Another post about birth control, Haley? Really? It’s true. Sorry, folks. But I think Catholic teaching on contraception is really crucial to understanding the respect for womanhood that the Church affirms. This is Part IV of this series, so be sure to read about how Marian doctrine, the Catholic understanding of vocation, and the female saints and doctors of the Church empower women before starting on Part IV.
The Church’s stance on birth control is one of the most controversial issues of our day. Why should women be enslaved to pregnancy and child-rearing instead of pursuing something, anything else? Why should a woman’s right to contraception be taken off the table? Why is the HHS Mandate such a big deal? Does the Church just want all women to be oppressed, barefoot, and pregnant in the kitchen? These questions completely miss the point. Far from wanting to degrade women, the Church always wants to honor womanhood.
Before our conversion, I was on the Pill for a year and a half. We got married young, I was only 20, Daniel was 21, and we were both still in college. At the time we were attending a Baptist church. I can’t tell you how many of our well-meaning friends and members of our faith community asked when they heard of our engagement, “So, Haley, have you started taking birth control, yet? Because you gotta take it a couple months ahead of time for it to be really effective so you don’t end up pregnant!”
Apart from being a really invasive question, what kind of message did that send to me? A. Pregnancy is a disaster that needs serious prevention in order to be avoided. B. There is something flawed in the way your body works. You need a prescription to fix this problem you have so that you’re not the cause of a horrible inconvenience (at best) to yourself and your poor husband.
These folks had our best interests at heart. But far from feeling liberated by this push for the Pill, I felt ashamed of my womanhood, embarrassed of my pesky fertility. The way my body was created was clearly flawed. I had a serious problem and it hinged on the unfortunate fact that I was born a woman.
Fast forward to when I quit taking the Pill my last semester of college and got pregnant just after graduation. Unplanned, unexpected, but we were indescribably happy about it. Assuming we were disappointed, many of our friends attempted to commiserate with us. “Wow. Your life is really gonna change,” they’d grimace. “Things are gonna be different” was about the most encouraging phrase they could muster. The pastor at our Baptist Church even asked, “This wasn’t planned, was it? I mean, you’d have to be crazy to want to be pregnant right now, in your situation!” Our situation being that we were young and Daniel had another year of school to finish and a thesis to write
That attitude really was a storm cloud over my glowing happiness. I had failed. I had ruined us. There was something wrong with me and because I hadn’t altered the way my body worked with meds, I was supposed to feel embarrassed or stupid or ignorant for “getting us into this situation.”
I can’t tell you the striking difference between this mindset and the way Catholics responded to our big news. There was no pity in our Catholic friends and professors faces for this hapless young couple. They were actually excited! “Praise God!” they’d say. “What a blessing! How wonderful!” Maybe there isn’t anything wrong with me? I wondered. Maybe it’s not insane to be thrilled that we’re expecting before having our careers settled and being financially secure. Maybe this womanhood thing is something to celebrate?
As we began reading the teachings of the Church on marriage, fertility, and contraception, I started to think about my body differently. There wasn’t anything broken about it. There wasn’t anything to apologize for. By making procreation a central feature of sex, we were honoring each others’ bodies and their Creator. We were fearfully and wonderfully made and we could embrace the womanhood and manhood we brought to the marriage bed. We could be sub-creators, participants in God’s redemptive, creative work and that miraculous creation of a new soul could happen within me.
Instead of something to be ashamed of, I began to celebrate the unique honor of my womanhood. Because God has given women an opportunity to share in his creation that men will never have. My husband will never know what it is like to grow new life inside himself. Granted, he will also never know what it feels like to throw up everyday for several weeks due to extreme morning sickness. I’m not saying pregnancy is easy or without sacrifice, but it is cosmic and amazing. An eternal soul is entering the world and I have been chosen to participate in this work. I am honored. I am celebrated.
If we think that by denying our fertility we are being liberated, we have been sadly taken in. By divorcing procreation from sex, women are degraded. We have to apologize for our womanhood, the possibility that we might get pregnant and inconvenience someone. Better to have a surgical procedure render us sterile so that we don’t ruin any poor man’s life by landing him with, of all things, a baby.
One of the lies about contraception is that increased access to the Pill decreases the number of abortions performed. That’s rarely true and misses the big picture which is that when a country turns to a contraceptive mentality, changing it’s view of the purpose of sex, the abortion rate increases:
“Contraception has been shown to decrease abortion rates primarily in countries with already high abortion rates. These represent a minority of countries. Contraception has been shown to increase abortion rates primarily in countries with already low abortion rates. These represent a majority of countries. Contraception has been shown to slightly reduce abortion rates after its initial increase of abortion rates, but has never been shown to reduce abortion rates back to pre-contraception levels.” (Read more of this article about the studies on this topic in detail.)
When we no longer value the way God created women, and prescribe a medical fix for their natural fertility, are we really respecting womanhood?
Catholic teaching about marriage, sex, fertility, and contraception affirms the value of women and protects us from degradation. As a Catholic woman, I can fully embrace my body. I don’t need to apologize for my womanhood.