Bioethics,  Catholics Do What?,  Contraception,  guest post,  Living Humanae Vitae,  Marriage,  NFP,  Parenting,  pregnancy,  Sex

Med school pregnancies and IUDs {living humanae vitae part 6}

This installment of the Living Humanae Vitae series is near and dear to my own desperate-to-be-in-control heart, and it represents a beautiful surrender to an awareness of God’s faithfulness and the sometimes nonsensical economy of grace. I can relate to the “this makes no sense-ness” of a seemingly unwise or imprudent action in the eyes of the world, only to have it end up being one of the preeminent blessings in your life.

K is a medical student, a future doctor, a mother, and a faithful Catholic. This is her story:

I am third-year medical school student and many of my classmates think I’m a bit nutty for being open to life in this season of life.

My husband works full-time and I’m a full-time student. I had our second child between my first and second year. Our third child is coming early next year.

Medical school is full of many driven and intelligent people. It’s only by the Lord’s grace (and my husband’s gentle reminders) that my drive to achieve and compete is tempered by keeping priorities in line.

For me, this means having open hands and an open heart and trust in the Lord’s faithfulness when I choose not to contracept. As human beings, we are both body and soul. As such, I know that the decision to insert an IUD has spiritual ramifications. Decision to obliterate a man’s vas deferens or to sever a woman’s normal and healthy fallopian tubes echo deeply into our souls.

We shut ourselves off from the Lord when we say “I am the master of my own fertility.”

Many of my classmates cling to their IUDs as if those little devices held the key to salvation itself.

The Lord gave me the tremendous gift of good catechesis, and as such I choose to live according to the wisdom of the Church and trust in the Lord’s providence in regard to my fertility. And even then, the effectiveness statistics between artificial birth control and NFP aren’t much different.

Now, one can absolutely live in death-gripping fear while using NFP. I was there during the postpartum period after our first baby was born and we were heading off to Virginia for medical school in a few months. I knew that if I got pregnant by accident and then was due in the middle of school year, that was it, and I just wasn’t going to be able to finish. I’ve never been so tempted by contraception. It was knowledge and trust in Magisterium of the church and my husband’s strength that held me back.

But I’ve learned time and again that the Lord is faithful. I know He doesn’t want me to live in fear or distrust. But I have to choose not to live there, which took effort at first. I became pregnant with our second baby in September of my first year, just when we were hoping to. We were trying and praying for a perfectly-timed baby.  The only summer you get off during medical school is the first one. The break was only 6 weeks. We had one single cycle to make that narrow window. We tried for it.

In any given cycle, if everything is perfect- the egg is good, the sperm is good, the mucus is good and the passageway is clear, there’s only a 20-25 percent chance that you’ll conceive. With a precise due date in mind there’s always the two-week window on either side of the goal that is variable just due to cycle variation.

Emma was conceived during that cycle, and was due the day of my last final. She was born a few days after that – with enough time for me to catch up on some errands and house cleaning before she arrived. My OB-GYN didn’t think I would make it. All of my other babies were born before their due dates. But Emma patiently waited for the semester’s end to make her debut into the world. That’s really the story of her personality: she was one of the most serene and patient people in our house when she was an infant. She even slept through the night starting at two months.

I know some people’s stories with NFP are different, that babies come unexpectedly and are untimed, even despite diligent effort. Our story is not that story. Baby number three was timed for February so that my husband could have a birthday month buddy, so that baby didn’t arrive during study time for step two, so I wouldn’t have to haul a newborn around for audition rotations 4th year, and so that I wouldn’t be so pregnant over Christmas that we couldn’t travel to Minnesota.

The Lord blessed me with beautifully obvious fertility signs, as if my body just screams at me each month “I’M FERTILE!”

I believe it’s because the Lord always gives us what we need. He called me to medical school, He’s getting me through it, and He knows we needed precise timing for children. Time and again I come back to the passage from Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, according to his purpose.”

I try to live every day as if “this is exactly what the Lord has given to me, and I have everything I need.” There have been many nights before exams where children were awake or sick and I had to stay up with them. Those ended up being some of my highest exam scores. There were weekends before Monday morning tests that everyone else seemed to be madly studying and I felt like the Lord wanted to me take a day off to be with my family. It didn’t make sense at the time, but my studying was enough and I did well.

When I’m faithful to the Lord, rather than making a little god out good grades and studying, I do better in school. He has been so faithful and merciful, and I thank Him and praise him daily for beautiful little souls He has given me the privilege of bringing into the world.


  • Caitlin

    Thank you so much for sharing. I was really pressured into getting an IUD after my second baby and regret it and am getting it removed and receiving Marquette instruction…I am slightly terrified I will be constantly pregnant the next ten years and have 15 children (lol) so this was exactly what I needed to read! I do feel like I am meant to h e a larger than average family but there is always this part of me that is scared to give up control. This has really inspired me, along with all of Jenny’s posts!

  • Anon for this

    Thank you for this!! So far I also have only perfectly timed babies and sometimes feel like an open to life hypocrite. My other circumstances are different but the idea that god gives us what we need is comforting!

  • Mom of Six

    This is a great perspective on nfp to include in this series. If the rules are followed carefully (not easy for everyone by any means) nfp is as effective as the pill. Although we have had more of a struggle with it than this author, it has been very helpful to us in spacing our children.

  • laundryninja

    I really would disagree with the idea that God gives us what we need. I’ve wrestled with this for a while, and I guess what I come back to is that he gives us what is necessary for salvation but doesn’t guarantee anything else. When we were struggling financially, so much so that we lived off of potatoes and pasta, people saying things like “God gives us what we need” and “God only gives us what we can handle” just sounded really hollow because all I could think of is how he lets people starve to death every day, why not me? We didn’t starve, by the grace of God, if you’re wondering how that story ended. But I guess the phrase strikes me as coming from a place of privilege (which I know is a bad liberal word, but I’ve lived privileged and in poverty, and after that experience it sort of took on a new meaning). If anyone has any thoughts I’d love to hear them.

    That said, I would like to commend the author for sticking with med school! I love love LOVE that you are doing this!! We NEED the feminine genius in every area, and the sacrifices you are making to do this are such a gift to your future patients and to the world. I’m sure you have second-guessed yourself, especially with some of the pressure in the Catholic world for women to stay at home and be content with their babies. This of course is not a teaching of the Church, but it is prevalent in some spheres. So I just wanted to give you some encouragement. I love that you are doing this while having babies too.

    • jeanette

      Some thoughts on your statement: “God gives us what we need” and “God only gives us what we can handle” just sounded really hollow because all I could think of is how he lets people starve to death every day, why not me?

      First point, I don’t agree with the statement that God “lets” people starve: God has supplied our world with an abundance; we are the ones who are given the task of managing that abundance. If people starve, that is on us. Some people are deprived of the goods God has given, some people fail to do what is necessary to share in the goods God has given. He expects us to work out those details as part of His desire that we love one another and that we do His will.

      Now as for those two statements sounding hollow to you, part of it is that there is a relationship between what God does for you and your trust in His desire to give to you what you need and your ability to let Him have a share in your life such that you can handle difficulties.

      You are right in saying that He gives what we need for salvation, and what we need is sometimes downright painful because it strips us of all that we hold onto until the only support we have left is the cross.

      Try to think of it this way: God doesn’t give you what you want, He gives you what you need. And what you need might be to turn to Him and surrender your life to Him. So if what He gives you doesn’t match up with what you want or hope for, it doesn’t mean He doesn’t give you what you need. His idea of what you need is not your idea. Read Isaiah 55.

      It does happen many times in life that God gives us exactly what we hope for and the timing of it is impeccable. But we shouldn’t mistake that for what we need. Sometimes He just gives us what we want just for the joy of giving. Haven’t you ever done that for someone?

      As for giving you what you can handle, He doesn’t expect you to handle things alone. He expects you to draw from His assistance. It takes spiritual discernment to really penetrate the difficulties in life and understand how they draw you towards a life of holiness.

      Read the saints, because their lives reflect holiness. We are striving for holiness and it comes to us packaged in a way that differs from what we expect. It is our expectations that need an adjustment. St. John of the Cross is a good saint to begin with. He talks about the “Nothing” (nada). It wasn’t just a lofty thought on his part, it was something he lived out daily in striving for union with God. Read “Ascent of Mount Carmel” for an understanding of this. We cannot begin to understand ordinary life experiences if we don’t understand the spiritual dimension which underlies those experiences.

      • laundryninja

        Jeanette, thank you for your thoughtful reply. You make some beautiful points. I loved your point that “he doesn’t expect you to handle things alone.” Perhaps he purposefully gives us more than we can handle so we have no choice but to lean on him.

        I actually wrote my thesis on the theology of suffering (I was a Theology major back in the day), so I’m not new to most of these ideas. What is difficult for me is sorting out what is true and what is not. For example, this phrase, “everything happens for a reason” comes from Protestantism. I wrestled with it for years, and eventually rejected it because it turns God into the perpetrator. Rejecting that phrase gave me immense freedom because I was able to see that God did not cause the evil in my life for some lofty “reason” but allowed it and, with my cooperation, brought a greater good from it. I am trying to figure out if “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” and “God gives us what we need” fit into that category. And yes, Scripture says in so many places that God gives us what we need, but what does that mean? Yes there is enough food in the world to feed everyone, but people DO starve. Christians DO starve. Everything that happens is a part of God’s permissive will or of his active will, so he does allow these things to happen. Why not me? If he did not give them what they needed for survival, can I trust that he will give me what I need for survival or to fulfill a dream or calling? Were they called to die?

        I don’t bring up these questions because I’m a troll or a heretic. I wrestle with them because that will lead to knowledge of God which will lead to love of God. I am a devout Catholic, but I have been hurt by some ideas that many in the Catholic culture take for granted (“everything happens for a reason” “women should be happy to stay home,” etc), so I challenge them. I am so thirsty for truth, and I know that that thirst comes from him.

        Another question, should we be “striving” for holiness? Where did this idea come from? I am actually asking because I don’t read the saints (per the suggestion of my spiritual director. I am too scrupulous and weak and have trouble separating what they are saying for people of their times and for people of their vocation vs. what they are saying that can be applied to my life). I have been reflecting on this idea a lot recently, since I learned that Psalm 46:10 “be still and know that I am God” is more accurately translated “stop striving and know that I am God.” I have done so much damage to my relationship with him by striving, trying to do this or that so that I can become holy, when really, nothing I do can make me holy. Only he can. So instead of striving I have begun resting and being still and allowing him to change me. I have seen immense fruit from this, but perhaps it is just me. I have been wounded and came to the point of only praying out of guilt and resenting the saints and the rosary and Mary and novenas, even though I know that all of these things are good and beautiful gifts. Slowly I am rebuilding a stronger and more real faith, and it is such an amazing experience. I hope to come to the point where I can pray novenas to the saints and say the rosary from a place of love rather than guilt and not experience any resentment, but, I say in complete honesty and vulnerability, I am not there yet.

        So thank you for engaging with me and pushing back. I need this to figure all of this out. God bless you!

    • MD

      “No testing has over you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be rested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you will be able to endure it.” 1Cor 10:13

  • em

    having said all of that above – even in an irregular cycle there are symptoms that tell a woman that she can or cannot get pregnant. that it is not 100%? well, nothing is. contraception isn’t either. I’m all for planning if possible, but also for opening our hearts for the will of God.

  • Ellen

    I puzzle too over the saying “Good gives us what we can handle” especially in the realm of children and illness and finances and nfp. It seems to me that He does give us all grace, but that He mourns with us when external circumstances are bad. I’m sure God did not in any way want Bonnie Engstrom’s baby to almost die, yet He did give her family the grace to get through that time. It is just such a hard teaching, yet how can we see things the way He does unless we ask Him.

  • Mary

    That last paragraph about being faithful and trusting in God’s goodness really struck home. I just keep trying to remind myself of that: focus on what he wants from me, remain faithful to that, and leave everything else up to him. Including the worry 😉 thank you for this!

  • Meg

    This one resonated with me because we, too, have very regular cycles and very meticulously timed babies. I often feel like an NFP anomaly because others I know have one or several surprise pregnancies and I sometimes feel like we have it “easy.” But everyone’s circumstances are different and I’m grateful that we’ve been able to time our babies so well. Perhaps God has a particular reason why our NFP experience is more “textbook” than others.

    I am so thrilled that this author is pursuing medicine! We need more physicians like her.

  • Rachel

    I’m glad to hear this author’s story, and I wish her all the best in med school!
    I do struggle with the idea that God gives perfectly timed babies and easy-to-understand cycles to people because he wants them to be doctors. What if the author had had a poorly timed baby? Would that mean she wasn’t supposed to finish school? What about those for whom NFP and interpreting signs is a massive struggle – does God not want their plans to come to fruition? Is God showing them their plans are wrong and selfish by giving them an unplanned pregnancies? I’ve struggled with these thoughts before. I’d just recommend caution in interpreting ease in using NFP to space or to achieve babies as a sign of God’s favor, because for so many it just isn’t easy and the implication is that for those people, they’re not using it for the right reasons or followng God’s will, etc.

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