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Catholic women bearing the cross of infertility bare their hearts in honest book

Book of hope: Debra and Tony Vermeer.

DEBRA Vermeer knew by the second date that she had found the man of her dreams, the man she could promise in marriage to love for the rest of her life.

There was just one revelation the journalist wasn’t expecting that morning over breakfast in Sydney 16 years ago.

“I had a vasectomy 14 years ago,” her date, Tony Vermeer, said. “But don’t worry,” he said taking her hand, “I’ll have it reversed.”

Mrs Vermeer, who was working for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference as a communications officer at the time, was in a pickle: could she marry a widowed man with teenage children and face the prospect of not having children with him?

“But finally having the discovering the man of my dreams – I was 32 years old when we met – and I had been hoping for a good man to come along and having finally found him, it was big news to digest that we might not be able to have kids,” she told The Catholic Leader.

The roller coaster ride that followed is the opener for Mrs Vermeer’s new book, Life to the Full: Stories of Infertility, Faith, and Hope-Filled Future.

The book features the stories of seven couples, including the Vermeers, told from the view of the woman in the relationship, and how they navigated the emotional unknowns of infertility with their spouses and with God.

It also offers suggestions for the Church community to support couples who bear the cross of infertility – oftentimes with anger, guilt, and deep sadness – particularly on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

True to the title, Mrs Vermeer’s own story is one teeming with faith and hope.

“Although I knew it was always a possibility – you know I’m pretty optimistic by nature, and hopeful – it does put you in a pretty low place, and for me, I found it quite hard to reimagine how my life would look without having babies,” Mrs Vermeer said.

“So I guess the book recounts how God worked in my life during that time.”

There was the long, extended moment in prayer at St Mary’s Cathedral after the vasectomy confession, which ultimately confirmed that she couldn’t walk out on Tony, even if it meant a future without her own babies.

Then the growing maternal longings sparked out of the closeness she was developing with her step-children, Zac and Cassie.

The realisation that her future really did mean life without babies of her own.

And the medical condition that led to the Jamberoo Abbey, where Mrs Vermeer is an oblate.

Mrs Vermeer said throughout her infertility journey, the Benedictine spirituality of living a balance life of ora et labora (work and prayer) spoke deeply to her situation.

She also found great comfort in prayer, especially the Psalms through the Divine Office.

“They’ve got everything in them that human nature can throw at you – those Psalms of lament, where they’re just, why god, why?

“And then always they come back, even in the psalms of lament, they come back to the goodness of God and that was just so helpful to me.

“That you’re allowed to ask God those questions of why and what’s happening, while always being anchored in that truth that God is good and God is love, and that God cares for me and us as a couple, and as a family.”

Mrs Vermeer said she dedicated the book to her husband and her step-children, “my family, the ones who’ve loved me”. “My hope is that his is a book of hope,” she said.

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