Vasectomy, Reversal and Reversion

Sometimes when I think of my life and where we’ve been I think – awesome, crazy and wow!

With the announcement that we were expecting number 4, people mostly responded with a “that’s AWESOME that you will have a big family!” When they found out our 4th was a boy, it was, “congratulations, now you have your boy!”

With the announcement that we were expecting number 5, people mostly said, “CRAZY.” I think 4 is definitely the cultural threshold as far as an acceptable number of children goes.

With the announcement that we were expecting number 6… silence. People didn’t know what to say, except WOW!

So here goes… the story of how we came to be a family of 8.

Greg and I tied the knot on April 18, 1998, and like many couples we feared rather than welcomed pregnancy, so we contracepted during our first 5 years of marriage. We attended mass regularly when we dated but became more sporadic after we were married. We fell into a pattern of putting our faith to the wayside and putting our social life and worldly needs first. I did not seek God in prayer or the sacraments and Greg did not either. We did as we pleased with no regard for the blessings that were abundant in our lives. We definitely lacked discipline in our faith life. Sometimes a feeling of nagging would creep into my heart as I wished we were acknowledging God.

During our first 5 years, Greg completed graduate school, took a new job, our first daughter, Annie, was born and we moved 2 times. Soon after settling in Kansas City, Genna and Elizabeth were born 16 months apart. Greg’s job demanded that he travel weekly. The stress and pressures of a young family and the demands of our extended families took a toll on our relationship. We let any practice of our faith fall away. We just did what was easy and did not work together.

We faced a few difficult years having 3 kids under the age of 4 and all the demands of life, and we made the rash decision that we could not burden one another with another child. So Greg had a vasectomy. We were officially a family of 5.

After Greg’s vasectomy we entered a dark time in our marriage. We knew something was very wrong but we did not fully understand the consequences of our actions. We both turned from our faith and sought happiness in this world and its offerings. When I reached one of my lowest points, I decided I had to turn back to God and return to the Church. My faith had often been a comfort to me when I was young. As God would have it, when my oldest daughter started kindergarten at our parish school I made some new friends who were quite devout. I had daily contact with friends who were witnesses to living a sacramental, Catholic life.

Our_Father 2_redAround this time, I began to practice my faith again by seeking a prayer life and the Eucharist. But there was still a nagging feeling of emptiness in our marriage. I was carrying a heavy burden and did not know what it was. Through the faithful Catholic families I had met and their example I sought to further my faith through the sacraments and adoration. Greg and I vowed to respect our marriage and sexuality as we learned more about Pope John Paul II’s teachings of the Theology of the Body. We also read Pope Paul VI’s encyclical called Humanae Vitae. I began to read what the Catechism said about the sacrament of marriage and my eyes were opened to the importance of our vocations as mother and father. We were responsible for 3 souls and it was our job to lead them to heaven. We had taken for granted the power we had in co-creating these lives with God. I could see more clearly the beauty of my call to motherhood. I began to realize I needed to offer up my children in prayer.

We believed God had led us out of a very dark time and now that we were beginning to grow in faith and honor our marriage, I was devastated that we had made the decision to have a vasectomy. I longed to be in a life-giving marriage. Ironically, the promise of freedom through the vasectomy was now a heavy burden for me. I carried this burden for 2 years without ever speaking of it. I finally found the courage to tell Greg how deeply I regretted this decision we had made. I could not imagine going through the rest of our marriage and not being able to welcome any more children. As our marriage became renewed, I believe God showed me the value of my vocation as a mother. I began to ask God daily how I could be healed of the pain this decision had caused. I wanted to accept God’s will in my life and accept my part in having rejected that.

We sought reconciliation with a parish priest for the wound we had caused in our marriage. At about that time, the Holy Spirit led me to a website called One More Soul, where I learned that there are doctors who reverse vasectomies as a ministry and at a cost that was affordable. We started discussing whether this would be possible.

Greg’s reversal was completed in February of 2009. Greg vowed to lead our family spiritually and we hoped and prayed the reversal would give him strength for that.

We have had one miscarriage and Peter, Natalie and Henry since Greg’s reversal. When Peter was born, the first child since the reversal, we felt God’s presence strongly as we watched our 3 daughters stand over the baby’s bassinet and spontaneously sing Happy Birthday to him. All the healing we had prayed and hoped for came to be in this very moment. It was truly one of the most powerful and joy-filled moments of our lives. We had strayed so far from God and our faith that we almost lost our marriage. We found our way back and experienced healing both physical and spiritual.

The additional children do make practicing our faith challenging at times, but the joy they have brought to our older children and us is immeasurable. Most days Greg and I pray together for the strength to grow in the face of our challenges. It feels like leaps and bounds from my days of despairing about my marriage. No longer do we turn away from our sinfulness, but rather we try to acknowledge that we need Christ on a daily basis to lead us on our path. We actively seek God’s will in all areas of our life now and are on a continual journey of renewal and as we seek God’s grace through the sacraments.

Editor’s Note: While it is admirable that this couple took the steps to reverse their vasectomy, the church does not require this. The church asks for sincere confession, contrition and absolution. A couple with this issue can also be guided by a priest in their journey of healing and openness to life as they look at their unique situation.

Until Death Do Us Part

Until death do us part.
We repeat these words, and we think we understand what they mean. Marriage is an earthly state. We get that. And we don’t really want to think about that stuff anyway–richer, poorer, sickness, health, that’s hard enough. But death is what happens after the kids are grown and you get through the other hard stuff, like potty training and teaching the kids to drive. And besides, you’ll grow old together, and you’ll have time to talk about all that end-of-life stuff together.

Somehow “death” means our own death. When I die, we will be parted.

But what happens when we’re the ones left behind?

And what does it mean “Until…”? What happens after that?

I’m 47 years old, and a widow. Even writing it seems strange. My marriage ended on August 26, 2011, when my husband Britt died, “suddenly and unexpectedly,”  as I’ve learned to tell people. We had met when we were teenagers, and were married almost 23 years. I had never lived without him my adult life. His death parted not only us, but 6 children who were 5 to 19 years old. The days and months, the first year, afterward are a blur. I really don’t remember a lot of what happened. I was cared for by my parents, 8 siblings and their husbands and wives (and if ever there was a case for a large family, this is it!), neighbors, and sometimes total strangers who signed up on a school signup sheet, who cooked for us, carpooled my children, mowed my lawn, cleaned my gutters and prayed for us. It has only been the last few months that I have been able to begin to contemplate, what next?

A lot of well-meaning people tell me “He’s an angel in heaven now,” or “He’s watching you from heaven.” Well, to say he’s an angel in heaven is no different than saying he’s a squirrel in a tree watching me. As Catholics we don’t believe that. But for the first couple years I did wish that I would “feel” him somehow, get some sign from him that he was indeed watching me, from heaven or anywhere. In my widow support group others shared stories of finding coins just when they were thinking of their husbands, or being able to have conversations with and dreams about their husbands. I had one very well-timed dream that I do believe God gave me as a gift, but other than that I don’t feel Britt with me, and it has really saddened me. Maybe I’m not listening, maybe I’m not trying hard enough, or maybe he really has just left me. Where the heck is he, and does he even care about us anymore? Is that it? I have no connection to him anymore? Just days after his death one of my daughters asked the question, “Does Daddy miss us?” How do you begin to answer that one?

I used to go to bed at night and reword the prayer “Now I lay me down to sleep” and instead ask God to take my soul. I wondered, if Britt is in a “better place,” why can’t I be there, too? If our hope is to be united with Christ, why do I have to wait? You’ll be glad to know I don’t wonder that anymore. I have a theory now, and the best way for me to explain it is in book terms. I’m a reader, a librarian, so this works for me. I have gotten such peace from this.

The rest of my life is like a book that Britt had already read. He finished it a while ago, but I’m still slogging through. It’s a great book with a great ending, and he can’t wait for us to be able to talk about it together, maybe see the movie when it comes out. But he’s letting me finish it first. He’s not tapping my shoulder every few pages asking me how far I am, what’s happening. He’s quietly letting me savor the pages. He knows what happens, so he’s not bothering himself with watching my page-by-page progress. He has much better things to do, and I can forgive him for that!

So that’s the way I imagine him. He knows we’re all here; he sees the end; but he knows this isn’t the important stuff. When I get to a really sad part, he is sad I’m going through it, but he knows it gets better. Even the big stuff–my daughter’s first date next weekend, the father-daughter dance–yes, I’d love for him to be here, and I’m so sad for my kids that he’s not– but I don’t think he’s “missing” it.

And maybe my relationship with the saints and with Christ is the same way. Maybe I don’t need to worry that I’m not “feeling” God talk to me, or I’m not getting the answers to my prayer requests. On the very worst days, when it seems God has forgotten to look out for me, I need to remember He’s there. A priest told me that when he offers mass he imagines all the saints and souls of the departed are at the altar with him at the moment of consecration. The Communion of Saints. Britt may not be a saint, but he’s another voice up there for me. If I can think of him this way, then I can feel closer to the communion of saints and to God. I know they’re all waiting for me.

We believe that marriage should bring us closer to God, that our spouse will deepen our relationship with God, and that God is a partner in our marriage. Even though my marriage has ended, my spouse can continue to lead me closer to God, just as he did in life.

I just need to finish the book.

Bountiful Graces

My husband and I have been married for 26 awesome years. We have been blessed with ten children. From the beginning, we have been open to whatever God decided to send us. It wasn’t always easy to accept, at first babies came close together. For me, nursing wasn’t a natural spacer for children. I always tended to wish I had lost a few more pounds before the next pregnancy came! Before we knew it, we had six kids under the age of 8. I have to be honest. When I became pregnant with my seventh and my youngest was only 6 months old, I complained. “How can I do this!” I was overwhelmed. As always, my husband put everything in perspective. “It’s what God wants. Let’s just pray for a healthy baby.”

Our seventh baby changed our lives forever. During labor, my uterus ruptured wide open. My son was delivered fifteen minutes later by C-section. He had been without oxygen for fifteen long minutes and was severely brain injured. He would never swallow, sit up by himself, crawl, talk or walk. I don’t remember very much after I was rushed into surgery. My amazing OB took two long hours to repair my uterus. It had split from top to bottom, bypassing all major arteries. The residents and nurses in the operating room questioned him, “Why are you saving her uterus? She already has seven children!” Knowing my husband and I are devout Catholics he replied, “I know she would want me to.” Because of his heroism, we were blessed with three more miracles. The first few weeks of our son’s life the medical profession did everything possible to convince us to “let our son go. His life will never be worth anything. He’ll be miserable. You’ll be miserable.” Each day I came to the NICU, I was barraged. My husband and I stood firm and continued to defend his beautiful life.

Our son was only with us for four and a half short years. Every day brought immense challenges, yet he was such an incredible blessing for our family. He taught our children to give of themselves and to think of others first. They truly learned the meaning of joyful suffering by watching our son suffer every day with a smile. He taught our whole family the unfathomable depth of God’s divine mercy. We had no alternative but to trust in Our Lord. It became very obvious we were not in charge. Each time we were faced with an overwhelming obstacle, God truly did provide. He taught us how precious each and every life is and to be genuinely thankful for both our crosses and our blessings. Right now he’s in heaven arranging it so we’ll all be together someday. I feel his presence in our family, continually watching over each and every one of us. Bountiful graces have been bestowed upon our family because we were open to life. God really doesn’t ever give you more than you can handle.

Submitted from Virginia

I Used to be One of those Catholics that Wants to Change the Church

I have not always been a practicing Catholic. I used to be one of those Catholics that say they are Catholic but want to change the Church, on such issues as contraception. I figured it was old-fashioned and would one day change with the times.  Never in a million years did I think I would actually change, not the Church.

I was raised by parents who believed contraception was valid and healthy. I remember my mother handing me an Ann Landers book on how to know if you are ready for sex. It included all the contraception methods out there, as well as statistics on reliability. It also had a love test to know if you are ready and mature enough to have sex. Any love-struck teenager girl could have easily passed the “Love Test.”

When I was in college, my mother found my birth control pills. She was really upset. I was confused because I thought she would be proud of me. I was “taking care of myself,” isn’t that what she wanted me to do? All she wanted to know was if I was planning on marrying the young man that I was sleeping with, and that might make it all right in her mind. I was not even close to thinking about marriage and made that clear to her.

My mother’s generation didn’t mind pre-marital sex if a promise ring was involved, or maybe a marriage proposal nearby. My generation had taken it to a new level: pre-marital sex was fine if you liked the guy.  I remember the debate with my mom so clearly, “Mom, what is the difference? They are both pre-marital sex! Is it wrong, or not wrong?”  She did not have an answer for that, so she started praying the rosary every day, and I noticed.

There is a saying, “Sin leads to more sin.” I did not like the girl I was becoming and wanted to change. This was something I could not accomplish alone — I needed some Divine help. So I went to confession, I returned to Mass, I went to Holy Hours, I stopped dating. I told my girlfriends my new decision to not have sex again till marriage, and asked for their support and help. A true friend wants you to be the best you can be.

My life changed for the better because “Virtue leads to more virtue.”  My grades improved, my outlook on life changed, I had a purpose and goals that God was going to help me accomplish. I also started praying for my future husband, that God could help him with any struggles he may have with purity.

I also decided the Church was right about pre-marital sex being wrong, and that contraception had led me down the road to a bad decision. I figured it would affect me the same way in marriage. I decided it was wrong and I would trust God to lead me to a man that felt the same way.

God took care of me and led me to a great husband. We consider fertility a gift and we are not at war with and trying to “fix” our fertility issues.  Natural Family Planning has led me to be able to read my body, discover a thyroid and hormone problem that may have gone unknown if masked by a Pill.

I have a mini-van full of kids and would not have it any other way. If you see a large family, don’t assume NFP doesn’t work. Assume that the parents are still really attracted to each other, assume that their love is strong enough to accept another child, assume that they really, really love each other and don’t mind little people exactly like their spouses on this earth.  God is good, do not be afraid of His blessing, He will give you more than you can handle so that you are truly dependent on Him.

submitted from Virginia

One of those Big Catholic Families

I don’t know when it was that my family became one of those Big Catholic Families. I only remember realizing that other women might be looking at me the way I looked at those other mothers of Big Catholic Families, and could they see what a fraud I was? I am simply not like those other women, who all seem so prayerful, content, proud of their lives, really devout models of motherhood for all of us, right?

Then I realized, maybe they aren’t like that either. They seem like models of perfected motherhood, but maybe their kids drive them crazy, or maybe they try not to regret that they can’t do more in that career that they loved, or they also are frightened each time they find themselves pregnant again.

Several babies ago I was done, as we hear so many moms say. I was dealing with postpartum depression, a houseful of toddlers, family difficulties, and a vision of the future as years of the same chaos. I thought I made it clear to God that I had done more than my share in His procreation thing. But when He brought the next pregnancies – and as many miscarriages as deliveries – I understood that I might have been done, but God wasn’t, and I let Him take over for me. He got me through those struggles, even turning the struggles into joys, or at least helping me see the joy after the struggle.

My husband and I aren’t the best example of a modern understanding of the Church’s teaching on natural family planning, if you consider NFP a way to prevent pregnancies. But if you consider that the purpose of God’s plan for your body and your marriage is to share in His plan, and that NFP helps in that sharing, it has been a gift for me and my husband. We don’t do very well with sympto-thermal stuff, it’s true, but we’ve been forced to cling to each other through the struggles, finding joy in what we didn’t plan but God gave us anyway.

So I’m not one of those holy mothers of Big Catholic Families, because the mother who is constantly and consistently holy – well, there was only one, and her only child was God. I find comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one who actually has to work to reach peace in my life. I’ve had to struggle to accept God’s will and I continue to struggle to become closer to Him, just like every other woman out there. If we as women can look at each other and remember that we each have different challenges and choices, that this isn’t easy for anyone, no matter how easy it looks for some, maybe we can help each other more in our journeys to Christ.

Submitted from Virginia