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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

I am trying hard to live a life according to the teachings of the Church. I am a 34 year old female, married for seven years. We have no children and we have never used birth control. I struggle more and more with this - not because we haven’t been able to have children, but because I feel like there is something wrong with me because I feel okay with the fact that I haven’t and perhaps never will have children. My husband does not seem concerned, in fact it rarely comes up in discussions. Neither of us have undergone any sort of infertility treatment. I just can’t seem to get motivated to go get probed and pumped with fertility drugs. This seems selfish to me. We have touched on fostering children or adoption but not seriously. I love children but I feel that I lack a maternal instinct. I have been working . . . as a caregiver over the last year trying hard to find my place and do my part in society and in God’s eyes and, indeed, it is wonderful to be a helper and nurturer of others. I spend one hour before the Blessed Sacrament each week and I ask for Mary’s intercession to help me open my heart to motherhood and to help my husband with his overall indifference. Can it be that some of us are called to things other than parenthood??

 
First of all, please understand that the Catholic Church does not teach that infertility is a sin; the Church simply teaches that the willful rejection of fertility within Holy Matrimony is a sin.

There can be many reasons for infertility, some physical and some psychological. Through my clinical practice I have learned that unconscious psychological conflicts can functionally obstruct conception. In general, the unconscious conflicts related to infertility derive from childhood problems with emotional intimacy that in themselves result from emotional wounds in the family of origin. The defensive need to “push others away” unconsciously can become manifested in adulthood as an unconscious tendency to push away the fertilized egg from the womb. In fact, I have had several clients who had been unsuccessfully trying to conceive, who came into treatment for reasons unrelated to infertility, and who, because of the scope of the work, had to encounter issues about emotional intimacy. After about a year of treatment for the psychological issues they were able to conceive.

So you would be best advised to turn your attention to your own unconscious conflicts about intimacy (the “maternal instinct” as you say)—not as a matter of infertility per se, but as an aspect of your overall spiritual purification. After all, anything in your heart and mind that obstructs or holds back from total emotional openness should be purged from you. If you are not inclined to enter psychotherapy, then you might follow the scrutiny involved in the Four Steps to Humility.

Through that work you can discern how you can use your vows of Holy Matrimony to serve God. You might get pregnant spontaneously, you might decide to adopt a child, or you might find other forms of service. In all of this, you also have two models: Abraham and Sarah, and Joachim and Ann. You never know. But everything hinges on total surrender to God and complete emotional openness to others.

  

If you look around the world about you, you will see that many Catholic parents do not raise their children as children in Christian families should be raised. Instead of raising the child to cherish and protect his baptismal promises, those promises are simply left behind in the church when the newly baptized infant is brought home. Considering this sad and lamentable fact, you might discover that working for the salvation of those children already born is just as important as—if not, in some ways, even more important than—having your own children.

  

So plunge into scrutiny and prayer. And please understand that, as I say throughout this website, you cannot make much progress in prayer without detachment from the world. Trying to pray for discernment without detachment from secular contamination is like trying to drive a car with four flat tires.

 

What the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

2374 Couples who discover that they are sterile suffer greatly. “What will you give me,” asks Abraham of God, “for I continue childless?” And Rachel cries to her husband Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!”

2375 Research aimed at reducing human sterility is to be encouraged, on condition that it is placed at the service of the human person, of his inalienable rights, and his true and integral good according to the design and will of God.

2376 Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child’s right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses’ right to become a father and a mother only through each other.

2377 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. The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children. Under the moral aspect procreation is deprived of its proper perfection when it is not willed as the fruit of the conjugal act, that is to say, of the specific act of the spouses’ union . . . . Only respect for the link between the meanings of the conjugal act and respect for the unity of the human being make possible procreation in conformity with the dignity of the person.

2378 A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The supreme gift of marriage is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged “right to a child” would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents, and the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception.

2379 The Gospel shows that physical sterility is not an absolute evil. Spouses who still 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.

 

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