Friday, June 26, 2009

My moral quandry... birth control, abortion, and the beginning of life

**Warning - I'm talking birth control in this post. Some of ya'll might be uncomfortable with that. **

I had a gynecologist appointment this week. I've been looking for advice about birth-control, particularly looking for non-hormonal options. I'm weighing my options and would love the perspective of other women that have made their own decisions.

Hormonal Birth Control:

  • The Pill
  • The Patch
  • The Ring
  • All hormone shots...
Non-Hormonal Birth Control:
  • Diaphragm
  • IUD
  • Natural Family Planning (NFP)
  • Abstinence
  • Barrier Methods (condoms, etc)

See - over the past year my assumptions about birth control were challenged . Isaac and I looked pretty deeply into it all during the elections, mostly because the fierce debate around Obama in Christian circles often came down to abortion, and engaging honestly in that debate took us back around to the question of where life begins.

We'd been pretty at peace with that question before. I took a class in college (a Bible college) called Developmental Psychology. The section on pregnancy, the beginning of life, and birth control was fascinating, and although the Proff attempted to present a variety of views without telling us which he followed, I came out pretty convinced that life begins at implantation, when the embryo attaches to the uterus. Then when Isaac and I got engaged and I started looking at birth control options, the pill and the patch didn't bother me because while they can prevent implantation, there is no abortificant quality after implantation.

The debates we got into last Fall brought up a lot of arguments of people talking about life beginning at conception, and I intensely asked WHY. What resulted after asking doctors, theologians, pastors, parents, professors, scripture, church history and friends what their opinions were and why, I've come to think that......

.... the whole thing is so unclear and I'm more unsure than ever. Without knowing for sure what we think, we wonder if maybe for now we should air on the safe side (then again, what IS the safe side anyways?). Hormonal birth control of all kinds can prevent implantation, and IF life begins at conception, then that prevention is causing abortions in the many women (including me) that use them.

Let me just say that again, because I am sort of aghast that the evangelical church states so strongly that life begins at conception and condemns abortion, but then rarely is consistent because hardly anyone speaks out against hormonal birth control. IF life begins at conception, the pill, the patch, and the ring all cause abortions. Beyond that, over time I grow more and more uncomfortable with pumping my body full of hormones that can affect weight, mood, libido, etc.. Yeah, I think I do fine on the birth control I've been on for the past four years, but I'm at the point where I'd really like to switch.

What are my other options?

The obvious answer is barrier methods - condoms, etc. Okay maybe, but I hate them, so I'm looking at other options.

Well, the gynecologist was no help, really. Her biggest non-hormonal suggestion is the IUD, which prevents conception. However, the IUD can be difficult and painful to insert if you've never had a baby before, and there's other side-effects I guess I'm not comfortable right now. It seems like a decent option for women that have already given birth, but not for me.

Diaphragms are another option, but don't come highly recommended by the gyno and don't have the highest percentage of effectiveness (read - some friends were using this when they got pregnant).

That leaves the only other option as Natural Family Planning (NFP). I've been reading up on it, and it's more than just counting days and trying to estimate when you're fertile. Women who follow NFP carefully will take their body temperature every morning and measure a few other signs to track when they are fertile, and during those times either use barrier methods or abstain. In fact, you can even buy fertility detectors... not sure how effective they are though. In my understanding, NFP gets a bad rap mostly because people misunderstand it or just don't actually follow it and say they are.

That's about it. The gynecologist basically said she doesn't know many women using NFP, and subtly sent the message that most people go with the pill and the patch and everybody's doing it, what's the problem? I KNOW that's not true, but it may seem that way to her because everyone coming to her is trying to get a refilled prescription. I know a LOT of women who have gone off of hormonal birth control (mostly for moods and libido reasons), but of course she doesn't see these women because they just stop coming and decide to take care of themselves.

The gyno encouraged me to look into the NuvaRing, which lasts for a month and is inserted, which means the hormones aren't entering your bloodstream or digestive system, and it's about 50% less hormones overall. That helps with my unease about the hormone levels, but it doesn't help at all with the moral quandary of when life begins.

All in all... I have no idea what to do. :)


Jaimie said...

Yeah, I just HATE the idea of injecting one individual in the relationship with mass amounts of hormones, or any drug, to prevent a birth, which benefits both individuals. If both individuals are benefited, both individuals should do their part. Why should one do all the work? Or all the suffering?

(And for someone like me, who is already really hormonally unbalanced, it would be a kind of suffering.)

As far as when life begins, I would say it begins with the brain forms. Our brain is 100% how we perceive and experience life, the incarnation of our soul. Or so I believe. So even day-after pills would be fine with me. (Wait, do those have hormones?) Haha, obviously I haven't researched everything. I don't need to yet.

mub said...

I love the NuvaRing. It's enough hormones to balance out the crazy (seriously bad mood swings) during my period but not enough to cause other problems throughout the rest of the month.

I hope you can come to a decision you are comfortable with. Personally, I think that until the embryo is actually implanted, life hasn't begun.

Kaycee said...

I hate taking birth control pills, they make me so moody. Plus they just seem so unnatural. My body is supposed to ovulate and menstruate, who am I to stop it? I know I sound like a hippie.

We've always used the "pull it out" method which has adventure. The good thing is that we're extremely open to life. Actually we've been pretty successful with it thus far. I tell everyone that this baby was a surprise, but we both knew what we were doing at the time. TMI? Sorry. After this baby is born I will probably read up on NFP.

I've always thought that life begins at conception. It just doesn't seem logical to me that it would start at any time, but I agree that nobody knows for sure.

Kacie said...

Lol, the comments already have me laughing. Ya'll are the best.

cclarebear said...

I hated the pill, I always forgot to take it...

I'm on Implanon at the moment but I think it's made me really moody and a bit psycho so i think when the boyfriend comes back I need to look at my options. It is great not having my period though, god, it's almost worth trading the mood swings with never having to worry about random bleeding.... hahaha

Let me know what you decide to do though.

Melissa said...

i've always thought that NFP sounds the best because i hate the idea of hormones too, but i've never been convinced it would be effective. i know people who have gotten pregnant while using that method, and maybe they were doing it incorrectly or maybe they missed something or maybe they just ended up getting pregnant anyway...

michelle said...

i have a great book on NFP that i can recommend if you are interested. (i think it's called "taking charge of your fertility" but i can check) anyway, i think it is good b/c it requires you to actually know how your body baffles me that so many women have no clue when they are ovulating and what the signs are, etc. plus it requires both partners to be involved in avoiding pregnancy and not just putting hormones in your body to prevent it.

Steph said...

I may be misunderstanding, but I always thought that hormonal birth control, especially the NuvaRing, prevented both ovulation and sperm penetration. So that would be preventing zygote formation and conception, right? Not destroying what was already made but preventing it from being made altogether. As far as the moral quandary part of it, that's what I've always understood.

Rae said...

First off, a disclaimer. I am Catholic and opposed to contraception in general as less-than-ideal. I'd love for the whole world to convert to NFP ::smile::

I agree with you about the question of the start of life. Who can know? It is a mystery. I am fine with it remaining such since there is no moral question for me about abortion as even contraception is out, but I recognize that it is a huge issue for you.

That said, I've never been convinced by the arguments that hormonal birth control prevents implantation when it fails to prevent ovulation. All the evidence suggests that it is either both (and thus no issue of killing life) or neither (and thus you're pregnant). I'm no fan of the pill for healthy women. I think that it is bad to make yourself sick with hormones (because that's really what ovulation suppression is, right?) when preventing pregnancy is the only goal (as the other commenter said, shouldn't both partners be involved?!). That said, if you are sticking with hormones I highly recommend giving the NuvaRing a try. I used it for a while to help with menstrual issues and, while it worked, it was great.

Barrier methods scare me becuase they don't seem reliable for someone who is really serious about avoiding pregnancy. If you think about it, there is less than a week a month during which you could get pregnant. So barrier methods must be failing all the time and we only know about 1/4th of them... I guess it doesn't matter in practical terms, but it still freaks me out!

Anyway, I think that if you are going off the pill you should most definitely read _Taking Charge of Your Fertility_. You won't find any Catholic propaganda in it as it was written by a secular Jewish woman. It is simply wonderful for learning more about your body. Good to know in any case, and then you can decide whether you'd like to use NFP or FAM (where you use barrier methods during the fertile period rather than abstinence). If you have more questions about fertility awareness or NFP I would love to point you toward more information. I've done a fair bit of research on the topic.

Sorry for the crazy comment, but I've no patience for trying to make myself make sense. ;-)

Sturgmom said...

I'm in the "life begins at conception" camp, as was my OB, who also happened to be devoutly Catholic. He explained to me, as an above commenter said, that there are form of the pill that prevent any ovulation, therefore, if you don't want any fertilization at all, this method would be considered safe.

Personally, I don't like artificial hormones of any kind and we are now an NFP family. I got pg the first time when I was on the pill (Happy birthday to my 7 year old, Micah, TODAY!) so any way you look at it, it's a gamble.

Lauren said...

I'm on Ortho-cyclen, a low-dose BC. I originally started taking it for acne in high school, so N and I never talked about it when we got married. However, I had to stop taking it a few months ago, just for a while, and while my acne went thru the roof, I "felt" better over all. I still researching/thinking about a why to stop taking the pill, keep my acne under control and not get pregnant.
I admit I never considered the abortion side of it. I'm not sure why.... ~ L

Jaimie said...

Now class, let's all say it together: Abstinence is the only 100% effective form of birth control.

Anonymous said...

I think we need to be very careful about the "decisions" we make regarding when life actually begins. Lets face it, once a sperm enters an egg the process has already begun and it happened because God allowed it to happen. Not because of anything we did; and the process is only allowed to continue if God allows it. We can do our best to prevent conception but we can't make it happen (except for those done in a lab) naturally. The very fact that it is God who allows or doesn't allow pregnancy is enough for me. I don't need to discuss at what point an embryo is endowed with a soul.
I'm an NFP girl all the way. God gave us bodies that have readable cycles. Doctors don't like to talk about it because many people aren't disciplined enough to stick with it. Face it, we live in a age of I want what I want, when I want it. Let's be careful not to allow this non-God-fearing way of thinking influence our thinking and decision making.
NFP is not the easy way to do things, but it is the only method that requires both the man and woman to be involved. And that's the way it should be.

This Heavenly Life said...

I'm struggling with this issue right now too. I'm trying NFP, but still breastfeeding and it is all very confusing. I think I'll contact your anonymous commenter above for her free CD - I'd love some help.

One issue that I think about more than all the others is the effect of birth control on our entire society, rather than just what it means for me personally. There's a good lecture given by Janet Smith (I think?) called Contraception: Why not? that touches on this issue. Birth control was said to be revolutionary because it would cut down on unwanted pregnancies and help raise women up to have more freedom. But statistically, abortions and unwanted pregnancies have skyrocketed because sex has become separated from babies. People having sex are 'surprised!' when a baby happens, because they've been taught all their lives that bc will prevent that. So then they have to make a decision about whether or not to even let the baby live, when that choice should have been made the second intercourse happened. Birth control has not freed women - it's only made us more confused, in my opinion.

NFP sounds great for me, because I didn't like the pill's effects on my body. And that was before I even started contemplating the good/bad of the pill in the first place. Now, I love being able to understand what's happening naturally, and hopefully this will become simpler over time.

One other thing: Diane at had an interesting point. She once commented about the juxtapostion between so many people advocating for a 'green' lifestyle free of unneccessary chemicals and additives, and most of those same people polluting their bodies and environments with hormonal birth control pills.

Kelley said...

Oh man ... lotsa opinions. I remember the Dev Psych class now. I'm not gonna weigh in on the whole when life begins thing, but I will say I've done 3 dif. types of pills as well as the diaphragm, so I've tried a few. Pills you know all about already ...

We used the diaphragm for about 1.5 years I believe with no issues. When I asked my obgyn she simply stressed that just like a condom, it should ALWAYS be used with spermicide. If this is done, it has a much higher percentage rate of effectiveness than when used alone. So that's what we did. Since we have no kids, we were satisfied with it from a prevention standpoint. It's a little different b/c you have to think and prep a little bit as opposed to the pill where it's just a part of your schedule and not really related to intimacy. Ultimately I went back to a dif. pill for reasons totally unrelated to my satisfaction with the diaphragm. There's my 2 cents of personal experience.

Katharine B. said...

If life doesn't begin at conception, then a fertilized egg must at least be considered a potential life until implatation. An embryonic embryo, if you will. Something already in existence, not just a thought.
Could you knowingly snuff that potential out?

Otherwise, condoms work fine, I never got pregnant until we stopped using them. And IUD's also prevent implantation.

Troy said...

This is a very cool and positive discussion you've got going, K.

I like your pointing out that if one believes that human life and personhood begin at conception then the pill is a highly problemmatic choice for birth control. Some people will need to do some hard thinking about that.

I don't understand the life begins at conception position; it seems entirely clear to me that without a brain I am not. How much of a brain is needed? is consciousness needed? I don't know, but I do know that a microscopic, few-celled blastocyst is not a human (but of course it might become one if not aborted or miscarried).

Also, it just occured to me that I'm not sure that 'a soul' is something that exists at all. It would be quite possible I think to accept the Bible as authority and not positi the notion of a soul. You could still have eternal life, personhood, the spirit world, but need there be a soul per se? Does the word or concept appear in the Bible or the early church? I suspect it's a Greek concept. Dunno.

Anyways, no brain, no person. (Don't ask me how to clearly delineate an exact time for that, or how to draft a law (assuming one ought to).) Clearly latter term abortions are in fact homicide. And I think it's strongly suggested that when there is a functioning brain there is a person. But one minute after conception? No