Pregnancy is a Gift, Not a Flaw

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Another post about birth control, Haley? Really? It’s true. Sorry, folks. But I think Catholic teaching on contraception is really crucial to understanding the respect for womanhood that the Church affirms.

The Church’s stance on birth control is one of the most controversial issues of our day. Why should women be enslaved to pregnancy and child-rearing instead of pursuing something, anything else? Why should a woman’s right to contraception be taken off the table? Why is the HHS Mandate such a big deal? Does the Church just want all women to be oppressed, barefoot, and pregnant in the kitchen? These questions completely miss the point. Far from wanting to degrade women, the Church always wants to honor womanhood.

Before our conversion, I was on the Pill for a year and a half. We got married young, I was only 20, Daniel was 21, and we were both still in college. At the time we were attending a Baptist church. I can’t tell you how many of our well-meaning friends and members of our faith community asked when they heard of our engagement, “So, Haley, have you started taking birth control, yet? Because you gotta take it a couple months ahead of time for it to be really effective so you don’t end up pregnant!”

Apart from being a really invasive question, what kind of message did that send to me? A. Pregnancy is a disaster that needs serious prevention in order to be avoided. B. There is something flawed in the way your body works. You need a prescription to fix this problem you have so that you’re not the cause of a horrible inconvenience (at best) to yourself and your poor husband.

These folks had our best interests at heart. But far from feeling liberated by this push for the Pill, I felt ashamed of my womanhood, embarrassed of my pesky fertility. The way my body was created was clearly flawed. I had a serious problem and it hinged on the unfortunate fact that I was born a woman.

Fast forward to when I quit taking the Pill my last semester of college and got pregnant just after graduation. Unplanned, unexpected, but we were indescribably happy about it. Assuming we were disappointed, many of our friends attempted to commiserate with us. “Wow. Your life is really gonna change,” they’d grimace. “Things are gonna be different” was about the most encouraging phrase they could muster. The pastor at our Baptist Church even asked, “This wasn’t planned, was it? I mean, you’d have to be crazy to want to be pregnant right now, in your situation!” Our situation being that we were young and Daniel had another year of school to finish and a thesis to write

That attitude really was a storm cloud over my glowing happiness. I had failed. I had ruined us. There was something wrong with me and because I hadn’t altered the way my body worked with meds, I was supposed to feel embarrassed or stupid or ignorant for “getting us into this situation.”

I can’t tell you the striking difference between this mindset and the way Catholics responded to our big news. There was no pity in our Catholic friends and professors faces for this hapless young couple. They were actually excited! “Praise God!” they’d say. “What a blessing! How wonderful!

Maybe there isn’t anything wrong with me? I wondered. Maybe it’s not insane to be thrilled that we’re expecting before having our careers settled and being financially secure. Maybe this womanhood thing is something to celebrate?

As we began reading the teachings of the Church on marriage, fertility, and contraception, I started to think about my body differently. There wasn’t anything broken about it. There wasn’t anything to apologize for. By making procreation a central feature of sex, we were honoring each others’ bodies and their Creator. We were fearfully and wonderfully made and we could embrace the womanhood and manhood we brought to the marriage bed.  We could be sub-creators, participants in God’s redemptive, creative work and that miraculous creation of a new soul could happen within me.

Instead of something to be ashamed of, I began to celebrate the unique honor of my womanhood. Because God has given women an opportunity to share in his creation that men will never have. My husband will never know what it is like to grow new life inside himself. Granted, he will also never know what it feels like to throw up everyday for several weeks due to extreme morning sickness. I’m not saying pregnancy is easy or without sacrifice, but it is cosmic and amazing. An eternal soul is entering the world and I have been chosen to participate in this work. I am honored. I am celebrated.

If we think that by denying our fertility we are being liberated, we have been sadly taken in. By divorcing procreation from sex, women are degraded. We have to apologize for our womanhood, the possibility that we might get pregnant and inconvenience someone. Better to have a surgical procedure render us sterile so that we don’t ruin any poor man’s life by landing him with, of all things, a baby.

One of the lies about contraception is that increased access to the Pill decreases the number of abortions performed. That’s rarely true and misses the big picture which is that when a country turns to a contraceptive mentality, changing it’s view of the purpose of sex, the abortion rate increases:

“Contraception has been shown to decrease abortion rates primarily in countries with already high abortion rates. These represent a minority of countries. Contraception has been shown to increase abortion rates primarily in countries with already low abortion rates. These represent a majority of countries.Contraception has been shown to slightly reduce abortion rates after its initial increase of abortion rates, but has never been shown to reduce abortion rates back to pre-contraception levels.” (Read more of this article about the studies on this topic in detail.)

When we no longer value the way God created women, and prescribe a medical fix for their natural fertility, are we really respecting womanhood?

Catholic teaching about marriage, sex, fertility, and contraception affirms the value of women and protects us from degradation. As a Catholic woman, I can fully embrace my body. I don’t need to apologize for my womanhood. I am honored and celebrated.

 

image: Shutterstock

Editors note: this is part four of a larger series by Haley Stewart, though each article is able to be read by itself. Please get a full view by clicking here.

Haley Stewart

By

Haley Stewart lives in the deep south with her bearded husband, three kids, and seven backyard chickens. She went to a Baptist college and surprised herself by coming home Catholic. When she gets a moment to herself, she loves to read Austen, Waugh, and O’Connor with a strong cup of coffee in hand. Haley muses about cultivating a Catholic family through literature, liturgical living, and urban homesteading at her blog Carrots for Michaelmas and just released her first ebook: Feast! Real Food, Reflections, and Simple Living for the Christian Year.

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  • Fred

    What a heart warming story to hear! Thanks Haley.

  • James

    A common saying among Catholics in support of the Church’s teaching is that “fertility is not a disease”.

    But if society treated fertility as a disease, that would be an improvement!

    If fertility were like any other disease, doctors would start with the simplest course of action before moving to more risky and complicated measures. The first line of “treatment” would be education and behavioral changes (NFP), then simple OTC measures. Hormone replacement (the Pill) and permanent surgery would be reserved for the most “drastic” cases.

    Yet society puts hormone replacement and surgery first, despite the cost, risks, and side-effects. Fertility education is seen, not as healthy, but as irresponsible. This view is the sign of a deeper problem.

    I think you are on to something about society disrespecting womanhood (and to a lesser extent, manhood). I think this is rooted in a deep seated fear of the physical and loathing of the human body. I think there is an especially great fear of the feminine, of women’s bodies, and especially of female sexuality. Far from being oppressive, the Catholic Church insists that we must be free to be human without having to apologize for the way that God made us.

    Excellent article.

  • JMC

    Those negative comments are right up there with the one they say to couples with large families: “Wow. Aren’t you done YET?” The best answer to that I ever heard was one woman who told her questioner, “We’ll be done when God says we’re done, and not before.”
    My major in college was biology…back in the early 1970s, even before Roe vs. Wade. Back then, biology textbooks were very clear about one thing: The natural odds are actually AGAINST pregnancy. Most couples, even without the use of artificial contraception, end up having to wait years before finally achieving pregnancy. The ones who do right at the beginning of their marriage are actually a very small minority, so you truly are blessed.
    Sex-ed did not exist when I was growing up. I was so highly sheltered in my childhood and teens that I entered college STILL not entirely certain of where babies came from, beyond the fact that they grew inside the mother. How they got there in the first place was a complete mystery, one which wasn’t solved until I was well into my biology studies. From a textbook, which, like all textbooks, was cold and clinical. It wasn’t until a few years after college, talking to some of my friends who had gotten married and were trying to start families, that I came to realize that, far from being the enslavement that those who were pushing for legalization of abortion claimed it was, pregnancy was the ultimate fulfillment of what it meant to be a woman.
    It is true that there are women who are not suited to raising children. But contraception (which, when you come right down to it, is just a chemically induced abortion) is not the answer. Abstinence is. But our hedonistic culture simply cannot abide such a sacrifice.

  • Chris

    Congratulations, Haley! Excellent article.

  • Jamie

    Wow! This article is a lot to take in. I am a baptist and always have been. Almost my whole life I went to a baptist church where birth control of any kind was frowned upon. It wasn’t until my early 20′s that I met baptists that share this view you portray in this post and I’m sad to say that I find most of what you said to be true. I even fell for this lie and started using birth control a few months before I got married. I soon realized that my many health issues that started after marriage were related to birth control. I am now a woman living by faith and not just the teachings or culture of the baptist church. I still attend a baptist church but I have my very own opinions, beliefs, and convictions of my own. I have to answer to God for my own individual faith and I was never so relieved as to follow Christ in faith for our family when it came time to decide to not use birth control anymore. I am now the proud mama of a 3 month old baby girl and I cannot wait for the next baby, and many more to come after that. What a wonderful gift from our Lord and savior Jesus Christ!!! Thank you for this wonderful post!

  • lightedlamp97

    Let us also remember the birth control pill is an abortifacient causing a mere estimate of up to at the potential of 4 spontaneous abortions per year. I find it interesting in a culture obsessed with health, that so many woman are willing to consume this toxin every day. They will run their marathons and take their vitamins, drink 8-10 glasses of water, avoid sugar and carbohydrates, eat only organic foods, and the list of must do’s goes on and on. Yet, they won’t take one minute to read what this pill is doing to their bodies. In Colorado, you can now get the morning after pill in a vending machine on some college campus’s. Think of how many of these pills some young girls will consume unnecessarily and what new “syndromes” we will see in the years to come because of it. How many women’s hearts are being destroyed literally needing bypass surgeries in their twenties and babies born with heart defects because the mother was on the pill or had residue of the pill when conception occurred. Doctors will pretend like they don’t know why these things are happening. Why does a 16 year old suddenly get a seizure disorder out of no where, why does the 25 year old teacher drop dead of an aneurism. The truth is this stuff is poison. Science knows and the package insert reveal the potential risks. This is why planned parenthood is so dangerous they will grab our young daughters without “us” knowing about it and lead them down a road to death all the while singing the praises of sweet freedom.

  • BillinJax

    This whole issue needs to be viewed from the broad picture
    of what we are and how we came to be. If you are unsure or lack truth of our
    origin and purpose you have little chance of understanding our nature and ultimate
    destiny. This is why I continue to believe any civilized society must ask itself
    these questions.

    Do we ever want to get to the point where all men may
    consider behaving as human gentle men, spouse protectors, family providers and
    not a domesticated form of reproductive animal?

    Do we ever want to see an end to women being treated by men
    as if society had given them a license to use women simply as a depository for
    their male sexual passions?

    Do we ever want all women to someday have enough self pride
    and dignity to understand and admit their bodies were designed to be the very sanctuaries of human society and their wombs are and always have been the wellsprings of mankind?

    Do we ever want both men and women to understand that within
    this concept and the knowledge they are pro-creators that children are more
    than simply a product of physical activity between lovers?

    Do we ever someday want all children to grow up to realize
    and understand they were begotten out of more than blind passion?

    If and whenever we have answered “yes” to these questions we
    will have begun to know and appreciate the true meaning of human love and life
    and when it begins.

  • Brian

    I have a similar story to yours. We got married when I was 21 and my wife was 20 and found out she was pregnant 11 months into our marriage, a week before I graduated from college. Due to financial issues she had been postponing going back to school. Now here we are 4 years later and she graduates in a month and a half! Oh, and she’s due with our fourth a week before graduation. It turns out kids aren’t the end of your life after all. Every time she gets pregnant we celebrate, then try to figure out how we’re going to break the news to our families. It’s amazing when people will celebrate your good news with you, but so often it seems people automatically look at the downside. It’s the only area I’ve found where you get chastised by Christians for following God’s will in your life.

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