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Failing NFP & Learning a Bit of Charity | Catholic Life

Failing NFP & Learning a Bit of Charity

I was full of dread as I approached the door to enter our final natural family planning class. When it was time to review my chart I nervously joked to the instructor that I had found a way to “fail” natural family planning before I was even married. It wasn’t that I was pregnant; I had started hormonal birth control and had an early temperature spike to prove it.

Thankfully the instructor was perfectly gracious. She was not especially surprised since my first month’s chart was disturbed by a laparoscopy which had confirmed endomentriosis but done nothing to ease my pain. She asked whether  the doctor had a plan other than keeping me on hormones for life. The doctor did not have a plan, but my primary goal was to get through the semester. I did not have the option of seeking out a specialist for another surgery, and I could not continue to function through the pain.

The hormones worked so well that I wondered why I had spent years insistent on avoiding them. It was so very wonderful to be able to function normally and I was thrilled to be able to concentrate on an intense semester. Then summer came. As I waited in a long line for the Sacrament of Reconciliation I thought about how easily I am distracted from God. It seemed that I turned away from every opportunity to join myself to the Savior’s suffering. And so I returned to the pain of my normal menstrual cycle.

Two months after I got married I again had a very strong need to be able to function physically. I tried the same hormones that I had been on before, but without success. It did not reduce my pain and I observed the signs of my fertility with the wry thought that it was a good thing I was not using the hormones to avoid conception! I got a prescription for a different mix of hormones, but by the time I had waited for my body to adjust I simply did not want to go through it all again. So I gave up on artificial hormones.

I am profoundly thankful for my experience. Without it, it is quite possible that I would be one of those Catholics who say things like “the pill is never a good option for Catholic women!” It does not matter how clear the Church is that artificial hormones are permissible for therapeutic purposes. Some continue to insist that no health issue can possibly make resorting to the evil of hormonal contraception legitimate.

I would never have directly questioned the fact that artificial hormones were allowed, after all Humanae Vitae could not be more clear:

the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.

But I was all too ready to agree with those who asserted that doctors were just lazy and there was no reason for any woman to be on artificial hormones. I still think that the pill is over-prescribed, and I am still glad that I made the choice to have a laparoscopy rather than starting hormones without knowing the source of the problem. Information is good, even without pain relief. But the fact that many doctors are too willing to prescribe hormones without considering the underlying health issues does not negate the fact that there are very good reasons for therapeutic use of artificial hormones.

Even minor surgery has risks and it is somewhat naïve to imagine that it is always affordable and effective. I wish that no women had to deal with the physical pain of reproductive disorders, but I am thankful that there are many options for treatment and pain-suppression. If you know a woman who is able to treat pain with something as simple as a birth control pill, please consider suspending judgement long enough to ponder thanking God that she does not require anything stronger.

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11 Responses to “Failing NFP & Learning a Bit of Charity”

  1. Tiphaine 29. Dec, 2009 at 1:23 pm #

    I am sorry you are going through this pain!!
    I think if you can relieve it, then you should. There are MANY ways to be associated with Christ’s sufferings, if you can get one out of the way I have no doubts that different kinds will find you to make up for it, don’t worry 😉
    I really think physical pain is not necessary to redemption. ” You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. ” psalm 50
    I too wish that birth control was not an automatic prescription to any woman 16 to 45. :(
    I am now using NFP, well not now as I’m pregnant, but when we were postponing, and I plan to use it again if we have to space children out. But there was a time when I was taking the pill for contraceptive purposes. When I became catholic I questionned my behavior, but it took me a long time to get to NFP and abstinence. And in the meantime I had MANY other sins to work on.
    I think it’s important to get education, to understand what the CHurch teaches about contraception and WHY. I think it is a very hard point to get if you have been raised in a secular culture and I don’t think it is my place to judge people on their sins. I have my own to look at first :)

    • Rae 30. Dec, 2009 at 12:39 pm #

      “There are MANY ways to be associated with Christ’s sufferings, if you can get one out of the way I have no doubts that different kinds will find you to make up for it, don’t worry”
      I agree! :-) While I think that accepting that particular sort of pain was useful for me at the time, I do not think it is appropriate as a general rule. My general rule for myself is to only consider choosing additional physical mortification once I’ve run out of those which have a concrete benefit for others (skipping luxuries in order to give to those in need, not eating food which harms the environment etc.). I can only hope that I’ll ever get to the day where I need self-denial for the only purpose of spiritual growth. I’m far from that point!

      And I couldn’t agree more with your last paragraph.

      • Uul 30. Jul, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

        I will completely admit to agnirug semantics with this entire post! My hope is to figure out the best words in this case, as it’s not actual substance which confuses me at this point. And thank you for helping me straighten out my words! You’re entirely correct that I seem to be (am) contradicting myself. Let me see if I can straighten it out 1. Most people that I know of in the US understand NFP to be the Church’s method of family planning.2. Most people is actually a very low number compared to the entire population, so it may still be quite fitting to adopt new language, especially since most people who do know the term NFP also equate it with the rhythm method.3. A significant (minority?) of people understand NFP to mean a method of family planning that does not involve artificial contraception, but may involve abortion for unplanned pregnancies.4. It would be good if the US, Canada, UK etc. could all use the same terms in promoting FA/NFP/Whatever-we-call-it. And share promotional materials etc. My ultimate goal is to come up with the terms that would work best for radically increasing the understanding and practice of whatever it is we choose to call this. I honestly believe that if Catholics got serious we could take FA/NFP from 1-2% (not sure of the current number) to 30% in 10 years. And so I am trying to figure out the best, most accurate, concise, and catchy language to use. I am under the impression that we agree entirely on the actual substance of what people should do, and I really appreciate you helping me to hash out my choice of words. You’ve made me think that perhaps it would be harder than I thought to change the usage in place, even if it is not established for that many people. Also, I distinguish between birth control and contraception, but I guess that is a post for another day! Thank you for your thoughts, and please keep letting me know what you think I should re-think!

      • Kalilou 19. Feb, 2015 at 9:13 pm #

        I had a very similar eieerxpnce to Stacy. Only I was 16 when they diagnosed me and put me on the Pill. I was on it for 5 years before I got wise (oh yeah and a diagnosis of type II diabetes despite not being overweight and age 23, thanks PCOS and all those doctors who told me not to worry about it and take my pill like a good little girl) and stopped it. Went on metformin (a drug which actually treats PCOS in many, many women), tweaked my diet, and learned Creighton model NFP. Lo and behold normal length cycles and two pregnancies in less than four years. All that without the help of hormonal birth control.

      • Lucas 27. Mar, 2015 at 12:51 pm #

        Just wanted to say GOOD FOR YOU!! It rocks my world that the first thing done for PCOS (which I also have) is to stick you on BC. I was told that I would never have kids, but my knelgodwe of my cycle and how my body works helped that along nicely!! We are expecting baby # 5 and have 8 children (through adoption and birth ) AND YES!!! we have been GIDDY about all of them!! Enjoy one another and may God Bless you with HIS plan for your lives!

  2. Molly 29. Dec, 2009 at 2:22 pm #

    I’m sorry about the pain, but glad that you’ve discovered a lesson to learn in all of it. Experience is the best way to truly understand what you believe.

    • Rae 30. Dec, 2009 at 12:39 pm #

      Thanks! I am actually in very little pain now compared to before.

  3. NFPworks 30. Dec, 2009 at 1:53 am #

    Rae, what a very honest post on “failing” NFP. Thank you for your authenticity. I’ve known several people with endometriosis and other very painful menstrual disorders. You’re probably tired of people giving you advice, since my guess is that you’ve dealt with this pain for a long time. I have no idea what kind of medical consultations you have, whether your doctor is Catholic, and whether you’ve been told about the abortafacient properties of the Pill (http://www.nfpworksblog.com/2009/12/16/contraceptive-users-you-may-not-know-this/). I’m not sure what method of NFP you learned, but one that is tremendous in helping women deal with identifying, diagnosing, and treating menstrual disorders (without the risk of abortafacient hormones/ contraception) is the Creighton Method of FertilityCare (www.fertilitycare.org), which is international (not sure where you’re at). Just my two cents… be assured of my prayers for your endo! God Bless you.

    • Rae 30. Dec, 2009 at 1:28 pm #

      Thanks for your comment, I always want to learn more (or at least try to want to learn;-)) and I appreciate your nonjudgmental approach. I am even more thankful for your prayers.

      I have actually had tremendous success with pain reduction through nutrition. I edited out that part of the post because it was too long and not directly relevant, but I see how I could have been confusing.

      I love everything that I have read about Creighton FertilityCare. It is not an option now, but I hope to eventually pursue surgical NaProTechnology as I have been quite impressed with their approach.

      I am guessing that you meant to link to a different post. I agree with that video to the extent that an increased risk of cancer etc. had to be accounted for in determining whether it was worth trying artificial hormones. It was for me, to the extent that I would have been willing to accept cancer as a guaranteed result of eliminating pain.

      My mother told me for years that the pill is an abortifacient, so I believed that until college when I started reading up on fertility and NFP. If I write a post on what changed my view, will you point out what I am missing? I am not personally invested in the debate since having sex while on the pill was not a question for me. But it is problematic to use incorrect arguments to convince people to stop artificial hormones when there are so many good reasons to avoid them & use NFP!

  4. Kathleen 03. Jan, 2010 at 1:16 pm #

    I just finished writing an article for CCL’s magazine on reproductive technologies. It was a really hard article to write, b/c the spectrum of opinions on what is & isn’t allowed under Church teaching is all over the map–doc’s, priests, theologians–obviously it’s something people are wrestling with.

    I’ve always been one of the people who said that there was such a thing as a legitimate use of the Pill; it was just overprescribed. But I must say that in the course of talking with people, some of the doctors and theologians made a convincing case for there being no *need* for the Pill. An Ob/Gyn said that it’s possible to do hormonal treatment without the Pill; you just have to be willing to experiment with “different dosages and delivery systems.” And Fr. Edward Richard, who teaches morality & ethics at Kenrick Glennon seminary in St. Louis, told me that although HV allows use of hormones even if they cause contraception as a byproduct, the Pill is in a different category because of the alteration of the endometrial lining, which is an abortive, not a contraceptive, function.

    Anyway, I have great sympathy about using hormones to help with reproductive issues–but I also wanted to share what I learned when I was looking for the middle ground in writing the article.

    • Rae 05. Jan, 2010 at 9:19 pm #

      Thanks for your insight! Now I’ll have to find a way to get my hands on that magazine.

      I tried to write about artificial hormones in general since I know that this is much bigger than the Pill. But I don’t really see the point of using something stronger than the Pill** (and thus more damaging to the reproductive system) for the sake of avoiding association for contraception. It is really difficult for me to believe that the increased side-effects of “different dosages and delivery systems” are worth it unless the Pill won’t work. A woman can try a pill, patch, or ring, and stop taking it at any time. But when we resort to shots she is stuck with the sometimes horrible side-effects until it wears off. That was a large risk I couldn’t make myself take.

      It is also difficult for me to accept the argument that the Pill is disallowed for possible abortive effects when the risks due to something like danazol seem so much worse due to the fact that there is actual scientific evidence of problems for the hypothetical preborn. I guess I just need to read your article. There is so much that I don’t know, but I have a feeling that it might take a Phd worth of research to convince me of one side or the other, so I’ll just resort to blogging my confusion. :-)

      **Including the shot, ring, patch, whatever form typically used for contraceptive purposes.

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