A Tragedy of Modern Intelligence

Photo by Keenan Constance

I recently heard a news story that struck a nerve with me. It was a recount of a young woman who had been hospitalized for frightening symptoms including an extended blinding migraine which was the result of a blood clot in her brain caused by her use of hormonal birth control. Although such symptoms are certainly not guaranteed and many women use birth control without a visit to the emergency room, its physical and moral dangers are hardly ever communicated to women who are simply trying to be smart and responsible.

Before my conversion to the Catholic faith I was among these women. We grow up in a society which tells women that an accidental baby will be the end of their careers, their ambition and their lives and that the surest safeguard is a magical pill which will suppress their bodies’ natural inclination for reproduction. Even women who have no intention of engaging in sexual activity are encouraged to be on birth control just in case and also to regulate menstrual pains and cycles. 

To the many women who preach the menstrual regulation logic, it is a cheap and ridiculous cop-out. You are not exempt from the moral perils of birth control simply because you haven’t found someone you’re willing to sleep with yet. If you really want to regulate your cycle try keeping healthy habits. Stick to consistent sleep and exercise schedules and adhere to a healthy diet. In all likelihood, your cycle will eventually regulate itself. As for the horrific menstrual cramps that some women are plagued with, there are many far less cumbersome and damaging pain relieving options. 

However, the only alternative to birth control that we hear of is total abstinence which is only briefly, and somewhat sarcastically, encouraged in our high school health classes and often only spoken of as a means to avoid becoming pregnant. Our entire society tells us that the smart, responsible thing to do is to go on hormonal birth control and we’re led to believe that it’s generally harmless. 

In addition to the potentially life threatening dangers of birth control, there’s also a moral question to be asked. What does it do to your soul? Many Catholics are quick to respond that it closes a person off to the possibility of life which is a deliberate turning away from God and is therefore sinful. It’s true. By engaging in practices which deprive you of God’s gifts and blessings purely for your own pleasure you practice saying no to God himself. People today act as if sex is good for only one thing which is personal pleasure when in fact, the purpose of sex is to have children. You simply cannot approach it casually with this understanding in mind. God gave us free will but that does not free us from our holy and moral obligations. We don’t get to do whatever we want whenever we want with whoever we want without reaping the consequences. 

I think it is a terrible disservice we do to women to make them feel that their lives will be over if they have a baby, whether or not they’re mentally prepared for one. We see movies and read books about women who had to drop out of college and work three frustrating, mediocre jobs to care and provide for their surprise newborn. Very rarely do we see happy, married, stable, successful mothers portrayed with the same enthusiasm. This is where I feel unbelievably blessed to have been raised by such a lady. 

Although I am not yet a mother, I grew up with two wonderful, loving parents who encouraged me in all my endeavors while touting the joys and virtues of family. Never once in my entire life have I detected a shred of bitterness or regret from my mom about her decision to leave a promising and lucrative career in order to raise my sister and I. To this day she maintains that having kids was one of the best things to ever happen to her. That’s not to say that it was all sunshine and rainbows. My dad dedicated himself to providing for us which sometimes meant long hours at the office and occasionally we all had to tighten our belts a little with economic downturns. Our lives weren’t always perfect or easy but we loved each other and weathered our lumps together. 

It’s true that some women are less suited to motherhood, more fulfilled by other worthy pursuits, but so often we are led by society to make the grievous assumption that these women are the rule rather than the exception. High powered careers are not everything they’re cracked up to be and marriage and children are not the all consuming indentured servitude that we see in the movies. As my sister, a medical student and aspiring doctor once said, what could possibly be more worthwhile than raising good people?

I know that many of these views are not widely shared or expressed and they may seem pious or harsh to some. I may not change anyone’s mind but I wish that someone had said all this to me when I was a freshman in college. I wish I’d been given cause to hesitate when visiting my campus health center to acquire my prescription for the pill.


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