Learning the truth about the sex, marriage and family planning can be one of the most difficult and painful aspects of converting (or reverting) to Catholicism – particularly if you or your spouse has already been sterilized. People in this situation frequently experience profound grief and regret and even feel that there is no way for them to make amends for their error. If you are one of those suffering in this way, take heart! Christ the Divine Physician offers healing and peace to every one of us, regardless of our past mistakes and many, many couples have struggled and suffered exactly as you are now only to have God turn their sorrow upside down and bring tremendous good out of their struggles. As you read this column please be aware that none of the suggestions here except for sacramental confession are absolutely morally required of you, but realize too that they are drawn from the advice of many holy priests and the experiences of many couples who have been where you are now and who have now found the peace that you seek.
First, confess your sterilization and receive the grace of the sacrament of reconciliation. Probably you have already done this, but if not know that it is by far the most important step you can take. Even if you honestly did not know at the time that sterilization is wrong and so are not morally responsible for your decision, the grace obtained by receiving this sacrament is a powerful avenue of healing and peace.
Next, realize that you have not made an irrevocable decision. Sterilizations – both male and female – can often be reversed and there are a number of doctors around the country whose personal apostolates include doing such reversals for a greatly reduced fee. One More Soul’s website ( www.omsoul.com ) includes a directory of Catholic physicians who perform sterilization reversals as well as testimonials from couples who have sought them and an online discussion group on sterilization reversal.
Even in situations where sterilization cannot be physically reversed, either for financial or health reasons (sterilization reversals, like all surgery, entails risk and for some individuals this risk is too great for the surgery to be attempted), it is still possible to reverse the decision in your hearts and lives. People who write and speak about chastity before marriage frequently counsel those who have not maintained their physical virginity to live a “secondary” or “spiritual” virginity by conducting themselves in exactly the same way that they would if they had remained chaste all along. This is also excellent advice for couples who have stumbled in living chastely within marriage and submitted to a sterilization that they now recognize as wrong.
Couples who wish to live a “spiritual fertility” after sterilization start by accepting that their fertility has been drastically reduced, but it may not have been completely destroyed. The human body’s ability to heal itself is amazing and there are a surprising number of children who have been conceived despite one of their parents having been “sterilized”. In acknowledging that you are not definitively infertile and that a small possibility of conception does remain it becomes possible to live in accord with the Church’s teachings on family planning in exactly the same way that any other couple would. Like any other couple, you should learn NFP and if you have serious reasons to avoid pregnancy you should abstain during the fertile phase of your cycle. If, however, you do not have serious reasons not to become pregnant you are also free to use NFP to maximize the remaining small chance of conception.
One of the reasons NFP is so different from contraception in practice – and one of the main reasons that it builds trust and intimacy between spouses rather than damaging them the way contraception or sterilization does – is that it requires ongoing reassessment of and communication about whether serious reasons to avoid pregnancy exist. Monthly discernment and discussion about whether or to seek to avoid or achieve pregnancy can and should be done by all couples – even who know that they are very unlikely to conceive because of natural or surgically induced infertility – and the resulting intimacy, trust and increased abandonment to God’s holy will can flourish even when conception is only a remote possibility.
It is also important to realize that genuine contrition includes an unwillingness to benefit from one’s error and voluntarily taking on the discipline and sacrifice required to avoid a pregnancy using NFP is an excellent way to demonstrate such contrition.
Finally, let others considering sterilization hear about your experience. In this country, sterilization is the most common form of birth control among married Catholics and you are all but certain to have discussions with people considering making the same mistake you did. Your pain and regret are powerful witnesses to the truth of Catholic teaching on this matter and yours may be the only voice speaking this truth to many with whom you talk.
Unite your suffering to Christ’s, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you and trust always in God’s infinite mercy!
copyright 2009 Sara Fox Peterson