Fonticulus Fides

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Sharing in the eternal struggle? Or just fooling myself?

Confession time (don’t worry, it’s not a mortal sin). One of the reasons I have blogged so little lately is because I’ve been in a couple of ongoing discussions on the boards over at Beliefnet. It’s been a little draining, and I haven’t had many “words” left for my blog. Which is silly, really, because I have more control over what I can say on my own blog!

Anyhoo, the first discussion was on the validity of Human Vitae, which was started by a retired lawyer who is an agnostic moral relativist. His interesting question revolved around the fact that Human Vitae was directed not solely to Catholics (though it was written by Pope Paul VI), but to “all men of good will.” Since he considers himself a “man of good will,” he has sought to study HV and he finds it lacking, particularly in the condemnation of artificial birth control.

I knew I would be hamstrung before I got into it. He’s agnostic, so I was not allowed to use any mention of Scriptures, the Catechism, Sacred Tradition, etc., to support any of my arguments. He’s a moral relativist, so he keeps moving the line that defines “natural law.” He considers himself a pro-feminist man, but arguments about hormonal birth control puts all the risk and responsibility on the woman were pooh-poohed as irrelevant “because women want the responsibility.” The issue of sex being sacramental makes no sense to him, and he fairly bristles at the notion that sex should not be taken on demand by two consenting adults.

So, I’ve been wracking my heavily taxed brain on this issue for some time, but then my counterpart went on vacation for ten days. Another Catholic on the board posted an article about how the birth control pill is really good for women – she’s pro-ABC, btw – and since she posted it on the Catholic Debate board, I figured she was inviting debate, so I posted the opposite view, linking to a few web sites that supported my claim. Now I’ve got five or six pro-ABC women and the agnostic moral relativist (he’s back) all chomping at me on the thread. Which – I know, I know -- is on a debate board, so that’s to be expected.

I see that Alicia has had a bit of a tussle on this issue recently herself.

I don’t know about any of you, but every time I get into an NFP vs. ABC debate, it’s all but pointless. So many NFP educators promote NFP as being “just as effective as the Pill” that your average person can’t see much of a difference between NFP and ABC. Yes, I know about the difference between actively thwarting pregnancy (ABC) and passively thwarting pregnancy through periodic abstinence (which an NFP couple may be choosing to do). And you only have to practice NFP for a few months to really get an idea of how big of a difference it is.

But if you take your average American – most of whom are not educated in NFP and haven’t a clue how it feels to use it – you’re going to get a blank stare on that argument. After all, the motivation is the same, and so is the outcome.

And frankly, I think they’re right on that point. When you read the official Catholic position on this (and I say “official” because I know there are renegade theologians out there saying something different), pregnancy is only supposed to be delayed/avoided for “grave reasons.” The definition of “grave” is loose, but any sensible person ought to realize it means something serious, like another baby would mean bankruptcy or great physical harm to the mother, or the mom still hasn’t had the 9 months minimum to recover from the last birth yet or something like that. “I just can’t handle diapers again…” or “I don’t have enough time for myself as it is” probably doesn’t count. Because when you get right down to it, we’re supposed to want to have lots of babies, if only to populate the earth and heaven with saints.

Think about that for a minute – wouldn’t the world be a terrific place if there were even one living saint to every 100 regular people?

The other thing about the “grave reasons” issue – I think the right attitude about those “grave reasons” is you’re supposed to be working to make them go away, so that you can have another baby. As Catholics with “one eye on heaven,” I don’t think we’re ever supposed to have an attitude of “Yippee! We can have sex without having a baby!” – because that’s the sentiment that lead to the development of ABC to begin with. And it ignores God’s desire to have as many of us as He possibly can in Heaven with Him someday. Rather, we should feel regret: “It’s sad that we can’t have a baby right now. What can we do to change that in the near future?”

As long as I’m in a confessional mode, though, I have to admit, there are times I dearly wish I could chuck HV and all its “high-fallutin’” ideals and just be an average American again, ABC and all. I find myself altogether too grateful to have some of those “grave reasons,” including the money thing and needing more time to recover since Lola was born (she’s 9.5 months, but I’ve had trouble bouncing back -- still some pain when I walk).

Some days, I start to panic a little when I think about what will happen when our “grave reasons” go away. I’m already 40. Will I be able to handle having another baby at 42? 43? Or two or three more before my child-bearing potential ends for good? I want to call out to God and say, “Please don’t make me do it again!” I love my kids, and I had good birth experiences with the first two, but I haven’t felt “right” since Lola was born, and I just can’t imagine that I would be able to handle the whole thing one more time, let alone two.

There’s no point in trying to hide these thoughts from the Lord. He knows I feel that way. And He knows that sometimes I’m sorry for those feelings…and other times, I’m not. All I can do is keep my actions correct and try to grow spiritually so that my mind and my heart catch up.

But what’s really frustrating to me about these conversations with other Catholics who are pro-ABC is that living the Catholic way – with NFP – is a sacrifice and sometimes a great burden, and the ABC people seem to think I’m a dork for taking it on when ABC is so readily available and “Most Catholics use ABC,” as they are fond of reminding me. Some even have the gall to recommend that I get my husband “fixed.” Like a dog. I love this man too much to ever treat him and his fertility so disrespectfully.

We are called in Scriptures to help shoulder each other’s burdens, but most NFP-using couples feel like they have no support at all. Cripes, I’m even scared to bring up the topic in person. People don’t like to have their issues brought out into the daylight. And it’s not like you can broach the topic without tottering on the threshold of private bedroom details.

I do think a lot of NFP people have done a disservice by promoting NFP as “a Catholic birth control system.” That’s not what NFP should be. NFP provides very useful data for a wide variety of issues. If a woman is prone to PMS or difficult periods, NFP could help her find a solution. NFP can be used to conceive as well as delay pregnancy. I’ve read that it has even helped women see a change that alerted their doctor to a serious health issue. That’s what I wish NFPers would focus on – the health benefits to women. Not a contraceptive mentality.

Finally, let us not forget that we probably can all help families live according to HV in a variety of ways. As I was working on cleaning and organizing our basement (I’m about 2/3 done!), I packed up a carton of serviceable, unstained 0-3 and 3-6 month sleepers, receiving blankets and other clothes. And we just moved Lola up to a rear-facing convertible car seat, so I’ve got her infant seat, which we bought new in January. Plus the portable bassinette. I’m thinking about taking all this stuff to the Crisis Pregnancy Center or Catholic Social Services. I know that there might be a woman out there who thinks she can’t have a baby because she can’t afford this stuff, and my donation might make the difference for her.

If I can’t populate heaven through my own womb right now, at least I can help another woman out, right? And if God wants us to have another baby, I know He will provide for us, so maybe I don’t have to keep it unused in my basement for another year. I’m thinking about it, and asking the Lord to guide me to make the right decision. Best I can do in my far-less-than-perfect way.

If you’ve read this whole diatribe, you deserve a prize!



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