A Catholic Woman’s Journey with Contraception

I was in high school when the advent of the birth-control pill was announced to the world, and it was declared by secular society to be a wondrously liberating device.

For married women, the pill was touted as offering freedom from a string of pregnancies. For single women, the pill was hailed as a way to enjoy sex without commitment – as if that were a wonderful goal.

Of course, there were many devices that people were already using in an effort to prevent conception, but the pill was different. It was taken daily, almost like a vitamin. And for the first time ever, doctors were prescribing a medication that was not intended to cure an illness – but rather to suppress a completely natural state, namely fertility.

Healthy women – and in college I was one of them – were willing to ingest high doses of hormones in an attempt to avoid the logical and natural outcome of sex, which is pregnancy.

And although the pill was touted as being extremely effective, like other contraceptives it did not work all the time – and the failures gave rise to many people turning to abortion as a “back-up” method.

The secular world heralded the pill, along with legalized abortion, as great improvements. Both were seen as “freeing” women, since it meant having sex whenever –and with whomever – one pleased.

However, Pope Paul VI had a different opinion.  On July 25, 1968, he accurately predicted in his encyclical “Humanae Vitae” that with an increased use of contraception, an easy road would be opened “towards conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality.”

He wrote these words just as the “free love” movement was building in our country and shortly before abortion was legalized. Since those days, we have fallen down a treacherous slippery slope.

Divorce rates are skyrocketing, and out-of-wedlock births are on the rise. Some college students today indulge in a tragically empty practice called “hooking up,” which means seeking intimacy with people they barely know purely for pleasure.

In my younger days as an atheist and radical feminist, I was unconcerned with Catholic teachings on contraception. When I returned to my faith, I discovered that the Church condemned all contraceptives as grave evils – but I wasn’t ready to surrender my old ways.

Instead, I continued clinging to birth control, telling myself that at some future date I would finally give it up and have a child. I was in my forties, but I had bought into the big lie that it’s never too late.

I was like so many women who use contraceptives and see themselves in control of conception. And the longer you do this, the harder it becomes to surrender this aspect of your life to God.

As for me, I struggled with deep-seated fears about pregnancy and doubts about my ability to be a mother. Sadly, I never got to the point of “letting go and letting God.” Although I hate to admit it, the truth is that deep down inside, I didn’t trust that he would take care of me.

There are so many lessons I wish I had learned in my younger years. I wish I had realized that the Catholic Church emphasizes that sex is a beautiful and wonderful gift from God – and it has two God-given purposes.

One is procreative, referring to the conception of children, and the other is unitive, which describes the self-giving love between spouses.

These purposes are intrinsically connected, and breaking them apart goes against God’s plan. This means that, despite what secularists say, enjoying sex while trying to thwart conception is wrong.

Is this a difficult teaching? Yes, for those who want sex on demand. Yes, for those who want to savor the pleasure without the consequences. But many Christian teachings are difficult and entail self-sacrifice.

In tracing their journey to Catholicism in “Rome Sweet Home,” Scott and Kimberly Hahn write about the early days of their marriage when they were still Protestants and using contraception.

At some point, Kimberly found herself wondering whether their use of birth control contradicted their belief in the sovereignty of God. Still, she struggled with the idea of trusting the Lord to plan the size of their family.

She was fearful and wondered: “Would he know what we could handle financially, emotionally and spiritually?”

After prayer and discussion – and reading “Humane Vitae” – the couple decided to surrender entirely to God. Together they threw away their contraceptives and began to trust God more fully with their lives – and their fertility.

In the years to come, the Hahns relied on natural family planning, and they were blessed with six children. Their journey richly reveals the many joys that come from fully trusting the Lord.

Surrendering to God – and acknowledging that he is in charge of new life — is certainly not easy. But it is a path that many faithful Catholic couples have chosen.

And when I look back on my own journey, I must say that it is definitely another lesson I wish I’d learned in my younger years.

Lorraine writes about her journey from radical feminism and atheism in “Confessions of an Ex-Feminist” (Ignatius Press). You may email her at lorrainevmurray@yahoo.com.

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About the Author

Lorraine is the author of “The Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O’Connor’s Spiritual Journey.” She also has written three mysteries, most recently “Death Dons a Mask.” Her email is lorrainevmurray@yahoo.com. All of her books can be seen on her website is www.lorrainevmurray.com.

Lorraine V. Murray grew up in Miami, and graduated from Immaculata Academy High School. One of the nuns there predicted that if Lorraine went to a secular college, she would be in great danger of losing her faith. Lorraine thought that was funny, but in fact the sister’s prediction came true.

Majoring in English at the University of Florida, Lorraine bid farewell to her Catholicism when she was 19. She went on to get a Ph.D. in philosophy and became a radical feminist and atheist for over 20 years.

After teaching courses in English and philosophy on the college level, Lorraine worked as an editor in a university publications office. In her forties, the Lord called her back to her Catholic roots, and she went on to write about her conversion journey in her book “Confessions of an Ex-Feminist.”

Her recent books are "Death of a Liturgist," a fun-filled mystery featuring murder and mayhem in a Georgia parish, and "The Abbess of Andalusia," which explores Flannery O'Connor's Catholic journey. All her books can be seen at www.lorrainevmurray.com (link provided below).

Lorraine writes regular columns for the religion section of “The Atlanta Journal-Constitution” and “The Georgia Bulletin.” She lives in Decatur, Georgia, with her husband, Jef, a Tolkien artist and book illustrator. In her spare time, she bakes bread, watches hummingbirds, and chases squirrels out of her garden.

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