The following is a series of blog comments posted by Heidi in the comboxes at the blog Little Catholic Bubble. I found her story so moving and inspirational that I asked her if I could consolidate her comments into a blog post in honor of NFP Awareness Week, and she graciously agreed. I’ve done some editing to the text that follows, but the substance of the story is hers.
Heidi blogs at Bringing Theo Home, which is about her family’s journey to adopt a little boy with Down Syndrome from Hong Kong. Theo came home last month, just a few weeks after Heidi gave birth to her fourth biological child.
I grew up in the deep South. My parents, who are very much “cafeteria Catholics”, scrimped and saved to send me and my siblings to a Catholic high school (the only one in a 4-hour radius). One of the things that this school did well was teach the Faith as a tapestry – it permeated every aspect of our education, like Catholicism does in real life. This included the sciences – I was taught an incredible amount of anatomy and physiology, while concurrently being taught Catholic moral theology (which includes these sexual issues) in my religion classes. We were taught a basic form of mucous-only NFP, WHILE being taught about the dignity of both male and female and life. Basically, it wasn’t “Don’t do this, don’t do that,” it was “You are made in the image and likeness of God and your worth and dignity is found in that truth… and you should NEVER be exploited.”
As I came through the early part of my 20s, when I suffered from deep depression, I started to realize just how much that foundation was the saving grace for me. If I had NOT been taught about this innate dignity – as well as the intricacy of human reproduction – but instead, relied on what I was being told by my OB/GYNs and the culture at large, I’m pretty sure I’d either be dead or at least divorced at this point. Even though the culture and the medical world was telling me that contraception and casual sex was the way to “empowerment”…..it lead me into a deep, dark place full of bitterness and hurt.
My husband and I met early and started dating young (he was the first person I met at college, after my roommate). We were married at 22, after finishing college in 3 years each. We were not at all chaste during this period. I had been put on contraception as a “solution” to my PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), and honestly, the fact that I was already taking it for “medical reasons” led me to give into the rest of the culture. I wish I hadn’t.
We were married young, on purpose. He was entering medical school, and we didn’t want to delay our marriage for at least 8 more years (med school + residency, which could have extended if he’d decided to do a fellowship as well). One of my clearest memories was after he proposed, when we finally discussed plans for children during our marriage. Thank God I’d had that foundation in high school – I flat out told him that I was not going to be on contraception during our marriage. It wasn’t really “fixing” my symptoms, even after shopping around for doctors and prescriptions, and the side effects were horrible (little did I know how much they were affecting the other things I was dealing with at the time – relationship issues due to a low libido, weight gain, hormonal swings that were CRAZY, high blood pressure, etc.), and I firmly believed that marriages needed to be built on an openness to children. (It’s funny to me now, how I was able to “divorce” the sexual act from marriage – I had no moral problems with contraception and sleeping with my husband BEFORE marriage….but once that wedding happened, it was “wrong” in my thoughts…).
We were married at 22, like I said, and became pregnant right away. Unfortunately, that pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. I was devastated. I started researching the contraception options that I’d been on and learned things about contraception and miscarriage rates, breast cancer, infertility. I was livid that I hadn’t been told these things by ANY of the doctors I’d seen, even though they’re well documented in medical literature. Part of this blame I accept as my fault – I should have done the research BEFORE taking contraception.
A year later, we did successfully get pregnant and maintain that pregnancy full-term, having our first little boy when I was 23. We had our second child 17 months later, on purpose – I knew enough NFP from high school that we were able to use what I knew about my body to “better” our chances of conceiving. Having children young strengthened our marriage. It’s what pulled me out of my depression. Was it easy? Not at all. I cried myself to sleep quite often, out of sheer exhaustion. But the joy that those two little boys brought to my husband and I – the PURPOSE they gave our lives – made all the struggles worth it. We were no longer two people living side-by-side, as we had been pre-kids, but a team that had to rely on one another. I won’t idealize it – there were days when I just got in the car and had to drive away because i was so stressed and angry at my husband that I couldn’t look at his face. We were very, very strapped, not at all “flourishing” by the world’s standards (or even my own at that point), but our souls were flourishing. We were growing in virtue – especially growing in charity.
After baby boy #2, I had a severe recurrence of symptoms from my PCOS. I went to my OB/GYN and she prescribed yet another form of contraception, citing it as my only option. Not knowing any better, and again, not doing my research yet, I started using it (apparently, I’m a slow learner). The year that followed was the worst of our marriage. My libido was gone. We were not attracted to each other AT ALL and my emotions were all over the place. I know now that there is science behind a lot of what we experienced, but at the time, I didn’t. We went back to living like roommates, and our parenting suffered. To this day, I thank God that my husband is as strong as he is. He was the first one to start researching alternatives to contraception and mainstream OB/GYN care. He was the first one to find NaProTechnology and research it – he knew that the Heidi he was seeing at home was not the real Heidi. (Mind you, this was contraception option #4….it was not a simple “wrong dose” experience – I’d had this same experience on ALL of the forms.) He found NaPro, explained it to me, and we found a way to get the help that I actually needed to get control of my PCOS symptoms…without the contraception. (Sadly, he had never heard of NFP or NaPro during his entire tenure at medical school and OB/GYN training.)
When I stopped taking it, my life turned around completely. I finally felt “normal” again. My libido was back. I still had symptoms that I was dealing with, but I *finally* had someone who told me that they weren’t actually normal and that they were tied to something else going on in my body that we COULD fix. Before this point, I was told by multiple doctors that these were just “common complaints” and that contraception would fix things. Looking back, I see now the beauty and truth found in Humanae Vitae. NFP literally saved my life and my marriage.
I recognize that not every story will sound like mine. But the statistics support the fact that the vast majority of those who do use NFP find joy through the suffering that they may experience. I think NFP changes your HEART more than it changes anything else. Contraception doesn’t force you to examine your priorities every month, or examine your world views, or grow your communication skills and get creative in how you show your love quite like NFP does. The biggest thing that I noticed between my NFP life and my contraceptive life (other than the side effects) was a very noticeable change in my worldview and my heart. I was forced to grow in virtue. I was forced to acknowledge the truth about sex and marriage (biological truths), and order my life accordingly. Living in denial of truth does not lead to empowerment….it leads to bitterness and pain. Living in accordance with the truth is what leads to joy. And no matter how much we want to deny it, the biological truth written on our bodies is that sex leads to babies.