Category Archives: fertility

natural family planning record

Demystified: How the Female Fertility Cycle Works

Springtime in my fourth grade year, they lined us up, boys on one side, girls on the other. The boys got shuffled off into one classroom, while we girls got ushered into another. Giddy and curious, we whispered and fidgeted while the teacher set-up her materials. That was the day I first heard about periods. By the end of the lesson, I knew enough to utilize a maxi-pad and understood the general gist of the fact that my body could one day grow a baby.

childrenOver the years, my knowledge pool would grow (I’d graduate to tampons, discover Motrin for cramps and get myself put on contraceptives). But aside from the basic facts of menstruation and the understanding that I was fertile, the extent of my education hadn’t increased far beyond that fourth grade lesson. No worries though, my annual trips to the gynecologist were enough to leave me feeling confident that I had it all under control. Continue reading

woman's health

Reclaiming Womanhood: Why It’s Time to Rethink Your Birth Control Plan

It’s happening again. Article after article appearing in my news feed. The theme is the same, although each has a slightly different slant to offer. Just as last year, I pour over each one, nodding all the while as my eyes scan the screen. The topic is birth control. Each post does a good job at lifting the veil and sparking interest. However, I’m usually left thinking that there are a few more dots to be connected if the author’s aim is to cast a wide net.

What I mean is, there is so (SO) much more to this subject than simply deciding whether or not to swallow a pill or allow a doctor to insert some device inside of you. Yes, yes we need to shout from the rooftops the truth about the indisputable physical harms being perpetrated against our sisters, but that’s not where we need to start.

Let’s Start Talking

Here’s my intention: I want to begin a conversation and continue it for a while. I want to offer a few thoughts/facts for you to ponder. And then let you walk away to digest it. I hope you’ll come back with questions because I’m going to try to cover a few more bases than I’ve seen covered recently, by the end of this blog post series. Continue reading

The Hard Work of Healing, Dancing With Grief

dancing with grief

Having just spent some part of the night curled up on the hard waiting room floor, I awoke and made my way down the long corridor of our temporary lodging, the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. His room was on the right at the end of the hall, his bed the first one to the left. Freshly scrubbed in, I eagerly greeted my sweet firstborn, who was lying still and quiet in his sterile, warming bed.

It’s a curious mechanism our brain has to shield us from trauma. Perhaps, we could call it hopeful vision, the way we can miss the signs of impeding sorrow. We’d been on the roller coaster of good days and bad nights for weeks, but my hopeful eyes saw a future beyond the web of wires and tubes.
Things aren’t looking so good,” the day nurse said gravely. Swelling and fluid, more drainage tubes and another procedure are words I can recall from that early morning conversation. Dazed and confused, I made my way back down the stretch of corridor to the pay phone in order to tell my husband he must hurry back. He’d only just returned at work, but there was no time to spare.
Some time later, once again relegated to that stiff, cold waiting room, my husband and I sat side by side staring into the thin air. That’s when he walked in and took up the seat beside us. I’m not sure if the room had been empty of others before his arrival or if our fellow parents had silently vacated upon his arrival, but when the chaplain took his seat we were his only companions.
Only a week or so earlier, another family sat alone in that waiting room. Holed up in that room of tears, they received the news that their beloved daughter had lost her battle against sickle cell disease. The chaplain requested that we give them the space and time they needed, so the rest of us parents lingered in the hallways or made our way to the second, less popular waiting room around the corner.
Now I realized in that moment with the chaplain seated beside us, it was our turn. I held my breath in dreaded anticipation.
The chaplain, with compassion in his eyes and tenderness in his voice, called our attention to the flurry of doctors and staff who’d rushed down that endless corridor. He didn’t have definitive facts, but he’d taken note of their concerned expressions and the larger than normal number of white coats crowded into that room on the right.
  • Eyes Wide Open

In the hours to follow, the blinders peeled back and we would see our son’s bloated form lying with an ever increasing limpness. Curtains drawn around us, the other patient in that shared hospital room seemed to disappear. I’d grown accustomed to the silence of sickness, but in those torturous hours I begged for some confirmation of the transition between life and death. I had only the machines to provide me clues.

Then, numbers declining, I lifted up my child along with the twist of leads and tubes and pressed him close to my body, where only a short month before he had resided. His daddy, standing behind me, encircled the two of us in his strong arms. Our trinity held fast until the last breath of life escaped our baby’s lips and his heart took its final rest.
On that day my first extensive journey into grieving began. Elisabeth Kübler-Rosslaid out the steps to the dance I was about to undertake. Denial, anger, bargaining and depression spun me around like a ballet dancer practicing herpirouette.
  • Step #1 Mastered

I can remember the exact location and approximate time of day when I first accepted that my son had died and he wasn’t going to be miraculously resurrected in my lifetime. A few months had gone by since we’d handed his lifeless body to the hospital chaplain that August evening and I was driving on the highway home from work. Like a wave that overwhelms, pushing you down under its watery power, I was suddenly and violently awash with the reality that he was gone, really gone. Peculiar sounding I suppose to the non-grieving parent, but I’d secretly believed until that exact minute that my son would be returned to my aching arms somehow. Now the well practiced step of denial mastered in that moment, my concentration was directed to the remaining emotional hurdles.
By the grace of God (quite literally), I discovered The Compassionate Friends (TCF), a national support group of bereaved parents. At the first meeting, during the circle time when they’d go around and share their stories, I developed a lump in my throat the size of a lemon and couldn’t utter a single word. While unable to pour out our history on that first evening, I began to learn the motions required to participate in the day to day masquerade of living (how to fake a smile, how to pretend your heart isn’t broken in two).
A couple of sessions later, a beautiful, mature woman named Marie taught me a life lesson that I will never forget. Marie lost her son, Sidney, while she was a young mother. The doctor, in his archaic, old-school thinking, had advised her to “go home and have another baby.” Seeing no other way, she followed his callous prescription. Through the course of years her family grew until one day Marie found herself a blessed grandmother. But then her grown daughter lost a son to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and that dance partner grief emerged from his perch on the sidelines to spin this grandmother/mother hard and fast. You see, Marie explained, grieving is difficult work, but work that must be done in order for healing to be accomplished. Having cast aside her early anguish did not negate its affect on her life. It served only to postpone the inevitable task of swaying back and forth to the rhythm of mourning. Now her sadness was multiplied by two.
It took several years to trudge through the quagmire of my dolor. But I followed the path even though it knocked me down hard at times. Like the novice dancer, just as I would gain my footing memories (made and unmade) rushed in to topple me. I would remember a word of encouragement spoken that never came to fruition or revisit the feel of his tiny grip on my finger. There was the first Christmas he’d never get to celebrate and the Easter basket he’d never fill.
  • Oh, Just Get a Grip

This is the period when some of us choose to “get a grip” and push our emotional steps aside. Many times acquaintances on the outside encourage us to forget the hard work and “move on.” I received that advice after the six month marker when, to those on the outside, my allotted period of sadness needed to end. However, Marie’s advice freed me to embrace my dance partner grief and allow myself to be led along a time line with no predetermined limits.

Unlike that day of reckoning on my drive home from work, I can’t pinpoint the time or place when I finally mastered all the poses. But the day did come when I stood tall and straight and crossed over the threshold to acceptance. Of course, an occasional tear still escapes some years on my son’s birthday, but it is a healthy tear, one that marks a moment of remembrance and not regret.
Watching an episode of a reality weight loss show, I was intrigued by the story of an overweight couple. Having lost a child years before, they swallowed their emotions (in thought and action). Like Marie, they had to discover that grief lies in wait.
I sometimes ponder whether in times passed, when death wasn’t such a foreigner in our lives, if people had a healthier perspective with regards to dying. Children more often didn’t grow into adults and old age came sooner. Sickness was treated in the home and the dead weren’t visited in a funeral home, but in the family’s parlor. The living had to care for their own through every step and generations shared the experience. We were forced through necessity to do the hard work. Distractions and escape were more elusive so that mourners had to visit and revisit the places and markers of our losses.
  • Grief Doesn’t Look the Same for Everyone

Grieving can come in so many forms not just from the loss of a loved one. Couples mourn the loss of children they aren’t able to conceive. A man grieves the loss of his ability to provide an income for his family. A woman weeps over the loss of her breast to cancer. A child cries over an absent father. An old woman agonizes over the loss of her memory.
In this fast paced age of anti-depressants and unrealistic ideas of the ways and means to true happiness, it is no surprise that people are suffering in silence. They are eating, swallowing, smoking and injecting their pain away. We’ve been sold on an idea of what life is meant to look and feel like, pretty and easy. So when real life occurs we are broadsided and unfamiliar with the hard work of healing. But if we break out of that misshapen mold and allow ourselves to suffer the cross, to bear its full weight for awhile, then we can be assured of hope, sincere hope, for our future.
For just as Rachel wept inconsolably for her children who were no more, so too we should allow ourselves to sob bitterly for our required time. And then, like Rachel, God will turn our mourning into joy and we will find ourselves healed and able to dance in merriment again.

Then young women shall make merry and dance,
young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will show them compassion and have them rejoice after their sorrows.
Jer. 31:13

Send In the Laborers, When We Have A Ministry To Fulfill

Perhaps you could blame it on late pregnancy nesting mode or maybe just that time of year, but I simply couldn’t stand another minute of our overgrown yard, the malodorousness ofturkeys under the back patio and all those forgotten plastic

cups strewn about the grounds. With a small army of children, one might fantasize that Brelinskyville runs like sap in summer, but alas too often these soldiers are hiding in their fox holes. The breaking point hit, I rallied the troops and doled out assignments.

Of course, knowing my children all too well, I took precautionary measures to prevent fatigue, heat exhaustion and over-active bladder evacuations. I provided cold beverages and locked the doors to the house.
With me as the constant fore-mama, my crew trimmed the bushes, weeded the garden beds, filled the compost, mowed the lawns, trimmed the edges, scrubbed the patio and transported the turkeys a little further from my nasal parameters. All in all a productive day, although much remains to be done from repairing the roof and chicken field fences to curing the black spot on the rose bushes and repainting the chairs.
More Laborers Hardly Seems The Problem
The day’s tasks completed, covered in sweat and grass stains, I eagerly called it quits and headed straight for the shower. Under that hot streaming water, my mind recollected the parable from the bible about needing more laborers for the harvest (Luke 10:1-9). However, with seven children and one more on the way the necessity for more laborers hardly seems to be the issue in this household, rather I pray that they might embrace the threshing readily rather than planning to come late to the field while still expecting equal pay.
Washing away all that outdoor grime took a considerable about of effort and time (okay that’s my excuse for taking full advantage of the peace, solitude and warmth of a long shower), so my thoughts continued to extrapolate. I remembered the many prayers I’ve offered requesting laborers for the Natural Family Planning ministry. As half of a teaching couple, I’m all too aware of the shortage of volunteers, not to mention physicians.
During a conversation with an area priest, he brought to my attention the severe lack of Spanish speaking NFP instructors and said this topic often comes up in the confessional. How frustrating it must be for him to offer spiritual direction, but lack the referral sources to aid couples in fulfilling their marital vocation when they’ve discerned a serious reason to postpone a pregnancy.
I am often privileged to hear from women who have questions about their fertility cycles and their practice of the method, but sometimes those questions would be best addressed in the physician’s office. Unfortunately, if teachers are scarce, truly pro-life, well-educated (on the topic of NFP and morally licit infertility treatments) physicians are nearly non-existent in many areas of the country. In my own state, I’ve had to drive 4 hours from home to get the proper medical care.
Perhaps more than any other time, the harvest is rich, but the laborers are few.
Fresh and Clean, I Filed In
Later that evening, fresh and cleaned up after our busy work day, we filled in our usual pew at the vigil Mass. My parable ponderings had long since drifted away, but as Father began to proclaim the gospel they were summoned back. This Sunday’s reading was the parable that had rambled through my brain earlier. Certainly a moment of Divine Providence speaking directly into my ears, as I hadn’t prepared ahead of time and so had no earlier knowledge of this weekend’s gospel message.
How biting was the reminder that this job as laborer was not intended to be an easy one.“Start off now, but look, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Take no purse with you, no haversack, no sandals. Salute no one on the road.” Jesus minced no words. He didn’t attempt to sell a sanitized version of the opportunity He had to offer, no bait and switch from Christ. He was sending seventy-two men out before Him with the promise of detractors eager to devour them and no material provisions to allay their temporal concerns.
When my husband and I were certified to teach the sympto-thermal method through The Couple to Couple nearly ten years ago, we were on-fire evangelists, laborers ready to charge into the fields. Books in hand, slides in the projector, we thought our zeal would be enough to spark an increased interest in our parish. Instead our booth at the parish ministry fair caused friends and acquaintances to make a wide circle around us. Like we were enclosed in an invisible bubble, they avoided all eye contact and left us feeling less than successful in our mission to share the Truth.
We soldiered on through the years content that God had a purpose for us in this ministry; however, a few years ago after so many personal trials I began to doubt. On the other end of the advice line, I stood confused and disappointed. Unable to figure out the answers to my own health/fertility questions, how could I continue to minister in this capacity. How could a farmer offer advice on how to grow a healthy harvest when his own crops were failing?
Having made up my mind with my husband’s full support, we were dropping the plow and throwing down the hoe. Someone else could do a better job. Someone else, who was filled with that zeal we’d long since lost, could step into our role.
Where Were Our Provisions?
Now listening to the gospel parable, I realized we’d been hoping for provisions. Having set up camp in out-lying southern towns, as opposed to bigger cities like Raleigh, we’d figured the couples would come (“build it and they will come”). Support from the diocese to promote our classes and committed babysitters to

make teaching engagements workable weren’t forth-coming. In these later years with my own fertility world turned upside down, I’d expected readily accessible aid. I wanted a purse, a haversack and sandals. I wanted to salute my fellow sojourners and have them salute back to me. But none of this was ours to have and we’d forgotten Christ’s instructions.

The lambs among wolves promise had nearly always been apparent, but in the earlier days of our ministry, I felt like a strong, healthy sheep able to withstand the attacks. Now older and wounded, the wolves of doubt and despair found me easy prey.
Of course, no sooner had we privately declared our decision to quit, then Father requested that we teach a group of couples he was preparing for marriage. Ugh! Really? Saying, “no” to Father is harder than telling a teary, smiling, wide-eyed toddler who’s just given you a bear hug they can’t have the last cookie in the jar.
So much for our plans to flee the fields, we taught that class and a few more since. And at present we’re poised to schedule next year’s class line-up.
I’m still praying for God to send more laborers because they are desperately needed, but for now I’ll accept my part in working the harvest. The wolves continue to howl in the background, but we’re assured that the Shepherd will never leave us lost in the wilderness. While the provisions we’d choose might be lacking, those He offers are more than enough to pay the wage.

Be Not Afraid To Climb The Ladder And Surrender Your Fear

Typically a coward of heights, I never dreamed of spending my days balancing atop an extension ladder, but the chipped and peeling exterior of our house begged for attention. My dutiful husband is a jack of many trades from fixing appliances to building chicken coops, but he proclaims a particular aversion to painting; therefore, the task of revitalizing the outside of our 1920’s home fell squarely on my shoulders.

be not afraid to let go of fears and trustAfter choosing the perfect hue of buttery yellow, which my neighbor equated to the color of “cheap vanilla yogurt,” I commenced the jobs of scraping and repainting the easy-to-reach portions. However, it didn’t take long before my arms-reach, as well as, my three-step ladder were insufficient. Lacking the superhero trait of Mr. Fantastic, I had to engage some problem solving skills. Without the gift of stretchable appendages, a ladder seemed my next best option.


It took a little self-hypnosis of sorts to talk myself up that first ladder, but work awaited and the time of a busy, home school mother is fleeting. I let go a little and convinced myself that a fall from a standard ladder couldn’t inflict too much damage.

Now our lovely little home was built on a downgrade, so while the front door was a mere three steps from the solid ground, the rear was two-stories above stable earth. That standard ladder only raised my stature to the lower heights of the our home’s backside and painting only half of the house didn’t appear sensible. An extension ladder became unavoidable.

Childhood Fears Revisited 

As far back as I can remember, heights have posed an unwelcomed challenge. I was the kid who scaled the jungle-gym only to become paralyzed at the summit and tearfully beg for rescue. Ferris wheels are totally off-limits and even today escalators require a mental strategy.

Ratcheting the extension ladder far above my comfort-level, I offered myself a pep talk. First I attempted flattery, telling myself how brave I was and how beautiful the house was going to look. Next, came reasoning, if we couldn’t afford to hire a painter, I simply needed to finish the job I’d begun and set the right example for my children. Lastly, delusions of Supermom grandeur flitted across my brain, but they were too readily refuted by the reality that I’d never been able to scale a tall building nor race anything much faster than a speeding toddler headed for an open outlet.

Step by step, paint supplies balanced in my right hand as my left hand secured its death grip on the metal side rail, I inched ever higher toward the firmament. Positioned at the ladder’s apex, I briefly dared to look down, a long, long way down. The flattery suddenly flattened and that reasoning seemed less, well, less reasonable. My previous risk estimations made from atop the standard ladder somehow didn’t ease my mind because from this height surely parts could break that might not be mendable.

Surrender and prayer were my last and best resorts. “Let go,” I persuaded, “let go of the fear.” Fear constrained me to the ground, but surrender could loose its hold. Reciting a prayer, I offered up my terror and released myself to the care and keeping of my guardian angel.

Fear Saves

It’s amazing how fear has the potential to overpower in some cases or to protect in others. Years ago I read a book by Gavin DeBecker called The Gift of Fear. In it Mr. DeBecker gave real life examples of how people’s natural-born fear mechanism or intuition set off red flags and sirens in the presence of serious dangers. Those who listened typically avoided entering the danger zone or quickly fled before a perpetrator could inflict harm. Those who over-rationalized away their instinct generally paid a painful price. In those cases, fear was a gift bestowed on the individual, a signal by which they could gauge a circumstance or assess a stranger’s unspoken intent.

While teaching Natural Family Planning, I realized that fear really needs to be addressed. Often we have lovely, young couples register for our course to fulfill a marriage preparation requirement. Or sometimes they’ve attempted to self-study and feel the need for more instruction. Patiently they sit through our witness talk and intently they follow along with the training, but sometimes I can see it in their faces or detect a hint of it in their questioning. The fear, the fear that they are not smart enough or vigilant enough to learn and apply the method of fertility awareness so as to prevent an unintended blessing.

The simply admonishment, “Be Not Afraid’ would do little to help alleviate their worries. Instead the first step is to help them face their fear, to understand what misconceptions it may be tied to. Quite often the newly engaged or married women have been controlling their cycles through the use of hormonal birth control or contraceptive devices. These “outside forces” have led to the perception that fertility, or at least its suppression, is the responsibility of some “thing” not the individual woman.

Relinquished Responsibility

Under the supposed control of a contraceptive, a woman may feel relinquished of her role in her own “healthcare” beyond the routine exam and prescription refill. If an unexpected blessing comes along, she can “blame” the little one on a contraceptive failure. Our current culture has led her to surrender herself to doctor’s orders, so she typically never feels obliged to consider the risks (unfortunately too often doctors don’t even bother to disclose the very real risks).

Here we, NFP teachers, are describing the difference between more fertile and less fertile, fertile mucus. Calculating 4/10° temperature shifts while determining the position and firmness of the cervix. Observation, charting, cross-checks, and prayerfully discernment are all necessary steps to becoming naturally aware of the signs and wonders of the female fertility cycle. NFP can scientifically claim an effectiveness rate of 99%, among other benefits, but it does require personal responsibility.

In the words of Spiderman’s uncle, with great power comes great responsibility. The power to plan a family is definitely great, a great honor, a great blessing. But, our culture isn’t much interested in personal responsibility, especially when profit can be made off of the notion that power comes from a pill or injection.

Fear, in the case of our students, isn’t a helpful natural instinct, but an emotion fueled by a man-made distortion. Truly, the effectiveness rates of NFP are equal to the best contraceptive rates (though that doesn’t mean they are morally or ethically equal). If a couple discerns a serious call or reason to postpone a new pregnancy, they are able to apply their knowledge to figure out what days of abstinence are required. Every couple is smart enough, every couple can learn to be vigilant enough to achieve their goal of postponement when necessary.

What’s Really At Stake?

What is really at stake is the fear that a baby, an eternal soul, will be conceived and that they will not be able to care for or welcome the new member of their family. Like the extension ladder, they realize they might need to ascend above their comfort-level. They must accept total responsibility for their marital embrace, it must become something more than a carnal pleasure alone.

Yes, they should set their ladder on stable footings by learning how to accurately read the woman’s bodily signs of fertility and infertility. Indeed they’ll have to map out the location by communicating their dreams, and plans and needs. They’ll raise their spiritual ladder by praying together and seeking God’s Will each cycle. And ultimately, they will need to step up by assuming responsibility individually, through self-mastery of their sexual desires, and together, through a unified commitment to remain open to life. 

the fear of NFP and the fear of climbing a ladder

At times they may need to surrender themselves, to surrender their fears, to surrender their man-made plans. Because often God will change a couple’s heart. He’ll challenge their limited notion of happiness. But while a fall from the height of my extension ladder had the potential to inflict fatal harm, a careless slip in NFP can result in the gift of a brand new life.

Marks of True Love: A Marriage Like No Other

                                                                                                                                   Childhood sweethearts, my husband and I married for the first time at Sts. Peter and Paul Russian OrthodoxChurch. After the beautiful, two hour long Liturgy complete with crowns and chanting, my mother remarked there was no doubt we had indeed been united by this sacrament. Unlike some modern weddings which focus on flowery arrangements, self-appointed roles and individually crafted vows, ours followed tradition with its focus on the sacramental and not so much the selves. Of course, at 21 and 23 we’d have a lot to learn about life and marriage in the years to come.


our 20th Anniversary

Having married outside of the Catholic Church, our pre-cana consisted only of a few short meetings with the priest, who was to marry us. I remember only his encouraging me to convert and little else. We missed the boat, so to speak, on so many crucial lessons, but thankfully God always has a back-up plan.


Totally unaware of the Churches’ teachings, we contracepted early on until the time when we deemed ourselves ready to welcome another family member. What joy it seemed then to ask God to create a new life on our terms, in our time. However, after the death of our firstborn we began to realize that life was far more fragile than we’d considered and our well-crafted life plans disappeared with his heartbeat. We desperately wanted more children and so I suppose our hearts were ready soil for God to plant a different kind of seed.

An Attention Grabber

Browsing through a bookstore’s discount bin at the mall, I happened upon a thick book that grabbed my attention. Fertility awareness was the topic, and seeing as our attempts to conceive had taken much time and effort the first time around, it seemed the perfect read. I gobbled up that book and eagerly applied the newly found knowledge about my basal body temperature, mucus and cervical changes.


Fast forward six years and many changes later, my husband converted to the Catholic faith and we married for the second time in a little chapel at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. In truth, standing there surrounded by a few friends and flanked by a toddler and a baby, we had our marriage, which was already considered valid by the Catholic Church, blessed.

Marrying For the Second Time

While our “first” marriage had united us together in that permanent bond of marriage, endowing us with the gifts to live out that vocation, I believe that “second” marriage made us evermore conscious of our need to rely on Divine Providence and our responsibility to actively grow together in our faith. Like too many other young people, after our wedding ceremony we had created all too many excuses for sleeping in on Sundays and relegated Christ to Easter and Christmas those first few years. Thankfully, once our family size increased, so too did our knowledge of the necessity for faith, but still missing were those hard truths.


Though my eyes had been opened to the beauty of my fertility, unfortunately that initial method of fertility awareness was void of theological truth and thus allowed for contraceptive behaviors and devices during the fertile phase of the cycle. It also didn’t challenge us to include God in our family planning, though at the time we felt an internal stirring to openness. Thankfully, our Lord is patient and so He nurtured that sapling and in time He would redirect its growth.

Standing On The Precipice Of Divorce

By the time we were celebrating our tenth anniversary, we’d been blessed with one son through adoption, two more birth sons, and our first daughter had entered the world. By all accounts our cup was overflowing, but in reality we were standing on the precipice of divorce, contemplating the looming pit of broken vows and broken dreams.


Well-meaning friends and family worried about our children and about divorced parents trying to raise them apart, so they encouraged us to protect ourselves. Protect ourselves, especially, against the possibility of anymore conceptions. Really, with four children already, many people couldn’t understand why we’d ever want more. Their advice seemed reasonable, so we took it and reverted back to contracepting during the fertile time.


We chose to work through our trial with a Christian therapist, who instructed us in reading the Bible. Little did this faithful, Protestant therapist know, not only was he helping to heal our broken hearts, but he was leading us deeper into our Catholic faith. For the first time, we began reading God’s Word separately and together. A deeper and more intimate relationship developed between the three of us (Christ, my husband and me) and we developed a thirst for more.


Truthfully, I knew something wasn’t right in our contracepting, but I couldn’t quite figure out what that “something” was. When I’d contracepted in our early years, I struggled with a myriad of physical and psychological symptoms as a result of the synthetic hormones. Contracepting without hormones, I still felt unsatisfied mentally, physically and spiritually.


A couple at our parish introduced us to The Mary Foundation, a fantastic organization that gave away free audio tapes (now CDs). For two people still emerging from the “modern theological” desert, hungry and parched, these tapes were our manna and rain. After listening to “The Mass Explained,” we ordered a box full of all their titles. My husband listened during commutes to work and I listened while cleaning the house and pushing kids on the swing.

Perplexed By My Husband’s Command

Then, one day my husband came home and handed me a tape. Entitled “The Key to Happy Families,” he wouldn’t divulge the contents, but simply instructed me to listen. Perplexed by his secrecy and intrigued by his command, I readily hit the play button. By the time the tape reel had run its course, my head was spinning.


The Pill is an abortifacient, so we could have aborted our own children? Contracepting is a mortal sin? A pope wrote a whole encyclical on this subject and prophesied abortion on demand, increased divorced rates, infidelity in marriages, and more. The Catholic Church actually has a teaching on this subject?


As a cradle Catholic, why had I not heard this before? And what was I going to do now?


From that day forward, my husband and I agreed, we could not contracept again, not with our bodies, not with our minds, not with our hearts. A dramatic turning point for me, I was working through my pain and was now more confused than ever.

Making The Vow

Alone in my bedroom, on my knees, I gave it all over to the Blessed Mother. I told her of my fears, my desires, my weakness and I asked her specifically to align my heart to God’s Will. Pledging my fertility to Jesus through her hands, I surrendered in a way I never had before. For the first time, I recognized and accepted my smallness. I promised to allow Jesus to have total control over my fertility, so long as Our Lady would wrap me in her mantle of comfort and protection.


I didn’t hear any voices, I didn’t see any heavenly lights, but I knew that she heard me, that she’d swaddled me in her motherly embrace. Of course, it was still a process, learning to completely surrender and trust. A process that we are still working through ten more years later and one that I think we will be trying to perfect for the rest of our lives.


This passed June, we celebrated our 20th anniversary in the company of our 7 children. Certainly, our married life has not been without further crosses. We’ve endured the losses of five more children, we’ve revisited old weaknesses, we’ve faced the judgment of others, but, contrary to the world’s idea of love and freedom, we’ve discovered that surrender, forgiveness and self-sacrifice are the source and summit of true love.


At 41 and 43, we recognize that our marriage includes a third partner, God. He was there on our wedding day and He has been there every day since, even when we relegated Him to the back seat. Through His Word and His sacrifice on the cross, He taught us the meaning of love and He showed us how to manifest that love toward one another.


Freely, faithfully and fully, we give ourselves, our whole selves, to one another and to Christ, inside of our bedroom and out. Today I understand, with a new perspective, my mother’s comment on our wedding day. Truly, the three of us were united by the Sacrament of Marriage.

Considering Your Perspective

“How are you feeling today?” reads the text message that’s just come in. Contemplating the nearly unabated nausea that already began shortly after I opened my eyes to the morning’s light, I type back one word, “Nauseous.”


“Cool, glad to hear it, honey. Have a good day!” is the response from my sweetheart of a husband a moment later.


Now before you write my spouse off as some cruel barbarian caveman, who drags me around by my tresses, you should consider a different perspective.



Over the last few years, our family has suffered the loss of several miscarried children and we’d begun to think that our days of childbearing were coming to a close.
 

Yes, many of us, from our first grader to our older children were praying persistently for the blessing of just one more sweet newborn head to kiss, but we understood that not all prayers are answered in the manner we expect.


So, one year after our last eternal soul was carried up to her heavenly home, we were overjoyed to accept the gift of a new life in the womb. Of course, along with the joy came that nausea and a number of other unpleasant physical challenges. But rather than pray for the removal of these daily crosses, we understood that they are positive signs of a life continuing and a chance to offer thanksgiving to God.

Relishing Each Day

Oh, to be honest I do complain now and again, but then I gently tell myself, or that wise spouse of mine reminds me, that each day is an opportunity is relish the time I have with this baby. Truly, our earthly time together may be limited to days, weeks, months or years. So, rather than waste a single moment, I try to embrace the sacrifices needed to grow and protect this child and trust that this offering of my very body is worth it no matter the final result. Because even if we are called to relinquish this little one before we are ready, he or she was created for eternity and that’s an awesome perspective.


The readings at Mass this weekend focused on the Visitation, when our Blessed Mother, carrying the newly conceived Word Incarnate, traveled to the home of her cousin Elizabeth. Mary was in her teen years, having not even been with a man, when the Holy Spirit sparked life in her womb. Elizabeth was close to giving birth in her old age. While today 40 is labeled “elderly” in the obstetrical world, Elizabeth is considered to have been far beyond that age. Counseling women friends through our Natural Family Planning ministry, I’ve rarely heard a woman say she’d consider a teen-aged or a senior-aged pregnancy a welcome blessing.


When we view these circumstances from a proper historical distance though, our eyes are opened to the reality. Mary said yes to God’s plan even though it may have made no sense to her at the time and placed her in very vulnerable position; however, her example of supernatural surrender and heroic trust opened the door for salvation for every human person to follow. Elizabeth, who suffered the cross of infertility and carried the label of barren for so many years, was now about to give birth to St. John the Baptist, of whom Jesus said, “…among those born of women there has been none greater…” I imagine these joyful mothers scarcely considered the minor inconveniences of motherhood too much to bear.

Arriving At Knee-Jerk Conclusions

How simple it is for us today to arrive at knee-jerk conclusions, to offer our opinion based on erroneous ideas. Our culture fuels a plethora of misconceptions and false opinions around which many form their consciences. 


Consider how we mourn as a nation over the devastating loss of life in Newton, CT. The innocent children, who were gunned down, are rightly upheld as precious, lost lives. The women, who selflessly donated their lives to protect their students, are honored as they should be. Our president was moved to tears as he addressed the shocked nation, referencing his own cherished fatherhood.


On the very same day in our country, we allowed an abortionist to dismember an innocent, unborn child and called that a reasonable choice that his/her parents were entitled to make. Rather than offer support and encouragement to brave mothers, who unexpectedly conceive, we encourage the opposing message that strong, free women place themselves first even if it is to the detriment of another life. The president, who contemplated the faces of his own beloved daughters, has forgotten that they were once unprotected, living persons developing in their mother’s womb.


What if one of the teachers, who gave her life so readily for her students, had been pregnant? Would we count an unborn child among the dead? Would the church bells have rung 27 times? What would have been our perspective of an innocent, unborn child slain by Lanza while still within his mother?


Of course, this unthinkable tragedy may lead others to hold their children a little tighter this holiday season. Perhaps, the parents, who were focused on purchasing presents, will instead take their children to church for the first time and refocus on the true meaning of Christmas this year. Maybe, a frightened unwed mother saw her unborn child in the faces of those sweet, Newton students and found the resolve to embrace her motherhood.

Basing Our Perspective On Truth

Basing our perspective on truth is necessary if we are to rightly judge the circumstances we encounter as we live out each day. If God creates all persons and if He creates all persons in His image, then each person is worthy and valuable.


Spending a little time thinking about the real life characters documented in the Bible, we meet a diverse bunch through whom the Creator chose to make manifest His plan of salvation. It is than that we gain a clearer perspective. Greedy tax collectors, weak-kneed Apostles, adulterous women, stubborn prophets and unborn babies were His ministers to carry out His work on earth. Of course, those who were living in sin were called out and they ultimately chose the better part, a life for Christ and in Christ.


My family’s openness to life and our surrender to the possibility of suffering allowed Our Creator to reach down from the heights of the universe and form a perfect, unrepeatable person, made in His image. We hope to hold the result of our openness, to stare deeply into the eyes of this expected child at the appointed time. Irregardless, though, we stand firm on the truth that our sacrifices will not be in vain because abandoning oneself to the Divine Plan always has an eternal reward.


Nibbling another salt cracker in an attempt to keep my nausea to a tolerable level, I offer this simple prayer, “Lord, thank You for this day, for the chance to cradle this baby in my womb. Thank You for allowing me the privilege to sacrifice myself for another. And thank You for shaping my perspective by way of Your cross.”