“Ask a Priest: Should I Stay Married If I Haven’t Conceived?”

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Q: Before I married, I had a talk with my husband about the possibility of not being able to conceive, because I don’t ovulate. We agreed that if I didn’t get pregnant, we would adopt. Now that we are married, we found out his semen analysis is abnormal. So I do ovulate with medication, but I’m not getting pregnant probably due to his low count. Now, he is unwilling to adopt, and he doesn’t want to go through the medication/treatment needed. So my question is this: Am I supposed to stay married when I know I have a calling to be a mother, hence the conversation I had with him prior to our marriage? I am 40 years old, so I feel as if I’m short on time. Please help! -M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is noble that you aspire to be a mom. And for someone in your position it must be a heavy cross to be childless.

Still, the heart of your question comes down to the matter of the indissolubility of a valid sacramental marriage.

One of the conditions for entering a valid marriage is an openness to conceiving new life. You both had this openness, from what you describe in your note. The actual ability to conceive a child, however, is something contingent; it doesn’t negate the validity of the marriage covenant. In fact, canon law in No. 1084.3 says explicitly that “Sterility neither prohibits nor nullifies marriage, without prejudice to the prescript of canon 1098.”

You were honest about your situation beforehand, and your husband-to-be accepted that. Hence you both presumably entered marriage with sufficient understanding of the person you were committing to.

Marriage, however, doesn’t guarantee anyone the right to have a baby.

The Catechism in No. 2378 says, “A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The ‘supreme gift of marriage’ is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged ‘right to a child’ would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right ‘to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents,’ and ‘the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception.'”

This is a moment when you and your husband are called to a deeper level of commitment and love.

You might still become a mother; it is not impossible, and there could still be the possibility of an adoption. Here, your husband might need your prayers and support and encouragement for him to be open to either ethical medical procedures or an adoption.

Maybe you both need to reach a new level of trust in God’s providence and a new level of generosity.

This is a moment to intensify your prayer life and sacramental life. And please, for your own good, banish any thoughts of leaving your husband for sake of becoming a mother elsewhere. Those kinds of thoughts can corrode the spirit of the marriage.

Stay close to the Blessed Virgin Mary — and perhaps to one of the patron saints of overcoming infertility.

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