Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Hardcore NFP view "seems like a real contradiction"

Rod Dreher writes on his Crunchy Con blog about the cult-like attitude toward NFP he and his wife encountered on a support mailing list:

Any idea that NFP is anything other than the perfect, most easily implemented way of life seemed forbidden in that online circle. It was as if you couldn't admit to having problems with it, even within the context of fidelity to NFP. For an online support group, that was discouraging....

But we really did encounter a kind of political correctness within observant Catholic circles (that is, among people who were committed to NFP) about this stuff.

A comment posted by a mother of three, "Quinault," is interesting:

My husband and I have been married almost 12 years now. We used hormonal birth control for about 9 months, up until I had horrible reactions to it (i.e I gained a ton of weight and became a basketcase).

After some trial and error with non-hormonal methods we tried NFP. It worked quite well for us. That said, it doesn't work for everyone. There are exceptions to the rules of EBF/NFP. Women can ovulate multiple times in a cycle! And you can have "fertile" signs for nearly your entire cycle. Which if you are trying to avoid conception can mean no sex for years. Many hardcore EBF/NFP people that are Catholic will say that you have to either use NFP or live a sexless marriage. That isn't a good option on any level. Sex is supposed to be "unitive and open to life" they will say. And they are quick to say that a marriage isn't valid unless consumated. It seems like a real contradiction to me.

I like the Orthodox view that there is no difference between barrier methods and NFP. One prevents the sperm from getting to the egg, one prevents the egg from getting to the sperm.

But I have seen marriages absolutely destroyed or men addicted to porn because of these hardcore NFP ideals.

The contradiction she points out is similar to the dilemma I've written about here.

Here's another interesting couple of comments, from Kirk:

Therefore, among non-abortifacient methods, contraception is contraception, whether NFP or otherwise. That is to say, the attitude of the heart of a married couple is the same whether they are using NFP, the rhythym method or a barrier method. Each are an attempt by the couple to control their reproductive capacities, and each may miss blessings that would otherwise be bestowed upon them by God's Will....

Would we consider Onan a righteous man if he had engaged in NFP rather than withdrawal?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Privacy and judgment

One commenter on Amy's Humble Musings linked to a couple of essays by Laine, one about busybodies who presumed selfishness and sinfulness on the part of moms with small families:

I know personally of two Christian women who were crushed by the words of other well-meaning Christian women. Why were they crushed? Because these well-meaning Christian women were telling them that they should have as many children as God wanted them to have and that they and their husband were sinning if they did otherwise. Did these advisers take into account their friend's submission to their "own" husband? No. Did they take into account their friend's health and their husband's concern about it? No. Did they take into account that perhaps their friend could not have any more children? No. They just stated their beliefs and let the pain and guilt fall where it may....

But who am I to tell another woman how many children that means for her and her husband? How do I know what is going on in their marriage? How do I know how many grandchildren God might give them? Is it not a private matter between the two of them and God? His body is her body. Her body is his body. They are one. I am not a part of their union, and I have no business prying and asking questions, nor giving advice when I am not asked. Likewise someone to me. I am to submit to my own husband, and she is to submit to her own husband.

I have known women who have pried and advised because there was just too much talking going on and things not proper to mention got mentioned. Rather than bringing peace to their friend's marriage, they brought discord between the husband and wife because of the wife's new insistence that they must now have more children. Why? Because, without perhaps fully realizing it, her friend now felt her holiness depended upon it.

In follow-up letter, Laine explains that it isn't wrong to seek advice or comfort, but women should take care not to disclose information in response to prying questions, information that ought to be kept private between a husband and wife.

What I find private is when someone is trying to find out what is going on between a husband and wife concerning her womb; especially if the question is stated in such a slant to suggest that she is less than holy if she is not having as many children as the woman asking thinks she should. Some questions can be very probing or slightly prying while they "invite" the woman to share something she probably should not. What should she not share?

I believe a woman should not share that her husband has a low sperm count and things of this nature. Even though she may feel the need to "defend" herself to strong questions by strong women, I do not believe that this is something a husband would like his wife to say if she was standing next to him. It is something that should be kept private between them.

I know others might disagree with me, but I do not believe a woman should share if her husband has had a vasectomy. Again, I think this is something of a very private nature. Just as whether a man is circumcised or not. We surely wouldn't pass that information around over tea. So why should we talk about this as well? Many husbands and wives are changing their minds about these decisions and their husbands are going in for reversals. May God bless them so! But the trouble is everyone knows their business. There is nothing private anymore.

I have also known women who have had other Christian women come down on them because they had their tubes tied or were practicing birth control. How could they know unless they were told about it? Before you know it, they are defending their actions and their husband's decision, when nothing needed have been said in the first place. Why? Because it was a private matter between both spouses.

A commenter on one of my earlier posts chided me for publicly airing things that ought to be private between me and my wife. I've taken great care to avoid saying anything that would identify us -- no geographical references, no specifics about ages of children or our own ages. I chose to blog about this anonymously so that I could seek advice and think through this issue without subjecting my wife or myself to judgment and criticism that we might have received had we raised the issue with friends and family.

Amy's Humble Musings: Thoughts on contraception and the quiverfull movement

I don't intend to post here much any more, but I came across a link I thought was worth adding here. Amy Scott is a Christian mom has six kids age nine and under. She suffers hyperemesis gravidarum, and yet she and her husband have apparently chosen not to use birth control to delay pregnancy. In this post, she expresses appreciation for the quiverfull (QF) movement -- the mutual support of other families who have chosen not to use artificial or natural means of birth control -- but she thinks QFers go off the rails when they judge Christians who have come to different conclusions:

The issue of contraception use among Christians is the same. We know that God thinks children are a blessing and a reward. We know that it is normative for married couples to produce children. We know that the world is anti-child and that God calls His people to a different standard. We know that abortificant means of avoiding children are wrong....

But as folks with straying, scraggly toenails, we also want to know where the line is. What is forbidden, what is required, and what is permissible due to our freedom in Christ? We know that we’re responsible to train our children up in the way they should go. We know that men ought to live with their wives in an understanding way, doing all they can to make sure that the one he is called to cherish isn’t crushed underneath a load that is too heavy for her to bear. We know that God’s commands—while difficult sometimes—are always freeing. We know that a man who doesn’t provide for his family is worse than an infidel. We know that our righteousness is because of Christ and not because of what we do. These things are also true.

The quiverfull movement (QF for short) is good for the support of its members.... Where it strays course is when it assigns motives to those outside of it. “Selfish” and “not trusting God” are the catch phrases. I’m not willing to go there. There is not a Bible verse that allows us to do this to one another.

The Bible tells us, “Owe no man anything.” (Should we start an ONMA movement?) This command leaves us less wiggle room and also finds itself in the New Testament. The Bible talks about money a whole lot more than babies. Am I allowed to accuse a person of “not trusting God” if she owed a debt to someone? What about the person who is debt-free and funds the Great Commission because of it?

“Be fruitful” isn’t the trump verse of the Bible. If we were looking for the trump verse, it would have to be Jesus’ words to love God and love our neighbor. He already told us the main thing. (Question to myself: How well am I doing that?) How can we avoid one verse becoming the measuring stick of the condition of our hearts and the vehicle in which churches and groups are built upon?

The woman who has trusted God for the timing and spacing of her children does well. She ought to be praised. Where she fails is when she tells others exactly how they ought to do the same: all birth control is a sin.... The Bible doesn’t bind our consciences in this way, and so we shouldn’t do it to one another. We live with this tension all the time in Scripture. Circumstances don’t dictate theology, but yet we all make judgments and decisions based upon them. Women in China—where they forcefully abort your second child– have to decide in wisdom how to apply Scripture’s words....

We could play “Battle of the Verses” and sling it out. Or we could humble ourselves, asking God for wisdom in how to live out His Word. We could reason together without condescending. We could love one another, knowing that there really is a trump verse after all.

The comment thread went to nearly 300 before Amy shut it down because it devolved into disagreeing over disagreeing. In the comments, Christian women (I'm guessing these are mainly evangelicals) tell their stories -- what decisions they've made about childbearing and why. Some also tell how they've dealt with the judgments of others about the choices they made. Here are a few that stood out:

Tamara has five children, four of them premature but healthy, the last three by c-section. She also has hypertension and gets kidney stones during pregnancy:

The world, and many of my Christian friends and family, tells me I am nuts because I haven’t had a tubal ligation or sent my dh [dear husband] “to the vet”. But I sincerely desire more children and believe that children are indeed a blessing to be desired, not avoided.

But my QF friends tell me that it is sinful to even think of using bc [birth control] for a season. That if I truly trusted God I would be okay with facing major surgery every year and a half. That my uterus is indeed a ziplock bag that can be opened over and over without consequence. I am thrilled to be going to an Above Rubies retreat next month, yet am somewhat apprehensive. What if they find out we are using bc right now? Will I be chastised?

Cindy writes:

My husband and I decided not use BC without any sort of teaching on the subject. We had been married 4 years and that was 23 years ago. We ended up having 16 pregnancies and 9 children. 10 years ago my Dr who was also an elder in our pro-family church felt that I shouldn’t have any more children for health reasons and for my husband to obey the commandment Thou Shalt Not Kill. We went ahead and had 2 more children and a couple more miscarriages before complying with him. Neither my husband or myself felt that we had too many children, or couldn’t handle them at the time. We were tired, yes, but the children had really turned out to be blessings and God had provided for all our needs.

A few years before this point I felt a crack in the QF argument in my heart when for the first time I met several families of whom I wondered if they really should have so many children. This is about the time I realized that there were rabid QF people out there. I was a longtime Momys member but I finally had to get off the list after my husband’s vas. I just couldn’t take the condemnation. My husband said we were not going to spend the rest of our lives looking back and mourning. It was wise of him. He took full responsibility and this saved me from going down a destructive path of doublemindedness, but the Momys list was not helping....

So I agree that the QF movement sort of left its moorings, forgot the first things. Perhaps, because it takes a certain strength of character to have a large family and not use BC, this was inevitable. I truly believe that God has used the teaching to give families courage in the face of a resistant culture. I just think it would be wise not to put the teaching ahead of the 2 great commandments.

In a comment I can't really summarize, Ruth explains the health concerns that led her husband to get a vasectomy and her to go on hormonal birth control.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The end of the story

I appreciate all those who took time to read this blog, to participate in the discussion, and to pray for me and my wife. I appreciate the sincere passion of advocates of NFP and the quiver-full movement. If I had held those views when I was single and had looked for a wife who shared those views, it might be possible to follow that way of life. But I came from a family of 4, as did my wife, and we went into marriage with the expectation of having a small number of children.

Since my last entry, I have seen nothing that has changed this conclusion:

I think the only thing that would communicate to her that I am devoted to her in a romantic way would be for me to get the vasectomy so that we can be sexually available to each other without a significant risk of pregnancy and the resulting medical risks she would face.

Nothing has changed her attitude either. I suppose I could be all patriarchal, haul my wife in front of the church's elders on charges of denying me my rights as a husband, and have religious justification for divorcing her and marrying someone who would be OK with no use of birth control. I don't think that would be in line with the law of love.

So tomorrow morning I will have a vasectomy. I am not happy or lighthearted about this, and it seems absurd that I should pay a doctor to damage a piece of equipment that works perfectly.

It also seems absurd to get a vasectomy so that I can have sex with a woman for whom I no longer feel much passion. But I think it is the best thing for our marriage, which in turn is the best thing for our children. Perhaps after she will let us have sex again, the passion will return as well.

MORE: Someone commenting on another blog linked here. The blog also referenced this pro-birth-control comic book from 1956 called "Escape from Fear."

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Nothing to report

Sorry to keep everyone hanging. I've seen a couple of comments wondering about what's happened since I last posted.

I didn't have anything more to say. Nothing has changed. We had a busy end of school year and a fun summer and now we're gearing up for the start of the new school year.

Thanks for praying and caring.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A response to Peter Fournier, part 2: "The urge is too strong!"

Going further into Peter's essay:

Doing that [loving your wife in sickness and in health] requires that you, the man, are able to love her, and love her truly, according to that promise, while abstaining. You have to say no to sexual intercourse, even when she wants it desperately, if you have, as a couple, decided to delay or indefinitely postpone another pregnancy.

This can be a challenge, especially when she wants to take a risk. It is of course a challenge when you want her in a sexual way and the timing is not right -- you have to learn not to pressure or pout. You have to learn to abstain in good cheer.

Oh but I can't do that! The urge is too strong!

Actually, I have been abstaining in good cheer. I haven't refused to take out the garbage or to change the baby's diaper. I'm at home nearly every evening. I don't sulk, I don't snipe at her, and I don't pressure her in the least. She has made her decision, and I respect it.

As for the urge, the urge is there, but I'm well trained in how to resist it. As I said in my initial post, we were both virgins on our wedding night, and we've never strayed. While some young men have the attitude that any woman is potentially sexually available to them -- an attitude that must be hard to shake when they finally get married -- I was inculcated with the idea that no woman was sexually available to me, except, some day when I'd be married, my wife. Assuming that there were 2,000,000,000 adult women in the world, even as a married man I still wouldn't be allowed to have sex with 1,999,999,999 of them. Adding one more (my wife) to that enormous number is not a major adjustment.

This was reinforced in church youth group and the campus Christian ministry. My closest friends were Christians, and they at least professed to live according to that precept. (If they didn't, they weren't bragging about it.) The girls I went on dates with were all chaste Christians, too, belonging to the same fellowships, and they lived by the same standard.

So I'm very comfortable with the idea that the women I work with, the women in Sunday School class at church, the women in my civic club, the women I am around for one reason or another, are nevertheless off limits, even if I am attracted to them and they are (improbably) attracted to me. Accordingly I maintain physical and emotional boundaries with these women. I don't flirt with them, I don't spend time alone with them, I don't confide in them, I don't fantasize about them, I don't get touchy-feely with them, and I steer clear of any emotional entanglements with them.

Therefore, it's not a stretch to treat as off-limits the woman I work most closely with and spend the most time around -- my wife. In fact it's easier in many ways, because while I see my coworkers only when they're wearing their public faces and attitudes, I see my wife not just at her best, but also when she's tired and cranky and not very pleasant to be around. (And of course she sees me when I'm least attractive, too.)

Indeed, abstaining only gets easier over time, as memories of the pleasures of sex fade, and we grow accustomed to not think of each other in a sexual way.

So the strength of the urge is not a problem, but I don't think my ability to control my urges communicates love to my wife. I think she reads it as indifference.

I also find myself applying the same boundaries to her that I have used since high school to avoid getting entangled inappropriately with other women. Sensual touching, passionate kisses, flirting, deep emotional sharing -- these hardly ever happen now, because (just as with a high school date) they would lead somewhere we can't go right now.

And to be crystal clear -- I do not think this is a good path we are on. I do not think it is a good thing for a husband and wife to lose their sexual attraction for each other.

I think the only thing that would communicate to her that I am devoted to her in a romantic way would be for me to get the vasectomy so that we can be sexually available to each other without a significant risk of pregnancy and the resulting medical risks she would face.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A response to Peter Fournier, part 1: Terrified of whom? or of what?

As I begin to respond to what Peter Fournier has written regarding my dilemma, I want to say again that I appreciate the time he spent thinking through the issue, taking my concerns seriously, and setting out a response. I intend to show the same kind of respect to his thoughts that he has to mine. I am going to depend on you, dear reader, to reread his piece as necessary. I won't try to recapitulate the whole thing here.

He begins his essay with the issue of terror, which he calls the elephant in the room. He quotes this comment from PerpetualBeginner on an earlier post:

My simplest argument is that loving one another is high on God's list of priorities, and as I stated above, terror is not conducive to love. I am terrified of what an additional pregnancy would mean (much like your wife), with contraception, this terror has little to no effect on our marriage. Without it, I would be living with it constantly. Every time he gave me a hug, I would be thinking "what if he wants more?"

In the first section of his essay, Peter correctly assumes that my wife and I made promises to one another when we married, including the promise to love and honor one another in sickness and health. (We used the traditional Church of England service and vows -- the one that begins "Dearly Beloved," albeit the slightly modernized version that appears in the Episcopal Church's 1978 Book of Common Prayer.) Taking this promise and PerpetualBeginner's comment together, he writes:

If your wife is terrified of you, surely this is a symptom of not living out the promise to love and honour in sickness and in health. Having a wife/lover/cohabitation partner/whatever, terrified of you does not indicate that she is being loved and honoured in sickness and in health. It means precisely what is obvious: she is terrified of you, terrified to the point of not being able to accept a hug for fear of the possible consequences.

Now, hold the phone: My wife is not terrified of me. She's afraid of certain consequences of becoming pregnant. Most particularly, she's worried about the risks of enduring yet another abdominal surgery in her mid to late 40s. (I'm worried about that, too!) She's also concerned about other health risks to both mom and baby which increase as a woman ages.

While a fourth C-section is not the only issue, it's a significant one. Vaginal birth would not be an option -- it would be foolish and dangerous to try. The first C-section was an emergency C-section due to fetal distress -- cord prolapse. The second time around we went through the LaMaze classes for VBAC, but the baby was late and big and the doctor advised us to schedule a C-section. The third time the baby was even bigger (10 lbs!) and there was never any question that it would be a C-section.

The bottom line is she's not terrified of me. She's terrified of my sperm reaching her egg. She's afraid of what can make her pregnant and put her in risk of uterine rupture and possibly death.

If the sperm can't reach her, the terror goes away.

Part 2 tomorrow or over the weekend.