2.22.2012

We are the 98%


98% is something we are hearing an awful lot in the news these days.  Unfortunately, no matter how much the media and the current administration would love to continue repeating this statistic as fact, it’s actually come out that it was a pretty bogus statement to say that 98% of Catholic women use contraception.

It is irrelevant to the current fight over the HHS Mandate whether Catholics conform their lives to the teachings of the Catholic church or not.  Sin is sin and even if many Catholics sin, the Catholic church will still teach that the use of contraceptives in order to prevent pregnancy, while engaging in the very act that naturally could result in pregnancy, is wrong.  But the statistic (even though inaccurate) still begs the question...why don’t more Catholic women embrace this teaching of the Catholic faith?  There are plenty of us out here who do embrace the Catholic faith - teaching on contraception and all, but we are oft-ignored by the Mainstream Media, Big Pharma, and now Big Government.

We are no experts, but we are two of those “98%” of Catholic women who have ever used contraception.  We are Michelle of Endless Strength and Rebecca of The Road Home.

We are products of public school health/sex education. We are children from divorced families.  We are cradle Catholics. We were sold short by our parents and Catholic schools. We were underestimated by our public education systems.  

We searched for love as the world gives and not for the enduring Love of God our Father.  We strayed from our Faith unsure of the Truth.  We began our journeys home to the Catholic church with the men God saw fit to accompany and support us.  We received Grace in the Sacrament of Marriage and miracles in our spouses.  Our hearts softened and our wills crumbled to accept and to learn God’s plan for marriage and sex.

We used to feel angry that we had to find out on our own.  We used to feel frustrated that priests, sisters, teachers and parents did not teach us the freedom of the Catholic teaching on sexuality. We used to feel lost and sad and alone.

Now we know that we are not alone.  We are never alone for the Lord goes before us always and we continue to follow Him.  

But more than that, we know there are many “98%’ers” out there.  We want to share our stories to make sure Catholic women know the Truth WILL set you free!  

We are free, no longer bound by the world’s requirements of sexuality and no longer tied to artificial hormones and barriers to the kind of sexual love God intended for married men and women.  We no longer suffer physical side effects of pumping unnatural products into our bodies.  We thrive in our marriages, looking at ourselves and our spouses with new eyes - the eyes of the Lord.  

Today, we share our stories; how our views of sex, relationships and contraception existed before and after our knowledge and full embrace of our Catholic faith.  We invite you to read our stories and then invite you to share yours.

How did you used to view contraception?
Michelle:
Age 16-19
Fear permeated my life.  I was afraid of sex.  I was afraid of my parents finding out I had had sex.  I was afraid of losing sex.  I was afraid of getting caught in the act of sex.  I was afraid of the intended consequences of sex.  So, it follows that I was afraid of condoms and then the pill.  Even though I used them, they were physical reminders of the fear I felt.  There was the underlying fear of pregnancy, of a baby, of a “mistake” running under the surface every time I popped a pill.  

Of course at the time I did not see myself as full of fear.  Only the wisdom that comes from experience can enlighten that aspect of those years.  Back then, I felt like having sex empowered me, I learned well our culture’s lesson that sex was power that women held over men.  Our culture views men as insatiable “pigs” who can not resist nor ever get enough sex.  It is just as unhealthy to view men in this light as it is to view women as though they should always be at the ready, armed with contraception, ready to be used should the moment “be right.”

Ages 19-22
My view of the pill didn’t change that much other than I viewed it as necessary as well as the fact that I still feared a pregnancy, a baby, a “mistake.”  I was in a long-term monogamous (on my end) relationship and I viewed the physical part of that relationship as a requirement to the rest of the relationship’s continuation.  I considered the man “marriage material” because he was well-established socially and financially and he had goals that matched what I viewed as something “good.”  He still used me, did not respect me or love me the way God loves me...but it was better than I had had with any other relationship, so I remained.

I finally realized that relationship wasn’t good for me either since the man had commitment-phobia, and it appeared the relationship was going nowhere.  I stopped taking the pill the cycle I broke up with him.  We had been living a long-distance relationship and on one of my visits, I got up the nerve and I broke it off.  I had the nerve, though, BECAUSE I had stopped taking the pill.  With the research I have read about how the hormones in birth control pills interact with women’s synapses and other hormones, I can see how perhaps I was thinking more clearly when I broke up with him than I had in years (I had been on the hormonal birth control for 5 years at this point).

Age 23-28
Overall, I was no longer as much in favor of contraception.  After ending the long term relationship, I spent time going on dates, but not committing to anyone.  After about 18 months, I met and began a relationship with my now-husband.  While I began using contraception again early in our relationship, I never felt at peace about it.  I was dabbling in returning to the Catholic faith and the underlying fears while using contraception were getting stronger.  When marriage entered the picture, I had a heart-to-heart with my beloved, explained that the knowledge that premarital sex was wrong was enough that I felt compelled to ask that we attempt chastity as we prepared to marry.  He agreed (that solidified my knowledge and feelings that I was marrying the right man) and for most of the next 8 months, as we prepared for marriage, my brain and body were external hormone-free and we remained separated physically.  

A month before the wedding, I began taking birth control pills.  At this point it was more of a surrender to the whole idea that we knew we didn’t want a baby 9 months after we got married and the pill was the way to avoid pregnancy.  All I had ever known about sex was a mess anyway.  (another blog post!)

When we decided to be open to a baby, we got pregnant the month after coming off the pill.  I had read that you should try to wait 3 months, but it didn’t seem to have a negative impact on my pregnancy, labor, delivery and Sarah is now a healthy, vibrant 10-year-old.

Late in my pregnancy, Craig and I discussed how we’d continue to plan our family and agreed we’d “keep doing what we’d always done.”  I was back on birth control pills the cycle after my 6 week check-up.  My reversion to the Catholic faith was in full force during the next three months and then in January 2002, I pitched the pills forever.  Now, I feel like that was the most freeing moment in my life, but it was kind of scary at the time.


Rebecca:
Prior to age 18, I didn’t give it much thought. Sure, I learned all about it in high school health class, but I wasn’t sexually active, so I didn’t really worry one way or the other. At age 18, 2 months after my birthday and 1 month after my “first time” I went for my first check-up (my mom insisted I go at 18 years of age because I was a “grown up” now. She asked if I had any questions or if I wanted her to go with me to the appointment and I said “no, I’d be fine.” I passed out during the exam and had to call my boyfriend to come pick me up. But I did get my prescription for birth control pills before I left.
A year later, I broke up with that boyfriend and started dating The Man. Our relationship moved very fast, especially if counted in days because we spent every waking minute together and at one month in we planned the “perfect” weekend and had sex for the first time. For the first 6 months or so of our relationship we had lots of great sex, and then (at about 18 months of taking the pill) my sex drive started to plummet. For the next 7 years, the #1 thing we fought about was sex...quality was never a problem, but quantity was and it took it’s toll. All I can say is he must really love me because in the midst of it all he still proposed and we got married.
For many years, I never connected the pill with my lack of sex drive. In fact, for a long time I called it a miracle drug - I lost 15 pounds when I started taking it, my breasts grew by one bra size, I had great skin, and oh yea, I couldn’t get pregnant while I was on it either.
Yet, a few months into our engagement I told The Man I didn’t want to have sex anymore until we got married because all I could think was “what if I get pregnant and have to call and tell my Dad?”
Even during our marriage prep, when the sponsor couple we worked with shared that they were infertile due to their use of contraception (an IUD), we never gave another method a second thought. If NFP was mentioned, it didn’t even make a “blip” on our radar.
Finally, I experienced headaches each month like clockwork. When I complained to my doctor and mentioned that I noticed a pattern related to when I was taking the placebo pill. The solution? Take 12 weeks of “active” pills (of a lower dose) and then one week of placebo. My reaction at the time? Nice! Only 4 periods a year. Works for me!!! Now? Shudder.

What prompted you to stop using contraception?
Michelle:  
I was already suspect with regard to contraception anyway.  As I mentioned before, the natural law present on my heart and soul was making its presence known as I grew older.  It seemed to become deafening now that I was married and had actually had a baby.  Something wasn’t sitting right inside of me about doing something artificially to prevent someone as amazing as Sarah from coming into the world.

There was an announcement in the bulletin at our parish that there would be classes available to learn Natural Family Planning and to call Penny or John and left their phone number.  I asked Craig about it on one of our drives and he agreed that we’d look into it.  We signed up for the course.  John and Penny had a daughter old enough to watch Sarah while we took classes from them.  We were unable to attend their first session, but they made time one Sunday for the first (and arguably the most important) session of the four.  This session was rich in Theology, Catholic teaching, Papal encyclicals, statistics and most importantly, we received a cassette tape of Dr. Janet Smith’s talk, “Contraception:  Why Not?”

We listened to that on our way home from John and Penny’s house that night.  We sat in the car and finished listening to it before we went inside.  I had continued taking pills that cycle because Craig and I were only going to “look into” NFP.  That night, I pulled out the insert that came with my pills.  I read the fine print.  I read what I had just heard Janet Smith say, about the abortifacient properties of the pill.  I was horrified.  I tossed my entire supply and never refilled my prescription.  

The idea that we could have unknowingly caused the death of children conceived both within and outside of our marriage over the years, weighed heavy on my heart.  Sometimes it still does.  I’ll never know until I meet God face-to-face if there were other little souls He had sent my way that I had not the Grace to accept.  

Rebecca:
After 12 years of taking the pill, I was getting kind of sick of taking a pill every day and did some research to see what our other options for birth control were. I spent hours reading about and researching alternatives. The first time I read what an IUD was and how it works, I almost passed out (and I was sitting down!). I asked some questions at my next annual appointment about the alternatives (patch, nuvaring, shot, and even the IUD) and decided that it was best to just stay on the pill. Seeing as how I was at our local health department for this check up, I also walked out of the appointment with a one year supply. For free. Convenient? I thought so.
A few months later though, I started thinking that symptoms I had been having for years might be related to the pill like my headaches were - I was always feeling bloated, I was irritable and my emotions were often irrational, I had no sex drive (to the point of really thinking something was wrong with me), I was still getting headaches, and I felt sad and disconnected most of the time. I was surprised to learn thanks to Dr. Google that all of these symptoms were directly related to the pill. I then got out my pill pack and actually read the side effects (for real, for the first time ever) and was horrified to see that the effects I was having were all related to the pill AND that the pill could act as an abortifacient. I was horrified. I told The Man what I had found out and we decided that there had to be another method. I took the pill for a few more weeks while I did some research and in that time I started reading lots of Catholic blogs and really started to learn about NFP and “real” people who used it. Though my first explanation of NFP didn’t go as smoothly as I’d have liked (The Man decided we’d just not have sex again until we were ready to have children. Ummm, not exactly what I had in mind), we did decide no more birth control pills and tossed them in the trash without a real plan.

How did you learn NFP?
Michelle:
We learned the Sympto-Thermal method from a local teaching couple through the Couple to Couple league.  The classes were given couple to couples, in a group setting and there was time set aside to review charts and discuss with couple one-on-one whatever challenges they might be facing.

Over the years, we have switched to Marquette, which uses a fertility monitor that measures estrogen and luteinizing hormone in the urine stream to establish PEAK days.  Due to my unreliable temperatures and luteal phase defect, this method has turned out to be the one that works the best for us.  We self-taught this method using the Marquette website and participating in their study on the efficacy of the monitor.

Rebecca:
We learned the Standard Sympto-Thermal Method of NFP from a teaching couple in Texas via skype. I “met” the lady of this couple via blogs and she and her husband taught The Man and I, each of us in our own living rooms 1500 miles apart.

We have recently learned the Creighton Model System of Fertility Care to address infertility. I learned via phone and skype from a Fertility Care Practitioner that works with the Natural Procreative Technology Doctor I’ve been seeing.


What differences (positive and negative) did you experience in your marriage?
Michelle:
BEFORE
Contraception added pressure to our marriage.  As a woman who had had premarital sex with multiple partners before marriage, I felt keenly the pressure to “put out.”  Even though I was now married, one would think that I wouldn’t think of it that way, but at its base, that is how I felt.  I always felt guilty that I wasn’t having sex with my husband every night that I wasn’t on my period.  I thought that was what we were supposed to do, being married and all.  Then, because I wasn’t pregnant and because we were using a method that all but guaranteed we wouldn’t get pregnant, it would seem that we’d be up for anything, any time.  We had nothing other than our jobs to stop us and in our over-sexualized culture, it seemed “natural” that we’d want to go at it constantly.  Having a baby added to this pressure because when we did actually get her to sleep while both of us were awake and attentive, it would seem that we should take every second we could to embrace and engage our intimacy.  In my warped brain, my value as a wife was directly related to how much, how good and how often I made love to my husband.  

Before we learned NFP, I worried that my husband viewed my body as though it were imperfect...especially during that time after our first baby.  I did not fit the “worldly” image of “hotness.”  I was overweight and now, after carrying and bearing a child, my stomach and breasts sagged.  I had stretch marks.  So on top of fearing pregnancy, I feared that my husband didn’t even want to look at me.  Please remember...this is how I felt and not at all anything that was voiced by my beloved husband.

AFTER
Embracing NFP opened up a whole new aspect to marriage that we’d completely missed out on in the marriage preparation and newlywed phases of marriage.  It didn’t happen immediately, but over time using NFP has helped my husband and me to see each other and ourselves and sex differently.  

I no longer see my husband as someone who can’t go a day (let alone a week!) without sex or else he will explode.  In our fight against this over-sexed culture, we never focus on how unhealthy it is to view men as objects, but when we assign an animal quality to them, we demean them as well.  I have so much respect for my husband because he practices self-control and is able to show me that he loves me without having sex.  He talks to me.  He is able to caress me in non-sexual ways that let me know that he loves me even if I’m not “putting out.”  

I can only say how it seems my husband sees me.  I feel as though he respects my whole person, fertility and all.  I feel as though he sees my body - now with it’s many “worldly” imperfections from 5 pregnancies - as more beautiful than it was the day he married me.  I feel like he treats me as though he would “do it all over again” with regards to a baby, should that be God’s will for us.  I feel like he would lay down his life for me.  This is how I feel about how he treats me.  I feel embraced, desired, respected and loved.

When we are ready to be open to God’s Ultimate Gift, it heightens our experience to places we never imagined.  When we have cause to avoid, it is a sacrifice to abstain during our more fertile time and it brings a sadness to both of us.  Even when we have been open and not been blessed, it brings a sadness that is hard to describe, but of course, as we age, the possibilities of receiving the gift of a child become fewer and father between.  And so even if we are not sacrificing through avoiding the fertile times, we are walking together, praying and learning to accept whatever God’s will for us may be.

Rebecca:
BEFORE
The only fights we ever had that kept us up late at night arguing, crying, and never reaching a resolution were related to sex. And they happened about once every 3 months. Sometimes more frequently. Just before we stopped using contraception we were both actually wondering if something was wrong with ourselves and the other. We always agreed the quality was good, it was just a quantity problem, and this was mostly due to me not having interest. Although there was plenty of “you just love my body and not me” that came out of my mouth, looking back, I realize how hurtful that must’ve been, especially considering the long periods between sex that The Man was enduring.
AFTER
This is a line that is so clear I will never forget it. The very day we decided no more birth control pills, our entire life changed. Drastically. Up to and including today, we have not had one single fight about sex since we decided to use NFP. And oddly enough {but not really}, the stress I felt every. single. time. we had sex while I was on the pill about the possibility of getting pregnant also went away, completely. Not once since we’ve been using NFP have I ever worried about an unintended pregnancy. Irony at it’s best, huh? NFP also brought us fully back to our Catholic Faith. We had been slowly flirting with coming home to our faith, we were attending mass pretty regularly, but that was pretty much it. Now, we are faithful, practicing Catholics and I even work for our Diocese as the Coordinator for Marriage and Family Life. Truly, NFP changed our entire life.

What struggles have you had with using NFP?
Michelle:
At first the abstinence was hard to get used to.  But looking back, that seems silly because it’s not like we were going at it all the time before NFP (remember we had a baby, I had body image issues and sex issues...)

I also struggled because I was coming off birth control pills.  The hormones have lasting effects on a woman’s body and my cycles were very strange.  Couple the fact that my view of sex with my husband was not the healthiest with the fact that I had always been told all of my life from age 16 on that “just one occurrence of unprotected sex in your cycle can cause you to get pregnant” and we had quite a bit of abstinence.  12 years of indoctrination took some time to get past.

I remember the first cycle where we used some days in Phase III and then I got my period.  Craig said, with a smile of relief, “It does work!”  I remember that so vividly because it was right then and there that I knew I’d have his support for this going forward.  I was unsure before that moment...and should I have become pregnant “unexpectedly”, I really don’t know what might have transpired.  But we’d followed “the rules” for avoiding and we succeeded in avoiding.

We have not struggled all that much with conceiving.  Each of our first three pregnancies occurred in the first cycle we were open.  With Dominic it took two open cycles.  With Vincent, it actually took five open cycles.  One of those was an “indecisive” cycle where we abstained the whole time because I don’t know if we knew what we wanted to do.  

One of the biggest things I miss is the mystery.  I don’t know if I can write this properly.  Basically, I find it difficult when I know we’ve hit the “perfect” days to find out we didn’t conceive. Though I didn’t experience this until I was in my mid-to-late 30’s.  I know if I have really good quality fertile mucous and I know what my ovulation pain feels like and I know if we’ve given ourselves a good opportunity to achieve pregnancy.  Because of our success early on, I start to believe I am actually pregnant, and then...when I’m not, it is quite difficult to stomach.  

Aging has been a struggle and then just going through life, knowing that I won’t know that “I’m done” with children until menopause hits...just mainly worldly concerns have been the biggest struggles.

Rebecca:
I know that not everyone can say this, but our biggest struggle was way back in our 3rd or 4th month of charting when we had learned all of the rules for avoiding pregnancy and had used some post-peak days effectively and we were now in pre-peak days and I was wanting to make love. I started to initiate and The Man shook his head “no.” I stated “but today’s an infertile day,” and The Man replied “oh no, we are NOT advanced enough for that yet!” (meaning identifying pre-peak infertile days reliably) and he rolled over! Talk about a role reversal - I’m pretty sure that was the first time in our entire relationship I was interested in sex and The Man said no! Other than that, we have been hugely blessed with our use of NFP and the lack of struggle.

I will say that we have struggled with infertility for the past 19 cycles. While the struggles we’ve experienced aren’t related to NFP, we also wouldn’t have known about some of them without NFP - for example crying in the bathroom after having sex on fertile days because of the fear and dread that most likely we still weren’t pregnant. But, I can honestly say if we had gone straight from using contraception and the state our physical relationship and marriage were in to trying to conceive and not getting pregnant right away we would most likely have either ended up divorced or in such a fractured, unhealthy relationship there might have been no hope to ever get back that “new love.” Whether we ever conceive or not, the gift of a renewed marriage that NFP gave us will be more than we could have ever hoped or dreamed.

As you can see, our stories while they follow a similar path are unique. As products of our upbringing, we always strived to make the best decisions that we could, and we wouldn’t go back and change the paths we’ve taken because they have led us to where we are today, but if we can lead someone (just one person) down a smoother, healthier, holier path by sharing our experiences than it was all worth it.

While these questions and answers can make it seem like our decisions to leave the known world of contraception into the unknown world of NPF were easy, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Embracing the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, when you have lived so counter to it, requires much dying to self, much reflection and forgiveness of self and spouse, and much opening of heart to see ourselves as our Creator sees us.

Choosing to embrace Natural Family Planning and the Church’s teaching on contraception, reproductive technologies, and marriage requires a willingness to live counter-culturally. Our society says sexual intimacy is for fun; that sex need not equal babies; that babies can be demanded or rejected; that cohabitation is a test run for marriage; and that at the first sign of marriage difficulty we should divorce. Telling someone we use NFP or don’t believe in using birth control is opening ourselves up  to comments as neutral as “well, that works for you” or “that’s great for your beliefs” to as cruel as “breeder” and “you want to set women back 50 years.”

Blessed John Paul II said “as the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” We are the 98% who, at one point in our lives, rejected the idea that sex equals babies and bonding and tried to separate the two with contraception. Based on the state of society today, it has never been more important for us to speak out, share our stories, our tears, and our hearts with one another and bring the Truth to light.

These are our stories. What is yours?

Please join us by linking your post below. This list is created as a “blog hop” so you can also include the link list at the bottom of your post and encourage your readers to write their own stories. Just copy the code below the list into your HTML editor. When you post the code into your site, any one who links up will be on your list, whether they link up here, on your blog, or somewhere else. If you need help, email Rebecca at RebeccaWVU02 at gmail dot com. :) You have until March 10, 2012 at 11:59 pm to link up with us.

20 comments:

  1. Wow, this is really amazing testimonies from both of you.

    Reading stories like yours is a really good reminder to people like me who grew up with the expectation of using NFP (and had it painted in a pretty darn rosy light). I often forget that the alternatives, well, worse :)

    November

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    1. Thank-you so much for this comment! Sometimes I think those (like you :)) who've only known NFP don't realize how hard it can be to learn, accept, and practice the Truth. While we were intending our audience to be those using contraceptives, I think those who've never used contraceptives need this information just as much. I've sat and talked with women who just don't understand how I could possibly have ever taken contraceptives and because I can be bold, I speak up and tell my story, but I often wonder how many women sit silently and allow the guilt to pile on.

      This is a genuine thank-you and just some additional food-for-thought (I'm realizing it may sound somewhat confrontational and that is not my intent at all. Darn written word ;).)

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  2. So beautiful! The Lord's grace is flowing abundantly!

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  3. LOVE this. Love it. Thank you for sharing your stories!

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  4. I love this!! These stories need to be heard.

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  5. Amazing! I am going to work on my post tonight. How long with the linky be up??

    You two are phenomenal!

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    1. Right now we have it set to close March 10. Thank you Sarah. :) (I know, I'm commenting on Rebecca's blog, LOL)

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    2. Haha - hey Michelle, you commented on my blog ;).

      Sarah, I can't wait for your post!!! And I'm saying a prayer that you add the linky to the bottom of it :).

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  6. Thanks for sharing your stories. Those can't always be the easiet posts to write, but are probably among the most important.

    God bless you both!

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    1. Thank-you. If I allow myself to stick to the facts and not "think" too much while I write, I do OK. But if one memory of emotion sneaks in or if I allow the anger over not knowing surface they do become very hard to write. I can't speak for Michelle, but I'm sure it is the same for her.

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  7. Great post! Thanks for being so honest and sharing your experiences!

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  8. I love these stories! Great testamonies of a lot of stereotypes. I love how NFP not only taught the couples about charting but about how sex is supposed to work inside the marriage.

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    1. NFP changed everything. Such a short, but powerful statement because it is so true. NFP changed our entire lives.

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  9. Thank you for sharing your stories! You are both so courageous!

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  10. Thank you for sharing your stories! I am so thankful and inspired by your choices to use NFP and how its helped your marriages. Its helped mine as well, but its so nice to know that I'm not alone in loving NFP! :-)

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