Betty Duffy

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Catholic "Birth Control" (or lack thereof) pt.2

When I go out with the kids, I am always a curiosity. Anyone with more than two kids knows what I’m talking about: “Well you’ve got your hands full. So are you done?” I always want to say something that might soothe the troubled onlooker whenever the thought of me and my kids occurs to them again, like, “Most likely.” I could say, “God’s in control” but it feels so pious and ignores the relevant truism, “My husband and I 'do it' so the odds are in favor of conception.” It just follows logically—at least it would have less than 100 years ago. Birth control has made me the victim of imposing questions from the sterilized. But I suppose everyone has to answer for their choices in life. And I am a dinosaur, as one of my former co-workers termed it.

But I don’t consider myself “out of touch.” I prefer to think that the rest of the world has lost touch with a very simple fact of nature. Here it is: SEX MAKES BABIES. And for the most part, sex only makes one, two or three babies at a pop.

The New York Times featured an article in which the large family was presented as another lifestyle choice, and an unusual one at that. I knew from experience that America is not friendly to families having more than a couple kids but I was not prepared for the vitriolic responses in the comments section—many suggesting that having more than a couple kids is narcissistic and selfish.

When a woman with six kids has eight new embryos implanted in her uterus, apparently just because she can, it does indeed look a little like narcissism. But that does not mean that narcissism is the impetus for all procreation. In fact, whirlwind descent into mothering fourteen new individuals is a surefire way to be cured of narcissism.

But apparently, we birth control shunning Catholics have a subversive desire to see our genes replicated. Since children are the current favored accessory of the rich and famous, we are selfish for desiring to have more than one or two (just admit, you look down on anyone who would dare to purchase more than one Birkin Bag). We see motherhood fetishized in the person of Angelina Jolie, the mother superior of child-bearing women across the country. Now motherhood and babies are about being sexy rather than the logical outcome of a sexual relationship, so we who would reproduce, must be narcissistic (and this is not so much a criticism of Jolie as it is a criticism of how culture views her: the yummy mummy).

I know I’m not the first to say that this is the brave new world where reproduction is concerned. But let’s review: sex makes babies, unless acted upon by an outside force. Sex makes only one, two, or three babies at a time, unless acted upon by an outside force. What exactly is so abhorrent about choosing NOT to let outside forces determine who comes in or out of my womb? (Seems like this idea was a feminist mantra once upon a time.)

The problem is that our culture cannot decide how it feels about new life. On one hand, people want children on demand, with in vitro and fertility treatments. On the other hand, people want abortion on demand, anytime, anywhere, no restrictions.

There are those who feel that recklessly procreating families are a threat to the environment—that our back country kids and their offspring are going to steal valuable resources from the New York elite, undermining all of their green efforts to curb global warming. (Someone’s brilliant response to the Green Party leader’s suggestion that we use birth control and abortion to save the environment: “If you must take a life to save the world, please take your own.”)

Culture either wants children desperately, or it does not want them at all. There is no longer any room to allow children to happen, to receive them graciously, and to care for them because it’s the right thing to do. Man is now the author of life, and as in every great monster story, the creator feels threatened by his creature when it dares to assert its independence.


Jus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

Wow, this is a great post!

Birth control has made me the victim of imposing questions from the sterilized.

I'm going to be laughing about that all day. When I show up at the park pregnant with three kids under five, women usually start talking to me about their husband's vasectomies before we even introduce ourselves.

Anyway, I'm glad to have discovered (or maybe rediscovered?) your blog. I'll definitely be back.

Kate said...

Great post!

Pedge said...

This is one of those conversations that I frequently have in the mirror. I mean, it's such a common question one must have a rehearsed response that doesn't suggest over piety or the idea we practice uninhibited free sex all the time. Lately I've wanted to sum it up by responding, "We don't contracept." Like conversion diary suggested, woman are throwing out intimate details about their husband's vasectomy all the time, so why not toss this comment out there? "It's not natural. My husband doesn't want to love me less feminine than I am. (shoulder shrugg) I can have babies and he can't. We respect that in our marriage. And as a consequence we love and are raising 5 children." Of course this conversation has never taking place with a stranger, and I can already hear her response, "Oh, I could never do that."

Emily said...

I'd like to thank Grant for the great comeback line on why we have a lot of kids: To pay your social security. Now they'll also get to pay back the economic stimulus package. We're helping the economy by having a handful of offspring.

megan said...

When people start talking about vascetomies you should start talking about fertile mucus.

Jus said...

realized that I would rather have the conversation in person.......

Betty Duffy said...

Jus, now why'd you have to delete your comments? I was contemplating your post all weekend, and I came back to reference you, and...vanished. But that's fine. I understand. We can have the conversation in person, just be advised that I read better than I listen and I write better than I speak.

Jennifer, welcome!

Pedge, you hit on a good point. I don't know how many times I've had the opportunity to have that conversation, but my first response is always "do not offend," regardless of how offensively the conversation began.

I think that because I consider the decision not to contracept a moral decision and a matter of obedience, my sincere response would imply that their choice is wrong.

I recognize that perhaps many of the comments I receive from strangers are themselves, passive aggressive attacks on my "lifestyle choice." While I'd like to have some jazzy response, I don't feel terribly comfortable casting passive aggressive stones at strangers (I save my passive aggressive behavior for my siblings).

Anyway, I think you're right. Just state the obvious. "We do not contracept." It's way less icky than the visual I get whenever someone says "vasectomy" and especially less icky than the visual on "fertile mucous"...Megan.

Carrie said...

Standing and applauding. Excellent post.

Jay said...

As a husband I guess it's easier to respond to those questions.

I just shrug and say, "It's not my fault - my wife can't keep her hands off me."

Elizabeth said...

Remembering what domeone once asked my mother "Are you Catholic or just an over sexed Protestant?" (She was a Protestant married to a former Catholic Italian man.) I agree, over 2 kids, you are an anomoly, over 3 kids well that is just freakish to Americans. Really Betty, Mexico would suit you. I have to say 8 embryos is wierd, in addition to six kids. Okay really, let´s say it´s self-inflicted pain at it´s worst. My head is ready to spin off somedays with just 3! Great post.

Debbie said...

Just found your blog and I appreciated reading your post! After 8 babies and 2 more by adoption, my husband and I have evidently come to the end of our baby-making career, so the comments come far less frequently now, but when we were at the peak of our career, at around kid #5 or 6, we'd sometimes get chastized by the NFP crowd for our lack of interest in their charts and mucous patterns. We learned to respond that we were practicing SNFP--SUPERnatural family planning!

Anonymous said...

It's funny how childbearing and raising a family can make strange bedfellows. My husband and I are atheists (of the friendly type, obviously, since I'm posting respectfully :) ) and we do use birth control during times when we don't want to conceive.

However, we're planning on a big family. Our first daughter is 18 months old, an I'm ecstatic to be 3 months pregnant with our second child. We're thinking about a total of 4 kids at this point, but we could definitely be swayed to have more. We're also not terrified of happy accidents, the way most of the parents we know are.

I found myself nodding emphatically about what you said: sex makes babies. My added viewpoint is that people like sex not just because it feels nice, but deep down we like that it makes babies (as someone who believes in evolution, I believe that having babies is the entire reason that sex feels good - to make us more likely to have babies).

Whatever your reason for coming to this conclusion, it's hard to argue with the fact that having children is natural. Sure, we can make different life choices or convince ourselves that there's some predefined limit to how many children it's "right" to have (and I'm ok with others making those choices for themselves). It just irks me that others think they ought to be making those decisions for me - or at least taking the time to try and make me feel bad for what I've chosen.