Allen said her ministry’s growth signals just how common the experience of infertility can be, and how hungry for resources and community are the Catholics who experience it.
“I think that's ...one of the biggest points of feedback that we get from our readers,” Allen said. “We interact often through social media polls... and our readers really talk about a lack of just a conversation about infertility.”
Allen said one of the Fruitful Hollow’s team members, who is a convert to Catholicism, was shocked that infertility was at time treated as a taboo subject even within the Catholic Church.
“It's a very lonely part of the body of Christ that we're trying to minister to,” Allen said. “I know Mother's Day and Father's Day are hard because if you see two Catholics who are sitting in a pew by themselves— I mean, going to Mass itself is hard, because everybody talks about how much of a blessing a big, Catholic family is. And that's kind of the desire...but when you can't, it becomes very lonely and just really hard.”
Allen said many members of her audience have said they wish they had heard discussions about infertility during their marriage preparation.
“When you go through marriage prep, they tell you you're supposed to be open to life, and children are a blessing,” Allen said. “But even in our marriage prep, no one ever said, ‘but it's okay...if you're open to life and you can't have children.’”
One member of the Fruitful Hollow wrote into the ministry anonymously, asking if it was even licit for her and her husband to have sex, since they were experiencing infertility. Allen and her team found the question heartbreaking.
“As Catholics, we're taught that sex is supposed to be this beautiful marital act. But now there are so many couples that just don't feel like they should even be able to have that gift because it's not resulting in offspring,” Quesnelle said.
Katie is editor of the Fruitful Hollow. She asked to be referred to by only her first name, for privacy. She and her husband have been married for five years, and they have not been able to conceive.
Katie said her infertility may be linked to a diagnosis from before their marriage. She was open and honest with her then-fiance about the diagnosis, and she said the prospect that the diagnosis could result in infertility loomed over their marriage preparation classes.
“I didn't disagree with what the Church teaches about children being a big part of the sacrament of marriage, about being open to life and accepting children willingly from God,” Katie said. “[But] something about it made me a bit uncomfortable, given that, in the back of my mind, I knew that I might face infertility. Would my marriage be somehow ‘less than’?”
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“I was grappling with this question of, ‘if children are such a key part of the sacrament of marriage, then what if you can't have children, is your marriage incomplete?’”
Katie connected with Allen and the Fruitful Hollow team through a Facebook group for Catholic women experiencing infertility. She says the ministry has brought her a lot of comfort.
“I think on such an isolating journey, community is key,” she said. “I think that's one of the best things to have come out of The Fruitful Hollow, is just finding such a community of like-minded Catholic women and men who are struggling with the same questions, and this rollercoaster of an infertility journey, and how different it can look.”
“Just like every family looks different, every infertility journey is different. Some people will go on to grow their family in other ways. Some people will remain a family of two. But the focus of the Fruitful Hollow is helping people to be fruitful in that wait, be fruitful right now. Not to see that the only way our marriage can be fruitful is to have children, but that our marriage can be fruitful in and of itself.”
“We're not just helping people to get pregnant or to find ways to find solutions,” Katie said. “We're helping people to live out their vocation in this wait, and to carry this cross gracefully.”
Allen said that mindset is at the heart of her ministry.