Lauren Allen always jokes that God hit her over the head with the idea for her Catholic infertility ministry, the Fruitful Hollow.
“I was driving down the back roads, like I do sometimes when I’m upset or to think or pray. And I just heard God say to me, ‘you’re called to carry your cross, not pray that it goes away from you,” Allen told CNA.
Allen and her husband had been struggling with infertility for about a year at that point. She said her prayer was to get pregnant, and have a baby.
“‘And all of this will just go away, and I can kind of ignore that it happened, and I won’t be infertile, and I can move on with my life,’” Allen said. “But, when God, when I heard Him so clearly say … ‘it’s meant to be carried’, then I had a flood of situations that I had been in, or conversations that I had had. And I knew what He was asking.”
“He was asking for me to create a resource that would put out valid Church teachings on different parts of infertility, and lead people towards holiness, and not towards anger.”
Allen, a Catholic from Texas, launched The Fruitful Hollow in January. The online ministry runs a blog post or an article once a week. It also offers resources on its website, including guides for journaling and information about patron saints of infertility.
The Fruitful Hollow team has a particular devotion to St. Gianna Beretta Molla, the patron saint of infertility. They also look to scripture for stories of infertility.
“One of our favorites is Hannah,” Allen said. “Hannah in the Bible was infertile. She ended up being the mother of Samuel. But her story is really beautiful, because it really talks about her grief in the process, and crying out to God kind of in frustration.”
The website also offers information about Church teaching on modern medical responses to infertility, such as in vitro fertilization.
“When you start to realize that you have a problem getting pregnant…a lot of the mainstream OB-GYNs, that’s what they know, so it’s unfortunately what they push,” Allen said. “You have to really be educated in your Church teachings to know what’s okay to do, and what’s not. There’s not a lot of education in the Catholic Church. Where would you find that unless you were searching for it? I don’t think it’s a well-known teaching.”
The Fruitful Hollow team is working on an information campaign to parishes nationwide, with the hope of taking it international soon. The ministry will send cards encouraging parishes to remember in its prayers of the faithful couples trying to conceive and couples hoping to adopt.
“On Mother’s Day, [my parish] added into the prayers of the faithful that they were praying for all couples dealing with infertility,” said Serenity Quesnelle, outreach coordinator for the Fruitful Hollow. “It wasn’t even just for people that were trying to get pregnant, it was for couples dealing with infertility. Those couple of words make you feel so heard.”
The Fruitful Hollow has also had requests for coordinating local chapters, for members to gather for community and sharing. They haven’t been able to do that yet, but hope to in the future.
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’?”
Image caption: Lauren Allen, the founder of the Catholic infertility ministry the Fruitful Hollow, with her husband./ Courtesy of Lauren Allen (via CNA)
Having been unable to sell in churches for well over a year due to the pandemic, we are now inviting readers to support the Herald by investing in our future. We have been a bold and influential voice in the church since 1888, standing up for traditional Catholic culture and values.
Please join us on our 130 year mission by supporting us. We are raising £250,000 to safeguard the Herald as a world-leading voice in Catholic journalism and teaching. For more information from our chairman on contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund, click here
Make a Donation
Donors giving £500 or more will automatically become sponsor patrons of the Herald. This includes two complimentary print/digital gift subscriptions, invitations to Patron events, pilgrimages and dinners, and 6 gift subscriptions sent to priests, seminaries, Catholic schools, religious care homes and prison and university chaplaincies. Click here for more information on becoming a Patron Sponsor. Click here for more information about contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund