Vasectomy, Reversal and Reversion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until Death Do Us Part

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just need to finish the book.

Adoption: A Miracle, Not a Last Option

I was fortunate enough to be raised in a great Catholic family. I was one of 8 children, so we did get the Catholic large family comments. I always knew that I wanted to have a larger than average family, too. I was also very lucky to meet my future husband who decided he wanted to join the Catholic Church.

My husband and I took a class in NFP before we were married, in spite of the offer my husband got from a friend to teach him about contraception for our wedding night (he knew we had abstained from premarital sex). We decided to use NFP in an attempt to postpone pregnancy for a year or two.

When we decided we wanted to start our family, it was exciting at first. After all, I thought, with NFP you can get close to pre-determining your child’s birthday. I had fun thinking about when our baby would be born and I even bought a grandchild birthstone charm for my mom’s collection.

After a year of trying to get pregnant, we were frustrated and depressed. My husband and I tried to work through it together. We both dealt with infertility very differently and it caused much tension in our marriage. My husband was optimistic and happy to keep doing his part to achieve pregnancy. I, on the other hand, dreaded the impending period every month and saw “achieving” pregnancy as a chore.

My married siblings were having children every 1.8 years and my husband and I spent longer than that trying to get pregnant. Friends were having “surprise” pregnancies. We heard all of the talk about IVF. One reason I didn’t tell people that I was trying to get pregnant was because I didn’t want to hear their recommendations about trying IVF or other methods not conducive to God’s plan for life. I just wished I could become a mom. Mother’s Day (which happened to be my birthday one year) was a little depressing. I even thought a miscarriage wouldn’t be so bad, because I would be a mom with a lovely soul in heaven. But I never saw that positive pregnancy test.

We sought infertility help from a prolife doctor and he was wonderful with us. We tried some medication and some natural supplements, but we still did not get pregnant. After exhausting what I saw as all of our viable options for a biological child, I wanted to proceed with adoption. When we got married we had talked about adopting some day, but we figured we would have biological children first. My husband wanted to keep trying to get pregnant, so we compromised and decided to try to achieve pregnancy for 6 more months and if unsuccessful, we would pursue an adoption. I was happy to have an end goal in mind. The monthly periods weren’t as depressing for me because they put us one month closer to an adoption. For those 6 months I became an adoption-information fiend and gathered information from wherever I could: internet, adoption agencies, and information sessions. We did not have any friends, family, or neighbors who had adopted so we had to look elsewhere. Adoption wasn’t a word we heard discussed at church and there wasn’t an adoption support group for Catholic families.

After 6 months of information-gathering and more failed attempts at pregnancy, we embarked on a new journey to adopt. We told close family and friends and they were surprised. I can remember telling my in-laws and the first response was, “Why would you do that?” We simply said, “Because we want to.” We didn’t feel that this was a back-up plan because our original plan hadn’t worked out. We knew this had been God’s plan all along, and we were now embracing it. I suppose He knew we wouldn’t adopt if we had started by having biological children.

We chose to adopt a child from Korea. We filled out the piles of paperwork and met other couples who adopted or were waiting to adopt. Right after our home study was completed we received a picture of our future son. He was beautiful! We told people we interact with regularly about him. People were happy for us but weren’t quite sure how to react. Do you throw a baby shower for a mom who is about to adopt? Do you keep asking if she has heard anything about when the baby comes home? I went to baby showers for pregnant women and expecting fathers at work. I didn’t look like I was expecting and we were hesitant to buy many baby things.

Life got very exciting when we received a surprise phone call that our son was ready to come home two months earlier than expected. A day later we were on an airplane to Korea. Meeting our son for the first time was the recognition of a miracle. Though we didn’t witness the medical miracle of birth, we knew that God had called this child to be in our family.

There wasn’t anyone to meet us at the airport when we arrived home. We didn’t even have a crib set up for him at home. There wasn’t a big baby shower with lots of baby items to doll up our son. But we were a happy family of three now.

We knew we would be back to Korea to do it all over again. And 16 months later we came home from Korea as a happy family of four. We witnessed yet another miracle child by adoption.

A year later we decided that we would pursue adoption again. This time God had a different plan: I was pregnant. Of course we were excited, but we were also disappointed that we had to stop the adoption process (we were not allowed to pursue adoption if I was pregnant). It was a sad call to the adoption agency to halt the process.

When we finally told people after the first trimester, they were elated for us. Friends and family were more excited than when we told them about our two adoptions. People figured we had finally gotten what we wanted – a child of our own.

Being adoptive parents has taught us that our children are not only ours. Our sons also have biological and foster parents who will always be a part of their lives. Ultimately, all children really belong to God, and, like being an adoptive parent, we are just given the privilege to care for them here on earth. We were looking forward to welcoming our third child a different way, but we knew that this child is still not our own.

We had always longed to be parents and we were blessed to experience both miracles of adoption and birth. No one method of becoming parents is better than another and no child is more special than another. In a way we were sad that people were so excited for us this time around. When our son was born we received a family heirloom blanket that was reserved for our “first child.” I was angry that people viewed our newborn as our first child. What about our other two blessings? All of our children were wanted and loved and we didn’t let ignorant comments from others bother us.

Three years later we followed God’s call to adopt our fourth son. Many people think we are crazy. If you know you can make your own kids now, why would you adopt? Why would you choose to have more than three children? We could easily limit the number of children in our family just by not signing piles of paperwork. If you can pick your child, why would you keep picking boys? The truth of the matter is that we don’t have a gender preference for our children and there are many more boys to adopt. We are so happy that we have been recipients of this most precious gift of adoption.

I harbor no resentment for those Catholic families who have children every 2 years. It is wonderful that they are open to the life God gives them. That was just not God’s plan for our family. He helped us to discover the miracle of children in a different way.

So how do we share the wonder of this gift with others? How do we shed light on the beauty of adoption and get it off the “very last option to become parents” list? We wish there had been support from our Church community during our adoption process, so we have started an adoption support group at our church. We need to combat the modern culture of ordering up a pregnancy through IVF, sperm banks, gender selection, and all other ways of controlling the biological process. We have the wonderful option of adoption so let us celebrate it and share with others. I will not claim that adoption is easy or that it is for every couple, but I wish more families would consider it instead of the “guaranteed results” at the fertility centers.

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!

A Challenging Adventure Every Day

Being committed to living out a true authentic Catholic marriage, by being open to life, has been one of the most challenging yet exciting adventures of my life.  Despite or perhaps due to the difficult trials in our marriage and the blessing, yet constant, challenge of having many children, I can honestly say that living a Catholic (or contraceptive-free) marriage has been more satisfying and fulfilling than I ever imagined it could be.  Never easy and still to this day extremely challenging, but always having the gift of a deep sense of peace from God.  This peace doesn’t necessarily come from anything I do but simply in experiencing His blessing and hand in our family as we have continued to abandon our “family planning” to Him.

Our culture convinces us that the Church’s teaching is extremely restrictive and prohibitive in its limits and rules.  It claims the Church is robbing us of our due pleasure, satisfaction and freedom.  When in reality, I have experienced the opposite in Catholic married life.  It has been precisely through the Church’s guidelines that I have experienced a true satisfaction, fulfillment and freedom in my marriage.  As my husband and I have lived this commitment (believe me, it has only been lived with the grace of God), struggling along the way, we have been forced to grow in patience, self-sacrifice and generosity towards one another.  Like a fine wine, this commitment has produced a deep intimacy and satisfaction in our marital relationship.  All the ways the culture claims to satisfy in this area have seemed to fall short of this lasting peace and intimacy I have experienced.

Ultimately, It is the sharing in this community of persons, according to the way that God designed, that has lead me closer to Christ in a way that can only be experienced in marriage.  It is a new, exciting and always challenging adventure every day.

Submitted from Virginia