No Longer Empty

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| This is the 332nd story of Our Life Logs |


When I was six years old, I sat in a chair and pretended to nurse my dolls. I was very conscientious with them as I cared for their every need. I saw it as practice for when I would be an adult and have my own children. From a young age, I knew this was what I desired most.

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It is safe to say that my mother did not have trouble with fertility. I was born the eldest of eight children in the mid-1990s in Minnesota, just nine months after my parents’ wedding. When I would tell people that I come from a large family, I was usually met with one of two reactions; jealousy or pity. I would always counteract by saying my family was neither. Large families were just a wild adventure, like life itself. At least mine was.

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My siblings and me (I’m on the left with my little sister on my lap).

I have fond memories of playing with my sisters in our big red tree fort Dad made in the backyard. We liked to play House and pretend we were having babies, calling upon each other to be the midwife. Many dolls were delivered in that humble little tree fort, and I loved taking care of them.

Aside from my dolls, I had lots of practice babysitting my younger brothers and sisters. I was homeschooled, and with my mom working on the side, I did a fair amount of household chores along with watching over my siblings. By age 12, I had been an expert at dirty diapers, bottle feeding, burping, making meals, rocking a screaming baby to sleep, singing, snuggling, babysitting more than five kids at once, suctioning out gunk from a baby’s nose—the list goes on and on. I found joy in these small acts. I was bound to be a mother.

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Although, when I became old enough to date, I realized I was a bit awkward, self-conscious, and shy being a sheltered homeschool girl. I didn’t have any luck with guys until my second year of college when I met Michael. Because he was friends with my best friend, it wasn’t long before we fell in love, got engaged, and began sharing our hopes and dreams with one another.

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Michael and me on our first real date, 2012.

As marriage approached, I talked with my mom about pregnancy and what to expect if we had a honeymoon baby just like her. I was so sure I’d get pregnant right away. Michael and I were excited to start our family. I began watching my patterns more closely even before the wedding. It was then I started noticing problems in my cycle lengths and having painful periods, but my friends encouraged me to relax. Given that I was planning my wedding while obsessing over my cycle, they figured it was happening from stress. I tried to believe them.

Our wedding day in 2015 was blissful and everything we had hoped for. With 300 guests, we nearly collapsed on our honeymoon, eager to escape the busy lifestyle of preparation we had lived leading up to the big day. Moving in together and adjusting to life post-wedding was a dream come true and for a few months, we had very little to worry about. A baby would come when it was the right time, we told ourselves, and we enjoyed our married life and trying for a baby without stressing about it.

However, I became increasingly anxious as five months turned to six, then to 12, with no signs of pregnancy despite our efforts to conceive. I reached out to my mom for guidance but found she couldn’t relate or understand my cycle, as it looked nothing like her own. The first year of marriage is supposed to be one of the happiest times, but it slowly became overshadowed by a gnawing fear that something wasn’t right. Despite Michael’s reassurances that we would be fine, I couldn’t fight the gut feeling I had that, somehow, he was very, very wrong.

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After a year of charting my cycles, countless doctor appointments and tests, we were finally referred to a naprotechnology specialist who dealt with infertility. The doctor suspected endometriosis and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS, a hormonal disorder that can cause infrequent periods) from my blood work, but it would need to be confirmed via a laparoscopic surgery. I had never heard of these diseases, let alone contemplated that I would have a problem this severe. Anxiously, I awaited my surgery, desperate for answers, even if they confirmed a problem. Frustrating mood changes and unexplained fatigue that had plagued my life which I had just come to accept, as “quirks” in my body now seemed much more significant, lining up with symptoms on my doctor’s notepad.

Laparoscopy confirmed endometriosis and PCOS but also revealed four fibroids on my uterus and an unexplained uterine infection that would require another surgery in order to successfully remove the endometriosis, perform a wedge reduction on my polycystic ovaries and remove my fibroids. Though I was not thrilled about another long surgery, I was overjoyed at knowing what was causing all my hormonal imbalance and struggle to get pregnant.

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Michael and me before my second surgery.

The second surgery was a six-hour procedure. The recovery was nothing like the first. With seven incisions along my belly, I had difficulty walking, bending over and sleeping for several weeks. But I trusted the surgeons and was comforted by the number of patients they had helped. I was sure that I would soon be pregnant.

I was in for a rude awakening believing that surgery would fix everything. It turns out that when your hormones are chronically low, you practically need to swallow a pharmacy in order to achieve any sense of regularity or normalcy in your cycle. And for me, this was especially hard as I was a huge baby about taking pills. Every day, they would stare at me from my cupboard and I would stare back, gagging at the thought. I felt like I had turned into my Grandma, needing to take 15 pills to function.

When I had free time, I read stories from women who had been helped by my team of doctors and comforted myself, confident that I would be listed among them and our baby would have its picture pinned to the wall of the clinic.

Yet, five months passed post-surgery and nothing happened. Then nine months. Then a year went by. Still nothing. Worst of all, I was injecting myself with HCG (pregnancy inducing) hormone every day near the end of my cycle, experiencing the symptoms of pregnancy, then failing. My hopes raised with my hormones only to be let down each time.

I could feel the strain on my marriage growing deeper with each false alarm. My husband was frustrated that we had spent money on a surgery that wasn’t resulting in a pregnancy. Meanwhile, I was hurt that he was making it about pregnancy and not about my well being. We refused to even talk about adoption because we so badly wanted a child of our own blood. I began to feel hopeless—like we’d never have a family and our marriage would never be the same.

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In the middle of our struggle and feeling like we were at the end of our rope, my husband and I attended World Youth Day in January 2019 where we had the chance to see Pope Francis and hear him speak. It was the perfect distraction from the chaos of our life at that point—or so we thought. I believed I would be able to avoid thoughts of pregnancy and just enjoy the experience. But when we arrived, I soon realized the trip was dredging up the emotions I had been stuffing more than ever.

As we sat through talks from Bishops around the world, I felt rage, despair, anger and hatred toward God. While everyone around me was having an extraordinary spiritual experience, I felt dead inside and unable to join in. In that moment, I truly wondered if I had lost all faith. I just could not understand why God would allow this to happen to me, when I had been so faithful to him all my life, when I had always dreamed of having a family.

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Watching Pope Francis speak on World Youth Day, 2019.

Finally, Bishop Robert Barron (my favorite Bishop) got up to speak. I sat numb but hanging on every word, hoping that he would be able to say something that spoke to me. He finally said something that reverberated through my heart. “When you become a Christian, your life is no longer about you.”

Hearing his words shifted my point of view and I saw my situation in a whole new light. I cried and cried, his words piercing me to my core. I realized finally that I had been wanting a baby and making my entire life revolve around getting this one thing I wanted so desperately, but forgetting that my life was ultimately not about whether or not I was a mother. It was about accepting God’s plan for my life, even if that meant never having my own child. Michael put his arm around me, silently understanding that this was a healing moment for me.

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In the months that followed, it was as if my entire attitude shifted. The revelation of World Youth Day took a tremendous weight off of my shoulders. Because I am living for God now, I no longer feel that my infertility is my identity. Not only has this realization freed me emotionally and mentally, it has actually helped me to heal physically as I have begun to focus on taking better care of myself to lose weight and get better rest and nutrition. And last month, Michael and I did something we never thought we would be open to. We sat down to start looking into the process of adoption.

Although I am still dealing with infertility, I no longer see myself as a victim. I see myself as a beautifully imperfect woman who has infinite value, regardless of how I become a mother someday. To say that my journey with my diagnosis of PCOS and Endometriosis has been life altering would be an understatement. As is the case with most women who face this diagnosis, infertility has caused me to question my dignity, my purpose in life and ultimately my value as a woman. Yet, as I reminisce four years into this journey, I find myself now in an emotional place where although still not pregnant, I am no longer angry and I am no longer empty.

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This is the story of Mary Flanagan

Mary currently lives in North Mankato, Minnesota, with her husband, Michael. Ever since she was a little girl, Mary dreamed of having children of her own. She found the perfect guy to start a family with, but they soon found out that she had infertility issues which led to surgeries, tests, and medications. She was angry by her situation until she heard a speech by a Bishop she respects that changed her perspective on the situation. She’s now made peace with her situation. In her free time, Mary enjoys playing board games, listening to podcasts, volunteering at her church and spending time with her friends over coffee or wine. Although they haven’t been able to conceive yet, Mary and her husband are hopeful that someday God will answer their prayer for children.

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Mary, 2019.

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This story first touched our hearts on May 23, 2019.

| Writer: Mary Flanagan | Editor: Kristen Petronio |

2 thoughts on “No Longer Empty

  1. Just a beautiful story, Mary. I will pray each day for you and Michael to have your dream come true. In the meantime, do that adoption study! And if an adoption does happen, that baby will have the best Mama and Daddy to walk them through life!

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