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 spirits.
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 perfect will.
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 service.
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 before.
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 their lives.
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 contraception.
The Manipulation of Language
The U.S. Department of Health defines an abortifacient procedure as:
“All the 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 souls.
As Father Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, writes: “A 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.” 
Dr. 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, agrees:
“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 grief.
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 benefit”.  “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 Depo-Provera.” 
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 control pills.  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 contraceptives. 
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 free.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:29
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 by contraception.
A Collection of Personal Testimonies
Abortifacients...The Other Forbidden Grief
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 marriage.
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 control.
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 removed immediately.
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 this loss.
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"
Our 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!
I 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 serious denial.
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.
The 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 babies.
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."
In fact, 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.
These drugs 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.
These 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.
We 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.
We also 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.
For these 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 married love.
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 children.
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 complete.
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 later.
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 obstacle.
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 family.
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 wife.
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 second chance.
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 mix well.
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 mother.
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 health.
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 happened.
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 was wrong.
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 date.
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 woman.
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 marriage.
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 service.
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 this problem.
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 fertility restored.
I 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 sterilization.
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 fullness.
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 victim.
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!Chapter 3
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 bear life.
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?” I asked.
“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 you.”
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 shared sorrows.
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.
Thankfully, my 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.
Real 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.”
Eamonn Keane 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!” 
Acknowledging 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." - Ephesians 5:25-31
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 wife.
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 divorce rates.
Mercedes Arzú Wilson from the Family of the Americas Foundation comments on the dramatic results of a recent study:
“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.”
The 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 rate;
- Experience happier marriages;
- Are happier and more satisfied in their everyday lives;
- 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 children;
- Are appreciably more religious and attend church more often;
- Incorporate prayer more in their daily lives;
- Rely strongly on the teachings of the Church, the Bible, and Almighty God;
- Are personally happier;
- Have strong traditional, social, and moral views;
- Preserve the family unit more responsibly than the other groups;
- Are unlikely to have ever had an abortion;
- 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 following:
- 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 Love", 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 permanence. 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, holy act.”
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, 26)
“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 connection?
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" (see 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 Hosea 2:16-24; Jeremiah 2:2; Isaiah 54:4-8).
This explains why Christ described Himself as a "bridegroom" in the Gospels and performed His first miracle at a wedding (see John 2; 3:29; Mark 2:19; Matthew 22:1-14; 25:1-13).
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 self-preservation.
Indeed, sexual 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 sterilization.
One woman shares the pain of the past with hope for the future:
“My 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 grief.
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:
“My 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.”
Susan Lepak serves as the coordinator for Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats in Oklahoma City. She reports:
“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.
Cheryl agrees 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 cycles.
Marie Widmann, 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