A Challenging Truth, Part Two: The Day the Birth Control Died

"Everyone does it, so what's the big deal?"  Taking the pill, getting "fixed", getting a shot of Depo-Provera…there's a myriad of choices for contraception.  The expectation in today's modern society is that everyone uses artificial birth control at some point in their lives, be they married or not.  Right? 

Many years ago, I would have agreed with all of the above.  I was not a rebellious Catholic, just an ignorant one.  But the guilt of my ignorance rests on more shoulders than just mine.  I was surrounded by contraception Catholics who discussed their birth control as easily as they spoke of which brand of toothpaste they used.  And then there was the Catholic clergy.  There was nary a homily I heard that even hinted of the Catholic teaching on human sexuality.  Understandably, it's not an ideal topic for an audience of all ages.  And, truthfully, I did not always make it to Mass, so maybe I missed the "Talk" one Sunday.  Had I kept up on Catholic teaching, I would have been aware of the "Theology of the Body".  This was the first major teaching Pope John Paul II gave in 129 short talks between 1979 and 1984.  This project was a Biblical reflection on the meaning of human embodiment, particularly as it concerns human sexuality.

I was not aware of the "Theology of the Body" because I was not a good Catholic back in the day.  Nor did I pay much heed to Natural Family Planning in which couples regulate births without recourse to unnatural methods that interfere with the way God designed our fertility.  But I expected a popular priest at my parish in Montana to be up on all things Catholic.  Unfortunately, he was not.  As both a priest and doctor, his parishioners and patients looked up to him.  He let them down by stating, "It's not realistic to expect couples to follow the Pope's teachings on birth control." 

The Error of our Ways

I believed my doctor/priest and followed society.  Not until I began to embrace my Catholic faith and trust its teachings to guide me did I come to trust that God's plan is always the best.  When Mark and I married in 1981, I was not even aware the Catholic Church taught that contraception was against God's plan.  We were both Catholic and occasionally went to Mass.  It seemed like a good thing to do, but other weekend plans easily took precedence over Mass.  Our Catholic faith was mostly on the back burner.  

After the births of our three boys, I decided to have surgery for a tubal ligation.  I loved my children very much, but three seemed like plenty.  Mark said the decision was up to me.  During the pre-op exam, the doctor explained the failure rate was only 1 in 500.  Those odds were unsettling.  "Not bad odds for a million dollar lottery," I thought.  A failure could result in a tubal pregnancy, which could result in death.  That thought weighed heavily on my mind.  I canceled.

The next line of attack was birth control pills prescribed by my Catholic doctor/priest.  (He had become a priest first then received permission to go through medical school and become a doctor.)  When my cycle started up again halfway through the package of pills, it was obvious they were not working.  My doctor/priest had explained they contained a low dose of estrogen to avoid common side effects.  Obviously, the dose was so low that they were not preventing ovulation as intended.  I tossed them out.

The following month I became pregnant.  When Mark heard the news, he announced: "I've been praying for this."  It turned out the big sneak had literally been praying on the sly.  He liked the idea of having another baby and decided to pray rather than argue about it.  I was actually happy about the news.  A diehard baby lover like myself could not help but rejoice at another little one.  This may seem odd from a person taking precautions against having more children, but as you can see, none of this was very well thought out.

Jacob was born on May 13, the anniversary date of Our Lady of Fatima's first appearance in Fatima, Portugal.  It was also Mark's birthday and Mother's Day.  Mark too had been born on Mother's Day thirty-three years earlier.  Happy Birthday Mark — from God.

During this time in our lives, we began reading about various Marian apparitions and were inspired for the first time to pray the rosary.  We stopped missing Sunday Mass and began learning more about our faith.  Still, we were not fully converted yet — particularly when it came to family planning.  There's always a learning curve and we did not go from A to Z overnight.  After four children, I insisted Mark have a vasectomy.  He resisted at first but finally relented. 

Reality Hits

Initially, I was oblivious that we had done anything wrong.  But gradually, as I grew to desire God's will in my life, started making visits to Jesus in the tabernacle and continued praying the rosary, a feeling grew in me.  I realized that the Church, which Christ had founded to guide us until the end of time, had authority to teach on spiritual matters, including matters relating to sexuality.  I had been given no such authority. 

I shared my feelings of regret over Mark's sterilization with him.  He was less than thrilled since he thought it was a bad idea to begin with.  As a matter of fact, he accused me of being like Eve.  "You are right," I agreed.  "But remember, Adam was kicked out of the garden, too."   We began praying that God's will would be done in our lives, including whether we would have more children.  We determined that if it was God's will, Mark's vasectomy would fail.

 But, one night, I had a dream in which I saw two babies — one blonde and one dark-haired.  I felt an intense love for these babies as if they were my own.  At the end of the dream, I was made to know that these were babies God had planned for us, but because we had not lived in union with His plan, they would never be born.  I woke up feeling like a mother who just lost her babies.  I knew the only way to get to them was to convince Mark to have a reversal of his vasectomy.

When Mark came home from work that day, I approached him with my idea for a reversal.  He would have none of it.  I barely got two sentences out of my mouth before he announced the subject was officially closed.  Even if we could afford it, he was completely unwilling to subject himself to another surgery.  Now, it was my turn to pray behind Mark's back.  "Okay God," I prayed, "I want to do Your will but I am powerless to change Mark's mind.  I'm putting everything in Your hands."  Then, I just kept praying.

Of One Mind

Several months had passed when one morning after Sunday Mass, Mark casually wondered out loud how much a reversal operation would cost.  "I know," I announced.  Before Mark had shot my idea down, I had called the doctor's office to get all the information. 

"I can't get off from work this month," Mark said, "but next month I could go in and get it done."  I was both shocked and thrilled.  We did not have the money to pay for it, but we determined we could probably make payments.

"What changed your mind?" I finally asked, wondering what had caused such a drastic change of heart.  His answer took my breath away.

"I had a dream last night," Mark said.  "I saw two babies that God had planned for us."  I had never told a single soul about my dream. 

Three months later, we were expecting a baby.  I had a strong feeling that it would be our first girl and God wanted us to name her Mary after the Blessed Mother who had intervened for us.  We had never considered the name with any previous pregnancy.  I wrote on a slip of paper, "Yes, I think Mary would be a good name," and tucked it in my wallet.  I figured that when God let Mark in on the plan, I would pull out the slip and show him. 

Our blond-haired baby girl, Mary, was born on December 22, 1993.  A few months before her birth, we inherited the exact amount of money we needed to pay Mark's reversal surgery in full.  Dark-haired Teresa was born on my birthday, April 18, 1996.  I thought we must be done now that we had the babies from our dream.  Mark said he thought ten would be a good number of children.  I did not actually take this seriously.  I recalled that when St. Maximilian Kolbe was young, he had received a vision of Our Blessed Mother.  She had shown him two wreaths of roses — one of red representing martyrdom, and one of white, representing purity.  She asked him which he would like to choose.  He chose both.  I wondered if, like St. Maximilian, we should volunteer to take on more than God asked?  We prayed for guidance.

John was born on August 31, 1999 and Isaac was born on his sister Mary's birthday, December 22, 2001.  We are a family of twelve now, including two brothers who were AIDS orphans from Kenya.  As of this writing, the ages range from 24 to 6.  There could be no greater blessing on our family than our precious children.  The kid's love for each other runs deep.  I know that one of the biggest draws for my oldest sons to come home for visits is to spend time with their siblings.

The moral of this story is not that everyone must have a big family to do the will of God.  No, my plan is not your plan.  The moral of my story is that God has a plan for us all.  To discern His plan and strive to live in union with it, we must learn and embrace the teachings He gives us through His Church.  Nowadays, there is an abundance of authors, speakers and organizations that support and encourage couples in this way.  I have no doubt that much of that information was available back when I first married, but I did not make it my business to learn about it.  Make it your business to learn because, until your plan is God's plan, it's the wrong one.

Patti Maguire Armstrong

By

Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’s Amazing Grace Series. She has appeared on TV and radio stations across the country.  Her latest books, Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and children’s book, Dear God, I Don’t Get It are both available now. To read more, visit Patti’s Catholic News and Inspiration site. Follow her on Facebook at Big Hearted Families and Dear God Books.

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  • Guest

    What an amazing testimony!  And how pathetic that a Catholic priest/doctor prescribed birth control pills!  I'm used to Catholic doctors who do this, sadly, but a priest?

  • Guest

    gmstmh:

       What a beautiful story! It reminds me of my own confusion regarding "birth control".

       In our rural parish in northern N.J., the priest didn't mention or explain "Humanae Vitae", but began an angry tirade about "There are worse things one can do than limiting family size", and he didn't want to hear anyone bring that up in confession.

       My problem was miscarriages which I suffered between each of my 5 children. I felt heartbroken when I had lost a baby following my second child's birth. My doctor said there was a serious complication following this loss, and getting pregnant again would be dangerous for the next 3 months, so he gave me a "pill" to help. The first kind made my hands and feet swell, antoher gave splitting headaches, and a third gave slight morning sickness and I passed something – similar to a miscarriage. I told my doctor I could not stand the various side-effects and refused to try more kinds, as the 3 months were up anyway. (My own body's reaction told me this medication was wrong for me, but later a neighbor's daughter died from complications from using the "pill", (given to regulate her period) and I wondered why there weren't better regulations about it's use.

       A while later I learned that the Church had denounced the use of the pill, (and I felt I had been used as a guinea pig). 

       Next came a statement by a number of priests and religous, protesting the Church's decision. This concept of "dissent" seemed wrong, but no one seemed to question it, and then came Roe V. Wade, which seemed totally un-true because I always saw the children I lost as real babies, but I was not allowed to mourn because they were "just miscarriages".

       Clearly something had been turned upside down and all humanity was being led astray by this concept that one could "choose" which lives were expendable. Humanae Vitae was propnesy.

  • Guest

    What an awesome story.  My wife and I had a similar journey, and are now the parents of eight.  It is unfortunate how many Catholics fail to understand how serious the sin of contraception is.  I call it the "Threshold of Hope".  Some folks are just unwilling to take their faith to the next level, and instead create a zone of comfort that justifies their lifestyle.   The few that dare to step beyond discover incredible riches.

  • Guest

    What a story of God's loving tenderness to you.  How gentle is His hand guiding us. His will is the source of our joy and peace.  

  • Guest

    Wonderful story. 

    One minor correction: the Blessed Mother offered young Raymond Kolbe two crowns, not roses.

    PTR! 

    "If angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion." ~ St. Maximilian Kolbe

  • Guest

    Patti,

    congratulations on your beautiful family; the fruit of a gracefilled faith journey.

    Your story is evidence of the Gospel saying that to whomever has  more will be given.  Whoever doesn't have, even the little he has will be taken.

    Your marital generosity bore fruit in the 8 children of your womb.  Proof of God's mercy.  However, that generosity also increased your capacity to love such that you desired children not of your womb.  Your adoption of the African orphans parallels stories of other large families I know who have grown their family through adoption. Some cannot understand how one can do this but we know through loving God you grow in your ability to love.

    Another example can be gleaned from your statement:  I know that one of the biggest draws for my oldest sons to come home for visits is to spend time with their siblings. Truly this proves the axiom that the greatest gift you can give your children is a sibling.  How sad it is when parents of one or two children sit home alone on Thanksgiving dining on Cornish Game hen and a solitary potato while their kids visit friends.

    In my own family, I rejoice every time my college sophomore daughter returns home.  I know she's here to see her baby brothers and sisters.  Her greatest fear is that they won't know her.  She's still an important part of the family.

    I do take exception with the excuses for priests not preaching on marital love.  Contraception is the matter of mortal sin.  Inspired by love of married couples and children, the Holy Spirit will provide any language a priest needs to evangelize his children in the Gospel Truth.  A soul is worth more than human respect.  "To whom much is given much is expected" goes with "even the little they have will be taken from them".  This is a matter of heaven and hell for both priests and laity.  We need to pray!

  • Guest

    These stories ring so true to me as I have heard similiar stories from friends and patients. we surely need to keep praying for our priests. When I approached my priest about putting together an informational talk to our parish women about the pill and it's physical as well as moral effects, he rejected the idea stating "People already know about the side effects." Even after I objected telling him that most of my patients and friends were not aware of the dangers or how the pill worked, he refused. Please don't misunderstand, I love my priest and feel he is a good man as well as a great pastor. He just doesn't get it on this topic. Keep praying for chastitiy- for all of us.

  • Guest

    Ave Maria!

    Awesome story.  Mine did not go this way. After the planned and politically correct two children, I had a tubal ligation. My Catholic docotr had no problem and my pastor told the moms that contraception was a 'matter of conscience'. But we have no formed conscience in this area for the most part.  It was only some years late, after a reconversion , that I began to see my mistake and my sin.  I had fallen for the big lie of overpopulation and so on.

    In my parish, a family of more than two children is RARE. Those who have m ore are asked what went wrong. We are far from the truth of God's plan for marriage in these instances.

     

  • Guest

    This story and how the whole dream thing played out was fascinating for me because, although my dream did not come to the same life-affirming joyous result, I had a similar dream experience.  More the lifelong regrets of horribly bad choices I went along with many, many years ago.  It took some work and much pain, but I did get it into a song form called "A Dream A Lot Like Mine".  I push it where I can in hopes that it might be helpful to others, whether they be the old with regrets or the young to avoid the same mistakes.  It is included in the multi-media links at http://www.fatherhoodforever.org and I'm very happy about that.  It will come up automatically by clicking http://www.myspace.com/emmettgrayson I see some changes among the young – and pro-life thinking is "winning hearts and minds".  I hope some folks will click and hear my small part of that effort.  It's free, of course, for listening and non-commercial use.  Who knows?  Maybe someday we will see the kind of "spiritual and cultural shift" where many want to hear it as a kind of "generational confession" and a beginning of healing.

  • Guest

    That was an excellent article.  As a convert to the Catholic faith, the Church's teaching on sexuality is something sorely lacking in Protestantism.  The beauty of it fits so well with natural law, the life that we are called to live in the Gospel, and is definitely what the world needs today.

    It is unfortunate that so many priests ignore this or are opposed to it.  I can't help but remember the words of Pope Pius XI in his Encyclical, On Christian Marriage.  In the section on Contraception, he states:

    "If any confessor or pastor of souls, which may God forbid, lead the faithful entrusted to him into these errors or should at least confirm them by approval or by guilty silence, let him be mindful of the fact that he must render a strict account to God, the Supreme Judge, for the betrayal of his sacred trust, and let him take to himself the words of Christ: 'They are blind and leaders of the blind: and if the blind lead the blind, both fall into the pit'". 

    Fortunately, many of our younger priests today understand the gravity of their vocation and are more apt to embrace a culture of life.

  • Guest

    I had a vasectomy scheduled – I think it was late in the year 1999 or 2000. At the time we did not attend Mass very often. We had two children. I wasn't even Catholic yet. But we happened to travel to a parish some several miles from our home that day. We've only attended Mass at that parish a handful of times. It is a beautiful parish but as I said, it is several miles from our home (perhaps 20 or 30). That day, I picked up a couple of brochures on Catholic teaching pertaining to contraception and sterilization. For the first time since I was young, I actually heard God's voice. Nothing grandiose or externally audible. Simply an internal voice calling me. I canceled the vasectomy appointment.

    It was three or four more years before I entered RCIA, and when I did, my wife and I also struggled with the birth control issue. I felt at times that it was simply the Church playing games with people to ensure that everyone went to confession more often. How naive – and on more levels than one! We went to one of CCL's NFP classes after investigating online about Catholic teaching on contraception. Even a blatant non-Catholic – almost anti-Catholic – like I was at the time knew that the Church did not believe contraception to be a good idea. We went to the class because, in my words, "if I was going to reject something, then I was going to know exactly what I was rejecting."

    Inquiry is always a good approach to doubt, even if you think that your doubts and queries are negative. Doubt and questions aren't sinful; failure to pursue them, however, can be. Our NFP queries were mightily answered. The truth is indeed more beautiful than the alternative. We now have five children – our two eldest, a little boy, a little girl, and an Angel Baby who never made it past several weeks gestation. We owe our knowledge of our Angel Baby to what we learned in NFP. But for the 21+ day thermal shift, we might have thought it nothing more than a long cycle. But now we know, and we have one more reason to make it to heaven (even if, as I strongly suspect in my individual case, there will be much time in purgatory first).

    We now teach NFP. We have given several chastity talks. We even had a Radio Maria program for a time. We have finally had to back away from the radio program after our daughter was born (there is nothing more important than family and children), but we still teach and give talks. We have given several talks to audiences who do not necessarily expect marital chastity and NFP as the topic. But we stick with Pope John Paul's words, coupled with some basic philosophy and Latin/English/Spanish etymology (there is more Catholic teaching embedded in simple linguistic history than most people know). Familiaris Consortio and Personalist Values are our favorite points of departure in these talks. Our experience is that people want to hear the truth. A few act immediately. The majority do not, but this is no reason to lose hope.

    Very few are changed by a single talk. However, those talks are seeds that can change people's hearts and lives over the long term, especially if they have the audacity to pray on a regular basis. A homily or two could do as much or more. We know: our current priest is a very holy man. He speaks occasionally on contraception as an aside. Two themes, however, are commonly woven into his other homilies: 1) Children are the greatest gift we can give to God; and 2) Families who are physically unable to bear children nevertheless can and should offer their spiritual gifts to God through active service to others. In other words, he directly addresses the two underlying cultural causes of contraception and IVF by observing on a regular basis that children are a gift, not a burden, and that no one has a right to have children but should follow God's plan even if it means serving others without children. As I said, he is a very holy priest.

    You might summarize these themes thus: the great adventure of life is worth the risk.

  • Guest

    Thanks for a beautiful witness and replies.  Those seeking to share these truths with others may find additional help at the website of NFP International.  For starters, try "Not Just for Catholics" and "Understanding Humanae Vitae" in the "And more" section of the Home Page.  Also, Part 1 of the online NFP How-to Manual deals with the What and the WHY of NFP.  An improved version will be posted in the next month or so.  All for free.

    John F. Kippley, President, NFP International

    http://www.NFPandmore.org

     

  • Pingback: The Truth About Birth Control, Part II « Ville Platte Catholic Youth Group

  • Houston Mom

    Great article and great story. I’m pregnant with baby # 3 after finally coming to terms with the fact that maybe my doctor wasn’t right about contraception and that Jesus knows a little bit more about it than I do. This story made my cry tears of joy for you!

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