How Birth Control Sabotaged My Marriage
We were fighting...a lot. Everyday, the same thing: me yelling, him yelling back; lying back-to-back at night, only to wake up and start the process all over again. I was feeling sick all the time; plagued by constant exhaustion, sometimes sleeping over 12 hours and waking up tired again. You might be thinking, "nausea, fatigue, lack of sex drive; typical signs of aging." But for a 22 year-old newlywed, it is anything but normal.
I was sure it was hypothyroidism. It ran on both sides of my family, and the symptoms fit: weight gain, nausea, fatigue, lack of sex drive, acne, etc. And when I went to the doctor, I told her it was hypothyroidism, and gave her my blood to confirm. The next day I called the doctor for my results, only to find that I was perfectly healthy (except for the high levels of fat in my blood - if I had any self-esteem left, it was gone at that point).
So I began to put together all of the things that had changed in my life in the past few months: new home, new marriage, new job, no school...and finally it hit me. Just weeks before my wedding, I had asked the doctor to change my medication to a lower dosage because the side effects were making me a bit loopy. The medication, though prescribed four years earlier for strong cramping and irregular periods, was a birth control. I tried several times previously to wean myself off of "the pill" to avoid long-term side effects, but with no luck. Each time my face would break out and my cramps would come back 10 fold, along with a cluster of other awkward side effects.
Finally, a change in insurance (and a significant increase in co-pay) cut me cold turkey. And within days, I was myself again. And it was not until I was freed from my chemical prison that I truly understood the effects of birth control on a marriage. The pre-marriage course our church offered spent several days discussing natural family planning. We discussed how contraceptives can cause people to see their spouses as an object for pleasure only, and how it can reduce a woman's length of fertility. And although my (then) fiancée and I agreed that we would like to learn more about natural family planning, I was nervous to let go of the medication that had gotten me through the past few years, pain and worry free.
When researching the Catholic perspective on birth control, the most quoted source is "Humanae Vitae" by Pope Paul VI, which emphasizes the moral responsibilities of humans to procreate, and that any action intended to prevent procreation is forbidden. He also stressed that the act of marital love is still valuable when it does not produce a child, but we must "retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life" (Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, n.11). And most importantly, studies have shown that the divorce rate amongst couples who use Natural Family Planning are less than 5%, where the national average is over 50%.
But nowhere in my research or the teachings of my pre-marital class was there mention of birth control for irregular periods. In all of his wisdom, the Pope forgot to instruct us on the moral standards for the alternate uses of birth control. So to rationalize my over-dependency, I made my own rules. Although my medication was most often prescribed as a contraceptive, my intentions were honest, and therefore I would not be violating any moral standards by continuing to regulate my cycle. But God had another plan.
We've all heard that the Lord works in mysterious ways, and I suppose we've all experienced it at some point. Quite honestly, I can't think of another explanation for the sequence of events that caused my moral epiphany. Some might call it coincidence, but coincidence is just a long-winded way to say "God". I changed medications about three weeks before my wedding; the symptoms began the first week into my new marriage. The doctor had given me a couple of months worth of samples, so by the time I finally realized that it was the medication that was causing my symptoms, I was ready for a refill anyway. When I called the pharmacy to refill the old prescription, I was informed that my husband's insurance required a $40 co-pay for each month's refill (which was about $30 more than I was willing to pay). And it was done.
Birth control didn't affect me in the ways I had prepared for. It didn't cause my husband to treat me as an object, nor did it cause a miscarriage or a blood clot. It literally made me sick and tired. Who knows what four years of "the pill" will cost me in the long run? Will my fertility be cut short? Will I have trouble conceiving a child when I am ready? All I know is that my refusal to remove my personal crutch did affect me, and that the decision was made for me, but only when I was ready and able to accept it. When I was single and juggling college, full time work and wedding planning, God allowed my offense. But as soon as I was married and the medication went from simple to sinful, I was gently reminded of the costs.
Since I have been off birth control my life has changed considerably. I laugh harder, louder, and longer. I feel healthier and more whole. When I come home, I kiss my husband, and I can't wait to enjoy our peace and quiet together, whether we are cleaning the kitchen or watching a movie. And even though I now have to deal with a little bit of PMS, the happiness I share with my husband is well worth the occasional Midol.
- Catholic Couples - Spring 2008
This article was first published in Marriage Partnership (Catholic Couples Edition)in Spring 2008