Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Between THE Rock and a Hard Place

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."

Fun times.

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.)


Ms. J said...

A quick question . . . what does the Church say on men having vasectomies? You mentioned tubal ligation.

I (yes, a Catholic, though very fall from the apple tree though I try my best and we do attend church) wanted to have my tubes tied when I found out pregnant with Peanut. Whether I had a successful pregnancy or another miscarriage or loss, I told OB/Gyn that I wanted it done. His response was "we would have to refer you out, since the hospital we have privileges at doesn't permit it (Catholic hospital, which I had forgotten), and besides, why would you do that when your husband can have a simple procedure like a vasectomy?"

Hmmmm. So in the end, that's what we did, three months after Peanut's birth. We would have done earlier, but needed to get to new cycle on our insurance so we could use the Flexable Spending Account funds to pay for it. Yes, that's the truth. We did not wish for more biological children, regardless of the outcome.

It was the right decision for us. I am well-aware of the Church's teachings on IVF, and how Clomid is allowed, but IUI/IVF is not. And each week in church I actually pray that people open their hearts to adoption instead. We started down the IVF path after resisting it for a very long time . . . while in the midst of our first cycle, we were matched with Lil Pumpkin. The call came before the egg retrieval was to occur, so we took it as "A sign" and cancelled the retrieval, and waved a big buh-bye to reproductive endocrinology. It was a leap of faith, because we were adopting a toddler with a health issue, among other things.

It was the best decision we ever made. It might not be right for others. It was and is for us.

I could not go through any more lost babies. I would love to be able to adopt again. I admire your willingness to be observant, and share your struggle, and hope others are respectful of your adherence to our faith.

MrsSpock said...

Do you need a second opinion perhaps? My friend who lost her kidneys to pregnancy was able to be granted a dispensation for the procedure.

Anonymous said...

Oh Michele, I am so very sorry you're having to go through this. Both the decision itself, which must have been a heartbreaking process to try to arrive at, and then to have your beloved church throw up roadblocks - I can't imagine how much more stress that must be adding to an already difficult decision/time.

I have no words of wisdom to offer, save that you have always struck me as a spiritual woman more than a religious woman--and by that, I mean that you follow the universally spiritual aspects of your faith (love, charity towards all, compassion) more than you adhere blindly to any religion's dogma. I would trust the moral decision that YOUR heart's compass points you toward, more than a committee's decision any day.

Thinking of you, and wishing that this, of all things, didn't have to be made more difficult than it must be, already. Take care.

Kristen said...

Where in the bible are they getting the biblical base to say that sterilization is a grave sin? I am not Catholic, I am Evangelical. So, I don't understand where the Chatachisim comes into play or how it came into exisistance.

Please know that I am not trying to bash or start any smack down stuff. I am just trying to understand some of the intracite details the Catholic ways before I weigh in.

Michele said...

@MrsJ-all sterilization is on the same boat, so vasectomy and tubals are equal.

Michele said...

@Mrs Spock- We were told that, in canon law, no such dispensation can be granted. I know that after our review with our parish priest, the theologian said that we couldnt use his advice, so my thought is that they would view the dispensation as faulty.

Michele said...

@Pez: Here is a link to a basic overview of the Catechism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catechism_of_the_Catholic_Church Basically, it is the Church's articles of faith and an explaination of what we believe and why.

Chelsea said...

I don't agree with the decision, but the only point I will make an argument on is the point of abstinence. The Bible says that man and wife should only be apart for a while in mutual agreement to devote themselves to prayer and then should come together again so that they are not tempted (1 Corinthians 7:5). So what they are recommending is not in line with scripture and to me God trumps anybody else. I know that doesn't address the reproductive aspect of it though. I think they are wrong in their decision for your case and I am sorry you are having to hurt even more over what has not been an easy decision.

Paula said...

Michele, I pray that God guides you in your decision. Since I'm not Catholic, I don't understand all the rules but I know how important it is to you and I'm sorry you're faced with this.

Anonymous said...

Michele, I absolutely admire your integrity, and I hope that you can either appeal to someone who 'gets' it, or find a new home that holds your whole reality. I can only dimly imagine what it must be like to consider excommunication.

Rebecca Frech said...

We are in a similar theological place to you but for different reasons. My body is just giving out. This is my 9th pregnancy in 15 years and the lady parts are...well...collapsing. Isn't that a lovely picture? (And that's a gross understatement)

I want so badly to be done, but like you, have been told that it is not permissible.

I'll be glad to walk this road with you, as we seem to be on similar paths.

Praying for you as always.

Michele said...

THANK YOU to everyone weighing in with thoughts, opinions, and good vibes. We appreciate it. :)

@Mrs Spock: something I thought of last night. If your friend had the procedure done in the midst of a medical emergency (ie without her express consent OR because she was in such a state that there was no other medical option to save her life at the time of the procedure) it would be considered "indirect" and therefore not something she'd carry the sin for. If she was given poor advice from her clergy (because he didnt know the rules) and she believed she had a dispensation, even though it was a "direct" sterilization, my understanding is that she, too, would be in a similar place. I'm not a moral theologian, though, so that's just my understanding.

@Chelsea: THank you for the biblical reference. Our Church is not part of the "sola scriptura" movement (i.e. "just" the Bible as basis for fact). In addition to the Bible, our Church uses the traditions of Jesus's culture, the Traditions of the early Church, as well as the writings and interpretations of the Church fathers (in books like the Catechism) to come to rules and decisions.

Mo said...

Ugh, Michele, this is such a tough one and I'm sorry you're dealing with it. It is so so difficult to reconcile your individual situation with the seeming inflexibility of the Catholic doctrine. We are far less religious than you guys and struggle with feeling that have acted against our own faith by pursuing IVF. I try to believe that God has a much broader perspective on these things than any specific dogma or doctrine, but it doesn't completely comfort me and I doubt it is of much comfort to you at all. I wish you peace in whatever decision you come to.


quadmom said...

I wonder if you might see if Leila at Little Catholic Bubble has any insights? Or some of her fellow bloggers?

I am so sorry for the struggle you're going through right now and I will be praying hard for you both as you discern your path.

Joanna said...

That is such a tough spot to be in Michelle. For the record, I AM a practicing Catholic and I too often struggle with what my heart and conscience believe to be true and what the Church's teachings are, which are archaic at times I admit. I've received conflicting answers from priests at times and so I would only say that take the advice you were given...and keep going. If this was the answer given by your Diocese rep, go higher. Find out who is the national rep and take it all the way to the Vatican if you must. You make very good and well thought out points, and this topic is being discussed by our Bishops/Cardinal Committees. We know that the Church does change their views, but it takes a long time. I think you have a very valid case for an exemption and I think that you should keep appealing to the highest level. Perhaps written statements from your physicians would help in the appeal process? I would hate for your personal relationship with God, your husband and your family to suffer... please keep going. Perhaps God has chosen you to be the catalyst for change in our Church.

St Elsewhere said...

Can't give you any opinion. I am not a Catholic, and my knowledge is very cursory.

I also don't want to judge or say something without a rational basis for it.

I am just hoping that you and Peter will eventually be able to find a workable solution to this dilemma that there is.

Just positive thoughts and blessings. That's it.

K said...

That sounds like a very difficult situation to be in. I hope you find a solution that works.

FWIW, I converted to Orthodoxy in 2003 (was a Baptist prior to that) and would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Best wishes.

Anonymous said...

This may sound a bit hypocritical coming from me, especially, as I still haven't stepped foot in church since Bean died. But...

While your church is there to provide guidance and support and lead you in the right direction, at the end of the day... this is not a decision between you and the church (regardless of whether or not the church feels it should be) it is a decision between you and God. While that may mean finding a new church home (like Greek/Eastern Orthodox) or deciding you can be the kind of Catholic that lives with withholding the info, or decides the confession route works for you (which I kind of doubt...) or something else (appeal?) for your church life. You have to seek out God's direction to guide this decision and follow His voice first.

You know in your heart that allowing another baby to suffer so tragically as Nicholas, Sophia and Alexander did (and I am so sorry that they did) is not something you can live with in good conscience. You and Peter have very sound Biblical and Catholic reasoning for considering sterilization. Please pray and seek God's voice on how to handle the church's decision as opposed to handle the sterilization decision, because it seems like you already have His answer on that.

Once again, you amaze me with your ability to remain in the faith after suffering so. You inspire me. If nothing else, please know that this post has led someone who has had their Bibles literally boxed up for over a year making a trip to the basement to retrieve one.

Leah said...

Hmm. . .

This is all very difficult. My Mom was raised Catholic, and when she married my Dad, she converted to Lutheran, and that is how I was raised. However, with one side of my family being Catholic, I did get to experience things from that point of view very often.

I in no way would bash someone's beliefs. To each their own, and all of us being different is wonderful and makes this world the interesting place that it is. With that being said, I've never fully understood why in the Catholic religion it is important to go to the Prist for answers? Priests are humans. . . just like us. They may be better read on the Bible, but then they interpret meanings, just like any of us do.

I always say, "Bring it to the Lord in Prayer." The Lord. Not a manly figure on earth who is trying to act as a mediator between us and God.

I don't believe abstinence is ever the answer between a husband and a wife. I also don't believe putting more children at risk is good either. I've read the Bible, several times, and I don't recall the Bible directly addressing this. This is simply humans on earth trying to interpret God's intent for us, and I personally don't think that is possible.

Again - I hope I haven't offended you in any way. It definitely was not my intent. Thinking of you and your family.

mkjsgp said...

Something about the catholic church.... it's almost like the court system. You have the right to appeal and I would encourage you to do so, especially with your faith and reasoning behind it.

Amy said...

Oh my dear...my heart goes out to you. I wish I had more time for my response, but since I do not I will have to be blunt.

1) Stay true to the Faith. I cannot God would look kindly on your leaving His Church. It is the narrow path we must choose.

2) God will reward your faithfulness.

3) Have you looked into Napro technology? They are headquartered in Nebraska, but I am sure they do long distance counseling.

4) I am in need of prayer intentions that are pressing enough to get me through each of my contractions, with the goal of an all-natural delivery. I will be offering many for you.

God bless you sweetie...my heart goes out to you. Ask Our Lady for comfort and strength. And hug those precious kiddos you do have!

Barb said...

I understand how hard this must be for you. I especially understand as my belief system is completely different due to many of the things you mention.

However, I do think that some of those people that you mention who use birth control etc and continue to take communion (my husband is not one who did) do so because they also disagree adn know that it is very difficult to find any belief system in which you agree with every single rule that is stated. Man is too fallible in my opinion to perfectly interpret the word of God.. not to mention that we have our own free will and that means there are lots of different ways to take things. Even with our new Lutheran CHurch, there are times I feel hypocritical when I don't agree with the pastor. But he is a human, so we are allowed to disagree. And they profess more of the things in which I believe (that women are a more integral part of the preaching services, that homosexuals are not denied and that birth control is necessary for many reasons).

I honestly think that the prescription of abstinence for a married couple could not have been thought through in the right way or understood when given to you. It's just too huge. I'm so sorry. Thank you for your openness.