Months ago, I wrote about the possibility of undergoing a medical procedure to render me as barren as science can make me. It's kind of funny, isn't it? An infertile asking to be barren... The irony isn't lost on me.
I want more children; so does Peter. There's no denying that. We've always said that we want a house full of them, biological and adopted. There has been no greater joy in my life than motherhood (followed closely by wifehood :) ). At first, those dreams were put on hold because I simply couldnt get pregnant. We fixed that with ovulation induction, and then the incompetent cervix and preterm labor took away any chances of a normal pregnancy. Child loss, prematurity, lack of being able to breastfeed... As Sarah says, put together a checklist of 'problems in pregnancy' and start checking them off!
It sucks, it really does. And then, as Dr. Lee hoped, Bobby and Maya "fixed" my body and sent many of the symptoms of my PCOS into remission (a recent ultrasound shows that my ovaries are still teeming with follicles so the 'polycystic' aspect is still there, but hormonally, things are closer to normal). Ovulation and menstruation have, amazingly enough, led to pregnancy... and another miscarriage.
I don't know what it was about our last pregnancy/miscarriage that did it, but it has left an open wound in my heart. It made me re-evaluate things. Add to that the adoption that fell through, and I've had an interesting plate these last few months. We still plan to adopt, but as far as childbearing... It has brought Peter and I to a strange place... for a variety of reasons.
We're Catholic (no secret there). We recently resigned from chairing the Respect Life Committee (just too much work on top of our home life) and Peter's a trained Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion as well as a lector; I'm a cantor and former Sacristan. We teach pre-Cana (the "sex" class that deals with married sexuality, NFP, and the family). So, to say that we are the types of Catholics that the priest knows by name and that most people at our parish know by sight is about right. We read the Bible and the Catechism, and we've been raising the kids up in our faith, starting by their baptisms. Even in trying to conceive them, the Church guided us. So it's no surprise that our discussions led us back to the Church for counsel.
After months of discussion, Peter and I felt as though we had no other choices... That we had been backed into a corner with no positive way out. My body cannot sustain pregnancy; it's never been able to. Even my "success" story with Bobby and Maya was only successful because of the outstanding prenatal/antepartum and neonatal care we received. Without that, they would have died simply because my body couldn't hold them long enough to adequately gestate them for this world. It's painful to contemplate... Even more painful to discuss. But the knowledge that I simply can't do this simple task and the ramifications from it make the realiziation that I can no longer carry a child clear.
If it were simply that I needed a cerclage to be okay, I think I'd have a TAC placed and take my chances. But then there's the preterm labor and, because of the postpartum eclampsia, a higher risk of preeclampsia in pregnancy (assuming I could even get that far). Tocolytics and P17 didnt have much of an effect. My body just wasnt meant to do this. 100 years ago, I'd be childless. Technology, as great as it has been in my case, is also a double edged sword and one that, it seems, I have to figure out how to put back in the stone.
So, months and months of discussion and Peter and I decided to consult with our priest about the Church's stance on sterility in a case like ours and to grant a dispensation for the medical procedure (a tubal ligation). Our local priest, while not advocating sterility, didnt advocate another pregnancy with our medical history, and he advised us to seek out a priest with a speciality in moral theology (along with a recommendation). We contacted said priest, who conferred with an expert in moral theology and cannon law, before they responded.
Unequivocally, no. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Sterility, no matter what, is always a grave, mortal sin, and is forbidden by the Church. To have the procedure done anyway would result in excommunication. The positive aspect of the decision was that they agree we have done everything humanly possible and that pregnancy is not a viable option for us. Since NFP is also impossible (I dont have the temperature fluctuations needed for temping and my cervical mucus doesnt follow any sort of pattern with my ovulation... Tried that!), they agree that we are at a loss. So... The response.... Abstinence. To be exact: "Direct sterilization is an offense against the Moral Law from which no one can dispense another... Abstinence is their only option."
This response makes it difficult on two fronts.
First, we all know Catholics who use birth control (also considered morally evil) and who continue to walk down to take Communion every week. There's also a fair amount who have had some sort of sterilization procedure, and no one is the wiser. It is what it is. They know the Church says it is wrong, they dont care, and que sera sera. They are fine with it.
We aren't those Catholics.
Secondly, we dont agree with the response. And that, perhaps, is the hardest pill to swallow.
The Catechism, under the heading of The Love of Husband and Wife, paragraph 2363, states that "The spouses' union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses
themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of
marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple's spiritual life and
compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family." Continuing, paragraph 2368, states "A particular aspect of this responsibility concerns the regulation of
procreation. For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their
children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by
selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible
parenthood. Moreover, they should conform their behavior to the objective
criteria of morality: en it is a question of harmonizing married love with the responsible
transmission of life, the morality of the behavior does not depend on sincere
intention and evaluation of motives alone; but it must be determined by
objective criteria, criteria drawn from the nature of the person and his acts
criteria that respect the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human
procreation in the context of true love; this is possible only if the virtue of
married chastity is practiced with sincerity of heart." Finally, paragraph 2399 states the Church's stance clearly: "Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to
morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).
Our advice is abstience because paragraph 2399 states that, regardless of our reasoning, sterilization (or any form of contraception, not that we'd use it) is morally unacceptable.
We embrace the teaching of paragraph 2363: the twofold end of marriage (as it relates to sexual intimacy in marriage) is the good of the spouses AND the transmission of life. We also agree that these values CANNOT be separated without altering the couple's spiritul life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family. Add to that the section of paragraph 2368 that states "It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. Moreover, they should conform their behavior to the objective criteria of morality: en it is a question of harmonizing married love with the responsible transmission of life, the morality of the behavior does not depend on sincere intention and evaluation of motives alone; but it must be determined by objective criteria, criteria drawn from the nature of the person and his acts criteria that respect the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love..." And that's where our disagreement brings us.
Abstinence defeats the twofold purpose. "The good of the spouses" (i.e. the sexual union) AND any chance at pregnancy are both out of the question with this advice. And, according to the Catechism, we run the risk of altering our spiritual life as a couple, compromising our marriage, and of having a negative impact on our family. And while I am in no way arguing that sterilization should be permissible (because I dont think that), I do believe that every rule has a just exception. (Easy for me to say, right? Especially when I'm arguing that I'm the exception.) But, in our case, our desire to not have every intimate liason allow for pregnancy, we are not motivated by selfishness but truly in responsible parenthood. And, as far as objective criteria, I cant image a more self-giving and stance of true-love for our children (and those I might conceive) than to say that we love you all enough to put ourselves at the least amount of risk that we would hurt you.
My babies die. It's a sad truth. The 2 who lived are testaments to the power of prayer and the great care they received in utero and out of it. But babies are not meant to be born in the 2nd trimester. If they were, then you'd meet a lot more 20something weekers. Part of "God's plan" as people love to remind others when people debate moral issues, is that children have a set gestational period. Otherwise, we wouldnt traditionally carry babies for 38 gestational (40 lunar) weeks! While sterilization does grant us the "freedom" to have sexual intimacy whenever, it also has a failure rate (something abstinence doesnt). I'll admit it is a small percentage, but ask the 2 out of 1000 couples who conceived post-sterilization if those were odds they expected and I'd wager a fair amount that it wasnt. We accept those as the opportunity to parent. As the transmission of life spoken of in the Catechism. It's a road block that we are throwing up, no doubt, but it doesnt render pregnancy impossible, as abstience does.
All these arguements aside, however, the Church is the Church. She isnt going to change because Peter and I disagree. And therein, is yet another problem. So many of my dear, sweet, very Catholic (in the world's way) friends say "do it." They know folks and no big deal. Or simply, do it and, since you already regret it, go to confession and therefore no more mortal sin, no more excommunication, no harm, no foul!
But it doesnt work that way. Not for us. This isnt having a piece of meatloaf on a Friday during Lent (we dont, by the way). This is a BIG sin in the realm of rating sin (which we also dont believe, funny enough: one sin is just as sinful as another in our book). But sin... Now there's an interesting thing in this discussion, as well.
A brochure entitled "Is Contraception and Sterilization Always a Mortal Sin?" has some Church fathers on the topic, as well as a section on sin. The consequences of sin, of which this would be considered are... the continual crucifixion of Jesus within by the committing of sin (which I would argue happens every single time I do any sort of sinning, regardless of it's value as mortal or venial); harms our relationship with God (let me be frank here: continuing to miscarry and bury children has damaged my relationship with God. It's the honest truth. Not to say I dont have faith or that I am not on the road to recovery by the Great Spirit I thought I knew isnt the one I've discovered, for better AND for worse); and harm to others (this goes without saying... while we can all argue that babies who are miscarried or die shortly outside the womb had the love of their mothers and knew safety and peace, I also know that Nicholas, Sophia, and Alexander (at least) suffered in their lives on this earth and that I had a direct relation to that suffering. They suffocated to death. Hold yourself under what until your lungs burn. Then imagine that times 10... And not being able to get a breath. That's how their bodies felt as their immature lungs began to crush them.)
Paragraph 1472 of the Catechism instructs that grave sin, of which this would be because it is being done in the full knowledge of the Church's teachings, deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life. Tough words there... Not just excommunication with the Church, but hellbound as well. And not just for me, but for Peter too, since he would be agreeing to the procedure.
In addition to our research into what the Catholic Church teaches, we've also looked into what the (Greek) Orthodox Church says on the topic, not only because they are a place that Peter has always felt comfortable with, but also because, liturgically and "rule" speaking, they are our closest brothers/sisters in Christ. They also dont allow sterilitity HOWEVER exceptions can be made for extreme cases. Interesting... Also interestingly enough, the brochure above, in its references, cites writings from both Catholic/Orthodox writers until it references 2 Popes from the 1930s & 1960s, and a Catechism reference.
We're in a tough spot... I try to be honest here and I can tell you we are struggling. Because of how we've tried to raise our kids and our own love of the Church, the idea of going against the teaching is one that gives us a great pause. We know that we run the risk of making a decision that casts us out of our family of faith. It opens up another can of discussion between Peter and I (Greek Orthodox versus Roman Catholicism) and that isnt an easy place to be either when my feelings center around that uncomfortable feeling of "church shopping".
I accept that I'm kind of a mishmash of things. Deep down, I know I'm a tree hugging, earth worshipping, animist who happens to find solace, peace, and love in the Catholic Church, especially our little piece of it a few town's over. While I wont lie to you and say that I agree with the Catechism 100% (because I've read it a few times...), I can say that it is the framework that Peter and I made a conscious choice to try and live within. But one thing we've also always done is followed our conscience and our own, personal connection to the Divine.
So now we are left to decide: which path do we choose when we are forced with following our conscience and our Church?
(I recognize that a fair amount of followers are not Catholic, nor do they agree with the Church's stance on things like IVF, etc. Please no bashing on this post. Honest opinions are ALWAYS accepted and appreciated, but flaming, inappropriate, or downright rude intolerance isn't tolerated.)