Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A few thoughts about contraception

I wonder what you think about contraception? Now, there's a dinner party conversation topic for you!

Actually, what I am really wondering about is - have you ever even thought about it at all?

Because I never did. Not once. When I got married I went on the pill because that was what everyone did. Not one person ever mentioned other options. No-one encouraged us to see how different methods worked. No-one even mentioned it. It was assumed you would use contraception (because who wants a baby as soon as they are married?! - again assumed) & it was assumed that everyone used the pill because that seemed to be the most effective, but beyond that - no guidance, no info, nothing.

And now I find myself thinking about it a little more. What sparked this initially was reading God, Marriage and Family by Andreas Kostenburger a few years ago. He has a fantastic chapter on contraception, how each method works and how to think biblically about it. Because what almost no-one talks about is how each method works, which ones stop fertilization from occurring and which ones stop a fertilized egg from implanting and surviving.

And over time, I am coming to realise that the difference between the two is quite large. I didn't think about it at all in my early twenties, but now I wish I had a little more.

What some contraceptives do is clear cut: so IUDs & the morning-after pill prevent implantation, whereas condoms prevent fertilization. However, the big grey area is the pill, beacuse it claims to do both. And of course, we cannot know which method has worked for us. Perhaps it stopped fertilization, or perhaps it stopped implantation.

He also addresses the issue of permanent contraceptive methods, once the family is complete (so much as we can decide these things!)

So I guess what I am thinking now is this:

1. Be informed. Find out about various methods and what they do. A doctor can help with you with this, although you have to ask. Many will just write a script for anything, no questions asked. This also includes being informed about the potential side-effects of any method.

2. Let your theology guide your practice. If you really have a problem with using any method which stops an already fertilsed egg surviving, you need to make choices that match that. And yes, they may be less easy, more messy and less spontaneous choices - but you have chosen that it is worth it. I want to be careful at this point however. I don't think I am ready to speak out wholesale against the pill - but I still think it warrants thought.

3. Be prepared & willing to have children. If you are having sex, you must be willing to have a child as a result. If you are married, whether or not you 'want children', you need to be willing to have children - because you have chosen to have sex. As any group of women with children will attest - no contraceptive method is completely reliable.

4. Acknowledge that no matter how much you want to be, you are not completely in control. This is proven to us is so many ways as women: contraceptive failures, the desire to conceive going unfulfilled, the way a pregancy takes over our bodies, and the changes that occur during and after birth. God is in control, and whether we agree with him or not - he has designed our bodies to work the way they do. Our times are in his hands.


To follow another rather strident discussion relating to the pill, you can see ProWomanProLife here.


Nicole said...

Hi Wendy, I was the same as you, I hadn't thought about this seriously, until my husband read the same book, and I read the relevant sections.

One of the things I've discovered, is that it's hard to get accurate information from the medical profession about how the various forms of contraception work, which then makes it even harder make these ethical decisions. I wrote a post about some of these issues here.

Suz said...

Courageous post Wendy.

Turns out though, that things can actually get more complicated. For instance if the morning after pill is taken prior to ovulation it doesn't act in an abortifacient manner...the challenge of course being knowing whether or not ovulation has already occured.

The other issue is that there are many medical, non-contraceptive, uses for contraceptive agents (including the pill, the Mirena - an IUD, 3 monthly progesterone injections). I guess my point is that the use of one of these agents doesn't mean that a couple are indifferent to their potential/actual mechanisms of action.

Thanks for the point about being prepared to have children if you get married. I am always astonished by the number of fellow christians who think I'm strange because one of the reasons I don't want to get married is that I don't want to have children!


Anonymous said...

Hi Wendy

Thanks for tackling a difficult topic! I had the opposite experience to you - when we got engaged we were quickly confronted with a number of different and quite forceful opinions about contraception!

I read the blog discussion but they all seemed to be on the same 'side' of it (for lack of a better term). They all seemed anti-pill to differing degrees and for slightly different reasons. Have you found Christian resources that thoughtfully favour the pill?

Rachael said...

Hi Wendy, I've had exactly the same thoughts. Thanks for posting and definitely worth thinking and talking about.

Rachael said...

To arthurandtamie, I would reallly recommend reading through Nicole's posts on contraception that she mentions in her comment. From memory, (I haven't read them again) she mentioned a doctor saying that once conception has occurred, the subsequent pregnancy hormones adequately prepare the womb for implantation. The inference being that should you fall conceive while on the pill (not the mini-pill, the full one) that the effects of the pill on the lining of the uterus wouldn't be such as to prevent implantation of an embryo. Myself, I'm not yet convinced by this argument and would like to know more about the action of the hormones in the cases of 1. a normal cycle; 2. when using the pill and 3. what happens when pregnant (ie where do the pregnancy hormones come from and what stimulates their production and release).

mattnbec said...

Yes, we too made assumptions about the pill without checking it out. After the birth of one of our kids, I was prescribed the mini-pill by a Christian and so assumed it was okay. As I read the leaflet months later, I realised it was abortifacient and so we stopped using it and used other methods.

Just today, a Christian friend and I were talking about various contraceptive! She mentioned that there's now a non-abortifacient mini-pill. She and her husband are using other methods, so she wasn't sure of the details of the pill. Once this is again relevant (I'm currently 4 months pregnant with baby #3), I think I'll try to find out more.

Oh - and yes, I think Nicole's posts about this are good too!