual, physical, intellectual, communicative and emotional aspect of their marriage all the time. I have my couples, whether they are tryng to achieve or postpone a pregnancy, write down some ways that they can inhance SPICE in their marriage. When JJ and I first started learning CrMS we thought we were NFP rock stars knowing so much about Church teaching and great charting skills from sympto-thermal then we filled out a SPICE index and we saw the areas in our marriage that we needed to work on. The areas that we did not know how or what to talk about which the good ol' index had easily pointed out were now staring plainly at us.


Some couples are uncomfortable with the SPICE index because they think it is a judgment that the practitioner is placing on their marriage. Well that is not true, the practitioner is just a facilitator the couple is the one that it effects I just add up the scores and start the discussion. There have been times where JJ and I are not sure how to talk about a subject or we are having trouble communicating so I have pulled out a SPICE index from my filing cabinet and had us fill one out. Yes I know, I am such a practitioner! Things like incorporating SPICE elements in their marriage help infertile/subfertile couples to not just focus on trying to create new life. It can help them to not pull away from each other at times where they need to cling to each other the most.

There can be so many feelings of guilt, shame and disappointment that come along with infertility but I believe that God wants us to be healed from these even in our intimacy with our spouse. Being open to life means being open to the possibility that a child may not or may never come from the sexual act that a husband and wife have. It is echoing Mary's Fiat and Jesus' words "Thy will be done." It is hard to surrender to that possibility but with God ALL things are possible. The IF couples sexual act is no less redeeming or fruitful than that of a fertile couple. When there is a complete giving of oneself no holding back there is a miracle that occurs, it is the miracle of self gift. When we say to our spouses with our bodies "I love you completely with all that I am and will continue to for the rest of my life even if a child never comes from this" we are partaking in a supernatural act where God's grace abounds. Fruitfullness will come from an IF couples sexual act, it just may not be the physical fruit we are used to seeing as a result of sex.

So next time you know of a couple who is trying to conceive don't just pray that God would give them children, pray for their marriage first for it is by their marriage that they will be sanctified. Pray that their marriage is fruitful in however God sees fit. If you are an IF couple, know that your marriage has value and worth just as much as a family who has 10 children. "Marraige is the greatest of all friendships" as St. Thomas Aquinas said and a wise priest once told me that I needed to treasure, safe guard and nurture my marriage first! I need to make sure my hubby knows that he is enough for me in this life even if children never come, he is my vocation. God has given me the amazing privilege of being married to JJ, I pray that I do not take him for granted.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said in February 2012, “I would like to remind the couples who are experiencing the condition of infertility, that their vocation to marriage is no less because of this. Spouses, for their own baptismal and marriage vocation, are called to cooperate with God in the creation of a new humanity.…There, where science has not yet found an answer, the answer that gives light comes from Christ.


  1. SPICE so important! Great post and so true!

  2. Great post, and I will definitely be praying for fruitful marriages and not just babies!

  3. I can relate to everything you're saying here, Kat! Especially your description of the "wonder and awe" fading from times of intimacy...that was a tough time for us, and one that thankfully we're through. My therapist always asks whether we are still nurturing our romantic love, including on non-fertile days.

    And I love your description of SPICE as helping here! I honestly never thought about it that way. The way SPICE was presented to me was more for during times of abstinence, assuming that you're trying to avoid...but it makes perfect sense that it would be for times when sadness at not conceiving makes it hard to come together with joy...Thank you for that insight.

    And finally, I think you're totally spot on about the danger for subfertile couples of using your spouse to "get a baby" (put bluntly...) Honestly I've been trying to just forget about which day we're on and just love my husband. Of course I never really forget, but I think it's been helping to keep the right perspective on intimacy and not turn it into just TTC time, if that makes sense.

    Blessings and prayers to you and JJ!