Monday, December 6, 2010

The Illusion of Birth Control

I started taking birth control pills shortly before I was married.  I took them for 2 months leading up to my wedding so they would be effective in time for the wedding night.  I gained some weight and my mom commented that I might not fit into the dress we were making, but other than the slight weight gain I didn't notice any undesirable side effects.  I took my pills religiously every morning, and as long as I was taking them I didn't get pregnant.

I had done some research about the various forms of birth control before I chose the pill.  The pamphlets I was given at doctors offices and other clinics listed many different types of pregnancy prevention, and they all involved some sort of hormones.  I didn't want to have something inserted that would need to be removed by a medical professional when we decided to start trying to conceive.  I felt that was an intrusion of privacy, and I wanted the freedom of being able to start trying without having a doctor visit.  Likewise, a series of regular shots was not appealing to me at all.  I don't like needles to begin with, and having to see a medical professional on a regular basis for a shot to prevent pregnancy was not my idea of a good thing.  The side effects also scared me!  It seemed to me that the pill was the least invasive method with the fewest and least severe side effects.  I didn't have any of the risk factors which would put me at increased risk, and I felt it was safe.  I also wanted to be spontaneous and not have to worry about inserting anything or putting something on in the heat of the moment, possibly spoiling the mood.  It seemed like a good choice.

As I said, the pill worked well to prevent pregnancy as long as I took it.  Our first three babies were carefully planned and conceived within a few months of stopping the pill.  Whenever I was breastfeeding I would take the "mini pill" and it seemed to work until my baby was weaned and I was ready for the full pill again.

While I was breastfeeding my third baby something shifted.  I don't know what prompted it, or why it happened when it did.  I suddenly hated the pill.  There was nothing logical about it, but I just couldn't stand taking it anymore.  The only thing I could think of was that it must not be good for my body to be getting unnecessary hormones, and if I were to continue taking the pill regularly it could potentially cause some long term problems.  I had no proof of this, but it was a very strong feeling.  I talked with my husband about my feelings and he was very supportive of my choice to stop taking birth control pills.  I must have prayed about it, because I remember reflecting about my dilemma for a few weeks before making a firm decision.  Since none of the other hormonal contraceptives seemed like a good choice, we decided to use condoms.

My fourth child was a surprise pregnancy.  While we weren't planning on conceiving that soon, we accepted that it must have been the right time for her to be born, and we were thrilled to be having another baby.  We had new emotions at the beginning of the pregnancy compared to the first three, simply because it felt the situation was thrust upon us without our planning it, and it took some time to get over the initial shock and embrace the pregnancy.  I still felt very strongly that I should not change our contraceptive methods, and felt that we had made the right choice.

My fifth pregnancy was likewise a surprise, and this was the hardest one to swallow.  My baby was only 9 months old and still very much a baby herself.  Our youngest two of five would be only 18 months apart, and my little girl had strong emotional needs and was very attached to me, quite literally, most of the time.  I told my husband that the new baby had better be mellow and easy-going, because I couldn't handle two clingy babies at the same time.

I learned to have one child on each hip, and make sure there was a place for both the youngest two to sit with me and get the attention from me that they needed.  It really was like having two babies, but I loved my children so much and would never have changed anything about the timing of their births.  I saw the two little ones bonding in different ways than our older children had, and I felt this was partly because of how close they were in age.  It was really fun to watch their interactions and see my little girl learn to share mommy with her little brother, even though it was hard for her at times.

After my fifth child's birth I decided to try natural family planning, otherwise known as the fertility awareness method.  I had read the book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility, and I felt it had solid foundations and could really work.  I also really liked the idea of learning my body more deeply and watching for its cues to either achieve or avoid pregnancy.  I felt like I was practicing for quite a while as I was breastfeeding my baby and trying to learn my body's pattern and cues.  I was charting and marking things on the calendar, and I would let my husband know when we needed to use protection and when we didn't.

My husband would say that natural family planning didn't work, because once again I got pregnant unexpectedly.  I disagree, and here's why.  I had marked my dates on the calendar, and in the heat of the moment when my husband asked if we needed to put something on I miscalculated in my head how long it had been since my period, and I said we were fine.  If I'd actually checked the calendar I would have known I was wrong and could have told him otherwise.  One thing I've learned about fertility awareness is that it works, as long as the people using the method are doing it right.  Just as the birth control pill only works if you take it regularly, natural family planning requires you to pay close attention and not guess.  Although that pregnancy ended in miscarriage, I had no regrets about my decisions.

So here I am, not knowing how to approach this.  I'm not sure I want to use fertility awareness, but I know for sure I'm not going to take extra hormones ever again unless there's a medical need other than contraception.  If I've learned anything from my birth control experiences, it's that I'm not the one in control.  I really feel that "birth control" only provides the illusion of control.  

I've known women who repeatedly got pregnant while on multiple forms of birth control, and on the contrary I've also know women who stopped taking their birth control only to find they couldn't conceive when they wanted to.  Some needed additional help conceiving, and some just took longer, sometimes much longer, than they'd hoped.  What it comes down to is that we try to control our bodies, many times unsuccessfully.  

I no longer feel the need to control this aspect of my life, and I'm finding I'm much more willing to leave it in God's hands now.  If things had gone according to plan I wouldn't have the beautiful children I have now, and for that I'm really glad I wasn't in control.


  1. I've been on a similar journey of trying to figure things out! I was on the pill until we conceived our first, and after that I planned to go back on it, but my midwife gave me some literature about it that made me think twice, plus i definitely felt better off of the pill. We started doing NFP and also had a baby that was due to the "heat of the moment." Now we're trying to figure out what to do because NFP doesn't mix too well with co-sleeping (for temps) and barrier methods are a pain in the neck. Glad to get your perspective!

  2. I agree! :D Pill didn't feel right to me either. We've decided we'll keep going and when we feel we've had enough then we're planning something permanent on his end. We know we want at least one more. :D

  3. I have had the Mirena IUD for almost 5 years. It needs to come out in Feb and then we need to decide what to do, so this is timely.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I agree it is an illusion of control!

  4. I just started reading your blog about a week ago and I LOVE it!!! I sometimes feel like you are me only a few years in the future. I only have 3 children and while trying to concieve my 3rd, I too had a "feeling" that birth control was wrong. I prayed and prayed about it. I talked about it with my husband and he too was getting his own inspirations and disliked me manipulating my body with hormones. The only thing i do regret is not realizing this sooner. I almost got teary-eyed when I read your thoughts on it cause I seriously thought I was the only one (other than the duggars) that felt this way. I've been using breastfeeding for birth control and then was going to use NFP once he started solids. Only, even now my youngest is 8 months old and has been eating solids for 3 months now and just started sleeping through the night. My cycles still haven't started! I think I am one of those girls who is "infertile" until my child is completely weaned. So, I totally agree with you about the illusion of control. I now see it was so pointless to take the mini pill back when I breastfed my first 2 kids. I am LOVING my life now as I leave it up to my Heavenly Father. Thanks so much for keeping up this amazing blog. It's people like you that can alter lives for the better when you stand up for what you believe in and you're not scared to educate others on your beliefs.

  5. as a faithful Catholic, I believe artificial birth control is immoral because it separates how God designed sex to me - both a unitive act for the couple and a procreative act (this doesn't mean every sexual act has to result in a baby to be moral, only that it has to be open to the possibility of being co-creators with God).

    but, in addition, hormonal contraception is an abortifacient (can cause an abortion) and totally messes with your body and hormones in an unnatural, and thus, unappealing way.

    i even wrote a blogpost about how it should be called "organic family planning" because its really the only truly, "natural" thing to do! :-p

  6. I have been repeatedly amazed at how you and I seem to be on the same path at the same time! I was just thinking last night about my 7 children and 9 pregnancies and how I was never in control about when I got pregnant and when I didn't. For most of my childbearing years I imagined that I was the one controlling things, but I've recently realized the Lord has always been in control. That can be very hard sometimes when it doesn't match with my on will, but I can see in hindsight that He definitely knows best. Still, it can be tough to let go and trust Him completely. Still learning!

  7. I feel exactly the same way as you - about all of it! I tried to take the pill again after Lucy was born and it freaked me out. Yuck! So it's all natural for us currently. Fingers crossed as I am 40 with 3 kids!

  8. I love this post. I've gone through a huge paradigm shift about birth control the last few years. One of the things that has spoken strongly to my soul is the catholic teachings on "Openess to life". The whole approach to sexuality and fertility is different. Instead of seeing a woman's fertility as something potentially bad and something that should be controled it is embraced as a beautiful and divine part of a woman. The sexual act is a commitment between an man and a woman to be willing to bring another life into the world-- which won't always happen if you understand NFP and watch your cycles you can sort of "plan"-- but what matters is where your heart is. That you embrace life and rejoice in life rather than seeing it as something to be avoided or controlled.

    I know that for me seeing my fertility this way has made a huge difference and it has taken a lot of faith, but once I realized I wasn't really in control and put it in God's hands I felt SO FREE. It is really a heavy burden to have to try to play God and decide who is worthy to be born and when. That is a role I don't feel like I am qualified to play.

    It is also so interesting how birth control is something that is so normal and accepted now when just 40 years ago it was considered highly controversial and many people were so out spoken against it. It is amazing how we've changed our values and our paradigms as a society.

  9. I feel that practicing FAM with abstinence instead of barriers does dispel the illusion of control. It makes us very conscious of our fertility and encourages us to communicate honestly.

    I've noticed this is similar to the illusion of immunity from vaccines. People feel a sense of security when they get poked with a vaccine. And people feel a sense of security when they pop a pill or place a condom. Or when you're pregnant and you go to the hospital. It shows an inherent mistrust of the body. A fear that the body will betray you in some way...

    The question is...can you really trust that feeling of security from these interventions? Is it really more effective than simply working with your body and trusting your body?

  10. Thank you for an excellent post. (:

  11. New reader here, brought in by Guggie!

    BC has been a stressful ride for my husband and I. Our first was conceived before we were married when I was just 20, thanks to a condom that should have been, by all intents and purposes, absolutely perfect and faultless. We tried a number of other forms between he and #2, yet my body reacted horribly to the hormones with awful headaches, and I have a sensitivity to some metals, making the copper IUD a nightmare. It felt impossible for us to manage the desire to hold off on having more children, yet for me to be able to continue on with my life without constant pain, excruciating periods, or feeling as though I was spending all of my time bleeding and none of my time LIVING thanks to the hormones. NFP has been a journey in and of itself, and unfortunately even the best planners and most conscious charters cannot account for when illness, stress, medications, weight gain, or other factors may come into play. I've had all of these issues lately - and unfortunately I seem to have not ovulated "on time", leaving us a bit in the dark as to where my cycle may or may not be this month.

    I think the combination of backup methods and NFP can be great, but NFP alone can be a crap shoot when other things in life interfere and our bodies react accordingly. I would still rather use NFP and simply avoid actual sexual intercourse while ovulating and otherwise "pull out" the rest of the time (just in case, as Hubby puts it, for all it's worth) than continue on hormones. As a pagan, I have been learning more and more about respecting my body, its functions, and what it should naturally be doing - and I cannot see how hormonal birth control can ever again be for me.

    Thanks for an excellent post.