A couple of months or so before my wedding day, amidst RSVPs and dress fittings and bridal showers and cake tastings, I made an appointment at my university health clinic to get a prescription for birth control. My then-fiancé and I were waiting until after we were married to have sex because, as evangelical Christians, we believed then (and still do now) that God’s design and the proper context for sexuality includes the union of marriage between husband and wife. However what we didn’t know then (but thankfully know now) is that God’s plan for sexual intimacy was also intended to include the possibility of conception. We instead had assumed, like most everyone else we knew, that nobody is supposed to have children “too soon” in a marriage and that the logical choice for preventing pregnancy was the pill.
Maybe I should have been concerned when I saw posters happily promoting hormonal birth control plastered all over the clinic’s walls, or when the doctor performing my exam didn’t believe me when I told her neither my fiancé nor I had ever been sexually active. Perhaps I ought to have questioned the wisdom of using something given out to young women so liberally and cheaply, and by secular humanists at that, on a college campus with an upwards of 40% STD infection rate at that time. But I had already (and quite unknowingly) internalized the prevalent evangelical narrative that if you want a healthy marriage, you must avoid having a baby for at least a few years. Becoming a mother or a father was for grown-ups, not for young newlyweds like us.
And yet that’s not to say I didn’t have any concerns about hormonal birth control, but whatever slight misgivings I had were quickly assuaged upon hearing a Focus on the Family broadcast, where a Christian expert confidently stated there were no moral problems with the pill, and that it was “safe”. Period.
So, I began taking it.
Within days the splitting headaches started, and the constant feeling of being hungry. I was exhausted, and it took everything I had to make it through the day at school and at work. These side-effects are surely only temporary, I told myself. Just a little longer and my body will be used to it!
But the problem was that I also started feeling sad. Life felt overwhelming in a way it never had before. My fiancé and I argued more than in times past, often over the stupidest things, and I began to feel out of control. I knew it was the pill wreaking havoc on my emotions but I felt trapped because, well, how else were we going to prevent pregnancy? Our beautiful wedding day came and went and our marriage began, and I continued hoping that the hormones would eventually stop hurting me. But they didn’t. My wise (and ever-patient) husband encouraged me to stop taking the pills, so three months into our marriage, I threw the prescription into the trash. Better to be a sane and happy mother than a crazy, sad woman without kids, I reckoned. Plus I figured that after I was back to normal, I could maybe find a different combination of hormones to try–that would hopefully not throw my body into such chaos.
But shortly after I made the decision to stop taking my daily dose of socially-acceptable poison, some dear friends informed us that they’d just learned the birth control pill was an abortifacient–not only did it serve to prevent ovulation, but it also rendered the uterus incapable of sustaining the implantation of a fertilized egg. That way, if breakthrough ovulation occurred and a child was indeed conceived, he or she would have nowhere to attach to the endometrium and thus be flushed out of the body with that month’s menstruation.
My husband and I, adamantly pro-life and in complete agreement with the historic Christian notion that human life, body and soul, begins at conception, were understandably horrified. Granted we’d only used the pill for three months post-marriage, but that was three months too long. And this claim about the tertiary function of the pill wasn’t just pro-life propaganda–the insert that came with the pill (which I had sadly never read) said that was part of how it worked.
And that was when I began to get angry, because quite frankly, this was deplorable. Why had no one told us the truth? Why did physicians not warn young women about the terrible side-effects that might accompany this prescription? Why were doctors doling out pills without so much as even the slightest word of caution to vulnerable patients? Why did Christians near and far claim that everything was A-Okay with a product that was potentially killing children? And for goodness’ sake, why did the ultra-conservative Focus on the Family radio program of all things assure its listeners that pro-life couples were not hurting anyone by using abortifacient birth control?
Stunned by what we were hearing and reading, I did something that I’d never done before and have not done since: I actually followed through when I ranted to my husband about contacting an organization to express my disappointment and frustration. And so I emailed so-and-so at Focus on the Family, and my jaw about hit the floor when I found justification upon justification in his response. You can’t prove it and we don’t know for sure, so it’s okay to keep using it was the name of the game, and it would be the theme of pretty much every.single. evangelical’s objection, when we would carefully attempt to share the truth all those years ago. Surely pro-life Christians would want to know about the grave moral problems with birth control, we’d reasoned.
But we were wrong, and here’s why: the truth is inconvenient.
It is one thing to be a culture warrior, to wear the pro-life brand on your sleeve and talk about how Roe v. Wade and women having abortions are bad. It’s pretty easy to vote like everyone else at your church and give a few bucks to the local crisis pregnancy center, and to say adoption is a better option from our comfortable bubble of a vantage point.
But it’s quite another to surrender one’s own decisions, marriage, finances, and future to the Lord. It’s a whole other ball of wax to acknowledge that faith makes demands of us, that we are called into a radical obedience to Jesus, and that we Christians might actually need to rethink our entire approach to marriage and children and career. Suddenly issues of personhood and life and sacrifice don’t just affect the desperate women we love to scorn and judge, but they affect us. And what we do.
And I know this first-hand because once upon a time I was terrified to give up the security of the birth control pill, and I didn’t want to believe our friends’ findings–because even though I’d already stopped using contraception for health reasons, the abortifacient factor meant that any and all hormonal birth control would be off the table forever and always. I did not want to accept the fact that children are an inherent and natural part of married sexuality.
So many of my assumptions and ideas had been wrong. Contrary to what I’d been conditioned to believe, modern society is hurting women when it speaks the lie that “sexual freedom” means freedom from motherhood, fatherhood, and responsibility. Lives are being destroyed and forever altered because the culture has convinced no less than two entire generations that empowerment and happiness are only available to those capable of doing whatever they want, with whomever they want, whenever they want. It’s a brilliant way to render women ineffectual pawns to be used (and disposed of) by men.
And speaking as a woman and a mother, I’m not okay with that.
Because ladies, we deserve so much better! We deserve to be told the truth about our bodies and marriage and babies, and to be given the necessary information to be healthy and well and whole. We deserve to be seen as human beings, not merely sexual creatures doomed to operate off of base instinct, like animals do. We deserve to be treated with dignity and respect by men who demonstrate their love and protection through commitment to marriage, as opposed to cheap words and premature physical intimacy.
This subject of hormonal birth control and how it intersects with sexuality is considered to be controversial and therefore taboo, but I wonder: does it really have to be? Women ought to know the truth and have the ability to make an informed decision when it comes to relationships and health! You don’t have to be Catholic or someone who believes All The Things to reexamine commonly held beliefs about contraception. It might initially feel threatening or scary to sit down and think through these tough issues, because yes, it may necessitate a change. But it’s worth it. Really, it is. Because it’s high time we women started reclaiming our health and demanding to be seen as whole and integrated people worthy of care and love. It’s time we acknowledge the fact that we’ll have to do this for ourselves, since pharmaceutical companies, the medical establishment, your local Planned Parenthood, and the culture at large has an agenda that has little to do with wellness–and everything to do with preserving the illusion of sex without consequences.
(If you’re interested in learning more about scientific and truly healthful methods of addressing reproductive or fertility or family planning issues, make the choice to look into the incredible things happening in the area of NAPRO technology. Good stuff that doesn’t involve masking problems with risky, synthetic hormones.)
I really believe that we are the ones who must decide enough is enough when it comes to the true war on women. We are the ones who must choose something far better and greater than merely being a culture warrior or paying lip-service to the pro-life cause. We must stand up and fight for our daughters and for ourselves, because ALL WOMEN DESERVE BETTER CHOICES.
This is why I’m braving the controversy, sharing my story, and speaking up. Are you in?