Finding a different path to fruitfulness

21 May 2020

By The Record

A former Canberra political reporter and media adviser to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Debra Vermeer wrote “Life to the Full”, a much-needed message of hope for couples unable to have their children. Photo: Supplied.

With one in six Australian couples experiencing infertility, a new book by Debra Vermeer will be a welcome resource for Catholic couples.

When Catholic convert and respected journalist Debra Vermeer was grappling with the reality that she and her husband Tony could not conceive a child, she found the shelves of bookshops devoid of helpful literature.

A former Canberra political reporter and media adviser to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Debra “heard God whisper” that maybe she could write a book about infertility in a faith context.

As well as putting into words her personal experience and deepest thoughts, she interviewed six other couples who have “walked their path through infertility” and she has shared these stories in her recently published book, Life to the Full.

Although it is a book of hope, it doesn’t diminish the pain and anguish experienced by couples whose faith is based on the divine command of “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28) and the Catholic teaching that children are “the supreme gift of marriage” (Gaudiem et Spes, 161).

In the introduction, Debra unpacks biblical references to infertility and the fact that they almost always go hand in hand with God intervening.

“I found little solace in these stories of God blessing infertile [and often downright elderly] couples with a baby as a reward for their faithfulness,” she writes.

“If God could do that for women like Sarah, Rachel and Hannah in the Old Testament and Mary’s cousin Elizabeth in the New Testament, then why wouldn’t He do it for us?”

Tony and Debra Vermeer in New South Wales. Photo: Supplied.

Revealing her devastation at not falling pregnant after marrying fellow journalist Tony Vermeer, a widower with two teenage children at the time, Debra writes of crying at shopping centres because she’d seen a random baby and sometimes breaking down for no apparent reason at all.

“I now recognise it as profound grief. The future that I had dreamed of and yearned for was swept away and it was like I was incapable of reimagining a future,” she writes.

Debra acknowledges that most infertile couples, including many Catholic couples, choose to try IN-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) and although the statistics show that many are unsuccessful, the beautiful children born through IVF are loved by all.

However, the couples in her book have, as a result of their faith, chosen another road.

Because of the prevalence of IVF in the modern understanding of infertility, choosing not to use this type of technology can land you in a lonely place, according to Debra.

“Many people don’t understand your decision, or are even hostile to it,” she writes.

The six women spoke to Debra of the pain of seeing their friends get pregnant, the guilt of not giving their parents grandchildren, the overwhelming grief at times such as Mother’s Day and baptisms.

Several couples have navigated the long and complex road to adoption – both local and overseas – with joyous results, one is considering foster parenting and another is still trying to conceive using natural fertility methods.

All have been sustained greatly by their faith and while there may have been times when they’ve questioned God’s plan for them, they have never doubted that he has a plan.

Published by St Pauls Publications, the book retails for $24.95 and is available from religious bookstores or online: