Unequally Yoked

When my husband and I got married we were both Catholic, but we weren’t fully practicing the faith. Not only were we not well formed, we didn’t know it. My husband and I went to Mass on Sunday occasionally, if it was convenient, and also on Christmas, Ash Wednesday, and Easter.

One Sunday, we arrived at Mass and found there was a new pastor. This pastor’s homilies were like nothing I had ever heard before. In fact they made me angry! I didn’t speak to the pastor, didn’t even shake his hand on the way out the door, but for some reason I felt like I was arguing with him and so I started going to Mass every Sunday to continue the argument.

Each Sunday I would go to Mass and I would leave angry because I had just been informed of yet one more thing that I was doing wrong. I was overwhelmed with all of the rules. I was also skeptical of the pastor. I thought, “He can’t possibly know what he is talking about. He must be some kind of Catholic wacko.” I started researching and I didn’t have to dig very far to find that my pastor knew what he was talking about.

As I sat in that pew week after week I discovered that there were many areas of my life that were not in line with Church teaching. I had walked in the door pro-choice, pro-contraception, the list goes on. I found out that I was wrong.

Many other parishioners left. Several of our neighbors started shopping for a new parish with softer homilies. Some went to neighboring parishes; others went so far as to leave the Catholic Church. My husband found the difficult homilies amusing. When I tried to engage him in discussing our faith and what we should do, he would say, “Whatever you decide is fine.”

I decided we would stay. Somewhere deep inside I knew that this wasn’t about shopping for the right message so much as it was about finding the truth. My only explanation for this is that God, in His great generosity, must have given me a huge dose of grace. I began to change. I studied Catholicism. Everything I learned made so much sense that I couldn’t help but to grow in my faith. I fell in love with Holy Mother Church. I began going to daily Mass and volunteering in earnest. I was disappointed that my husband wasn’t interested, but I didn’t let that hold me back.

My new faith and his disinterest started to put stress on our marriage. It became really clear to me one Valentine’s day, when I received a Valentine’s gift basket from a girlfriend of mine. When my husband saw it I asked him to guess who had given it to me. “Probably Father Jones or Deacon Smith or the Youth Minister,” he said and walked out of the room. I was stunned. He proceeded to tell me how tired he was of my life revolving around God and the Church. He thought at first that it was a phase and that he just had to wait it out, but it was pretty clear that it wasn’t ending any time soon. He was tired of it and he wanted it to stop. I was no longer the person he had married.

unequally yokedI was devastated and yet it was clear to me that he felt jilted, like I had dumped him for God. I could understand that. My husband had been the center of my universe and now God was, and rightly so, I thought.

I sought counsel from a priest during confession and he told me that perhaps my cross right now was that I needed to tone things down a little. He didn’t mean for me to be less faithful. He meant that I should tone down my outward expression of the faith to give my husband a little space. This was my cross to bear. I left the crucifix on the wall but pulled the holy cards from the refrigerator. I cut back on my volunteer responsibilities. As I considered my primary vocation as wife, I realized that God didn’t want me to neglect my spouse in pursuit of my faith.

There was however, one area in which I couldn’t compromise. We were contracepting. Very early in my conversion process I stopped contracepting and at that point my husband chose to continue. This was very painful for me. I had learned of the beauty of the marital embrace and all that God had intended for it—that it be a complete gift of self. I yearned to give myself to my husband. And yet each time we came together I made my desire to be open to life clear and each time he denied me. The act that was supposed to be unitive was tearing us apart. I found myself wishing for a marriage “do-over”. It was humiliating to go to confession and confess my participation in my husband’s contraception. I was hurt and angry at my husband.

I finally realized that my wish for a do-over was nothing more than a pity party. I started to treat my husband with charity, not because I thought he deserved it (to the contrary, I thought he was being quite a jerk) but because I loved God. I began Natural Family Planning (NFP) on my own. My husband would have nothing to do with it. I began to refuse him on fertile days (not because I was opposed to conceiving but because history had proven that he would contracept). He continued to contracept on the other days but I found much peace in my own practice of NFP.

This went on for 3 years until I became pregnant and subsequently miscarried. My husband had surprised me by welcoming the pregnancy, and then was greatly disappointed and saddened as well. This loss was a turning point for me. I was done. I told my husband, “No more contraception. I won’t participate.” I had been patient and prayerful for 3 years but now I was done. I prayed for God to please pick up the pieces of my marriage and hold us together and mercifully He did.

Since that day my husband has never contracepted.

Several years have passed. I am at peace because my husband’s concession has allowed me to live in alignment with my faith. I continue to tone down my outward expression of my faith, and my husband is slowly but surely growing in his faith. We both have a long way to go, but praise be to God at least we are heading in the right direction!

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.

The Pill ‘for Medical Reasons’ and that Slippery Slope

So, here goes. My birth control story.

When I was 19 years old, I came home from my first semester of college and begged my mother to take me to the gynecologist. I had been having irregular periods for about a year. So off we went, to the gynecologist appointment together: me, a 19-year old college student and virgin, and my mother, a devout Catholic very much opposed to the birth control pill.

You can surely see where this is going.

The appointment that followed may still be counted among the most horrific, humiliating experiences of my life. So, there at my very first doctor’s appointment excepting my pediatrician and orthodontist, the doctor was examining me while asking me health history questions. “Are you sexually active?” he inevitably asked, without looking up. “No,” I answered truthfully.
Next thing I know, he’s explaining that I am going to feel something cold, and before I have time to react, I am in the midst of my first (UNNECESSARY) pap smear. It. was. excruciating. I remember limping in pain out of the office 30 minutes later. He tells me to get dressed and meet him in his office. There in his office, he begins his sales speech for the pill. He tells me that it will fix the abnormal bleeding that I’ve been seeing, and help to regulate my periods. He goes on to say that it has the added benefit of treating acne, and that my skin will clear up while I’m taking it. And finally, he closes with, “And when you meet that special someone, it is a very effective form of contraception!”

My head was spinning. I remember asking how long I had to take it, and he said 6 months should be enough to get my periods back on track. OK, I thought. I can handle 6 months. It sounded like a pretty quick fix, to me. 6 months of medication, during which time my periods would be normal, and then when I came OFF the medication, they’d be normal once again from that point on.

Oh how silly and uninformed I was.

As I limped out of his office and into the waiting room, I was greeted by my mother who had a look of worry on her face. I think Abby Johnson said it best when she wrote that if only we based more of our decisions on what would make our mothers happy and proud of us, we would be so much better off. My mother knew all along, without REALLY knowing, that this was the beginning of my demise.

Still in a daze, I handed the sheet of paper the doctor had given me to the woman at the front desk. I assumed it was a follow-up sheet that I was to give to the front desk to schedule my next appointment. Then I was startled out of my daze and back into humiliation when the lady shoved the paper back at me and quite loudly quipped, “This is your prescription for birth control pills. I don’t need this!” Talk about mortification.

In case you haven’t already guessed, 6 months later when I came off the pill, my periods were anything BUT regular. However, in that interim, I had started to get used to the idea of being a sophomore in college with periods I could rely on, and more importantly, with beautiful, clear skin… especially since I was looking and waiting for a boyfriend. Now that I had stopped taking my pills, what I saw looming ahead of me was a return of crazy bleeding and acne flare-ups. NOT appealing. I told my mom I had to go back on them, but she wasn’t convinced. So off we went to gynecologist #2.

Gynecologist #2 was a very educated man, and after a brief physical exam (no pap smear), he took me to his office, and drew me pictures of ovaries with lots of tiny cysts on them. I had no idea what he was talking about, and frankly, I didn’t care. I just sat there politely pretending to listen, waiting for him to hand over the prescription for my happy pills. Which of course, he did. This time with instructions to stay on for one year.

By the end of my sophomore year, I had fallen deeply in love with a guy I had met on my first day and told my friends back home he was the one I would marry. And to my surprise, by the end of my sophomore year, he had fallen in love with me, too. We had dated briefly right before he went to study abroad (he was a year older), and now he had just come back and we were back together and very serious.

You can surely see where this is going.

About two months into a “very serious” relationship with the man I was convinced I would marry, I somehow went from virgin to … well, not. I say somehow because it wasn’t at all planned or necessarily talked about and decided. We had been physical already; such is the nature of college life, and I was no stranger to “hooking up,” but at the same time was very proud that I had not given away my virginity to just anybody. I knew that I believed in the teachings of my Church. I knew that what I was doing was wrong. But in my mind, I rationalized that sex was reserved for marriage because you are only meant to do that with the man you are married to. I really didn’t understand the complete beauty of sex at that point, but I was about to begin my education.

I remember that night vividly. Or maybe I should say that memories from that night continue to haunt me. I distinctly remember that we were very close to going that far, but still not quite there, when he suddenly jumped up and ran to his desk. I asked him what he was doing, and he said “Getting a condom … just … in case….” For some stupid reason, I assumed he meant “in case” he went too far and we were at risk for pregnancy. (I may have been stupid about the pill, but I did know about contact pregnancy.) I told him “It’s ok, I’m on the pill.” To which he pill packsresponded, “Oh… well… are you sure?” (This guy was not really known for his ability to articulate and convey an actual message.) And I responded, “Yeah, I’m sure. It’s to regulate my periods, but it still ‘works.’” (I realize now he was basically asking me if I was sure that I wanted to have sex with him. So, basically, one of the biggest decisions of my life came down not to a well thought-out weighing of consequences, but rather an ambiguous exchange of “Are you sure?” “Yeah, I’m sure.”)
And so, ignoring the underlying guilt I continued to feel every once and a while, we continued being intimate. Over Fall Break, my prescription for the pill was up, and this time I was adamant about staying on it. I threw a fit when my mother suggested I stop taking it for a while and see if my cycles normalized; because now, I actually needed that pill for contraception. But at the same time, both of us were not satisfied with the fact that no one had any answers for me about my health. WHY was I bleeding like this? WHY were my periods so irregular to begin with?? So we agreed to go together to Gyn/Midwife #3, recommended to us by my older sister. I was absolutely convinced that whether she gave us answers or not, I would be able to get more happy pills from her.

Gyn/Midwife #3 took me in her office first, alone. There she asked if I was sexually active, and I responded truthfully that I was. She explained that she wanted to run a couple of tests on me, some blood-work and an ultrasound, to find the issues that were causing my weird cycles. So we made a follow-up appointment for the following day for the ultrasound. On our way out of the office, I remember the ultrasound tech at the front desk asking me if I was a virgin. Of course being in front of my mother I said, “Yes,” and she got a look of concern on her face and said, “Oh, wait a second, we can’t do this type of ultrasound that was ordered. Hold on, let me go tell the doctor.” My face must have turned beet red. The tech came back, made minimal eye contact while she quickly said, “OK, it’ll be fine, just come tomorrow as scheduled.”
After the ultrasound and blood-work, the Midwife took me back into her office and explained my diagnosis: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). I finally had an answer for all these years of crazy cycles! She was pretty detailed in her description and finally told me the solution: (I know you’ve guessed it) The Pill. I was to stay on the pill up until the time I decided I was ready to have children. (I was 20 years old at the time.) Now this next part I remember verbatim. I asked her: “Will being on the pill that long have any adverse effects on my ability to become pregnant when I want to?” (See, I was worried about my fertility even back then.) Her answer: “Oh, no, on the contrary: being on the pill tricks your body into thinking it’s pregnant every month, so when you want to become pregnant and come off the pill, it should be very easy!”

I was sold. This stuff was the best thing on planet earth.

Back to school I went, and me and my boyfriend continued our physical relationship up until I was about to study abroad for a semester. Soon before I left, we discussed our plans for the future, and he said he wanted to take a break. A break?? I. FREAKED. OUT. What did he mean a BREAK?? We were going to get married, what in the world did he need a BREAK for?!?! Didn’t he realize what I had given to him??!! Inevitably, because I was not very agreeable when it came to the “break,’’ we ended up breaking it off for good instead. I was completely devastated. It was one of the lowest points of my life. It was as if I had just lost my husband, because, in a way, I had. I say that because I had given myself to him physically, in a way that I had always intended (and God had always intended for me) to give myself ONLY to my husband. I thought that if not in word, we were at least “physically married.” But now what were we? What would we ever be? Everything was, in an instant, completely upside-down and backwards. What I didn’t realize is that it had already started out backwards.

So then I left for Italy, and while on the plane from NYC to Venice, I sat right next to a very attractive guy with whom I would wind up spending the rest of my life. We hit it off immediately, exchanged phone numbers, and began talking on the phone frequently, in Italy. Eventually, he invited me to his roommate’s birthday party, and we officially began dating.

Now, in my mind, when I began dating my future husband, it was to be an Italian “fling” to help me get my ex out of my system. I still had a very unhealthy attachment to my ex that I just couldn’t shake, and looking back it makes perfect sense why I felt that way. Because sex, as beautiful and life-giving as it is, is only MEANT to be shared with one person, one spouse, one partner for life.

Surely you see where this is going.

Way too soon, and way too impetuously, I slept with my new boyfriend (and present husband). And it worked… almost. I felt a physical detachment from my ex right after that, but I was still very much in love with him. And this poor new guy I was dating, well, he was just the catalyst to help me heal what couldn’t really be healed.

I started to notice that my new boyfriend was quickly falling in love with me, but I did not, could not reciprocate the feelings. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Hadn’t I always told myself I would only sleep with ONE man, and now here I was sleeping with someone I didn’t even love?? What a fast and furious downward spiral my life had taken, and I hadn’t even had time to sit back and reflect on it.

Flash forward a couple years or so, when both of us were back in the States, still dating (long-distance), still sleeping together. He was a man I now loved. At a certain point my birth control pill prescription expired, so off I went to another doctor. I was never worried that I wouldn’t be able to get it refilled, in fact, the thought never crossed my mind. I pretty much just had to ask for it and it was mine. No exam, no blood-work, no other tests. So when one day the pharmacy charged me full price for them because my insurance didn’t cover it, I was up in arms. “What??? What do you mean? I’ve ALWAYS had it covered!!” The pharmacist didn’t know what to tell me, but finally asked, “Do you work for a Catholic organization?” “Yeah.” (I had just started working as a Kindergarten teacher in a Catholic school.) “Oh, that explains it. They don’t cover birth control.” I was livid. “But this is for a medical purpose, I’m not on it for birth control,” I practically yelled at the poor girl. But her hands were tied.

I refused to pay the full price for months on end, so I got one more month’s worth and prayed for the best. Over the past 3 years, there had been several months in between prescription refills when I didn’t take the pill, and we just used condoms. But I HATED condoms. Absolutely loathed them. I felt like there was a foreign thing in my body that did not belong there and was not supposed to be there, and it made me physically sick. I think about my reactions back then and see that I had the truth all along: I knew in my heart what human sexuality was all about, what sex was intended to be, but my being on the pill blurred that crystal clear vision to the point where I could not see the whole picture. There was a time when I never would have thought of using a barrier method. Now it was just a necessary Plan B.

A month later, we were engaged. We planned to become celibate once we were engaged and would wait until marriage to resume our sex life. (See what I mean? Warped indeed.) But when we got married and became intimate again, nothing was new, nothing was exciting. In fact, I remember for the first 6 months or longer feeling guilt every time we had sex. It was a feeling I just couldn’t shake – why NOW did I have this overwhelming guilt? Our marriage, while legitimate in the eyes of God, began on a rocky slope, and it felt like we had to constantly struggle to stay on our feet, specifically in regards to our sexuality. I felt like the bonding element of sex was not bonding us at all, and instead almost became a hurdle to our union.

And then came infertility. The biggest hurdle to our sex-life.

I don’t think any woman (or man for that matter) could say that infertility didn’t have some negative effects on their sex life. But in our case, it added a curveball to an already disrupted foundation. Over the past 5 years, we have worked through most of these issues, but I always wonder how much easier it would have been, and could have been, if I had made different decisions.

Being on the pill for 6 years wreaked havoc on my reproductive system. Syndromes and diseases like PCOS and endometriosis were exacerbated over those 6 years, and the pill masked them to give me the illusion of normalcy and perfect health. But the worst thing the pill did to me was wreak havoc on my sexuality. From the moment I got my first prescription, I knew I was safe “just in case,” and almost overnight my plans and goals shifted from long-term whole person well-being to short-term physical and emotional satisfaction.

I can’t change my past, though often I wish I could. All I can hope is that God continues to heal my soul and my marriage. And praise Him, every day I see it happening more and more.

And that’s my story.

Saved from Victimhood

I used to be pro-choice.  I want to tell you the story of how I became pro-life.  It is a journey that lasted many years.

I think I need to start by telling you that as an infant, child, teen, and young adult, I was a victim of abuse.  I was physically and emotionally abused by both of my parents.  I was sexually abused by my father, my maternal grandfather, and my maternal uncle.  The family abuse didn’t happen just occasionally, it was constant.  I lived as a victim in an environment of constant and pervasive abuse.  This type of family life can be pretty confusing and I think it was part of the reason that I didn’t notice some warning signs, and became a victim of date rape my freshman year of college.  It is remarkable that despite all of this, I never became pregnant.

Are you still with me? I’m not looking for pity.  I’m just trying to make it clear that when I was young and vulnerable, I was a victim.  And as I grew older, it became a life goal for me to never be a victim again.

The first time that I remember being aware of abortion was as a junior in college.  It was the mid 80’s and I heard a woman say, “A woman should have the right to control her own body.”  This was the first pro-choice rationalization that I had ever heard.  I was 20.  It sounded logical and so I thought I must be pro-choice.  I didn’t want anyone else controlling my body, certainly not the government!  And so it was, I was pro-choice.

On some level I knew that I had not completely thought it through, but I didn’t see a need to think it through. Through the lens of my victim experience, I knew that I never wanted to be a victim again. I knew that if I had become pregnant from any of my prior abuse, it would have lengthened and increased my trauma.  Also, I was too busy going to college and hanging out with my friends.  I was busy enjoying the freedom of having left the house of horrors that I grew up in.  I don’t remember meeting or knowing anyone that was pro-life.  I don’t remember any pro-life slogans.  It had never been a subject of discussion in my family.  It was never mentioned at church.

I met my husband in college.  Although we were both Catholic, neither of us was well-formed in our faith. We married in the church shortly after graduation.  Before long I became pregnant.  After 13 weeks of nausea and vomiting I started to feel better, but unfortunately I found that I had miscarried.  Through God’s grace I was given the understanding that my pregnancy, my child, was a real baby, not some blob of tissue.  I remember thinking that if my pregnancy was a baby, then it followed that all pregnancies were babies, including those pregnancies conceived in rape.  I had heard politicians saying that abortion was wrong except in the case of rape.  I finally understood this as a false logic.  I wish that in recognizing this false logic, I had become pro-life.  Instead I dismissed the pro-life movement for that false logic and of course I had been influenced by the media coverage of violent pro-lifers; I didn’t want to be a part of what I saw as a hypocritical movement that wanted to save babies but bombed abortion clinics.

Following my miscarriage, my husband and I were blessed with three healthy beautiful babies. Amidst the chaos of child-rearing I was blessed with a conversion to a much deeper faith.  I was no longer comfortable believing just parts of Catholicism, I wanted to embrace all of it. I did on the surface, but deep down I still had my doubts about abortion.  What if one of my daughters was raped, wouldn’t I want to be able to obtain a safe abortion for her?  Wouldn’t I want to be able to end the trauma for her?  I knew I would want to be able to end her victimization.  Thinking about this caused a deep conflict within me – so I didn’t think about it.

As a wife and mother I began having great difficulty dealing with my past.  I sought counseling but I also went to a one-day seminar in my diocese that was given by Dr.Theresa Burke.  The seminar was on helping women recover from abortion and from abuse.  My focus was on abuse and I continued to push abortion out of mind.

It was an excellent seminar.  To my surprise, with the exception of a few counselors and clergy, I was surrounded by post-abortive women.  I was seated at a table of 10 women.  During the course of the day, 8 of these women revealed that they were post-abortive.  Their stories were different in some ways but there was a recurring, resonating theme of victimization.  Some of them were victims of violence like I had been, some of them were victims of ignorance or poor decisions, but they were all victims. They found themselves pregnant and had nowhere to go.  They had no family support and no support from the father.  Or, the family and father offered the misguided support of paying for an abortion.

Our culture and judicial system led these women to believe that abortion was a legal, safe, viable solution to their problem. These women suffered greatly from their decision to abort.  Some said that they were fine for many years before the trauma of their actions hit them, but it did hit, and it hit hard.  They had struggled for years to forgive themselves and find healing. It was ultimately through the Catholic Church that most of them did find healing.

It was sometime during that seminar that I became 100% pro-life and I have never wavered since.  It is abundantly clear to me that women who choose abortion are not ending their trauma or victimization but instead are extending and repeating it.  My heart broke for these women.  As they shared their stories I could easily see how I could have been one of them.

I know that the ultimate victim of abortion is the innocent baby who has had no choice in the matter at all.  However, in a society that approves of abortion, the mothers and fathers are victims as well. In a society that considers abortion a right, can we even see the other choices that we have?

I pray for these victims daily. I am so grateful that in a period of life when I might have joined the ranks of these suffering and victimized women, seduced by the convenience of abortion, by God’s providence I did not.

Healing and Purifying my Past

I have been married for over 20 years. Before I married, I engaged in premarital sex. I was shy and didn’t know how to talk to guys, so I ended up drinking to get over that and that led to a lot of other troubles.  I mainly went to parties and nightclubs where drinking was common.  I would get drunk and end up going too far.

When I was 20 I had a baby that I placed for adoption. My boyfriend offered to marry me. He was a nice guy and wanted to do the right thing, but I did not think marriage was the answer. I found adoptive parents for my baby through someone that I worked for.  I met with the parents and we seemed to click.  When the baby, a boy, was born, they came to see me and the two families spent the evening together celebrating this new little life.  I was very sure that I had made the correct decision. My heart caught up with my head about 7 months after Eric was born. I mourned for a long time. A few years later I wrote to the adoptive mother through the adoption attorney. I simply wanted to know what Eric was like and if he was okay.  His mother wrote back and sent pictures. We continued to write and exchange pictures.

I was certainly not a great Catholic and I had no idea what the Church really taught about sex. But I did not like the idea of contraception. Outside of marriage, I did “dabble” in it. I was on the Pill for a month or so but I wasn’t comfortable with it and I learned that I had high cholesterol and that put me at risk for heart disease, so I stopped taking it. I also used barrier methods once in a while. My boyfriend(s) did not want a baby, so I went along with them. I wanted  to live a good life, but was easily swayed by the popular opinion of the time. I had a lot of ups and downs with attempting to live a chaste life, but I knew that it was what I should be doing. I longed to be a wife and mother. I didn’t understand how to live as a single woman.

When I met my husband, my life changed. My husband was not Catholic at the time, but he was open to life and wanted children. We got pregnant right away and were delighted. But because each of us had lived unchaste lives before marriage, there were some problems. I had always felt used by men, so that carried over into my marriage.  My husband could see nothing wrong with stripper bars, Playboy or racy movies. He no longer did any of these things, at my urging, but we argued about it anyway from time to time. One time he was expected to go to a bachelor party at a topless bar. It was the old argument that it was “one last time” for the groom,  my husband wasn’t interested but he was willing to do this for his friend. I think he had never been challenged to defend it before and when he tried to explain to me why it was OK, it changed him. HE was married. HE supposedly had said goodbye to those days. Lusting after women is a bad thing, especially in the case of a married man.  Wanting sex for its own pleasure is wrong.  It is not what God intended.  No one, other than me, had said to him that this was wrong.

Then I heard of Theology of the Body. I started reading about it and went to hear speakers explaining it. It made me think about things I learned in high school about contraception and why it was wrong. The Catholic teaching of marital love is so beautiful! It was what I had longed for but hadn’t understood.

My husband converted to the Catholic Church 15 years ago. What a blessing that was! My husband is my rock, steady and sure and once he makes a decision, he sticks with it. A few years back I read the book Every Man’s Battle aloud to my husband while we were driving on vacation. It was healing and tough. We talked about it at great length. I listened to the pain in his heart as he spoke about how men struggle with purity. I started praying in a new way. I asked Jesus to heal my past and my husband’s past. I asked Him to purify our memories. Our arguments about sexual issues ceased. We were on the same page. Slowly, my old memories stopped torturing me. My interest and desire for marital love increased. And it keeps on growing! I am thankful that God is the third person in our marriage.

We have grown so much in our marriage.  Thankfully, we were always open to life and now have 8 children! I know that God has blessed our union and continues to.  Being open to children has helped us be ready for the graces and healing that God sends us. We both would like more children, but time is no longer on our side. Having children, teaching them about the faith, going to daily Mass, reading books like Dressing with Dignity, meeting other Catholic women who were doing the same, all these things led me to a deeper understanding of how the Church views chastity.

We have no regrets about our fertility. We left it to God, trusting that He would send us as many children as He desired. God has blessed us with good health and steady jobs for my husband. We never found reasons to not be open. Many have asked us if we use NFP or assume we do. We don’t. We just trust in God. He has led us on a great adventure so far!

Put Out into the Deep

“Duc in altum” are the words Jesus spoke one day after speaking to the crowds from Simon’s boat.  He encouraged the Apostle to “put out into the deep” for a catch (Lk 5:4).   Mine is the story of listening to that small voice that calls you to trust entirely on God and the plans he has for your life.

We were twelve years into our marriage.  We had three beautiful children (all spaced according to our plan).  After the third child was born, we felt the responsible thing to do was to have my husband get a vasectomy.  We had our “perfect” family.   We thought three kids was plenty to handle and to think of having more in this day and age would be crazy.  As Catholics, my husband and I were not well educated on the Church’s teaching regarding contraception.  We both felt it was not a big deal since we had after all been “open to children” in our marriage and were being responsible parents in caring for the gifts God had already blessed us with.

When we relocated from Baltimore, Maryland to Northern Virginia in 2004, our youngest had just turned two.  Our other two kids were 6 and 4 years old.  To say I was busy getting settled into new routines with the kids, the community, and feathering a new nest would be an understatement.  My plate was very full but I was enjoying the time home with my children.   However, despite my “perfect family,” I felt a deep restlessness in my soul.  Contentment within my marriage eluded me and I didn’t know why.   I was becoming a regular on-line reader and poster at the Catholic Answers forums.  I enjoyed and felt drawn to apologetics and learning to defend the Catholic Church’s teachings.   I asked a lot of questions and contributed to many discussions.  Time and time again I was amazed at how the Church had an answer to every objection!   When properly presented, the Church’s teachings proved not only biblical but very reasonable and sound.   As one of my favorite authors, Matthew Kelly, is fond of saying, “There is genius in Catholicism.”  Little did I know that God would use apologetics to open my heart to the beauty of Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

For more than a year I continued to read and immerse myself in the teachings of the Church.  During this time my husband and I had the chance to attend a talk at a parish not far from ours.  Scott Hahn was the speaker and I heard for the first time his exegesis of The Lamb’s Supper.  All the pieces of salvation history were beautifully put into place and I walked away having an even greater appreciation for the gift of faith and my love for the Catholic Church — ­­especially the Eucharist.  I also knew that my lack of understanding of the role that the Pope and the Magisterium play in handing down the authoritative teachings of Christ contributed to the way I thought about contraception/sterilization.   I knew that my conscience had not been formed properly growing up and for this I felt very sad.

My sadness practically turned to despair after I completed a six week course that was offered at my parish on Christopher West’s Introduction to the Theology of the Body.  About three weeks into the course, I felt like the Apostle Paul as the scales fell from my eyes and, for the first time in my life, I understood the beauty of the nuptial meaning of the body and how marriage so perfectly mirrors the selfless love of the Holy Trinity.   The total, free, faithful, and fruitful gift of self in marriage embodies the gift of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.   When properly understood in this context it is clear how contraception/sterilization disrupts God’s intended meaning of marriage.   For more on this I highly recommend reading Introduction to the Theology of the Body.

Realizing the mistake/sin of sterilization and how it was most likely affecting the lack of contentment that I was feeling within my marriage, I had a long talk with my husband.  I knew we had to repent of our sin and ask the Lord for forgiveness of our pride, selfishness, and lack of trust in God where our family was concerned (which is what contraception ultimately boils down to).  Fully aware that reversing the vasectomy was NOT required by the Church to be forgiven, I began reading how other couples who had gone through a vasectomy learned NFP and practiced it as though they were fertile.  The purpose of this was to instill a sense of sexual discipline where none had been before.  It also allowed the woman to become aware of the signs her body gives off during her monthly cycle.   Although I could see the merit in this, I felt like the Lord was calling me to “put out into the deep.”   I read a book titled Sterilization Reversal – A Generous Act of Love edited by John L. Long, which detailed the stories of couples who reversed their decision to sterilize their marriages.   As I read their stories I could feel my sense of despair change to a sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, my husband would be open to considering having his vasectomy reversed.   I prayed a lot at this time asking only that the Lord’s will be done.  I had this burning desire to restore what never should have been broken in my marriage.  I wanted to restore the fertility that my husband and I had taken for granted and had thrown away.   Knowing now what an integral part of marriage our fertility was designed to be, I longed to live out my vocation according to God’s plan and not my own.

To my glorious surprise, after much discernment and prayer, my husband agreed to have his vasectomy reversed.  We did our homework on the urologists who specialize in vasectomy reversals in this country.  This is a procedure that MUST be done by someone who specializes in this delicate surgery.  It was going to be expensive since our insurance would not cover the cost.  The waiting list was over five months long!  During this time we chose not to tell our extended family what we were planning on doing.  We knew that our decision would be met with bewilderment and that we would be called “crazy” for doing such a thing!   I can still hear my mother’s words ringing in my ears after my third child was born (and suffered terribly with colic): “You’d be crazy to have any more kids.”  Besides, there really was no point in sharing our decision unless of course we ended up becoming pregnant down the road.   Pregnancy wasn’t our goal.  Restoring my husband’s fertility was.

The reversal surgery was scheduled to take place in September of 2006.  It was also a month before I celebrated my 40th birthday.    I participated for the first time in St. Louis Marie de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary which was beginning in early November at a local parish.   This consecration helped me to better understand the role that Mary plays in dispensing our Lord’s graces as Mediatrix.  I grew very close to our Lady during this time since I felt I couldn’t confide in my own mother for wisdom, comfort, and support with all that was taking place in my marriage.  Mary’s “Fiat” became my daily prayer.  The consecration also allowed me to see how easily influenced I had been by the “trappings of the world” and the falsehoods of the father of lies where my marriage was concerned.  I was so attached to the things that the world offers that I slowly stopped trusting God.

About a month after the vasectomy reversal was complete (no complications, thank God), we renewed our marriage vows with our parish priest.  We felt this was fitting since we were celebrating our 12th year of marriage.  For twelve years we used contraception.  Now we were embarking on a new chapter of our marriage.  We had been reconciled to the Catholic Church.  We had restored my husband’s fertility and we were committed to living out the teachings of the Church.   Saying our vows at this time had so much more meaning for the both of us than on our wedding day.   I sent away for material on Natural Family Planning (NFP).  I read the book and started keeping track of my temperature each day.  To my surprise, it wasn’t as complicated as it seemed.  It was very empowering to understand my body’s cycle and get in tune with the different changes that take place each cycle.  I kept thinking “Why didn’t I learn this stuff BEFORE I got married?”  I wish an NFP class had been mandatory for my husband and me before we got married.  I struggled not so much with the mechanics of NFP but rather with the reasoning for using NFP.  I kept asking myself and my husband the question: “Do we have a just reason to avoid a pregnancy at this time?”  The selfish part of us came up with all the typical excuses why having another child wouldn’t be a good idea, but these reasons quickly dissolved under serious scrutiny.   Our age was an issue (my husband is two years older than I am).  I often thought of all the older women in the bible that God blessed with children despite their “advanced maternal age.”    At the end of the day, it came down to trusting God with this decision.  We surrendered our wills completely to God’s.

I’ve heard it said that you can never out-do God in generosity.  Whatever you give to God, He will multiply it one hundred fold.   Only a few weeks after having our marriage vows renewed, I found out we were expecting our fourth child. As a 40-year-old woman I knew that my pregnancy would be treated as “high risk” for advanced maternal age.   The world tells us that there is a certain age beyond which women should not be having children.  The world provides all the remedies to make sure that we keep those things from happening.  It felt liberating to turn down the volume on what the world was telling us and instead to “let go and let God.”  I often contemplated the Annunciation and Mary’s total trust in God for her life (even if she didn’t fully understand it at the time).   Contemplating Mary’s total surrender to God’s will and her dependency on His love for her helped me to humbly see our own cross of bringing another child into the family in proper perspective.

We gave birth to a healthy baby boy in July of 2007.  He is our constant reminder that nothing is impossible with God.   I believe God calls each one of us to realign our boats, put out into the deep, trust in His love and mercy so that He can show us the true beauty and genius of His eternal truths.

 Submitted from Virginia

 

God is so Kind, so Generous and Merciful

My husband and I were Evangelical Protestants. We used contraception for the first years of our marriage. That was, we believed at the time, the most responsible thing to do. We were taught not to become pregnant until we were financially “ready,” and then it was probably most responsible to have only two children. More than that, and you would find it difficult to be a “good” parent. Having more than two children, we would also risk being “selfish.” I, however, was willing to take that risk. My dream was to have many children. My husband’s dream was to have two. That, he hoped, would be our family. That would be our responsible plan.

But then, that was not God’s ultimate plan for us. I look back on those days and think of myself as, hard as it is to say, arrogant — to believe that my plan, our plan, could be “better” than whatever God would have planned for us. But I really did not understand, nor had I ever heard, the Catholic teachings of God’s plans of procreation, of sexuality, and of the gift of children.

When we decided we were ‘ready” for children, we found we had infertility problems. After many months without contracepting, we were finally blessed with our first child, and then subsequently suffered our first miscarriage. More infertility, and finally we were blessed with a second child. After several years, I was able to convince my husband to try for just one more child. We had, however, years with more miscarriages.

After four miscarriages (the pregnancies were achieved through infertility treatments and medications), we were told by the doctor that I would never give birth to another child, and so we adopted. My husband was reluctant at best when we began the process, and only came around because he realized how desperately I wanted another child. The day our baby arrived, however, she became the light of my husband’s life, and that light has only become brighter with time. They adore each other, and God created this special relationship, just as he had created our first two children. At this point, my husband told me, no more adoptions. Our family was complete. While his decision saddened me, for the first few months of our new baby’s life, I was too distracted by the carpools, after school sports, diapers, and nap times to really absorb the finality of his decision to close our family at this point.

Then God opened it again. One day, when my husband was away on a business trip, I went to the drugstore to purchase something I never thought I would ever buy again — a home pregnancy test. Without any fertility treatments, my body was beginning to show all the signs of pregnancy. I felt numb — if this were true, it most likely meant I would have to live through the devastation of miscarriage again. How would I ever get through this yet another time, I wondered.

The test was positive, and I knew my husband wouldn’t believe me — he would think it was a practical joke. In fact, he did laugh when I told him, but soon the truth settled in on both of us that I was indeed pregnant, and we would, in all likelihood, have another miscarriage.

But God is so kind, so generous and merciful. And He allowed us to give birth to our last child. He was born strong and healthy, and he is truly our miracle baby.
I believe that the gift of this baby was, in part, God’s way of showing us that it is indeed He who is in control. His love for us is greater than we could ever imagine. And His plans for us are greater, as well.

After our last baby was born, we came to the Catholic Church, by the grace of God, and through the writings of Pope John Paul the Great. The Pope’s theology of the body explains the great love God has for us, and how He allows us to participate with Him in His creation. We learned that it is a great privilege to partner with God in the creation of His precious children. We are grateful for this gift, and we are grateful, as well, for His bringing us into the fullness of the faith, in His Holy Roman Catholic Church.

Submitted from Virginia