Zoey Maraist | Catholic Herald Staff Writer7/14/21

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The crutch of birth control 

Instead of fixing the root cause of her irregular cycles, Joyce Germano was put on birth control — over and over again. 

“It was very frustrating to the point where it caused almost a depression for me, knowing that I have this issue. The doctors would tell me I have an issue, there’s no solution to it but you could always use birth control,” said Germano, a parishioner of St. John the Apostle Church in Leesburg. “I had very bad side effects from birth control, specifically mood swings and I tried different kinds of birth control when I was a teenager. I would have a mental breakdown every other day. It was just very bad.”

During her Pre-Cana engagement classes, Germano began to learn more about NFP. The method she was taught was difficult to use with her irregular cycles, and after a year she switched to Marquette. Once her doctor saw her charts, Germano was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome and prescribed a supplement that regulates her cycles. With NFP, being able to accurately track a cycle is critical to successfully avoiding or achieving pregnancy.

From A to Z on NFP

“I’ve been dealing with this since I was 15 years old, (and NFP and treatment) has basically been a lifesaver for me and I’m very happy,” said Germano. “I never would have thought that 10, 15 years ago that I would have a solution.” 

It’s been a learning experience for her husband, Jon, too. “It has helped my marriage grow stronger in that sense that, yes, I have the cycles, (but) it has helped my husband learn more about my body,” she said. “It was more of a collaborative effort to track together.”

 Finding NFP after a miscarriage

At a follow-up doctor’s appointment after the birth of her daughter, Leiby Espinal was asked what kind of birth control she wanted to use. She chose an IUD. But after coming to a fuller understanding of church teaching on birth control, she had the device removed. Then she waited to get pregnant. And kept waiting.

In 2020, she became pregnant, but something didn’t look right during her ultrasound. A few days later, she miscarried the baby. Even months after the loss, her grief was so strong and her desire to be a mother again was so great that she decided to talk about it with a priest at her parish, Our Lady of Angels Church in Woodbridge. 

“He told me, ‘There is a clinic that helps people like you that struggle to have a baby. They are Catholic and they help people who don’t have insurance like you. The name is Tepeyac (OB/GYN),’ ” said Espinal. 

But before she could be seen by Tepeyac doctors, they wanted her to have at least two months of charts about her menstrual cycle. She didn’t know how to do that, but she found an NFP instructor who found a translator to teach her about NFP in her native Spanish. She loved learning. “It made me in control of my body,” said Espinal. “If there’s something wrong, I believe I can find out why, I can do something to fix the problem.”

Once she had more information about her cycles, her doctor diagnosed her with low progesterone, a hormone that’s critical to sustaining a pregnancy. She’s now taking progesterone pills, and hoping she’ll conceive soon. “Now I know that kind of thing, it’s easy for me to feel confident,” she said. “I trust in the process.” 

She hopes more women are able to find solutions. “When you lose a baby, especially when you are waiting so long to have a baby, you have a lot of questions. Why? (Could) I have done something to not lose it? When the priest told me about this clinic, I said, ‘Oh thank God, I could have answers,’ ” said Espinal. “I only miscarried one baby and it was really hard. I know people that lose more than one and they just live with that without finding help. It’s not OK to lose a baby. We need to talk more about this.”

Caring for the whole person 

Monica Burke knew about NFP long before she got engaged. Her parents, a physician and a nurse, had trouble having children and used NFP to help conceive. When Burke was 22 and single, she decided to learn herself. 

As a teen, Burke and her mother noticed she had unusually short cycles. But her doctor didn’t have a solution. “Basically he told me, ‘We can give you the pill,’ and I didn’t want to go on the pill for a host of reasons, moral and also medical,” said Burke. “I was aware this could mask symptoms instead of treating the problem.” 

One of the symptoms she experienced was premenstrual syndrome. “I would feel really sad and anxious and I just operated on the assumption that that was normal,” said Burke. 

Once she started charting her cycles, her Creighton instructor thought she might have a hormonal imbalance. A Creighton-trained physician confirmed it. “It was one of the first times I felt my symptoms, including my emotions, were taken seriously,” said Burke. “And when we had the diagnosis I remember (the doctor) said, ‘You’re going to feel so much better.’ And it was amazing to hear that. (Now) I feel better just overall. It’s been great.”

Burke feels understanding NFP has had a positive impact on her relationship, too. “It made me feel more comfortable and confident talking about intimacy, talking about having children,” said Burke, who is going through marriage preparation with her fiance, Philip, at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington. “Very early on, we had conversations about what if we have difficulties conceiving, how many kids do we want, what obstacles lie ahead? We’ve already built a relationship of trust before we’ve even been married because we’ve had to talk about those things in relation to my health.”

Learning NFP also strengthened her relationship with God. “I think it especially helped me to navigate why God created women the way he did and to look at his creation and see that it’s good,” said Burke. “I had difficulty getting a doctor to get to the root of the problem and doing NFP has really helped me to see the church cares about me as a whole person.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021