Tuesday, December 29, 2009

tales from 1928

So I mentioned that I spent much of Christmas at a monastery. (My husband's brother and uncle are monks.)

We always meet the most lovely people when we stay at the monastery, a wide assortment from every generation and part of the country (and other countries), who are visiting for every sort of reason. So on one afternoon I was having a chat with my father-in-law (who is highly opinionated) and another woman around his age named Joe Therese (Joe for Josephine). He made a remark about Italians to get a rise out of her, assuming (based on her name) that she was Italian. She turned out to be Irish, but she explained the origin of her name.

Her mother and father, she said, had been praying and praying for a kid - but no kid showed up. They had seen every doctor, and were losing hope; it had been five years. Now, I was surprised when my 60yo aunt said that she took clomid to conceive my 32yo cousin - I had assumed clomid was a new thing. But this woman was not talking about 32 years ago. What "every doctor" was there? What nonsense did the medical profession offer infertiles in generations past? I hope her poor mother didn't have to suffer through an HSG.

Anyway, she explained, her parents went to St. Therese's shrine in Chicago, and promised that if they had a baby, they would name her Therese. And Joe Therese came along not long after.

It was all I could do to restrain myself from asking exactly how old she was. I was dying to know. (I also wanted to know whether they later had any other kids.) But the next day, when the conversation surrounded my FIL's 72nd birthday, it came out that she's 81. More than 81 years ago, an infertile Catholic couple in Chicago had been ttc for five years. They'd seen "all the doctors," who could offer them no help, and they turned to St. Therese for a miracle.

I know Abraham and Sarah went through this rather longer ago than that, but the connection to a world I think of as mine only (well, you know, and yours too) was still a bit of a revelation to me. I don't suppose the St. Therese angle is going to help anyone - I don't know of any Catholic infertiles who haven't already prayed a novena or twenty for a baby. (And those poor kids...Gerard Gianna Anne Therese John Paul Joseph Jude is going to rue the day his parents saw two pink lines.)

But I thought I would share this small, strange gem, from her world to mine, and from mine to yours.


  1. Sweet story. I wonder what they could do for IF in 1928. I do like the name, but you forgot Elizabeth Andrew Hannah Mary. You should definitely use it if you do ever have children :).

  2. Oh my gosh, you had me gasping for air with that baby name! My saint for 2010 is St. Zdislava Berka, and I can only imagine a son/daughter named in her honor...poor dear.
    I'd love to know how much longer after they conceived - are we talking another year, or was it like the next month? I'm guessing she didn't share all of that personal info with you... Is it inappropriate to ask an 81 year old stranger whether she charted? LOL
    Anyone want to take a field trip to Chicago?

  3. What a touching and beautiful story! I love stories like this that are full of hope for IF women. Thanks for sharring! Sounds like you had a special Christmas at the monastery :)

  4. Wow, that is pretty cool. It is so inspiring to hear those stories until you think, hey, I have said that prayer before and my baby isn't here yet...

    Sounds like you had a very nice and insightful and reflective Christmas though!!

  5. That is interesting! 81 years old. But it seems to me that she told the story very proudly as if to say "I was a miracle to my parents".

    That is one thing that I'm thankful for infertility, because it made me realize each life is a freaking miracle. :)

    I'm not much on novenas, only because I can never seem to get through them on my own. :) But I do have to say that just a few short weeks me and my girlfriends said a novena to St. Gerard for me. (WHich I think is very selfless of them to pray a 9 day novena for me to have children). And BAM we started the fostercare process. With the way things are happening up until then, I must say it feels like a higher power! ;) Doors NEVER opened this easily in 4 years! :)

    Great story, I'm glad you shared.

  6. This is very sweet. How uplifting to see proof of God's miracle for a family 81+ years ago. I am going to have to check out the St. Therese shrine when I am in Chicago next month!

  7. Wow...to think about how IF was treated that many years ago is quite interesting. We know they did not have A.Rt things...but clomid? Wow. My dh's great aunt told us that she couldn't have children so she adopted (which back then was so much easier than it is now...why? God knows..with all the openess avail..you'd think there would be more..). After adopting she did have her own baby. I think she was older too.

    I'm going to have to seek out that St. Therese shrine in Chicago. My dh and I always talk about taking a train down there someday..maybe when it's warmer. Thanks for sharing such an interesting story!!! God Bless.

  8. My own sweet Nanna battled IF in the 40s and ended up seeing every expert in Chicago before my grandparents adopted my father and later my aunt. She told me stories about IF treatments which would curl your hair. She's also the person who taught me, at a very young age, to never ask when someone was going to have a baby or why they didn't have one or make any assumptions one way or the other. "You never know," she told me, "when one of your questions may break someone's heart."

    Incidentally, hers was St Rita. She prayed a 90 day novena and then a week later her sil, a nun, called and told her about a baby at her order's orphanage. That was my dad. Two years later, on the feast of St Rita, she got the call again about my aunt, who's named Rita Anne. The Anne after Jesus' grandmother who was also IF until an angel told her she would have a baby. (The only time an angel announced a baby and it was a girl!)

  9. P.S. I'm sending you house pictures after I take down the Christmas stuff. I need help here. Thanks.

  10. That is interesting.
    Infertility is such a secret to so many that when you realize just how many people it effects, it's crazy.
    My Mom never mentioned she dealt with infertility until a few years ago when she said it took her 7 years to get pregnant with my oldest brother. I never knew!

  11. Interesting story. Infertility has been around forever. These days, we have some hope in the medical profession to help us out or to atleast help diagnose the problems so we can fix them and improve our chances. Really, what did they have back then except for prayer. Doctors are still learning so much about infertility now; they couldn't have known much more than the very basics back then.

  12. I had to laugh at the name. I would probably do that to my poor child! My Dad named me after 2 Saints and I always hated my name (I go by both IRL), but have learned to love it. I don't know that Gerard Gianna Anne Therese John Paul Joseph Jude would feel the same way.

    It is a nice uplifting story; if for no other reason than to remind you that others traveled this path before us and came out with arms bearing children.