How infertility, contraception, and the Pacific toilet bowl are related

Consumers in this day and age have more power than they did in the past.  With so many product varieties, it seems we can no longer buy products merely to serve a simple function.  Whether we want to or not, we make statements everyday about what we value by what we do and do not purchase. The individual choices we make daily, even at the tiniest level, can affect our culture ever-so-much at the larger scale by reflecting what we as a society value.  Enough people deciding to value one thing and reflecting it in their actions can affect the market and our whole society.

The most familiar example of this is the recent explosion of the organic food and product market.  As people have become aware of the presence and detrimental effect of pesticides and endocrine disrupting hormones in products we consume daily, we have demanded new products and changed the way our society views consumables.  Example: Take the discovery of harmful levels of BPAs in almost everything plastic.  A whole new market of baby bottles emerged almost overnight!

Its easy to see how we’d switch to buying different products if the end result eventually harms us personally, but it is possible for a company’s social actions to offend us as well. What if their actions hurt our neighbor, that person we will never meet?  Or better yet, what if we benefited from this company’s actions, would we participate in their business or product? If you knew that your favorite store employed child labor, would you participate by buying their product? How about if they abused their employees or hired illegal immigrants working for cheap wages, just to give you the cheapest product possible?  If you found out, would you still buy it?  As we become more socially conscious, we want our products and companies to reflect the values that we hold.

Clearly this is not a simple, cut and dry issue, but as we gain knowledge, we also gain accountability.

I’ve been thinking about the issue of contraception from a similar perspective lately. I could write pages on why contraception hurts consumers physically, emotionally, maritally, and spiritually (but for now I’ll just refer you here).  But none of that matters if the individual consumer feels OK taking those risks. That’s their personal choice based on consequences that only affect themselves, right?

Maybe not.  Because birth control has become such a social norm (and now actually seen as irresponsible if you’re not on some form of birth control) I believe many consumers are unaware of what their choices in family planning really say.

Contraception has allowed our society to define sex as a recreational activity and by default a sterile act. Procreation is an optional choice during select acts and there is no particular respect given to natural fertility because all else fails,  IVF and other ARTs will promise you a child.  The thing is there are silent victims in this contraceptive society. There are big gaping holes in this “truth” filled with those that have no choice in the matter.  Or maybe a more accurate way to put it is that there are people in this social construct who are the proof that fertility is not merely an issue of choice.

The unfortunate thing is, usually the people and things who get the short end of our society’s flawed ideas are hidden. Maybe you don’t see the effects of failing public education because those people are over on the poor side of town and maybe you don’t see the effects of cheap food production because those workers are hiding from immigration officials.  And we won’t fully understand the effect of all our consumables because we’ll never visit the area where all our trash goes.

In the same way, we don’t notice the sub-fertile, the infertile and the barren, because they’re hidden too. They smile politely when they hear talk about awful pregnancy symptoms or a friend’s unwavering desire to not have kids before they’re 35+ and they listen quietly as their friends talk about how life was better before they had children.  They stay hidden to avoid the unintentional, yet still hurtful, comments from a culture that doesn’t understand the gift of fertility.  They save their tears for their spouses and their pillows, where no one can see them (and then some write on their blogs…).*

This isn’t to victimize the sub-fertiles and blame their emotional instability on those contracepting. People who are facing fertility issues have been suffering for all of human history.   This is nothing new. What is new is the societal norm that pretends like we can control fertility, the contraceptive mentality, that compounds their suffering. The subfertile, infertile, the barren are our society’s hidden reminders standing in the corner, quietly waving our hands saying “Actually, that’s not true.  We can’t control fertility.  All we could really ever say is no.”  They are the statistic that disproves a flawed ideology based on a false sense of control.

I was tremendously blessed a few years back, as my spiritual conversion was originally based on accepting the knowledge that fertility is not earned, but a gift.  A precious, miraculous gift from God. Yes, somehow the teaching that most people find the hardest to accept was what ultimately drew me to the Church. While that blessing (yes, blessing) prepared me for this path, there is a certain harshness of reality that comes with walking the walk that fertility is not a guarantee and only a gift.  And I imagine what I’ve felt is only a fraction of what others have felt who have been on this journey for so much longer.  While I have made plenty of mistakes in my life that I regret, I can only imagine how much more difficult this journey would be if I hadn’t had this realization when I did and chose to respect the life-giving potential my husband and I share.

But what if I had still bought into the contraceptive mentality? That children can and should be planned, to the day, when you’re exactly financially ready and you’ve traveled everywhere in the world you want to go before your life ends?  That babies aren’t a natural part of sex, but an optional consequence if you’re into that type of thing?  What if I had waited to start trying when I was much older, after my career was completely established, only to end up with empty arms?  What would I be feeling then? What would I regret then? I’d probably feel betrayed by a culture that had lied to me. That had led me to believe that gambling my life goal of being a mom on a distorted probability and again, this idea that I could choose when I wanted children, was a good bet.  A cultural system that professed I had control over this part of my life and then left me standing alone and broken-hearted, not understanding why I was upset when the truth emerged.  And then told me to relax.

The worst part about this plan is that most people buy into this mentality won’t ever know they were duped until after the fact, after they’re already enmeshed within it, if they’re ever even able to see it at all.

So, wait,  how does contraception really hurt the infertile again? They don’t even need to use it.

One of the most difficult parts of the bitter journey of infertility is coming to the realization and actualization that fertility is a gift and not something you can control. No matter what treatment is pursued, this is an understanding that all sub-/in-fertile couples must eventually come to.  Unfortunately, many take the longer, more twisted path through artificial reproductive technologies and the promises of happiness that they sell:  more financial, emotional, and physical boundaries tested all while tredding in the morally dangerous zones of playing God.

But even ART and the best of human research can’t guarantee a child because that was never the truth of this “system” we’re in to begin with. Its like the lives of the sub- and infertiles are God’s experiments that strongly and unequivocally conclude, “Fertility is a gift and a blessing.  It cannot be earned and it should never be taken for granted”  Buying into the social construct that you can and need to control your fertility by using contraception (and ART) denies that fertility is a gift,  works to disprove the conclusion that God is working through the infertile, and creates a sub-class of people who just don’t fit the rule and who are easier to ignore than deal with. And what’s worse is that the contraceptive mentality inevitably leads the next generation of women down the path of having to learn this truth the hard way, since at least 15% of women will have difficulty conceiving.

When I first posted that my husband and I were having fertility issues, Rebecca commented about how sorry she was that we had to teach NFP to a couple that was trying to postpone pregnancy.  I assured her that that couldn’t have been further from the truth!  Embracing your fertility as the gift that it is while choosing to postpone pregnancy is perhaps one of the most honorable things a married couple can do since it lovingly involves self-sacrifice and mutual respect for the other’s potential gift from God. I can’t think of a sub- or infertile couple anywhere that would be offended by that!  What proliferates this contraceptive culture and lack of appreciation for fertility, not to mention further frustrates the reality of the infertile, is watching couples reject their fertility by embracing contraception to plan their families.  

The good news is that we are all capable of changing this attitude, of swaying our culture’s values.  As Kathleen points out, this fertility awareness thing isn’t just for Catholics.  Unlike other false social constructs, this one has an obvious, effective alternative.

We will inevitably ignore the people getting the short end of the stick because its uncomfortable to understand their situation and so much easier to look away. I know this because I’ve been there.  I do it too.  It feels too uncomfortable sometimes to spend a little more money on quality items since I doubt that it will be worth it and the sight of the Pacific toilet bowl beach that never flushes gives me anxiety like no other. But with knowledge comes accountability. And sometimes it takes seeing those most profoundly impacted by the truth and our imperfect culture with our own eyes in order to induce change.

“Its hard to admit failure, but I think its even more dangerous to act like fertility is something we can control.”

Maybe we shouldn’t be so silent, so ashamed.  We sub- and infertiles serve a purpose.  We are the unfortunate truth.

What truths do your choices affirm?

*[As a point:  People who get pregnant while using contraception are also “evidence” that our worldview regarding fertility is also skewed, but that wasn’t the focus here.]

11 thoughts on “How infertility, contraception, and the Pacific toilet bowl are related

  1. Brilliant post, Alison. I loved it. And not just because I can commiserate.

    I have never thought about the issue from quite this angle before. I’ve thought about how contraceptives propel the myths that fertility is something we can control and that sex is something recreational that can be separated from reproduction. However, I’ve never thought about how participating in the contraceptive mentality (by using them) hurts others, particularly the sub/infertile, quite directly, because they’re the ones who have to feel the pain of having no control and feeling like they’re the only ones. Great work.

    • thank you! yeah this angle had been spinning around in my head but i had a really hard time getting it to come out without sounding like i was just complaining. ultimately it was by reading the non-faith based infertility blogs that i think helped me realize what a lie these women were still trapped in. thanks for making it all the way through the post!

  2. This is beautiful. I really don’t know what to say. This is a lesson I had to learn the hard way. After miscarrying over a year ago, I thought God *owed* me another baby. Meanwhile, people I knew who had been contracepting for a long time “decided” to have a baby and got pregnant on the first try. It took me a long time to learn what you say so beautifully.

    I love this post! I hope you don’t mind if I send it on to some people I know. :)

  3. Profound thoughts beautifully written ~I am so frustrated that a standard question now asked to the couple when a pregnancy is announced is “Was it planned?” A question I struggled to answer both when we conceived after a year of active openness and when we conceived the month before planning to be seek a pregnancy ~ so neither according to my ‘plans’ but still very wanted, planned by someone AND perhaps information I don’t want to share with everyone or anyone.

    Thank you for your honesty and sharing your beautiful writing.

    • i have definitely asked this and have retrospectively felt awful about it, especially now that i have a new perspective. i think this question in particular is also asked because people are just plain nosy!

  4. You are too sweet for thinking about me today! I’m gonna come back tomorrow and read this post because, although the title is immensely intriquing, I just can’t stay awake another minute. :)

  5. Wow-so much wisdom packed into one post. I love the question you pose at the end. You are exactly right. It would be hyprocritical of us to be so strong with regards to birth control, yet make weak and immoral choices when it comes to everything else on the market. Thank you for sharing!!!

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