Tied Up in Our Own Preferences
While the contemporary ability to determine one's family size is heralded as a mark of Western progress, that freedom carries with it moral and spiritual responsibility. Some branches of Christendom (most notably, the Catholic Church) have well-documented doctrinal positions about issues of reproductive technology and artificial means of birth control, many in the evangelical world default to silence on the issue of permanent sterilization.
When Hobby Lobby and others made headlines for seeking exemption from the Affordable Care Act on religious grounds, most of the coverage and conversation focused on birth control pills and abortion, though some businesses also opposed the sterilizaton requirements. Vasectomies and tubal ligations were an afterthought, if they were mentioned at all.
As an antidote to evangelicals' silence on the issue, I am not in any way advocating that church leaders direct couples about the number and spacing of their children. Instead, I see the value in coming alongside couples in search of godly wisdom in sharing stories and being willing to explore in prayer what God may be asking of them.
As Susanne Burden suggested in the recent Her.meneutics post When We Close Our Wombs, churches should "offer safe spaces for individuals to discuss the theological and personal reasons for ending our reproductive years." I wish my husband and I could have been a part of such a conversation when we were considering permanent sterilization decades ago.
At age 27, just hours after I gave birth to our third child, I had a tubal ligation. What most would call a wise and responsible choice on our part was actually a decision based primarily on our unprocessed, unvoiced fears. As a result, it left deep sorrow and regret in our lives. Our fears about the future led us to stumble toward a permanent decision based on our temporary circumstances. Fear is a crummy decision-making partner.
After discovering that baby No. 3 was on the way, my husband Bill and I commented that we were so exhausted from our day-to-day lives we couldn't even remember when or how the child could have been conceived. We had a two-year-old toddler and a five-month-old baby crammed in our tiny apartment. Bill was in school full-time and working full-time. I was babysitting for a neighbor's children in addition to caring for our own. We affirmed that children were a gift from God, but both felt that we'd reached our max capacity to receive any more gifts, no matter how wonderful they were. (When I expressed how overwhelmed I was by this unexpected pregnancy to my father, an unbeliever, he suggested we could "see someone to take care of the problem" since we were about to exceed the American ideal of two children per household. I told him flatly abortion wasn't an option.)
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