Living with infertility is an ordeal nearly unfathomable to those who do not share it. Today’s culture praises those who limit their family size or have no children at all, but those couples who suffer from infertility endure daily the pain of not having children.
“CHERISHED – A Retreat for Those in a Season of Infertility” will be offered on Mother’s Day weekend, Saturday, May 7, at the Sacred Heart Parish Center in Notre Dame. It is presented by the ministry Springs in the Desert and welcomes both couples and individuals to spend time with others facing the same difficulties; to grow and support each other in the journey of life “without fear of judgment.”
The nature of infertility, Springs in the Desert founder Ann Koshute explains, is often “very private; there’s a certain amount of shame that people feel, there’s a lot of different emotions – sadness, frustration, jealousy, all of those things.”
She learned this firsthand, as there were no parish or Church support systems that “offered
the kind of support and community” people facing infertility needed. So she and a friend founded Springs in the Desert in 2019. Though the ministry is not local to the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, the organization became connected locally through the efforts of Stacey Huneck, Youth Minister at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Fort Wayne.
Not long after Springs in the Desert launched their website, Huneck came across it. Huneck was searching for some kind of support group, but what she frequently found involved matters that were not in line with her Catholic faith – things like IVF treatments. Turning to social media, she connected with Springs in the Desert and began writing for their blog.
She, too, understands the private nature of infertility. Priests have even told her that they know of no one in their parishes who are carrying that same cross. She says, “That might be true, you might not know them, but it’s because they might not have felt comfortable opening up and sharing about their experiences.”
Both Springs in the Desert and local efforts have grown in their mission to walk with couples and individuals facing infertility. Hope for the Journey began in the diocese around the same time that Springs in the Desert came about outside of it. This group works with the diocese’s Marriage and Family Ministry to support men and women within its boundaries to come to terms spiritually with their cross of infertility. Small groups have been meeting virtually during the last two years to fill this need.
Springs in the Desert planned an in-person retreat in the diocese in 2020, but that turned into a virtual event, which Huneck said became a blessing in disguise, as more than 300 people attended, including many from outside the diocese and even some from outside the U.S.
Huneck talks to the teens she mentors at St. Charles Borromeo about infertility in the context of women’s identity and role within the Church. She remarked, “So much of why I feel called to live my experience out loud is because we need a diverse body in the Church to represent the full Body of Christ, and it doesn’t have to look one way.”
Koshute concurred. “The diverse ways in which our feminine genius is expressed through fruitfulness in so many different ways, and that’s one of the things we really want to highlight and help especially women on this weekend to see and appreciate for themselves,” she said.
She added that, “we’re very intentional about choosing Mother’s Day weekend because Mother’s Day is probably the hardest day of the year for anyone who’s dealing with infertility.”
Mass is included in the retreat so that women who do not have children are able to fulfill their Sunday obligation without facing the anxiety of a Mother’s Day blessing that most priests like to bestow upon their congregations that day. Koshute described that moment as an instance of extreme isolation for women living with infertility.
“People are uncomfortable with suffering,” Koshute said. Since a person cannot take away another’s suffering, she stated that what those who have experienced infertility need most “is just your love.”
Both women recommend being present, considerate and compassionate toward those who may be facing infertility. That is what sets her ministry apart from other, non-spiritual infertility support groups. “We like to say that our focus is on Christ, not on conception,” Koshute added.
No matter where couples or individuals are on their journey with infertility, the CHERISED retreat invites them to attend to find a “spiritual place” of comfort and solidarity. It is also open to those who already have one child or more but are struggling to expand their families, as some people do experience secondary infertility.
“For those of us who don’t have children, we’re a sign of contradiction in the world, too, because we’re a witness, I think, to the holiness of marriage,” Koshute commented. “Not that we have to work harder, but we have to work differently. And I think we’re a sign to families … of the importance of the marriage. … We need to recognize that we are witnesses to the good of marriage and to Christ’s love in the world.”
Springs in the Desert took for its patron Simon of Cyrene, who walked alongside Christ, helping Him carry His cross toward its final end.
Registration for the daylong CHERISHED retreat opens on April 11. Those interested can visit www.springsinthedesert.org.
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