As the cowboys say every spring, "It's nut-cutting time." Time to get down to business.
This is where the rubber meets the road. This is going to be a tough Pill to swallow, but it's time to tie up loose
tubes ends. Time to sit up straight and tall and use that diaphragm, so as to be heard clearly. You can't just soak up information like a sponge. It would be wrong to pull out before bringing this discussion to a climax.
Enough bad puns. I have been gathering all these links and sifting through all these perspectives because I face a serious decision. This isn't a hypothetical discussion for me.
I'm sympathetic to the arguments against birth control, but if I followed them to their logical conclusion, they would put me in a serious, and to my mind, unresolvable moral dilemma.
I ask those Christian bloggers who have written passionately against contraception -- the Bayly brothers, Peter Fournier of Domestic-Church.com, Dawn Eden and her commenters, and the people at No Room for Contraception and Lutherans and Contraception, Deb (one of my few commenters), and anyone else who cares to weigh in -- to read what follows, consider my dilemma and tell me, given your belief that contraception is a grave offense against God, what would you do in my situation?
Even though I've used contraception in the past and am still not totally persuaded of the arguments against all contraception, I can see that those who argue against it are serious believing Christians who seek to submit to Christ's lordship in every aspect of life. So I take what they say on this issue very seriously. I'm not going to dismiss it out of hand, particularly when I'm considering an irrevocable decision.
As I said in my introductory entry, I am a married father of three children. The youngest isn't walking yet. My wife and I are both in our mid-40s.
A couple of years after our second child was born, my wife, just about to turn 40, asked me to consider getting a vasectomy. Her arguments were almost identical to those of the hypothetical husband in Tim Bayly's post about faith and contraception. She was looking forward to our then-youngest being in school full time, so that she could re-enter the work force at least part time, for the sake of our finances and her own mental health. She had had two C-sections and didn't want to go through another one. And after our second child she went through what I believe was post-partum depression, exacerbated by problems with nursing, although she never sought help for it. To her thinking, having another child would be a "disaster."
I didn't share her fear of having another child. While I didn't have any qualms about contraception, which we used to time the births of our two children, I didn't have a controlling attitude about it. If the children didn't arrive according to plan, or we wound up with more than we planned, it was OK. A pregnancy within marriage is never a crisis pregnancy, never a "disaster," as I saw it. Therefore, achieving 0% probability of conception wasn't a concern of mine. I wasn't insistent on more kids, but if God should send more our way, that was OK. Our first two were both intelligent and beautiful and gifted with musical ability and a sense of humor. We made good babies, and it wouldn't be a bad thing if we made more, but I was content with the two we had.
At first, after our second child was born, we used condoms. I even made a special trip into Canada, when I was nearby on business, to buy spermicidal sponges, which were available again after several years off the market.
Alas, my wife did not deem me spongeworthy. She decided to restrict our lovemaking to one day a month, the day after her period ended, the day she felt most confident that she wouldn't be fertile. Because of that confidence, she didn't insist on using any other means of contraception on those days. Even when we were using barrier methods, that was the one "free" day when she'd let us make love without a condom. But by now, she didn't want to risk pregnancy at all. 1% was too great a chance to take.
If we happened to be too busy or tired on that one day a month, we'd just miss sex until the next cycle.
One night, just moments after concluding our monthly roll in the hay, she snuggled up to me and said in a cheery voice, "Just think, when you get your vasectomy, we can do this every night!" I rolled away from her, offended at the timing of her sales pitch.
She began to "accidentally" fall asleep on the couch most nights. She told me later she didn't want to risk getting turned on and having sex. Even cuddling and caressing were severely restricted, for the same reason.
Then one afternoon she came to me in my home office in tears. She told me that she had missed her period and her home pregnancy test was positive. Evidently that one day a month wasn't as infertile as she thought.
She was devastated. Her hopes for getting out of the home and back to work were dashed. She projected her own dismay on our oldest child, predicting that he would be angry about having to compete for attention with another child, and on her own mother, predicting that she would scold her for her irresponsibility. She was fearful of the greater chance of Down Syndrome or some other birth defect that becomes more common in pregnancies of older women.
She found out just days before going for a consultation about a tubal ligation; she had given up on me consenting to a vasectomy.
As the pregnancy progressed, her attitude improved. Her fears about the reaction of our older children and her mother were not realized. The kids were very excited about having a baby in the house. Our extended families were very supportive.
One woman in our church who had a surprise pregnancy at age 47 was especially supportive, reaching out to encourage my wife. Her doctor had advised her to abort, but she carried to term, and her daughter grew up to be a healthy, beautiful, and intelligent young woman.
My wife had an amniocentesis, at her insistence, so that if there were signs of genetic problems, we could begin educating ourselves and preparing for the adjustments we'd need to make. Everything looked good on the test and the ultrasound, which lifted a great weight of concern off of her. I want to emphasize that despite my wife's distress at becoming pregnant, there was never any consideration of abortion on her part or mine, even if the amnio had indicated a problem.
The baby came on schedule -- a big, beautiful fellow. He seems to be as smart as his older siblings, who dote on him. We are all happy to have a little one around the house again.
But my wife doesn't want any more, and I can't blame her. This was necessarily another C-section delivery, and the recovery period was slower than the first two. Several years older than the previous two C-sections, she doesn't heal as fast. If she were to get pregnant again, she'd be having a fourth C-section in her mid-to-late 40s, with an increased danger of uterine rupture. Even in a successful delivery, recovery would be even longer and more painful than before.
So she has laid down the law: No sex until I get a vasectomy. Period.
I made an appointment for a vasectomy. When I went in for my initial consult, the urologist asked me why I wanted to get a vasectomy. I said, "Because my wife wants me to." He told me that was the wrong reason.
I rescheduled my appointment for the actual surgery a couple of times for various reasons. At this point, I have no appointment.
So it has now been 15 months since we have had sex or even done much in the way of snuggling. It's not that we don't want sex. She has said several times that she didn't sign up for a sexless marriage. But even more than she wants sex, she doesn't want another pregnancy, another delivery, and resetting the clock for being a stay-at-home mom.
The lack of sex has been a wedge between us. The chemical thing that happens to your brain during sex to boost the emotional bond between a couple -- that's supposed to help sustain a couple in through the stresses of living together, but it's not available to us.
Here is the dilemma I face:
If I get a vasectomy, we'll be sinning if we have sex, and unlike using a condom, the sin will be permanent (or extremely expensive if not impossible to reverse). Practically speaking, there's no repentance if indeed contracepted sex is a sin.
But if I don't get a vasectomy, and we have to abstain until my wife reaches menopause, we'll be sinning by not having sex. Couples are only supposed to abstain briefly but to come back together to avoid temptation (see I Corinthians 7). And it seems that the NFPers and the Quiverfull folks would agree that abstaining for the purpose of avoiding children is also a sin.
Beyond the concern about offending God, if I opt for abstinence over a vasectomy, our marriage will suffer. Love will diminish because we'll be avoiding physical affection and because my wife will be offended that I am not complying with her wishes.
This is not a trick question, this is not a hypothetical, this is not a rhetorical trap. This is a real-life dilemma. I have a real-life decision to make.
What would you do if you were in my shoes?
Sunday, February 18, 2007
As the cowboys say every spring, "It's nut-cutting time." Time to get down to business.