I acquired my first prescription for birth control pills 12 years ago, as a college freshman. There was something intoxicating about that first pink pack of tiny pills. As I slipped them into my purse and stepped out onto the campus, it was with a swagger in my step. I was a Cosmo girl, empowered, independent — and already planning where I would hide them when I returned home for summer break.
We were a Catholic family, and although I could not have articulated the reasons why, I knew that Catholics were not supposed to use artificial contraception. I justified my choice simply. I believed that the Church’s stance on birth control was similar to its position on premarital sex, a noble ideal not practical today. My boyfriend, also Catholic, and I were already discussing the possibility of getting married. Surely God could extend a little moral latitude now, if it helped ensure our future marital happiness and holiness?
I did marry Ron, my college boyfriend, three months after I graduated. In our premarital counseling, the priest asked if we had discussed the “responsible use of the marital act,” and something called “natural family planning” was mentioned, but nothing disturbed our complacency. We married in the Church, and that little pink pack came with us in our new life.
It wasn’t much more than a year before something about the daily click-and-swallow began to wear thin. Like many women, I resented that the burden of preventing pregnancy fell exclusively to me. Our sexual life, once so thrilling, began to grow mundane. The marital holiness I had imagined seemed to be deferred indefinitely as Ron and I pursued careers, established a household, and bowed to the demands of the world. We joined a parish, but never attended. We argued more often. I wrote off these changes as part of adjusting to married life.
On my own, I began to learn more about the Catholic faith. I read the work of contemporary apologists and converts and was challenged and moved by their sound reason and earnest testimony. Sporadically at first, Ron and I began to attend Mass.
Years passed before I dared investigate the reasons behind the Church’s teaching on contraception. The idea of radically altering such an intimate aspect of our marriage was terrifying. Still, in my reading I uncovered facts that disturbed me. I learned that one of the functions of hormonal contraception was to prevent the implantation of the fertilized embryo, causing an early miscarriage. I also encountered compelling testimonies from couples who spoke of a profound transformation that occurred in their marriages after embracing family planning methods honoring their fertility.
Three years into our marriage, Ron and I knew Christ was calling us home to his Church, but our attachment to artificial contraception was an obstacle we lacked the courage to overcome. The breakthrough arrived, appropriately enough, at Mass on Epiphany Sunday. In his homily, our priest assured us that true freedom does not come from political, philosophical or scientific attempts to control our fate, but instead through surrender, through the unconditional gift of ourselves to God. I looked at Ron. There were tears in his eyes.
I never took another pill. Within a month we were learning sympto-thermal natural family planning. Once we understood our fertility, we could prayerfully discern times to enjoy our physical intimacy and times when it was prudent to abstain. Our passion for each other returned, greater than ever before.
In honoring each other’s fertility, my husband and I are finally truly free to give ourselves to each other, and to Christ.
Theresa Weiler writes from Michigan.