The following is a very personal look into my journey of faith and our decisions about birth control. I am sharing it here because several years ago, I wrote an article on the ethical side of choosing elective surgical sterilization (vasectomies, essures, tubal ligations) for a Christian. After doing the research for that article, I realized that there are many Christian women (and men) out there struggling through these issues without a whole lot of support. I hope this little look into our journey is helpful for someone, and writing it has been helpful for me.
Also, I want to make clear at the beginning: this is my personal journey, and my (and my husband’s) choices, and absolutely nothing here is meant to say anything about you or your journey or decisions. Ok? 🙂
When I was 25, I had a moment of serious dismay. I counted on my little fingers…”Hmmn….let’s see…if I meet Mr. Right right now, we would date for a couple of years, plan the wedding, get married, wait a few years and then have a kid…and by then I would be 30 years old!!!!” A little dramatic, and as it turned out, very wrong, as less than a year later I had met Mr. Right, gotten married a few months later, and was pregnant a few months after that. We joked about how God had us on the “fast track.”
During our brief courtship, we covered kids (yes) and how many we wanted (4…depending on how 1 went…;) ). However, we both felt certain for some reason that we would be very fertile so we decided to use birth control at first, since we didn’t want any kids to show up for at least a year (we had lots of good reasons for that, none of which is worth mentioning here). I began using the NuvaRing before our wedding, to rearrange my period which would normally would have been due my wedding DAY. Ya. Not happening. 😉 We got married and a few days later moved to Canada. A few days after that, the NuvaRing fell out (making pregnancy a possibility). I still remember the bathroom walls, where I spent some serious time tussling with God. The real fear I felt at the possibility of being pregnant made me realize, or rather, God showed me, that I did NOT trust Him in the area of children. My life? Where I lived? Who I married? Yes, but not kids. I repented of my lack of trust by God’s grace, and decided that I would stop using the NuvaRing. I had chosen it because it made me feel “safe” but I realized that I had been wanting to trust the technology instead of God. So instead I began looking for another form of birth control that allowed God a chance, albeit small, to give us kids if He wanted to (and allowed me to grow a little in trust). After discussion and research, we chose to use modified natural family planning. I felt at peace.
Shortly after moving to another city for work (4 months after the wedding), my husband asked me one night if we were in a fertile period. I assured him that No, we were fine….in retrospect, rather shocking because I am usually good at math and I was so off that night, it was actually the most fertile day of the month for me! A God thing. So when my mother-in-law had a dream a few days later during a visit that we had a little baby boy, we knew what we were in for (she has had prophetic dreams in the past)…and missing my period a few weeks later really wasn’t a surprise. In fact, although I had asked the Dr. not to tell me the sex of the baby, I was sure it was a boy…so when he read the ultrasound results out loud to me (yup, a boy!) I was not surprised. =)
It was at this point that I realized how little trust I actually had in God. Sure, I had “given” this area of my life over to Him…but I spent quite a few months of the pregnancy struggling with the fact that things were NOT going according to my plan. However, being rather a control freak (had you noticed yet? 😉 ), I spent the months laying on the couch reading everything I could about pregnancy, birth and child rearing. Dr. Dobson and the Strong-Willed Child? Check. =) Although the birth was very hard, I was shortly in love with my little “gift from God,” Jonathan, and realized how much I actually enjoyed being a mother! I had done the college and career route because that was what was expected of me and it was the path of least resistance, but at this point I realized that I wished someone had told me earlier – being a stay-at-home mother is a great career! Well, I was technically working a bit as apartment manager, and I was volunteering with Salvation Army Crisis Line, but mostly I was enjoying my baby.
After the birth, my husband and I were in strong agreement that we wanted to wait about a year before getting pregnant again. But 6 weeks later, during the Christmas holidays, I turned to him and said “Let’s start trying for another baby right away!” I _knew_ that God had changed my heart completely because this total 180 was so sudden and unexpected. Well, husband agreed, and I happily awaited my positive pregnancy test; after all, we had gotten pregnant so easily with number one! Yet after several months, I had had two negative pregnancy tests…and another fight with God. “Hey you! This time I said Ok! What’s the deal??” I had never heard of “secondary infertility” and I was completely unprepared for it (probably like anyone). I was pretty upset about it, and in retrospect, I was also experiencing depression after a surgery to remove my gallbladder.
Finally, I got a positive pregnancy test! When I went in for the ultrasound, I realized that God had been doing some more teaching….the baby was quite a bit older than expected, and both negative pregnancy tests had actually been wrong! This is statistically quite improbable – false positives are more common. I realized that God was teaching me that I had been thinking I was saying “Thy will be done”when actually I was still saying “My will be done.” My daughter’s birth via C-section (something I opposed violently) also gave me more opportunity to work through my need for control and coming to realize that it was God who was really in control.
Well. We were advised by the docs not to get pregnant after having Eliana for at least a year…so we tried hard to be diligent. Still, God conceived Sophia at 11 months…and we figured that was close enough. 😉 (Remember, we had wanted four so since we were on the baby highway we just figured we would keep going at this point). However, after Sophia was born in August, I prayed to God to not let me get pregnant until at least after the following August. I wanted to have the summer to work in my garden without being tired. And…well…God’s time is perfect, and He does have a sense of humor….so I got pregnant with Amara about September 1st! (aside – husband says to me “couldn’t you have prayed for, like, December??” ha ha)
At this point we had our four, and we had had them in 5 years. We were pretty tired and going through a stressful period, so we definitely didn’t want to be pregnant again. It was then that I did research on vasectomies, at my husband’s request…and discovered that I was not comfortable with the health risks for him, so since our “natural family planning” obviously wasn’t fool-proof (God-proof?) I got a fertility monitor to be more accurate in when my fertile periods were. Still, less than a year later we were pregnant again. This time I had prayed “God, please don’t let us get pregnant again unless you change both of our hearts to want it” – but my husband’s heart was not changed. I was unhappy too, as we were moving from the middle of Canada to California so that my husband could get his Master’s degree and I was not thrilled to be packing house while 1st trimester-tired. I also realized that during the previous two years, I had been thinking that I had learned to trust God with kids, but instead I was just going along happily while God brought the kids I wanted.
But by the time we got to California, about 3 months later, I really was happy to be pregnant and looking forward to feeling the baby kick. My husband was stuck in Canada at this point, so life was very stressful, but I felt sure something would work out. It was then that I miscarried Jacob. As terrible as the miscarriage was, the spiritual fall out was worse. I had never feared miscarriage before because I had taken the Old Testament promises that the wives would not miscarry (assuming you are doing what God wants you to) and applied that to us; here we were, about to start seminary, so that we could serve God eventually on the missions field – and I miscarry?? What?? What kind of God were we serving? The Bible verse about God being the God of calamity certainly came to mind, and I began to seriously doubt God’s goodness. I began to fear God – if He allowed this to happen, what else would He allow? I realized that I had had a caveat in my heart – when I said “I will go where you send me” I had been adding on in my heart “as long as you keep our family safe and together.” This spiritual struggle did not go away quickly. Although God brought my husband back to us, just in time to start his schooling (which all only worked out because the miscarriage made our case an “emergency”…I didn’t miss the irony), I spent months in acute spiritual trauma. Other difficulties beset us, too numerous to mention, and I began to have a daily mindset of waiting for the next blow, the next crisis, to appear. Usually it did, only confirming my continual fear and lack of trust or belief that God wanted good for us.
I am not proud of this. And I can’t say when it slowly began to lift, except that it took a good long time; well over a year at least. I am sure that this will be shocking to most of the people who knew me at the time, as I didn’t exactly advertise it. It makes me wonder what is going on under other people’s “happy” faces at church.
Well. Anyways. Is this getting depressing? If so, I can report now that God has brought me through it. I am not the same person I was before; I do not have a blithe trust that God will not bring suffering to me or my family. But this I do know – He is a good God. I still struggle at times with happiness and enjoying the blessings He has given me, because after entertaining dark thoughts about God for so long they tend to sneak back in and make it hard, and a choice, to enjoy what I have while acknowledging that God might choose to take it away at any point.
Originally, we had planned on trying an IUD after baby 5 but after the miscarriage I developed an intense revulsion for the thought…I would actually shake; I think probably because of the trauma of the necessary medical interventions during the miscarriage aftermath. So we went back to using natural family planning, although not exactly perfectly (except for one month of being on the pill, because the miscarriage messed my body up so much that my periods became so bad that I became severely anemic. The pill put everything back on a normal schedule). And not getting pregnant during this time of not-exactly-perfect calendar watching had me convinced that God truly had chosen to close my womb for the time being. Then, around Valentine’s day, we conceived our sixth child, Talia. This time around, I knew that a miscarriage was a possibility and fear became a constant foe during pregnancy. For example, if I didn’t feel her kick I would stop all activity and wait until I felt her again. The fifth to join our family earth-side in November of ’12, she more than compensated for a difficult pregnancy by causing the whole family to completely adore her. Because I had to start working almost full time while she was still young, my husband became her main caregiver. I learned then that I am a totally jealous mother! Even of my husband. 😉 During this time he bonded with her so much that she goes to him for comfort or when she wants a nap. She brought so much joy and laughter into our lives that I honestly am not sure how we would have made it through the following year (which topped all of our previous miseries in spades), without her. Some days her antics were the only thing that caused my husband or I to smile. We named her Talia because it means “dew, or blessing, from Heaven” and she has lived up to that name.
Given this wonderful example, you’d think both of us would have been a lot happier when that little stick said “pregnant” in December of ’13, don’t you? But Talia’s pregnancy had followed my general “downward trend” of increasing difficulty and her natural birth, drug free (my 2nd), was recent enough to give me the willies. After her birth I experienced the so-called feeling of “being DONE” for the first time. I did NOT want to be pregnant again, and being the father of 5 kids while trying to finish his last year of seminary already felt like a full plate for hubby. So it took us both a while to wrap our minds around _another_ pregnancy. However, I am happy to say that God worked in our hearts so that after the initial period of shock, we both came to a place of acceptance, happiness and even wonder. Then, to top it off, my first half of pregnancy has gone _better_ than I ever expected! I am still waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop and things to get bad, but I am so happy with how God has surprised me with a pleasant pregnancy so far. God allowed us to see this baby’s face on 4D last week and I am adoring looking at his picture. “Bookend” boys? Maybe! 🙂
Of course, birth still awaits. Sigh. I am leaning towards the “check me in, knock me out and wake me when baby is here” birth plan! Which is basically the complete opposite of before. And what about “birth control” when that baby is here? Side note – that was seriously one of the most incorrect names ever given out. No birth is controlled, and actually they should call it “baby prevention.” Ha! Anyways. We have heard in our researches of a vasectomy alternative (hopefully easily reversible), currently in animal testing phase, called Vasalgel. And we are signed up to sign up if signing up gets approved. 😛 This is also a big change for us, and I wrote this journey down now basically as a way to work through it. (PS see below for update)
In retrospect, I can see that we have experienced a lot. Unexpected first pregnancy? Check. Depression after birth? Check. Secondary infertility? (seeming) Check. Jumping on the baby train and going along for the ride? Check. Miscarriage? Check. Pregnancy haunted by fear of miscarriage? Check. Pregnancy welcomed with open arms and pregnancy reacted to with that gut-dropping feeling? Check. Feeling done with pregnancy, period? Check. Birthing with a midwife and birthing in a hospital? Check. Barely making it to the hospital? Check. Easy pregnancy? Check. Difficult pregnancy? Check. Difficult natural birth? Check, check, check and check, both with drugs and without. C-section? Check. Easy childbirth? Nope! Does it exist? 😉
I have wrestled with the question, Does considering a semi-permanent birth control mean we’ve stopped trusting God? I don’t think so. I am 100% sure that the only way it will ever happen is if God allows it. And He is perfectly capable of changing our minds on the subject….as He has again and again. So we are consoling our need for control with the thought of fear-free sex while acknowledging His sovereign control over our lives. :o)
It has been a long journey, and we’re still on it. But I hope that this helps someone else work through their own journey. As for me, for now I will end this as Ecclesiastes ends, fear God (and I would add, trust God) and keep His commandments (try to give over control to Him)….for He is good. And while sometimes His plans and ways aren’t what I would have chosen, I am learning that God’s ways are perfect, however that looks.
PS – Caleb is here now! And his birth story (click on Births above to read it) has me singing Taste and See that the LORD is Good! 🙂