It was 11pm and the end of a stressful work day for Calvin and Elizabeth (their names have been changed to protect their identity). Most couples would be at home or out enjoying themselves. But for this couple, there was still work to be done.
Driving to the fertility clinic, waves of frustration and pain washed over them as they headed for another in-vitro fertilisation session, an artificial means of getting pregnant which is prohibited by the Church.
It was a desperate attempt by a frustrated couple who had been trying for a baby for years but who had been thwarted at every turn.
“She had a long day at work and was totally exhausted but had to be at the clinic at 11pm, which meant that by the time we saw the doctor, it was probably going to be 12 or 1am, if we were lucky. She cried as we drove to the clinic,” he said.
Their hopes were lifted when the doctor told them there was a chance Elizabeth could be successfully pregnant. But the joy was short-lived: It all came crashing down as the pregnancy failed, leaving them back at square one.
Hurt by the entire experience, Calvin and Elizabeth attended the Couple Empowerment Programme (CEP) in 2010 which helped them understand the Church’s teachings on fertility and on IVF. They also realized that infertility was a cross for them to bear.
“Slowly but surely, we began to see sense in our suffering. Jesus who was God and rightfully did not have to die on the cross for us did so because he loved us. His suffering was a legacy for us,” Elizabeth recalled.
They were given a shot at giving life – this time to adopt a child. They grabbed the opportunity and never looked back. Today, they are a happy family of three, seeing in Lisa a reminder of God’s love to them.
For couples like Calvin and Elizabeth, the path God carved out for them is not an easy one. They could have given up on the faith and pursued other artificial means of conception.
But they stuck to their values and beliefs, walking the narrow path and fulfilling the vows they took when they stood at the altar.
In Pope Paul VI’s seminal work Humane Vitae (HV), the Pope acknowledges that all Christian couples face immense difficulties but urged them to focus on God and the promises He has made for all of us.
“We have no wish at all to pass over in silence the difficulties, at times very great, which beset the lives of Christian married couples. For them, as indeed for every one of us, ‘the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life,’” he wrote.
“Nevertheless it is precisely the hope of that life which, like a brightly burning torch, lights up their journey, as, strong in spirit, they strive to live ‘sober, upright and godly lives in this world,’ knowing for sure that ‘the form of this world is passing away.’”
It is this life-giving attitude that has shone the light for another Catholic couple, Clement and Sharon, despite the successive challenges they faced in having children.
Five months into their marriage in 2006, Sharon conceived.
But unlike many other mothers who feel morning sickness, Sharon started having bouts of severe vomiting and was sent to the hospital. There they found out that she had Hyperemesis Gravidarum, a condition that afflicts between 0.5 per cent and 2 per cent of mothers.
“Sharon’s severe and prolonged vomiting was scary. At times I thought to myself while rubbing her back, whether she could have thrown up the baby into the sink,” said Clement.
After the birth of their first child, Julia, Clement said, “Thoughts of having another child vanished.”
Still, after Julia and despite the discomfort Sharon endured during each pregnancy, they had two more girls, Alicia and Gloria.
And it was after Gloria was born that they faced the sternest test of their faith. Sharon suffered postpartum heart failure which left her with an ejection fraction (the strength by which heart muscles pump the blood effectively) of 30% (the normal range was between 60 and 65%). She was put on seven types of medication and told in no uncertain terms that she should not exert herself or have another child. At that point, Clement seriously considered taking the doctor’s advice of either ligation or vasectomy but it was during their involvement in CEP that they received the hard teaching that this was not an option.
He and Sharon turned to prayer and immersed themselves in a charismatic group. One night, the worship leader said someone with a heart condition was being healed. Two weeks after, she felt a warm sensation moving from one leg to another and that’s when she knew a miracle had happened. She stopped her medication. When she went for her check-up, the doctor cleared her of her condition.
When she found herself pregnant with No. 4, her gynaecologist warned that she could be putting her life in danger and asked if she wanted to terminate the pregnancy. Sharon and Clement were devastated.
“Naturally, if not for my faith, I would make the obvious choice, to save my wife over the child I have never seen,” admitted Clement. But in the end, they stuck to their faith and proceeded with the pregnancy.
It was a nervous 10 months but there was no sign that Sharon’s heart was getting worse. Their child was a healthy boy whom they named him Abraham. “I look at Abraham and ponder on God’s wisdom. Why would the world suggest something so convenient when obedience to our Lord’s commandment would always pass the test of time,” Clement said.
For many couples, marriage is a challenge in which both individuals are constantly tested. But it is through these tests and overcoming the obstacles together that the sacramental love becomes stronger.
When they were first married, Andrea was a stay-home mother while Jason was busy climbing the corporate ladder and travelling the world. Whenever he was away, she seethed at home, resulting in huge fights over his frequent absence. “Each time Andrea and I fought, I could literally feel my pulse rate increasing and I felt like running away to hide. It didn’t help that Andrea always seemed to be able to back up her points by her excellent memory. I always tell her that she should have been a litigation lawyer!”
They quarrelled often and mentioned divorce numerous times as their endless conflicts dragged on for days.
Andrea realised her insecurity was borne out of her parents’ break-up, and gradually made an effort to tone down her emotions. “With more conviction that our marriage is a sacrament since CEP in 2008, I no longer threaten divorce and deliberately choose a more loving response as an exercise of my human freedom.” she said.
As for Jason, he said, “I now gather my courage to engage Andrea in our differences using the life skills that we learnt at CEP on constructive fighting and rules of engagement. I find myself discovering more about my wife. I am fascinated by this passionate woman and am experiencing her on a deeper level daily.”
Indeed as Pope Paul VI wrote: “For man cannot attain that true happiness for which he yearns with all the strength of his spirit, unless he keeps the laws which the Most High God has engraved in his very nature.”