Friday, May 23, 2008

Birth Control: Get the Facts (part of "The Struggle to Becoming 'Mom'")

Carrie has begun a series on "The Struggle to Becoming 'Mom'" and asked me to contribute some information on birth control options as part of this series. As she mentioned in her Part 1, the decision to exercise some means of birth control is a touchy one in Christian circles. I am not going to tell you what to do, but I am going to encourage you to get the facts before you make a decision in favor of any particular means of birth control. If you and your spouse have chosen not to use birth control at all, then you need read no further. But, if you and your spouse have chosen to use some method of birth control and you are a Christian who believes that all human life should be protected once conceived, then you must get the facts on the various methods out there.

My husband taught an adult Sunday school class at our church this past August on bio-ethics, specifically those dealing with beginning of life issues (stem cell research, abortion, fertility treatments, etc.). He ran out of time to actually teach the birth control section, but he'd already begun doing the research for it. In the process of that research, we discovered some sobering things. The following information is based primarily on his research and our experience with the different health care providers I've had for my pregnancies.

Instead of redoing all the excellent information already available on the web which outlines birth control methods and how they work, I would like to simply help you know what to look for. My husband and I believe without question that we are to protect each human life since we, as humans, are made in the image of God. That image is not a physical one; it refers to our reflection of God's communicable attributes: responsibility, creativity, sociability, intelligence, freedom--just to name a few (as opposed to his incommunicable attributes--the things that make Him God--such as omnipotence/sovereignty, omnipresence, and omniscience to name a few).

Because we also believe that human life begins at conception, we feel that any birth control method that interferes with the developing human, once conceived, is inherently immoral for us as believers. Therefore, we want a method that only prevents conception/fertilization and that does not prevent implantation in the uterus of an already fertilized egg. My husband and I have used various methods of birth control throughout the years, assuming that each one we used was "safe" for us to use as Christians. We discovered otherwise during his research, and thankfully, had only used the now off-limits methods for a very brief time (incidentally, while I was nursing newborns--so the odds of the birth control method having been needed were slim).

Here is what we discovered: the various birth control methods are not as clear cut as we once thought. Barrier methods are all about the same as far as their availability to us, ethically speaking. Natural family planning (fertility awareness method) is also available. We knew that the "morning after pill" was not an option since it did not prevent conception. From that point, though, we mistakenly assumed that "the pill" and IUD's sort of worked the same: preventing conception. That is not true. Some pills do prevent the woman from ovulating, hence preventing conception. But, some pills only prevent implantation (the egg already being fertilized). All IUD's prevent implantation, while one (copper) supposedly inhibits fertilization.

Here is what you do: when you ask your health care provider about the different options, if you are wanting only to prevent conception/fertilization, then you must use those terms. The medical community defines pregnancy as beginning at implantation. Therefore, when you ask for a method that prevents pregnancy, anything--including something which only prevents implantation--is "allowed." I've started asking for methods which do not prevent implantation, but do prevent fertilization. My doctor has been very agreeable to discuss the different options that fit that requirement.

You can also look at the following websites; they are very helpful in describing how the different methods work as regards to what each one prevents/allows. Be warned: these websites use medically and anatomically correct terminology, descriptions, and images.

ACOG Patient Education Pamphlets (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists)
Mayo Clinic Guide
Information about the copper-bearing IUD (an abstract of a study demonstrating its effectiveness/how it works; I include this because specific information was hard to find on the copper IUD with a basic search)
Fertility Awareness Method (natural family planning) (this is the most comprehensive "natural" approach out there; I'm including it because the range of natural family planning is pretty broad--most don't allude to this specifics of this approach)

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