Fertility


I consider myself a morning person. I have a hard time waking up on cloudy mornings just like everyone else, but once I’m up, I’m up and I love it. In college it was usually the thought of an everything bagel with cream cheese that made me roll out of bed (sad, but true). Now that I have a 35-40 minute commute from LA to La Mirada every morning I try to take advantage of the distance by making myself more aware of current events. One of my favorite morning moments is settling into my car and driving down the 5 freeway while hearing the musical intro to Morning Edition on NPR.

Last week a certain news piece during Morning Edition caught my attention: a Danish research study concluded that women who have had (elective) abortions have no higher risk of mental health problems after the procedure. In fact, they compared the results with women who had given birth, and those women were more likely to have mental health problems.

“Huh. Interesting,” I thought.

Occasionally I find something I want to learn more about and I throw myself into researching it. A few years ago, the week before winter finals, it was the impact of abortion. I spent several hours each day reading the stories of women and men who had been affected by abortion. The depth of pain that these individuals felt was incalculable. The trauma was so pervasive that it significantly impacted – and sometimes impaired – activities of daily living. Now, I’m well aware that this does not happen to all, or maybe even most, women who have abortions. But it made me more aware of the significant need for sensitivity around the issue, considering that 1/3 of women in the United States will have had an abortion by age 45.

What I don’t understand about the article is that the data is based on women who were treated for mental health problems. That leaves out a significant portion of women who are struggling with anxiety, depression and a slew of other things who do not or cannot seek help. Maybe because they are consistently told by their family that they made the right decision and everything should go back to normal. Or maybe because the shame of an abortion is too great because they were raised in a religious home. Either way, they are still suffering.

What this research made me reflect on is the immense odds we (speaking mostly of women, but not excluding men) often go to to control our fertility. Abortion is a form of this, but there are many other ways we can do this too.

On Twitter I follow Christianity Today’s blog for women and this week they posted an article about a women who created a website for individuals born via sperm donation to tell their stories. These stories are powerful! Grown adults who were never told that their father is not their biological dad. Mom’s who, after telling their children how they were conceived, shushed their hurt and invalidated their pain. Teenagers who just want to know what their bio dad does for a living, and if they have any half-siblings. Children who realize, “Maybe that’s why I never felt a strong connection to my dad.” College students who have never told anyone that they were conceived via sperm donation who remain silent, hurting, as their friends discuss why they would or would not use donated sperm to conceive. And again it made me ponder, “How far do we go to control our fertility at the expense of ourselves and others?”

I believe that the desire to have children is beautiful and God-given. I also believe the idea of having children is scary as hell. So I guess my question is, “How often do we think about the ramifications of our decisions on the children we do or do not call our own?”

Jonalyn Fincher, a woman I greatly respect, wrote a powerful blog on lust in women and included a section on “baby lust”. In this paragraph she writes specifically about Kate Gosselin and her concern that she “lived like babies were her God-given entitlement”. As Jonalyn says in one of her comments to a reader, “Every lust object is a good thing, a natural, God-given, innate thing but when we demand any of these things when God has not given them we twist the pure desire into lust. When we treat a person (husband or wife) as a means to an end (whether that end be sexual conquest for a baby) we are using a human being made in God’s image to get what we want. We lust, we covet.” Jonalyn also acknowledges that she is not necessarily against in vitro – neither am I. But I think we need to thoroughly examine our motives in going to such lengths to conceive.

I think “baby lust” is possible in adoption as well. I have a special place in my heart for adoption as I have three adopted siblings. I am VERY pro-adoption. But I do think there are cases in which individuals want a child so badly that they choose to adopt when they shouldn’t. They may not be ready to be parents, the number of children may exceed what they can handle emotionally or financially, or they may not be prepared for the challenges of the child. It’s about our heart attitude and accurately assessing what we can handle… and having others speak truth into our lives about these areas too!

I’ve often wondered if I would adopt if I were still single at a certain point in my life. While I believe that an ideal family consists of a mom and a dad, I do think single parent adoption can be God-honoring. I would not, however, choose to use sperm donation. The loss of never being able to experience pregnancy would definitely need to be mourned though.

What is comforting and life-giving about my God is that He redeems all these situations. Situations in which a child never has the chance to experience life, in which women are overwhelmed with guilt because of a past abortion, in which individuals grieve never knowing their biological parents, in which a child feels lost in the commotion of a large family. He brings healing and redemption. Healing and redemption is waiting.

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I’ve followed Postsecret since high school, meticulously saving the secrets that resonated with me, challenged me, or gave me insight into the human experience. I like PS because it gives a glimpse into humanity in a very individual way. There are though, a lot of draw backs to it and the expectations around it as well. PS is limited, but it does serve some purpose. Enjoy the first installment of my Postsecret series, themed Parents.

This evening after work I trotted off to the fitness center on campus – Monday’s attempt to start the week off right. It’s fascinating how my self-consciousness quadruples as soon as I walk through those sliding doors. As I was reflecting on my heightened sensitivity to my gait, my oily hair, and the fact that I was about to put on pants consisting of 70% spandex, I realized how infrequently I am thankful for the functionality of my body. Though I do remember going through a phase of thanking God that my kidneys worked every time I peed for a month after studying the renal system.

CS Lewis writes, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” Our bodies serve our souls, express our souls. They are a tool. Sadly, they are a tool marred by the effects of sin and don’t always function the way they were intended to. But a tool, nonetheless, at the beck and call of our souls. Yet, so often I treat my body as if it were all of me, and not to serve me.

I recall watching a clip of a White American woman asking an African woman how she felt about her body, if she felt her body was beautiful. The woman was surprised and a little confused. “Our bodies are like trees,” she said. “Your tree is different from my tree, but they are both trees and they are both beautiful.”

Huhm…

I have this dichotomy going on between my sinful flesh and my flesh as it was intended to be. The former likes to throw pity parties and make expansive flow charts about how to improve the way my body looks. But the truth in the words of the woman above resonates with the latter in a way that makes my essence¹ feel deep purpose, belonging, and gratitude for my body. And I remember that some of the most beautiful women I’ve met are ones who are comfortable in the way their body interacts with the rest of the world. Women who dance to the fullness of their limited flexibility. Women who embrace the uncontrollable changes pregnancy brings to their body. Women who are at ease aging and who wear their wrinkles unashamedly.

Why is it then that I so often want to control and manipulate my body into looking and doing what I want it to look like and do? Why do I have trouble celebrating the functionality of my body, that it serves my soul? Why can’t I seem to welcome the limits and potential of my body simultaneously?

The perfect example is a woman’s fertility. So often I view my fertility as a hassle, a pain, something to be managed and controlled. I don’t think I have *ever* rejoiced that I have the capacity to bear children. Have I had dreams about being pregnant? Yes. Do I have uterus-throbs when I see little kids? Sometimes. Have I ever thanked God for my fertility while I’m curled up on my blue couch with a heating pad and popping levels of ibuprofen that it makes me wonder why I don’t have an ulcer yet? Heck no. –but I want to be able to. Because that’s life, right? Finding the beauty in the funk [Cornell West]. I want to have that kind of attitude.

Throughout nursing school and witnessing several friends getting hitched I’ve thought a lot about pros and cons of various kinds of birth control. That pretty much spells it out, right? Birth. Control. Controlling birth. More like controlling pregnancy. Because Lord knows, you can’t really stop a woman about to give birth [although, strangely, I have seen nurses try]. Ha! Anyway, what I came to realize after mulling over what I learned in nursing and ethics classes is:

1) We have to leave room for God’s mystery. I don’t know if un-implanted embryos have a soul. But there is room for grace in the midst of ‘snowflakes orphans’, embryos conceived naturally that never implanted, and not knowing if the Pill causes ‘abortions’.

2) That’s it’s really all about our heart attitude. Why are we seeking to control our fertility? Will we embrace the disappointing limits of our fertility as well as unexpected outcomes?

Recently I had a moment in which I felt the Holy Spirit had briefly cracked a window into my stuffy, stagnant soul. It happened while I was meditating on this verse:

“Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman.” [I Cor. 11:12]

I gasped in, and it’s a good thing, because it was only a fleeting gust of fresh air. But it revived my essence. I felt…noble. Any questions I had about my identity as a woman disappeared in that moment and I felt a sense of dignity, of honor. I felt intrinsically connected to humanity in a new way. Women and men alike are all linked to each other through birth. And it is through women that one generation is connected to another. Women were chosen to do that. Women. Were chosen.

And so, I feel just a little closer to esteeming the function of my body regardless of the effects of sin upon it as seen in stretch marks, gray hairs, and the pull of gravity. I’m learning to embrace the limits and the potential because ultimately, I am not my body; I am a soul that has a body.

 

 

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¹Essence: A spiritual, eternal being. Found housed temporarily in a physical body. I use this term interchangeably with “soul”.