Fatherhood after infertility

By Maria Wiering



Four months ago, a close friend texted me a photo – a positive pregnancy test.

I cried.

She and her husband had been trying to conceive since they married six years ago, and the wait had been long and difficult. Elle’s husband Zach (not their real names, for privacy’s sake), a Ph.D. candidate, freely admits that he lost all hope that they would have a biological child.

I often hear the women’s take on infertility, so I asked Zach his perspective over a bowl of curry in Georgetown.

A myriad of medical difficulties plagued Elle’s fertility, and over the years she underwent surgery to fight endometriosis, visited a host of specialists and endured hormone shots and ovulation drugs.

As the calendar pages turned, Zach’s hopes dimmed. He became angry that they, devout Catholics who wanted a big family, were struggling to have just one child.

“I thought I would be an academic, and we would have all of these children, and it would be very simple and straightforward, as it was for our parents,” he said.

Zach realized that some would consider it a blessing not having kids at this point in his career. Still, his serious academic ambitions paled when compared to his desire for fatherhood.

The struggle was hard on their marriage, as they wrestled with their own disappointment and jealousy of friends who had children. Zach was deeply angry about their situation, and he oscillated between emotional outbursts and shoving his feelings away by burying himself in his studies. They thought about adoption, but were years away from affording the fees.

Zach gave up hope they would conceive last fall, he told me. Elle continued with fertility treatments, but he expected her to give up at some point, too.

The remarkable thing is that Elle never did.

The February night she came home planning to take another pregnancy test, Zach didn’t give it a second thought. There had been so many tests before. Zach was sick of the feeling he got afterward.

When Elle came out of the bathroom, she was crying. She showed him the positive test, and they both cried and held each other for a long time.

“It’s so good I don’t know what to do with it,” he says of knowing that after he had stopped hoping for it, he is a father.

Drawing from poetry and Scripture, he says he feels like “a wooed bride.”

“What do you do with this much love?” he asks, not so much speaking of his love for his child, but for God’s love for him. “It’s that Song of Songs kind of love, of Christ for the soul,” he said.  “It’s hard for men to deal with, but that’s how I feel.”

Looking back, he thinks he needed to experience the suffering he did while they struggled to conceive a child.

“I’m better for it because of the way God needed to work through me,” he told me. “Suffering doesn’t make sense – you just look at it, and it bears fruit and you’ve got to trust that, even if you don’t know why. I’m lucky that I can see the fruit – not just this child, but deeper commitments, better marriage, all kinds of things.”

Zach and Elle celebrated their anniversary last weekend, and this weekend they’ll celebrate Father’s Day for the first time. Elle recently showed me another photo – a sonogram of their baby.

It’s a girl, due in October.

Maria Wiering is a staff writer for the Catholic Review.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.