“This diocese has such wonderful resources!” declared Anna McKeever. After she took advantage of two of them, a series on intentional discipleship and a program on discerning her charisms, McKeever stepped forward last year to help create another resource, an opportunity for those struggling with something close to her heart. Hope for the Journey is a diocesan support group for couples struggling with infertility.
On Thursday, Dec. 3, at 7 p.m., the ministry will sponsor an Evening of Hope and Healing at St. Therese, Little Flower Church in South Bend. Like last year’s event early in Advent, this year’s service will include inspiring music and an opportunity for eucharistic adoration. Married couple Phil and Stacey Huneck will give a witness talk, and each person or couple who attend an Evening of Hope and Healing can receive socially distanced individual prayer for hope and for healing from Father Terrence Coonan and the parish prayer team.
In the sacrament of matrimony, every couple promises to “accept children lovingly from God.” When those children don’t arrive, that can challenge one’s faith and sense of purpose in life. As the Hope for Journey website explains, through this ministry, organizers want to provide a space “where we can encourage each other as we walk through this unexpected journey, a space, where we can safely open our hearts to others experiencing infertility, a space where we can make sense of this cross, be sustained in hope, and find peace in knowing that we are God’s beloved and that he wants to walk with us every step of the way.”
Carrying this cross has unique challenges. Many people who experience infertility struggle with isolation and maintaining hope. They struggle with their core identities as individuals and couples who have been called to be fruitful and yet haven’t been able to bear children.
McKeever met her husband when both were students at the University of Notre Dame. They were married in Guatemala, her home country, in 2010. They took turns going to school; he for a law degree, she for an MBA. Then they decided it was time to start a family.
Since each has four siblings, that’s how they envisioned their own family. But nothing happened the first year. At a regular checkup, McKeever’s family doctor recommended seeking help from St. Joseph OB/GYN Specialists and Midwifery, which practices Natural Procreative Technology. Suzy Younger, who helped McKeever learn to chart her cycles using the Creighton method, had also struggled with infertility and soon became a close friend. She kept in touch with DeKeever after that first year came and went.
Since infertility profoundly affects emotions and spirituality, Younger also referred McKeever to Father Terrence Ehrman, CSC, for spiritual direction. As she was launching into a series of concerns and queries, he asked her a simple question: “How’s your prayer life?”
“I didn’t have a good answer,” she admitted, so he gifted her a book he’d written primarily for young men. He strongly encouraged her to make a commitment to regular meditative prayer. That practice, and reading authors like Henri Nouwen, affirmed that she was indeed a beloved child of God.
Seemingly at random, McKeever also began meeting other women struggling with infertility. Many of them had felt alone and helpless. A conversation with Lisa Everett, diocesan director of marriage and family ministry, encouraged McKeever to start a focus group.
The group has been meeting together in members’ homes every seven weeks for nearly two years. Rather than simply focusing on the challenges of infertility, they’ve sought to grow spiritually, often listening to podcasts from “Abiding Together.” They accompany each other on this journey, buoying up each other’s hope and discerning what they’re being called to do.
Some women are regulars, while others attend sporadically. A few have become pregnant. Such news is cause for celebration, but each has chosen to bow out at that point to avoid causing others unnecessary sorrow.
Husbands are very welcome at the Evening of Hope and Healing. COVID-19 precautions cancelled a planned Mother’s Day retreat for couples, although some were able to take advantage of a virtual retreat sponsored by Springs in the Desert, a similar ministry out of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that has produced many helpful resources.
“It took a while for me to seek help,” admitted McKeever. “It seemed like giving up. But it has been absolutely life-changing for me. It has opened up my own relationship with the Lord, increasing my hope and faith in His plans for my life.” As part of that plan, McKeever is now working toward becoming a fertility care practitioner herself.
To find out more about maintaining hope and a relationship with the Lord during the difficult time of trying to conceive, couples are encouraged to put themselves in His hands by attending the free Evening of Hope and Healing. Visit diocesefwsb.org/hopeforthejourney/ or contact Lisa Everett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-968-2439.
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