If you already saw this post and then the link didn’t work… sorry about that, this is the real one this time!
I am so grateful to you guys for being with me the past few months as I took the first stumbling steps towards being honest with my writing.
Sharing my fear-of-pregnancy story has been unbelievably empowering, healing, and inspiring. And your comments and re-tweets are at least 80% of that.
So, it’s time for the story to get it’s next step in evolution: I’m coming out! I’d like to invite you guys to visit my “real-life” blog, which I’ve been writing for several years, as I start to come out about my experience being afraid of pregnancy and aligning my life with the amazing Catholic teachings on sex and sexuality.
This isn’t just about pregnancy, though. I’m also coming out as a believing Catholic and conservative to my readers and real-life friends over there, so I’m pretty nervous. There’s not a lot of non-liberal information on the Internet, but I figure I can be one more blogger fighting the good fight with my real name and my real picture.
Here’s my first post in this topic, and I’d love it if you felt it was good enough to follow my journey on this new URL!
And I hope to continue the Twitter gabbing at my real handle, @LifeCommaEtc. I’ll be following you all shortly!
When I look back on the changes in my life in the past two months, it feels like it’s a different person writing. That’s only a testament to the amazing change that can be wrought in your heart when God, the Holy Spirit, and counseling work together.
I’ve worked a lot, traveled a bit, and been in counseling almost every week. Here are some themes that are playing out in my life and bringing me closer to God:
“You are more than what you do”
I have a tendency toward false idols (I think we all do). Work is a big one. Because I’m good at it and it rewards me with money, I tend to pour all of my time, thought, and energy into it in order to avoid harder things like being present to my husband, putting myself out there for my friends (new and old), and being available to God.
Right now, my business is in a slow growth state, which gives me a lot of time to reflect and feel fear. More than ever before, though, I’ve been trying to stick with mantras like, “It’s all in God’s hands,” and “What happens will happen.” I’m still very afraid, but I also feel a bit of anesthesia from a fear that would usually be wringing my guts out. I’ve prayed for peace from God (and the ability to stop seeing money as security) and I can feel God working in me.
Sex as mutual self-giving
At the time of this writing, the past two times we’ve made love has been to completion. It feels so weird and amazing (and TMI) to write that, but it’s an important part of my story. It’s also one that I want people to know about. When or if I get pregnant, it is because of years and years of work tearing down this ego Satan has built inside of me.
I want to be clear it’s all by the grace of God and that the only way forward was to get out of my own way and give everything to Him. Which, ironically, sounds a lot like what I was afraid of in the first place (giving everything up). So it’s all an amazingly intertwined spiritual pretzel.
I still worry I’m not having sex enough or that I won’t be able to have it to completion enough (or each time), but part of the work I’m doing has been to turn off my brain. I am enough. What I’m doing is enough. And I should never dwell on not being enough, just as I should never stop trying to improve myself and my spiritual condition… the beauty of the Both/And Catholicism!
I still wonder if other women go through this. It’s not something people bring up in polite company too often, so it’s hard to get a sense of how normal this is, but if I keep chugging away with my story I hope I can find others or help someone dealing with the same thing.
What does “OK” mean?
So many things affect how I think I’m doing. My health, my bank account, my mood, how much I’ve accomplished in a given day. But God tells us only one thing matters: I’ve had to keep reminding myself that I will be the best-version-of-myself no matter how the future finds me based on my spiritual health, not my physical health, possessions, or mind.
What does OK mean to you? Getting into a certain college? Getting a certain salary? Dating a certain person? Imagine how much stress would fall away from us if we focused on the only thing that matters: how quickly and easily we express our love for God. When that’s all that matters to us, we stop fighting those great things because they don’t look the way they think they should, and we leave room for God to do great things in our lives.
There’s so much more, but that’s enough of a check-in for now (and I hope to be back more regularly starting now). I’d love to hear how you all are doing and what you’re reading!
As a Catholic, this is probably a super weird opinion to have. And, honestly, maybe it’s a leftover from my days as a secular feminist and it’s something I need to work through still. But either way it’s something I’m here on this blog to untangle, lucky you!
Musings of a Michigan Man is a thoughtful blog that I’ve loved reading over the last few weeks. However, one of the themes that comes up a lot on his blog and in his posts (especially the comments of the one linked above) is about how the purpose of marriage is procreation. This is a really common sentiment in the Church and — it seems to me — particularly among men. And I have a problem with it.
Hear me out! I don’t have a problem with it being true (or with Michigan Man, a guy I’d love to call a friend) — it is true. The purpose of marriage is children. The purpose of sex is children. The greatest purpose Catholics have on the planet I think is, arguably, children. But approaching it like that from the start is a little disordered and can be a bit of a turnoff for Catholic women like myself.
Turn-Offs Aren’t Great for Babies
Here’s a true gem from Scott Hahn’s book about the mass, The Lamb’s Supper, that opened this can of worms in my heart:
The various forms of sacrifice [throughout the mass and throughout the gospel] include one positive similar meaning: life is surrendered in order to be transformed and shared.
For people who don’t have a serious issue with sperm like I do, this might not be a big deal of a statement. But I’m not exaggerating when I say that hearing this (on my audiobook as I walked) stopped me dead in my tracks. I rewinded. I listened again. I rewinded. I wrote it down.
This changes everything and, (if you’ll forgive me for using you as the scapegoat, Michigan Man) it explains why the typical Catholic phrasing about marriage, women, and babies turns me off so much.
“Girl Surrender” Doesn’t Have the Same Ring To It
Growing up in the 90s (and in my formative boyfriend-girlfriend relationship), feminist power plays were the lay of the land. My mom stayed home to raise 4 kids while my dad was deployed, literally giving over her body and mind for the good of her family for years. When she looked to me, her only girl, and reflected on a lifetime of sacrifice, her motto about relationships was more like “Don’t get married!” or “Do everything you want to do in life before you get married!” because of her experience.
In my formative girlfriend-boyfriend relationships, my boyfriend wanted things from me (namely sex) and it was up to me to make the play and keep the guy by fulfilling your side of the bargain (which at the time I was very consensual about fulfilling). The more he wanted me (the more thin, more sexy, more girlfriend-like I was), the more “powerful” I was in that relationship (supposedly).
Later, when the effects of relationships like this began to dawn on me, being distant, using sex as a tool, and controlling or suppressing my feelings was the “power play.” I got really good at it, hence the blog title of Sarcastic Catholic.
Finally, we can pile on all the secular media, headlines, music, movies, and everyone else in my life who said sex was power and it’s time for women to use it. Specifically, “Girl Power!” and now “Girl’s Run the World!”
The result of these forces? A girl who is not about to surrender anything.
I became a perfect example of the modern feminist: highly educated, highly opinionated, unrestrained, and loud about it (after all, “Well-behaved women rarely make history,” right?). I was anti-Catholic, pro-“spirituality and equality” and pretty much toted the party line on everything else.
I was trained to control every area of my life. I planned my education, my career, my dates, and my relationships. I was the one who said “yes,” and “no,” and I had all the power.
So when the moment came to have sex without contraception — to in every sense of the world surrender my body (for the pregnancy itself), my mind (to the pregnancy hormones and postpartum depression), and my future (my career and whatever else that would sideline as I was consumed by children) or even my life (with all those wonderful stories about mothers having near-death experiences or passing away during labor) — is it any surprise that this girl (who doesn’t give an inch in any area of her life) had a panic attack?
I’m Surrendering Now, With Caveats
Naming the problem — that’s the real power. And that’s what I’m doing week by week as I untangle these complicated emotions during EDMR counseling. I’m point-by-point identifying and replacing disordered experiences with the healing love my adult self, who has access to the Truth, Christ, grace, and everything else wonderful.
(And man-o-man can I say these sessions are working? I am nowhere near finished, but I can already see a big difference in my day to day ability to process emotions and in my sex life with my husband).
I’m learning to surrender now, and it’s really showing in my relationship with my husband. I still have caveats that I need to clear out in order to fully submit to God (and I still haven’t worked up to having sex “to completion” yet), but I am heartened by the progress I’ve made in just 5 or 6 weeks of working at this.
Still, at the end of the day, I completely understand why I and other women today don’t want to hear from a man of God that “marriages and women are meant for children,” even though it’s true.
What I want to hear — what resonates with my spirit, even if it’s semantics — is that “Our love will be so overflowing and mutually self-sacrificing that we will be transformed by having children together.”
Side note: We’ve even started replacing how we talk about sex around the house or in jokes or in TV shows with Truth-oriented language, which is so corny but really helps me differentiate between what my husband and I do and the lies that come from the world. For example, instead of “doing it” and “boning” it’s “mutual, self-sacrificing love,” and “making love,” etc.
Because it’s not as simple as “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage.” It’s “first comes love, then comes Christ’s love in your marriage, then comes mutual self-sacrifice and self-giving, then comes a baby.”
To leave that part out tells a story of power, not of surrender and transformation; a story where the man has the power and the burden falls on the woman, and that’s simply not true.
There’s so much more to this story, but that’s as far as I can dig into right now without composing a novella. I’d love to hear thoughts from women and men on this topic, because I know I’m not alone and I know there are some who disagree with me!
Yesterday was my 4th EDMR session. While it feels weird to jump right into the results (rather than lay the foundation over several blog posts), that can’t be helped. The story takes too long to tell.
Here’s the short version: in 2014, my husband and I started learning about Natural Family Planning (NFP) and the Creighton Method (CM). At the time, we were married, practicing Catholics using condoms. We made it about six months through the NFP practice before our conversations about and understanding of sex radically shifted. We weren’t “trying to conceive,” but it quickly became clear that a healthy, happy marriage does not stand on birth control.
Then we started having sex all the time without a condom. Easy peasy, right? Not so fast.
Fear of Sperm
The first few times we tried to have sex without a condom in 2014, I freaked out. I couldn’t pinpoint the issue, but when the moment arrived for us to follow through with the whole sexual act, something inside of me spazzed and I couldn’t do it (no pun intended).
Starting-a-family anxiety? Parenting issues? That’s what I assumed at first. I googled everything I could think of, starting with “Sperm is gross” and “Fear of sperm,” hoping to find camaraderie in a pregnancy forum. But I only found one comment about it and it was pretty innocuous (“Does anyone else think sperm is pretty gross?” “Yeah, ew! But whatcha gonna do?”)
However, when I started talking about it with a counselor it quickly became clear that I had an awful lot of negative associations with the sexual act and sperm in particular. And in January of 2015 (this year) I realized that what I thought was just a crappy first relationship at 15 years old was actually sexual abuse.
A Bad First Impression
I never thought I’d be someone who suddenly “remembered” being abused, but that’s exactly how it happened. In the course of one 60-minute counseling session I went from “Yeah, I dated a jerk,” to “Oh, I remember X and X, and it was consensual, but looking back I would never do that and I would be disgusted by anyone who asked me to do that.”
I’ll leave the details for another post, but my first introduction to sex was as far from Catholic as possible. It was secretive (I snuck around my strict parents to make it happen), it was selfish (on behalf of the guy), it was not loving, and it was as far from respectful of of a woman as it is possible to get without getting into forced rape territory.
It was also calculated, inspired by his desire to experiment and act out scenes he enjoyed from pornography, and inappropriate based on our ages (he was 19, I was 15, a senior when I was a freshman).
Forgiveness & Recovery
I won’t get into the guy too much — looking back, what he shared about his sexual compulsiveness indicates to me that he was sexually abused as a child. And no matter how inappropriate, misguided, or uninformed I was, it was also always “up to me” what we did.
Instead, I’m drawn to how this story impacts my understanding of femininity, my ability to be open to life within my marriage now, and how my husband and I will approach pregnancy staring down this less obvious form of psychological infertility.
The more I unravel this situation in the EDMR sessions, the more clearly this becomes a far-reaching theme into the secular history of my body, including the following:
- The respect/love my body didn’t get from my mother (because of the respect/love she did not give her own body for being overweight, abused, and prone to overeating)
- The teasing I received in middle school because I was overweight
- The abusive relationship I entered into in high school
- The dramatic and sexually-active relationships I maintained through high school and college (even with my current husband until we were married and then entered the Catholic Church)
- The chronic illness that became active in college and after college
- The current sense of “invasion” at the thought of completing the sexual act (a million sperm verses just me)
In each of these segments of my history, my body was the enemy. I was not a spiritual being working with a physical body, as CS Lewis says. I was a spiritual being burdened by a crappy body that didn’t work properly (it was too fat, too sick, too abused by someone else).
It wasn’t mine. It wasn’t me. The me I held on to and cultivated was the me of the mind and the intellect. I was me in spite of my body not because of it. The two were separate, and the one (the mind) was preferable to the other (the body).
Beyond Plugging the Hole
This is where I hope the abuse ends. Using the Church’s teaching and sacraments, I want to get to the bottom of this and merge the two again. I want to find away to accept my sick, broken, and abused body, and love it again. Because, honestly, I don’t think I do.
Reading Women, Food, and God helped me stop hating my body. But it mainly just plugged up the abuse. I didn’t take the next step to actively love or accept my body. I just moved on to other things, grateful to ditch my body issues once and for all. Cue the phrase, “The opposite of hate is not love, it’s apathy.”
But as anyone who moved to one town to escape relationships in another, you know that ditching the issues is just the first step. There’s also a lot of work to be done with digging out the rotten roots and filling it with something that will let your body heal. If you don’t, you’re just building your emotional house on sand over and over again.
How the Church Saves
I think that something that can fill me and let my body heal is Jesus Christ. Someone who came to us with a perfect body, a perfect intellect, and a perfect spirit… and submitted to God to watch it all be broken and torn apart in full confidence that it was for the best.
I might think I am suffering and I might be afraid of the sacrifice I would have to make as a pregnant woman (the overshadowing, the submission, the loss of control), but I would not be the first, the last, or even the most notable.
Jesus already showed me how. Mary already showed me how. But no one can do it for me. I have my own cross, my own trial, and my own issues to overcome (because yeah, I haven’t met anyone else with a fear of sperm yet!). It won’t be easy, but at least now I can see the path laid out before me instead of wandering alone.
Step one: I ordered an introduction to Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. I’ll be reading it and writing about it in hopes that I can unravel these complicated emotions and embrace the simple heart of the Catholic Church: a respectful, loving, life-giving marriage.