Serious Health Reasons to Avoid Pregnancy

Question

Our 28-yr. old niece in CA is married with children aged three yrs. and another nine mos. She has always had irregular and difficult periods (heavy bleeding, vomit, headaches). Eight yrs. ago she had a pituitary tumor- on hormone meds. She has endometriosis and was very sick during pregnancies – nine mos. vomiting, anemia, difficult to care for child. Used NFP but immediately became pregnant. Now doing excellent job trying to care for two children but a huge struggle as she is still weak and emotionally drained. She feels badly that she cannot better care for them, but it is a physical and emotional impossibility.
Have turned to condoms temporarily til her health improves. She strongly believes pregnancy would cause her mental and physical breakown, thus causing inability to care for two children she already has. Considering precarious health, what are moral implication of temporary condom use? They and we are practicing Catholics, but this is primarily a health issue to us. She has asked us for help and we are looking for guidance.

Maureen

Answer

Dear Maureen,

The situation that you describe is certainly a challenging one. I appreciate that you are concerned for the health of your niece. Of course, when we consider one’s health, we are always concerned with one’s physical and spiritual health. Although I do not feel qualified to comment on the physical health of your niece, I can say that when one goes against a moral norm, such as that of being open to life in marriage, it can negatively affect one’s spiritual well-being. When a contraceptive device is used in marriage, the underlying, subtle message that spouses are communicating to each other is that fertility is a disease and the spouses have to protect themselves against it somehow.

I can tell that your niece has been very heroic in having her two children. As practicing Catholics, she and her husband are aware that married life sometimes includes certain crosses, even very difficult ones. With further prayer and discernment, they might realize that they should abstain from relations for a time, until her physical health were to improve. If this path were to be followed, they would certainly not be going against any moral precepts, their spiritual health would be preserved and they would be able to gain more information regarding her physical health.

Sincerely,

Fr. Blaise R. Berg



Dear Maureen,

Fr. Berg has addressed your concern re: the morality of contraceptive use, even in the presence of serious health concerns, and asked me to provide insights into using NFP in your situation.

In addition to the negative relational and spiritual impact of contraceptive use on their marriage that Fr. Berg addressed, on a purely practical level, condoms are actually a less effective family planning method than NFP. Not only is NFP a more effective method at avoiding pregnancy than condoms, it also can serve as an important tool in providing further insights into the treatment of your niece’s health condition.

It is going to be very important that this couple work closely with an NFP teacher experienced in situations such as theirs. As Fr. Berg mentioned, it may require abstinence while they work together with their NFP teacher to confidently identify their personal pattern of fertility and infertility, and I recommend they receive individualized guidance. In serious situations such as theirs, the already high effectiveness of NFP to avoid pregnancy can be increased even further by restricting their use of the method to only those days that follow confident identification of ovulation. For those with very serious reasons to avoid pregnancy, with high anxiety or difficulty identifying— or trusting their identification of —ovulation, Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha, Nebraska offers a monthly progesterone level to confirm they have entered the infertile postovulatory portion of the cycle. I worked with a couple who relied on this while navigating a situation similar to your nieces. They mailed in a blood sample each month after identifying peak, and with laboratory confirmation that ovulation had occurred, were able to utilize the post-ovulatory phase of the cycle with confidence.

In your niece’s situation, you mention she is currently taking hormonal medications. The ideal situation would be for the NFP teacher to work in close consultation with an NFP Medical Consultant, to assess how best to apply the principals of NFP in her situation, with her specific medical condition and medications.

We are fortunate here in California to have excellent professionals to guide and support your niece and her husband through this process. CANFP can put them in touch with a team of professionals—NFP teacher, NFP physician, and Clergy—who can help them navigate this difficult time. Contraception is just not the healthy solution, on any level.

Sheila St. John

Answered By:

Sheila St. John
Sheila St. John is the Executive Director of the California Association of Natural Family Planning, coordinating the non-profit’s education and advocacy efforts throughout the state. Initially attracted to NFP as a healthy, effective method for planning families, drug, device and surgery free, her passion for NFP has grown over the last 42 years as she has journeyed with the over 900 couples she has personally instructed in its use, and been privileged to witness its role in overcoming infertility, women’s health, and the transformation that occurs in lives of men, women, and families, when we embrace God’s design for love and life.
Fr. Blaise Berg, STD
Rev. Blaise Berg, STD, President and Treasurer of the CANFP Executive Board, is Assistant Professor of Dogmatics at St. Patrick’s Seminary, Menlo Park, CA. Fr. Berg earned a BA from the University of San Francisco, an MBA from California Polytechnic University, a Baccalaureate degree in Sacred Theology, S.T.B at the Pontifical Gregorian University Rome, a Licentiate Degree in Sacred Theology, S.T.L. from the JPII Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, Pontifical Lateran University, Rome. and a Doctoral Degree in Sacred Theology, S.T.D. from Pontifical Lateran University, Rome. He has served on the CANFP Board since 2003.

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