Christian Birth Control Round-Up

Birth Control Round Up

Last Wednesday we had one of the most popular discussions on this blog about the Christian view of birth control and what form of birth control is best. Sites like drugnews.net offer articles on the side effects of medications if you would like to read more. I had to keep updating the post throughout the day because people left such great comments, and I wanted to add their information. In the original post, I talked about the two main viewpoints: some say it’s up to God to set the size of their family, so they don’t use birth control at all. Others choose to restrict the family size. I think both viewpoints are valid, but for those of you still looking for what birth control method is best, and which fits with your Christian values the most, read on.

I thought I’d write a round-up of the comments, and some of the discussion. In the original post, I didn’t really present my viewpoint, but instead just listed the pros and cons of all the methods. After reading the comments, and reading my manuscript for The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex (I had to send in the final proofs last week), I thought I’d be brave and share what I do think.

First, let me list my regrets, which are quite similar to those listed in the comments. The Pill just killed my libido. I went on the Pill like just about everyone I knew when I got married. That’s just what everyone did in the late eighties and early nineties. I could make sure that I wasn’t going to have my period on my wedding night, and that seemed like a pretty good benefit!

However, it’s not a good thing to start your marriage with no sex drive. And it’s even worse to start it really moody, which is exactly what happened to me. Here’s what one commenter said:

Whenever my friends are getting married, I always tell them about my experience with the Pill. I started the Pill when I was 15 (I was a virgin, but I was having stomach issues and they thought the Pill would help it, hah) so when I married my hubby at 19 i just decided to keep using the Pill. Worst idea ever! Being a virgin, I had no idea what to expect with all the technical bodily stuff. Looking back, I realize the Pill made me extremely dry (virtually no natural lubricant), so it made sex much more painful for me than normal. The Pill also made me a crazy hormonal monster! But because I had been on it for so long, I didn’t realize how crazy it made me. Fast forward to June of 2010, I decided to stop taking the Pill because I had just had 3 surgeries all within a year of each other and I just wanted to get my body back to normal. Oh my gosh, what a difference it has made!! Sex is SOO much more wonderful and amazing without it! Let’s just say as soon as I stopped the Pill, I was “in the mood” all the time! I was not dry anymore, and I felt wonderful. I always felt frustrated, stressed out, and negative when on the Pill, but now I really feel like a whole new person!

And here’s another making a different point about the Pill:

We don’t prevent anymore, but there was a time when I was on the pill, and we did try using condoms for a while. For me the pill did not do anything for my cramps, and after a few years, it stopped regulating my cycle. Those were not the reasons I went off it, but I think it’s worth noting. It also seemed like a waste of money. The breakdown was about $2 a pill–including the placebos–to prevent something that can only happen a limited number of times resulting from an activity that only happens a certain number of times in the year. In other words, I have to use it even when I’m not going to have sex, and even when conception would not occur anyway.

Personally, two years into our marriage I went off of the Pill when we wanted to get pregnant, and I never went back. I hadn’t realized at the time that the Pill was the thing that was affecting my libido, and that it was the Pill that was making moody. But as soon as I stopped taking it, I cheered up (even though I was pregnant and hormonal with the baby).

Every hormonal form of birth control, whether it’s the ring or the Pill or the injection, works basically the same way, by secreting a hormone that stops ovulation (or, as some literature suggests, allows ovulation at times and prevents implantation). So even if you’re not taking the Pill, if you’re taking something hormonal, you could have the same problems.

Not everyone experiences this. Not everyone is moody. And for some people, it works great. A few commenters swore by the Pill.

Others noted, though, that the Pill has definitely been linked to blood clots and stroke (yaz side effects shows this), and some studies say it may be linked to breast cancer (some studies show that it is, but others show that it isn’t, and I am wary about taking a stand since I’m not medical. But it could very well be an issue). There’s also the controversy about whether or not it truly does prevent ovulation each and every time. I don’t believe that this is clear-cut, but if it’s even a slight risk, do you really want to take it? So if you’re on the Pill, or you’re considering going on something hormonal, really think and pray and research it.

UPDATE: My commenters are awesome! I have seen medical literature saying that it prevents ovulation, not implantation, but one commenter went on a bunch of websites and copied out what the companies themselves said, and in their own claims they note that it prevents implantation. For instance, here’s the commenter’s discovery about one popular pill:

OrthoTriCyclen Pill:
http://www.thepill.com/thepill/assets/How_the_Pill_Works.pdf
Secondary Methods
The hormones in ORTHO TRI-CYCLEN® LO also cause changes in the body that help prevent pregnancy.
• Taking the Pill causes the lining of the uterus to change, which makes it hard for an egg to
be implanted.
• It also thickens mucus around the cervix—making it difficult for sperm to reach the egg.

The commenter has lots more, so go read what Emily found! (End Update)

As for the IUD, while some commenters loved it, others were concerned about the possible link to future miscarriages or infertility, and similar problems to preventing implantation rather than conception. Again, I’m not medical, and so I’m not capable of judging which medical studies are right. I’d just simply say do your research.

After thinking about it, the method that I feel the most comfortable with, and the one that I will be encouraging my daughters one day to use, is FAM, or Fertility Awareness Method. Here’s the gist: you figure out when you’re fertile, either by checking your temperature daily, checking your cervical fluid, or using one of the devices you can buy at a drug store. You chart your cycle, and figure out when you’re fertile each month. Generally, women are fertile for about 5 days: 2 days before ovulation, the day of ovulation, and 2 days afterwards. Sperm can live for several days, so if you make love 2 days before you ovulate, those sperm could still fertilize an egg. The egg is fertile for about 3 days, so those days after ovulation are also possible times for conception.

If you know which these days are, you can either abstain from sex on those days, or use a barrier method (like a condom or a diaphragm) or spermicide on those days. However, don’t just assume that you ovulate on day 14! Most women don’t. But if you very carefully chart your temperature, or keep track of your cervical fluid, and then use barriers on your fertile days, the pregnancy rate is about the same as the condom and the Pill–less than 3%. So it is a very accurate method of birth control–as long as you are accurate in your charting! It takes discipline on your part, but if you are disciplined, it can really work.

Here’s what’s good about this method: you get really used to your own body, and learn to pay better attention to it. Honestly, the more you understand your body, the more likely you are to enjoy sex anyway. Often we women spend so much time ignoring our bodies’ cues, because we don’t really like thinking about our bodies. This makes us think about them, and that can often make us more comfortable with ourselves, and thus more able to relax about our sexual selves.

The other good thing? For the majority of the time, you don’t have to worry about any form of birth control at all, because you know when you’re not fertile.

Now, the downside is that it takes discipline and diligence. But apparently you don’t need to be totally regular. It can still work.

If you want more information about this, I’d really encourage you to check out the Christian Family Planning Network. They provide lots of advice on how to make this work, forums where you can talk to other women, lots of charts, and even an online course to get you started, helping you to understand your fertility, your cycle, your body’s changes, and more. And the neat thing is that not only does it teach you how NOT to get pregnant; if you do want to get pregnant, and you’re irregular, it teaches you how to do that, too!

I wish I had started my marriage this way. Does it mean you won’t get pregnant by accident? Nope. But there never are guarantees. The good thing is that if you are aware of your body, you really are less likely to. And perhaps if we had started this way, and had realized that we don’t need to use condoms or a diaphragm throughout the entire month, and we don’t need to be on the Pill, I would have been less likely to agree to the vasectomy, and I may have more children right now! Again, some commenters were so grateful for the surgical methods (they had health issues that made further pregnancies dangerous, or they already had a pile of kids), but many, like me, regretted using that final solution.

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Now I’m not saying that all other forms of birth control are bad.I really have no problem with condoms, but I figure, why use them all the time if you really don’t need to? But fully research all methods before you use something that could really affect your body, like an IUD or hormonal methods. You need to be comfortable with them from a health and a moral point of view.

So, I’d go with FAM. But I know it’s a very personal decision. What do you think?

Sheila is the author of The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex–with tons of information on how to make sex a beautiful, intimate, and FUN experience in your marriage!

Demography and Destiny

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here’s this week’s!

During the last election, one of my very conservative friends took off of work to vote. When he arrived back after lunch, his rather liberal co-worker was joking with him that they both could have saved the bother, since his vote cancelled out the other guy’s.

“Not for long,” my friend chuckled. When the co-worker looked quizzical, my friend replied, “You see, buddy, I’m raising eight voters. You’re only raising one.”

And it’s true. That particular friend has eight amazingly behaved children. I have another friend with nine, several with eight, and a couple with seven. My girls are even friends with two sisters who are growing up in a family of fourteen. I always bring the average down when we go anywhere with these families, with just my measly two.

But it occurs to me that perhaps my friend is right about the impact of demographic trends on our culture. For instance, the reason our fertility rate in Canada has dropped below replacement level is not because families over the last few decades are shrinking. It’s that fewer women are actually having children in the first place. Of the women who do have children, the number of children is actually creeping up slightly.

We’re diverging into two different cultures: one that has children, and one that does not. And those who are likely to have many children are also those who were more likely to come from big, intact families. While there obviously are exceptions, such as the very dysfunctional mom who has six kids with five different men, on the whole the nuclear family is growing where there is a commitment to it.

So the question is: which culture will end up ahead in the days to come? Will the conventional family make a comeback, or will marriage and childrearing continue to be devalued?

Our culture is betting on the latter. Media tells us that children are a drain—they cost money, emotional energy, and time, and they rob us of the fun we could be having! When friends like mine go out in public with their brood, they get the dirtiest looks, as if having a pile of kids is somehow wrong (even though none of these families is on social assistance).

Yet let’s think about this logically. The next generation will be made up of those who are not yet born. Where will these kids come from? They’ll be born to the people who are actually reproducing. The next generation is likely to resemble the people who are actually having the kids, not the people who are making the movies.

People who don’t value kids and don’t value the nuclear family don’t tend to have children—or if they do, they have very few. People who do value children do tend to have children—and they tend to have more. And then this is repeated. That’s one of the reasons why studies in the United States, for instance, have shown that attitudes against abortion have steadily hardened since Roe vs. Wade was decided in 1973. Prolife people tend to have more children, and so their values have been passed on more frequently.

This does not mean, of course, that the children of large, intact nuclear families will necessarily turn out well. It’s just that statistically they’re likely to be wealthier than average, more likely to get married, and less likely to end up in jail. That culture that values family, that passes on family traditions, and that yearns for a lifetime commitment has great staying power.

So perhaps my friend with the eight children is right. The traditional family may look bleak now, but I think it’s set for a comeback. And I’m gearing my own girls to be ready for it.

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Have Expectations on Motherhood Become Too High?

 

Newspapers are filled with the “birth dearth”, or the lack of fertility of today’s women. As a culture, we are choosing not to reproduce. The United States’ fertility rate puts it barely at replacement level. Canada’s is below replacement level, and Europe’s is even worse off than that. We are choosing not to have children.

Why?

Columnist Mark Steyn has long argued that fertility and religion are linked. When people lose their faith in something greater than themselves, then it’s hard to look towards the future. And without a future-orientation, the present, and having fun, become all that matters. If you don’t have a sense that you have a purpose in life, why reproduce?

I agree, but I don’t think that’s the only reason. I also think our consumer culture has made motherhood almost impossible. Remember

Today we’re supposed to cook gourmet meals. We’re supposed to cook interesting things for kids’ lunches (no more bologna sandwiches). Have you ever actually looked through a woman’s magazine or a parenting magazine and imagined, “if I actually did everything that it tells me to do between these pages, how much time would it take?” I’m sure it would take longer than the 24 hours the good Lord chose to give us.

Birthday parties, when I was young, mostly consisted of playing out in the backyard, perhaps with some skipping ropes or bubbles, and then eating hot dogs and a homemade cake. There were no ice cream cakes that cost easily $30. There was no renting out the rec center so everyone could go swimming. Occasionally some kid’s parents would take you to a McDonald’s birthday, and that was extra special. But that was about it.

Today we go bowling, or swimming, or something big. I know one mom who took ten girls to a glamour photo shoot! I can’t even imagine how much that cost, because they all had their hair and makeup done, too.

Then there are all the lessons. We just weren’t in that many when we were young, but I know some families wiht multiple kids all in rep hockey (meaning that they travel every weekend for tournaments). Their whole lives are wrapped up in taking their 8-year-olds to out of town hockey games! And then in the summer there’s hockey camp, or ballet camp, or karate camp. Add up all that money, and it’s a small fortune.

In fact, one recent study found the cost of raising an average kid, from birth to 18, to be a quarter of a million dollars. I wouldn’t be surprised if many twenty and thirtysomethings looked at their friends with kids, who were run off their feet taking their kids to all these lessons and activities, shelling out money left, right, and center, and these people said, “I’d rather spend my money on cruises,” and forgot about childrearing altogether.

We have overburdened motherhood. We have said you need to pay all this money, you need to be chairperson of the PTA, you need to make gourmet meals, decorate your children’s rooms, buy a bigger house, baby-proof everything, and give up all your own goals and dreams for the foreseeable future. We think moms should work harder now than they did fifty years ago, when women had more time to devote to motherhood. I think we’ve gone insane.

Yes, being a mom is time-consuming, but it doesn’t have to be as hectic as everyone makes it out to be. You don’t have to have your child in every activity. You don’t have to be on every committee. It’s okay if you only know how to make a few meals, if your children share a room, if you leave the kids with grandparents occasionally so you can get adult time, if you don’t throw a birthday party every year, if you don’t take your kids to tons of cultural events, and if you don’t put up a swing set in your backyard. It’s okay if you still have your own time. It’s okay if you still have a marriage. It’s okay if you live in a smaller home, and don’t have all the kids’ stuff, but instead just learn how to make your own fun.

Maybe if we stopped demanding that motherhood be bigger and better, and simply concentrated on it being part of our lives, instead of the whole thing, we’d be a lot better off!

If families just got back to what we did well–hanging out without any plans, taking walks, playing football in the park, playing Scrabble, lying on the bed reading bedtime stories, enforcing bedtime so parents still had parent time, ensuring siblings could play so you still had a life–all of these things would make parenting so much easier. But we throw that aside so that we can live up to some ideal, and that ideal takes a LOT of work that probably isn’t necessary.

Here’s a show that I did a few years ago on “Are Kids Worth It?” You can see more of my thoughts there:

What do you find is the most overhyped part of motherhood–the part that our society demands we devote so much time and money to, that really isn’t that important in the end? Let me know, and let’s talk!

Where Nobody Has Gone Before

Medically, today we are in uncharted territory. Technology is increasing at such a quick pace that people are being forced to make really difficult decisions that our parents and grandparents would never have had to face. How do you make ethical ones?

I was really touched by something I read over the weekend. For some reason I can’t get it out of my mind:

An Ohio woman who gave birth to a baby boy after a fertility clinic implanted her with the wrong embryo is a “guardian angel,” the boy’s biological parents said Saturday.

Paul and Shannon Morell of suburban Detroit said in a statement that they would be “eternally grateful” to Carolyn Savage, of Sylvania, for her decision to give birth to their child despite the clinic’s mistake.

“It’s been a long, difficult journey, and we’re thrilled that our family is now complete,” the Morells said. “We will be eternally grateful for his guardian angel, Carolyn Savage, and the support of the entire Savage family.

“We’re looking forward to spending the next few weeks getting to know our new baby.”

The boy was born Thursday at 5 pounds and 3 ounces at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center in Toledo. He measures 18 inches long.

In a statement Friday, the Savages offered congratulations to the Morells.

“At this time, we would like to offer our heartfelt congratulations to the Morell family on the birth of their son,” the Savages’ statement said. “We wish Paul, Shannon, their twin girls and their new baby boy the best, as they move forward with their lives together.”

….

The two couples knew nothing about each other. Shannon Morell feared that the pregnant woman would choose abortion, ending their chance to give their 2-year-old twin girls a sibling.

A few days passed before they learned that the Savages were not only willing to continue with the pregnancy but also to hand over the baby without hesitation.

“This was someone else’s child,” 40-year-old Carolyn Savage told the AP on Wednesday. “We didn’t know who it was. We didn’t know if they didn’t have children or if this was their last chance for a child.”

So here’s the situation. Two couples are going to a fertility clinic because they desperately want children and can’t seem to conceive on their own. Often at fertility clinics they implant 7 or 8 embryos, and then “selectively reduce” the number of pregnancies, since that increases the chance that one embryo will actually take.

If you decide that you don’t want to selectively reduce, you end up in a Jon and Kate Plus 8 situation, with many all at once. Or you can choose not to put yourself in that position, and only be implanted with three at a time or something. But that reduces your chances of pregnancy.

In this case, it looks like they just had one implanted, and it turned out to be the wrong person’s baby. It seems to me that everyone in this situation behaved beautifully, and the “surrogate” mother did exactly what she should have, and the other family is being very gracious, but it doesn’t stop the heartache, does it?

I get the impression, from the article, that the Morrells, who were the biological parents, already had twin girls, while the Savages, who were given the wrong embryo, did not have any children yet. And the woman is 40. So imagine finally being pregnant, and carrying a baby to term, and realizing that you can’t keep it. The heartache must be so immense, even though she has the satisfaction that she did the right thing.

We’re in new territory. Even with my son, when he was very ill, we had big decisions to make. Would we give him a surgery that only had a 25% chance of success, which would not save his life, since he’d require four massive surgeries afterwards, too, or would we let him quietly go?

We opted for the surgery, but it was hard. I was putting my son through immense pain for a surgery that had only been developed six years prior to Christopher having it. Ten years ago he would have just passed away, and there wouldn’t have been any agony of thinking and praying over what to do.

Four years after he died, they pioneered the first in-utero surgery (in the womb) for the type of heart defect he had. Imagine! They can now fix it in the womb. But we didn’t have that option. And so I chose pain for my child. I still know it was the right choice for his circumstances, but it was hard.

Sometimes it’s our choice of technology in the first place that can hurt our consciences, like so much of IVF. It’s hard to do it ethically, in my opinion, because I don’t think creating a bunch of embryos that will be thrown away or never used is right. But some couples choose a very ethical path within IVF, and more power to them.

Other times these decisions are thrust on us when illness hits. When do you withdraw treatment? Do you need to try everything? When is it just time to go? These life and death issues are hard, and they’re only going to get worse. All we can do, I guess, is pray taht God will show us the way. And be gentle with our friends who are walking these hard roads.