Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Family Planning or... Non-Planning?

As a new mom, I've been reading lots of books on lots of parenting styles... attachment parenting, "babywise" parenting, "gentle mothering," etc. I think Ryan & I have pretty much decided what will happen in Top Porch under Szrama Papa & Mama Rule, and that will be another post entirely. :)

One of the issues that's come up sort of tangentially in reading these things is the issue of birth control. I've thought about this one a lot for the past few years, reading different perspectives and trying to process each in light of Scripture. I'll try to post my musings here, without being TOO specific so that my Grandma & Mom can still read this. :)

On one extreme, there's the post-modern consumer view that holds children as a convenience item, to be "fit into" the parents' lives if/when/however they deem best. That can mean delaying parenting as long as you want, having only one or two children because that's all your schedule can allow, electing to have any children born raised by others in day care so that neither parent's careers & social lives suffer, bottle-feeding merely because it's more convenient for the mom, not disciplining in love because "it's too stressful," and even having abortions whenever a child wouldn't be convenient or desirable. In this mindset, children are little more than an after-thought, even if they are deeply loved and often spoiled. In many ways, this view of parenting puts children in the same category as pets-- there for your enjoyment, when you want them, if you want them, how you want them... or at worst as a burdensome byproduct of something you enjoy. Obviously, this is not Biblical. Children are made in the image of God, created uniquely by Him, and always on purpose. Abortifacients of any kind are unquestionably wrong: abortions, the morning-after-pill, according to my research, IUDs. Scripture devotes a lot of space emphasizing the nuclear family- mom, dad, children- as crucial in our call to bring EVERYTHING on earth in submission to God's Kingly Rule. Biblical parenting takes time, effort, love, prayer, pain, and a LOT of wisdom.

On the other extreme, we have the "Quiver Full" movement, whose party line is that children are an unqualified blessing from the Lord, and that the blessing on Adam & Eve to "be fruitful & multiply, to fill the earth & subdue it" is a trump-card-command to every couple: have as many children as you can, or you aren't obeying God. This means that all birth control of any kind is wrong, as it impedes God's created norm: married couples having sex and so having babies. Christians are told that they must trust God for the opening & closing of the womb, letting Him decide how many children they have, how close together, and when. Not to do so would be rebellion or doubt of His goodness. In this view, children are THE goal of all marriages, the epicenter of God's plan for the salvation of the world. I said it was an extreme; clearly, I don't buy into it.

Let me briefly try to outline where I stand & why: Scripture is very clear that it is WELL-RAISED children who are a joy & well-aimed arrows; and that the converse is equally true-- undisciplined children are a heartache and no credit to their parents or their parents' Lord (see most of Proverbs). We are told in 1 Tim 5:8 that we are worse than unbelievers if we don't provide for our own families. Doesn't that include spiritual & emotional provision, not just food & shelter? I've seen the results of forgetting that each child is a BIG investment: I know two very large families who both adhered to the "Quiver Full" movement. In both families the mom was exhausted and left the raising of the younger children, as well as most of the house & garden work, to her older children. These kids -who never looked well-kept- though very bright, could barely spell, struggled with simple math, and were either emotionally immature or volatile. In one family, the older daughter completely rebelled and turned her back on her parents' faith, vowing to never have children, so bitterly short was her own childhood. In both families, Mom & Dad just didn't have time for them all. Does that sound like "Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate." (Psalm 127:4-5) to you? Let each parent count the cost before he puts his hand to the plow!

It seems to me that each woman & man is given different resources by the Lord, and must steward them well. Not every woman can handle 9 children well. Not every man makes enough money to support 5 kids, nor has enough time to invest in 12 sons (come to think of it, neither David nor Jacob were very good at that one). It often actually HURTS the Kingdom when such parents pursue unqualified fertility, and leave themselves no energy for personal holiness or mercy ministry. As
this blogpost points out, “Be fruitful” isn’t the trump verse of the Bible. If we were looking for the trump verse, it would have to be Jesus’ words to love God and love our neighbor. He already told us the main thing. (Question to myself: How well am I doing that?) How can we avoid one verse becoming the measuring stick of the condition of our hearts and the vehicle in which churches and groups are built upon?" One of her readers also had some good insight, from a husband's perspective:

"About the Birth Control, We were on the one extreme, absolutely no prevention, for a number of years, many of them while being single. After my wife and I had eight pregnancies in six and a half years, we started wondering about this whole concept. We now have six with us and three with the Lord. I love my children and I hope for some more, but I also know that if we do nothing, my wife will be pregnant almost solidly for the likely, next 14 years! Besides being emotionally draining, it is about to drive her insane with all the hormonal changes that her body is going through. We are now at the place where we are open to more children, but we must first put a little space between the children to allow her body to rest. No, I am not talking about ten years either! But an understandable amount of time.
Paul tells us to “dwell with our wives according to knowledge.” It falls to us husbands to hear our wives and to seek God’s face for what is the right road for us. No, it may not be the right choice for you, and I won’t hold you to what God is asking of me. But we must not make the choice glibly or selfishly."
There's quite a body of scientific evidence that children spaced 2 years apart are healthier, as their moms' bodies are able to fully replenish after giving every spare resource to Big Bro or Big Sis. Not to mention the health & ministry potential of the mom (and dad) being at stake! Knowing what the first 5 months of my own pregnancy were like, I know that it would be in some ways irresponsible of us to repeatedly put me "out of commission" for 5 months at a time, leaving my husband without a helper, my children without a mother, and my house in shambles. Ryan & I were fed & clothed throughout the pregnancy, but only barely, and I can't imagine doing it with a 2, 4, 6, and 8 year old to care for as well. They're a lot more high maintenance than Ryan is. :) So I'm praying that subsequent pregnancies are easier on me- maybe if they're boys?-, and if they aren't, I guess adoption will be our way to increase our family.*

What if farmers farmed according to this mentality: "Well, I haven't really looked into when the frosts are this year, but I'm planting in trust and faith. The Lord is in control of the weather, and I'm trusting Him. He commanded me to work 6 days a week, and I'm working now. If all the crops die, that will be His will, and if they succeed, that'll be His will, too. I'm in complete submission to Him." It sounds slightly ridiculous, though Christians would all agree that God IS in complete control of the weather, and that even our best guesses and observations (almanacs) can be overturned in a second by His will. Can you trust God and still try to "control" certain aspects of your gardening? Absolutely! God-honoring men & women have done it for hundreds of years. As Oliver Cromwell said, "Trust God, and keep your powder dry!" In other words, trust & submission to God does not negate doing the best you can with what He's given you on your end.

How does this apply to conception/family planning? Well, there are methods of birth control that allow a couple to space children, not out of selfishness or for convenience's sake, but for wholly godly reasons. Taking out all abortifacients-- which I'm horrified to find, does include some forms of The Pill-- (and many doctors admit that we don't exactly know how "The Pill" works anyway), there are still plenty of options ("barrier methods" being the easiest). My favorite, you could say, is known as the "Fertility Awareness Method." I like it because it works WITH a couple's bodies as God made them, instead of against them as chemical methods of birth control do.... I have enough of my OWN hormones to deal with, lol. (Some helpful websites:
FAM, NFP, and 2 helpful books) I also feel like it allows more room for God to maneuver if He chooses, since there's nothing really preventing pregnancy, though of course He can overcome anything, even IUDs and abortions. Does the use of these methods & others like them require husband-wife communication? Oh yeah. ... Does it require abstinence at times (if you refuse even all barrier methods of contraception)? Yes again. Is that self-control and thoughtful, intelligent use of what the Lord has given you, aka a brain, knowledge of your own body? Yes! Are any of those things EVER condemned in Scripture? No way!!

Well, there you have my humble opinion on such things. Many godly people have differing opinions; even in our search for balance, we don't all exactly sit at the same spot on the see-saw. Hopefully this will help people think through things, though, and maybe come to a more Scriptural conclusion (even if it doesn't match mine, if you're thinking & reasoning according to Scripture because of something I've written, I'm happy!)...

Next on my list to tackle: parenting styles! :)

*[NB: keep in mind that I write all of this as a healthy, young wife with no indication of infertility, to couples in similar situations-- if I'd had trouble getting pregnant, or was getting older, you can bet we'd be welcoming babies to come whenever we could get them!!]


Em said...

very thoughtful! I look forward to reading more.

RoBanJo said...

Hey Christina, One question I always want to ask of those who decline any method of birth control because of the conviction that children are a blessing from God (so true) and He will "open and close the womb". So how about fertility treatments???

Jeannette said...

I thought you might find this article interesting...bizarre, but interesting: http://www.jillstanek.com/archives/2009/06/swedish_parents.html

Paul said...

Good thoughts, Christina. I do want to just mention that the Quiverfull movement does not teach that you are to have as many children as you physically can, it's basis is that children are a blessing and families should surrender their families to the Lord and allow him to plan them, whether they have no children, or ten, the purpose of the organization is to encourage families to consider the theological implications of family planning and to allow God to determine the number of their children. Of course there are times, such as for the health of the mama, where consideration must be given to temporarily postponing potential pregnancy, and families that are a part of quiverfull would not be opposed to that. :) -Megan

Eowyn's Heir said...

"leaving it up to God" = in practice, having as many children as you can, unless of course you are abstaining from one another, which I don't think they'd advocate either. Their starting point, that children are an unqualified blessing, is I think where they first go wrong. It's well-trained children who are the blessing...

As you saw in my post, I'd like to see if the people considering the theological implications of God-only child-planning would like to farm that way, too. I don't think they would. :)