Catholic Exchange: Learning Prudence from Miscarriage, Post-Partum Depression, and NaPro

Two and a half years ago after my last miscarriage, I decided to stop and visit a priest friend of mine who had recently been re-located from our parish. During our visit, he told me something that I had not even considered, nor wanted to consider. It was simply: “Constance, God may only want you to have one child.” He had been our parish priest through two of my miscarriages and he had been the priest to come see me when, unbeknownst to a great many people, I wound up an in-patient at a psychiatric hospital just weeks after having my daughter because I had severe post-partum depression and anxiety. My anxiety was crippling and I could barely function. My priest friend was seeing something that I just didn’t want to see at the time and that is, God has given me a Cross and I need to decide how to live with it and that means making prudent decisions while also trusting in His love and plan for my life.

A couple of months after that visit, a Natural Procreative Technologies (NaPro) physician introduced herself to me. She had heard through the grapevine that I had experienced repeated miscarriage and she was confident that she could help me. I was stunned and had a bit of hope after 2.5 years of devastating losses. She ran an extensive battery of blood tests on me and discovered that I have very low estrogen and progesterone levels. In fact, she told me she was shocked that I had even gotten pregnant to begin with. She prescribed me HCG shots to give myself four times a month in the second half of my cycle. The progesterone corrected immediately, but the estrogen did not and she wanted me to go on estrogen. I wasn’t comfortable with that at the time. We were not actively trying to get pregnant because I was battling post-partum from my recent miscarriage in which I had hemorrhaged and required emergency surgery. Estrogen comes with a one page warning of cancer risks. While that may mainly mean women in menopausal years, it gave me serious pause. My doctor and I decided to wait to use it until we were looking to get pregnant.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

Being a Catholic Mother of “Only” One Child

KLAngelGrief

When my husband and I got married we figured given our somewhat later age (I was 29 when we got married) that we would have four or five kids. We had undergone a radical conversion while dating thanks to our priest sending us to a Theology of the Body seminar. We finally understood the why of the Church’s teaching instead of just the no. We decided that we would be open to children, even as I applied to graduate school. In fact, I was accepted to graduate school and then discovered that I was pregnant with our daughter. I put graduate school on the back-burner at the time.

Pregnancy was very difficult for me. I did not leave the house for a month because I was vomiting so much. Then something happened that was never on our radar. We went to our first ultrasound to detect the heart-beat. Our daughter’s heartbeat was strong, but we discovered that she had a twin who had died. What? Is all I could think of at the time. I had lost a baby, my daughter’s twin. It never dawned on us that we might lose a child in the womb. On the happy day of the wedding and Sacramental joining it doesn’t typically dawn on the couple the suffering that will be asked of them. It should. Through our Baptism we are united to the Cross of Christ and the mysteries of his life and death, but most of us don’t give it enough thought and prayer. It usually happens as it did for us, with a complete and total shock.

I was over-joyed that our daughter was healthy, but my heart was broken for the child that I had lost. I was sick and alone with my grief on many days while my husband worked. Eventually God gave me some peace in prayer that my other baby was in fact in Our Lord’s arms. It was enough to help me through the unexpected grief. But, it never occurred to me that I would be in this state of grief for years to come.

My daughter was born healthy and beautiful after an un-planned c-section. I was so happy and cried when I heard her for the first time. The first few weeks were the typical sleep deprivation and wonder of being a new mother. It is a time that I honestly don’t remember well and unfortunately it was marred by a rapid descent into post-partum depression. Ladies, PPD can come on suddenly and with bizarre symptoms. Get help immediately if you start having weird thoughts, anxiety, or depressive symptoms. I spent months crawling back out.

Five months after I had my daughter, I discovered that I was pregnant. I was pretty shocked, but happy. The pregnancy started differently. I had more energy and only threw up once or twice a week. It was a vast improvement from my previous pregnancy. I should have known better. One day I woke up and just didn’t “feel” pregnant anymore. It was a strange sensation. A friend (may she rest in peace) mentioned that with her miscarriage she stopped feeling pregnant. I knew deep within me that something was seriously wrong. About 12 hours later I began to miscarry. I was devastated. My husband grieved quietly so as not to add to my burden. I do wish men would share in that grief with their wives. It isn’t a burden.

Once again I descended into grief. The Church offered little help in this area. I read Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Limbo, which has never been a formal teaching of the Church. I spoke to multiple priests. I couldn’t baptize my little children before death, so I was concerned. Everyone told me to leave it to God’s mercy. So that is what I have done.

Ten months later I discovered that I was pregnant again. I was happy, but scared. Then I went through what I can only describe as the pregnancy from hell. I would have four days of horrendous vomiting and then three days of debilitating depression and anxiety. It was hyperemesis and PPD together in one pregnancy. Then I went in for the ultrasound to detect the heart-beat. I really dislike those ultrasounds. The doctor came into see me and I knew it wasn’t good. There was no “fetal pole”, but I could be off on my dates. I knew I wasn’t. I chart after all. I went back a week later and all I heard was “blighted ovum”. The baby had died just days after conception, but my body missed the memo. Since I was at the 8 week mark, he said that we could see if my body miscarries naturally or I may need a D & E. I might need the same operation that they use in abortions. I was devastated. I chose to go home and wait, I had been through this before.

I began to miscarry shortly after, but it was not normal. The bleeding was extremely heavy and pouring out of my body at one point. I was terrified. This was not how things had gone before. I talked to the on-call OB who didn’t quite believe me. I am seasoned in miscarriages and knew something was wrong. Soon she told me to go to the ER, where they scooped me up like the actual emergency that I was. I can tell you that when the ER responds to you like you are an actual emergency it is very disconcerting. I had large clots and my body was incapable of having the miscarriage. I needed an emergency D & E. I remember they put me out cruciform on the table before I went under and I just thought of the Cross.

I also went through periods of post-partum after my miscarriages and my body never fully recovered from my last miscarriage. My hormone levels tanked and have never returned to normal, which is why I have to have my husband give me a shot of hormones four times a month in order to help my body function normally.

This is what my husband and I went through in the first four years of marriage. It had not dawned on us that we may only have one child. I didn’t want my daughter to be alone. My husband and I both have siblings and an only child was never our plan. Our plan. Isn’t that the great lesson? Even when we are Catholics who do not, I repeat, do not use contraception in any form, how many children we have is not up to us.

Catholics need to work on charity in this department. I am very happy for those families who are able to have tons of children. What a blessing! The reality is that God’s will is not the same for every family. For whatever reason, he may will only one child for us and we are under no obligation to justify that to others. The illusion of control in this department is rampant in our contraception laden culture, but it is also rampant within the Church. The open to life crowd forgets that being open to life also means being open to death. We have three beautiful children in Heaven precisely because we were open to life. We opened ourselves, albeit unknowingly, to the mystery of the Cross.

God wants me to be able to serve my family. Pregnancy and miscarriage has decimated my body. I am now on hormones for medical reasons and on a low dose of Prozac because of what I went through. Hormones are closely linked to neuro-chemistry. While a good many Catholics ignore Church teaching to their detriment, not all families do. My husband and I work hard to live as faithful Catholics and only having one child doesn’t change that fact. People who use NFP do so for a whole host of reasons, many of which are medical. NFP cannot be used in a gravely sinful manner, and at most, it could result in venial sin. Let’s try to remember that the families sitting in the pews next to us have a story that we know nothing about. I am the woman who still cries when she sees a new baby.

God has blessed us with one beautiful, intelligent, and amazing daughter. It comes with it’s own Cross. My daughter is extremely social and loves people. It makes me ache constantly that she is alone, but God has his reasons. God sanctifies each of us differently and watching her times of loneliness is a time to unite our suffering to the loneliness of the Cross. The next time you are at Mass, pray for the smaller families and the bigger families. We have no idea what is going on with them and the Crosses that Christ has asked of them. I am deeply grateful that I am the mother of my only child. She is the greatest blessing that my husband and I have been given. God bless you in this Easter season.

Some Honesty About NFP

Okay, I am just going to  be honest here, sometimes having to use NFP sucks.  I don’t mean because I want to use contraception.  Quite the opposite.  I know how contraception has hurt marriages, our culture, women, pretty much everybody.  Our culture just cannot see it, but the Church has predicted the disastrous results we see before us, for decades.  My husband and I do not want any part in the contraceptive culture.  So don’t misunderstanding my venting.

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This year we have had to use Creighton Method of Natural Family Planning (NFP) because I have had 3 miscarriages, and some pretty serious periods of post-partum depression and anxiety.  Using Creighton helped my NaPro doctor (Natural Procreative Technologies see Pope Paul VI Institute for more info) figure out that I have serious estrogen and progesterone deficiencies, which has led to me giving myself 4 shots of HCG each month.  NFP was essential, and has been a God send for us, as has my doctor, a fellow (soon-to-be for me) Lay Dominican.
We have had to use NFP for 7 months.  I know, there are some couples who have to do it for years, but this is my experience.  There are times when NFP is just plain hard.  My husband and I went through the NFP classes with the videos of the smiling couples telling us how great their marriages were thanks to NFP.  I know intellectually how NFP works within God’s plan for human sexuality.  It keeps us from using our partner as an object (which is what contraception does), and it forces couples to communicate about the possibility of children, struggles they are having, especially medical or financial, and to be open to God’s plan in their marriage.  It keeps the marital act free from barriers, but also follows the natural cycle of a woman’s body to decide if a married couple has discerned trying to have a child on a month-to-month basis.  Non-Catholics you must keep in mind that marriage vows in a Catholic wedding (the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony) promise to be open to children.
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My husband and I always planned to just be open to however many children God gave us.  Well, that was before I lost 3 babies and discovered some serious hormone issues.  NFP came into our marriage because of those medical issues and it has been a blessing to be sure.  To be honest, though, it gets tiresome to be denied the unitive act with one’s spouse, except for a week out of the month.  Some women’s cycles allow for more time, but mine don’t.  The gift of human sexuality is both unitive and procreative.  They cannot be separated, hence the Church’s position on contraception.   NFP does not deny either, but it is sacrifice.
Having to abstain while married is a sacrifice and that is a part of the spiritual dimension of NFP.  We sacrifice for the greater good of our family or spouse’s health.  It’s kind of like fasting.  Given what we have been through in the last 3 years, I just wanted to say that NFP is a gift, but let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that it is always great.  I know that the Church is fighting a battle against a culture that has swallowed, quite literally, the contraception lie, but can we at least be honest with people.  NFP strengthens marriage because of the selfless sacrifices that are required, but it is a struggle and sometimes you will say the heck with it and decide to be open to whatever happens.  No one is required to ever use NFP anyway.  So there really are no mistakes.  And if people say that NFP does not work, or that you are bad at NFP, tell them that you are good at it, but you decided to trust in God’s will this month and be with your spouse.  Perhaps you need that unitive act to bring you closer together during difficult times, or you just want to be with your spouse.  Come on!  Sex is holy.  It is a gift.  It is meant to be enjoyed with our spouse.  So, we are not bad at NFP, we just got tired of using NFP this month…lol.
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I saw a great article by a man describing his experiences with NFP.  For half the month the wife is telling her husband to keep away, and then all of a sudden she is open, and then she isn’t.  Now to our culture this sounds absurd, but the Christian life is full of sacrifice.  It is in that sacrifice that we are made selfless, as Christ was selfless.  We are to love our spouse as Christ loves us.  A very tall order that we will all fail at daily.
How about the woman’s perspective?  Well, I can only give you mine.  I have to battle my own hormones and love of my husband for half of the month, repeatedly tell him “no”, and then finally after I am completely sure based on my Creighton chart, I can say “yes”, after my body has gotten done saying “yes” for two weeks and is now in its default apathy because ovulation has occurred.  So I get to be open when my body couldn’t care less because there is no risk of pregnancy.
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Non-Catholics may be reading this wondering what I am talking about, but Catholics who have been through this will get it.  I think it is time that we are honest.  NFP is great because it allows us to naturally space children, it also helps couples conceive, and it helps women learn about their bodies.  And I would tell every single woman to throw out her pills, IUD (especially since these can cause abortions), shot, or whatever else you are doing to yourself and embrace Natural Family Planning.  Really learn about the gift that is your body and femininity.  Let’s just keep in mind that couples who love one another in marriage do not want to have to schedule out the times they come together every month.  It is okay to admit that it is hard.  That is a part of the Christian journey.  We are not breaking some rule by admitting to people that NFP is great, but hard.
I know Simcha Fisher wrote a new book on NFP that I want to read.  You can find it here.  Jennifer Fulwiler has also written about NFP.  And here is the article from a man’s perspective on NFP.
*Say a prayer for me.  I have had to add estrogen to my hormone treatments because while the HCG has fixed my progesterone deficiency, it has not fixed the estrogen deficiency.