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.

Porn Addiction and Shame Thrive in Darkness

I was 11 years old when I was first exposed to porn. It happened by accident. Growing up, for as long as I could remember I always had a TV with full cable in my bedroom and I watched it often.

tv picOne evening I was scrolling through the channels looking for something to watch. Back then there used to be scrambled channels – which are those channels you had to pay extra money for but sometimes you could see scrambled images of them and even hear audio at times. When I was scrolling through the channels something caught my eye on one of the scrambled ones. I got curious and kept watching. It turns out that this channel was the Playboy Channel. I felt good while watching it, so I watched it again the next day. Then the day after that, then the day after that and so on.

What started as a habit quickly turned into an addiction. I discovered other similar scrambled channels so I would scroll through them each night to get my “fix.” Over time I started to build up a tolerance to these images – I had to watch them longer and longer each night in order to satisfy my desires. Eventually masturbation started to come into play. This is how I would spend several nights a week for years.

I always knew deep down that what I was doing was wrong – I didn’t quite know how it was wrong at first but I knew nonetheless. I mean, why else was I going to great measures to hide this from everyone? I would only do this at night when my parents were asleep and even then I would keep the TV volume down low and lock my bedroom door. During the day, I literally pretended that this part of my life just did not exist. I continued to play the part of the perfect daughter and student who got good grades, didn’t do drugs, and wasn’t having sex with boys.

I was raised Catholic and always believed in God and knew that He was real. During high school my relationship with God started to deepen. I would journal about Him, turn to Him when I was upset, and I wanted to understand Him more. It was around my junior year of high school that I made a resolve to just stop watching porn and masturbation.

It actually worked for a little while – I went months without giving in. But then life started to hit me from all sides and I became weak and gave into the one thing that made me feel good – even if it was temporary. And I fell back into my addiction hard.

When I was about 17 I received my first laptop with wireless internet capabilities. Things changed upon receiving this laptop; a whole new realm opened up to me and it was too tempting to resist.

So I switched into watching pornographic videos on the internet. I wanted this all to stop so badly. I felt horrible and disgusted with myself after each time I gave into my addiction. I still pretended that this all didn’t exist – I couldn’t deal with the fact that there was something wrong with me.

When I moved away to college I wanted a fresh start to almost every aspect of my life – including my porn and masturbation habit. For my first two years of college, I actually didn’t watch any porn and my masturbation habit has stopped altogether since then. It helped that during that time I had to share a room with someone else and I lived with 20 other girls in one house, so it was hard to be alone!

I also wanted to grow in my relationship with God and understand my Catholic faith better. I started going to the Catholic Student Center. I started out with just a weekly Bible study but it grew from there and before I knew it I was part of a wonderful faithful student community. I was forming solid friendships with others my age who had the same faith – it was a wonderful period in my life!

When I stopped watching porn and my masturbation habit; I also wanted to forget they ever happened. I remember telling myself that this was a secret that I would take to my grave. I believed that if I simply didn’t think about any of this, it would just fade away on its own some day.

But as I formed these new, holy friendships and grew closer to God, these terrible memories didn’t fade away. They were always there pressing into the back of my mind. That shame, “If people really knew what you did, they would be disgusted by you,” would still come through and caused me to carry a weight deep down in my heart.

In the spring semester of my freshman year, I attended a retreat with a local Catholic student center. It was during that retreat that I realized that my relationship with God could not go any further until I let go of this weight that I had been carrying around for years.

It was on that retreat that I made a decision to return to the sacrament of Confession. This was a sacrament that I had misunderstood for years. I always told myself that Confession wasn’t necessary but deep down I also knew that in accepting Confession I would have to confess these sins out loud to a priest. The thought of both acknowledging that these sins existed and confessing them to another person terrified me for years – so this decision to go back to Confession was not an easy one.

I went to Confession on that retreat and told the priest that I had struggled with pornography and masturbation for years. He told me that my sins were forgiven by God and I walked out of that confessional a new person. For the first time in YEARS I did not feel that heavy weight on my heart any more.

To this day I have never been the same person that I was before I went into that confessional – God showed me His mercy that night and brought tremendous graces and blessings. ! He showed me that He loved me despite my sins and despite how ashamed I felt of myself deep down. He gave me the freedom to acknowledge my sins and to finally let them go to receive His forgiveness.

I will never forget that wonderful experience of returning to Confession. And this is the part of the story where I wish I can say that my struggle with pornography addiction ended, but I can’t.

A lot of amazing things happened in my life over the next year and a half after this retreat: I continued to grow in my faith and I was forming healthy, faith-centered relationships within my local church community.

But something else happened too – I slipped. It started out small but then my addiction came back into my life at full force. For reasons I couldn’t understand, desires that had not been a problem for me for two years were suddenly enslaving my life. I could not go two days, let alone a whole week, without giving into this addiction.

I felt much worse during this time in my life than I had when I was younger and struggled with this same problem. Because this time I knew the full implications of what I was doing. I knew how much danger my soul was in and how offensive my sins were to God. I felt so ashamed because I had experienced so many great things over the past two years and now I was tarnishing it all.

I wanted help so badly, but I felt so ashamed and had no idea if there were any other women in my community who also struggled with this; I didn’t know who to turn to. So I turned to no one. I would go to confession every time I gave in, but I didn’t confide in anyone about what was going on. I was so fragile at this point that I was afraid of being rejected and misunderstood by those I loved, so I tried to rely on my own understanding which definitely didn’t work.

I searched the internet for resources but most of the resources were directed at men – hardly anything was out there for Christian women who struggled with this sin. This only added to the loneliness and isolation I felt.

A lack of resources was no excuse for continuing to give-in to my addiction, but I highlight this because I want other people to understand that this is a real problem among women and it needs to be talked about and addressed. Thankfully now as I write this, there is much greater awareness of this issue and ministries have been forming to bring hope and healing to women going through this struggle.
After that one, dark stretch of struggling through this addiction alone every day, I continued to struggle with it on a sporadic basis. May 2011 was the last time I ever gave into my addiction.

It’s been over three years now and I’m thankful that these dark desires are not that strong anymore, though I still struggle with temptation from time to time. I have found that a disciplined prayer life, which includes weekly fasting, has brought me tremendous graces in dealing with this struggle.

Unfortunately, my addiction is still a big secret I have kept from my friends and family all these years. I have yet to talk extensively with another person about my past struggles. That’s part of why I’m writing this all down now and sharing it with anyone who will read it: Pornography addiction thrives in the darkness and I can no longer keep my struggles out of the light.

I’m sharing this story partly for my own personal healing; it’s a first step in what I hope will be a new journey to deeper healing. I’ve come to a point in my life where I’ve realized that God cannot give me the graces and gifts He longs to give if I continue to hang onto this big secret.

I also hope that my story will help other women currently going through this struggle. If any of you are reading this right now, I want you to know three things:

1. You are NOT alone and you are NOT defined by your sins.

2. Pray daily and try to fast from something that brings you comfort, at least once a week. Christ told us: “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:21)

3. Tell someone. Whether it’s a pastor, a trusted friend, or a counselor, talk to someone about what you’re going through.

I’m still struggling with number three so I ask for anyone reading this to keep me in your prayers, and know that I will be keeping all of you in my prayers as well.

There are Roses in my Soul

My husband can attest to the fact that I haven’t a single green appendage, i.e. green thumb; however, I’ve planted rose bushes at every house we’ve shared. Planting them was easy, but the rest I left to nature. Typically, my minimal efforts had produced results to match. When we moved here four years ago, I again planted some new rose bushes just beside our front porch and relocated a resident climbing rose bush to the Marian garden in our yard. Last year, having purchased two apple trees, I felt compelled to try a little harder and so I rummaged through the shed and found a container of plant food. Food in hand, I circled my way around the yard sprinkling here and there our azaleas, apple trees, and my rose bushes.

I’m not really sure why I have this affinity for rose bushes, but just the thought of them brings three beloved people to mind. My mother had some roses planted just across the driveway from the side door (the door we actually used to go in and out as opposed to the front door that only strangers entered through). I think they were peach in color and I have a picture in my head that my mom took of my sister posing beside them. Then there is the story of St. Therese, the Little Flower, dropping roses to those who ask for her intercession. A grammar school teacher first taught me about her and my college roommate renewed my interest in this dear saint years later. In fact, I offered a novena to the little saint in those hours after our first child, Dimitri, was born when the details of his illness began to unfold. And, of course, roses always evince a connection to my Blessed Mother. Most of the time when I bring blooms in, I offer them to our Lady by placing the vase on our kitchen shrine.

This spring those rose bushes decided to reward my little efforts in so many more ways than I understood at first. Each in turn, the tall, thorny, green stalks began to produce tiny buds that erupted into beautiful flowers of yellow and then red. The timing of this was something of a gift in and of itself. I began to spy the changes during the weeks surrounding the loss of my husband’s job and the loss of our dear expected baby, who was still cradled in my womb. That is when my secret, daily ritual started. Waking up each morning, I would walk through the house opening windows and doors before stepping out onto the front porch which I’d cross in order to peer over the railing to see what those bushes had in store for me that day. Simple and perhaps a bit silly, but those bushes filled me with an inexplicable hope and peace. The dilemma for me then was in deciding whether I wanted to cut those blooms and carry them inside to enjoy or allow them to remain on the stem, where their beauty might last a bit longer.

At the end of April when the roses first made their appearance, we had the privilege of being godparents to our friends’ son. In thanksgiving for this blessing and that of our expected little one, I carried those first blooms to the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and placed them at her shrine. It was an easy offering on my behalf. Although I admit, I was humbled measuring my tiny bouquet against the two matching arrangements that decorated the table. To the eye, my gift looked unimpressive, but I knew that I hadn’t retained a single blossom for myself. My satisfaction was derived in knowing that I had given everything I had.

During the next few weeks, our personal trials increased and so did my daily ritual. Then, one particular Thursday came. We’d discovered the baby’s death some days before, but I was still clinging to the hope of a miracle. Knowing that Lazarus had been raised and so too had Jarius’ daughter been woken from her eternal slumber, I was praying that death would not win again. Since my husband was home, we had the rare opportunity of attending Thursday morning Mass as a family. As we rushed around preparing nine people to leave by 7:30am, I’d not had time for my peaceful ritual. But, the thought washed over me that I needed to bring today’s blooms to my Mother. I headed out to quickly clip and plant today’s bounty into a vase for transport when I was overcome by sadness and then anger. There they were in all their splendor, five roses. Five, I counted them again, five. In an instant, without a moment’s hesitation, I realized there was one bloom for each of our five heavenly children. One for Dimitri, one for Mary, one for Simeon, one for Philomena and now one for Matthew, too, how could this be? “No, no,” I wanted to scream, “You can’t have five from us. You have four already, you don’t need this fifth soul.” I wanted to pretend it didn’t mean anything, but I knew better. I wanted to leave those roses home because surely Our Lady didn’t need those stupid flowers anyway, but I knew better. So, holding fast to my unspoken anger and searing sorrow, I grabbed the scissors and I cut all five of those opened roses. Hurriedly, I stuck them into a vase as the family waited in the van. It was an internal tug-of-war for me, but I knew I had to give them all, so silently I did.

At the same time the roses were busy in the front yard, the climbers in the Marian garden were also joining in. The whole Marian garden was filled with the colors of red roses, orange Day Lilies and white Easter Lilies. During the time we were waiting for Matthew’s delivery, I remember thinking at least the garden was ready for his arrival. It brought me some solace to consider this tiny family graveyard would be well decorated when it came time for his funeral. Perhaps, even more fitting that after we laid Matthew’s hand-sized coffin in the ground, the blooms died, too and roses stopped appearing.

My memory is rather cloudy nowadays, so time seems to slip pass me and I cannot remember the exact sequence of days and weeks, but you might imagine my surprise and delight when beloved friends brought us a new rose bush in memory of Matthew. They had no idea of my rituals. And it wasn’t until days later when I asked my little ones to prepare a spot in the front yard, that I read the tag. This bush was a John Paul II commemorative rose bush, and we all know whom he had great devotion to. So, sometime in June we were gifted with this new plant that was nothing more, seemingly, than a stick with roots in a pot. I was thrilled to have a tangible, continuing sign of Matthew’s brief, earthly life and I figured that if I was lucky, or more rightly blessed, we might see Matthew’s roses in a year or two. Perhaps, I’m just garden-ignorant (okay, I am, there is no perhaps about it) but I didn’t understand when Greg told me that the bush was growing not even a month later. Finally, I saw those first tiny red leaves for myself, but still I didn’t believe. When Greg mentioned that buds were appearing, I simply ignored what he was telling me.

In truth, I liked the idea of a bare stick jutting out of the ground. I wanted it to remain bare and to hide its growth from sight for a year or two. I wanted that rose bush to mirror the way I felt, ugly and unproductive. Time was necessary, lots of time, for that bush to bloom and for me to start the process of healing, but God had other plans again. He often does. Without my consent, that stump grew its leaves and White Rosethen it had the temerity to produce a single white blossom. Unwilling to relinquish my denial, I allowed that pure, white flower to turn brown without much more than a fleeting glance from me. The bush, however, isn’t dependent on my will to make it grow or not, so it continues to defy me.

In the course, of these many trials I have wrestled with what I perceived as an inability to pray and a test of my faith. In the weakest moments, I’ve cried out, “My God, why have you abandoned me?” Listening for the answer, I’ve heard nothing. Having given those five roses to Mother, I’ve felt unable to give her anything more or even to ask for her intercession. Adoration and Mass have brought me comfort and temporary peace, but inside an emptiness has remained. A small prayer formed from this loneliness, in which I simply say, “Here I am Lord, I am empty. I have nothing left to offer, but I am Yours. Fill up my emptiness with Yourself.” A recent gospel reading ended with the command, “Whoever has ears ought to hear” which might also include whoever has eyes ought to see. Today I realized that I have been watching God’s love bloom in my yard and in my empty places. He did not need my conscious consent. He was not dependent on me to feed Him. My soul is a rose bush planted in His Divine Marian garden and He has fed me with His word, nurtured me with His love and caused my heart to bloom with hope. He used my affinity for these simple creations of His to teach me. Like the parables He used to explain the kingdom to His disciples, so are the rose bushes He is using to help me to understand.

There is one tiny white rose in bloom right now on Matthew’s bush and another bud due to burst. The bushes that began my ritual have decided their rest is over and they, too, are ripe with buds. I’m not sure that my time of mourning has fully ended, but I understand that my roots are planted deeply in faith. And God’s love has the power to transform my ugly emptiness into something beautiful and fruitful.

Miscarriage and the Love of our Father

I was just over 13 weeks pregnant when I miscarried this time.  Because of a previous miscarriage, my doctor ordered an early sonogram to set my mind at ease.  I saw the heartbeat of my precious baby at 8 weeks.  Already this child was beloved.  Regardless of that vibrant heartbeat, my child died shortly after the sonogram.  I found out at 13.5 weeks when I started to show symptoms of miscarriage.

Years earlier, the first time I miscarried, I was a newlywed.  I didn’t know my faith and wasn’t practicing it.  My husband’s and my reaction to becoming pregnant progressed quickly from surprise, to fear, to elation.  And then I miscarried at 13 weeks.

Without faith, losing my first child was just one big awful painful experience that I tried to stuff inside of me so that it wouldn’t swallow me.  I wept until there were no more tears and then I tried to focus on the future.  No one knew what to say to me and just about everything they said hurt me.  “Oh there will be others,”  “it wasn’t meant to be,”  “there must have been a deformity, better that it wasn’t born.”  In hindsight, through the eyes of faith, I know that all of their comments lacked the intended consolation because they didn’t acknowledge the baby that I lost, the viable life.  They didn’t acknowledge that I was entitled to grieve this loss because it wasn’t a just a medical term, a miscarriage, it was a baby.

I stuffed it all in after the first miscarriage and thought I was coping very well.  Life was back to normal for a while until out of the blue I became deeply sad.  I was on the verge of tears for several days.  I couldn’t understand why I felt like weeping until I realized that it was the week of my due date: my body, my whole being, was missing my child that was to have been born.  Recognizing and admitting the cause of my sadness helped to alleviate it some and gave me some peace.

Over the years I gave birth to 3 beautiful healthy children and, praise be to God, my husband and I began to learn about and live our Catholic faith.

However, despite now being a faithful Catholic, the second miscarriage was still heartbreaking.  Although I had never held this child in my arms, I believed that she was a girl and I had felt her presence in my womb.  Her hormones mingled with mine, leaving me nauseous and lethargic.  I anticipated her birth and met her in my hopes and dreams.   I felt her loss in the depth of my soul.  I wept.  Although my husband handled it differently, he was deeply affected as well.   And now I couldn’t just stuff it all inside of me, I had 3 children who had lost a sibling and were also grieving.  So I prayed and I tried to be strong.   A kind priest said something that I found comforting: “A baby is a baby no matter how small.  Some are born into our families and we raise them.  Some go straight to heaven to intercede on our behalf.”  His words brought me comfort because they acknowledged my baby as a person and a member of our family. They also reminded me that this baby had not been erased, that although she would not be a part of our family on earth, she would still be a part of our family through the communion of saints in heaven.

The priest also quoted  John 11:35 And Jesus wept.  I appreciated the scripture, but at the time its meaning escaped me.

Two days after the miscarriage my husband was scheduled to travel for business.  I told him that he should go.  I wanted to try to get back to normal and really didn’t think there was anything he could do for me at home.  He left for the trip.  The night he left, after I put the kids to bed, I regretted encouraging him to go.  I was overwhelmed with sadness and grief.  Through my tears I prayed in a desperately demanding sort of way.  “Lord, intellectually I know that you are there, but right now I really need to feel your presence physically.  I need to feel your comfort, your embrace.  I need you to hold me.  I need a big strong shoulder to cry on.  Please Lord!”  And then I cried myself to sleep.

In the morning I went to daily mass for the first time since I had miscarried.  My grief and fluctuating hormones left me feeling emotionally unstable so I didn’t want to be near anyone.  I sat in the very last pew.  The closest person was at least 15 rows ahead of me.  Then a few minutes after Mass started, a young man and his son came in and sat directly in front of me.  The man was extremely tall, at least 6’ 6”, and his son seemed to be around 8 years old.  My thoughts were not particularly charitable: “REALLY??? There are 30 empty pews and you have to sit right in front of me.”

During Mass I couldn’t help it; I began to weep softly and silently.  I was distracted and looking off to the right when I felt something touching my left knee.  I turned and saw that it was the man’s hand.  He bent backwards just enough to reach me.  I have to say that having a stranger place his hand on my knee would normally have upset me, but oddly I felt comforted by this stranger’s gesture.  Then at the sign of peace, the man effortlessly leaned backwards and embraced me. I felt consoled, physically.   After Mass he knelt beside me in the aisle and told me that he was praying for me.

Immediately I knew that our Lord, in his great compassion, had answered my prayer and had sent this man to comfort me.  He was so tall, and so compassionate.  I felt our Lord’s embrace and our Lord’s love and comfort. I prayed with gratitude in my heart for this tangible answer to my previous prayer.

A few days later a woman who had been at that Mass approached me.  She wanted to know who the man was that had knelt beside me.  I told her that I didn’t know his name but it seemed that he had been sent by God.  She told me that she had been in line behind him to greet the priest on the way out of Mass.  file000871375277She said that he was weeping.  I remembered, John 11:35 And Jesus wept.

Recently, John 11:35 was included in the Gospel for Sunday Mass.  The priest’s homily touched on why Jesus, who knew all and could change all would weep.  He said that Jesus wept out of compassion because he knew how painful death was and that, but for the fall, death wasn’t meant to be.

I know with both my intellect and my heart that Jesus was with me every step of my struggle through these miscarriages.  He was grieving with me and helping me to carry the pain of losing my babies.  I find great comfort and strength in that.  It makes our heavenly Father’s love so tangible to me.

Yes, I have lost two babies, but I have also received a gift.  If you have ever miscarried, please take any part of my story as your own.  Know that our Lord was with you as well and wept for the loss of your baby also.

Together, my children and I named their two siblings, Jack and Lily.  There is great dignity in having a name.  We registered them in The Book of Life at the Shrine of the Holy Innocents, dedicated to the memory of children who have died unborn.  They sent us a certificate that we keep in our family photo album.  I believe that Jack and Lily may be our most powerful intercessors.

Waiting for Marriage during the Sexual Revolution: Mistakes I Made

Reading through some of these heartfelt stories from the lives of very real Catholic women is kind of sad; so many of us have been through unnecessary pain. While we all have a different tale to tell, I blame most of the trials on the sexual revolution of the 60’s. This time of “empowerment for women” caused and continues to cause a lot of pain and suffering. I seriously believe that most women would be much happier living in an era when life was much less complicated.

Since I was 15 years old, I have wished I was married in the 1950’s because it seemed to me that men and women respected one another then. They respected the Laws of God and were dedicated to maintaining harmony in the family. But I was born in the late 50’s and lived through the Cultural Revolution. Many of my girlfriends embraced it. They loved the freedom and opportunities that feminism presented, so they went on the pill and were determined to carve a new path for themselves. Not me. My plan was to let God be in charge.

I went to Mass throughout my college career, I pursued the talents that God gave me and I waited. I waited and occasionally I dated hoping to find “the one.” I thought I did everything right, but boys stopped calling me when I told them how I felt about premarital sex. I believed waiting for marriage was honorable, initially. Then it started to become embarrassing and eventually it haunted me.

When I was 21 I had sex just to get it over with. No longer having the stigma hanging over me, I could refuse sex because I didn’t want to do it, not because I was saving myself, which was apparently the kiss of death.

Still single at 24, I moved to a big city because I didn’t know what else to do with myself Lovestamp smallerother than pray constantly for a husband. I tried to date, but city boys were not interested in committed relationships. I became friends with a guy I worked with who was very sympathetic and encouraging. But after lots of conversations, he thought I needed to move out of the “Dark Ages” and embrace the feminist movement. His argument started to get to me. I mean, I wasn’t very happy and it seemed to me that everyone else around me was. They were living it up and I was pretty much waiting for my life to begin. Maybe he was right.

I allowed my life to take a very dark turn. I started having sex with my guy friend, who also happened to be married. It was a terrible sin and I hated myself for it. I broke it off a thousand times, but each time I fell into deep despair. I was painfully lonely and hopelessly in love with him. Then I got pregnant. He handed me $2000 in cash. I wept and I wept and I wept. I was a sinner, and I believed this was my punishment. I was trapped, scared, and desperately alone because I had given up believing in God, as my acts were so shameful. There were no angels to rescue me. I loved this married man and felt in my heart that if I kept the child it would destroy his family, and I believed that would make the sin of the affair even worse. He was my world and I didn’t want to lose it, so I took off from work the Friday of my 8th week of pregnancy and had an abortion.

Nearly two years later, after about 6 months of therapy, I was able to end the relationship for good. It had lasted 4 years and I was so wounded by it, it honestly took me another two years to emotionally move on. During that time, I started to talk to my younger, married sister more frequently. She was critical of the women’s movement and wanted me to leave the city. When we would say our good byes, she would often add, “I’ll pray for you.”

One time she ended the call with an admonishment, “I’ll pray for you,” she said, “but you have to pray too. God wants to hear from you!” All those years I had prayed seemed so fruitless, but with her words I realized how much I missed my relationship with the Lord. Inspired by her admonishment, I gradually journeyed my way back to the loving arms of our Heavenly Father. It didn’t happen overnight, yet each step in His direction filled me with great hope and peace. I received the sacrament of Reconciliation, went back to church and began to study my faith for the first time since my 8th grade Confirmation. I also experienced vivid “directional” signs from the Good Shepherd, and I knew He was leading me out of the darkness. God’s generous mercy healed the wounds of my mistakes and I vowed to live my life differently.

After ten years in the city, I finally moved. I wanted to be closer to my family and I thought I needed to discern whether I was called to the consecrated life. One month into my discernment, I met my future husband. He was a kind and gentle man who was also profoundly hurt from the effects of the sexual revolution.

The Cultural Revolution of the 60’s brought about great change that I was clearly not prepared to deal with. My parents raised their daughters to be wives and mothers. My mother didn’t have any idea what the single life was like and thought I was being too picky with men. My home parish was equally clueless and Youth Ministry didn’t exist beyond CYO basketball. There wasn’t any support; I was very confused and it was obvious that the people who could or should have helped were just as confused.

I think the church has come a very long way in addressing the delicate moral issues that youth are confronted with daily, and as parents, my husband and I know we have to be ever-vigilant. Wife/mother and husband/father are admirable goals, but single men and women can also have meaningful and fulfilling vocations. There is no reason to wait for adult life to begin.

 

***EDITOR’S NOTE: If you or someone you know has been involved with abortion, or is having an unexpected pregnancy, please contact Project Rachel post-abortion healing or Gabriel Project pregnancy help for confidential support and assistance.

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.

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.