Life to the full despite infertility pain

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Tony and Debra Vermeer want to bring hope to infertile couples with Debra’s first book. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

New book shares stories not often told in the Church

Debra Vermeer’s search for spiritual nourishment in the darkest moments of her infertility journey has resulted in her first book, Life to the Full: Stories of infertility, faith and a hope-filled future.

The Sydney Catholic journalist says the book, which tells the stories of seven couples, including that of herself and her husband Tony, had a “long gestation” over more than a decade.

“At its heart…this is about hope”

The idea came to her after she struggled to find anything online or in Catholic bookshops to help her meet her pain with faith and hope. “Infertility is not something that’s spoken about much in the church at all, and all the couples in this book have felt that absence and also a kind of loneliness within church life because of it,” Debra told The Catholic Weekly.

“At its heart this is a book of hope, and it talks about the way the couples, whose paths were all different, have found fruitfulness in their marriage.”

Debra met Tony when he was a widower with two teenage children, and it became apparent early in their marriage that they would not be able to have children together. Like them, each of the couples featured in the book understand and accept the Church’s teaching against the use of IVF, but Debra says the book is “not about whether to IVF or not to IVF”.

Sydney journalist Debra Vermeer with her first book, Life to the Full. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

“Some of the couples found, and it’s been my experience too, that people generally in the community don’t really understand their decision not to use IVF,” she said. “Some people are even hostile to your decision, the medical community particularly can find it challenging, and that can be a strange experience.

“But I hope that people who have done IVF unsuccessfully, which would be the majority of those trying it, will get something from the book as well. In the end they’re faced with the same question of ‘Well, if we’re not to have a baby, then how will our life be?’.”

Debra, who has a theology degree, said her initial frustration over the many scripture references to God blessing infertile couples with children, and the Church’s teaching on marriage including its ordering to children who are its ‘supreme gift’ led her to seek wisdom from others and reflect deeply on her own experience of God’s love.

“One big question that couples have is ‘We understand children are a gift; why have we not been blessed with that gift?’ which may lead to the question ‘Have we been forsaken by God?’ “So those questions were in the back of our mind as well.”

Book was “born from prayer”

Eventually Debra and Tony were able to contextualise their situation in light of their Christian faith, and appreciate the other ways in which their marriage has given life to others, although there continue to be sad moments.

“This book was born from prayer,” she said. “I prayed a lot about it, about whether I should do it, about the vulnerability that would be involved, telling someone our intimate story.

“I can’t thank enough the couples who were so generous and open in telling their stories. They also, like me, just wanted to encourage others because they had also found a lack of a certain encouragement or acknowledgement even in church life about their situation.”

Read an extract of the book in the 3 May digital edition of The Catholic Weekly here.

Life to the Full is published by St Pauls Publications, Strathfield, NSW.
It retails for $24.95 and is available from religious bookstores, or direct from St Pauls Publications at https://secure.stpauls.com.au/product/10090 . It is also available as a eBook on kindle and Apple iBooks. 

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