Sunday, January 20, 2008

You Can't Control Birth

This post is a pretty frank discussion of contraception and childbearing, so my male readers (other than my husband, anyway) should be forewarned. You are welcome to read and to comment, but I won't be offended if you choose to skip this one.

I have wanted to write a post on contraception for a long time, but I have hesitated for many reasons. This is a controversial topic for so many people, especially for Christian women. I really want to explore the issue, but I do not want to start a battle. If you are reading this, I would love to hear your comments, but I ask that you frame them in a humble manner, realizing that we live in a complicated era where the issues may not be as black and white as they seem. I would also love to hear from folks who don't regularly read my blog, so please pass this one on. That said, here we go.


I was entering the third trimester of my pregnancy with Calvin, and I was totally unprepared for the question my midwife asked me. "So, do you plan to use any form of contraception after the baby is born?" What? I'm supposed to even think about sex when I am sleep-deprived and busy with a newborn? Doesn't breastfeeding take care of that for a while? How am I supposed to know?

I had been on the pill for the first year of our marriage, but I hated the side-effects. I was more than happy to get off and try FAM for a while before getting pregnant. Besides that, the hubby had been working at a Christian publication that was very anti-contraception. We had come to agree with many of their arguments and were pretty sure we would keep with natural contraception. I told my midwife that, and she was, of course, just fine with it, saying I wouldn't even have to worry about it until the baby started sleeping longer at night.

It all seemed so simple, just breastfeed to keep the hormone levels down and don't worry about it. Your body will give you signs when you are starting to ovulate. That would have been great if my body didn't spend most of its time from month three on acting like it was going to ovulate. We got pregnant on the first try, so I knew we were pretty fertile. I was terrified of having babies that close together, I was not willing to use hormonal contraception for health and moral reasons, and we hated all of the other options. Great. We can choose celibacy for a while.

Since we had our first two 19 months apart, it wasn't a huge problem. But the second time around, I was sure I wanted to wait a long time for a third baby. That temporary celibacy turned into months, and it really was hurting our marriage. I was terrified of getting pregnant, my husband was missing his wife, and I felt trapped by the voices around me saying that contraception was wrong. We had to make a choice. I was sure that an hormonal IUD that prevents implantation was out of the question, and I hated the way I felt on the pill. Of all the non-hormonal options, we chose a copper IUD that has the same statistics as the pill for preventing fertilization of the egg. We both felt comfortable with the ethics of this choice, and our marriage is much better than it was a year ago.

So what is the problem, you may wonder? I don't think my decision was that simple or without consequences. I think we live in a complicated time for women. I am glad we have so many opportunities, but I sometimes think maybe it was just easier when there was no option for contraception. Many of you who are Catholic will tell me that there isn't a problem. Many of you who are completely fine with hormonal contraception will tell me there isn't a problem. But I find myself stuck in the middle.

I love my children, and I do want more. My husband and I can also conceive by just looking at each other. Well, almost. If I were to take the babies as they came and foster a good marriage relationship, we would probably already have four children in less than six years of marriage. And I would be in therapy and on drugs for depression, I am pretty sure. I have struggled with depression all of my life. Motherhood has been a difficult transition for me, and there are days when the sickness comes knocking at my door, begging to take over. I have prayed and talked to people I trust about this, and I believe my husband and I are making the right decision for us.

But then there are the outside voices, almost all from the Christian world, who say to be open to the life God wants to give. If I just surrender myself to this motherhood thing, God will give me grace and help me to become a content women in that role. I know that these voices don't mean to be condemning, and that many women are called to motherhood in a profound way and gifted to raise a gaggle of children. Some are not gifted and still find great grace to follow that teaching. Some cannot conceive and wish they had my problem.

I have great respect for Catholic mothers, and I have spent much time beating myself up over not being able to be like them. Sometimes I come to the point of surrendering, of saying that those voices are right and that I just need to accept the life that God has laid out for me. Then I pray some more and seek some more, and I know God is leading me down a different path. I have always had a strong sense of God's leading, and I have always known deep down when I am deceiving myself about what He says. This is not one of those times. I agonized over the ethics of contraception for too long. I finally quit, and I am beginning to find peace.

Then there are the voices on the other side that tell me about overpopulation and the need to adopt and about not making a big environmental impact by adding another person to the world. I hear those voices, too, and I think some of their arguments are good, too, especially when I am in China. We do plan to adopt once we move to China, but I don't think overpopulation is a reason not to have children.

So here I am. Stuck in the middle. Good arguments on either side of this contraception debate. Wondering what I will do when the time comes to make this decision again. Wondering what really is right. If God really wanted everyone to have as many kids as they could, I just don't think those who can't conceive would balance out those who can. I think we might really have an overpopulation problem. Before modern medicine, when women breastfed longer, more children died in childbirth or infancy, and the world was less populated, natural cycles worked. In today's world, contraception seems to be the answer, but I also don't think it is right to prevent a conceived child from thriving in its mother's womb. So what is the answer?

One thing I know for sure, once that healthy baby is conceived, there is no stopping the process. As my midwife also said, "I always call it contraception, because you can't control birth."

I would love to hear from you. Please be gentle, as this issue is so difficult for so many and we all have experiences that shape our views of conception, contraception, and childbearing. I am not looking for a consensus, but I am genuinely interested in hearing from other's experiences. If you are inspired to write your own post, I would love it if you would link to mine and leave me a link to yours in the comments.

I had no idea when I wrote this that we were coming on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and on Blog for Choice day. Seems I will be thinking about this some more.

33 comments:

Rachel said...

hi girlfriend, thx for being courageous to write a tough post asking tough questions. i think we share a brain and heart on this one... so i'm unfortunately unnable to offer new insight. i will say that i consider you a dear sister that we can share similar hearts and pains with the issue.

ok, so i guess a few thoughts come to mind... of course i always have more to say than i think i will...
i affirm having sex with your hubbie. that's gotta be a good thing, you know?
i affirm the question-asking and the wrestling and the humble heart. that's gotta be a good thing too.

hopefully this won't be trite... but i'm thinking it boils down to a "calling" thing. i don't think we're all called to the same way. sometimes our bodies (fertile or not) and our story (married or single, sex or not) dictate that calling. but we're still offered a choice, and i can't think the choice is bad. i totally respect the "open embrace" camp. and i too find myself wrestling there at times. i appreciate their critique of our culture- that we moms need to not be so control freaky about our lives, that we need to be more content at home w/our families, etc. and i LOVE my kids. and love having them, love spending time with them, LOVE how they have "interrupted" my life and love how they have turned it upside down. love the whole thing.

but there's something deep in my core that wants to embrace my "neighbors" as my children as well. while we want more kid(s), i get so excited about leaving a little room in our home and in our hearts to fully be able to welcome other children from less-loving places into our families. i'm not even talking about official adoption here, but investing in kids and people in messy ways that would seem a bit difficult (i'm sure i could be challenged here but i'll finish) if we had our hands more full with our own family.

there's more... but i'll stop there before i write a novel! love you. i hope other folks will chime in with their thoughts.

TwoSquareMeals said...

Rach, thanks for being such a dear friend. I think you touched on something I left out in my post. I want room in my house to minister to other people. I feel like complete surrender to motherhood with as many kids as would come would mean that I was not able to do that. I was called to ministry long before I was called to motherhood, and I want to leave room to fulfill both callings well.

Nora Bee said...

Good for you for writing this. It is hard to merge your own aspirations with your "stance" on "issues." It's always more complicated. I'm thinking that keeping yourself healthy and sane is a smart thing, happy mama happy babies, you know? And sometimes having so much "choice" can be the most strangling of all. Go you.

Jennifer F. said...

TwoSquareMeals -

Thank you for such a frank and honest post. It's really refreshing to be able to discuss subjects like this in such a civil manner -- kudos to you for bringing it up and setting the tone.

As a convert to Catholicism from atheism, you can imagine that this is a subject that raised my eyebrows at first. I used to say I'd never be Catholic because of the no contraception thing. I did a TON of research (and praying) and here are some thoughts on what I found. I'll break it up by category since there are kind of a wide variety of topics.


OVERPOPULATION
This was the area I found most interesting: I did a lot of research on overpopulation concerns and looked at historical data of what happens to populations in times of resource scarcity (MIT has some great stuff) and found that it does not play out in the "population gets too big --> people start starving to death" cycle that I'd expected.

What does happen in populations that don't have access to contraception is that people who are not married wait to get married until they have saved up the financial means to support a family; those who are married use whatever natural methods are available to try to avoid new pregnancies to the extent they are able; and (in Catholic and some other religious cultures) more people enter consecrated religious life. As I was researching this my own grandfather was telling me about life in the Great Depression, and he mentioned that he and my grandmother waited a long time to get married because of this very issue -- they would have gotten married and had kids a couple years earlier if there had been more resources available. Also, this post and this post at DarwinCatholic has some great info.

As I was researching this, it also occurred to me that Catholic culture is particularly well-suited to prevent overpopulation with the vocation of religious life. If a family has eight kids, for example, presumably not all of those eight kids would go on to have kids of their own (and, as I mentioned earlier, probably very few would in times where resources are getting scarce).


ON A SOCIETAL LEVEL...
In terms of widespread use of contraception in society as a whole (not talking about individual families here), there's no doubt in my mind that it's a bad thing. Especially coming from a nonreligious background, it's so clear to me how damaged our society's view is of sex: we've almost completely lost that innate connection that sex creates innocent new life. Many people (not you of course, just talking about broad trends) are starting to see consequence-free sex as a fundamental part of life. I used to be one of those people.

The connection between sex and the creation of new life had, in my mind, become totally severed. One of the reasons my pro-choice friends and I used to be so rabid about our beliefs is because we saw pregnancy as something akin to being struck by lightening or getting cancer -- i.e. things that you can be the victim of without any foresight that it would happen. We felt like women becoming pregnant because of failed contraception was the contraception's fault, not theirs, and that of course they should not be forced to deal with such a shockingly unexpected, undeserved situation (I wrote more about this back here if you have any interest).

I've also found that defending marriage as between a man and a woman gets tricky without the concept of openness to life, but since I'm already taking up enough space in your combox I'll just point you to this post where I summed up my thoughts on that one.

Anyway, I think that the concept of abstaining if you don't want to create new life has been almost totally lost in our culture, and that is a really, really dangerous thing. And that's ultimately what Catholic teaching is getting at: it' not about having as many kids as you possibly can, but about having a grave respect for the fact that sex is the act that creates eternal souls, precious to God.


ON A PERSONAL LEVEL...
I hear ya. I just had my third baby in three years, I am not a natural mommy type (read: I can't deal with anything), and breastfeeding issues mean that I definitely cannot count on natural breastfeeding infertility. I can really, really sympathize to sometimes feeling like it's just too much to ask.

On the one hand, not using contraception has had an astounding impact on the way I see myself as a woman. I cannot tell you how much peace it's brought me in terms of accepting my body, not trying to look like size 6 celebrities, feeling respected for the whole of who I am and not just what I look like, etc.

But, all that said, I'm in a tough spot right now as well. I have a three-year-old, an eighteen-month-old and a five-month-old. Again, I'm not naturally good at this whole motherhood thing. I am also still paying off medical bills from the last two births, and I have a clotting disorder that makes pregnancy pretty risky and requires that I give myself shots in the stomach every day that cost $2,200/month out of pocket (I have insurance that covers it, but would be in trouble if I lost my insurance for any reason).

I know a couple of Catholic families who do not feel that they're called to have a large number of children, and they say that it gets a whole lot easier once you get past the first few months postpartum. Your cycles even out and it's much easier to avoid pregnancy for the long haul if that's what you feel you're called to do.

Anyway, I fully agree with Catholic teaching on contraception, I see the huge negative impact that contraception has had on our culture, and it's brought profound beauty to my life to reconnect in my mind the fundamental connection between the sexual act and the creation of innocent new life...but what I know in theory is often not so easy in practice. Like you, I've chosen to just pray about it, and have found peace on the issue. But it doesn't mean it's easy. :)


Anyway, thank you for directing me to this post. I read your blog but am way behind on Bloglines so it might have been a while before I came across it. I'm sorry this turned into such a long comment and appreciate you allowing me to use your combox to summarize some of my thoughts. :)

Never teh Bride said...

I'm Christian, but have never had trouble reconciling my beliefs and the use of birth control. Of all the people I know who stayed away from hormonal contraception for religious reasons, most practiced family planning by tracking cycles and refraining from "stuff" on potentially fertile days. In my mind there's nothing particularly different about consciously avoiding "stuff" on fertile days and interfering with fertility in medicinal ways. That's just my two cents. Cheers!

Anne Marie said...

Janet Smith has a CD of her talk “Contraception Why Not” on the web site One More Soul.

http://www.omsoul.com/

It’s free and it provides some excellent insight on the issues of artificial contraception and it’s impact on marriage and society in general.

I empathize with your situation. I’m on the other side of the fence, never contracepted (as a married woman anyhow), only three pregnancies all ending in miscarriage. We all have our crosses to bear, mine is a permanently empty nest, and yours is exhaustion, piles of laundry, fevers, cereal on the floor, the sofa, the dog, the inability to bath in peace, etc., etc.

May the Lord Bless and Keep You.

Jennifer F. said...

In my mind there's nothing particularly different about consciously avoiding "stuff" on fertile days and interfering with fertility in medicinal ways.

For me, the key difference between NFP and other forms of contraception is that the couple chooses to abstain if they're vehemently not open to bringing a new life into the world at that time, hence preserving that fundamental connection to the idea that sex always holds at least the possibility of bringing forth new life. The sacrifice of having to abstain at times that may not be convenient, to me, shows respect for this most sacred of acts that God has given us. It's a cross that we can carry in the name of respecting this unique act in which humans are allowed to co-create human life with God.

Now, I realize that since it's very unlikely that intercourse during non-ovulatory phases would produce a pregnancy, that sex during that time could be seen as the same thing as sex with artificial contraception. I see how that case could be made. But I would disagree that the two are equivalent because contraception involves going an extra step of taking matters into your own hands, sending the signal that you so greatly want this sexual act to be severed of its life-giving potential that you're willing to go to the time and expense of bringing in an outside sterilization device. It also tempts us to fall into a sort of impatient mentality that we should be able to enjoy the pleasure of the marital act whenever we'd like, without a second thought to what it's all about, and without having to be inconvenienced by waiting at all.

Currently, I'm living the reality that you're just a whole lot more, umm, "open to life" when you rely on naturally infertile times. :) No matter how carefully I chart or observe symptoms there's always that "what if I misestimated?" in the back of my mind, as I'd imagine is the case with most people. After all, if NFP were truly the same as chemical or physical sterilization, everybody would do that instead of using contraception since it's free and avoids prescriptions or embarrassing incidents at the grocery store checkout line. :)


Anyway, those are just some thoughts. I'm enjoying following the discussion and hope that nothing I say comes across as combative or unsympathetic. I really don't mean them to be, and I respect the opinions of our Christian brothers and sisters who have come to different conclusions about the issue. I just enjoy talking about this subject since it's something I've put so much time and effort into researching and thinking about in recent years.

Rachel said...

i'm loving the conversation, everyone!

i'm intrigued by what jennifer f says: "It also tempts us to fall into a sort of impatient mentality that we should be able to enjoy the pleasure of the marital act whenever we'd like, without a second thought to what it's all about, and without having to be inconvenienced by waiting at all."

if i really blog cool, i would now how to set that quote apart... anyway...

i can totally see what you're saying. your viewpoint seems so ideal and amazing and... unattainable?? i can't imagine not having a second thought during sex like that. whether the act could conceive a child is always on my mind, whatever time of the mth it is... and usually comes up in convo somehow even. i'm intrigued by the idea of doing what we can to preserve sex by preserving the mystery of what will happen next. thanks for bringing that to the table. that's a good thing for me to chew on...

Literacy-chic said...

If you're open to abstinence during fertile times, as you seem to be if you abstained for months, but are wary of charting, etc., you might try the following site:

http://ladycomp-babycomp.com/show.php/index

They sell a fertility monitoring computer. It's a bit of an investment, but it basically does the charting for you very reliably. They claim to be the only one like this that can track return to fertility while breastfeeding, which is why I bought it. It has a "learning curve" during which time it will be more cautious, perhaps indicating more days of uncertainty than are necessary. If, unlike me, you don't second-guess the computer, you should be successful in avoiding pregnancy! ;) That's what I plan to use in a week or two, since my baby has slept 6-10 hrs night (although breastfed) since she was 2 weeks old!! So when she turns 3 months, I'll be using the computer again. I know there is a chance that fertility could return before then, but it's still a small chance.

Good luck! I know how difficult this question can be! It was the last obstacle I had to overcome when I converted to Catholicism. It's a struggle that's by no means over for me!

Anonymous said...

This is a really interesting discussion! I've also had difficulties with using NFP during breastfeeding. With both of our babies, my husband and I have endured long months of abstaining (and due to the fact that I've suffered from hyperemesis and severe nausea and vomiting early in my pregnancies, we do have to be extremely careful about family planning). Literacy-chic, I'll have to check out that fertility monitor!

I'm a cradle Catholic, and though I have felt extremely tempted, I just can't bring myself to contracept. For me, it comes down to this. What does sex mean? Am I really giving my whole self to my husband as a gift, and receiving his entire self as a gift? I just can't get around contraception (of any kind) meaning that I'm holding back part of myself or that I'm rejecting my husband in some degree--which goes completely against what love and sex and intimacy are all about. I just can't bring myself to do it, though I have really wanted to at times.

Now, one thing I do wonder about is how an IUD works. I've read that an IUD can make it impossible for a fertilized egg to implant in the uterine wall. I'm not trying to be hostile to anybody here, but how can this be squared, ethically? I'd genuinely like to know what people (especially non-Catholics) think about this. This same issue is also a problem with the pill (and the reason a close Protestant friend of mine decided to start using NFP). What does everyone think about the possibility of a fertilized egg dying when conception occurs despite using contraception?

Great discussion--I've enjoyed reading the original post as well as the comments. God bless!

--Elizabeth

Rachel said...

elizabeth- it is my understanding that the new (copper, i believe) iud prevents conception from happening...

it is the older hormone-using iud that allows for conception and then prevents implantation.

TwoSquareMeals said...

Wow! These are great comments, and I will definitely respond more to them when I have time. Thanks, all, for reading and commenting and being so kind in your words. I did want to confirm what Rachel said about the copper IUD. I would never get a hormonal IUD because it works by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting. The copper IUD works more like the pill, preventing fertilization. I know there are suggestions that the pill can occasionally prevent implantation. I had many talks with my Dad (a very pro-life OB) about this before he died, and I am not inclined to pass a harsh judgement based on the medical evidence.

More later. Keep the comments coming!

TwoSquareMeals said...

Katie, I reposted your comment without my name in it!


Yowzers. I've discovered the key to site-traffic -- blog about contraception. :-)
Thanks for your good post twosquare. I have wrestled with many of these issues myself. I spent many years preventing with B-control Pills and didn't like it a bit. I brushed the moral questions under the rug b/c I was so afraid of being pregnant. I don't speak now as someone who is currently trying to 'prevent' (we have the opposite problem!).

As my parents have (re)joined the Catholic church, bearing children seems such a moral issue to them, so as to cast a cloud of guilt on my husband and I for not having children yet. I am comforted by Rachel's assertion that perhaps having lots of kiddoes is "a calling". That said, I'm generally more in agreement withe the Catholic approach, than with the contemporary Western "my body, my choice, sex when I want..." mentality. We want kiddoes, and I love that I have TONS of (catholic-bred) cousins and cousins once-removed... families are a huge blessing. BUT, the idea of having a space in my house for, say, Elizabeth P to come stay, or needy community members (as has happened on several occasions) is really cool, thanks to those who mentioned that counterpoint.

I have a friend who just had her 3rd child in like 2.5 years or something insane. She had horrible pain and complication with the third...according to her doctor, she'd be pregnant too often, too soon. Was this really best for her and her body? I'm sure she can see it now as being redeemed and wonderful and she loves her boys, but the sheer physical consequences of not preventing really endangered hers and the baby's health. There are many areas of our world where we don't "let go and let God" enough...then there are those where God puts his spirit in us, and puts us in a world with resources, choices, etc. We can't tie this one up in a nice little bow and call it settled. Thanks again 2square for letting us wrestle together.

done.
k

# posted by Anonymous katie w : January 22, 2008 10:06 AM


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TwoSquareMeals said...

Thanks to all for the great comments. I can't wait to read more.

Jen F., I really appreciate your insights. The overpopulation thing was never a convincing argument for me, just one I heard a lot, and I think you nailed the reasons that it should be a non-issue, or at least less of an issue.

I also agree that our culture has gone way too far in dividing sex and procreation, much to our harm. In fact, I agree with most of the philosophical reasons for not separating sex and procreation. I guess it is on the personal level that it gets hard. (Isn't that true of most tough issues?)

Never the Bride, thanks for chiming in. You did a good job of summarizing one of the big issues at stake. Is refraining from sex in order not to get pregnant any different than using contraception? I think it may be in terms of how it affects the marriage relationship and the act of sex, but I am still unsure if it is morally that different.

Anne Marie, thanks so much for the link. I will definitely check it out. And I pray that my post did not come off as whiny or ungrateful. I am very thankful that I have an easy time getting pregnant and that I have my children. Motherhood is not easy, but I cannot begin to know the difficulty of not having children when you want them. I appreciate your willingness to chime in.

Literacy Chic, you are my hero! I had heard of such computers but thought they were not for sale in the U.S. I think with my wacky body, where I can never trust my own charting, this is the ticket. I may no longer have to wrestle with the issue of contraception, for myself anyway. I'd love to know more about your experience with the device. Thanks for the link. Oh, and how did you get a baby that sleeps like that?

Elizabeth, I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who has trouble with NFP postpartum. And I appreciate your insights into how contraception affects the marriage relationship. I think my husband and I are feeling that, and we need to pray and discuss it some more.

Katie, thanks for contributing to the discussion. I think the issue of health for mother and baby is a big one, as is the issue of calling. I am starting to see that you have to decide your stance on contraception first and then adjust your sex life to fit that stance with your calling and your health.

I'm getting a lot of great food for thought here, and I am thankful that you have all chimed in with well-thought-out and humble responses. I really am in line with much of Catholic teaching on this issue and would love to practice FAM only. I think the big issues for me have to do with my relationship with my husband. If I chart well and follow the rules, I basically have to assume I am on the verge of ovulating for a year after I give birth. My body signs (all of them) are just that wacky. That means abstaining for that long or being terrified of getting pregnant every time we have sex. Neither is good for my relationship with my husband, and I think I resorted to contraception out of a need to make him happy. Looks like he and I have a lot to discuss when the next postpartum times comes around.

Keep the comments coming!

the end of motherhood said...

I think you are very lucky indeed to have the choice, to be privileged to struggle with your thoughts and feelings and act in a way that you believe is right for you and your family.

Rachel said...

the more i read, the more i'm realizing that the "catholic" and "protestant" (i use those words to speak simply, knowing those labels are more complex than that) viewpoints establish themselves in totally different paradigms. it seems that the catholic viewpoint views the procreative part of sex as the most important part. our viewpoint places the pleasure and protection aspects of sex as just as important or intimate.

i say that not to argue that "my view is better" but to make an observation or a summary of what i'm reading about our differing views. i think we've each been schooled by very different thoughts and for better or worse, we're products of those. sometimes what i'm reading seems as foreign as "french," and perhaps some of you feel the same way as you read from those of us okay with contraception.

just thought i'd toss that out there. once again, i'm thankful to have a place to admit my questions and be challenged in my assumptions.

Literacy-chic said...

The Catholic perspective on sex should--when represented correctly, or in conversations not primarily about contraception--take pleasure into account as a means of bonding and self-giving between husbands and wives. However, the pleasure is not personal, but collective, representing the marriage bond on a deep spiritual level (though it is expressed physically). I'm not sure I have ever seen the Protestant take on sex articulated, it always seemed to me to be pretty subject to interpretation by individuals, individual churches, congregations, preachers, etc. I hope this doesn't come across as snippy--I don't mean it to be so!! But that's the danger when comparing the Catholic and Protestant take on anything. :)

There are many areas of our world where we don't "let go and let God" enough...then there are those where God puts his spirit in us, and puts us in a world with resources, choices, etc.

It is a common misconception that the Catholic position (in particular) is to advise each family to have as many children as possible, and I misunderstood this at first myself. However, we are all called to act responsibly, according to our consciences and our resources. As I see it, it is not being respectful of one's own body to act in a way that puts oneself at risk. Again, I don't want to sound like I'm being overly critical of the friend with the 3 boys! We each have to decide what's best for us, taking all things into consideration--health and resources included. And then, we allow God into our "best laid plans" with the element of uncertainty of NFP. Because we admit that we don't always know what God has in mind for us with our fertility! :)

I'm glad the LadyComp link was helpful!! I have been pleased with it. As I said, I haven't started back using it, but I trust it. It matched my own estimates pretty closely, though usually the fertile window was estimated on the conservative side--meaning that there were more "unsafe" days than a really good NFP practitioner (or a less cautious one!) might have. Basically, the computer, at least at first, called for 10+ days of abstinence. However, it is supposed to become more accurate the more data it has to work with, so the more you use it, the fewer days of abstinence (or, if you prefer, other methods of contraception). There are 3 models to choose from, and I have the LadyComp. The BabyComp has additional software to help predict what days conception is more likely to yield a child of a certain gender, and to track intercourse to pinpoint most likely date of conception. At any point, LadyComp can be upgraded to BabyComp to aid conception, but LadyComp had all of the features I needed. The Pearly was much more minimalist, didn't quite indicate as many things, but was more portable. I would almost think of the Pearly as a trainer for a younger girl. I have wondered about teaching my daughters NFP when they are teens, to help them understand their bodies better...

Anyway, I hope all of this helps!! I don;t know how I have such a good sleeper! All of my babies have been pretty good, but she's the best! I think she's easy-going because she's #3, and I need her to be good! ;)

Best of luck!

Literacy-chic said...

Rachel,

It strikes me that I don't understand what you mean by the protection aspects of sex. Do you mean that "protection"--against pregnancy, presumably--is just as important as procreation and pleasure?

I think the Catholic perspective is foreign to most people nowadays, mostly because of our culture rather than religion. Before contraception, Protestants have been more *ahem* repressed than Catholics! Can we say Puritans?? One of the reasons Catholics have been vilified in the past was because geez, with all those kids, they must be doing it all the time! LOL!

Julie Pippert said...

I think it's great you took on this topic, and at such a timely time too.

I hear you...I do. I respect a lot of arguments on both sides. I think it is largely due to mindful and intelligent discourse from all angles.

I think we each have to find the way, the thing, for ourselves, which is why I am such a believer in choice.

But I think we need to be careful about being too casual and not conscientious enough with the choices.

For me, we aren't far enough away from the oppression of women for me to be at all comfortable with big calls for women to "reject choice, embrace the home, and accept God's will." I feel it asks a passivity of me I am not willing to give. I think it is a conservative cry, an attempt to recapture something mistaken as golden.

By the same token, I don't believe in throwing out the baby with the bathwater (sorry, bad cliche). I think we do need to embrace the home, men and women alike, and I think that means more of a priority---and boy if government and business got behind that wouldn't it be GREAT!---and much, much less of a role, much less a traditional role.

I believe we live in a world---universe and beyond---that comes from God, and he gives us free will. I do not think the choices are tests from him, and to choose wrong shows a weakness or sin.

I think it is much more complicated than that...largely because I believe in Gray much more than Black-and-White.

I think we get choices in order to have opportunities to think it through, choose mindfully, and grow and develop more and more into the image God has of us.

So all that to say, I agree with you that we need to consider what is before us and what is in us and choose well from there.

Great post.

Hey you should add it to the Hump Day Hmm today.

Rachel said...

So what did i mean by "protection?" Good question. What i meant was the way in which a married couple protects one another from the dangers of separateness and temptation. I think this is based mostly on Paul in 1 Cor 7. We know that there are times when physical desires are such that abstaining from sex is very hard for us. But more than that, abstaining can be hard for our relationship since sex and physical intimacy are a vital part of the overall intimacy that we share.

So again, what i was saying before is that the beliefs we hold in our marriage about sex are that God has given sex with several purposes...procreation, pleasure and protection. What I'm observing in our discussion here is that elevating one purpose over the others- or not- affects our view of contraception.

Catherine said...

What a great discussion - which I'm obviously a bit late for. Here's my five cents or so...

In a college theology class called "Theological Ethics" I was assigned (with a bunch of guys) to an project where we had to defend the ethics of REJECTING birth control (did you follow that?) Try as we might, we simply could not come up with a Biblical basis for it (I'm not at all saying that there is no valid reason for that theological conviction) but what I DID find was NFP. It was my first exposure to it.

I, too, was startled when my OB asked about my future thoughts on birth control. Someone, I had totally forgotten that this would come up again.

I, too, was terrified of having a baby.

I, too, had been on the pill for a year and hated the side effects.

We have not one time, no, not one time, since Asher was born not used protection. Not even the first time; not even the most possibly safe time. I'm just too scared. And I'm NOT very fertile!

Matthew has a BA and some experience in Biology and Ecology and has very strong convictions which are tied to his faith around the overpopulation situation. Of course, he's the one with the data not me. But I was able to twist his arm at least once. :)

I, too, have many time almost wished we lived in the "simpler" age where there was no choice. While the advent of birth control has made things more simple, it has also made things more difficult. While it has allow me to live a life of freedom (to study, to pursue dreams and ambitions) it has forced me to live a life without freedom. A mixed bag, to be sure.

Literacy-chic said...

We know that there are times when physical desires are such that abstaining from sex is very hard for us. But more than that, abstaining can be hard for our relationship since sex and physical intimacy are a vital part of the overall intimacy that we share.

Agreed. The Catholic position merely asks you to consider this potential loss of intimacy as a possible prompting towards life, or else to develop other means of intimacy. I'm not saying that part of me doesn't agree with you or that I don't find this very complex to put into practice. But I do feel called to *try* to understand it insofar as I am capable of doing so. I am actually rather skeptical of some of the arguments used by the NFP instructors. It's supposed to strengthen the relationship. One weakness I've always noted is that it doesn't address the resulting frustration adequately, and take into account what effect that has on the relationship. However, these reservations do not convince me that I can choose to contracept at will.

Thanks for the explanation. I'm not sure "protection" by itself communicated everything!

I, too, was terrified of having a baby.

I can understand this, too, and had I not become Catholic, my son (who was not "planned"--at least by us) might have been an only child. But each of my children (2 unplanned, 1 planned) have been such a blessing, and have taught me about openness to life-the difficulties & realities as well as the resulting love. Each one has strengthened my faith because I have to acknowledge the hand of God in their conception, from the timing to the unique ways their personalities intersect.

Having waxed poetic, there is no way I would feel comfortable throwing out the computer. I don't think that abandoning my own will fits with God's plan for me. However, He has made me the person I am, including my tendency to tempt my fertility a bit in favor of intimacy... ;)

Literacy-chic said...

To clarify: no way I could abandon the LadyComp fertility monitor, not my laptop! ;)

TwoSquareMeals said...

This comments section is getting really long. I want to continue the conversation and respond some more to the latest comments, but it will have to wait until this weekend. Look for another post summarizing and taking the conversation a bit further. Thanks to you all for putting effort into helping me think about this issue. I hope it has been good for you, too. Please check back this weekend for more.

TwoSquareMeals said...

Julie,
Thanks for your comments. I always appreciate your ability to live with ambiguity and to wrestle in the gray areas of issues. I think our culture is so divided and black and white on so many issues that we have lost the ability to do that.

I think you also hit on one of the underlying problems. "Traditional" life does not exist anymore in the West, and with new choices come new responsibilities. It has gotten very complicated to be a woman, but it is also a good time to be one.

alex said...

i have enjoyed this post and the comments very much. i am a bit nervous to write, since i believe my opinion to be quite in contrast with some of the other commenters. but i imagine this is the point: to share our different opinions and values and to learn from one another.

i am 23 years old and have been married for 1.5 years. i studied mechanical engineering at MIT. i now work as a management consultant and will attend harvard business school in the fall. i aspire to be a corporate executive, maybe even a CEO.

this is a far off dream, but the choices i make today will influence whether or not i am able to stay on the path to meeting that goal. earlier some of you spoke about calling. i believe my calling is to be a leader. to be at the helm of a company that plays an important role in society. i also believe that i am not meant to have children... yet.

i am a christian. an episcopalian. i believe that god wants me to pursue my dreams, while maintaining control over my body. and if i am not ready to be a mother, than why should i be?

entering into marriage at the age of 22 was the right thing for me and my husband. we love each other very much. but we are quite young and have much we want to accomplish together (and apart) before starting our family.

i never questioned whether i would use a contraceptive. to me, it was the only option which would allow me to have a normal marriage and pursue my career while putting family life on hold.

i would never have considered abstinence. for similar reasons to what rachel has described earlier, i believe that sexual intimacy is important to the health of a marriage.

i disagree that the separation of sex from procreation is dangerous. i think the separation of love from sex is dangerous. i believe that sexual intimacy is an important physical sign of affection and love. and should be central to a marriage. i know that one day our initimacy will have a greater goal - procreation. but i do not need to work towards that goal today. i do not need to know whether i am fertile. i don't want to worry about whether i may get pregnant. and i certainly do not want to go without the love and intimacy that is an important part of my marriage.

'Becca said...

Literacy-chic wrote:
I have wondered about teaching my daughters NFP when they are teens, to help them understand their bodies better...
I think this is a FABULOUS idea! I am pro-choice and pro-contraception, and I also believe that understanding one's own body is crucial for several reasons:

1. helps in avoiding pregnancy when you don't want it. If using barrier contraception, you can also abstain at the most fertile times to be extra-careful. If using hormonal contraception, awareness of your fertility signs helps you realize if it isn't working right.

2. helps you get pregnant when you want to. I am sub-fertile (3-4cycles a year before pregnancy, 7-8now) so guessing when I would ovulate was very difficult before I learned NFP techniques.

3. helps you know when to expect your period.

4. increases awareness of your body and feelings of working WITH it instead of AGAINST it. This enhances respect for God who created such an amazingly complex system. Being comfortable with your body also can improve sexual pleasure.

I think it's important for teenagers to prepare for future sexual activity by learning lots of information about how things work and how to act responsibly. The more time they have to think before they act, the more likely it is that they will understand their actions and make good decisions.

Similar to the fertility computers, I'd like to recommend www.ovulens.com which is a simple, affordable, reusable ovulation detector. It worked for me! :-)

Alex, I think it is fine for you to postpone motherhood and still enjoy sex. I believe that is the path God wants some people to take, and I was one of them--I was sexually active for 12 years before I started trying to conceive. But I disagree with this:
i do not need to know whether i am fertile.
In fact, you do. If using a hormonal contraceptive, you know (assume) that you are NOT fertile now, and you NEED that knowledge to proceed with your life without worrying about pregnancy. If using a barrier contraceptive, not knowing whether you are fertile means not knowing how much risk you are taking each time you choose to have sex. Either way, there is a nonzero chance of contraceptive failure. Your fertility DOES matter, even now.

TwoSquareMeals said...

I agree with 'Becca on this one. I think women should learn as much about how their bodies work as they can. It is really amazing to see how God created us! I highly recommend "Taking Charge of Your Fertility," even if you plan to use contraception, it is a great resource.

If I ever have daughters, I plan to teach them at least a basic overview of all that happens in a cycle, not just that they will bleed for 7-10 days. I wish I had known all of that before I got married, it would have helped me make a more informed decision about contraception.

'Becca said...

I plan to teach them at least a basic overview of all that happens in a cycle, not just that they will bleed for 7-10 days.
7-10 days??? Have you talked with your doctor about that? I've seen 3-7 days quoted as the normal range.

Anyway, what girls are taught certainly varies, but in my case even in school (where sex/reproductive ed was very limited) we did learn about all phases of the cycle and that ovulation happens around Day 14 of a 28-day cycle. What was missing was any mention that you might be able to tell when it happens, other than by counting days (which is unreliable, esp. if you don't have a 28-day cycle), or that that knowledge might be useful. We were instructed to mark our periods on a calendar so we could figure out when to expect the next one, but for someone like me that was useless (85 days...120...96...) whereas learning to recognize a particular abdominal pang and type of mucus and count 12-16 days from there works a lot better. I think one of the reasons menstruation is seen as such an inconvenience is that many girls feel it catches them by surprise.

TwoSquareMeals said...

Sorry, I meant 5-7 days, you know, for the whole shebang. I was half asleep when I posted that comment. I my case, I don't even remember learning more than that I would have my period every 28 days. I think the basics out of "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" are a great place to start for young girls, especially if they have irregular cycles. Mine were regular, almost to the hour, so I never knew I needed to know anything else.

Suki said...

I'd agree with "Never The Bride" - to me, cycle break and hormonal contraception amount to a similar "manipulation of nature". By a short stretch, even medicine gets included. So should we refuse the gifts and choices development has given us to "control" birth and death, or do we embrace that as an extension of God's gifts?
On the other hand, I do agree that methods involving abstinence do preserve the connection between sex and new life.. and to me, hormonal contraception feels like sacrilege because of what it does to my body as a woman.
Well, I'm not only non-Christian but very agnostic, so I can't quite empathize with the pro-life thinking all around you.
In India, where I live(although I'm a city girl talking about the villages), we have women being dominated by men, rampant illiteracy, and the thought that "many hands make light work". Women are often condemned to the existence of brood mares, especially if they don't produce sons. Hormonal birth control is NECESSARY to improve the state of our women. So for me, a pro-life argument simply means yet another million starving mouths every month. I would not want it.

From your post, I believe that you're doing the best thing for yourself and your family. Take care!
I've been on your space before, might have delurked, might not have. All the best for the new baby!

mummyjaan said...

Hi, TwoSquareMeals.

I commend you for writing about this topic in a time where having many children is frowned upon.

I have asked myself similar questions at various times in my life. I'm still searching for some answers.

I won't write a long comment, because others have written loads :)! My answer for the use of contraception lies in the paragraph that you yourself wrote:

"If I were to take the babies as they came and foster a good marriage relationship, we would probably already have four children in less than six years of marriage. And I would be in therapy and on drugs for depression, I am pretty sure."

Last year, my dear friend - who *did* opt to have 5 children in her 7 years of marriage - landed up in hospital with severe depression, completely unable to cope.

At that time, I had had my 2nd child (in 5 years of marriage) and was struggling with the 'D' monster myself. My friend's situation affected me profoundly.

I've come to the conclusion that all women are not alike. To some, like me, the infinite patience and resourcefulness required to be a wonderful mother does not come naturally. It would be unfair to bring more children into the world than I could handle. Although I believe strongly that the power to grant life and death lies with God alone, I have used BC to space my pregnancies.

All the best with your decision :)

theradicalancient said...

I'm quoting from both post and comments in a post of mine, hope you guys don't mind!