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How Humanae Vitae Changed Our Family

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Before we began our journey to the Catholic Church, my husband and I had no idea that Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”) even existed…but its teachings on openness to life ended up changing the whole way we approached our marriage, our family…and ultimately, our faith.


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published as part of “Freedom’s Calling,” a series hosted by Laura Peredo at A Drop in the Ocean in commemoration of Humanae Vitae’s 50th anniversary. It is reprinted with permission.


by Heidi Indhal


Fifteen years ago, I had no idea that I would one day join the Catholic Church. My husband and I were happily married in our mainline Protestant congregation and enjoyed what we considered a perfectly pleasant married life, following a relatively typical dating period.

I didn’t know Humanae Vitae existed. Written in 1968 by Blessed Pope Paul VI, the encyclical addresses God’s plan for married love and life. July 25 marks its 50th anniversary.

Honestly, we started using hormonal birth control because we thought that’s just what everyone did. Early in our marriage, however, my husband and I became heavily convicted that typical birth control methods were not for us.


In Search of Something More

There was a spiritual component, but for us it started as a health issue. We conceived early in our marriage (while on birth control) and subsequently miscarried. The pill made me feel like garbage, and switching to another form of hormonal birth control didn’t help.

As our research into hormonal birth control alternatives went deeper, we began to come across the idea of openness to life and found there was a great deal of Scriptural support. At the time, we were looking largely at the perspective of the quiverfull movement, a nondenominational Christian movement that views children as a blessing and shuns artificial birth control. We found a great deal that we agreed with in the quiverfull teachings that opened our hearts to the possibilities of a God-planned family, but ultimately it still felt incomplete.

Ultimately , we explored Natural Family Planning specifically due to a chance encounter with Sheila Kippley’s book, Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing, which I picked up at a local La Leche League meeting.

At first, I was simply looking for an alternative to birth control…but I found so much more.


God’s Design for Family

As we began to learn and grow more, we began to be converted toward this idea of God’s design for our family. What were our complementary contributions to be made to our married and family life? How did God want us to use NFP to be open to life? What were our duties as parents? What did that mean? I read Kimberly Hahn’s Graced and Gifted cover to cover more than once before even considering joining the Church. Within a few short years, I was pretty sure that Catholics had this family thing right. 

Once we overcame the hurdle of artificial birth control in our marriage, the rest of the pieces of Theology of the Body and sacramental marriage began to snowball and build to the understanding we have today. Along the way, it became increasingly clear that we believed or at least agreed with essentially everything the Church teaches regarding human sexuality. Those beliefs became so entrenched in our understanding of our relationship that we could no longer find a mainstream Protestant or Evangelical church that would support them.

The Catholic Church was the only one that consistently lined up with our beliefs on life, contraception, and family.

I’ll never forget the look of relief on the priest’s face when, preparing us for our Confirmation, he brought up the topic of the Church’s beautiful teachings on married life. You could tell he had been there before with couples, put in the position of trying to defend something that our culture fights so deeply against. To hear that we were already practicing NFP, that we already believed our duty as a married couple was to be open to life, was a pleasant surprise and a relief.

Still, it took years before I ever heard about Humanae Vitae and longer for me to realize it was a document I could read. My technical knowledge was late in coming and remains incomplete. From St. John Paul II’s Letter to Women (the first papal statement I ever read) to Humanae Vitae, each “discovery” of Church teachings on human sexuality and the unique dignity of each gender has added to my love of this truth.

Looking forward, the gifts of Humanae Vitae continue to unfold in our marriage and we pray that other couples, Catholic and not, can discover the freedom and beauty of our Church’s wisdom in right-ordered relationships.


Read more

Celebrate HV50 offers a wealth of personal stories about how Humanae Vitae has changed lives, as well as a FAQ, prayers, one-liners, an affirmation, videos, and other resources.

The USCCB Humane Vitae page offers a wealth of information and resources related to the fiftieth anniversary, including links to celebrations in the United States and around the world. It’s also a good place to look for a basic overview.

Follow Jerry Windley-Daoust:

Publisher, Gracewatch Media

Jerry Windley-Daoust is a writer, editor, and father of five. He writes essays and stories at Windhovering and is the show-runner for Gracewatch Media, a small Catholic publisher. You can follow his latest publishing projects at gracewatch.org.

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