Path to motherhood tests one’s faith

28 Jan 2009

By The Record

A Canberra mother and businesswoman tells of her heartbreak in having trouble to conceive, but found strength and self-redeeming beauty in the Cahtolic Church and God.


Karen Doyle and daughter Olivia.


By Geraldine Capp
Canberra business woman Karen Doyle knows what it is to live a joyless life – to be married and desperately lonely, to try to smile each day through a fog of despair. Through six years of infertility she carried the constant thought that her marriage may always be childless while carrying the burning desire to give birth to her own child.
Karen struggled through a series of health problems that lead to some dark months of questioning the meaning of her marriage to her business partner Jonathan. Karen suffered endometriosis, cysts on her ovaries, coeliac disease and a brain tumour. She is now expecting her second child but the path to motherhood certainly tested her faith.
Karen and Jonathan run Choicez Media, a business which provides values-based seminars, staff development, leadership training and digital media products on human sexuality to the education, churches and not-for-profit sectors. Each year the husband and wife team speak to thousands of young people and parents in Australia and overseas about the value of the gift of human sexuality.
Choicez Media had its genesis in the two years that the Doyles worked in a boarding school in northern Queensland. Many students were affected by pornography, sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancy and lack of awareness about how to properly relate to the opposite sex. They were strongly influenced by an over-sexualised culture.
As a trained oncology palliative care nurse, Karen became director of the school’s health clinic and saw how easily boys were affected by the impact of aggressively sexualised media and marketing culture. The easy availability of pornography on the internet was also a powerful force in the lives of many of the boys.
From these experiences, Karen and Jonathan realised that there was a dearth of appropriate sex education material to support teachers and a parents who wanted to inform young people about the Christian approach to relationships.
“We saw up close the pressure to be sexually active and the sexualisation of culture,” Karen explains. “Every day we would see children with sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and emotional and spiritual heart ache. We looked around for resources that were modern and Australian. There was nothing really suitable so we started writing programs there just for the kids about sexuality and sex in marriage.
“The Government is throwing so much money into safer sex education but despite the extra funding, rates of teenage pregnancy, abortion and sexually transmitted infections continue to increase.
“Our experience working with kids is that they want to know how to navigate relationships. They are not experienced with romance and falling in love and all those beautiful things that make up a real relationship.
“Our approach is to look at the whole person – not the one dimensional sexual approach. We show that people are made up of intellect, dreams, hopes and we show that fertility is a gift. Our message is so well received because it is the truth that strikes these young people in the heart. It really resonates with them because they know it is true.”
Karen grew up in Canberra, with a Catholic father and an Anglican mother. She attended Catholic schools and her family also had a lot of contact with the Pentecostal church. Her father ran a Christian bookshop and through that she was exposed to Canberra’s Catholic charismatic movement. During their time in Queensland, Karen and Jonathan were a part of the Pentecostal church and their pastor was indigenous.
Karen has continued her studies through the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne, where she and Jonathan are close to completing Masters degrees in Theology, Marriage and Family Studies, she is mother to one-year-old Olivia and she is expecting their second child in April. On top of this work load, last year Karen published her second book, The Genius of Womanhood.
In The Genius of Womanhood, Karen focuses of the four key components on what she calls “the feminine genius” – reciprocity, sensitivity, generosity and maternity.
Reciprocity refers to a woman’s ability to receive Christ’s love. It is about being active and not in a passive state. It means a woman’s ability to stay receptive to God and all the people in her life. Sensitivity in the feminine personality is the ability to see and understand the longing is the human heart and respond with love.
But Karen writes in her book that this is only possible when a woman’s heart and mind are at peace before God. The qualities of reciprocity and sensitivity then give rise to generosity and selfless love. And finally, she writes that maternity, through physical and spiritual motherhood, is every woman’s vocation.
“One of the big aspects of the feminine genius is that motherhood is our vocation whether we have children or not,” Karen explains.
“We are called to be spiritual mothers to people. I was a spiritual mother in our ministry but I always longed for our own children. My experience of infertility really tested my faith. I grew up with the dream I would get married and have children and live happily ever after. Some one said to me that the point of the cross was obedience through suffering and that really spoke to me. I had to pick up my cross every day and still follow Jesus.
“But as the years went on, there was a real extinguishing of the joy in my life. Birthdays and Christmas were awful. Mothers Day and Fathers Day were awful for us too.
“We had to celebrate with family while they did not understand the depth of our suffering because it is not like you have lost a child. It is not like we had a child who died.
“I found that it was a terribly lonely experience. You can be married and lonely. Each month of disappointment became more painful. At one stage, we went through fours months of utter despair. It put so much pressure on us because we had an idea of marriage and we had to go back and assess what our marriage meant. There was never a point were we would have left each other. We just had to adjust our thinking.”
To make things worse, in 2006 Karen was diagnosed with a benign tumour on her pituitary gland and was admitted to hospital for surgery. She decided not to proceed because of the risks. Then in 2007 the headaches got worse and she started vomiting. She thought the tumour had got worse, but as she was preparing for brain surgery, a blood test confirmed she was three months pregnant. She was stunned.
Karen sees the funny side of it because as a nurse and an accredited Family Life Educator with the Australian Council of Natural Family Planning, she has taught many people about pregnancy.
“The day I got engaged was one of the happiest days of my life and this day came in pretty close as well,” she laughs. “Jonathan and I just walked around with smiles on our faces. We were in shock.” Karen now says she thanks God for the experience of infertility because she can now empathise with others in the same situation.
The book also has a special significance for Karen because it features a photograph of her best friend Catherine, who died of a brain tumour, aged 32. Catherine died four hours before Olivia was born. In essence, Karen lost her best friend in the day she welcomed her first child into the world.
Karen’s priority now is motherhood but the Doyles still have big plans to expand Choicez Media. They plan to continue their speaking engagement and supporting teenagers and parents.
For more information:


Karen’s tips on how to talk to your teenager
• Be involved in your teen’s life – know the music, television shows, movies and internet sites they like.
• Know who their friends are the their friend’s parents
• Be available to your child and make the time
• Listen to your child and understand their feelings
• Have a parenting plan and agree on the rules
• Apply boundaries early and stick to them
• Make your own marriage a priority because children learn from observing your own relationship
• Take responsibility for educating your teenager about sexuality and relationships. Don’t leave it to other people.
Karen’s favourite Bible verse
Proverbs 3 ver 5-6
• Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.