Make Love and Babies
Are children a risk or a blessing? Of course children are a blessing, most couples say; then again, many say they're not ready for this blessing just yet. In fact, most married Christians use thermometers, spermicidal jellies, contraceptive pills, and lovemaking techniques to delay this blessing.
Why is that? What happens when we treat childbearing as something to be delayed or avoided? This essay explains how one young couple answered these questions. An accompanying essay by Raymond C. Van Leeuwen reaches different conclusions. Both essays raise theological, ethical, and historical issues that all engaged and married Christians need to discuss. Finally, an article from Jenell Williams Paris debunks pervasive myths about marital sex.
Dearly beloved," the minister began, "we are gathered here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony."
The congregation was silent in rapt attention, except for the occasional cry of a disgruntled baby who had little interest in the sacred occasion.
"Marriage is an honorable estate," the minister continued, "and not to be entered into lightly, but reverently and soberly, duly considering the causes for which matrimony was ordained."
"First, it was ordained for the procreation of children."
At this point, a guest later reported, the calm was interrupted by a snort of disapproval—"humpf!"—from one of our relatives, who crossed her arms in dismay.
That snort summed up a good deal of modern thought on childbearing. Partly thanks to the wide availability of artificial contraception (along with dual careerism in an increasing number of marriages), married couples these days are having fewer and fewer children. Many Christians see this as a blessing. Hormone and barrier contraceptives, they feel, allow newlyweds to spend time "getting to know each other" before the kids start coming. For this reason, before we were married a number of Christians advised us to wait a year or two before having children.
Neither of us had been brought up to oppose contraception. Growing up, Sam believed that the Catholic church forbade artificial contraception, but he assumed it was a superstition left over from the Middle Ages. Birth control was never mentioned in his Baptist church. In high school, his friends ridiculed the Catholic position by quoting the lyrics from the satirical Monty Python song, "Every Sperm Is Sacred."
As a teenager, Bethany occasionally discussed contraception with her best friend. Though her mom had taught her to be wary of the hormonal contraceptives because of their side effects and suppression of the body's natural fertility cycle, she argued in favor of barrier methods such as condoms. When she met Sam, such speculations ceased to be merely theoretical. She would be getting married soon, and she needed to think practically and deeply about birth control.
Unfortunately, we found little help on this subject at Protestant bookstores. Most of the popular Christian relationship guides seem to assume that couples will be using artificial contraception and that this does not affect their marriage. James Dobson's book with the promising title Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide is disappointingly silent on the subject of birth control.
During our engagement, it became increasingly clear that for love to flourish, we had to grow in knowledge and respect for each other's bodies—not just our minds and souls. We found a number of Catholic resources that helped us along the way. By taking a home study course in Natural Family Planning (NFP—the natural method of fertility regulation, or child spacing, endorsed by the Catholic church) we learned far more about our fertility, with its God-ordained cycles and rhythms, than we had ever been told by doctors or health educators. More than that, we were prompted to communicate with each other on a deeper level than before, and were immersed in what we found to be a profound, biblical perspective on the meaning of love and marriage.