Turning mourning into dancing: my journey with a reproductive health condition

“My body is not a limitation to my happiness, and I don’t need to treat it like a burden.

I’ve been thinking about my journey with my reproductive health over the past few days. It’s hard to write about, I think in part because it’s a journey that is still very much ongoing, and I don’t have as many resolutions to share as I might want. It’s also hard just because this journey is very personal and still painful at times, and airing out stuff that is painful and personal is hard. But I’ve been thinking about it and trying to write about it for a couple of days because I have been given a great opportunity to use my story to help other women on theirs. In June I’ll be attending the GIVEN Catholic Young Women’s Leadership Forum, an event focusing on shaping young Catholic women like me into leaders to serve the Church and the world with our unique gifts and talents. As part of this forum, I will be developing an Action Plan to work on in the upcoming year with the help of a mentor. I have been thinking about this Action Plan for a while now, and I don’t have a concrete idea yet. What I do have is my story, and a desire to share it. So I guess I’m going to start by sharing some of it here.

I’ve struggled with a reproductive illness called polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, for most of my life. This condition involves a variety of symptoms including irregular periods, male-pattern hair growth (also called hirsutism), problems with weight, and is often connected to other physical and mental health conditions such as diabetes, anxiety and depression. I’ve known that I have PCOS since I was a teenager, when I started showing symptoms and my mom explained that she had had the same ones when she was my age. When I was getting ready to start college, my doctor put me on birth control, which I didn’t question at all because, why would I need to question my doctor?

While I was in college, though, I came back to my Catholic faith, and I started having questions about why I was taking birth control. I knew and accepted what the Church teaches about it from a morality standpoint, and at first I was concerned that I was making a bad moral decision in taking it. That turned out not to be the case (the moral consequences of birth control only come into play within the context of sex), but knowing this teaching made me dig deeper into the purpose of taking birth control for my condition. What I discovered was that birth control did nothing to improve my PCOS beyond masking my symptoms and making my “periods” look normal (you actually don’t have a period with birth control, the bleeding you see is withdrawal from the artificial hormones during a week of placebo pills). If I wanted to get better, to actually confront my symptoms and try to improve them, I needed to stop taking birth control and start taking my health more seriously.

Unfortunately, I delayed that journey for another three years. I was afraid of what might happen. I was afraid to really see how broken my body was, to confront the possibility of not being able to have children. I didn’t want to see it. I didn’t want to deal with it. I wanted to just turn my face away as long as possible so I wouldn’t see myself get disappointed when I didn’t get better. I had a hard time believing that there was hope for me. I had a hard time thinking that healing was possible.

After three years of avoiding my fears and avoiding my body, while I was in graduate school I felt the Lord start to tug on my heart. I heard Him tell me gently that I wasn’t letting Him in. I wasn’t letting Him heal me here, and He wanted me to trust Him to do so. Around the same time a friend of mine had started learning about the Creighton method of natural fertility care, and was using it to diagnose some health conditions of her own as she prepared to get married. Seeing her journey through that gave me the courage to say yes to God’s request to let Him into that part of my heart. And so, on Good Friday 2019, I decided to stop taking birth control. I found a Creighton instructor and started charting my cycles.

I was tired of holding out. I was tired of waiting to deal with my body and my health, and I was tired of living in fear of what I might find. I decided to take God at His word and take the leap. And it has been a heck of a journey since then. I have been charting for almost two years now. Those years have seen many tears of frustration as I tried to understand my cycles and the craziness of being both post-pill and having PCOS. They have also seen many tears of hope as I finally started identifying ovulation and got a handle on how my body is working right now. I was surprised to see that all was not lost. My body is still working, still cycling, just not at its best. But even that I can continue to work on and work with.

Besides the changes I’ve seen in my body and my reproductive health since getting off the pill and charting with Creighton, I’ve noticed a little bit of a change in my heart too. I’ve started to have hope that I could be a mother someday. A few years ago the idea of that ever happening seemed impossible to me, and I was afraid of all kinds of things because of it, especially how that could impact a future relationship and marriage. But now, I have hope. My body is not a limitation to my happiness, and I don’t need to treat it like a burden.

“You changed my mourning into dancing; you took off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.” Psalm 30:12 NAB

There is a long way to go on this journey for me. My body still hasn’t been put through the test of trying to conceive, and I still have health issues that need to be resolved. My body is not perfect, and I am not perfectly healed. But I am free, and confident that God is on this journey with me, whatever that ends up being.

I guess that’s what I want to give to other women who maybe find themselves where I am, or where I have been, women who have been told that their bodies are sick and yet have only received complacency, women who want to follow the teachings of the Church but feel like they don’t know where to turn to get the help they need, women who are scared of confronting their own bodies and their own struggles. I want them to know that there is hope. There is healing for you. You just need to have faith enough to take that first leap. And I think, there’s something about the fact that my journey still isn’t finished, that I’m a 25 year old single woman who still has a lot of life left to live and a lot of my own struggles still to experience, that might just help with that. Because we’ll be journeying together, and knowing there’s someone else there beside you who knows what you’re going through makes a big difference.

So, my Action Plan for the GIVEN forum will have something to do with this, with reaching out and finding other women suffering with reproductive health conditions in the Church and helping them find what they need to heal. I don’t know exactly what that needs to look like yet, but I don’t have to know that right now. There’s still time, and I’ll have help figuring all that out. I just wanted to share this little thing that’s been on my heart, and my hope to make it grow into something real. Happy Easter, y’all.