Environment, Family, and Planning

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Birth control pill

Birth control pill (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not that long ago I wrote a blog post called Too Big For Me. I know the world’s problems are too big and too complex to be reduced to black and white. But there is a topic that most people consider closed, no longer worth debating, that warrants another look.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=birth-control-in-water-supply

I’ve shared before what happened to male fish when exposed to trace amounts of the estrogens used in birth control. The question is whether birth control residue is being filtered out of our water supply or not. The Scientific American article above stands a bit at odds with a statement made in another article, which seems to indicate that this is a non-issue. Put those two side by side and I can only draw the conclusion that here is another case of the experts not really knowing for sure. So the question is: is the risk important enough to warrant action?

If there was no option, it might be an easy answer. But here’s my thing: why is it that virtually everyone thinks getting hormones and chemicals out of our food supply is a good idea, but at the same time see nothing untoward about pumping their bodies full of hormones to shut off a perfectly healthy bodily system?

I think the resistance comes from the belief that there’s no other option; without the hormonal manipulation women willingly subject their bodies to, they would be barefoot and pregnant all the time. That would be an even greater environmental strain, all those extra people, right? Because how else can we space/limit family size? We really don’t have any other choice.

Wrong.

People are appallingly uneducated about their bodies and how they work. The fact is, you can space children and limit family size simply by watching the cycle of fertility as it circles, and matching your behavior accordingly. I am, of course, talking about natural family planning.

Now, in general, the assumption is that NFP = rhythm and thus using it is, ahem, ineffective. Rhythm was, indeed, pretty ineffective, but modern NFP has almost nothing in common with rhythm. Modern sympto-thermal NFP has been studied at 99% effective (that’s the same as hormonal birth control, by the way). If you don’t want to wade through the scientific jargon, the summation can be found here, but I wanted to provide the non-“biased” source.

We have been using NFP from the very beginning, through infertility and the subsequent successful planning of three more children. Although I began down this path “because the Church says so,” it has been most of a decade since I have come to realize that in this case, there’s an incredibly practical reason beneath what the Church says. It makes me furious to see the objectification of women in modern society, and to realize that women are participating in it themselves by allowing their value to be defined based on their sexual availability.

In short, I’m all about people planning families, I just don’t see how it’s good for or respectful of human beings in general and women in particular to deliberately shut off a healthy, functioning system in order to do it. I don’t have all the answers; I just want women to wake up and realize that birth control is not the only, or even the best, answer in most cases–it’s only the path of least resistance. And I think it’s irresponsible to ignore the health and environmental risks simply because abstinence is inconvenient.

When It’s Time To Say, “Enough”

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In natural family planning circles, there are certain words you’re not supposed to say. Like: “This is the last baby.” The very definition of openness to God’s will is that you never close off the possibility of another child, that you should be asking instead, “Is this month a good month to try to conceive, or do we have a good reason to postpone pregnancy?” It may not be—it may not ever be again—but you should never fix a number and say, “Okay, done.”

So I have been somewhat circumspect about this pregnancy. But I do expect it to be the last. Four C-sections take a toll on a body. I’ve never been sick as much as I have been the last five years. Right now I seem to be on a schedule: sick for ten days, healthy for fourteen.

Last week, my mother went with me to St. Louis for my 33-week appointment; she visited her mother and watched my kids while I saw the doctor and had meetings at Liguori Publications. On the way home, she gently chastised me for the close spacing of my children, and how much of a toll it takes on the body. She wanted us to stop planning everything so much, and just let God give us children on His own schedule.

We have chosen to have our children close together because infertility got us off to a very late start, and because we wanted our children to have built-in playmates. But now we have a child with special needs, sandwiched between two boys who have their own needs and concerns. These three and the baby they already love on in utero are a gift to each other, and to us as parents, but they need time and attention from us, too. They have gifts that need nurturing, too. I need to have time to teach them all about responsibility and chores, to teach them to cook and bake and clean, not to mention how to love God and others through what they do from one day to the next.

As an NFP teacher and a writer for our magazine, I feel terribly conflicted. Many of the families I encounter have six and seven children and thrive. Many of the women I interview show such grace as full-time mothers. They don’t try to write (or anything else) from home. They pour all their energies into the tasks I outlined above, and are at peace with that as their calling. And it’s beautiful. It truly is beautiful.

I always thought I would be one of those mothers, but I’m not. There’s this restless need in me to make an impact on the world through the gifts I’ve been given. That’s actually what I was aiming toward when I began writing today, but it’s becoming clear that the two are separate posts. Are not all the gifts God gives us meant to be used, even if we are the only ones who can bear children?

Yet when I think of the women and men out there who long for children and haven’t been blessed—when I see the great beauty that comes with every baby and the way he or she expands the capacity for love felt by the older siblings—I think, “How could any other concern possibly justify not doing this again, if we can possibly manage it?”

But then I spend a week barely functional because of low-grade nausea. And my entire pelvic girdle aches at every step after walking two miles in the morning. And I spend five minutes on my feet in the middle of the night three times as round ligament pains rouse me from slumber and force me out of bed to walk them off. And I realize that I can’t do it all. At some point, I have to take care of me, too. And it makes me a little sad. But at the same time, I look forward to graduating from this phase of life and into the next.

I know many of you are beyond this point. How did you discern when it came time to move on?