Chapter 4 - The
Eucharist and the Marital Covenant
Heartfelt gratitude to Janet Morana, Associate
Director of Priests for Life, for her inspiration and encouragement in
developing this booklet. We have been blessed by her continued support,
passion, and the generous gifts of her expertise and guidance.
We are especially thankful for all those who have laid a
firm foundation in the realms of science and theology, especially Fr. Frank
Pavone, Fr. Paul Marx, Dr. Thomas W. Hilgers, Mary Beth Bonacci, Janet Smith,
Christopher West, Mercedes Arzú Wilson,
Dr. Fritz Baumgartner, Susan Lepak, and all the many unsung
heroes who have given their lives to educating others about these challenging
Church teachings. We appreciate their candid and fearless pursuit of the
truth that nourishes our souls and fosters the growth and maturity of our
We express our gratitude to Anne Neville, Fr. Peter
Gelfer, Cheryl Ryan, Edie Guiterez, Susan Gliko, Steve and Colleen Harmon, Cathy
Martell, and Marie Widmann for your contributions. We are also grateful to Ellen
Curro, PA-C, Sharon Sellman, and Michelle Howe for their helpful editorial
assistance. We are also indebted to all those who labor on teams
throughout the world in the healing ministry of Rachel’s Vineyard, for helping
to validate and encourage the healing of reproductive wounds. May God bless each
of you as you draw others into the of heart of Jesus, the master and minister of
care for searching souls who long to be whole and align themselves with God’s
Kevin and Theresa Burke
Listen to Women
It’s time for a new feminism.
Feminism, at its best, listens to the voices of women. It
listens with new ears, not pre-judging what it will hear, nor trying to make it
fit into any mold. True feminism is attuned to what women are saying about what
helps them and what hurts them. It is ready to hear them, even when their
message presents new challenges to the rest of us. It listens courageously.
The message of this book is a step forward for authentic
feminism and for women’s health, and yet is going to challenge many of those who
fashion themselves advocates of both. It will also challenge those who are
advocates of the pro-life message but may not have fully integrated into their
own thinking and work that facet of the message that this book addresses.
This book will open the ears and the hearts – of those willing
to listen – to the pain so many women endure because of the loss of children by
contraception. The message is one of grief sustained by hope, of wounds
surrounded by healing. For women, first of all, it is a message worth hearing.
For boyfriends, husbands, and all men, it is a story that may not be far from
daily life. For doctors, pastors, and other professionals who serve couples and
families, this is a book that can change how they practice their role of
I am so grateful to Dr. Theresa Burke, Kevin Burke, and Janet
Morana, members of my pastoral staff, for their courageous, listening hearts
that have brought this book about, and I am grateful to the many other
contributors to this fine work.
The problem with modern society is not that it has been
obsessed with sex, but rather that it has been afraid of it – afraid to face the
fullness of its meaning and its demands of total self-giving and openness to
realities beyond our own limited pleasures. In a culture that is afraid of sex,
we are also afraid to face the wounds caused by abusing it. My prayer is that
this book will help us turn the corner, giving us the courage to face wounds we
didn’t know were there, and perhaps enabling us to discover the courage to
embrace the full meaning of human sexuality, and the life it engenders, as never
Rev. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life
“Before I formed you in
the womb I knew you.”
Among the many hidden
sources of shame and grief in the Church today, perhaps none go as unnoticed,
unmentioned and ignored as the emotional pain resulting from the use of
contraception. A growing number of women, however, including
non-Catholics, are coming forward with stories of profound grief and loss
connected with their past use of artificial contraceptives. Many of you
who pick up this booklet may be surprised to read that contraception can be
related to intense grief. What is the root of this mysterious pain
that many women and men are beginning to face? It is the growing awareness
that some forms of birth control do more than just prevent pregnancy.
The Birth Control Pill,
the IUD, and other hormonal contraceptives such as the Morning After Pill,
Depo-Provera, and Norplant can, after conception occurs, cause the loss of a
unique human life.
In this booklet you will
find the latest scientific information on these forms of birth control and how
they cause abortions in the earliest stages of a developing child’s life.
Next we will share some stories of women and men who have faced the grief of
losing children to abortifacient contraception. In the final chapters our
view will expand to look at the overall effects of contraception on our
relationships and on our faith journey. We will also discuss the
challenges and benefits of Natural Family Planning, and, most importantly, we
will outline the road to recovery for those who grieve the effects of
contraception and wish to experience the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord in
A Painful Awakening
A growing tide of unanticipated grief
and craving for true intimacy is sweeping along untouched shores with increasing
recognition. There is a very real pain that parents experience when they
make a choice to reject life, a decision that can be rooted in the widespread
practice of contraception and sterilization. Although not yet acknowledged
in mainstream society, we see this pain surfacing increasingly among women and
men who come to regret the use of abortifacient devices and pills as well as
sterilization procedures that destroy the gift of fertility.
The majority of Catholic couples
practice some form of birth control; this despite the Church’s official
pronouncements against the use of contraception as expounded in the 1968
document, Humanae Vitae. A 1992 Gallup poll showed that 80 percent
of U.S. Catholics disagreed with the statement, "Using artificial means of
birth control is wrong." A 1996 study conducted by Father Thomas Sweetser for the Milwaukee-based Parish Evaluation Project found that only 9
percent of Catholics consider birth control to be immoral.
Despite this disconnect between
official Church teaching and everyday Catholic practice, a surprising
development has arisen that may lead all Christians, and all who believe that
human life begins at conception, to take a second look at the whole issue of
The Manipulation of Language
The U.S. Department of Health
defines an abortifacient procedure as:
measures which impair the ability of the zygote at any time between the instant
of fertilization and the completion of labor constitute, in the strict sense,
procedures for inducing abortion.”
The manipulation of language has
been a common temptation to humanity in the last century, with often tragic
consequences as a result. This twisting of the true meaning of words and
the true nature of certain actions can lead to various forms of oppression,
discrimination, and loss of life, in the end impacting the integrity of eternal
As Father Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life,
special challenge facing our movement at this time is this question: If a
baby is killed by a chemical method or killed at an earlier age than surgical
abortion can be done, is that a real child, and is that a real abortion?
Morally and philosophically, it is not difficult for us to answer, "Yes."
Psychologically and emotionally, however, we may find it more difficult.
Father Pavone goes on to say: “Human life
is indivisible in its moral value. Either it is always and everywhere sacred, or
it is always and everywhere disposable. There can be no middle ground.When a human egg joins with a human sperm (an action known as fertilization), a
new 46-chromosomed human being is conceived. By exploiting the hollow and
deceptive corridors of language, however, the American College of Obstetrics and
Gynecology decided to redefine the term "conception"” over thirty years ago,
coincidently at the same time that artificial birth control was first being
promoted. The new terminology defined conception as occurring not at
fertilization, but at the implantation of a
blastocyst on the uterine wall, an action which typically
occurs a full 1-2 weeks after that new 46-chromosomed human being comes
into existence at fertilization.
Dr. Fritz Baumgartner asks
a pertinent question in his article entitled “Life
Begins at the Beginning: A Doctor Gives the
Scientific Facts on When Life Begins”:
But why? Why on earth would the American College of
Obstetrics and Gynecology change its definition of conception from fertilization
to implantation? The chilling answer was suggested by Dr. Richard Sosnowski of
ACOG, who in his 1984 presidential address stated:
 I do not deem it excellent to
play semantic gymnastics in a profession … It is equally troublesome to me that,
with no scientific evidence to validate the change, the definition of conception
as the successful spermatic penetration of an ovum was redefined as the
implantation of a fertilized ovum. It appears to me that the only reason for
this was the dilemma produced by the possibility that the intrauterine
contraceptive device might function as an abortifacient"
Unfortunately, many women who would never consider a surgical abortion now use
low-dose birth control pills that may cause them to abort a new life on an
average of once or twice every year. In his book, The Facts of Life: An
Authoritative Guide to Life and Family Issues, Dr. Brian Clowes explains how
a large number of women who identify themselves as pro-life use these pills,
many at the urging and pressure of their husbands:
“This means that “pro-life” women who are using an oral contraceptive, or some
other means of abortifacient birth control, are committing abortions themselves
on a frequent basis. These abortions are “silent” and unseen, but they are no
less abortions in the eyes of God than are gruesome third-trimester D&X (partial
birth) abortions. There are many “pro-lifers” who are using these pills and who
are involved in their promotion and distribution. These people must consider
whether they can, in good conscience, criticize women whose action differs from
their own only in that they have to drive to a “clinic” (mill) to commit it.” 
Clowes goes on to share that: “Some researchers (using very conservative
figures) have calculated that birth control pills directly cause between 1.53
and 4.15 million chemical abortions per year in the United States - up to two
and a half times the total number of surgical abortions committed every year!”
Susan Gliko, who
coordinates the Rachel’s Vineyard retreats for post-abortion healing in Montana,
“I am very angry
that my doctor never explained the true nature of contraception when he
prescribed birth control. My periods are like clockwork, and when I was
getting the Depo-Provera shot there were three times that my period was late.
When I called my doctor’s office, concerned about my late periods, the nurse
explained that I should not worry and that it was normal. They assured me
that I would get my period. Well, I did get my period… after my child
starved to death. I found out years later how this type of contraception
works, and my heart is just sick. My periods were late because I was
pregnant. My period was delayed until the baby had died because it could
not attach properly to my uterus to be nourished.”
The Birth Control Pill was
introduced to the public as a problem free solution for women who wanted to
prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Dr. Walter L. Larimore, MD and Dr. Joseph B.
Stanford, MD point out, however, that while the principal mechanism of oral
contraceptives is to inhibit ovulation, this mechanism does not always work.
When breakthrough ovulation occurs, secondary mechanisms operate to prevent
pregnancy. These secondary mechanisms may occur either before or after
fertilization. In other words, these secondary mechanisms may work to
destroy a new human being after its conception at fertilization. The principles
of informed consent suggest that patients who may object to the destruction of
any children they conceive should be made aware of this information so that they
can give fully informed consent for the use of oral contraceptives.
Susan Lepak, from the
Diocese of Oklahoma City, has been a Natural Family Planning Practitioner for the past seven
years. Susan shares:
“Many women appreciated the pill, the shot, the patch, and
hormonal interventions because they create lighter periods. This is a
result of the thinning of the lining of the uterus. Break-through
ovulation occurs from 30 to 65% of the time. It takes 6 to 9 days on
average for the newly formed human to travel from the fallopian tube to the
lining of the uterus. Unfortunately, when he or she arrives, the lining is
too thin, and there is an early abortion before the woman realizes she is
pregnant. The progestin and estrogen actually interfere with the pregnancy
by changing the lining of the uterus so that a newly conceived child cannot
implant in the womb. She might notice that her period is late or heavier
than usual, that there is increased cramping, or some other sign that is
different than her usual 3-5 day light flow caused by the hormonal
contraception. (However, the IUD acts as an abortifacient most of the time.)
The child is flushed out through the uterus and appears as a heavy period.
When she learns the truth and then thinks back and prays about it, she might
have an intuitive sense that she has lost a child. This new version of the
pill that was now supposedly safer for the mom was clearly more dangerous for
the babies being conceived.”
When people come
to learn the truth about these methods of birth control, many express guilt,
grief, and anger that their wombs were made an unwelcome environment for their
developing child at its earliest time of life. Many women who realize they
have spent years denying the gift of life because of their dependence on
chemical or surgical methods of contraception feel a genuine sense of loss and
The Seal of Science
Validation of one’s feelings brings a
sense of freedom and acceptance. The truth does not need to be confirmed
to stay truthful; however, evidence of the truth ultimately helps us better
understand the quiet voices in our hearts. In the case of abortifacient
contraceptives, it can also empower us to look honestly at the true nature of
these forms of birth control
Dr. Thomas W. Hilgers provides
additional in-depth scientific information to explain the effects of
abortifacients. In his book, Reproductive Anatomy & Physiology, Dr.
Hilgers explains how other forms of contraceptives, besides the Birth Control
Pill, can cause very early abortions. He also describes their mechanisms
of action (how they work) as follows: “The mechanism whereby the inhibition of
implantation occurs by suppression of normal endometrial development is an
abortifacient act of the oral contraceptive. This occurs when ovulation is
not inhibited by oral contraceptive.”
It has been estimated that for the
standard oral contraceptive, this may range from a low of 1.7 percent to 28.6
percent per cycle. For the progestin-only contraceptives, the breakthrough
ovulation rates may range from 33 to 65 percent.
Most women who have used birth control pills are not fully informed how they
work or the possibilities of break-through ovulation. The Transdermal
Contraceptive System (TCS), which is a patch that is applied to the body, has
the same mechanism of action as the oral contraceptive.
Norplant's mode of action is the
same as oral contraceptive pills. When
fertilization may have occurred, the inadequate endometrial development will
prevent implantation, and therefore the early embryonic life will be aborted.
Furthermore, "Twenty percent of pregnancies in Norplant users are ectopic."
With Depo-Provera, an injectable progestin, the
"mechanisms of action are the same as for oral contraceptives.”
For Depo-Provera, the major effect is the inhibition of ovulation. Secondly, the
endometrium becomes thin and does not secrete sufficient glycogen to support a
blastocyst on entering the womb.
In Depo-Provera users, series have been reported with 1.3% to as high as 14.3%
of pregnancies as being ectopic.
Regarding the Intrauterine device Dr.
Hilgers states that the mechanism of action of the IUD has become somewhat
confusing in recent years because the emphasis has been placed upon its
contraceptive effects. However, it continues to have an abortive action.
A recent review by Spinnato strongly suggests that the prevention of
implantation still is the main mechanism of action.
Depo-Provera is an injectable form of
Provera. It is sometimes called the three-month injection. Dr.
Hilgers states that it creates a suppression of ovulation - a change in the
endometrial lining and changes in the cervical mucus. It therefore also
carries the potential to be abortifacient.
 Norplant, which has recently
been taken off the market, is an implantable contraceptive that is sometimes
referred to as “the five year contraceptive”.
Dr. Hilgers writes, “It also suppresses the endometrium, which is an
abortifacient action. Ovulation may occur as much as 50% of the time in
patients who have used the device for five years.”
Dr. Hilgers also addresses the claim
that contraceptives are a health benefit. “There is little question that
the major marketing effort for contraceptive agents, especially oral
contraceptives, is to market them on the basis of their so-called ‘health
benefits.’ The question of whether they are a physiologically competent means of
avoiding pregnancy has long been resolved in their favor. However, in
order to continue their promotions, the pharmaceutical industry, along with many
physicians who work with them, have engaged in an effort to market them built
upon these suggested benefits.”
For example, it has been documented
that the incidence of ovarian and endometrial cancer are decreased with the use
of some oral contraceptives. This is often referred to as a “health
“However, the increased risk of breast cancer in women younger than 45 years of
age, invasive cervical cancer in women under the age of 60, and liver cancer in
women who have used oral contraceptives is usually ignored. Furthermore,
the increased risk of breast cancer has also been associated with the use of
Dr. Hilgers also comments on
osteoporosis: “While it has been suggested that oral contraceptives
increase bone density and thus may be of assistance in reducing osteoporosis, no
long-term linkage has yet been established. However, it has been shown
that bone mineral density is actually decreased in women who use oral
contraceptives and Depo-Provera.”
Contraceptives are also considered to have health benefits for Premenstrual
Syndrome. However, the clinical experience suggests otherwise.
Contraceptives have been associated with cardiovascular risks. It has been
well demonstrated that former and current oral contraceptive users have an
increased risk of myocardial infarction over women who have never used birth
Additionally, the introduction of contraceptive agents has clearly increased the
incidence of sexually transmitted diseases. In summary Dr. Hilgers writes:
“The marketing efforts for contraceptive agents, especially birth control pills,
have strongly promoted the “health benefits” of their use.”
However, these same marketing efforts usually ignore the “health risks” of
It is imperative that women and men
be told the truth about contraceptives. The burden of reality may seem
heavy to bear, but in the search for authentic love and the realization of our
dignity as sons and daughters of the Living God, we seek the truth to set us
“Take my yoke upon you and learn
from me, for I am humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Respecting God’s plan for the
beautiful and powerful gift of human sexuality brings us liberation and peace.
The natural law fits perfectly into God’s plan. When we go against God’s
plan, we ultimately violate ourselves. What follows in the next section of
this booklet are some testimonies of healing and recovery from the grief caused
A Collection of Personal
By Janet Morana, Associate Director, Priests for Life
I was born in Brooklyn, New York in
1952 and grew up educated in Catholic schools. I am the oldest of four children,
with fourteen years separating the oldest from the youngest. I graduated from
college in 1974 and married in 1975. It was a time when my Catholic faith
no longer seemed to make sense, and I gradually drifted away from the Church.
At the same time, all my close friends were getting married, so marriage seemed
like the next step to take - or so I thought.
I became engaged after dating my
future husband for three months. From there things moved quickly towards
our wedding day. At Pre-Cana classes the priest told us that depending
upon the circumstances, birth control pills could be an option for us to
consider. What I didn't realize was that this was bad advice in every way:
theologically, spiritually, psychologically, and physically!
As the oldest of four siblings, I had
many years of experience dealing with diapers and babysitting, and felt that
delaying the start of a family was a good idea. I had taken birth control
pills back in high school (although I wasn't sexually active), as prescribed by
my OB/GYN for menstrual problems. At this point in my life, then, both a
priest and a doctor had legitimized the use of contraceptives, and so I began my
journey down the slippery slope.
I started taking birth control pills
three months before my wedding date. About one month before my wedding, my
fiancé began to pressure me to have sex with him. I had been a virgin up
until then! I gave in to the pressure, and so my marriage got off to a bad
start. When you begin marriage not knowing each other very well and then
compound things by moving into a very intimate physical relationship, you set
the stage for disaster. There's a popular song about marrying your best
friend; well, that’s how well you should know someone before entering into such
a serious, lifelong commitment.
I continued taking the pill for two
years. Once I was off the pill, I got pregnant immediately and gave birth to an
absolutely beautiful baby girl. I threw all my attention into motherhood,
and as a result wanted to delay having another baby. I went back on birth
control pills until my daughter was thirteen months old. I then felt it was
important for her to have a sibling, so I stopped taking the pill. Once again, I
became pregnant almost immediately. The lesson I was teaching myself was
this: No pill equals countless children!
This time I gave birth to beautiful
twin girls. By this time information was released showing the risk of
clots and strokes associated with birth control pills. With a history of
strokes in my family, I was afraid to go back on the pill. I didn't know
about Natural Family Planning. In fact, the only natural method that I
knew of was the old "rhythm" method, which was considered by most to be
unreliable. Since my marriage was built on a physical relationship, you
can imagine the amount of arguing and fighting that began. When the twins
were three, I thought I was pregnant again. It was just a scare, but it
was enough to make me do something really drastic: I had a tubal ligation.
I felt I had solved all my problems - or so I thought.
I had embraced everything that the
feminist movement promoted as being liberating and empowering for women.
In reality, I had not been liberated; everyday I felt more trapped in a bad
As my marriage continued its downward
spiral, I focused more and more on my three daughters. The good news is
that I became reconnected with my Catholic faith around this time. As I
began to rediscover my faith and the teachings of the Church, I learned about
God's beautiful plan for marriage, including Natural Family Planning.
At the same time, I became aware of
how birth control pills really worked.
I had always thought that birth control pills simply prevented
fertilization. Now I learned that the Pill actually has its own built-in
insurance system, employing several different methods of action in case one or
more of the methods don’t work. Besides trying to prevent fertilization,
the Pill also thickens the cervical mucus, which then acts as a barrier,
preventing the sperm from getting to the egg. If both of these first two
methods fail and ovulation and conception both occur, then the Pill acts to
prevent the fertilized egg (the newly conceived human being) from implanting
itself onto the side wall of the uterus. The child is then aborted
out of the body.
I didn't feel the impact of this
newfound information until several years later. I was with a friend visiting the
Epcot Center in Disney World, and we decided to visit the Wonder of Life
exhibit. As I began to watch a beautiful video showing the wonder of how life
began, I realized what taking the birth control pills really meant: the
possibility of aborting new life. In the years that I had been taking
birth control pills, I had been very sexually active. I also knew that I was an
extremely fertile woman. Given these facts, there is no doubt that I had
successfully conceived new life many times, but had never given these little
babies the chance to grow inside me. For the very first time in my life, I came
to grips with the fact that I had not only shut myself off to life, but had also
destroyed an unknown number of children.
As I came out of that exhibit, there
was a giant rushing water fountain nearby. I walked over to it and began to sob
uncontrollably. I stayed there for quite some time, absorbed in my sudden
feelings of grief and remorse. This was the very first time I became aware
of the full impact of what I had done.
As I became more involved in pro-life
work, I learned more about the damage that abortion does to women. I
realized that many of these women had felt alone in their grief at first, but
later were able to experience mercy and healing. These women who had been
through the healing process could therefore serve as a voice for other women
still locked in the secret sin of abortion. That is why I co-founded the
Silent No More Awareness Campaign, an initiative that gives women a forum for
publicly testifying to the negative impact that abortion had on their lives.
Because I never had a surgical abortion, people began to question me why I was
involved in such a campaign. Here again I had to come to grips with all
the children I had lost because of birth control pills.
Most people who work in post-abortion
ministry only recognize the pain and grief from surgical abortion. Yet I
know in my heart that the loss I feel is just as real as if I had had a surgical
abortion. Moreover, I know I am not alone. In fact, many women come
up to me when I am at conferences speaking about the Silent No More Awareness
Campaign and share their grief from years of taking abortifacients.
But there is good news. I was able to
come to grips with these feelings of grief and loss recently at a Rachel's
Vineyard Retreat. It was a first step in having my feelings validated,
and I began to deal with my loss in a new light. I am here to say that I
will be "Silent No More" about the children that I aborted through birth
I am now reaching out to the other
women who I know share these feelings. I am sure I am not the only woman
with a testimony like this. I want others that would like to share their
story to send it to me. I will establish a section on the Priests for Life
website for these testimonies. I know we can help many families realize
the damage birth control will do to their lives by getting the word out. I
also want to reach out to others who feel the pain that I have described and
tell them that they too can take the first steps towards healing.
Does my grief count?
Anne Neville facilitates the Interdenominational version of the
Rachel’s Vineyard retreats for post-abortive women and men in Melbourne,
Australia. Anne shares her personal and intimate experience:
“When I was training
to become a facilitator for post abortion healing, I needed to attend a Rachel’s
Vineyard retreat myself before I attempted to run one. On the retreat, those who
had not experienced abortion were invited to bring their own grief issues into
the process. I had used a contraceptive many years ago which I later came
to realize was an abortifacient. This fact didn't really fully break through to
my consciousness, however, until after I began my work with Rachel’s Vineyard
and started learning about pregnancy loss issues. It just shows how strong
denial can be! Once I realized that an IUD acts as an abortifacient, my
response was one of horror at what I had inadvertently (or naively) done.
I was extremely distressed and
plagued with guilt, shame, and remorse. I shared this with David, my
husband, and he was at a loss as to how to comfort and reassure me.
I even tried to access medical
records to pinpoint exactly when I had the IUD in place, but they were long
gone. All I could remember was that the IUD was only in place for a few
months because it caused great discomfort and pain. I should not have had it
inserted to begin with, as I had not even had a child at that point!
Through a process of elimination, I was able to pinpoint when the IUD was
inserted and an expected due date. This due date fit in with the bouts of
depression I had been plagued by every January for many years - the month I
believe our daughter (whom I later named Sarah) would have been born.
My fear at the retreat was that
somehow my grief wouldn't seem legitimate to the others. Nevertheless, I
knew I had to “let it out” for my own healing; it couldn't be dammed up any
longer. As I told my story, the depth of grief released was incredible - I
just couldn't stop sobbing. I don't think I have ever cried so much. The
tears flowed right through the weekend, but it felt OK to cry, even though I
started to wonder how I would ever get myself together again to go home.
Interestingly, in the two weeks
leading up to the retreat, I had experienced quite a severe, period-like pain
radiating through my abdomen and down the fronts of my thighs. I might add
that I am 56, have had a hysterectomy, and am post-menopausal. After
telling my story at the retreat, this pain disappeared. It felt as though
my body was going through a birthing process. It was so wonderful to be
able to acknowledge Sarah, spend time with her, speak to her, and welcome her
into our family. It was like bringing our daughter out of the shadows and into
the light. The power of the exercises and living scriptures in Rachel’s
Vineyard was amazing. The support, care, and healing I received has set me
free from this awful burden. The team and the participants accepted me as
I was, and through them I felt God's love so strongly. And yes, I did find
that I was OK when it came time to leave.
Since my retreat, I have started a
little garden for Sarah close to our family outdoor eating area, which is a
great comfort to me. I have also started a memory box in which I have
placed a small, soft, pink rabbit and some very tiny, knitted, pink garments (I
always wanted to be able to buy something in pink - we have two sons!).
All these things make the gift of Sarah very real.
I can only say that from my
experience I was able to grieve my loss through the Rachel’s Vineyard retreat
program. No one should be turned away from a retreat just because her loss
doesn't fit the traditionally recognized form of surgical abortion.
Anything that constitutes this type of loss needs to be validated and allowed
the expression of grief that it engenders. The hurt is similar and so is
the healing needed. It's not for us to make distinctions between what is
and isn’t an acceptable loss - because that's how it could seem. I'm sure
our loving God doesn't.”
IUD (Ignorance under Duress)
“In June of 1967, nine months after
our wedding day, our first child was born. A few weeks later, our
contraception struggles began. The doctor asked me what I was going to use
for birth control. I explained to him that as a Catholic, birth control
was against my religion. He then proceeded to “educate” me, claiming that
Catholic women were permitted to use birth control pills for six months in order
to regulate their periods and so be in a better position to use the natural
method of birth control acceptable to the Catholic Church. I used the pill
for six months, but afterwards received no information about the natural method
that the doctor had described to me previously. Instead, I immediately became
pregnant again. There I was, 22 years old, married two years, and caring
for two babies hundreds of miles away from family.
This time the doctor proposed the IUD
as an effective form of contraception. When I asked him how it worked, he
told me that scientists weren’t really sure, and I believed him. Even if
he had told me, I’m not certain I would have understood. Maybe I wouldn’t
have even wanted to understand. As my husband drove me to the doctor’s
office to have the IUD put in place, I remember feeling like I was on my way to
have a “back alley abortion.” Since I wasn’t going for an abortion,
though, these thoughts and feelings didn’t make any sense, so I quickly pushed
them aside. A few months later I learned how the IUD worked and had it
I have never had a surgical abortion,
but now, so many years later, I have learned that I lost two children during the
time I had the IUD in place. Two children were conceived, but not
permitted to lodge in my uterus because of the action of the IUD. What a
terrible sorrow. I have worked with the Rachel’s Vineyard program as a
facilitator for eight years now – how gracious our God is to have waited for me
to receive this information until I was best able to handle it. I now
believe that it was these two children who have spurred me on from heaven to do
post-abortion healing work at Rachel’s Vineyard.
I went on to have two more children
while using other various forms of birth control. It was late in1973 when
I arrived at my doctor’s office again. I was pregnant with my fourth child (the
oldest was barely six at the time). When he informed me that I didn’t have
to keep my child, that abortion was now legal, I was horrified. It makes
me dizzy even now as I write this. I didn’t have the abortion, but since I
was very young and naïve, I continued to see this doctor. After having the
fourth child, I had my tubes tied. Euphemisms such as “tubes tied” sound
more acceptable than “sterilized.” I knew that it meant I would have no
more children, but now I realize what a sanitized expression was presented to
me. At my check up I told the doctor how sad I was about the procedure.
He explained that there would eventually be a time when I wouldn’t be able to
have any more children; this procedure just sped the process up.
Now I am past childbearing years.
I see my married daughter and her Catholic friends who are well informed about
Natural Family Planning methods and I am happy for them. They have their
struggles and pregnancy concerns, but the mutuality of the experience with their
husbands impresses me. Their children are not considered “accidents.” They
are considered to be part of God’s plan.
Now, having learned that I lost two
children while using the IUD, I understand why for so many years I looked back
on my life and wished that I had had two more children. I did have two
more children, in fact, but I didn’t know it on a conscious level. The
information came to me slowly. At one point God placed two names on my
heart, and I recall feeling breathless.
Eventually it was placed on my heart
to share my story on a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat that I was leading. After
sharing my story, my co-facilitator offered to lead the remainder of the retreat
and invited me to finish the retreat as one of the participants. I
did so, accepting two bereavement dolls and writing a letter to the babies.
I am thankful to the Lord for the opportunity to obtain healing and closure for
An IUD is an abortifacient. Many
children’s lives are lost and not honored because of it. My prayer is that
other couples that have lost children in a similar manner will allow this
information into their hearts and not be overwhelmed by it, knowing that there
is healing available. I pray also that this information will help prevent
other young couples from going down the path of artificial birth control,
instead encouraging them to embrace God’s natural way of regulating births and
being open to new life.”
After "The Morning After"
next testimony is an open and candid account of an experience with Emergency
Contraception (EC) or Morning after pill, along with some important information
about how this form of contraception works.
“I was raised Catholic and pro-life.
The thought of ever having an abortion was beyond my comprehension, because I
truly valued the gift of life. I prided myself on being a “good girl.”
Only “bad girls” had babies out of wedlock. Once I began dating a man that
I loved, however, our passion was hard to control. Although we had sex
many times, I thought I was mature and responsible. I was also very
careful. We used spermicidal gels and foams along with condoms. I
never wanted to be in the position of needing an abortion, because I also would
never want to come home pregnant and disgrace my family by being a “bad girl.”
One weekend my boyfriend and I
attended a time-share mini-vacation at a resort. This enticing deal
offered the guests a free condominium for the weekend in exchange for listening
to a sales pitch to purchase a time-share resort property. Did I mention
that the condo included a private hot tub and fireplace? Unfortunately, it
was a temptation we could not turn down, and so we registered and traveled a few
hundred miles to engage in an immoral get-away. It was fun to pretend that
we were a couple. It was even more exciting to enjoy a private room with
champagne in what seemed to be the perfect romantic setting.
Our fantasy was abruptly shattered,
however, when our condom broke while making love. I felt it break inside
me, and sure enough, there was a large tear in the tip of the condom, making it
clear that thousands, possibly millions of microscopic sperm were now swimming
their way up my fallopian tubes (we did not use spermicidal foam that evening).
According to the calendar calculation of my rhythm cycle, I was likely in the
midst of ovulation or nearing it. All I could register was the utter
horror at the possibility of becoming pregnant!
There was just no way! I was
the “good girl!” I was my daddy’s favorite! I could never come home
and tell him I had gotten pregnant. I wanted to undo the leaky condom and
reverse our potential crisis. But how? What could we do?
We spent the night obsessing over all
the possible scenarios that could play out if I were pregnant. Before we
knew it, the glimmering dawn rays of the sun were heralding the lamentable
“morning after.” I remembered hearing about some kind of “emergency
contraception” on a television news show. It made perfect sense to look
into this option. After all, this was not some adolescent mistake; we had
been responsible! We had used a condom! We had no conscious or
unconscious desire to become pregnant; after all, we were using birth control.
But the birth control had failed us,
and so it seemed at the time that medical science had a responsibility to help
us! I made numerous phone calls, and finally someone mentioned the
possibility of taking a “morning after pill.” I had to call at least
a dozen doctors in order to find a physician who was willing to administer it.
I was informed: “This is a very powerful hormonal drug. We don’t
just give it out unless there is a serious reason.” Eventually, I found a
24-hour emergency clinic that agreed to offer me the shots. (When this incident
occurred twenty years ago, the morning after pill was actually given in the form
of two consecutive shots separated by 24-hour time intervals.) At the
time, I never felt anything other than the complete determination to end “that
possibility.” I could not afford to take any chances. I just
couldn’t take hearing the words “You’re pregnant.”
I received the shots and endured
several weeks of excessive bleeding and cramping as the drug purged my uterine
walls of any sperm that might be left hanging around, looking for an egg to
penetrate. I did not consider taking this emergency contraception as
anything bad, however. In my mind, it was nothing like having an abortion.
Of course, I would never do that!
later learned that the morning after pill is a multiple dose of an oral
contraceptive. The morning after pill may prevent ovulation, or if fertilization
has occurred, it may ruin the implantation of a newly conceived human being.
Pride is defined in Webster’s
dictionary as an inordinate self-esteem or conceit; a reasonable or justifiable
self-respect. The word conceit refers to a favorable opinion, especially
an excessive appreciation of one's own worth or virtue. My intellectual
rationalizations precluded any sin I may have been committing, but I felt guilt
and shame in the inward depths of my soul. It was a guilt and shame that
would follow me for many years as I sought to reconcile an unnamed hurt, an
unmentionable betrayal, and an invalidated grief. Intellectually, I had been
responsible, but according to my deepest convictions of faith, morality, and the
Church teaching which I embraced, I was a hypocrite, living a farce as a
prideful and unrepentant sinner. The experience was especially difficult
to reconcile within myself because I never knew whether I conceived a child that
night. Either way, my intent was to reject any gift of life that may have
come from a mistake I had made. I was not allowed to make mistakes.
In my prideful perfectionism, I needed to erase any mistakes I had committed.
Only later, on a Rachel’s Vineyard
Retreat, did I grieve my calculating rejection of what God may have allowed to
happen that night. Only later did I realize that I had been attempting to
control the consequences of my actions through a medicine that may have acted as
an abortifacient. Only God knows if I conceived a child that night.
Only God in His mercy can forgive me for my ignorance, pride, and desire to
maintain my “good girl” image. My actions and promiscuous behaviors revealed a
contradiction between who I pretended to be to my parents and those closest to
me and what I did privately with my boyfriend - and what I did in a panic
stricken moment. There was clear evidence of a grave contradiction and
God sent His Son Jesus so that we
might have life and have it to the fullest. When we are only revealing
half of who we are, and minimizing, distorting, and rationalizing our other
behaviors, we cannot embrace the whole truth of ourselves in honesty. We
remain in bondage and deception. Eventually, I reconciled this painful
event by placing my situation into the palm of His mercy. I asked God to
forgive my foolish fear and to give me the courage to face my failings with
honesty. Repentance offers the greatest freedom and the utmost clarity.
common description of the morning after pill as emergency “contraception” fails
to describe its possible abortifacient action and is misleading to the public.
This confusion is aggravated further by the current attempt to re-define
pregnancy as occurring after implantation. It has always been a basic fact
of human embryology that life begins at conception. It’s only been in the
last three decades that medicine has considered pregnancy to begin at
implantation instead of at fertilization.
Manufacturers of the morning after pill have reduced the hormone content of oral
contraceptives due to serious side effects and health risks. Now women are
being encouraged to use these same pills in multiple doses as post-coital
"contraception." The potential long-term impact of these high hormone
doses, especially when used repeatedly, is worrisome. The potential effect
of the drug on children who survive is also a cause for concern.
The contraceptive obsession of modern
day culture is at complete odds with the life of the soul, created to reflect
the image of God and His joy in creating new life. By using contraception
or methods of sterilization, we close ourselves off from welcoming children into
our lives and marriages. This is contrary to the vows that Catholic
couples profess on their wedding day, when they agree to accept children
lovingly as a gift from God. Consequently, if their method of birth
control fails (as it frequently does), then the couple is faced with a child
whom they did not want growing in the womb. Contraception has made us
think that we can sever the intrinsic connection between having sex and making
As Christopher West points out in his book Good News about Sex and Marriage:
“Unwanted babies are the result of
people having sex without being open to children. Pregnancy comes to be
seen as a disease – contraception being the preventive medicine, and abortion
being the cure. Trying to solve the abortion problem with contraception is
like trying to put out a fire by dousing it with gasoline! Only by
restoring the full truth about the goodness, the beauty, and the demands of
sexual love can we prevent “unwanted babies…”
Over 100 medical physicians
signed the following statement regarding the morning after pill:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of
"morning after pills" which may be taken up to 72 hours after sexual intercourse
as a "safe" way to "avoid pregnancy." The FDA has also authorized such drugs to
be labeled and sold in interstate commerce as "emergency contraception."
the FDA, which is supposed to protect consumers from drug fraud, has authorized
such fraud by granting its permission to label drugs such as Preven, Planned
Parenthood's Plan B, etc., as contraceptives.
achieve their primary anti-fertility effect by destroying a new and distinct
human being -- with a unique genetic code different from the mother's and
father’s -- after the process of fertilization has taken place, but before the
child has nestled into the mother's womb.
actions of the FDA have, in fact, prevented consumers from learning they were
pregnant -- and that they may have been an unwitting party to an abortion.
recognize that proponents of emergency contraception, or morning after pills,
claim their products prevent both pregnancy and abortions. However, in doing so
they must first reject the definitive conclusions of the biological sciences
regarding the beginning of human life that they learned in medical school. And
secondly, they must employ ambiguous language, which is crafted to avoid public
controversies over abortion and the moral concerns of women taking these drugs.
believe that the widespread availability of morning after pills will also
increase pressures on women for unwanted sexual intercourse, which will
ultimately result in women aborting without their knowledge or consent.
and other reasons, we urge women to inform themselves of the real medical and
moral facts regarding the so-called "morning after pills."
Reversal of the Heart
By Steve Harmon
I am writing this on the day after my
twenty-third wedding anniversary. My wife Colleen and I have a wonderful
relationship for which we thank God. It was His grace that has brought us
through a long journey of costly mistakes, the greatest of which was a
vasectomy, chosen by me, at age 34. Instead of the sexual freedom promised
by society, it was the final straw in a pattern of poor communication and
selfishness that marked our married life of contraceptive love. It was His
grace and our response to it in our journey of faith that has brought us to the
place where we are today, understanding and truly sharing the gift of our
sexuality that is once again open to God’s beautiful plan for life within
Colleen and I met in college when she was a senior and I was a sophomore.
I fell in love almost immediately after our first date. Our dating
relationship moved forward rather quickly, and we were married thirteen months
after our first date. Unfortunately, we had already become sexually involved
with each other. Looking back, I can see how falling into the cultural trap of
condoning sex before marriage “trained” us to have a contraceptive marriage from
the beginning. I can also see how premarital sex skews the meaning of
sexual union as God designed it, because it obviously requires the use of
contraceptives to avoid pregnancy. Contraception blocks out the most
precious aspect of sexual union between a man and a woman, which is generating
new life with God. But at that point in our lives, neither Colleen, raised
in the Catholic faith, nor I, a Methodist, had a faith mature enough to
understand this important teaching of the Catholic Church.
When we decided to get married in the
spring of my junior year, we didn’t think it mattered which church we were
married in. Yet, at the insistence of Colleen’s father, we decided to get
married in the Catholic Church. I remember the priest with whom we met for
Pre-Cana instruction talking about the Catholic teaching on contraception, but I
did not give the subject any serious consideration. After all, I wasn’t
about to become a Catholic, and I already was very comfortable with the use of
birth control. I cannot say what Colleen’s feelings were at that time, since I
don’t remember any serious conversation regarding this subject prior to our
marriage. I do remember, however, that Colleen was the one who decided to
go on the pill after we had been using other forms of birth control for some
months. She did this prior to our marriage and without any discussion
between us. I clearly remember thinking that this was a big enough
decision that the two of us should have made it together. Although I was
not opposed to the use of the Pill, I was slightly angered that she didn’t
include me in this decision.
During our first fifteen months of
marriage, I was still in college, and Colleen had the sole responsibility of
providing the financial support. Obviously, we didn’t consider this a good
time for a child, and thus we continued using birth control. After
graduation the next year, I immediately went to work for a road construction
company. It was an excellent starting position, and we could now afford to
start a family. We went off of the pill and had our first child, Matthew,
in September of 1984. I remember that the woman who taught our Lamaze
classes, as well as Colleen’s medical doctor, telling us to be sure to have
birth control in place after the six week period of abstinence after Matthew’s
birth. Our pattern of contraception continued with us returning to
birth control use for only a short time, as the joy we experienced with the
birth of our first child carried over in the wish to have a second.
Our second son, John, was born in
December of 1986. By this time we had settled into the daily routine of
marriage and family life. I was still building roads, and Colleen, who was
raising the children practically by herself, had thoughts of returning to work
part-time. Our marriage was solid in that we were faithfully committed to
each other, but lacked true intimacy. We were self-centered, not
self-giving. We were afraid to give ourselves entirely to each other.
We were unwilling to sacrifice our needs for the benefit of the other. Our
poor communication was a symptom of our lack of trust and the result of our fear
of being vulnerable. Colleen occasionally tried to talk about our lack of
closeness, and I would quickly kill the conversation with my indifference.
I reminded her that I worked hard and was a good provider. I was faithful
and never went out with the guys. I knew she expected more, but I just
didn’t have the energy or the desire to invest more of myself in this marriage.
Looking back at this time, I realize we did a good job of working side by side
in our marriage, but we were not yet joined together as “one flesh”. We
were two individuals striving for the same goals, but always fell short of our
objective to provide a safe, loving, and nurturing home for each other and the
After John’s birth, we once again
returned to the use of birth control. Life was getting busier since
Colleen began to work part-time. As the boys reached school age, we
enrolled them in the local Catholic grade school. Colleen was trying to
return to her Catholic roots with little support from me. I wasn’t opposed
to the boys attending a Catholic school, but I also gave very little
encouragement. I attended all of the required school functions and went to Mass
occasionally. I told the boys that the Church was important, but my
actions sent a completely different message to them and to Colleen.
We waited five years before
“choosing” to have another child. Molly was born in 1991. I cried
when the nurse told me that my newborn child was a girl. This is the first
time I can remember crying as an adult. I was so excited that Colleen had
finally received the daughter she longed for. I was finally starting to slow
down and see new life as truly the miracle it is. Yet, the pull of society
and its teachings were stronger.
We went back on the pill, but not for
long. I wanted another child and felt that time was wasting, but Colleen
was not ready. She was experiencing the demands of raising three children while
working part-time and supporting her mother in her battle with cancer. I
strongly encouraged Colleen to consider another child, and finally she
consented. Will was born in 1994, and I felt satisfied that our family was
It was at this time that we finally
had our first real conversation about birth control. I remember feeling
somewhat guilty that we had four children when society was saying that we should
be concerned with over-population. I suggested that Colleen have her tubes
tied after the delivery of our fourth baby. She wouldn’t hear of it, and
so I asked if I should have a vasectomy. Colleen said the vasectomy was
wrong, but she also said she wouldn’t stop me. She really wanted nothing
to do with it, so I went ahead on my own. For four-hundred dollars cash, I
was permanently sterile. I was “fixed” just like a cat, dog, or any kind of
livestock. My ability to reproduce was gone, but by society’s standards, I
could now enjoy real sexual freedom with my wife. We no longer had to
worry about pregnancy or about the negative health effects of the pill. We
could now enjoy sex “any time, any place”. We were in control of our
sexuality and free from any daily birth control, or so I thought.
The reality of the situation was that
our sex life didn’t get any better. In fact, it was probably starting to
diminish. We were very busy with work and our four children. Our
time in the bedroom was spent just going through the motions without any real
purpose. I still loved Colleen very much, but was unable to satisfy her
most intimate needs. She felt alone even though she was surrounded by the
love of four children and her husband. Our family and friends thought we
had a terrific marriage, but we knew different. Something was missing.
It took Colleen another four years to discover it, and I would follow two years
In 1999, Colleen attended a Catholic
Cursillo. This is a three day retreat of spiritual renewal. It was
during that weekend that Colleen truly experienced the risen Lord, Jesus Christ.
He was the missing part in our marriage, family, and bedroom. True
intimacy and true self-giving can only occur when we allow Jesus to be the
center of our existence. Colleen had discovered this truth, and she wanted
it for me.
Through the power of prayer and
through the encouragement of Colleen and a friend, I attended a Lutheran version
of Cursillo in 2001. Whereas Colleen had a spiritual renewal, I
experienced a spiritual conversion. I met Jesus Christ for the first time,
and I was finally ready to submit to His will.
It was at this point in our marriage
that life became exciting again for Colleen and me. We were finally at the
same place in our marriage, experiencing and worshipping Jesus Christ together.
We started praying together and having lengthy conversations late into the
nights. We finally talked about those things that should have been
discussed earlier in our lives, but had found them to painful or had deemed them
unimportant. I was now attending the Catholic Church every Sunday and was
occasionally attending daily Mass. I enjoyed going to church with my
family, however I still just wasn’t sure that I wanted to be Catholic.
Colleen and I prayed about my joining the Church for months. I knew as the
new spiritual leader of our home, it was important that I set the example for
our children. Yet, I struggled since I wouldn’t join the Church until I
was willing to accept all of Her teachings. I needed to recognize the Pope
as the final authority of the Church, and I needed to accept the Catholic
Church’s teaching on contraception.
In the summer of 2002 (with the not
so gentle prodding of the Holy Spirit) I finally agreed to join the Catholic
Church. I joined the RCIA in the fall and began my journey to become a
Catholic. Most of the Church’s teachings immediately made sense to me, and
I soon realized and accepted the important role of the Pope in our Catholic
faith. This left the issue of birth control as the only remaining
In October of that year, our priest
gave a homily on the need to be pro-life. His message was aimed at ending
abortion, and it spoke to my heart. He said that all life comes from God.
We are blessed with being co-creators with the creator of the universe.
However, it is not for us to decide when life is created, but it is a decision
reserved exclusively for God, by God. It was at that exact moment I had my
answer on contraception. The conception of a child was not for me to
decide, and any attempt on my part to prevent the conception of a child through
artificial birth control was in essence me saying that I was God. This was
the first time I was able to see the similarities between birth control and
abortion. They both involve people denying the gift of life. I was crushed
since I had always considered myself pro-life, and I now realized that my
decision to practice contraception was to the contrary. This made my decision to
have a vasectomy a grave sin and something that needed to be dealt with. I
shared with Colleen the deep conviction and extreme guilt I had experienced
during Mass. I also told her that I had regretted my vasectomy two years
after having it done. I knew I had limited the potential of our family
through the use of birth control, and this was something that I would never be
able to undo.
A couple of weeks later, I was on a
retreat where I shared my story with a priest. I knew that I was speaking
from my heart directly to God. It felt good to hear the priest say that
God forgives me, yet I knew this wasn’t enough. I asked him if it was
important to have my vasectomy reversed. He said that the Catholic Church
teaches that it is not required to have a vasectomy or any permanent procedure
reversed and that it is only required that it be forgiven through the Sacrament
of Reconciliation. I accepted his answer as the truth, but I wanted to do
more. Earlier, I said that I was “fixed”, but really I was broken.
In my eyes, I was broken in my relationship with my wife, and I was broken
because I no longer had hope for another child. My decision to have a
vasectomy had seriously impacted my relationship with my wife, myself, and God.
I was fixed, but really I was broken, and I wanted to be truly fixed. I
wanted to have my vasectomy reversed.
I discussed this with Colleen.
We prayed about it and decided as a couple to proceed. Colleen received a
book from a friend that was published by a group called One More Soul.
This book had many stories of couples who had chosen to have a permanent
sterilization reversed. The stories were honest, encouraging, and affirmed
our decision. Through this organization we also learned of a doctor in
Wisconsin who was doing reversals as part of his personal ministry in One More
Soul. We made an appointment with Dr. Smith and immediately had great
respect for him. He asked us many questions about why we wanted to have a
reversal. He wanted to know about our desire to strengthen our
relationship with God. Dr. Smith was concerned with doing a procedure that
was more than a reversal of a vasectomy - he wanted to be involved in a
“reversal of heart”. He wanted to help people draw closer to God and to
their spouse. I had the reversal done in January of 2003. I joined
the Catholic Church during the Easter vigil that same spring. Since the
reversal, Colleen and I have been fully open to the possibility of having
another child. To date, God has not blessed us with one. We have to be
realistic that our desire may not coincide with God’s plan for our lives in this
matter. Colleen will be 46 soon, and I will be 44 years old in April.
I chose not to be tested for the success of the procedure after the surgery.
Colleen has asked me to be tested, but I would rather not know and trust that
God is capable of making anything happen. We pray often that God will
choose to perform the miracle of life in our marriage by blessing us with
another child, and we give Him thanks that He has already blessed us with the
miracle of this journey.
I heard a priest on EWTN say that a
couple is not “making love” unless Jesus Christ is present. He also said
that Jesus is not present in pre-marital or contraceptive sex. I now
realize that this was the one thing missing from our marriage all those years.
Our marriage lacked intimacy and closeness since Jesus was shut out by our
decision to use birth control. This kept Colleen and I at a distance,
denying us the reality of being “one flesh” as God intended. Our freedom
now comes from trusting God and submitting our will to His. We are now
closer than ever and we are experiencing the joy of close fellowship with
Christ. We still pray and hope for a child with the passing of each
monthly cycle, and we rejoice in the love we now share. It is a privilege
and a blessing to once again be a part of God’s great plan for life.
Untwisting the Lie
By Susan Gliko
Saint Anthony is the saint that helps
us find lost things. I had lost God’s plan for what it means to be a
dignified, whole woman. In order to understand the fullness of what God
has done for me and the spiritual healing that He has given me as a result of
being obedient to His will, I need to share with you the positive as well as the
negative influences in my life.
I begin my story with my mother. My mother did the best she could for all
of us children when it came to our religious formation. My mother had been
married before and had four children with a man who liked other women and booze.
His negligence often left her with just enough food for the children. At
one point, this neglect of her health almost cost her her life. One day, a
nurse noticed us kids running around unsupervised and became alarmed. She
realized this was not normal, since my mother was a good mother. The nurse
was concerned and went to see what the problem was. She found my mother
running a high fever and unable to get out of bed. What the nurse did next
would have probably cost her her job had anyone found out. She
administered a large dose of penicillin to my mother, who subsequently
recovered. My mother told us this story when we were kids, saying that the
nurse was really an angel from God sent to watch over her. Through all of
my mother’s hardships, it seemed as if there was always an angel leaving a box
of food or a sack full of warm clothes. My mother had a strong sense that
God was always taking care of her.
My mother eventually divorced her first husband and then married my dad, who
adopted my older siblings. My parents didn’t want any divisions in the
family, so we were never “half” or “whole” siblings. We were simply a
We rarely attended church as I grew up. This didn’t stop my mother from
instilling her love of the Lord in her children. I remember my mother
reading me Bible stories when I was only four years old. She had a set of
books that had children’s Bible stories in them with beautiful pictures
depicting the stories. We sat for hours reading and talking about what was
happening in those pictures. My mother’s deep love of the Lord was
contagious. Her love became my love.
I don’t remember this, but my mother
said that I used to make up my own Jesus songs. She loved to watch me play
and sing about my love for Jesus. It’s funny how mothers sometimes hide in
the shadows and watch in awe the beauty of their children. She taught me
that children are a gift from God. She had seven of us and would have had
more were it not for her hysterectomy. Not being able to have more
children was a sorrow for her.
Even though my mother didn’t find us
a constant church home, she instilled in us her love of Jesus and our value as
children of God. She taught us that our purpose in this life is to love.
She taught me the beauty of my sexuality, explaining the necessity of saving
myself for the one man who would love me until the day I died. She said my
body was only worthy of that man. This beauty and truth were the hunger of
my heart. What my mother didn’t know was that my innocence had already
been robbed. I had an older brother who had molested me from the time I
was a baby until I was in first grade.
I am not sure why I never told my mother. Maybe my silence had something
to do with the fact that it started when I was a baby; I had been groomed.
The abuse stopped when my cousin told me that I had the power to say no and that
no one could do anything to me that I did not want. Afterwards I finally
said “NO!” to the abuse.
The abuse left ugly scars. I knew my body was supposed to be a gift for a worthy
man. Because my gift had already been opened and defiled, however, I felt I
didn’t have anything to offer. This led me to marry an abusive man.
I believed in my wedding vows of “for better or for worse.” I just happened to
get the worst.
My husband had begged me to marry him. I was hesitant because he was
raised in an abusive, alcoholic home. He said he wanted to change and
could only do that with my help. So at age twenty, I agreed to become his
After our marriage we moved to Oklahoma, and things were bad from the start.
There were people from our hometown there, and all of us would gather together
for parties. At one of these parties my husband tried to drown me. When he
noticed that someone was about to jump in and save me, though, he finally
grabbed me out of the water. This was extremely upsetting, but I was stuck
at this party. He drank and drove and then beat me if I protested for fear
of our safety.
He started bringing drugs into the
home. I told him he had a choice: drugs or me. He chose drugs.
We were separated for several months, but after a serious crisis at his job, we
reunited. I got him a job through a friend and somehow managed to get him
back into college. He got involved with Alcoholics Anonymous, and we
started to attend the First Baptist Church in Weatherford. Things actually
seemed to be going pretty well - until I became pregnant.
Once I became pregnant, I became the “dirty dog” that was trying to ruin his
life. He wanted me to get rid of the baby, but I refused. He didn’t
allow me to talk about being pregnant. As a result, I kept to myself the
little joys I might have shared with him. Our son was born on August 16,
1985, and was a perfect nine-pound bundle of joy. When I first held my son
I was filled with so much love. I would do anything to protect him.
I remember thinking about how much more God loves us because He sacrificed His
Son for us. This was when I first understood the depths of God’s love.
When my son was about three months old, my husband came home drunk with a rifle
in his hand. He told me I had ruined his life because he didn’t want to
become a father. He was going to go kill himself, but I would be truly
pulling the trigger.
After he left the house, I called his AA sponsor, who was aware of his past.
He told me to get out of the house with the baby in case my husband came back
with intentions of killing us instead. The baby and I spent the night at
the house of another couple that taught a Bible class for young college students
at the Baptist church we belonged to.
We went home the next day and found
my husband sleeping off his hangover. The last straw in our relationship
occurred when our son was about nine months old and my husband was to graduate
from college. He very cruelly let me know that he was having an affair
with another woman.
He filed for divorce and dropped us off at my parents’ home in Montana. My
parents never knew all I was going through in Oklahoma because I never told
them. I didn’t want them to worry. I was an emotional wreck and didn’t
even know who I was anymore.
I was just starting to get settled
at home with my parents and a new job when I received a long letter from my
husband begging me to come back. He said he had made a big mistake and
needed me in his life. For my son’s sake, I thought I should give it a
This encounter lasted two short weeks and left me pregnant with our second
child. He was still drinking and hadn’t changed a thing about his life.
I told him it was over and filed for divorce. He said this pregnancy was
my choice and he would have no part of it.
Our divorce was finalized one month before our daughter was born. She was
a healthy, 9lb. 14-1/2oz. baby born on March 15, 1987. It didn’t seem
right to have this little girl all by myself. She deserved better.
My husband was true to his word. He never had anything to do with our
daughter. Before he moved to Arizona, he stopped by with a gift for our
son. However, he had nothing for our daughter. He cringed when she
crawled toward him.
At this point in my life, I was done
with men. I never wanted to experience that kind of life again. I
loved my children with my whole being and devoted all my time to them.
When I was not at work, I was enjoying my children.
My mother sensed that I had turned off that part of my life. She told me
to make a life for myself outside of my children. She said they would not
always be there for me and didn’t want me becoming a lonely, old woman.
She offered to watch the children one night each weekend so I could get out.
Even with all I had been through, at this point in my life I still hoped for the
vision my mother had instilled in me as a young woman, namely God’s plan for
womanhood and family life. I wanted to find a man who would love me until
the day I died - someone worthy of the gift of myself.
I took my mother’s advice and started going out on weekends. I only went
out for special occasions or events. These outings were hard for me
because I lacked trust in men and tended to be quiet and shy. Moreover,
these outings often to led to bars, and I hated bars. Because of my
feelings of aversion, I needed to have a few beers before I could even go
inside. I soon found out that alcohol and God’s plans for my life did not
I started to spiral down into a dark hell. Too much drinking on the few
occasions I went out led to an occasional sexual encounter. Some of those
encounters were consensual, while others were not. I believe I was raped a
couple of times, but blamed myself for being drunk. None of those
encounters would have happened if alcohol had not been a factor. One of
those encounters left me in a crisis pregnancy.
At this point my mother was in very poor health. She was recovering from
an angioplasty that had almost taken her life. They had to rush her in for
open-heart surgery. Afterwards, she was told to take it easy and avoid
extreme emotions, since they were hard on her heart.
I knew my pregnancy would be difficult for my mother. What would I say to
her? Congratulations mom, I got drunk a few weeks ago, ended up with some guy,
and hey, you’re going to be a grandmother again.
So I reached out to a friend, who encouraged me to have an abortion. This
horrified me! I could never do that! She claimed it was no big deal
and said she had had one herself recently.
I decided to call an adoption agency
in the Yellow Pages. They said I could go away, give up the baby, and all
expenses would be paid. This was the only choice I thought I could live
with. I would go away and come back after the baby was born. Mom
would never have to know. However, when I talked with the counselor, she
felt my motivation was purely financial and recommended that I reconsider.
My final and most desperate call was to the brother closest in age to me.
I told him everything. I told him what the adoption agency accused me of
and that a friend had the nerve to suggest getting an abortion. I was
shocked at what I heard next: “You should get an abortion… you know your
divorce was very hard on mom’s health… Mom was just now starting to feel well,
and this news would not be good for her.”
What my brother was saying was true. My crisis would not help my mother
recover. After a long silence I said, “I don’t know where to go or what to
do.” He said, “I do... my girlfriend had one. It didn’t seem to be a
big deal.” He also advised me not to tell the birth father.
My brother said he would help me with the details. I really do believe he
thought he was helping me out of a bad situation, as well as helping out my
When I arrived at the abortion clinic, I was in a state of disconnect. My
counseling was brief. When I told them I was pro-life, they said I would
have problems with this decision. I proceeded as planned anyway.
Every woman suffers differently from the abortion experience. I guess I suffer
from a type of amnesia. As hard as I try to remember what happened to me
on that day, I can only remember bits and pieces.
You see, I didn’t want an abortion. I love children. I didn’t think
I had a choice. I didn’t want to be responsible for my mother’s ill
I remember lying on the table naked and seeing the doctor hold up what looked
like a knitting needle. I was given a tranquilizer to take the edge off my
nerves, but was given nothing for pain. I was told it would feel like
menstrual cramps, and when the cramps started, I left my body. The next
thing I remember was being put into a corridor that was lined on either side
with about 30 other women. All of us women sat with our heads down, like
cattle in a daze. None of us looked at each other or spoke. The only
spot open for me to sit was by the door of the counseling room. I sat and
listened to all the excuses. I did not hear one good excuse. Then it
was my turn. When I was finished, they gave me a little brown paper bag
full of every flavor and color condom imaginable, and was told to use them.
My brother was waiting for me outside the clinic with my two small children.
I wished him a happy birthday. He asked if I was okay, and I said yes.
I then loaded the kids into the car and headed for the mall. I needed to
get the kids Halloween costumes because that was my excuse to go into town.
I was in such a daze, I am surprised that I didn’t crash. My parents
wanted me to stop by their house on my way home. My mother wanted to see
the costumes that I had found. I remember feeling so lost and so empty.
Something horrible had just happened, and I had no one to talk to. I had
to pretend everything was okay when it was not. Mom looked at the costumes and
noticed that I had bought them adult sizes. Inside myself I was screaming.
In a very real sense, I also died that day. My whole life changed.
The little joys I shared with my children died. I had used to read them
the Cat in the Hat every night, because it was our routine. They
would run to the couch with that book in their hands yelling, “Cat, Cat, Cat,
mommy read us Cat.” I never read them that book again.
I was hurting so bad and needed to talk to someone, anyone. Every time I
tried to talk about it with a friend, I was told to just get over it. So I
buried my wound deep in my soul and tried to go on with my life like nothing had
Once again, I gave up on men. I devoted all my energy to my job and my
children. During this dark time in my life, I prayed myself to sleep.
I pleaded with God to help me. I was so lost. God was with me, and
He was not only hearing my cries but also the cries of my son. One night
after putting the kids to bed, I heard some sobbing. I went to see who it
was, and it was my son. He was on his top bunk bed crying. I asked
him what was the matter. He said he was just praying to God for a dad.
This struck me to the heart. I
wasn’t getting any child support from his father, and there had been no contact
with him for years. I didn’t want to hurt the children with the fact that
their dad was a deadbeat. I figured if I avoided talking about what we
didn’t have and tried to be the best mom I could, that would be enough. I
That night I remembered the vision my mom had taught me. I prayed, “God, I
am really messing up my life. Please help me. Please send me someone
who will love me until the day I die.”
Well, little did I know it, but at the same time there was a man saying a
prayer, “God, I am lonely. I would like to find a good woman. It is
time to settle down.” It is almost like God was waiting for each of us to
ask for the other. It was now God’s time, and He moved a special man near
to me. It is just short of a miracle how we got together. I had a bad
attitude when it came to men, and the couple that brought us together didn’t
know me personally. To this day, I don’t know what made me say yes to the
God knew what He was doing. You see, this man was an old fashioned, devout
Catholic. On our first date he took me out for dinner to a very fancy
place, and I kept thinking he would have expectations. I had rehearsed my
excuses, but he didn’t even kiss me goodnight. This was something new and
fresh for me. He called the next night to tell me he had enjoyed my
company and would like to be friends. He was looking for someone to keep
him company. I was able to relax and be myself. He always said
something that he couldn’t explain until just recently. He said that he
wanted to treat me with decency and respect. You see, God was using him to
build something in me that I had lost sight of - my dignity. In so many
areas of my life, Satan had tried to rob me of my dignity and was pretty
successful at turning me against myself.
He was pro-life and often talked about how horrible abortion was. When he
began talking about marrying me, I knew I needed to tell him the truth.
After one of his pro-life out-breaks, I told him that I had had an abortion.
He was horrified and asked me how I could have done it. I told him to multiply
his disgust of me by eternity, and maybe he would have a glimmer of how I felt.
I went home very upset.
He called his sister and told her about our ordeal. He didn’t think he could
marry me. She explained that most women are victims of abortion, too.
After visiting with his sister, he headed to town to talk with me. He said
he loved me and that he was sorry for the pain I endured with my abortion.
He still wanted me for his wife.
Frank and I were married in a Catholic church on May 23, 1992. I had
promised him that I would convert to the faith. The priest advised that I
shouldn’t join just for my husband’s sake, however, but rather because I felt
called to join. As a result, I wanted to take my time before converting.
On April 22, 1993, our daughter was born. Because of my Protestant faith, I felt
that contraception was acceptable. I received the Depo-Provera shot a
couple of times after our daughter was born. This shot really disrupted my
system. When we were ready to try for another child, I was temporarily sterile.
On July 31, 1994, my mother died of congestive heart failure. This was
devastating to me. I had not only lost my mother, but also my best friend.
My world was starting to crumble, and my buried wound was starting to bleed.
To distract myself from my own grief I concentrated on my dad and being strong
for him. I had him to dinner every night. This went on for about a
year, until he remarried. When I no longer had someone to be strong for or
to distract my grief, I fell into a deep depression. I was beginning to
have panic attacks and nightmares about my aborted child. I cried rivers
of tears. With my mother’s death, the family traditions were lost as were
the family gatherings. The other thing that was lost was the reason my
child died. I felt that my child had died in vain. There was this
deep pain yearning to get out.
Finally a new distraction came, and I was able to rebury my wound. I was
pregnant! My husband and I had decided that we didn’t want anymore
children after this one. I was still Protestant, so contraception and
sterilization were acceptable to me. I decided to get sterilized. As
a cradle Catholic, my husband had some reservations, but didn’t seek out any
counsel. He reasoned that I was a Protestant and could do what I wanted.
It would be my sin, not his. Our second daughter was born September 29,
1995, and before the doctor stitched up my C-section he tied my tubes. We
no longer had to worry about getting pregnant.
After my tubes were tied, I felt so empty. Lovemaking with my husband
became purposeless and lost its meaning. Our marriage bed was no longer
holy or sacred, but rather was becoming very hedonistic. We were both
becoming self absorbed in our own orgasms. Our bedroom relationship wasn’t
very loving. This was a great sorrow for me, as well as the instrument God used
to begin my conversion to the Catholic Church and my restoration as a whole
My delayed conversion to the Catholic Church was becoming a bitter source of
conflict in our relationship. My husband had adopted my two older
children, and he took them to church every Sunday. I stayed home with the
girls, reading my Bible and saying my prayers. I thought this was enough.
When my husband got home from church, we fought. Because church was
so important to my husband, I started studying the Catholic faith. I
started reading the catechism, which was when I came across God’s plan for
It’s funny when you finally stumble
across Truth. It pierces you to the core of your very being. I now
had words describing why our marriage bed was no longer sacred or holy. I
now knew the source of my emptiness. As a couple we had surgically removed
God from our marriage bed. The marriage act had been reduced to a mere
physical act, and God could no longer bless us with His life. I had felt
this on a deeply spiritual level, but could never verbalize what was wrong.
Our love without life was not much of a love life. We found out the hard
way that those two words are not meant to be separated.
This truth opened my heart to the Catholic Church. However, I didn’t start
RCIA until after I had attended a Cursillo/Journey the first weekend of
December, 1998. After this weekend I was on fire with the Holy Spirit and
could not wait to come home to Holy Mother Church.
Saint Joseph was also instrumental in my conversion. I was born in St
Joseph’s Hospital, and my husband’s hometown parish was St Joseph. I chose
Friday March 19, 1999, to make my profession of faith. I did not know this
was the feast of St Joseph. The priest then gave me a St Joseph’s Catholic
Bible. So needless to say, St Joseph is my patron saint by his choice.
Our Holy Mother Church takes tender care of all her children. She teaches
the truth, and when we fall she is there to help pick us up and make us whole
again. I finally found a place that would listen and understand my deepest
pain. I found a safe place to go back and feel all the pain - pain that
the world says doesn’t exist. This safe place was a Rachel’s Vineyard
Retreat in Rapid City, South Dakota, in November, 2001.
I just couldn’t take the pain any
longer. I was being medicated for panic attacks, and nightmares were the
norm. This was also hell on my husband. Some mornings he awoke
because I was crying in my sleep. He would ask, “Did you have another bad
dream?” The answer was “yes.”
I had heard about Rachel’s Vineyard
from my sister-in-law. She had gone to one to grieve the child she had
lost to a miscarriage. She knew about my struggle with my abortion
decision and wanted me to find healing. She told me all about Rachel’s
Vineyard, how I would meet my child, and how there is a memorial service to
dignify my lost child.
I wanted to dignify my child, and that was the driving force that led me to
attend a Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat. I tried to fix myself in many
different ways, but God kept shining His light on my abortion. That is
what I needed to address to be healed. I had to enter the darkness, a
darkness I had tried to keep behind me. It is only in entering the
darkness that Christ can at last illuminate our souls with the light of His
love. I will share the letter I wrote to my son and read at the memorial
My son, my heart is overflowing
with your reality. This weekend I have at last found you and held your
sweetness to my heart. Christ has given me the gift of knowing you are a
boy so I could name you. I was also given the gift to see you with
Christ in Heaven. To see in your eyes the eager excitement of my reaction
in seeing your sweet 11 year-old crooked smile and life-filled eyes. How
wonderful to finally know you. I thank Jesus for persistently shining His
light in that most darkened part of my soul. That place I thought I could
never go because I thought it would kill me. Christopher, it is so
wonderful to be restored to you to know you have always been there praying for
me. Continue to watch out for your big brother and protect your three
little sisters from any harm. I love you.
Addressing my abortion wound enabled me to
discontinue the medication needed for my panic attacks. I no longer have
God was starting to untwist all the lies and lead me back to the truth. I
then bought and read Kimberly Hahn’s book called
Life Giving Love. I went through quite a few emotions while reading
this book. I was mad - mad that I didn’t know this truth twenty years ago!
I was sad - sad and mourning the beautiful experiences I didn’t have! I
was filled with hope - hope in restoring God’s plan for my life - in having that
sacred and holy union as man and wife made whole again. I wanted God back
in my bedroom!
In the back of Kimberly Hahn’s book there is a resource list and an outreach to
couples who have been sterilized. This outreach is “One More Soul.”
I called them, and they were very understanding. They referred me to the
One More Soul website where I printed out all the doctors who do
sterilization reversals and started calling.
After some searching, I finally found one that was both friendly and inviting.
I actually felt like they cared. I had reached St. Gerard Obstetrics &
Gynecology in St. Louis, Missouri. A very nice woman told me to write to
state my case and also send copies of my sterilization post-operative reports.
I sent my letter and reports to Dr. Michael B. Dixon.
Dr. Dixon called me a couple of weeks later and said he thought he could do the
reversal. He was very helpful in getting me information to plan my trip.
They were all so caring.
My surgery was set for April fools
day of 2003. Both my husband and I were looking forward to fixing the
wrong we had done. We both wanted God back in our marriage bed. We
were told we would be blessed for our obedience, but we had no idea what that
blessing might be.
As a couple we decided it would not be wise for both of us to travel together
with a high terror alert. We didn’t want the kids to lose us both, so I
traveled with my best friend.
She has been my best friend for many years. She has seen me at my worst
and has stuck by my side. She is a very holy and devout Catholic, and
thanks to her I am orthodox in my faith. She made sure I always had Scott
Hahn’s latest book and lent me many of his tapes to listen to. She never
let me make excuses for quitting what was right. So, when looking for the
person to be with me on this journey, she was the one.
On Monday I got to meet the staff of St. Gerard Obstetrics & Gynecology.
When I arrived, Ann gave me a big hug, which I needed because my nerves were so
frazzled. Dr. Dixon took his time with me, making sure I was healthy
enough for surgery. Before I left his office, he said the most beautiful
prayer that God would bless this surgery and that Mass would be offered at his
home parish in the morning for my surgery. I knew then that I was in good
hands. The surgery went well, and I was home before I knew it.
During my recovery at home I fell into a type of darkness. I felt like all
the joy had been sucked from me. God’s plan for my restoration was much
larger than what I had planned. I thought I would be whole just having my
started to grieve my lost innocence. This restoration had magnified each
violation of the dignity of my creation as a woman. I had never really let
myself get mad. I was mad about being molested, mad about being in an
abusive first marriage, mad about all the premarital sex, mad about being raped,
mad about all the contraception, mad about the lie of abortion, and mad about my
I was becoming very angry and was crying a lot. The saving grace was a
large crucifix hanging in my living room. My only relief came when I
looked at the crucifix and said out loud, “You died for me. You died for
all of these tears.” Finally my heart was coming back to life, and I
pictured Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane agonizing over all my sins and all
the sins committed against me. He knew it all, and He died for me.
I wanted my purity! I wanted my
innocence! I wanted the gift! I wanted God’s plan for the sacrament
of marriage! I wanted my husband in the worst way, but I was afraid.
I was afraid I would be disappointed. I told my husband that I would not
have sex with him - that I would only make love.
In a sense, it was like I was a virgin again because I was about to partake in
something with a transformed mind and heart. We were about to receive each
other completely - to renew our covenant as man and wife, both fully
understanding for the first time God’s plan.
No words can express the beauty that we both experienced that first time.
We didn’t know how we would be blessed by our act of obedience in restoring my
fertility until that moment.
The graces of the sacrament of marriage have been reopened. Now with each
renewal, we are flooded with more and more grace, which fills and changes our
hearts. We now desire what God desires. We are both dreaming about
little ones. This would be the ultimate blessing for us, but we know it
isn’t for us to control. We will accept God’s will for us.
Our love has deepened as a couple,
and we have been lifted to a new level in our spiritual life together. We both
wish we had known this from the beginning so that we could have always had this
We are learning about Natural Family Planning so we can both learn about my
fertility. We are not using this to avoid children. I had never
studied my fertility, and at 41 I am not sure how often I might be ovulating.
This is all new ground for us. I am also learning Natural Family Planning
in order to share this good news with others. It is hard to preach
something you don’t practice.
That is why I have shared my story - because of the Good News. The Good
News that God can restore even the most broken person. I had been violated
many times and in many ways. Some were my fault, and in others I was the
I had lost God’s plan for what it means to be a dignified, whole woman.
God picked up all my little broken pieces and made me new. He untwisted
the lie. I am no longer at war with myself, but have peace.
Frank and I have come to terms with many things. One thing we are working
on now is the reality that we, through our ignorance, have lost three little
ones through the use of Depo-Provera.
My periods have always been like
clockwork, and I had three very late periods while using this shot. We are
both broken-hearted about this reality, which is another reason we share this
story. It is our hope that those who are hurting will realize that there
is healing available and that those who are not sure of the specifics of Church
teaching will look at our story and make better choices. Frank and I both agree
that couples need to be taught this beautiful truth. We are both
broken-hearted that we are just now discovering the fullness and beauty of the
Church's teaching on sexuality.
However, that regret does not
overshadow the joy that what we have at ages 42 and 43 transcends any thing we
thought was possible. Our marriage had been plagued with many worldly,
hedonistic ideas about the marriage bed. In our obedience to repent and
surrender to God's way, our marriage experienced a miracle. In Christopher
West's presentation "Naked without Shame", he states that virginity is not
whether or not one has had sex, but rather virginity is living the way God
created us to live as man and woman. My husband and I have found this
virginity. We have discovered our "origin," we have been restored to the "Garden
of Eden" …to paradise. No words can even explain the ecstasy we experience
in the marital embrace. God's way is better than any thing out there.
This is "Good News", and this news needs to be shared and proclaimed!
During each and every miraculous
occasion of bringing forth new life throughout the span of my own reproductive
career, there was never a hospital stay where an entourage of interns, medical
technicians, doctors, nurses, and self-appointed advisors did not enter the
maternity wing to inquire about what form of birth control I intended to use to
“protect” myself in the future. I did not realize I needed armor. I
was not aware that I should be fighting a battle against my own body!
In fact, even after a late term
miscarriage, my doctor did not want to release me until I had sufficiently
proven that I would not be back any time soon in the “pregnant state.” The
medical staff always seemed beset with a mission to promote the tying of my
fallopian tubes or a prescription for pills that would “control” my capacity to
It’s almost as if there was an
unspoken desire to create a sense of embarrassment and shame over the fact that
I had actually allowed pregnancy to happen to my body. The first time, I suppose
it’s forgivable....but after five living children and a couple of miscarriages,
hospital staff seemed to make a concerted commitment to end my fertility once
and for all.
This may be hard to believe, but the
highest pressure sales pitch came smack in the middle of my labor!
"You won’t need to come back again
if we do it today,” my doctor (the contraceptive
evangelist) suggested, with the most sincere gaze of compassion.
“Do what today?”
“Why, tie your tubes of course!
I can’t imagine you’d ever want to be back here.... we can do it right after the
birth, and you won’t have to worry about coming back for another procedure.” He
moved in quickly with all the papers prepared for my signature. “Just sign
here and we’ll take care of everything.” I felt like he was
trying to wrap up a contract for me to join a health club or vacation
time-share. Using the pain of contractions was a powerful motivator!
We’re talking about a sure way to close a deal! Despite the
temptation of never wanting to feel the pain of labor again, I somehow managed
to blurt out, “I’m not interested in having my tubes tied,” as I
desperately inhaled a breath, bracing myself for the next wave of contractions.
The doctor looked puzzled and
dismayed. “Of course,” he replied, “we can talk about this
later.... I know you must be nervous.” Although I wanted to punch him,
instead I flatly stated... “I’d like to give birth to this child first, thank
Despite my clear efforts of
resistance, after the delivery, the sales pitch continued. Different medical
personnel took their turns trying to convince me that I would benefit from a
tubal ligation or a year’s supply of birth control pills. When you tell a
doctor that you are using natural family planning, they give you that look like
“Come on now, please be serious!”
But the negative looks, comments, and pressures, though
annoying, did not take away from the beauty of that moment. I sat
unfettered, admiring my precious baby and feeling a deep sense of astonishment
that my body had actually produced such a precious life. I wondered if it
ever occurred to the staff that some people have babies not because of an
ignorant mistake, but because they were open to the gift of life. My
husband and I were very eager to have an intimate relationship with a child.
This tiny baby, whom I could not take my eyes off, was now in the epiphany of
our lifetime together, a glorious life of love, joys, happiness, memories, and
I must acknowledge my mother’s example in helping me
to resist these misguided, if well meaning medical personnel. In my own upbringing, the
gift of fertility was highly revered. My mom could be described as an earthy
naturalist – we were vegetarians (long before it became popular!). She practiced
yoga, recited the rosary, and taught me about Natural Family Planning, natural
childbirth, and breast-feeding. My mother shared her more courageous
moments when she had fought the medical establishment, advocating for the right
to be awake when giving birth. In the old days, it used to be hospital
protocol for birthing mothers to be knocked out with drugs prior to delivery,
leaving them unconscious during the moment of birth. This was certainly an
occasion my mom did not want to miss – especially after doing all the strenuous
work of labor. She refused to breathe when they forced an anesthesia mask
over her face to induce sleep. Fortunately, she was alert and awake to
welcome us when we came into the world. That was the old method that
hospitals used to quiet panting hysterical mothers who were not “in control.”
Doctors apparently did not realize that letting out a scream or two as a baby
passes through your body is a very natural response to the pain! My mother
fought to change the hospital procedures that were being forced upon women,
denying them that incredible, unforgettable moment of joy when a mother
witnesses her child take its first breath outside the womb.
mother’s example helped me to resist what are powerful pressures placed upon
today’s couples by the contraception evangelists. Her example is the type
of “feminist empowerment” women need.
Liberation for Women
We live in a culture that shares a
very deeply ingrained contraceptive mentality. Today’s children are
taught in grade school that safe sex is responsible sex, which means use your
condom and take your pills. Birth control pills are handed out in high
schools as girls are taught to have all the sex they want - but be “responsible”
and don’t get pregnant. Young girls routinely leave abortion clinics armed
with an arsenal of pills.
Even after women get married, the
message stays the same. Stay on birth control until you have bought a nice
home, until you have a better job, until you are finished with graduate school,
until you’ve saved a hundred thousand dollars, until your school loans are paid
off, and until you are “ready” to have a baby. Even after these goals are
met, we are again encouraged to stay on the pill so that you can have sex
without any fear of pregnancy. Stay on the pill so your husband can have
sex whenever he wants it. Stay on the pill so you don’t have to “worry”
about getting pregnant by anyone. Be in control of your body.
Women hear the
message that their fertility is a part of them that must be severed and
controlled via pills, mechanical devices, unnatural hormones, sterilization, and
abortions. Should an unplanned pregnancy occur, a virus of shame and guilt
contaminates the female psyche and body.
As a Church, we
also need the courage to resist the powerful cultural pressures to conform to
the agendas of those that are promoting birth control as a solution to family
planning. The Church can be at the forefront of the
movement for women to reclaim their inner voice - voices that have been shut
off, paralysed, and obscured by the demands and practices of modern
relationships. This is especially important when it involves the intimate
arena of a woman’s capacity to give life. The Catholic Church has
prophetically proclaimed the truths about human sexuality and birth control
practices in its official teachings. However, this proclamation has often
failed to reach the person in the pew. It is extremely rare to hear a priest
preach on the issue of contraception or Natural Family Planning from the pulpit.
My husband, Kevin
Burke, a Licensed Social Worker and the Associate Director of Rachel’s Vineyard
Ministries, shares that this reality has its roots in the cultural revolution of
the 1960’s. He states that prior to the release of the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968, a commission was formed to advise the Pope on the
issue of contraception. Kevin shares:
“This led to a
great expectation among the laity, theologians, and some clergy that this
commission, taking into account the advances in psychology, medicine, population
concerns and other fields, would naturally propose changes in the Church’s
traditional teaching on this issue. When the encyclical was released, it
confirmed the traditional teaching that artificial methods of birth control are
immoral. There was shock, disbelief, and anger among many theologians and laity.
Given the overall intoxicating atmosphere of social change in the 1960’s, and
the growing mistrust and disrespect for authority and tradition, the reaction to
Humanae Vitae developed into an open rebellion within the Church. The
use of contraceptives, like the birth control pill and later abortion, became
widespread among Catholic laity.”
spoke of Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body at a pro-life
conference in Australia. He explained how Theology of the Body
fills out the insights contained in Humanae Vitae. One of his brilliant
reflections, reported by Human Life International, was on the nuptial role of
the priest: “The priest stands in the place of Christ who loves His bride
the Church with a sacrificial and fruitful love. He said that the priest loves
the bride of Christ by administering to her the Sacraments of the Church and
preaching to her the word of God. Consequently it follows that the priest who
preaches heresy is committing adultery, and the priest who is silent and refuses
to speak the whole life-giving truth of Christ (like Humanae Vitae) is
committing an act of clerical contraception!”
the Challenges of Living this Truth
It is important to acknowledge that
many couples choose to limit the size of their families because they feel that
they are not prepared emotionally or financially for more children at a
particular time. This can certainly be a responsible decision. As a
Church, we have to do a much better job of presenting the advantages and
reliability of Natural Family Planning (NFP) as a method of spacing pregnancy
that allows a couple to remain open to life. In addition, NFP also can
bring great benefits and joy to a marriage.
However, we must also acknowledge
that many couples, due to dysfunctional family backgrounds and/or poor formation
in the Faith, need great assistance to develop the emotional and spiritual
resources necessary to embrace the sacrifice and discipline that NFP requires.
It is important to also acknowledge
that for those with a history of sexual abuse, there can be some very serious
obstacles to experiencing the joy and beauty of sexuality as God designed it.
In fact, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted by the
age of eighteen.
Countless teenagers also engage in sexual behaviors that are degrading to their
sexual integrity. These alarming statistics present critical challenges
for our society and Church. The damage due to abuse causes difficulties
with trust, intimacy, and the healthy communication that is required to fully
embrace the Church’s teaching with trust and love.
In addition to proclaiming the truth
of what God intends for our holiness and happiness, there is a great need to
boldly acknowledge and minister to the damage that living in a sinful culture
has perpetrated upon its victims. If the gift of your sexuality has been
twisted and mangled because of a history of sexual abuse, consider attending a
retreat called “From Grief to Grace - a program for
Healing the Wounds of Abuse & Reclaiming the Gift of Sexuality.” The
program was created to end the isolation and secrets of abuse while bringing the
spiritual healing of Christ into painful memories and traumatic violations.
This retreat helps participants experience the support and love of the suffering
body of Christ as they journey to reconcile and overcome the pain of past abuse.
The healing process culminates in a “re-consecration” of the “temple” of our
bodies to be used in pure and holy service to the Lord.
In addition to the histories which
many people suffer, there can be very real challenges in present relationships.
For the most part, our culture reinforces the value of immediate gratification.
Most people have long histories of undisciplined sexual appetites. Making
changes in these familiar patterns can be intimidating and can be met with
resistance or even anger by one’s partner. Often one’s spouse
can be hostile to the changes that living NFP will bring to their sexual
relationship. It’s no secret that many women suffer in marriages where the
husband does not love his wife as Christ loves the Church:
“Husbands, love you wives, as
Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for Her, that He might sanctify
Her…Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves
his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and
cherishes it, as Christ does the Church, because we are members of His body. For
this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one." -
Unfortunately, many individuals treat
their spouses in ways that violate their basic dignity. Frequently, women
and men learn to use the gift of their sexuality to manipulate, to control, to
dominate, or to provoke jealousy and insecurities. In order to challenge
each spouse to grow in holiness, there is a great need to look at every aspect
of our faith and ministry formation in the Church. Where we can, we need
to work together as lay, professionals, religious, and clergy to bring Christ’s
healing to suffering marriages and family relationships. We need to help
all Christians better understand, embrace, and live out this beautiful and
liberating truth within a proper understanding of their vocations as husband and
Relational Loss and Contraception
Lost Opportunities for Intimacy in Marriage
Many women and men come to believe
that their marriages would have been very different if husbands had been
challenged to grow in this area of discipline and self-giving love.
Instead, scores of married women report that they feel very used in their
marital relations, where the man comes to satisfy and release his sexual
desires. The potential years of loving relationship and reverence for
women’s fertility cycles can become lost opportunities where many marriages fail
to demonstrate respect and sacrifice. Many couples suffer the grief of not
having benefited from the challenge of men periodically laying down their own
sexual desires and placing the dignity of their wives’ fertility at the
forefront of their awareness.
One woman shares her experience:
“My deepest needs as a woman were not
being fulfilled. I craved intimacy, love, tenderness, and communication.
My husband spent years thinking that he was the best lover in the world.
He never realized, until we started practicing Natural Family Planning, that I
never felt loved by him as long as he was willing to use me whenever the urge
hit him. That’s how I felt – used, like a sexual object. I never
truly felt loved by him until I saw his willingness to sacrifice and honor the
cycles of my body. Our times of abstinence brought forth the communication
and respect I longed for. It grieves me that we spent so many years trying
to figure it out, fumbling through urges and temptations, seeking any methods
available for instant gratification. Trying to please my husband and be
desirable left me with feelings of resentment and bitterness. No one talks
about these deep cravings. It’s almost as if you are not allowed to speak
of deeper desires of the heart because contraception has become such an accepted
practice. We don’t even realize that we long for so much more.”
Another young woman explained that as
long as her boyfriend could offer her condoms and foams, she could never resort
to the fear of getting pregnant as an excuse not to have sex. In
addition, the widespread acceptance of oral sex among couples as the “ultimate
safe sex” diminishes women into even more compromising positions that violate
self-respect and dignity. Is it any wonder that eating disorders are on
the rise when teenage girls are forced to swallow these practices as normal and
routine behavior on a first date? Former President Bill Clinton asserted
that such behavior does not even constitute sex – discarding it in an
unidentified category for meaningless displays of affection.
The pressure and conversations
convincing young couples to engage in sexual activity are stronger than
discussion of the morality or meaning of sexual relations, which have been
successfully replaced with concepts of “responsible freedom.”
In outlining the consequences of
artificial methods, Humanae Vitae ushered in a prophetic admonition, which we
have witnessed unfold in our culture as birth control methods have made it
easier and more convenient for women to be treated as sexual objects:
Responsible men can become more
deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this
issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial
birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could
open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral
standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and
to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to
temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to
make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause
for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods
may forget the reverence due a woman, and, disregarding her physical and
emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the
satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom
he should surround with care and affection. 
There are many courageous individuals
who are now effectively engaged in this important work of evangelization.
We must join them to promote the very real scientific effectiveness of NFP, as
well as the observable increase in emotional, spiritual, and physical intimacy
that comes from a shared experience of naturally planning, as well as the
benefit to the overall family relationships that are widely reported among
families who practice Natural Family Planning, including a dramatic decrease in
Mercedes Arzú Wilson from the
Family of the Americas Foundation comments on the dramatic results of a recent
“For years we have witnessed the benefits our programs have provided to
families, not only in Christian countries, but also Moslem and even communist
nations. Even though numerous scientific evaluations and statistical studies
have confirmed its effectiveness, even superior to artificial birth control, we
have never been able to validate the incredible benefits to the family that our
teachers have been observing for many years. In 2001, a scientific survey
was conducted under the direction of a reputable independent statistician, Dr.
Robert Lerner. He is a Sociologist from the University of Chicago with a degree
in Economics. The protocol stipulated that he would not only evaluate the
findings, but also compare them to two of the largest U.S. government funded
surveys that asked similar questions of the respondents.”
results presented from the three surveys analyzed revealed that compared to
other women in general and to Catholic women of similar age, NFP users:
- Have a dramatically low (0.2%) divorce
- Experience happier marriages;
- Are happier and more satisfied in their
- Have considerably more marital relations;
- Share a deeper intimacy with their spouse
than those who contracept;
- Realize a deeper level of communication
with their spouse;
- Have relatively large families with many
- Are appreciably more religious and attend
church more often;
- Incorporate prayer more in their daily
- Rely strongly on the teachings of the
Church, the Bible, and Almighty God;
- Are personally happier;
- Have strong traditional, social, and
- Preserve the family unit more responsibly
than the other groups;
- Are unlikely to have ever had an
- Are unlikely to have ever cohabitated;
- Are unlikely to work full-time;
- Are unlikely to be supportive of and to
engage in sex outside of marriage;
Mercedes Arzú Wilson shares:
“Natural Family Planning appears to be respecting the natural laws. It promises
to be the best safeguard for the family against divorce. Divorce… fractures the
family and creates conflict among its members…the consequences of violating the
natural laws through the use of artificial birth control, sterilization, and
abortion…usually lead to promiscuity, cohabitation, and ultimately divorce.” 
Chastity -- The Virtue that Keeps on Giving
Christians today often hear too little regarding the importance and value of
chastity before marriage. The cultural pressures to conform to the “spirit
of the age” and engage in premarital sexual relations are powerful. The
Church continues to prophetically proclaim the truth about human sexuality, but
often struggles to effectively communicate this truth to the person in the pew.
Interesting findings from the National Survey of Family Growth include the
A woman’s premarital
sexual activity and cohabitation before marriage with a partner other than her
husband increases the likelihood of divorce. While a woman's intimate premarital
relationship that is exclusively with her husband did not affect the risk of
marital disruption, having at least one other intimate relationship prior to
marriage was linked to an increased risk of divorce. The increase in risk
associated with having had a sexual relationship with another partner ranged
from 53 percent to 119 percent.
The risk of divorce
is substantially higher if the woman not only had a sexual relationship with
another man before marriage, but also cohabited with that partner. This
increase in risk is as high as 166 percent.
It’s important to disseminate these dramatic findings as a way to
support and encourage young, unmarried people to live the teaching of the Church
with regards to chastity, which is not imposed to inhibit our freedom or fun,
but to help us live in harmony with our own biology and experience the deep
satisfaction and fulfillment of our sexuality.
Mary Beth Bonacci, a speaker and the author of "Real
states: “Chastity is the radical notion that sex has a meaning. It
speaks a language - the language of self-gift. Everything about sex is about
It says, "I give myself to you. And I give to you my potential offspring,
knowing that if a child is conceived, you and I will always be together to raise
and form this product of our love." Sex brings new life into the world. New
souls, destined to live forever, come into the world through the love of a man
and a woman through their sexual union. And that fact alone makes it a sacred,
Mary Beth goes on to share that even hormonally, sexual arousal
sets off a chain reaction designed to keep the married couple bound together.
She says: “Women experience a flood of oxytocin - the same hormone which they
produce in labor and while nursing a baby. Oxytocin causes a woman to be
forgetful, decreases her ability to think rationally, and causes an incredibly
strong emotional attachment to form with the man she is with. Men also produce
some oxytocin during sexual arousal, but their bodies also produce a hormone
called vasopressin. Vasopressin, called "the monogamy molecule," kicks in after
sexual activity, and its impact is to heighten a man’s sense of responsibility.
Sex flourishes in the context of permanence. It speaks the language of marriage.
Within a marriage, it’s an incredibly powerful expression of self. It
helps to bind a couple together, for better or for worse. It’s an instrument of
the grace of matrimony. It helps a husband and a wife live out their commitment
to each other.”
The Eucharist and the Marital Covenant
By J. Kevin Burke, MSS/LSW
“This is my body, which is
for you. This cup is the new covenant in my blood…” (1 Cor. 11: 25,
“Husbands love your wives
as Christ Loved the Church. He gave himself up for Her to make Her holy,
purifying her…” (Eph. 5: 25, 26)
I wonder how many of us would see the
Eucharistic prayer and sacrifice, the “New Covenant” sealed in the blood of
Jesus, as a time to meditate upon the mystery of our physical union as man and
wife - the consummation of our marital covenant? What relevance could this
action at Mass have to the introduction and practice of contraception (keeping
in mind that over 80% of Catholic couples contracept)? What’s the
First we need to look at the concept
of “covenant.” Theologian Scott Hahn says the following about the concept
of covenant in salvation history:
What's God up to in
making these covenants (with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and the
fulfillment of all of them in Christ Jesus)? He is forging sacred kinship
bonds. He is saying to His people, "I will be their God and they shall be
my people...I will be a Father to you and you shall be sons and daughters to me"
2 Corinthians 6:16).
He was showing us that the
relationship He desires with the human race is full communion, intimate love.
(Covenant Love: An Introduction to the Biblical Worldview. Scott Hahn)
This awesome truth is reflected in the
relationship between the Mosaic Covenant and the Eucharist. Israelites ate
the flesh of the unblemished lamb sacrificed as part of the Passover feast.
The Jewish people remembered their liberation from bondage in Egypt and their
sacred kinship bond with Yahweh. St. Paul recounts the action of Jesus at
that very special Passover meal we call the Last Supper: “This cup is the new
covenant in my blood.”(1 Cor. 11:25,26)
We receive this sacred body and blood
in communion consecrated by the priest on the altar. In Eucharist we are
deeply united with Jesus, eating the lamb of perfect sacrifice that liberates
the entire human race from the bondage of sin and death. We enter into the
sacred family bond that is the Eucharistic covenantal relationship.
In Christ, God’s covenant is extended
to the entire human family. With this understanding of covenant and
Eucharist we can better comprehend the great respect the Church has for the
Eucharist and appreciate the relationship between sacramental Communion, marital
love, and contraception.
Great care is taken with the
consecrated bread and wine during Mass. Some people confuse this as an
overly scrupulous concern that reflects an obsession with ritual. However,
if we truly believe that this is indeed the body and blood of our Lord, then how
can we not treat this precious gift with the utmost care and concern?
Jesus was very careful to use the bread and wine, essential elements in
remembering the Passover covenant of Yahweh and the Jews, as the means to
consecrate them in this New Covenant sealed in His blood. That is why the
Church is very protective in preserving the integrity of the Eucharistic
sacrifice. We would never think of introducing foreign elements into this
sacrificial action. She rightly instructs that we can never introduce
another substance to replace the wine, such as juice or soda. The Church
carefully specifies the type of bread and wine that must be used. Why is
this so important? The Church understands Her grave and awesome
responsibility to maintain the integrity of this most holy sacrament that has
been entrusted to Her by Jesus. She understands that honoring those
essential elements of unleavened wheat bread and wine is essential to God
honoring the actions of the priest and the Lord becoming truly present in the
Eucharist - a “Holy and Living Sacrifice.”
Let’s look at what Scott Hahn says
about the connection between the marital covenant and the Eucharist:
The only human relationship that can
compare (to the relationship God desires to have with the human family) is that
of the union of man and woman in the marriage covenant. In fact, throughout
salvation history, God compared His Old Covenant to the marriage covenant (see
This explains why Christ described
Himself as a "bridegroom" in the Gospels and performed His first miracle at a
The New Covenant fulfills God's
marital vows to His people. He has become "one body" with them in the Church.
This covenant is renewed in each Eucharist, as we are joined intimately to His
Body. (Covenant Love: An Introduction to the Biblical Worldview. Scott Hahn)
Just as the New Covenant is renewed in
each Eucharist – joining the Church intimately with the Body of Christ, so is
the sacrament of Marriage renewed in a special way each time a husband and wife
enter into physical union. Think of the marital bed as an altar of love, the
sacred place where the marital relationship is renewed with joy, pleasure, and
affection. Like our regular reception of the Eucharist, this physical,
spiritual, and emotional gift of self is designed by God to bond the couple and
renew the marriage. It is a gift of love that has the awesome capacity to
generate this love further in the conception of children. This
generative love is once again found in the biblical concept of God’s covenant
with His people:
By His covenants, God is taking the
"creatures" He made and raising them to the status of divine offspring, divine
children. By His covenants, the Creator is fathering a family. The
human race is being transformed from something physical and natural into
something spiritual and supernatural. Humans are being changed from merely a
species sharing common traits and characteristics into a divine brotherhood and
sisterhood, a family of God. (Covenant Love: An Introduction to the Biblical
Worldview. Scott Hahn)
Our marriages are transformed from
merely earthly contractual arrangements and purely physical unions into a Sacred
Covenant with our spouse/family together with the Lord. When a couple
consecrates their marriage and their sexual relationship to the Lord, He becomes
present in a very special way at this time of sacred intimacy. In the same
way the Church protects the integrity of the Eucharistic sacrifice, so too we
must be careful to preserve the integrity of the marital union if we are to have
the Lord fully present, blessing our marriage and family life. We would
not want to introduce chemicals, condoms, or other practices into our marital
union any more than we would substitute soda for wine at Mass. We violate
a fundamental aspect of the marital relationship when each renewal of that
covenant, each act of intercourse, is not a complete gift of self and open to
any child that might be conceived in that union. As with the Eucharist,
the Church is not imposing this teaching out of a scrupulous or outdated
understanding of human sexuality, but from a loving desire to preserve the
integrity of the sacred marital union.
This ideal to which that God calls us
would be impossible without the sacrifice of the husband to love his wife as
Christ loves the Church. There are times in family life when, for good
reasons, a couple will want to avoid conception, while always remaining open in
each act of intercourse to life. In order to preserve the sanctity and
blessing of the marital union, a man will need to support his wife in those
periods of chastity necessary at times in the use of Natural Family Planning.
At these times the marital bed is a type of Altar of sacrifice where a man will,
out love for his wife and family, avoid sexual relations for a brief time.
This vocation of self-sacrifice requires a special union with Jesus in prayer
and in the Eucharist so that this period of abstinence is a loving gift and does
not lead to bitterness or resentment.
However, these times of sacrifice can
empower the renewed intimacy with greater joy, pleasure, and spiritual
blessings. A couple can experience a complete openness to the presence of
God in their marriage, especially at this place of great emotional and spiritual
intimacy. Our Lord wants to be present with us not only in our trials and
temptations, but also in our moments of joy, ecstasy, and pleasure. In
fact, He wants us to be consecrated to Him in love at these times, bonded with
Him in this sacred covenant. The Lord wants nothing to separate or divide
a husband and wife from a complete physical, emotional, and spiritual gift of
self—and He wants that same transparency with each couple.
Even if we have fallen short of this
calling in some way, the Lord calls us back with mercy and love.
Jesus had that same vision and desire when He told His apostles and all of us “I
have greatly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke
22:15) He longed to consummate the great gift of Himself on the
altar of the Passover meal and on the wood of the Cross. Praise be to God,
the final action of that event is not death, but resurrection and new life.
In Christ Jesus, through His Church and Her sacraments, we enter into the New
Covenant sealed in the blood of Jesus. We must not allow our marital
union, which so beautifully reflects the covenant relationship God desires with
His people, to be corrupted by the practice of contraception. Like the
ancient Israelites, we must turn back to the Lord.
Even if you are currently using
artificial contraception or have lost children through abortion, the Lord is
ready to shower His love, mercy, and forgiveness upon you. The Father of
the prodigal son has His arms open wide to receive you.
This is the prophetic message
of the Church in our time to its people. We are called to be consecrated
to the Lord in truth and love and to allow nothing to come between the one flesh
union of man and wife. If we are faithful to this prophetic message, the
Lord will bless our marriages and families. Amen, come Lord Jesus!
The Rising Tide of Grief
The Church must prepare to minister
to the ground swelling wound we see as the waves of grief crash against the
walls of hearts wounded by contraceptive use. Pope John Paul II speaks of
a New Springtime in the Church. Jesus’ core gospel message is “Love
one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12). In these words,
Christ sums up the meaning of life and human sexuality. At its core,
sexual love is about expressing God’s love through our bodies and loving one
another as Christ loves the Church. This is the reason Pope John Paul II
taught that if we live according to the truth of our sexuality, we fulfill the
very meaning of our being and existence.
In his book, Good News about Sex
and Marriage, Christopher West says that the opposite is also true:
“If we don’t live according to the truth of our sexuality, we miss the meaning
of our existence altogether. We forfeit true joy and true happiness.”
He further explains that God’s plan for all eternity is to “marry us” – to draw
us into closest communion with Himself. God wanted to reveal this
eternal plan to us in a way we couldn’t miss, so He stamped it right into our
very being as male and female. This is what is revealed by being made in
the image and likeness of God: we’re called to love as God loves - in a
life-giving communion. The man makes a gift of himself to the woman; the
woman receives the gift of the man into her and gives herself back to him.
And the love between them is so real, so profound, that God willing, it creates
another human person. Sexual intercourse itself reveals the invisible
mystery of God. To love and be loved as God loves – this is the deepest
desire of the human heart. God put those desires in us when He made us in
His image. Nothing else can satisfy. Nothing else will fulfill.
And yet, that’s hardly the way many
people experience it. It’s a gift from God, but so many women and men
experience it as a source of abandonment, rejection, shame, sometimes even
violence and abuse. Others find themselves enslaved in addictive sexual
urges and temptations, pornography, adultery, masochism, and abortions.
The gift created to show us God’s love and ecstasy has been twisted into a
perverted form of compulsion for scores of individuals.
Recognizing that sexual relationships
have failed to fulfill and redeem us is a core grief for many when they realize
the empty hollowness of the lies we have spoken with our bodies.
Fr. Peter Gelfer
is a board certified chaplain, Registered Nurse, and a member of an
International Health Care Community called the Brothers of St. John of God as
well as the spiritual director for the Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat team in Los
Angeles. Fr. Gelfer believes it is important to distinguish between each
loss, which is unique:
“A loss is a loss. I believe we need to take each person
where they are in their level of awareness of loss. One has to have
pastoral sensitivity as this information is shared. I have heard these
themes and stories shared by those who have had this experience of a loss of a
child by chemical abortifacients or IUD's. We must deal with each loss as
it emerges with compassion.”
Fr. Peter adds: “We can
help people discover that sometimes the chemicals we put in our bodies prevent
the implantation of the zygote to occur. We can pray for these "little
ones" too, even though we may or may not be aware of them. Many times we
don't know the harm of putting things in our body. As someone once told me
"I am what I eat and what I drink.” Think of this not only in terms of
food, drugs, and alcohol, but also of the Holy Eucharist.”
Dr. Philip Ney
with the International Institute for Pregnancy Loss and Child Abuse Research and
Recovery has noted scientifically that at the moment of conception mother and
child begin to communicate on a hormonal level, and this information is
permanently recorded in the mother's brain. Susan Gliko, who facilitates
the Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats in Montana, says: “I have known women who
almost supernaturally are aware of these children lost to contraception.
They grieve like any mother who has lost a child, and I believe their grief
should be honored.”
But our culture, in its own denial,
demands a middle ground. Social and economic pressures have led to women
competing in the workplace with men. Most Christian families now see
contraceptive use as a necessity. But is it time for us to ask if the use
of contraception has devalued women’s relational, moral, and emotional
proficiencies? Has it negated the fact that one of the extraordinary
things that only women can do is give life? Is the cost of chemical
control of fertility too high when it may lead to the loss of children conceived
in the loving embrace of their parents?
There is a
concealed facet to modern culture which encourages oppression of women’s
procreative lives. It does little to affirm the dignity of women - cutting
off their sexuality from the natural act of procreation. The “safe sex”
message often reduces young women to mere objects of pleasure, with no
connection to the emotional and spiritual forces that are intrinsic to the
woman’s identity, the nurturing of our offspring, and concepts of
freedom has a price tag. Unfortunately, it is the woman who pays the
heaviest price. With abortion and birth control, the violence happens in
her body, the chemical assault is upon her hormonal system – a body designed
with a sensitive and delicately balanced ecosystem to sustain life. And so
we have a tremendous dilemma: uphold the virtues of women’s instinct,
biology, and reason, or continue to be exploited by a society filled with
professionals of every stripe who are strong evangelists for contraception and
One woman shares the pain of the past with hope for the
husband and I are both broken-hearted that we are just now finding the fullness
and beauty of the Church's teaching on sexuality. What we have at ages 42
and 43 transcends anything we thought possible. In addition to teaching
and training in this truth, I believe that testimonials are important to show
how those couples that have experienced both life styles, have found profound
blessing in living in accord with God’s design. Our marriage had been
plagued with many worldly hedonistic ideas about the marriage bed. In our
obedience to repent and surrender to God's way, our marriage experienced a
miracle. In Christopher West's presentation “Naked without Shame,” he
states how virginity is not whether one has or has not had sex, but rather
virginity is living the way God created us to live as man and woman. My
husband and I have found this virginity. We have discovered our "origin".
We have been restored to the "Garden of Eden"… to paradise. No words can
ever explain the ecstasy we experience in the marital embrace. God's way
is better than any thing out there. This is "Good News", and this news
needs to be shared and proclaimed.”
Indeed, couples who have experienced the blessing of fully
embracing the Church teaching in their sexual lives are in a wonderful position
to encourage other couples to understand the advantages and benefits of living
out the fullness of self-giving love. Humanae Vitae affirms this:
Among the fruits that ripen if the law of God
be resolutely obeyed, the most precious is certainly this, that married couples
themselves will often desire to communicate their own experience to others.
Thus, it comes about that in the fullness of the lay vocation will be included a
novel and outstanding form of the apostolate by which, like ministering to like,
married couples themselves by the leadership they offer will become apostles to
other married couples. And surely among all the forms of the Christian
apostolate it is hard to think of one more opportune for the present time.
Healing the Wounds of Contraceptive Grief
In my own work as the founder and
author of the Rachel’s Vineyard Weekend retreats and support groups for healing
after abortion, I know that making the choice to terminate a developing life in
the womb is, without a doubt, a heartbreaking decision that can have profound
ramifications on the emotional and spiritual life of a parent. I’ve spent
many years studying, counseling, and writing about this unique and debilitating
Rachel’s Vineyard is a unique program for men and women who have
suffered the loss of a child through abortion. It is for those who
intuitively sense that life is a gift, a precious seed that has been given to us
for cultivation. We acknowledge the loss of that irreplaceable life and
the grief that comes from having relinquished a child so intimately connected to
us. The Rachel’s Vineyard program is used by Diocesan based Project Rachel
offices, crisis pregnancy centers, as well as many other ministries throughout
the United States and internationally. In order to train for facilitating
retreats, all participants must go through the retreat process for themselves.
If they have not had an abortion, they are invited to grieve other pain and sin,
or any way they may have aborted God’s will in their own life. In addition
to this, participants are invited to grieve any loss of the womb.
Cheryl Ryan who
works with the Pregnancy Helpline and coordinates the Interdenominational
Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats in Janesville, Wisconsin shares:
husband and I also used the birth control pill the first years of our marriage.
That was back when the strong ones were used, but because of problems, my doctor
switched me to the new ones that allowed for breakthrough ovulation.
However, I knew nothing about this until years later! Like many, I was
shocked, and grieved when I found out!
I bring this
topic of abortifacients up at our retreats for several reasons… but certainly
one thing stands out: Abortion affects many lives in many different
ways. There is a broad scope of grief here that needs to be recognized.
At the Sunday Memorial Service of the Rachel’s Vineyard
Retreat, my team had placed extra candles out on our table. In a
spontaneous moment, agreeable to all, we decided to use those candles to
memorialize any babies that may have been aborted unknowingly by abortifacient
means. We also spontaneously placed one bereavement doll into our cradle
to acknowledge all these losses.”
serves as the coordinator for Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats in Oklahoma City. She
“I have met many
women who are devastated when they learn that the pill, shot, patch, or IUD have
been proven to give break-through ovulation (meaning, the woman ovulates and is
fertile, despite using birth control methods). I work with lots of women
that have experienced contraceptive grief. I have had women grieve these
babies on our Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats. This is a real loss. It is
different from a miscarriage because the mom put something in her body that
rendered her womb hostile to her baby. I believe that they were deceived like
all of the other women who experienced contraception failure and had an abortion
when pregnancy resulted. While it is not surgical, I don't see how
abortifacient contraception is really different than many of the newer methods
for early abortion.”
Susan believes that
it’s important to bring up this subject because she sees it as an opportunity to
share the whole, beautiful topic of natural family planning. “Many people
have never learned the Church’s teaching on human sexuality,” she said.
that education about Natural Family Planning, as a follow-up topic during
aftercare meetings of the Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat, is a great opportunity to
help women and men recognize the gift and beauty of their natural fertility
who is a clinical psychologist for the Rachel program of San Bernadino,
California, believes that people in our society do not validate most losses of
the womb. Many "well meaning" Christians respond to another’s loss by
essentially saying, "How sad, but I don't know how to deal with your pain.
Hurry up and get over it."
Recalling her own
pregnancy loss, she shares: “Perhaps because of my understanding as a Catholic
that life begins at conception, I was blessed to make myself actively work
through my grief after a miscarriage for the better part of a year. It was
a lonely journey, but a good one. I particularly reflected on the fact
that had this child lived, he would have been one of the most important people
in my entire life. Yet, since he died, I did not know him at all.”
Marie goes on to
say: “Of course there are significant differences in how various types of
pregnancy loss (miscarriage, abortion, etc.) need to be dealt with.
However, there are commonalities as well. I believe that if help were
encouraged, endorsed, and available for all forms of pregnancy loss,
there would not only be great healing taking place, but education as well.
The message would be sent to our youth, women, and families, that life begins at
conception, that the loss of early life is a very sad hardship, and that not
only is the purposeful taking of human life, even early on, wrong, but it is
incredibly hurtful to those who experience it.”
Cathy Martell, an oncology nurse,
mother of eight, and team member of the Rachel’s Vineyard team in Los Angeles
California, agrees that every loss is different and should be respected.
She states: “I have a feeling that all those little souls are the ‘same’ in
God's eyes, however they were lost.”
We are reminded
in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus said: "Whoever welcomes one such child in
my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes not me but the one who
sent me." (Mark 9:37)
When we reject
our children, we experience the pain of our willful sin or uneducated ignorance.
Peter John Cameron once wrote:
“If we can see the truth about ourselves and not be terrorized
by it, God’s reign appears in the simplicity with which we approach our sins,
refusing either to ignore them or make excuses for them.”
The Truth Will Set You Free
The emphasis of church teaching on
contraception and abortion must be pastoral. Fr. Frank Pavone shares that
“pastoral” means “shepherding.” The shepherd leads the way by pointing out
the right path. Our Church holds the doctrinal truth in all its fullness,
and therefore can shepherd Her people to actually follow the way through
encouragement and strengthening.
Speaking the truth in love is not
watering down the truth. Some seek to dilute and weaken the truth (I Pet. 2: 1,
2). "Preacher, tone down your preaching," we hear and, "Do not rock the boat."
The same Gospels that exhort us to “speak the truth in love" also proclaim:
"Preach the word: be it in season,
out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their
own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they
shall turn away [their] ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist,
make full proof of thy ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:2-5