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Ethical Options for Infertility

What are the options, and where is the hope, for Catholic couples who encounter infertility? Ann Koshute and Kimberly Henkel, founders of Springs in the Desert, a ministry to those struggling with infertility, join us for a conversation.


Cy Kellett:

Hello, and welcome to Focus the Catholic Answers podcast for living, understanding, and defending your Catholic faith. I’m Cy Kellett, your host. We do apologetics here. That’s what we do. Sometimes the most important apologetic, really the ground of apologetics, that is, explaining and defending the faith to others, is to live it. Especially in difficult times, to share the joy, the peace that comes from the faith, even when things are not going well. You’ll recognize that we do moral issues here on Focus. Among them, in vitro fertilization and contraception, all of those things.

But answering moral questions is not the same as addressing the needs that people have in difficult situations, especially facing the very difficult situation of infertility within marriage. So we have two people to help us talk about that. It may help you in your apologetics to know, well, first of all, some of the things maybe not to say. Some of us need to learn those things. But also, the ways to actually be helpful and present and Christ-like to folks who are struggling in those situations. Our guests come from Springs of Love. You can find them at springsoflove.org. I’ll let them tell their story to you to start. Ann Koshute first. Ann, welcome very much.

Ann Koshute:

Hi, Cy. Thanks so much for having us.

Cy Kellett:

Yes, thanks for being here. And Kimberly Henkel, thank you for being here.

Kimberly Henkel:

Hi. Thank you. We’re happy to be here.

Cy Kellett:

First of all, maybe if one of you would start by just giving us the breakdown of what Springs of Love is and how you started it. Who’s going to do that? Who’s up for that?

Kimberly Henkel:

Well, I can start.

Cy Kellett:

Okay.

Kimberly Henkel:

This is Kimberly. Yes. Actually, the ministry we first started is called Springs in the Desert.

Cy Kellett:

Springs in the Desert, why am …

Kimberly Henkel:

That’s okay. No, we have two ministries. We have two, so that is fine. That’s fine. It started off as springsinthedesert.org. That ministry is to accompany those who are struggling with infertility. To really walk with them through that journey and help them find the fruitfulness that God is calling them to. This ministry began really just from the experience of Ann and myself. We had met in grad school, at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in DC. She was a year ahead of me. Anyway, we had met there.

And then years later, we had reconnected at a conference. We were actually having dinner together. I was sort of mentioning to her just my marriage. I had gotten married. I had gotten married in my mid-thirties and we just had not been able to get pregnant. It was just feeling so very isolated. Ann shared with me that she was actually experiencing the same challenge. It was just so wonderful to find somebody who had been formed in the same thought as I. This beautiful rich theology that we had been introduced to, and the beauty of marriage and fruitfulness. We both desired to have a very large family. We just had felt so isolated. So it was this friendship that really … that was kind of the spark that began to deepen our friendship, because we didn’t really know each other very well before that. So we began to really support one another through that journey. That was the very beginning of Springs in the Desert.

Cy Kellett:

As you speak, it strikes me that may be one of the themes that we’ll cover, because it sounds like it is a sense of isolation and needing to have others to share this with. This is the first impetus of the formation of your ministry is helping people out of the isolation of this.

Ann Koshute:

Yeah, that’s absolutely right. I know for myself, Kimberly was really the first woman that I spoke with who was going through the same thing. I didn’t share about our infertility, really with almost anyone. My mom, I would cry on her shoulder. I had a couple of close girlfriends that I would talk a little bit about what we were going through, but there was nobody else who really understood from the inside out.

So when Kimberly and I reconnected, I mean, it was just so life changing for me because I could hear about the isolation that she was experiencing. And we could share the emotions we were having. It’s a hard thing, especially for a Catholic, to sort of stand up and say, “You know what? I get really jealous when I get a pregnancy announcement.” Or, “I feel angry,” or, “I feel sad.” We tend to stuff those kinds of emotions down because we don’t want to look like a bad person to other people. And we might start to feel guilty ourselves, like, “Oh, my gosh, I shouldn’t be thinking these things.” That also plays into this isolation that we feel.

We, generally speaking, don’t want to talk about it. We don’t want to tell others about it. I know for myself, the word infertility, gosh, I probably didn’t even use that to describe our situation, until we started this ministry. So yeah, that sense of isolation and all of those emotions that come along are really difficult to deal with, especially in our Catholic space where we might be sitting in pews with families all around us, that high value placed on the big Catholic family, which is so beautiful, but is just not something that can be realized by all of us. That can really lead us to a lot of negative emotions and different kinds of conflicts that I know we’ll end up getting into.

Cy Kellett:

There is kind of, almost a, “The bigger the family, the more Catholic the family,” attitude.

Ann Koshute:

Mm-hmm. Yeah, that’s a hard one to reconcile when you’re going through this struggle. It’s hard not to look at yourself and think, “Gosh, is God punishing me? Am I cursed somehow? Am I not living up to the ideal of what it means to be a Catholic? And what are other people around me thinking about me?”

Cy Kellett:

Is there also a sense that … maybe of questioning oneself about, “What did I do to deserve … I have sin in my past,” or, “I did this or that. Am I being punished for that with having to suffer through this?”

Kimberly Henkel:

Yeah, I would say that is a huge thing we constantly hear in the retreats that we do. I mean, some women, they have abortions in their past, and then they can no longer get pregnant anymore. Just are thinking, “Okay, that was my one shot and God is punishing me.”

Cy Kellett:

Oh, yeah.

Kimberly Henkel:

We try to convey that God has a beautiful plan of fruitfulness for your marriage. He is not leaving you bereft of any goodness in your marriage. And that he’s a forgiving, merciful father. One of the very first things that we focus on in our retreats and such is that notion of, “Who am I? What is my identity as the beloved daughter of the Father? And who is the Father?” Because we can see God is withholding this good thing from us and we can’t understand. We just think this … It warps our perception of who God is.

So we want to first come to speak of the merciful God who loves us, and who wants us to come to him with our heartache and our sadness and our regret over our past. But that he wants to say, “Look, I love you. I have a plan of beautiful fruitfulness for you. This is the cross that I have given to you, as a gift in a sense, because there’s something really good to come from this.” He’s not abandoned us. That is one of the biggest things that we try to help women and men to see is that God is with us in this, he’s right with us.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah, that’s the hard one to overcome. I’m thinking about Jesus with the man born blind. Who sinned, him or his parents? Jesus having to say, “None of them sinned.” That’s the definitive statement on the difficulties that God presents are opportunities that he’s giving us, even though it doesn’t look like that, at all, in many ways. Is this different for your husbands than for yourselves? Is it different for women in general than for men? How does that work?

Ann Koshute:

Yeah, I would say so. I think we see this in the course of our ministry as we speak with women. And then those times when we have couples together, we can see that male, female dynamic playing out. Now, of course, there’s much more to it because we all have our families of origin and the different baggage that we might bring with us. But definitely the male, female response is something that can be difficult for us to overcome.

I’ll just speak for myself personally. For a long time, we’re going through this. I’m crying. I’m very emotional. Or I get angry, or I feel intense jealousy, all these different emotions. My husband remains fairly even keel. There came a point where I just sort of said, “Don’t you care.” Almost like, “What’s wrong with you?” Here I am expecting him to react exactly the way that I do. If he doesn’t, then I just make these assumptions that, “He doesn’t care, maybe he didn’t really want children after all,” all of these things. For us, I think it … infertility, this is one of the sort of gifts of infertility. I know that there may be people listening for whom that’s hard to hear, because perhaps they are really in the thick of it and they’re feeling a lot of pain. So it can be hard to think that infertility can bring any gifts with it. If that’s where you are, that’s okay. You just hear this and take it for what it’s worth right now.

But for us, one of the gifts that we discovered is that it allowed us to deepen our relationship with each other, to have a more intimate and open relationship with each other, to get really honest, even at those times when it hurt. There was a point at which my cousin brought his infant son here. He and his wife were here. They visited. I was fawning over the baby and holding the baby. Keith, my husband, held the baby for a few minutes, but he was unusually quiet during that visit. Later I said to him, “Is everything okay? Are you all right?” He said, “Yes, I’m fine.” Just kind of, “Leave me alone.”

The next morning I was sitting at the table having my tea. He came over to me. He knelt down next to me. He embraced me and he said, “It hurts me too.” That was the first time that I had seen that kind of emotion from him. It felt like such a gift to me. I mean, I hated seeing him be in pain, but it was like a gift of his honesty in that moment to show, “Yes, this does impact me too, even if I don’t show it the way that you do.” One thing that we try to convey to women in this ministry is that very often our husbands are less concerned about their own grief and more concerned about yours.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah.

Ann Koshute:

They want to make everything-

Cy Kellett:

He’s trying to hold it together for you.

Ann Koshute:

That’s absolutely right. So, again, communication, this just goes for marriage generally, communication is the key. We need to talk to each other, otherwise we’re going to make these assumptions. That’s going to cause resentment and that’s going to end up eroding the marriage.

Cy Kellett:

As we said at the top, and as you know, this is an apologetics podcast. One of the things that might happen, I won’t say this always happens, is that there are people who come to the light of the beauty of the Catholic life, and of the moral teaching of the Catholic church, want to share it with other people. All good, but I wonder if sometimes the infertile couple at church begins to feel a kind of judgment about, “Are you one of those people, that is those contracepting people that I’ve come to realize are the enemy or something, or need to be straightened out?” That’s I think where sometimes the explainer and the defender of the faith can actually do a lot of harm.

Ann Koshute:

Yeah, that’s definitely something that happens. I will make a confession that I was, once upon a time, one of those people who looked around and saw maybe no children or a very small family size. You know, “Oh, a boy and a girl. Oh, I guess you’re done. You must be contracepting.” It could be very easy for us to fall into that kind of judgment without knowing and understanding what a particular couple is going through.

I also want to just mention something about language, which seems maybe like a small point, but for our ministry, it’s really important for us to be careful in how we describe this experience of infertility. For example, we don’t really use the word infertile. So we don’t say infertile couple or infertile woman. That goes to what Kimberly was explaining earlier about identity, because that can really go to the core of our identity. It may be a medical or technically, scientifically true term, but in our ministry, we try to stay away from that. Because if I think of myself as infertile or my marriage is infertile, it means I’m essentially a walking desert. I’m a place where there’s no life, where no life can be nurtured.

That’s one of the important things that we want to convey in our ministry, that that’s not true. That we’re all called and meant to be life-giving, meant to bring new life to be fruitful. That’s really the Christian walk. That’s the Christian identity. Regardless of whether you are married, or single, a priest, a religious, we are all called by nature of being Christians made in the image and likeness of God, we’re all called to bring life into the world, to bring Christ into the world.

Cy Kellett:

Kimberly, you turned that one over to Ann, but I just want to know, is this something that you have seen? Feel free to share whatever you want, but I feel like one of the services that we can provide is to help people to be more aware of how they speak and what help that they might offer in these situations.

Kimberly Henkel:

Yes, absolutely. Yes, I think a lot of people are very, very private about this. I am somebody … I kind of share very freely. So I would have people come to me and say, “What’s going on with you two? When are you guys going to start having some kids?” Maybe there’d be a little bit of a pang, but I would say, “Oh, you know what? Please just pray for us, because we’re been trying and it’s just not happening.” But some people would be so heartbroken by a comment like that, that they wouldn’t even know how to respond, you know?

Cy Kellett:

Oh, yeah. Right.

Kimberly Henkel:

But as I shared my struggle with infertility, I cannot believe the number of women who came to me and said, “Oh, you know what? We could only have two children. We longed to have more and we weren’t able to.” Or, “We have had so many miscarriages that we were only able to have one child.” Or, “We’ve never been able to get pregnant.” It surprised me the number of women in my parish who shared that with me. I guess in my own … I just kind of assumed everybody was just getting pregnant whenever they wanted to.

Cy Kellett:

Oh, yeah.

Kimberly Henkel:

I began to see, “You know what? It’s really hard to have nine children.” I mean, there are a few women out there who have that experience, but it’s not typical. It’s not very easy to give birth to nine, healthy children. I mean, that just doesn’t often happen. For many, many, many women who are very silent about this, they have experienced times of infertility, they’ve experienced miscarriages, and they likely have never shared with anybody. I mean, I have somebody in my parish who just shared with me, she’s never even spoken to anybody except her husband about the infertility. They’ve never ever spoken to her mother. They haven’t told anybody about it. So people just assumed … People just assume things, right?

Cy Kellett:

Sure.

Kimberly Henkel:

I think that this is a hidden cross. We didn’t used to talk about miscarriages. I mean, that was just something hush hush. If somebody has a miscarriage, you don’t really know what to say to them. Do you just act like it didn’t happen? What do you say? Do you try to, like, “Oh, well, you’re better off because that child probably would’ve had some problems”? Do you say something like that thinking that you’re-

Cy Kellett:

Helping.

Kimberly Henkel:

… offering some comfort, but you’re not. Exactly. A lot of times with infertility, people are so trying to give a solution. They want to fix it. It hurts their heart too when they hear, “You can’t have children.” They want to fix it, so they’re thinking, “Okay, what can I say? Okay, the first thing is, have you tried NaProTECHNOLOGY?” Which is something that is wonderful. It’s a gift. Ann and I both tried that. But just because you’ve done NaProTECHNOLOGY doesn’t mean you’re going to get pregnant, because some people think that.

Cy Kellett:

Right. Or, “Have you prayed this novena or that novena?”

Kimberly Henkel:

Absolutely.

Ann Koshute:

Yes.

Kimberly Henkel:

Oh, yes, we get that a lot. Yes. People are well meaning. They want to help. So we’re trying to help people learn the ways that would be most comforting to us. The ways that would be comforting are not to say, “Well, have you thought about adoption? ‘I mean, like that’s a novel concept that’s never crossed my mind. Thank goodness this person at my church mentioned it to me. It never would’ve even come into my mind,'” you know?

Cy Kellett:

Right.

Kimberly Henkel:

If you’re a Catholic woman struggling with infertility, you’ve likely Googled it. You’ve likely talked to your doctor about it. You’ve likely found out about NaPro. And you always know in your head, “Okay, adoption is a possibility,” but you may not be at the place to even think about that right now. To have somebody that maybe you don’t even know very well, like a parishioner, mention that to you, that could be very hurtful, because it’s kind of just dismissing this experience of grief that you’re having. It’s a real grief. That’s one of the things that we’re trying to show people is that you may never have had a miscarriage. You may think, “Well, I can’t grieve this because I don’t actually have a child to grieve,” but yes, you do have a grief. Ann, do you want to say any more about that?

Ann Koshute:

I just wanted to pick up on that from the parish family perspective, because I have been going to a lot of conferences in different dioceses. Women’s conferences mostly. I set up our table, Springs in the Desert. I have our resources there. The first conference that I went to, I was kind of taken aback because I would have a number of women come by. I would say, “Oh, we’re Springs in the Desert, Catholic Infertility Support.” I had a number of women just kind of laugh at me and say, “Oh, that’s not my problem. I have X number of children.”

Cy Kellett:

Oh, good lord.

Ann Koshute:

What was interesting is that the woman from Rachel’s Vineyard, the post-abortive ministry, we had a beautiful conversation. You would never think of walking up to her chuckling and saying, “Oh, I’ve never had an abortion, so I don’t need to pay attention to this.” So it just struck me that there is a real need within our parish families to provide that sort of education and awareness. I think it begins with our pastors who want to accompany us, but I think oftentimes don’t know how. They don’t to walk with a couple struggling with infertility. But to also show our parish families that even if infertility doesn’t touch you personally, perhaps you have children, that it’s someone in your family. If it’s not someone in your family, definitely, there are people in the pews around you who are carrying this cross. Therefore, that makes it everyone’s problem, so to speak. That makes it a concern of each of us who are part of the body of Christ.

Cy Kellett:

Do you have a sense, too, given all that you just said, that the … I suppose there’s a kind of temptation to some of the technologies that are out there that are not moral illicit. Some of which are quite horrifying, actually. But you could quietly solve this problem, even as a Catholic, that I’m sure many people … I mean, there’s no guarantee I suppose. If we’re not supportive and inviting and integrated, accepting all different kinds of families, that we’re kind of, in a certain sense, pushing people towards immoral acts.

Ann Koshute:

I mean, I’ll let Kimberly speak a little bit more to that because the moral theology is more her wheelhouse. This is kind of her specialization. But I will say that even for a well-formed Catholic who is steeped in the teachings … I mean, here are Kimberly and I, I mean, we received this amazing, rigorous formation in the teaching of the church on marriage and family, and especially the teaching of John Paul II. We were steeped in that. And yet, that didn’t ultimately give us the answer. We were still in pain because it was hard to reconcile the beauty with this ugliness that seems to have entered into our marriages.

So even for a well-formed Catholic, yes, those things can be tempting, because you just want to ease that pain. You want to receive that gift. And, honestly, there are people in our families, among our friends, sadly, we’ve heard even of some priests who don’t understand some of these technical means of assisting with pregnancy that are immoral. They may suggest those. We’ve even had people say that their families have pressured them a little bit, “Why don’t you just do IVF? God wants you to be fruitful and multiply. Science can help you. Why don’t you just do that?” So it’s as if, “I’m a good church going Catholic. I understand the faith, that means I’m immune to this kind of temptation.” It absolutely doesn’t.

Cy Kellett:

We covered quite a bit of what’s not helpful, like the unhelpful helpfulness that we have. It does leave me with the question, in the parish or in family, somebody who shares this struggle that they’re going through. The years of potential pregnancy go on and on, so I’m sure there’s … It’s not like, “Oh, well, we’ve been five years and haven’t had a child, therefore we’re never …” There’s a kind of uncertainty that you have to live with, “Is this or is this not going to happen for us?” So you share this struggle. How might I respond in a way that is truly helpful and truly going to be something that’s not hurting, but is helping?

Ann Koshute:

One of the things that I would say is to really resist that temptation, as Kimberly mentioned, to jump in with a solution. You know, “My next door neighbor’s daughter’s best friend did this. Why don’t you try it?”

Cy Kellett:

Yeah.

Ann Koshute:

That’s generally not helpful. Suffering is hard. None of us likes to suffer. We would like to alleviate that suffering any way we can. But sometimes I think what’s even harder is seeing another person suffer. It’s really hard to stand in there with them and you want to just solve it or wipe it away. So I would say one of the most helpful things is to just be there in the suffering with that person. If they share this struggle with you, just tell them that you’re sorry, that you’ll pray for them. Ask them if there’s anything you can do for them. If they’d ever like to talk, that you’re there to listen. But resist that temptation to find a solution. Very often we just need to know that someone sees us, they hear us. Even if they don’t fully understand, they can at least appreciate that we are carrying a cross that, for us, is really heavy.

Kimberly Henkel:

I think one of the other things is that we created Springs in the Desert to really be a resource for people. So we have all of these resources available on our website, and we have a podcast that we do. That can be just a really nice way to maybe say, “I heard about this ministry that really helps accompany couples that are going through this struggle, and they have a podcast. It’s called Springs in the Desert. You might find something interesting there.” That might be a way to offer something that is not so, “This is what’s going to fix your problem,” you know?

Cy Kellett:

Yeah.

Kimberly Henkel:

That’s why we do things like a podcast. That’s just an easy entree point for people. So they’re not committing to doing a virtual retreat where they might be seeing other people and they might feel uncomfortable. But even if these women, or men, because we do have couples coming to do retreats as well, if they come to something, sometimes they come and they just turn their cameras off. We’ll do a Zoom retreat. They’ll just keep their cameras off, and that is okay.

If they’re not comfortable speaking, if they’re not … sometimes they can’t even … they don’t even know the words. They don’t even know what to say. They can just sit there and just hear other people speaking about their struggles, and where they’re finding hope and fruitfulness and goodness in their marriages. How God is pouring into them. Where they can find God right now in their marriage. We try to find, like, “Let’s find God right now. What is he doing? What is he asking of me right now?” Just to focus on the positive aspects because, like we’re always saying, God has a beautiful plan. Each of us has a different path.

My personal path, we ended up fostering. That was very scary to foster a child when I’ve already … I have not yet become a mother. Here I was thinking, “Okay, I’m going to open my heart to a little baby or a child that I may not get to keep.” I was like, “I’m his mother. And then if he goes away, am I no longer a mother?” That was terrifying, but I really felt … my husband and I really felt like this was what God was calling us to. So we just trusted, “Okay, God is calling us in this direction. We’re going to start walking in this way.” we ended up fostering and adopting four children, which was kind of a miracle to me. Just unexpected surprise. My husband and I have started another kind of sister organization to Springs in the Desert called Springs of Love, which you had mentioned in the beginning.

Cy Kellett:

Right.

Kimberly Henkel:

That’s really to offer, to encourage and educate and equip Catholics, all Catholics, to discern and live out that call to foster and adopt. That really is a broader audience because it’s not just couples struggling with infertility. Because adoption is not necessarily … Every couple who’s struggling with infertility is not necessarily going to be called to adopt. Catholics who have other children who have no trouble getting pregnant may be called to foster and/or adopt. Anyway, we have that little sister ministry I just wanted to mention as an option … as another possibility of discerning fruitfulness. But our ministry is really trying to help couples to find God now in the midst of the struggle, and discern, “What is he calling us to?” Because there’s this beauty of the … Yeah, go ahead.

Ann Koshute:

No, I’m sorry. I also wanted to mention that when you’re talking about people in the parish, for example, and what not to say or how to approach people, it’s a perfectly natural and normal question to say, “Oh, do you have children?” Or, “How many children do you have?” It’s not as if we need to walk on eggshells around everybody because they might be carrying this particular cross. But I would just say that when you think about asking that question, be prepared for the answer, and know that someone might come back with, “No, we’re trying,” or, “Please pray for us.” Again, resist that temptation not only to solutions, but to a kind of really intrusive curiosity.

It was interesting, Cy, at the beginning, you mentioned that story of the blind man who Jesus heals. The people ask, “Well, who sinned? Was it his parents? Was it him?” I mean, I’ve been asked the question, “Which one of you is the problem? Is it you or your husband?” It’s that kind of curiosity sometimes that we have that is really intrusive and quite hurtful. I mean, that was quite hurtful when … because we were only probably maybe two or three years married. The infertility, it was a real struggle at that point, and it was really painful. I took that as, I mean, really as a personal attack on me. Like, “Oh, my gosh, it’s my fault.” Part of that is probably because my husband is actually the youngest of 16. I’m looking at this big family, and I’m the youngest of two, and it’s really hard not to say, “Oh, gosh, it just might be my fault.” So I think be prepared for the answer to that question about children. Be prepared to be compassionate and sensitive, and not to press unless that other person opens up and needs someone to listen.

Cy Kellett:

One of the ways that it does seem to me that the Lord is moving in the Catholic church at the moment, one that almost nobody comments on, is the growth in healing ministries. That it does seem like Jesus is really maybe pushing us to argue with each other less and be more healing to one another. So is this a healing ministry? I mean, I know you have Springs in the Desert, but I imagine you also would like to see this multiply in other places. Is this something that a parish could take on, or a diocese could take on? How might this healing that Christ clearly wants to bring through people like yourselves be expanded in the church?

Ann Koshute:

Yeah, just to speak to that healing aspect, I think that is so important. I’m not sure when we started Springs in the Desert, we really were thinking of it in that way. I mean, it really was begun out of necessity because Kimberly and I needed to be ministered to. We weren’t finding the pastoral accompaniment that we needed. And then the more people who came to us, the more we realized that we really were not alone, that there were other people going through the same things. In the midst of doing this work, in the midst of ministering, Kimberly and I have been ministered to in amazing ways. So we both have experienced great healing through doing this ministry.

One of the things that we try to emphasize with those who come to us is that Jesus wants to heal all of us, and he is healing us, and he’s always working in us, but the healing may not be the exact way that we want. For example, for me, healing has not meant, and will not at this point mean becoming pregnant.

Cy Kellett:

Yes. Okay.

Ann Koshute:

But that doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t or hasn’t healed me. So I think it’s important for us as Catholics to also look at these healing ministries and appreciate them, and believe that Jesus heals, but not to put everything on one particular result. So, “Therefore, if I have not become pregnant, Jesus didn’t heal me.” That’s really limiting. That’s really limiting.

Cy Kellett:

What a wonderful, helpful point. Very, very helpful point. You can see that in many of the … Outreach to people with mental illness. Well, the fact that you weren’t healed of the mental illness doesn’t mean Christ doesn’t bring healing. Or all the other various one. That’s a very wonderful and helpful point. Kimberly, you look like you wanted to add something to that.

Kimberly Henkel:

Oh, yes. Well, yes, because we’re in accompaniment ministry, I mean, we’re trying to find points of contact to walk with women and with couples. We do virtual retreats. We have a beautiful Lenten retreat going on right now, virtually. And we have small groups forming that can be brought into parishes, so that a group of women … Generally it’s women who would like to be doing a small group together on this, but we have a study guide that we’ve just finished. We’re working on more things like that so that we can have these small groups and parishes, to be able to have that ongoing support.

Cy Kellett:

Wonderful. The place to go is springsinthedesert.org.

Ann Koshute:

That’s right.

Cy Kellett:

And then for the other ministry that I started with, just got my wires crossed, but springsoflove.org. Related, but not the same ministry.

Kimberly Henkel:

Yeah.

Cy Kellett:

Just so that people know for sure what they’re getting. I have this experience. I go to springsinthedesert.org. What do I find there? I open up that page, what do I find?

Ann Koshute:

Springs in the Desert is an infertility ministry, but what distinguishes us from others that are out there is that we are not the place you come to find out about treatments and those kinds of things. We will certainly, if you’re looking for a NaPro doc or you want information about that, we will certainly point you in the right direction. But ours is spiritual and emotional support and accompaniment, and community. Because of the isolation that we experience, we need this sense of community.

So we have our blog, which has beautiful personal stories. Many stories of healing as well. We have the Springs in the Desert podcast. One of our listeners described it as that friend that she can take along with her on the path of infertility. We have a number of resources. Things that you can put in the parish. Ways to cope with pregnancy announcements, or ways to strengthen your marriage, five things I wish my pastor knew about infertility. We have our virtual retreats. We have in-person retreats as well. So we are a place where you can come and find accompaniment and solidarity, and know that you are seen and heard by others.

We also have our team prayer every Friday. We take prayer requests from our community. We pray for everyone in this community daily, but together as a team every week. We also have the option for people to come and talk to a team member by email or by Zoom or by phone, if they just need that extra support. They need to sort of talk through things. Of course, we also have our spiritual father, Father Paul West, who is a Byzantine Catholic priest. He’s a married priest. He and his wife have experienced losses and secondary infertility. So he’s really uniquely positioned to offer that pastoral perspective and accompaniment. So Springs the Desert is a place where you can come and not feel judged or feel like you’ll be misunderstood. It’s a place of community.

Cy Kellett:

What a wonderful, wonderful thing. What a wonderful-

Kimberly Henkel:

I wanted to-

Cy Kellett:

Yep. Kimberly, go ahead.

Kimberly Henkel:

Oh, I just wanted to mention something else that we’ve created. We do retreats at the diocesan level as well. So dioceses will bring us … We’re going to New Orleans soon. We’ve gone to Detroit, and all over Pennsylvania and Columbus. We’ve been quite a few places and are planning more regional kind of retreats in person. But we also have a pastoral toolkit. Ann, do you want to say something about the pastoral toolkit? Because that’s just about finished.

Ann Koshute:

Yeah. It’s a toolkit that we’ve developed that is filled with resources. We’ve written a guide just to help priests and deacons who are ministering to couples who are in their parishes. Just to give them some practical suggestions, give them a little bit more awareness on the prevalence of infertility. Sometimes pastors don’t realize, and the people in our pews don’t realize how prevalent infertility is. Just some of the ways that they can be supportive if a woman or if a couple comes to them in the confessional, or even just comes and visits them in their office to get some support.

What we want to do is provide, first of all, support to those who are carrying this cross. We want to accompany them, but we also want to be a support in the parish, in the diocese, for the pastor. To help them accompany the couples in their parish, and make them more a part of the parish. We talked about that isolation. I mean, we need to be meeting these couples where they are, and then integrating them more into the life of the parish. There’s young adult ministry. There is mom’s group. There are family days. All of these wonderful things. But so often the couple who is carrying this cross feels left out, “Where do I belong?” In our parish families, we’d like to see the gifts that those who are struggling with infertility can really bring to the life of the church and to the life of our parish. We’d like to see that be better recognized, and invite those couples to come and share their particular gifts.

Cy Kellett:

It sounds like that the director of the Marriage and Family Life office, or similar office in every diocese should know you. This is maybe not something that would immediately occur to them, “This is what I need to do,” but this is in fact very central to that ministry.

Ann Koshute:

Yeah, I think so. One of the things that we try to emphasize also is the witness that those couples who are struggling with infertility offer to the church. Particularly in your audience, Cy, you’re doing apologetics. You know that the family is under attack. You know that marriage is under attack. Those of us who carry this cross of infertility, as painful and difficult as that is … We don’t wish it upon anybody. We’d love to get rid of it ourselves. And yet, we can be such a powerful witness to the good of marriage in the world. In a culture that says, “You know what? If it’s not working for you, walk away. If you are not fulfilled, walk away.”

Trust me, we have people who email us and say, “Maybe if I divorce my husband, he can go and find someone who can give him children.” These are the temptations we have. This is what the culture says to us, “If you’re not getting it where you are, go and find it.” So couples struggling with infertility are a witness that marriage is hard. And yet, when we stand in there, under the cross with each other, and trust in Jesus, beautiful gifts can come from our marriages.

We can also witness to those marriages that have children, because so often, parents pour themselves out so totally into their children that there’s nothing left over for each other. We might think that that’s a good thing, “I got to pour it all into my children.” But if there’s nothing left for each other, that does the children no good. You are not showing them how to love. You’re not showing them what a marriage should be like, what the marriage can look like.

So I think we can sort of serve as this reminder that you must nurture your marital relationship. That’s for the good of your children and for the fruitfulness that you can put out in the world. You don’t sort of hit that fruitfulness quota when you have children. It’s not like a punch card. Like, “Okay, I did my duty. I don’t have to be life-giving anymore.” Like, “No, you’re called to continue to be life-giving in the world, in your community, in your parish. That is directly the fruit of your marital love. That’s where that fruitfulness springs from.”

I just want to say to anybody who is listening, and you are feeling that pain of infertility, know that God is with you and that you are an important witness to marriage. And to those who are looking at those couples who are carrying this cross, yes, it is hard. Yes, we do feel sad and we wish that it weren’t so, but affirm them in their marriages. Thank them for the gifts that they bring to the parish, to the church, and to the world, because they are essential.

Cy Kellett:

Ann Koshute, Kimberly Henkel from Springs in the Desert, what a great, wonderful opportunity for us to get to speak with you. I’m so grateful that you took the time. Thank you.

Ann Koshute:

Thanks so much for having us.

Cy Kellett:

I do hope that people will visit springsinthedesert.org and springsoflove.org. I thank you so much again. Thank you to our listeners. We’re so glad you’re here, as we want to explain and defend the Catholic faith, we want to share all the good gifts that the Catholic Church has to share, but we want to do so in a way that is loving and respectful and kind, and all of those things. I feel like this is just a wonderful invitation to do that from Ann and Kimberly. I hope we’ll all take up that invitation.

If you want to comment on this episode, send us an email radio … excuse me, focus@catholic.com. focus@catholic.com is where you can send the email. Maybe you have an idea for a future episode. Those are very, very welcome. Wherever you’re listening, if you give us five stars and a nice review, that will help to grow the podcast. We do want it to grow. We’d like to share this with as many people as we can. I think that does it for us. I’m Cy Kellett, your host. We’ll see you next time, God willing, right here on Catholic Answers Focus.

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