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For Your Marriage

Reviews of books pertaining to marriage, dating, family life, children, parenting, and all other things For Your Marriage.

The Infertility Companion for Catholics

What are the chances that two high school seniors whose friendship is solidified during a class trip would, 15 years later, co-author a book on infertility? Without doing the math I’d guess the odds are extremely slim.

There are much better odds that a person will notice references to a single quotation several times within a week, as recently happened to me.

One Saturday afternoon, a G. K. Chesterton comment occurred to me while I was at a parish meeting: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”

The next morning a visiting priest used the same quotation in his homily, and a few days later I read it at the beginning of this book’s third chapter. It is an appropriate citation for an exposition about the Catholic Church’s views on various reproductive technologies.

Chapter Three explains assisted reproductive technology (ART), intrauterine insemination (IUI), artificial insemination (AID and AIH), and “in vitro” fertilization (IVF). It also provides brief descriptions of half a dozen other treatments.

Doctors ordinarily present such information simply as therapeutic options without ethical implications. Here the authors compare the procedures with Catholic beliefs concerning the dignity of the human person and the essence of marital love, which is both procreative and unitive.

In light of such standards, the Church views most of the listed options as illicit. The next chapter, on the choices available to Catholics trying to conceive a child, further shows that the Church has a compassionate and principled vision, not a negative or prudish stance.

Acceptable solutions for Catholics and others who share our values for human life and dignity outnumber treatments the church rejects, according to the authors. Sanctioned treatments generally address infertility’s underlying causes rather than heading straight toward pregnancy production.

Couples seeking help with infertility might have to travel to reach a physician trained by Omaha’s Pope Paul VI Institute, yet they can be well served by FertilityCare and natural procreative technology. Self-advocacy, wise choice of physicians, lifestyle changes, vitamins and dietary supplements, and hormone therapy all are mentioned.

Natural family planning (NFP) is an inexpensive possibility and helps many couples intentionally achieve pregnancy, not just avoid it when necessary. The book’s list of NFP resources includes most major national provider organizations but overlooks what might be the closest resource, the local Catholic diocese, which likely sponsors NFP instruction.

A diocesan family life director, respect life coordinator or ethics officer might also be aware of local physicians, including specialists, who show respect for Catholic values.

Both of this book’s authors have experienced “the cross of infertility.” Without denying its difficulties, each found that her way of the cross — “the journey of infertility” — led to spiritual benefits.

The assertion by Simone Weil, the 20th century French philosopher, that “the extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering but a supernatural use for it” applies not only to Chapter Four, which it introduces, but to much of the book. That supernatural-use theme underlies discussion of the effects of infertility upon a marriage and is linked to the concept of husband and wife serving one another.

In talking about how spouses can assist each other, the book cites a saying of Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali writer and philosopher: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted, and behold, service was joy.”

Is such a discovery not a blessing? Weil’s words about supernatural use of suffering certainly fit the full-chapter topics on miscarriage and adoption. It would be hard to call infertility a gift, but these authors can testify that blessings can come from the way one deals with it.

A couple has much to sort out and numerous significant decisions to make when dealing with infertility. One whole chapter in this book is dedicated to discernment, which might be thought of as decision making with God’s involvement in a process that simultaneously leads one closer to God.

The book describes in detail the steps of Ignatian discernment, a practical guide based on the method of St. Ignatius Loyola. Also of particular note is a chapter from the male perspective written by one author’s husband.

Friends and family can learn a lot from a late chapter that offers tips on what not to say and how to help. Relatives and acquaintances of apparently infertile couples can also educate themselves by reading the entire book.

Use of the word “companion” in this book’s title is not meaningless. The authors come across as wise and supportive friends whose company anyone would appreciate during a difficult journey.

The authors provide sound information, accompanied by their own modest but frank stories, inspiring Scripture passages and other quotations, original prayers and reading lists for the reader’s own research. The book lives up to its subtitle by giving spiritual and practical support.

About the reviewer
Mary Ann Paulukonis is blessed with children and grandchildren, yet knows close at hand the anguish of infertility. Besides family interests and glass artistry, she is engaged in ministry and leadership training and consultation.

Disclaimer: Book reviews do not imply and are not to be used as official endorsement by the USCCB of the work or those associated with the work. Book reviews are solely intended as a resource regarding publications that might be of interest to For Your Marriage visitors.