Tuesday, May 8, 2012

On Contraception, Infertility and a Faith Journey

The Infertility Companion for Catholics by Angelique Ruhi-Lopez and Carmen Santamaria clearly explains the Church's teachings on using various reproductive technologies that are used to make babies for couples who cannot conceive naturally. The problem with many of these methods, like IVF, is that they destroy the unitive aspect of marriage. It is the opposite of contraception, which destroys the procreative aspect of marital union. Just because we can do something, doesn't necessarily mean we should do it. That was my first thought when I first learned about this technology about 30 years ago. Even though I was not religious at the time, natural law is stamped onto our very hearts. It seemed very, very wrong to make a baby in a Petri dish, as though babies are commodities. Today there are thousands of frozen embryos, nicknamed "snowflakes" or "frosties" that are awaiting their fate. Over half will perish since cryopreservation is still an infant science. Pretty dismal since we're talking about humans.

This book explains the techniques that are available to couples who are experiencing infertility that may help them to conceive a child (ex. hormonal supplements to bring hormone levels into balance or surgery to correct anatomical problems), all the while preserving the dignity of all involved, and reminding us that God is the Author of all life.

The authors also provide an extensive bibliography of Church documents online that explain doctrine thoroughly, so that if a new technology comes up to help child-less couples, they can return to basic principles and decide whether it violates the sanctity and dignity of all human life.

I especially appreciated the chapter on discernment, because it can be applied to not just any reproductive technology or the decision to adopt, but also for any number of life-changing situations where it is crucial we make the right decision, be it changing jobs or houses. I also enjoyed the chapters on how one can bear this difficult cross without turning into a bear oneself. It reminds us that we ought to pray with humility and steadfastness. God knows our hearts, but more importantly, He knows what is best for us and has a plan. So it is very important to love and trust God, and His timing, and also His answers -- yes, no, not now. He always answers our prayers.

I borrowed this book because my husband and I have now joined the ranks of couples who are carrying the cross of infertility. I know that I am beyond the age that most women conceive (the CDC only counts women from age 15-45 in their assessments) and that our problem is self-inflicted (my husband had a vasectomy ten years ago), but I share this sense of loss with these women. For the first time, I mourn the children we could've had but didn't because of our own selfishness, pride, and slavery to sin.

But thank God for showing us the way back to Him. He is a God of great mercy and love, and as we grew in our faith, we felt compelled for my husband to have a reversal surgery so that our marriage will be again open to new life. I am no spring chicken, but we know that nothing is impossible for God. Children are a gift from the Lord.

Oddly enough it was my dreams of writing as well as being a tired mother (I was no spring chicken when I had my two) that made us so casual about doing this sort of permanent sterilization. Contraception and sterilization is part of the culture. We decide when to have children. We decide how many. In fact, when I was pregnant with my second child, and we knew she had to be born via Cesarean section because she was huge (they estimated 9 lbs, but she was a tenner) my doctor asked me whether I wanted my tubes tied since she was going to have to open me up anyways. I remember crying. I managed to tell her “no.” We might want more babies. She said fine. But I couldn’t stop weeping. I’m sure hormones had something to do with it, but in retrospect, what I couldn’t put into words then, but realize now, is that my heart knew I would be destroying something amazing and wonderful. However, a year later, I was writing again, and a few months after, when my periods began, I was terrified. The thought of giving up something I had just recently discovered (writing) felt like a tremendous sacrifice, after I’d already given up working as a scientist. Never mind, that mothering and writing are not mutually exclusive. And so the dreadful deed was done. My husband, a willing accomplice, got a vasectomy for his 40th birthday. No doctor counseled us that this is a very, very bad idea. Instead, we reveled – all the sex one could want without the babies …

Now, I am having modest success as a writer. I think I finally know how to write a novel, and life is good with our two children. I thank God for them every day. So why can’t we be satisfied with what we have? Why rock the boat? Why invite trouble? I cannot explain this compulsion, but it has to do with abandoning ourselves to God. We feel a greater peace and joy than ever before in knowing we are not saying “No” to God anymore. If He decides to bless us with a child, we are open to that blessing, and to His plans for our life. And if we never have another child, I know it is because He has other plans for me. He knows me better than I know myself and so I keep going back to "Thy will be done."

I look to these old couples from Scripture – Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, Elkanah and Hannah, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Jochaim and Anne (parents of Mary) – and they fill me with faith, hope and love.

I humbly ask for your prayers and I’m grateful you are with me on this journey. It helps to talk and write about these things. It’s part and parcel of figuring out how in the world good people end up doing terrible things. I'm beginning to see that it is from fear. The antidote: God. God = Love. And perfect love casts out fear.

I’ve rambled long enough. But I wanted to share a beautiful quote on stages of our relationship with God from St. Jose Maria Escriva: to be resigned to the will of God; to conform to the will of God, to want the will of God; to love the will of God.

I think it encapsulates our ongoing faith journey perfectly.

God bless you all.


Mirka Breen said...

I respect your journey and faith. Discernment is something we must apply always.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully put. I came here to find out more about science writers and found a sister in Christ!!
Your story is encouraging to me right now as I face my own fertility. My human nature can't help feeling a little worried about all the loss of time and energy (not to mention the discomfort) a new child brings. Your journey helps me keep my perspective. Thank you very much for your honesty and openness.

May God bless you!

Vijaya said...

Mirka, you are so right. This is why it is important to form a conscience guided by faith, because if we rely on our own selves, we are prone to make mistakes.

Creation, thank you for visiting, and I am happy that I've given you some food for thought. The way I see it, life is a lot better when we let God be in the driver's seat. Children are a huge blessing, and even though at times you could practically strangle them, they are little miracles.
God bless you.

Molly/Cece said...

Hi Vijaya, Love you much. Always glad to see you wrestling honestly. I can't hardly bring myself to say the things that burn in my soul, so glory to God in the highest for your willingness to speak your mind.

I do have things burning and I am struggling to say some of them. I feel so deeply that God loves us and that we have been made worthy. I say that to Jack everyday -- you are worthy. I say this more now than ever before, don't be so hard on yourself. God is enough and makes us work. A unfathomable mystery to me. My words aren't good enough, but I tried. Peace, dear friend.

Molly/Cece said...

Oh, I was thinking more across 350 pages of manuscript and not seven. When my manuscript is about 700 words, then it is often clean and tight. When it grows a hundred times or more,I struggle.

Faith E. Hough said...

One of the things about God that makes my head spin is the way he calls us all to different things but gives us each the strength we need.
I hope my experiences help other writers know that it's very doable to be a writer and a mother. (As long as you're willing to pull some hair out on occasion. ;)
And your witness reassures me that God will always provide the grace we need--when we need it.
You know you are in my daily prayers.

Marcia said...

Vijaya, the line that hit me is the peace and joy of knowing you are not saying "no" to God anymore. Whether you have another child or not, that's the real accomplishment here, and you're letting God know your abandonment to him is real by physically opening yourselves up to whatever he might do. This will bear much fruit in your lives, whether or not that fruit includes a baby!

Vijaya said...

Molly, I hope you will say the things that burn inside too. I struggled to post this for a long time. But I hope that our shame laid bare might help another to keep on a path that is pleasing to God.

I think we are polar opposites on the "worth" issue, but maybe it is because at every Mass, we say "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the words and my soul shall be healed." The enormity of our sins makes me glad that our God is more merciful than just. It is only by the grace of God that I am breathing today. My first thought is always of thankfulness.

I'm laughing about the 700-word cut off. Yes, if I keep things under a thousand, I tend to keep it tight. Better yet at 500. This is why, my latest project, I am dividing it up into 200-word chunks so that I don't go on and on ...

Faith, thank you as always for keeping me in your prayers. You are so right that God gives us all the graces we need, exactlyl when we need them.

And Marcia, you hit the nail on the head. It's not easy abandoning ourselves to God's will (why, He might ask me to do something I don't want to -- my ego always gets in the way), but slowly, slowly that attitude is shifting. I want to be completely open to His will.