Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Morning After

I came across this story from someone who took years to realize that the morning-after pill was something to take to the confessional.

I have my own story about the morning-after pill.  It's the reason I say that I broke all 10 commandments before age 25.

I was 19, a college sophomore, and had begun a non-romantic, yet still sexual, relationship with an older guy.  He didn't know I was a virgin, or that it was my first time.  I didn't know what I was getting into, but I was actually proud of myself for losing the V-card before I turned 20.  10 days before, to be exact.

I guess it was part of the college rebellion, shedding the strict upbringing of my parents.  Sex was never really explained or described to me, just mentioned in the same breath as "neverdoituntilyouremarried" every single time it was mentioned.  I knew that it needed to be "safe" for more than one reason, pregnancy prevention being one of them.  The female body was somewhat abhorred in our house growing up.  Not to be too TMI, but just to explain how extensive this attitude was... I never even told my mom the first time I got my period.  It was something to be ashamed of, something to never speak of, even to your mom.  I was 12.  I had to walk to the drug store, buy things with my own money, and deal with it.  Oddly enough, my first thought was that if I were to get raped, I could become pregnant.  It felt like the end of my childhood.    

When I went to college, I wanted to have my cake and eat it too.  I attended church and enjoyed hearing about how God was good and that God was love.  It was a breath of fresh air from my Calvinistic childhood, and the pendulum swung to the charismatics for a while.  At the same time, I was also discovering the beauty and reverence of the liturgy in a high church Protestant setting.  All of this was in the context of a secular, private college.  I didn't want to be one of those people, so I also partied each weekend while attending church most Sundays.  In some senses, we were safer than most college-aged partiers.  We could drink on campus, and my friends and I looked out for each other.  In other senses, I was playing with fire and playing Russian roulette with my fertility, my sexuality, my life, my so-called freedom.

Everything's fun and games until the condom breaks.

I assured my not-boyfriend that I would "take care of it."  I went to Planned Barrenhood Parenthood the next day and got emergency contraception.  It consisted of two pills, taken a specific number of hours apart and within a certain window of time from the sexual act.  I remember my hands shaking as I washed down the pill with a water bottle at a gas station.  Then, I promptly put it all out of my mind and went on with life.  I felt a deep sense of shame walking into Planned Parenthood.  I was a scholarship recipient.  I knew better.  I got good grades and worked my way through college.  But, nonetheless, I felt I had no other choice.  I never told anyone, just the not-boyfriend that it had been "taken care of."

A few years later, when a similar situation happened with a different guy, it was that much easier to get emergency contraception again.  This time, the shaking and shame weren't really there.  I also began to go to Planned Parenthood to get discounted birth control.  I remember wearing the scuzziest clothes I had, including a hoodie.  I didn't want to be spotted walking in and out of there. Yet, I still felt I had no other choice.

At the time, I had bought all the propaganda, hook-line-and-sinker.  I told several friends that no one was really pro-abortion, just pro-choice - where else would desperate women go?  I also extolled Planned Parenthood for offering pre-natal care and birth control.  I convinced one friend to be "pro-choice" based on these arguments.  I convinced another to stop using condoms and take the pill.  I didn't discuss with either of them that I had used emergency contraception, just that women needed to have these options.

I have taken the birth control pill a few times off and on.  Once for a year after college.  At other times, it was prescribed by my doctor to prevent acne.  By the end of my twenties, I had learned that it was a carcinogenic.  It was that fact, not the abortifacient properties, that really made me want to stop taking it.

Finally, by the grace of God, I not only became Catholic, but I stopped the sexual sins a few years later and had sort of a re-conversion.  Unlike the lady in the article linked above, I immediately thought of the times I took emergency contraception and confessed them, along with the birth control usage, along with the sexual activity driving the use of those drugs.  I knew it was wrong when I did it. With confession, I was finally free.

I'm not sure if those pills ever prevented a fertilized egg from implanting.  I guess I will find out in heaven.  I do know that I deeply regret it.  The intention to take a life (if it existed or not) was why I took those pills.  That, my friend, is a mortal sin.  I deeply regret the rebellion of my youth.  For as difficult and uncomfortable as my parents were with "the talk," they were right about trying to tell me not to have sex until marriage.

I've tried the world's ways.  I lived the Sex and the City lifestyle for the majority of my twenties.  I also tried the Protestant ways.  While the conclusions of Protestants are often similar to Catholics on moral teaching, the view of the human person is vastly different.  I found more in common with secular humanists and with reformed Calvinists than one would think at first glance.  You see, in both cases, the body is unimportant.  To the secular humanist, the body is meaningless, you assign the meaning.  And usually, pleasure wins out.  To the Calvinist, the body is the source of sin and shame, the home of your totally depraved self.  They forget that if we are truly people of the resurrection, we must not forget the body.  It was not until I discovered the Catholic teaching, especially Theology of the Body, and initially as explained by Christopher West, that I realized my body was good.  So good, in fact, that it deserved even more dignity, respect, and honor.  Our sexuality was a gift, not a taboo, or a no-no.  Not something to be taken for granted or toyed with.  Something to honor.  I was not a soul living in a body, I was an embodied soul.

Even now, 9 years after becoming Catholic, and a few years into my deeper re-conversion, I am still learning so much more about this topic.  I am married and practice NFP now.  I also still ponder the mystery of the body and of our sexuality.  With the attacks in our culture on the body, on marriage, on sexuality through every imaginable vice, I really think these teachings are key to understanding the human person and therefore, to understanding God.

I still don't know the role I'm supposed to play in this, but I know that I am called to pray.  There is a better way.  You don't have to repress your sexuality.  It is a gift.  However, you don't have to indulge in it to the point of addiction and hedonism.  It has to be understood in context.  There's a better way.

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