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.