Birth Control and the Catholic Church

Catholic Charities

I just got off the phone with my doctors office. I’d call to inquire about an IUD and they told me my insurance did not cover it. I’d suspected as much, but a girl has to ask. Actually, I knew when I called that they wouldn’t cover it. My husband works for Catholic Charities. Enough said.

But the reason I had to ask was because of something that happened to me earlier this summer. I got pregnant – sort of – even though I was on the birth control pill. I am 36 years old, have never had children, and have been on the pill since I was 20. This was the worst kind of shock you can imagine. We have no time for a baby. We can’t afford a baby. We’d just gotten a puppy that took as much energy as a baby! How were we supposed to make this work?!? But we were determined to make it work. Then I miscarried. We found out that it was a blighted ovum – not a baby, just a fertilized egg that never developed. We were sad. But also relieved. After all, we weren’t supposed to have kids.

See, I’ve had a medical condition since I was 17 years old. Well, that’s when they discovered it. Who knows how long I’d had it before that. But I have a prolactin secreting tumor on my pituitary gland.


Here is a diagram in case you don’t know where the pituitary gland is. The original tumor that they surgically removed when I was 17 was pushing on my optic nerves and would have eventually caused blindness – not to mention the severe headaches I had before they took it out. After the tumor grew back, they caught it early enough to attempt using medication to dry up my prolactin levels. Its been working. My levels have been within the normal range for a few years now and recently I was told that they’ve seen significant shrinkage in my tumor.

Prolactin is a necessary hormone when you are pregnant. If your body is already producing large amount of it, obviously you can’t get pregnant because your body thinks you already are pregnant. But like I said, my numbers have been within range for a few years now and this has never happened to me before – I thought because I was on birth control.

Didn’t you ever want to have kids?”

Yes, there were times when I wanted to have kids. When you turn 30 and all your friends are starting their families? Yeah, you want to have kids. When you think about growing old with no one to rely on or to pass stuff on to? Yeah, you want kids. But I’d already had surgery for this once. Refer back to the diagram and you’ll notice pituitary and the spinal cord in close proximity? When you’re doing surgery in close quarters, the spinal cords is probably gonna’ get moved. Which means, if you have to go back and do surgery again? It’s trickier because the “map” they use to get around inside your head isn’t quite correct anymore. At least, this is how it was explained to us. So, kids and major medical problems or even possible death? What’s the point of bringing life into the world if you’re either going to abandon it or be a burden on it before it even gets started? In the end, my husband and I decided to forgo taking the chance. We’re not gamblers and there are a lot of unwanted babies in in the world – if you can afford adoption. But that’s another rant.

“Why take birth control if the prolactin prevents pregnancy?”

Here is the thing about prolactin – you need low levels to get pregnant, and pregnancy causes incredibly high levels to be produced to keep you from getting your period (and other hormonal functions). To get my levels low, I have to take medication. If I’m pregnant, I have to go off my medication to allow my levels to get high. If my levels get high, my tumor grows back. If my tumor grows back too much and won’t respond to medication, then a second surgery would be required.

Obviously, there are a lot of “if/thens” in that scenario. We were told a number of different times that none of the worst case stuff could happen. That women with pituitary tumors give birth all the time.. And while I am a woman of faith, this thing that I have struggled with my whole adult life, that I was finally getting a handle on? It was not something I was willing to gamble with. Because the fact of the matter is that if I didn’t have to have surgery to remove a second tumor, I would be going back to square one of blood work every three months and MRIs twice a year, until the tumor started to shrink. Then it would be blood work every 6 months and an MRI only once a year. This is a lot of expensive medical bills. Birth control? Much cheaper.

Which brings me back to the Catholic Church. They believe that life begins the moment sperm touches egg. I used to as well. While not Catholic, I was brought up in the Baptist church. Again, ‘nough said. But since my miscarriage, my view on this has changed. When I was told I had a blighted ovum, I had to find out what a blighted ovum was. And now? I don’t believe that life begins until that fertilized sac begins coordinating those cells into an embryo. Did you know that a blighted ovum is the cause of 50% of first trimester miscarriages?

Here’s something else about a blighted ovum. Just because there isn’t life in the sac doesn’t mean your body isn’t gearing up for it. Your hormones start to jump on the band wagon and if you know your HCG levels are high enough for a baby to be developing, you still morn that non-existent baby.

One other thing I found in my research? Even though there’s only been a couple of small studies done, there is a fairly large number of woman in the pituitary forums that mentioned taking Cybergoline (Dostinex) for their tumor and being diagnosed with a blighted ovum. It makes me wonder if my body isn’t now programmed to be defective in yet another way.

So, while I respect the Catholic Churches’ view on birth control, I have to say it pisses me off every time someone accuses a woman of being a slut for being on it. You don’t have to be single to want to prevent a pregnancy. Sometimes a woman’s body truly can betray her by doing what it was designed to do. And if all life is truly sacred to the church, then shouldn’t mine be too?

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