Thursday, 28 May 2009

How Does Birth Control Affect Our Relationship with our Bodies and our Family Values?


Lindsay said...

Thanks for sharing your questions and opinions. This can be a touchy subject, so I just want to start by telling you that you're right: luckily we have the Atonement to help us with our mistakes and limited understanding. I don't claim to have all the answers, I do, however, have my own opinions. Here are a few: :)

The bioethicist said "What changed in our relationship to the child is that no longer does it seem like the child is a gift that comes to us mysteriously and that we first respond to by housing it."
-I ask, is it the mystery that gave it divinity? If we understand how things work, are they suddenly not miraculous? From a LDS standpoint, one day we will become as God is - understanding all. Will we at that point not see divinity and wonderment in all that is around us? I don't believe that mystery is what makes things incredible. It is that, even when we understand "what" is happening - we will never understand the most fundamental "how". We know how join cells together - but what is it that gives them life? We know how a sperm moves and what it needs for survival - but what set it all in motion? How do those cells know to divide? The glory of God is intelligence and I believe the more we know (and therefore, the more the mystery is gone) the more we are amazed at God and his power and wisdom.

You also stated that when we use birth control "The child seems much more like an object of our will, something that we choose and cause to come into existence. My response: It is an object of our will whether we're on birth control or not. If you're not on birth control, you just abstain from sex. It is always a matter of choice/will. It's just a matter of how you go about making the choice and what factors you weigh into the decision.

It seems you are saying that in order to appreciate children we have to have them 'happen to us' rather than us choosing to have them. What about the role of agency and embracing those things that we choose in life? I believe that when we make a choice to have something occur in our lives, we can have profound amounts of appreciation for the process. When I make a conscious choice to have a child, I am prepared for it. I welcome it. I thank God I can use my agency for good.I pray that God will make it come to pass - I yearn for it. I want and welcome it with all my heart.

I think love of self is what is happening to the family and our relationship with children. You can refuse birth control and then be insanely selfish and therefore lack gratitude and humility - leading to poor family relations.

This line "Think of the sinking feeling that women have when they find out they are pregnant even though they have been using birth control." ...what of the 'sinking feeling' a woman has when she has no option but to be at the whim of her reproduction? She could be emotionally wiped out, depressed, physically deteriorated, with a marriage that is strained by the sleepless nights and stress of children, financially she does not have enough to provide for stability (e.g. can't afford 72 hour kits for her entire family, can't afford to save for missions and college...)...

Lindsay said...

(continuation. I guess this is a long reply! :)

I don't think the Lord meant for issues to be in 1)his hands OR 2) our hands. I believe big decisions, such as how many children to have and when to have them, should be settled by both the Lord AND us. Joining together, using our own good reason and relying on the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, we can use our agency and choose to follow if the Spirit prompts us to have a child. (or to NOT have a child - if it would not be good for our family.)

I feel that birth control is something we have been blessed with. We can be grateful for our agency and for the opportunity we have to plan our families with the help of revelation.

I have two children. I felt strongly inspired to have both of them. My second is a baby that isn't a year yet, and I'm so glad that I can wait until my body and spirit are ready to have another one.

Thanks for your post. This is a FASCINATING topic. I'd love to hear what you think of my thoughts.
Cheers! :)

Courtney said...

Yes, thank you for bringing up such an important topic! And I think Lindsay also brings up some very good points to consider.
I agree that birth control is an incredibly wonderful blessing. My daughter is just over one year old, and I have to say that this past year has been the most difficult of my life. The strain and stress a new baby puts on a marriage is incredible. I look back at my first years of being married and I know that my husband and I needed a few years to strengthen our relationship before we weathered the storm of having a baby. (We've been married almost four years now.)
I think too often in Mormon culture, we discount the importance of sex strengthening a marriage and being a source of enjoyment and pleasure. While, yes, it is a sacred means to procreation, a healthy and FUN sex life is key to a healthy marriage. And if one has to fear getting pregnant every time, it takes away that sense of intimacy and excitement.
I do think it is important to have a strong sense of family. Children are important! And we should use our agency (with direction from God) to decide when we are ready to welcome them into our home. And similarly to when a woman finds she is pregnant while taking birth control, a woman who finds she is pregnant before she is emotionally ready can come to resent her child. I think it easier to rejoice in life when we realize that we have agency to choose these things. We are grateful to act and not be acted upon.
I do think it is our duty to make choices that strengthen families, and in so doing say "I am able to choose my family."
Children are a blessing-- a wonderful blessing. The joy they bring cannot be compared to anything else. But I don't think bringing them in to this world should be a cavalier move. A wife and her husband should be prepared, willing, excited, and knowledgeable when they decide to add one to their family.

Of course, birth control-- the method or the lack thereof-- is a 100% personal decision. Many couples do well having children immediately in their marriage. But each person is an individual and has the right to make that decision with God. What is right for one may be seriously wrong for another.

I wish you well in your upcoming marriage! It is such a fun and exciting time. Good luck in your decision as you consider this very important topic.

Monica said...

Dear friends,

This response has been a long time coming. I've told Laura for weeks that I would respond to her post, especially because I feel it is critical for us to examine the issues she has raised in detail - to admit the ways in which medical advances such as birth control affect our relationship to God, sexuality, our bodies, and our dear children.

Regarding the change in our relationship with the event of birth itself: Though the bio-ethicist argued that this was due in part to our knowledge of the mechanics of the event, I feel that it has more to do with how we feel about our knowledge of conception. In-vitro fertilization has given us a false sense of control over a process for which we may understand the mechanics, but which we cannot truly reproduce. A doctor can provide all of the necessary ingredients for a successful conception through in-vitro fertilization and yet conception or birth still fails. Only about 37% of women under the age of 36 who undergo IVF successfully give birth to a living infant, and as a woman's age increases, her chance for a successful IVF birth decreases. In women over 40, the success rate is a mere 13%. In addition, we have a very limited understanding of many causes of female infertility. Like Laura, I am not bringing this up as a comment at all on women who use IVF. I think it is amazing that women who are apparently unable to bear children have even the chance to conceive through IVF. My point is simply that IVF gives us a sense of control that is simply not really solid. We may know the general mechanics of how conception works, but we cannot control the process itself; yet somehow we still feel like we can.

So, how does this relate to birth control? I really liked Laura's example of IVF to introduce this topic because I feel that "control" is the part of the equation that really has made children more an act of will in our modern world. I've always felt that birth control is somehow misnamed; that what we call it doesn't truly describe what it does. As much as we'd like to believe that birth control puts conception under our "control", any sense of surety of birth control is, I believe, ill-founded. Yes, birth control, when used properly is highly effective, but there is no 100% method where, as Laura put it, you can eat the brownie without the calories. Still, as a society we BELIEVE that we can, and therein lies the danger.

This belief of control over conception does affect how we feel about sex and children. I feel that the responses that were given so far exemplify how this feeling of control affects our attitudes about child-birth. That is not to say that I do not agree with much of what has been said, on the contrary, I do, yet I find it interesting that both Lindsay and Courtney seem to argue that the option to plan for a family using birth control makes the experience of having children somehow more rewarding than it would be otherwise. With this I completely disagree.

Monica said...

(continued...sorry, this may be a little long...)

In response to Lindsay: "It is an object of our will whether we're on birth control or not. If you're not on birth control, you just abstain from sex. It is always a matter of choice/will. It's just a matter of how you go about making the choice and what factors you weigh into the decision." While I believe that Lindsay is right that this is always about choice, I feel that how we relate to that choice is the major piece that is missing from her statement above. It isn't simply a "matter of how you go about making the choice" it is how you relate to and feel about the process of childbirth in general. We relate to it differently than women have in the past. Why is that? Is it because we believe now that we have power over our bodies and the processes that go on inside of them? Is it because we as a society believe we have enough control over conception that we can be sexually involved outside of marriage and not suffer the consequences of our actions? It is not as if before modern medicine people did not recognize the connection between sex and procreation. Further, it is not as if they could not have fulfilling sexual experiences in their marriages.

There are several parts of both of these responses that I feel make my point. First, Lindsay stated that regardless of birth control, having a child is a choice, yet she also says that Laura (by arguing against birth control) is arguing that children have to "happen to us" rather than be a choice. I don't think this is what Laura is saying at all. Lindsay then asks "What about the role of agency and embracing those things that we choose in life? I believe that when we make a choice to have something occur in our lives, we can have profound amounts of appreciation for the process. When I make a conscious choice to have a child, I am prepared for it. I welcome it. I thank God I can use my agency for good.I pray that God will make it come to pass - I yearn for it. I want and welcome it with all my heart." Why can't not using birth control be this same type of conscious choice and just as rewarding? Could we not still yearn for children if birth control wasn't an option? It's not as if once a woman feels ready, she can go off the pill and get pregnant when she wants to. Even when the choice is made, the outcome is still beyond our control. She may get pregnant right away, or it may take a year, or several years. She may never get pregnant at all. I think the experience of having children can be just as much a conscious choice and just as rewarding for a woman who never uses birth control, but I feel our cultural views can sometimes get in the way of our acknowledging that.

Speaking of choice, I wanted to address the statement Courtney made about women resenting their children when they feel they are not ready to have them. I hear this argument all the time and it really bothers me for several reasons. It justifies every woman who feels that way toward her child. It says, well, if this child had come on my timing, I wouldn't have to feel this way. (Realistically how many children EVER come on their mothers' timing?) In effect this argument puts the blame of the mother's feelings on the child. In our society and culture, we are constantly skirting accountability for our feelings and choices. No child is responsible for the feelings of his or her parent. We are agents unto ourselves, and that includes how we feel. If a mother has inclinations towards feeling this way, it is her responsibility to deal with her feelings in a healthy manner and to change her attitude about her child(ren), perhaps particularly by calling on the power of the Atonement.

I believe that resentment of children illustrates President Faust's statement that "children are becoming less valued". If we as a society still saw children as primarily a gift, we would value them as such. As it is, people are having fewer and fewer children. I'll get back to that in a minute.

Monica said...

(Okay, now I just talk too much...)

I was really surprised that neither of the comments addressed how birth control has led to the separation of procreative sex and sex for physical enjoyment, and what negative effects this has had on society as a whole. I agree with Laura that birth control makes it easier to see sex as something independent of family life, and I believe we see the effects of this view throughout our society. Of course, I think there is a lot more involved than just birth control, though I believe birth control to be a contributing factor.

I find it significant that Julie Beck's first point in "Mothers Who Know" was about bearing children and that in Elder Boyd K. Packer's address at BYU Women's Conference in 2006, he urged women to "Foster in yourself and in your daughters the exalted role of the woman, the incomparable gift of creation that attends motherhood." Both of these talks (and these specific comments within the talks) were met with high levels of criticism from members of the church. I find that slightly disturbing considering that they were teaching a vital doctrine. Often, when I get defensive about something, it is usually because I feel there's truth in it that I don't want to act on or accept. I wonder if something similar is going on with the counsel in these talks.

I think it is important that we as Latter-day Saint women acknowledge what feelings lie behind our following the world's trend of having fewer children, and what lies behind our feelings of wanting to wait longer to start a family. I want to be clear I am not judging anyone's individual experience, but I do think that sometimes women (and men!) in the church use the church's stance on birth control to justify decisions to wait to have children or to limit children that are based on fear rather than faith. Obviously, the choice of when to have children or how many to have is between a couple and the Lord, but I wonder how often the Lord is left out of the equation. How often do we wait to feel ready rather than saying "Thy will be done". I know that the Lord will never give me more than I can handle (granted, I need to use wisdom as well). Still, if I'm honest, I've found in my life that when my spouse and I have been "waiting" it has often been more about what we wanted for ourselves or were afraid of rather than about seeking the will of the Lord. This post made me think more about my own relationship with birth control and how it has affected my decisions to have children in my marriage, both positively and negatively.

I really believe that Laura has made some excellent points about how it has affected our societies' relationship to sex, children, and the female body, and I believe that the points she makes are really worth discussing (as opposed to limiting discussion to why we personally should or should not use birth control). It is also valuable (at least it has been for me) to think about how I support either society's or God's view of sex and children in relation to how I use birth control in my marriage.

To close my comment (man, it's like a giant post on its own now), I though I would leave you with a quote from the First Presidency that Elder Packer gave in his address at Women's Conference:
"Marriage is ordained of God, and the paramount purpose of this sacred principle is to bring into the world immortal spirits to be reared in health and nobility of character, to fill the measure of their mortal existence" (emphasis added).

Courtney said...

Monica, I do think you bring up some very valid points.
I would like to reiterate the personal nature of this topic. It is so easy to extend our own personal revelation onto what others should do simply because it is right for us.

I want to clarify if my comment made it seem that women are justified in resenting their children, or that this is a natural response. I certainly don't think this is an emotion that can't be helped or that children are to blame. Clearly, that is ridiculous! I do think that if a woman resents her children (planned or otherwise) for "messing up her life plan" or whatever the case may be, this is indeed a seriously sad situation that needs to be remedied through the atonement. I don't think resentment towards a child is justified. And I do believe we have a lot of choice in our emotions. So, for me, it seems that if a woman knows she is not ready to have children, what a blessing to still be able to have an intimate relationship with her husband that does not result in children she may not be ready for.

As for the topic of how birth control skews the relationship between sex and procreation and family, I may not have addressed this, but I hope that doesn't make my thoughts any less valid. I do think their is a negative effect from the "safety" that comes from birth control. I do think it has negatively affected society's view of our responsibilities in life. But for me, a married woman, who DOES place a high value in children and family, I don't feel that birth control has had a negative impact on my family values. For me, personally. This is another example of how this is such a personal topic. Each person can be affected differently by the same thing. I will stick with my opinion that planning my family through the use of birth control has made my experience as a mother incredibly rewarding. I feel so enormously blessed to live in a time where I can decide that I am not ready, physically or emotionally, for another child. I would also like to think that I am not being judged for what I have deemed a personal issue between me, my husband, and God. If I decide to have two children, I would hope that I am not thought of as a lesser Mormon woman because my house is not bursting at the seams with babies.

In regards to the topic of choice and agency. I definitely think a woman can make it her choice to not use birth control. If that is what is right for her, then that's great! Each family must decide what is right for their family, and it will be different for each family.

I agree that this is definitely a discussion worth having. But I often feel that we throw the baby out with the bath water. Because some people in society abuse birth control and use it to have casual sexual relationships does not mean birth control is inherently immoral.

Finally, it is interesting the illusion of control birth control gives. It is true, no one has ultimate control over these issues. I have many friends who used birth control for years and then found out they were infertile and felt cheated. Truly devastating. And I do know people who have gotten pregnant while using birth control that have been thrown into quite the whirlwind because they thought they were controlling biology. Any person having sex should be prepared for conception to occur. There is no denying that if you have sex, you might become pregnant. So there should be no false security in birth control that you are free from responsibilities. This is why it is so important to teach our children proper family values so that when they reach an age where they are making those sorts of choices, they are aware of all the consequences. I hope to teach my daughter that, when she is married, she can choose how she wants to plan her family, but that a child is always a blessing and a miracle from God.

Courtney said...

Um. ok. I have one more thought.

It is very apparent that we feel very strongly about this issue and we also feel very differently from each other. I was thinking about where some of these differences might come in. Here is one idea. I live in Utah, and everyone I know is constantly having babies. I cannot think of one couple among my married friends who does not have kids or struggles with infertility if they have been married for more than a year. So, in my world, there is a lot of pressure to have kids, a lot of kids, and all close together.
I haven't lived outside of Utah in a while, but, Monica, you live in Chicago, yes? In a more academic environment? I wonder if there are more couples and families who delay having children. That might explain at least some of our opinions and why we seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum. Maybe I'm way off, but it's just a thought.

Lindsay said...

Hi guys. Quick clarification.
I feel my first comments were misunderstood.
My initial comments highlight the joy of planning a pregnancy, going off of birth control when the timing seems right - and then having a miracle occur.
I never meant to imply that those who had babies without 'planning' or those who never used birth control didn't feel the same joy at conception, gestation and delivery. Having worked as an RN in labor and delivery, I know the incredible spiritual experience it is when a child enters this world - regardless of how it came to pass.

For the record I feel birth control is like any other tool. It can be used for good or evil.

I'll limit my response to that for now. I agree with Monica that this topic calls for further discussion and exploration.

Laura said...

Hello my dear friends,

I have appreciated everyone’s comments on this blog topic. I feel like all of our words come from our hearts, and it truly is a difficult subject to navigate, as I think all have echoed. I have learned a lot from our interactions about how to present my argument better. I want to apologize because the original post seems to have been written in a tone that was more combative than I wanted it to be, and it seems to have colored the conversation in a way I would not have desired. Of COURSE I hope that everyone works out this issue using their own best judgment, for when we are using our brains to the best of our abilities, no one can censure us for making the ‘wrong’ choice. Life is all about trying to figure out these difficult things, and I would not begrudge someone for using a different standard than I have applied, if they feel that it’s best.

Perhaps a better way to state the purpose of my blog than the way I stated it originally would be to say that I am interested in thinking about the ways that gender is challenged in society today, and wondered how birth control plays a part in that. I think that my original post was too reactionary, too bent on fighting the world by wanting to rewind things. The truth of it is, birth control is a part of how we relate to our bodies, physical intimacy, and families. I wonder how much of birth control’s influence on our views of these things is good and how much is damaging. Is there any damage? If so, where does the damage lie? And what can be done about it? That seems to be the best place to take the conversation, so if you’ll indulge me in this shift, I would love to know your thoughts.


Monica said...

I know I never reply in a timely manner - I apologize for that. I think that in this discussion we all have felt misunderstood. I'd like to clarify a few things for me that may affect how each of you views my comments.

1. I believe, as do all of you, that this is a highly personal topic. My goal in my initial responses was not to advocate "no birth control" but to bring out the points of Laura's post that I believe are incredibly valuable for us as women in the church to consider but that I felt had been misunderstood. At the same time, I was trying to push the discussion beyond a defense of birth control. I think it is healthy and necessary for us to really consider how we honestly relate to birth control from all angles, positive and negative.

2. Case in point: I gratefully and happily use birth control myself. I don't feel that we are on opposite sides of the spectrum as Courtney believes. And, I do not agree that we should just stop using birth control to deal with the negative impact it can have. What I do think we need to do is to acknowledge and own any negative aspects of it in our own lives in order to truly face the issues that stem from those aspects (if that makes any sense).

3. No one here argued that birth control was inherently immoral. I think that's a misconstrual of what Laura was saying in the first place. Neither was anyone, as far as I could tell, "judging" anyone else for using birth control (it is somewhat distressing that that is exactly what some of you felt, whether you responded or not).

4. I absolutely agree that physical intimacy is crucial to a marriage. I do not believe, however, that a fulfilling sexual relationship is limited to those who effectively uses birth control.

I guess what I am really trying to say is that there are all kinds of assumptions, beliefs, and ideas that we carry into this type of conversation when we make these claims. I wanted us to move away from that. I wanted us, for instance, to acknowledge that a couple can still have an amazing and fulfilling intimate relationship when they are not using birth control. Or, perhaps to acknowledge that much of what we say in this kind of conversation is loaded with meaning that we are not acknowledging outright, but is still there plain as day. Courtney, of course I did not think that you personally were justifying resentment of children. I just wanted to point out that how you phrased what you said could carry exactly that meaning - that resentment can be a natural result of unplanned pregnancy. While I do believe that tears, sadness, trepidation, fear, and a whole range of other emotions can be natural reactions to an unplanned pregnancy (my pregnancy was planned, and I still felt some of these!), I feel that resentment is an action (not a reaction). Resentment is not the initial natural response to anything, but is the chosen festering of negative emotions that have not been dealt with in a healthy manner. Lindsay, I wasn't saying you thought that an "unplanned" pregnancy could not be joyful, but rather that it seemed as if you were saying that birth control empowered the choice. Do you see? Can you recognize how assumptions and ideas that we've inherited/learned play into the conversation? Most of the time we aren't even aware of what assumptions we are conveying.

I am somewhat saddened by the fact that Laura's reintroduction of the heart of what she was trying to get at did not receive any response. Granted, I didn't respond either, but I think that it is significant that the conversation stopped there. I think there is tremendous value in tackling the questions she raises, and I would encourage us to do our best to move even further past our misunderstandings to delve into the influence of birth control on us physically, spiritually, and emotionally, as seen from all angles.

Monica said...

I should also mention that some of the wording of the second to last paragraph (assumptions, ideas, beliefs, etc) I owe to a discussion that I had with Laura. Some of the words she used to describe what I was trying to get at were much more accurate than words I would have used otherwise.

Heatherlady said...

Wow, this is beautifully said and so much wisdom for one just starting out. I wish I'd had your insights before I got married. I think too many LDS couples just see children as choices and not blessings-- they forget that the whole reason that God is sealing two whole complete endowed people is to procreate-- in this life and the next. Godhood is giving life and if we want to have the privledge of doing in the next life we need to cultivate the right mindset with us now.

I think that a phrase I really love is one used by Catholics (who don't believe in birth control) called "openess to life". It means keeping your heart open to life and to God-- not separating sex and procreation and not separation sex and pleasure. They are all part of the same process. I loved your analogy of the brownie. That is a good way to explain it. I think that LDS women we need to learn to cultivate attitudes that are different from the worlds or else we won't ever be able to create Zion.

Thank your for being willing to share your testimony of this. The world (and LDS women) NEED to hear it. Continuing life-- and progressing to become like God-- is the WHOLE reason we are on this earth and if we forget that within our marriages and within our families it is devastating without us even knowing it.