Two steps back

July 22, 2006 | 10 comments

First of all, thanks for all the comments to the last post. And don’t worry about leaving comments with your opinions about medical issues, picturing me being rushed into the ER on a gurney screaming, “But my blog readers told me to stop taking my medicine!” 🙂 Any decisions I make will be based on my opinion, my doctors’ opinions and prayer only. I’m just interested to hear what others thing as a thought exercise.

So anyway, interesting how much the current situation — the Coumadin/NFP dilemma, constant pain and sleep deprivation — has made my doubts so much easier to indulge. Not just because there would be fewer short-term problems if I could just use some sort of (non-estrogen) birth control, but because exploring these problems in any other forum than this site leaves me surrounded by non-Catholic opinions that seem so alluringly…easy, and convenient, and even reasonable.

For example, I Googled stuff like Catholic Coumadin to see if I could find stories of other people in this same situation. I found one message board where a woman wrote in to say that she was Catholic and worried about not using birth control while on Coumadin. A couple of commenters wrote in to explain that they were raised Catholic so they knew where she was coming from and even wistfully remembered those days when they actually believed that silly birth control stuff — ah, yes, haven’t we all been through that phase — but that the poor benighted woman need not stress about the birth control issue, nobody really believes that stuff anymore anyway. She thanked them for their good advice. I wonder what she ended up doing.

Some nosy friends and relatives have started to ask pointed questions about birth control in which the purpose is really more to tell me how horrific it would be if I got pregnant any time soon than to actually gather information (“So…is that patch thing safe for you to use or are you just going to go with an IUD?”) When I told a “Catholic” friend that I was probably going to do NFP she said, “Do not tell me that you’re actually buying into that birth control stuff! It’s just because you’re new and excited about the Church, it’ll pass. But you really don’t need to worry about that — your health is at stake here!”

And then there’s the usual old doubt that’s been there from the beginning. I’m back to worrying that since I was raised atheist some major synapses needed for belief got weeded out sometime around kindergarten. During times of doubt I can’t hearken back to a childlike trust in God since I don’t think I’ve ever had a childlike trust in anything. I don’t even remember believing in Santa Claus.

I usually, ironically, find it easier to believe in the Church than in a vague concept of God or even Jesus, but these heavy doubts about birth control have made even that shaky, since belief in the Church and its teachings is an all or nothing endeavor — you believe that it’s infallible on all issues of doctrine and faith or you don’t. And if you don’t, then you don’t believe in the Church. So having major doubts about one issue necessitates me putting all my faith in the Church on the backburner until I get it resolved.

The most confusing aspect of all this is where it leaves me.

Atheism is out because it leaves so much of life unexplained, and it makes no sense for a sentient, self-conscious being to live out an existence that it knows is meaningless and finite. All of the other major world religions are out because they don’t seem to speak the truth. Christianity does have a compelling story, but I can’t believe in any flavor of it that believes in sola scriptura, it just doesn’t make any sense to me.

So my options would appear to be to follow the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, or to resign myself to being “spiritual but not religious” [*gag*]. I feel like I’m in some sort of religious no-man’s land.

So we’ll see where this goes. I’ve never known belief without major reservations, but this period of doubt is particularly strong. It seems like after all these months of seeking and searching and thinking and praying that I’d be farther along than this. In fact, I feel like I’m going backwards here.

The one glimmer of hope is that I’ve become quite enchanted with praying the rosary. I downloaded an album of someone saying the rosary to my iPod and have been listening to it frequently (I don’t yet have the attention span to do it on my own and don’t know all of the prayers/creeds yet). I can’t believe more people don’t do this, it’s such a fantastic form of reflection, meditation and prayer.

Each time I put on my headphones for the rosary, usually in the quiet middle of the night when I’m up with the baby, I ask for help. I suppose that’s really the best (and maybe the only) option here. If I’m ever going to have any sort of consistent, solid faith or get any answers to all these questions it will take a whole lot of God’s help.

And maybe that’s a step in the right direction. I suppose it takes some amount of faith to even open my mind to the possibility that prayer just might help, that God just might make this easier for me if I let him.


  1. SteveG

    I imagine that in some ways this post must have been very difficult to write. To bear your soul so honestly is courageous. For my part, and for what it’s worth, wherever you path leads, I hope you know that I consider you a friend, and I will continue to pray for peace and joy for you and yours, Catholic or not.

    That out of the way,:-D I’ll offer a few of my thoughts as always.

    First, I hope you realize that doubt is not uncommon. Even for those who’ve experienced child like trust at an earlier time, it seizes us all at times. Even Mother Teresa herself was said to have suffered a terrible period of doubt late in her life. Some of the greatest saints (John of the Cross, Terese of Liseux, and countless others) have suffered the Dark Night of the Soul when doubt gripped even them. It’s not a pleasant thing, but you are not alone in this, so please *try* not to be overly discouraged by it.

    You are right now in a really stressful time. All the crosses you are carrying, it’s a wonder to me that you haven’t chucked it all in regards to faith. Even in this post, your fortitude is an inspiration.

    But being that you ARE in such a rough spot, might I offer that it’s not the best time to make any major decision to change course? My thought? Keep moving forward on the path you’d chosen when hormones, emotions, pain, exhaustion and all the other factors vying to break your resolve were not in the overly abundant supply they are currently.

    Even if you can’t accept the teaching on contraception right now, frankly (and I may take heat for this), I’d rather see you in the church, with all the sacraments and the graces they offer available to you, struggling to understand. Better that, than to cut yourself off in any way from the most profound sources of grace God offers us…the sacraments.

    I want to suggest again that on this issue, with your circumstances, one of the best things you can do in your spiritual efforts is to see if you can meet with your pastor on a regular basis (monthly?)for some spiritual direction.

    On the issue of contraception itself, what keeps coming to mind on this (for myself as well, when I struggle with this teaching) is the end of the discourse in John 6. In that section of the gospel Jesus gives this amazing discourse on the Eucharist. As someone who sees a lot of value in the theology of the body of JPII, I see so much relation between the Eucharist, and our understanding of our own sexuality. I’d even go so far as to suggest, that in this day and age, the churches teaching on contraception is as difficult, if not more difficult, for the average person to accept than the teaching on the Eucharist itself.

    However we analyze and dissect it, this teaching is undoubtedly a HARD teaching (made even harder in your circumstances). That’s why the below section of the gospel hits me so profoundly when I contemplate this issue…

    John 6 60: Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”61: But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62: Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? 63: It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64: But there are some of you that do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. 65: And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” 66: After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. 67: Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68: Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; 69: and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

    And for me, that’s the bottom line. No matter how hard this teaching is, at the end of the day, where else shall we go? Jesus’ church has the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know that it is the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic church of God.

    Finally, I don’t think there are many things you can that will be more helpful to you at this time, than to turn to Mary, Jesus’ mother and our mother, in your own hour of motherly need, and simply keep asking for help. That beautiful practice of listening to the rosary will not fail you. I’d only suggest adding one short prayer to that practice if you can. Memorize, and frequently (whenever you need) offer this prayer…

    O Mary, conceived without sin. Pray for us who have recourse to thee.

    For my part, I’ll be offering this one for you frequently…

    Remember, O most compassionate Virgin Mary, that never was it known, that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your assistance, or sought your intercession, was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, we fly unto you, O virgin of Virgins, our Mother; to you we come; before you we kneel sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not our petitions, but in your clemency hear and answer them. Amen.

  2. Rosemary

    Dear Jennifer,

    I am reading your story, I am moved my your faith, and I’m so sorry you’re suffering all this pain along with the anxiety associated with the thought of getting pregnant. I am going to be praying for you. I find it is helpful to say “Jesus, I trust in you.” It is a simple, radical prayer that he hears in our times of deepest need and confusion and doubt.

    Hold onto that rosary – Mary will lead you straight to Jesus, and he knows all about the tough choices you have to make about pregnancy, medication, etc. He’s there to help you through it. I know it’s sometimes hard to believe, but, he will NEVER abandon you. He’s been with you all along on your pilgrimage – he’s not going to leave you now.

    God bless you. Rosemary

  3. Elena


    You really do need to contact that Paul VI institute.

    Hope everything else is going okay for you. I have usually found the first few months of postpartum exhaustion to be the best birth control method anywhere!


  4. knit_tgz

    I am just writing to say that I must agree with what Steve wrote:

    Even if you can’t accept the teaching on contraception right now, frankly (and I may take heat for this), I’d rather see you in the church, with all the sacraments and the graces they offer available to you, struggling to understand. Better that, than to cut yourself off in any way from the most profound sources of grace God offers us…the sacraments.

    He is not saying (and I am not saying) that it is OK not to follow the Church’s teachings. But I am saying, and I believe he is saying that too, that it is ESSENTIAL you do not cut yourself from sacramental life, and you have strong, constant spiritual guidance from a faithful pastor.

    Once, some time after my return to Catholic Church, I went to weekly Mass but did not go to Communion. I believed I should not go, because I had sinned and not confessed myself. It was terrible being there, sitting in my place hungering for His body and not going there. I went to Confession the next day, and explained the situation to the priest. A priest who knows me well. He admonished me: Do not EVER cut yourself from communion by your own opinion that you have sinned. If you believe you have sinned seriously and have no opportunity to come to confession before the Mass, ask forgiveness to God in your heart, go to Communion and come to Confession as soon as you can. I protested, as I was afraid of disrespecting Christ by doing that. He told me, rather severely: Do that. On my responsability. I know you, I believe you will not make that become an excuse for you to sin and not confess. Don’t miss Communion, on my responsability.

    I’ll email you tomorrow.

  5. Barb, sfo

    Jennifer, if you email me I can give you the address of a Yahoo group for NFP users. There are a LOT of knowledgeable Health Professionals who particiate & could help you.

    I will be praying for you as well, and I have to say that your practice of prayer is THE BEST THING you can be doing right now.

    Hope you are feeling well…hang in there.

  6. Tim

    Oops! I just can’t let that one pass by.
    Barb, it is sacrilege to take communion in a state of mortal sin. It is very dangerous to one’s spiritual health, too.
    Please don’t let the bad advice of that priest lead you astray. If you have to hear it from another source ask another priest about this.
    One should never, ever take communion when not in a state of grace.


  7. Kate

    Just where *does* the Church get the idea of mortal and venial sins? Is such a concept in the New Testament? Or is this man-made? I suspect it’s man-made. Frankly, who is ever pure enough to take communion? Why should venial sins get a pass when they are easier to commit?

    • waywardson

      Mortal sin is a true turning from God. It is the kind of sin that denies love of God and neighbor.

      It requires 1. Grave matter 2. Full Knowledge and 3. Full consent.

      The Church lists many things that are grave enough matter for mortal sin, but there may be mitigating factors mitigate the consent element. One is our human passions.

      This is a common issue with couples practicing NFP. Their passions or human weaknesses may draw them into sin, often through some form of climax outside of intercourse (which is a form of masturbation, not contraception). While such activity may be grave matter, the circumstances are such that full consent is not present, especially if the act itself comes from a context of mutual, though disordered, love, and the sin is not actually a mortal sin.

      Furthermore, confession is for US not for God. If the person is contrite enough to be at mass and want to go to confession, then they have turned back to God. The priest is 100% correct.

  8. Kate

    Sorry, that last message got sent before I was done: I wrote the aforementioned not to inflame, but to hear what others have to say. I am on a faith journey myself.

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