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Pastor Stasia Fine did not expect to grieve for a child she'd never met.
But as she and her husband have struggled with infertility, that's what she's found herself doing. It's a grief for lives that could have been, for possibilities unrealized.
Yet, she sometimes feels unentitled to her grief.
'There is a sense that it's an illegitimate grief,” she says.
To recognize those emotions and to help other families going through the same thing, she's organized a memorial service The Empty Tomb for the Empty Womb on Sunday. This is the second year for the event, which she hopes to continue to hold annually.
Through this event, she hopes to not just help other families but to raise awareness.
'I want to recognize how important the moment of the public recognizing your grief is to the grieving process,” she says. 'It's a way to say your experience is real.”
Resolve, the National Infertility Association, reports 1 in 8 couples have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy.
Yet, many women have miscarriages without friends or employers knowing they were pregnant in the first place.
It's a financially, physically and emotionally exhausting experience.
Insurance companies in Iowa are not required to cover infertility treatments, though they are covered in 15 states. Treatment can be prohibitively expensive.
The Fines were married for three years when they decided to investigate why she hadn't become pregnant. She was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome and began infertility treatments.
'Every month you're hoping your pregnant. It's devastating. The hope, despair, hope, despair cycle is just awful,” she says.
To cope with these emotions, Fine has gathered with other women going through similar struggles at a Resolve support group in Iowa City.
Katie Ripke, of Lisbon, is also in the group.
'The emotional aspect of infertility is something I can't speak enough to,” Ripke says. 'When you want something so badly, it's emotional. It's also emotional in that you feel like your body is betraying you.”
She struggled with infertility, including laparoscopic surgery and a miscarriage, for about 16 months before her son was born.
'About a year into it. I just needed someone to talk to that knew what I was going through,” she says. 'My friends were trying to be there for me, but they couldn't really understand.”
Fine says people, trying to be helpful, can inadvertently say hurtful things. One of her least favorites is, 'Just relax.”
'The connotation is you can fix it. But it's a medical condition,” she says.
Being told, 'Well, you can always adopt,” also isn't helpful. It ignores the cost of adoption, the exhaustive paperwork and other considerations. Some agencies ask prospective adoptive parents to stop infertility treatments before pursuing adoption.
As a head of her church, Fine has been asked if she is putting her career ahead of a family.
Women aren't the only ones who feel this pressure.
Dave and Cathy Loy of Cedar Rapids, who will share their story at the service, struggled with infertility for years before accepting they would never have children. He says men feel the pressures of infertility as well as women, but often hide what they're feeling.
'As the husband, I truly felt I needed to be strong for Cathy. There are rules men are supposed to follow - be the man, be the strong one - but you have to move beyond that and deal with your own emotions,” he says. 'Quite often I would find my private time to grieve.”
Now in their 50s, the Loys were foster parents for a time and now, he says, there are children and grandchildren of friends they've helped raise.
'The joy of it has been now that we're years past this, we are pseduo aunt and uncle and grandparents to a lot of kids,” he says. 'That's part of the story for both of us. I wouldn't want anyone to think it ends there.”
After three years of unsuccessful fertility treatments, Fine still has hope.
A pastor, she takes comfort in the stories of women in the Bible who struggled with infertility. Since sharing her story with her congregation, other families have come to her. Some wonder if they are being punished.
'Not having children is not a punishment from God,” she tells them.
She also emphasizes that taking the time to grieve and deal with emotions doesn't mean giving up.
'I fully believe I will become pregnant,” she says. 'This ceremony is about hope as well.”
The Empty Tomb for the Empty Womb
l When: 1:30 p.m. Sunday
l Where: Murdoch Linwood Funeral Home - Legacy Center, 520 Wilson Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids
l RSVP preferred: firstname.lastname@example.org
l More information: Emptytombemptywomb.weebly.com
The Art of Infertility exhibit
l What: A traveling exhibit of art by families struggling with infertility is visiting Iowa City.
l When: Through 2 p.m. today (Saturday)
l Where: University of Iowa Medical Education Research Facility, 375 Newton Road, Iowa City
l More information: artofinfertility.org