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Why We Quit Contracepting Two Couples Tell Their ‘Conversion’ Stories

Having married in 1985 when both were medical students, Ann and Michael Moell had their life together planned out.
by Stephen Vincent | Source:
Having married in 1985 when both were medical students, Ann and Michael Moell had their life together planned out.

Once they established medical practices and had a big house with a sprawling back yard, they would begin to have children. Until then, Ann would take the birth-control pill.

Although both had grown up in large Catholic families in Ohio, neither was well versed or much interested in the Church’s teaching on birth regulation.

“While we were in medical school and residency, we didn’t think we had time for a child,” Ann says. “We had the American dream in mind, not just for ourselves but for the children we would have.”

Their plans began to unravel four years into the marriage, when Ann stopped taking the pill because of persistent headaches.

“Here we were, both studying medicine, and neither of us knew anything about the pill and its side effects,” she recalls. “It just isn’t a topic in medical school because the pill is assumed to be a good thing.”

They used periodic abstinence, condoms and other barrier methods but, within a year Ann became pregnant. They welcomed the child into their lives, yet continued to contracept.

After their third child arrived, Ann says, “That was it. We were still young, with three children and growing medical practices. We thought we had to do something foolproof that would keep us from having more children.”

They discussed the possibility of a vasectomy for Michael.

“We thought it would be the best thing for our family,” Michael explains.

Something happened, though, in the Moells’ pursuit of the American dream. Ann began to pray. The couple had begun attending Mass again with the birth and baptism of their first child, but they were “just doing the Catholic thing,” Michael says. “We didn’t know anything about contraception being sinful or that Jesus is present in the Eucharist. We were missing so much.”

“To actually ask God to give us an answer was something new,” Ann admits. “I was praying at Mass, ‘God, show us what to do about this issue.’ A month later, I was pregnant. It was God’s answer. It was so immediate, so direct, and I was elated. It changed our whole attitude about who was in charge of our lives and our marriage.”

They began using natural family planning, and have welcomed two more children into their lives.

But God was not finished with them yet. Ann was a family-practice physician who prescribed the pill. Michael was a pediatrician who was prescribing the pill for young girls. Someone gave them the videotape “Contraception: Why Not?” by Janet Smith. “It changed the whole direction of our practices,” Ann says. “We started looking into the side effects of the pill and I knew I had to stop prescribing.”

Now Dr. Ann Moell is a stay-at-home mother who volunteers as a prenatal-care physician at a pro-life pregnancy center in Dayton, Ohio. Michael left a pediatric partnership to open Holy Family Pediatrics, in the same building as the pregnancy center. About half his patients are pregnant teens referred by his wife. They recommend abstinence before marriage and NFP in marriage to their young patients. Many Catholic parents travel long distances to bring their children for routine care to Holy Family Pediatrics.

“This has been a huge spiritual journey as well as a growth and learning experience in proper health care,” says Ann.

“It was a huge financial leap and leap of faith, to give up the partnership and open my own medical practice,” Michael adds. “Four months after I opened the door, our fourth child was born. I was questioning God the whole way. But it’s worked out better than I could have dreamed.”

Life-Changing Encounter

Conversion is a word Penny and John Harrison use often to describe their experience with birth control. They were married in 1983 in Penny’s Protestant church; a Catholic priest witnessed the ceremony for John, who was raised in a Catholic family.

They used various forms of contraception for the first 10 years of marriage and had two children “pre-conversion,” as John describes it.

A Catholic Marriage Encounter weekend opened Penny’s heart to the Church, and, when she decided to become a Catholic, all the assumptions of their lives were uprooted. While she was going through a parish RCIA program in their hometown of Kansas City, Mo., John began looking at his own faith and asking questions. He had no problems with the sacraments or the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, but his vague knowledge of the Church’s teaching on contraception nagged at him.

When he and Penny asked a priest about the issue, “we got some confusing and unspecific answers,” John recalls. “We ultimately were told to ‘follow our conscience.’ Unfortunately, that’s the answer too many Catholic couples get today, and they’re not being told the full beauty of the truth.”

Penny entered the Church at the Easter Vigil in 1993 and shortly thereafter she and her husband went on a 10th-anniversary vacation without their two children.

“We were both very uncomfortable using contraception on that trip,” John said. “We came back and just stopped using contraception of any kind, and prayed and hoped for another child.”

Key to their decision was hearing a talk by Catholic evangelist Scott Hahn, a former Protestant minister, and reading Rome Sweet Home ,in which Hahn and his wife, Kimberly, defend the Church’s teaching on contraception.

“We date our deeper conversion to the heart of the Church primarily from the fervor we took from listening to Scott Hahn’s talks,” John says.

Since their conversion, the Harrisons have had three more children, including twins in 1999.
“I come from a Protestant background where it is considered irresponsible not to practice contraception, so I’ve come a long way,” Penny says. “The problem was that when I was preparing to enter the Church, we knew what Catholics were supposed to believe but we couldn’t find any Catholics who actually lived the teaching on contraception.”

It’s About Respect

As teachers with the Couple to Couple League, which promotes NFP, John and Penny are seeing “more and more couples open to the gift of life,” she says. “I tell them that, in the Nicene Creed, we call the Holy Spirit ‘Lord and Giver of Life.’ If we take that title seriously, we cannot shut the Holy Spirit out of our marriages.”

John says he tells couples who are not particularly religious that contraception is “disrespectful to your wife’s body. You expect a woman to take these hormones that make her body think she’s pregnant just so she can be available to you sexually all the time. And it goes the other way too. Your wife expects you to put on a special device. That’s not very respectful of the man, either.”

“Love means giving your whole self to your spouse,” adds Penny. “And that’s the great gift of NFP.” 

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