Celebrating the responsibility of our creative power {Freedom’s Calling, part 2}

Today, please welcome Amy Thomas for part two in Freedom’s Calling – my series commemorating Humanae Vitae’s 50th anniversary and sharing the journeys of Catholics who have come to understand and embrace the truth of this teaching. For more information on the series, you can read part 1 here, part 3 herepart 4 here, part 5 here, part 6 here, and part 7 here.

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I grew up in the Disciples of Christ church. Growing up, there was never any talk about contraception. My parents never really talked to me about it and really the only thing I knew about it was through school and friends. When I turned 18, I went with a girlfriend down to the local health clinic and got on birth control pills. It was just what you did. I didn’t even think twice about it, because nearly every girl I knew was on birth control pills. It almost seemed like an initiation into womanhood.

Looking back now, I am shocked at how little I knew about the pill and how willing I was to ingest something without even considering it. I fell in lock-step with what the culture told me was normal and gave it little thought. When I went to the health clinic, they didn’t run any medical tests to see if I was in a healthy condition to take these pills. They didn’t ask about my health history. They didn’t educate me at all about the pill, other than to tell me how to take it. I had no clue what it did to my body or how it worked. The whole process took maybe a half and hour. At the end of my appointment, they handed me my little brown bag of free pills and off I went.

It’s interesting, but there wasn’t a single person in my teen years that offered a different view about contraception. I just assumed that it was the “responsible” thing to do, because that’s what teachers in school told me. I didn’t understand my body and how it worked. Sure, I knew that sex brought about babies and I knew that a woman had a menstrual cycle. However, I was extremely ignorant about the workings of the female body and fertility. I was influenced most by my friends who all encouraged me to be on the pill, and my boyfriends who happily endorsed it.

Before I became Catholic, I was extremely against Catholicism. However, I knew very little or nothing at all about the Catholic faith and its teachings. My husband is Catholic and when we married, I was completely in the dark on the Catholic teachings on contraception. At the Engaged Encounter we attended before marriage, the speakers touched on the Church’s teachings, but it was difficult for me to fully take it in. One really needs to understand the Catholic Church before being hit with what it teaches about contraception.

I remember that I didn’t really think much about what the speakers said. At that time, I wasn’t Catholic and didn’t plan on becoming Catholic. In my mind there was no reason for me to accept what the Church taught regarding this subject. Plus, I couldn’t fully grasp what the speakers were teaching because I didn’t have a frame of reference for anything that they were talking about.

At that time, my husband was lukewarm in his faith and I don’t think he fully understood the Catholic view of human sexuality. We lived against the teachings, but mostly because we didn’t understand it and I was still Protestant. There was really nothing that was going to make me stop and consider the ramifications of taking birth control, except a wake-up call. God gave me that wake-up call in my late 20’s. A health scare related to the pill started my husband and I on a path that really opened our eyes to the beauty and truth of what the Catholic Church teaches on this subject.

Very quickly back when I had started taking the pill in high school, I started having terrible side effects. In college, I had an incident that found me faint, delirious, and foaming at the mouth in a restaurant bathroom. I went to the hospital and they couldn’t find anything wrong with me. Then one afternoon at home I started reading all about the side effects of the pill on my package insert. I was experiencing nearly all of them and so I stopped taking it. Not wanting to get pregnant, I went to the doctor and she immediately put me on a lower dose pill. No check-up, no discussion of healthier alternatives. The only option was a lower dose pill.

I took that pill and over the years I switched from one pill to the next because of adverse side effects. One day in 2009, I was at work and I had this horrible pain in my heart that spread up into my left shoulder and down my arm. I immediately googled it and everything that came up was linked to birth control pills. All the warnings said to stop taking the pill immediately if you felt that pain. I called my husband and he told me that this had to stop. We decided that ingesting birth control pills wasn’t good for my health anymore. But, what to do?

Slowly but surely, we found our way to Natural Family Planning. To my surprise, I found that it made sense and was reasonable and logical. Through learning about NFP, I became enraged that I had never learned the wonder of my body. A woman’s body is amazing. All the signs it gives you to help you understand your cycle and fertility are fascinating. We do such a disservice to young people by just throwing contraception at them and telling them that this is the only way to be responsible. Once my husband and I were taught how to use NFP, we’ve never looked back. It’s healthy, promotes communication, and helps me to understand my body and not treat my fertility as if it’s something awful to be feared.

There are times when NFP requires discipline and sacrifice, but it’s not impossible to practice. Discipline makes us better people. Sacrifice helps us to grow in love and shed selfish tendencies.

The Church doesn’t want women ingesting or inserting harmful things into our bodies. Our natural fertility is not an enemy to snuff out with harmful chemicals. Our reproductive system is the only system where we as humans use chemicals and other means in order to keep it from working naturally. Nobody is taking pills to make their heart stop beating. Nobody wants to insert a device that makes their kidneys not function properly. The Church is protecting us from harmful products that the world would have us use in the interest of pleasure without natural consequences.

Most important of all is the fact that bringing forth life is not a bad thing. It’s a beautiful thing! That the marital embrace can bring forth life and spouses can be co-creators with God of a new human being is truly amazing. This should be celebrated.

Amy hails from the great state of Kansas, though she’s lived the last 16 years away from the “Land of Oz” traveling the country with with her Air Force Airman. She graduated from Kansas State University in 2001 and married her love, Dustin, that same year. She has three amazing kiddos–two daughters and a son. Amy runs the website Catholic Pilgrim where she loves to write about the incredible journey of living a genuine, authentic Catholic life. You can connect with her online over on Instagram and on her Facebook page Catholic Pilgrim.

Suggested resources:

Amy found the Couple to Couple League Magazine helpful, as well as the help and encouragement of Catholic bloggers on social media who devote a lot of energy to this topic. Catholic Wife, Catholic Life and To Jesus, Sincerely are two of her favorites.

Want more of this series?

Part 1: My Introduction 

Part 3: Self Control and Our Ultimate Mission with Kristi Denoy of Hail Marry

Part 4: The Ripple Effect of Chastity in my Life with Katie Herzing of Becoming Perfectly Myself

Part 5: Moved by NFP with Heidi Indahl of Work and Play, Day by Day

Part 6: Freedom in Surrender with Laura Durant Healing Heart of Jesus

Part 7 (the end): When God’s generosity meets the demands of conscience and science with Leslie Sholly of Life in Every Limb

14 thoughts on “Celebrating the responsibility of our creative power {Freedom’s Calling, part 2}

  1. I don’t think I’d get so mad and upset about young girls being put on the pill IF they were given actual information regarding side effects, what their body does every month, and the truth regarding it. I still hate that people go on it, but I do wish we could be open and honest about it. I mean if I went to the doctor and said I’m going to start ingesting a small dose of arsenic every day and you aren’t going to stop me, they’d tell me that adverse effects and why I shouldn’t do it – making sure I was fully informed. Why don’t we do the same with the pill? It’s probably more dangerous actually – even if we just discuss the health benefits and leave the moral issues out of it. UGH it makes me so angry that we basically lie to women about their bodies.

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    1. YES! For all the talk on empowering women and trusting us to make our own decisions, there sure are a lot of women who are not trusted with the full knowledge of what they are doing by taking hormonal contraception. It makes me mad too, especially since it’s such serious business messing with hormones. Many women experience horrible side effects like Amy did, and I find it unacceptable that that’s become OK. I’m starting to see the tide turning on women’s healthcare in some circles, and hope it continues to move in a more holistic direction that respects fertility as a normal part of women’s health. It just gets my goat SO MUCH that women are told such conflicting messages and not given full information. This part of healthcare should not be exempt from basic things like telling patients the risks, and I commend people working to change that!

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  2. I agree with Amy and Katie that women aren’t educated about the way their fertility works. I have learned more about women’s fertility from NFP resources than I ever did in my public high school or my college women’s studies course. That’s a shame. (Men ought to have the same information, but of course it doesn’t affect them as directly as it does women.)

    The most interesting part of Amy’s story for me was that she was introduced to NFP during Engaged Encounter, but all the info blew right past her. That brings two points to mind: (a) she *wasn’t* specifically resistant to hearing about it, and (b) it didn’t sink in. The latter is no surprise, but the former doesn’t fit the popular narrative. I wonder what we can do to (a) change the perception that required NFP instruction is such a huge burden and (b) ensure that the message is presented in such a way that it takes effect.

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    1. I’ve seen the same thing, Lindsay! People are woefully uninformed or misinformed about this topic. It’s wonderful to see people who have learned trying to change that. I think you point out a huge opportunity that is often missed during Catholic marriage prep. Sadly, of the many people I’ve known get married in the last couple years, the topic was glossed over or basically laughed at during the process. Marriage prep is great in some dioceses, but falls severely short in others. I think it’s beautiful that while Amy didn’t think it was for her since she wasn’t Catholic at the time, she was not vehemently against it. I think people sharing their stories like this is a powerful way to lead by example, because no marketing campaign could open people’s hearts like a story can.

      Personally, I think marriage prep should be more standardized by country, and teachers better vetted, so that the opportunity is intentionally taken advantage of. And as far as helping it better affect people? I suppose it could depend on the person. But the most compelling I’ve heard are the personal testimonies of a couple who has lived this way for a long time, and reading/being taught the nature and calling of human love we were made for. JPII’s works seem to be a very common factor in people’s change of heart.

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      1. The thing about country-wide standardization within the Church is that the Church doesn’t usually work that way. Consider the wildly different ages for Confirmation in various dioceses and nearby countries like Mexico, an age which is completely within the rights of each bishop to determine. So, while I agree that making marriage prep more similar from diocese to diocese might help make NFP better known and make it seem more realistic, I’m not sure standardization is the way to go. As far as marriage prep instructors, consider that the ones most enthusiastic about it are often also the ones most dedicated to their marriages and open to life, and therefore they’re less likely to have the bandwidth for teaching. 🙂

        We also have to consider that, for many couples (especially those with one non-Catholic partner), even glossed-over and laughed-at NFP instruction already seems like enough reason to avoid Catholic marriage prep altogether. Marriages have been declining in the Church and outside of it. I’m not sure that *more* marriage prep is the best answer.

        I’m really enjoying this discussion! Thanks for hosting!

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        1. I’m not saying we necessarily need “more” marriage prep, but *better*. It’s probably worse here in CA than other places, but in my opinion, there is no excuse for having marriage prep retreat leaders who laugh at NFP and don’t lovingly challenge the fact that nearly all retreat attendees were living together (real story). I think we both see what a missed opportunity that is to share and invite engaged couples to fully live the truth. I know there are many cultural differences, so I’m not saying there’s a one-size fits-all approach. But at the very least, sharing the Church’s truth about sexuality and love seems like a pretty basic requirement if you ask me. I think it is dangerous territory to forego doing this because of tough situations Catholics may find themselves in. Challenging circumstances do not change what we are called to, because God gives us the grace to live it. Being pastoral is essential, but it is never loving anyone to neglect sharing the truth (which should of course be done sensitively!).

          And this issue is much bigger than NFP. I think we need to integrate concepts from theology of the body in Catholic schools, and every sacramental prep class (which some people are doing and that’s awesome). It’s about our purpose in life, the way we love, and the way God designed us. People definitely do their sacraments at different times! But the concepts I mentioned could be understood by 8 year olds AND 15 year olds. I’m not talking about NFP details, but the foundational concepts every child can understand at varying degrees at different times. People probably aren’t going to care about NFP if they don’t get those concepts first!

          Also, the education of children is primarily the responsibility of parents, so no matter what the church does, parents should decide when a child is ready to know more. That’s not up to me to decide.

          Lastly (whew!), you make a very valid point that there are many couples/families living this out, who because of that might feel too busy to teach. In those cases where the couple is willing, I think it would be great for parishes to help make it possible. They could provide childcare on-site once a week during class, or otherwise step in to make it work. I think changing this takes a lot of people-to-people sharing and sacrifice!

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