Thursday, September 15, 2016

The "Safe Harbor" Idea is a Myth

I am going to apply for a fellowship that doesn't involve contraception. Am I running away?

There are several fellowships off generalist practice that could try to circumvent prescription of contraception. One could to MIGS, and only be a women's surgeon (sometimes management of endo could leave you in a tricky spot). One could to gynecologic oncology, and only operate and give chemo on women with cancer (safest bet, but hardest to get). One could do MFM, and only take care of people who are already pregnant (postpartum concerns especially in the heart failure patients becomes tricky). Am I running away by seeking one of these?

I don't think so. I want to do MFM for another reason: my interest in early pregnancy, ectopic rescue, and placentation. I love complex physiology. I love crises and encouraging women through them. I love life and protecting it. I am going into MFM to bolster the research that supports the embryo and the fetus as a person. I'm doing it to be more effective as a pro-life physician.

It bothers me when people assume I'm doing MFM to avoid contraception. At the same time, I can't hide the fact that it's rather convenient that MFM means my scope of practice isn't as restricted.

A few people I've told about this decision are very happy with it and give the response that makes my skin crawl. "Oh, so the contraception think won't be much of an issue. It's like a safe harbor." I hate being called a coward. (It's too close to the truth, anyway.) Besides, I'm not really escaping anything. MFM is soaked with termination and sterilization. What kind of escape is that? In order of most to least protective, it goes Onc > MIGS > MFM. 

I also dislike that Catholics should have to seek a "safe harbor." We should be able to practice in any field. If we have limits, we're like 100% of other physicians, and we are fortunate (?) to live in a country where the things we don't provide can be provided by someone else. I shouldn't have to go hide in internal medicine or surgery (I thought about it!). I should be able to be an OB/GYN. If we all ran away into safe harbors, who would witness to the truth? Who would challenge the paradigm?

Not only the "safe harbor" idea fundamentally flawed, but it's also a myth. There is no safe place to be a physician who trusts his conscience more than his lawyer and the guidelines of his professional organization. In the coming decades it will be a growing challenge for anyone who wants to do the right thing, whether or not he plans for a safe career.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Chapel Veil Story

A few Fridays ago I got off early and went out to one of the monasteries for Mass. Too late I remembered that on Friday the conventual Mass was in the morning, not the evening. On my way home, I decided I might as well scope out the 24-hour adoration prospect I'd heard about at a parish near my house. I couldn't remember where it was and used some Google and GPS to find it. But it turns out that there are two St. Paul parishes in my diocese, and so by the time the whole evening was over I'd been to three churches.

And somewhere along the way I lost my chapel veil. I remained blissfully unaware of this fact until I got ready for Saturday evening Mass, which I was scheduled to cantor. My whole parish knows I wear a chapel veil, so I began to be irritated when I couldn't find it. "They'll all wonder why I'm not wearing it," I muttered as I turned my car and apartment upside down, "especially in the sanctuary...."

Eventually I gave up. God apparently wanted a dose of humility that day, and a lesson to keep a closer eye on my belongings! After all, the counsel of poverty encourages me to treat everything I own as borrowed from a highly respected friend.

My parish is an average 21st century parish: there is no basket of veils as in TLM communities. I went to the church ready to go bareheaded. I was the first one to arrive and started to flick lights on in the sacristy. Then an older couple entered, not dressed for Mass, and carrying boxes and bags. "Excuse me," said the woman in a quiet voice. "Are you a sister?"

The fabulous Jen Fulweiler veiling.
"I'm a consecrated virgin," I said smiling. "It's quite similar. What can I do for you?"

She held up the box in her hands. "Father John told me to knock on the door and to bring these in. My mother died and she left some items to the parish."

I helped her and her husband carry the things into the sacristy. She seemed a little reticent but asked me to open the box. "There are some weird things in there," she said, sounding embarrassed, "like those covers that women used to wear."

"The lace veils?" I asked.


Oh my goodness, I thought. This is so perfect. "Do you mind," I asked timidly, "if the parishioners use the veils?"

"No," said the woman. "That's what she gave them for, I suppose."

The woman and her husband left, and I opened the box. There were three black lace veils. (For any not familiar with the custom of veiling, unmarried women wear white, and married women wear black. This is analogous to nuns and sisters wearing white veils during their formation and black veils after they take vows.)

I'm not married, I thought. That was the reason why I retained my white veil: the only person in a church to wear a white veil and a ring should be a consecrated virgin or a sister who is part of an order without a habit. To veil in black is laden with meaning. It says: I am not available the same way, I now belong, I am absorbed by a husband and family.

But perhaps He is telling me that I am not available, I am absorbed like that. I wore the black veil at Mass. It was very strange: I've never veiled in black.

It made me think, though, about my relationship with Christ. How am I acting like a wife? St. Therese was once motivated to love God more by seeing a devoted newlywed wife. Shouldn't I act just as committed, just as completely taken, as a wife?

So for right now, I'm veiling in black. It's happened to me before that I've lost spiritual articles for very good reasons. (The best example I can think of is losing my Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary in college, a story for another day.) Perhaps this, too, was a good loss.

I am noticing more and more that I need to allow God to love me, to receive His grace, to be attentive to His wishes. I am drawn closer to the contemplative part of my vocation: more prayer, more practice of recollection. Being absorbed in Him doesn't exclude good works, but it does change my availability for them.