When most couples decide to start a family, infertility is something most of them don't think about. But having a child isn't always a given, in fact, in the United States, more than 12% of women struggle with infertility.
Maria and Jeff Papia know the infertility struggle first-hand. The Tonawanda couple has been married for three years, and have been trying almost as long to have a baby. Every time Maria goes for an ultrasound, she says she sees the same thing.
"I've had countless done. And I'm always staring at that blank screen," she explained. "That image sits with me a lot. Because that's how I feel a lot. Just empty."
The two say infertility is something they never imagined they'd be dealing with when they first started dating.
"Get out of college, get a job, get married, have kids, the American life right?" said Jeff. "But a lot of those things aren't the norm for people."
Many couples turn to In Vitro Fertilization for help conceiving, but it's not a gurantee, and it's not cheap. In fact, according to Forbes magazine, one cycle costs upwards of $12,000. The Papias have used oral fertility treatments and fertility shots, but they say they're opting out of trying IVF because of their Catholic faith.
They say the infertility struggle initially took a toll on their marriage, and left them with a lot of questions.
"You start to feel a little hopeless, and you start to feel - you start questioning why," said Jeff. "Why this is happening to you, and if there's a reason."
Jeff and Maria turned to their faith for support. The two are active at St. Gregory the Great Parish in Williamsville where Jeff sings every week. They say prayer is helping them through, but during their struggle, they found something else - something they say needs to be addressed.
"We've found so many other people who were dealing with the issue," said Jeff. "And we discovered there are so many people out there who feel a sense of longing, feel a sense of hopelessness, but no one is talking about it."
And it's in that silence that Maria, who describes herself as an open book, has found inspiration. She and her cousin, who also struggles with infertility, created a blog where they share honest accounts of their journey, and desires to start a family. They call it Heartache to Hope.
"We thought what a good way to share our story and to give a voice to those who don't like to talk about it," said Maria. "Or for those outsiders, like family members or friends, who don't quite know how to approach it, how to talk to us about it, have questions about it."
Infertility is not an easy thing to talk about, but the couple has gotten a lot of support. They're still trying to have a baby, and in the meantime they say their struggle has made their marriage even stronger.
"That emptiness, that space is something we can choose to fill with all sorts of things" said Jeff. "Resentment, anger, animpsity, but what we're hoping to share is that it can be filled with all sorts of things. Love, hope. Even if a baby never does arrive."
Jeff and Maria say while they won't rule it out, they're not ready to talk about adoption yet. They're still praying to one day see something else on that ultrasound screen.
"I hope one day when I come in there will be a different image on there," said Maria.
Katie Morse is an anchor on 7 Eyewitness News. You can watch her Monday-Friday from 4:30 - 7:00 a.m. on WKBW.