|Ready to head out for a date (did not intend to match; and yes, Krista|
did continue to date me even though my shirt was not ironed)
When we first concluded that the use of contraception was immoral, Krista and I were not immediately aware of anyone else who believed likewise, much less anyone who lived accordingly. Granted, contraception habits hadn't exactly been a common conversation topic among the few married couples we knew. But was anyone else out there thinking the way we were?
I was acquainted with a communications professor who I knew had seven kids (eight kids now) and was known for giving good marriage counseling with his wife. They were at least open to a big family, so they seemed like a good place to start. Since Krista was still in France, I headed over to their house for dinner by myself to start getting advice.
I learned they had also married and conceived their first child while still in college. But the child was an accident: she was conceived when they were in the process of changing contraceptive methods. Though surprised, they were still very excited and welcomed the news. They both finished their undergraduate degrees, and the woman received her diploma in one hand while holding her baby daughter in the other.
They continued to use contraception, and their contraception continued to fail (a real possibility that's important for couples who contracept to remember). After having five kids, the wife came across some literature explaining the Catholic view of sexuality and it resonated with her deeply. After she began to feel that using contraception went against her conscience, the man did more research and was eventually convinced as well. Though they were attending an Anglican church (pastored by someone who also accepted the Catholic view of sexuality) and had no desire to join the Catholic Church, they both explicitly championed Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae and Pope Bl John Paul II's Theology of the Body.
Krista visited Wheaton from France during her Spring break, and we got to meet with them together. Aside from the fact that both were smart and articulate - and that they were successfully living out what most people today assume to be oppressive, stupid, or, at best, impractical - what struck us the most was the nature of their home: it was such a positive place to be. Their house was full of people instead of just things (they did not have much), which was so refreshing. It's difficult to describe. It felt so radical - and yet eminently human.
They were open to us not only about their joys but also their difficulties, and wanted to ensure that we really understood what we were getting ourselves into. We became good friends and they were, and have remained, inspiring role models for us.
|Available online for free or on Amazon for $3.95|
The traditional Christian ideas about marriage, sexuality, and the human person had excluded contraception. So the acceptance of contraception necessarily required, even implicitly, a drastic change in people's thinking about marriage, sexuality, and the human person to accommodate it. The result is often called the contraceptive mentality.
The contraceptive mentality views procreation as separate from sex (sex doesn't make babies, unprotected sex makes babies) and thus also from marriage. In contrast, the Catholic view understands marriage, as a natural institution and with sex as its expression, to be inherently ordered to procreation. Procreation, instead of being something that a couple might add on to their marriage, is one of the reasons we have marriage at all in the first place. (The word 'matrimony' literally means something like 'mother maker'.)
The Catholic Church does not hold that a couple is required to have as many children as physically possible, but instead that couples can indeed have just reasons for limiting their number or timing of children. Nonetheless, the Church does teach: "Sacred Scripture and the Church’s traditional practice see in large families a sign of God’s blessing and the parents’ generosity." (CCC 2373) Since children are a good thing that flow naturally from marriage, large families are a good thing if possible. A large family is a privilege, not a curse (see Psalm 127.3-5). The contraceptive mentality, on the other hand, tends to view children as a burden to be avoided, an annoying possible side effect of sex that disrupts one's life, and encourages even couples with great means to intentionally restrict their families to 1 or 2 children, or even intentionally to have no children at all.
Some charge that natural family planning also engenders the contraceptive mentality since it is used to avoid children. The opposite is true: natural family planning maintains the connection between sex and procreation since the couple, if they wish to avoid a child, abstains from the procreative act. The connection is respected. Contraception, in contrast, disregards the connection and works against the human body to frustrate the natural purposes of the act.
I also quickly made the connection between contraception and other sexual perversions, such as masturbation, oral sex, anal sex, or homosexual acts. The traditional argument against contraception had been the same argument used against those acts. The theological/philosophical changes necessary to accept contraception thus also necessarily accepted those acts as well, even if only implicitly. Sure enough, not only have Protestants accepted contraception in contradiction to the historic Christian teaching, many have also quietly (or not so quietly) accepted the practices of masturbation, oral sex, and anal sex - practices that also had been previously universally condemned among Christians. Thus, it is no surprise that many are beginning to accept homosexual acts as well, since Protestants gave up the argument against it years ago when they accepted contraception.
|Blanchard Hall, home of Wheaton College's Philosophy department|
(yes, we were located in an ivory tower)
As we realized that Humanae Vitae wasn't ultimately just about contraception but was an entirely different way of approaching the world, and that, as such, we were going to be swimming upstream against major cultural forces, it became clear that finding as many role models as possible was going to be immensely helpful. So I continued to seek out like-minded people.
There was another professor, this one from the Bible department, who I came to hear was against the use of contraception. He and his wife had come to the conviction that the use of contraception was immoral in the last few years via Catholic moral arguments. They also became our friends and a helpful support.
I found additional support from a philosophy professor (I was a philosophy major) who was Episcopalian. She said she found the Catholic Church's arguments against contraception based on the teleology of the human body very persuasive.
I also got some push-back. When I started to explain the history of Christian thinking on contraception to a philosophy professor who specialized in ethics, he quietly pulled a big book off his shelf and started reading aloud. It was the article on birth control from the New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology and it was recounting the same history I was telling him. He looked up and informed me he had written the article.
He acknowledged the historical arguments for the Christian sexual ethic which excluded contraception and acknowledged that without the traditional arguments he wasn't aware of a good argument against homosexual acts (even though he still wanted to hold that they were immoral). Nonetheless, he said he supported the use of contraception because he thought it was necessary for women's progress, and he supported women's progress. I also support women's progress, but, as with anything, only as it is achieved through moral means. Needless to say, I found his utilitarianism unconvincing.
A few evangelical theology professors with whom I spoke said they agreed that marriage, with sex as its expression, had the dual purpose of uniting the couple and procreating children. But they disputed that every sex act had to be open to both as long as a couple was in general open to children. One even argued that a couple's fruitful service in their community could replace the procreative fruitfulness intentionally frustrated by using contraception. This made no sense to me. First off, as I explained in Part 1, it's not possible to disrupt the procreative aspect without also disrupting the unitive aspect since they are two aspects of the same act. Second, would it ever be morally acceptable to embrace the procreative aspect of sex but reject the unitive aspect? Of course not. Third, one's "sex life" is not an item; each sex act is its own act. Which is why, fourth, doing one sex act correctly doesn't make up for doing another sex act wrongly. Obviously, I wasn't convinced by them either.
|My family when I was a baby, with my parents Lloyd and Karen,|
and four of my siblings (from left) Colleen, Lisa, Eric, and Jeffrey
(my younger brother Patrick wasn't born yet)
When I talked to my parents about it I learned that, though my parents were protestant and were never taught to have any reservations about contraception, my mother's conscience had told her early on in her marriage that using contraception wasn't right. My mother had tried the Pill for the first six months of their marriage but from then on felt compelled to be open to as many children as God gave her, and that happened to be six (I was number five). She has since told me, "I felt it was wrong to waste the Millegan seed." And my dad has said, "We never really talked about it. I just left it up to her. She would just let me know when another child was coming." So neither thought that contraception was necessary. Both wanted to be sure that we understood the practicalities of raising a child, but they were confident we could figure it out and were excited we were open to giving them another grandchild soon.
As for myself and Krista, though we were set on not using contraception, we still weren't sure if we wanted to be open to conceiving a child right away. Having found other couples who were successfully living the life had been encouraging. Still, being in college with no firm idea of exactly how we'd support ourselves after graduation seemed to be a legitimate reason to intentionally avoid conception through natural family planning. But did we really want to abstain for the first bit of our marriage? It was an option, even if not an attractive option to a couple excited to be getting married.
I reconsidered the timeline I had worked out previously. Our wedding was now scheduled for August 15th. If we conceived right away, nine months later was May 15th, though an online due date calculator put the due date more exactly at May 8th. Graduation was May 9th. It was close, but it was far from being a sure bet that Krista would be going into labor while taking a final. And besides, if there was ever a good excuse for postponing a test, imminent childbirth was one of them. We also had to remind ourselves that it was very possible that we would not conceive right away. We could even be infertile - you don't know until you actually try and a child is never a given.
What about the pregnancy itself? Would it make it hard for Krista to do her school work even if the baby was born after graduation? We figured out that Krista could take a lighter course load in the Spring and still finish her degree on time. Combined with the fact that her mother's pregnancies had not been unusually difficult, Krista wasn't too worried.
Another question was how I would support Krista and the child. I would be just finishing my own undergraduate degree - and I was majoring in philosophy. It was hard to plan so far out how we'd get by, but I figured that we would need to have a way to live anyway. And though it wasn't something either of us wanted to do, we both knew we would always be welcome to stay with any of our parents as a last resort.
|Me and Krista enjoying croissants in downtown|
Aix-en-Provence, France, where she was studying
Even with the planning we had done, we knew we couldn't anticipate everything. Did we really know how we'd manage everything? No. But does a couple ever really know? Obviously, raising a child is a big job. But we weren't facing it alone: we were in it together and had the sure support of our families.
We started to feel that we wanted our love to go beyond us to create a new human life. And, by golly, we'd be married - so why not? Together, we decided we wouldn't try to prevent anything and instead just be open to receiving whomever came our way.
After making that decision, it was as though a huge burden had been lifted from our shoulders. We both felt we were finally allowed to let our marriage do what we naturally wanted our marriage to do: be fruitful. We didn't have to be bothered with trying to control anything or be worried about what would happen if it failed. We could just enjoy ourselves and look forward to the prospect of receiving the supreme gift of marriage: another person.
Our wedding date took on a whole new layer of excitement and anticipation. It was not just the date of when we would be getting married; it was the date we would begin trying to start a family. It all seemed so wonderful! We couldn't believe we had ever wanted to do anything different. We were no longer afraid; we were pumped.
Keep reading: Part 4: Hey Baby
This is Part 3 of a six-part series:
Part 1: Asking the Question
Part 2: Flipping the Switch
Part 3: No Longer Afraid
Part 4: Hey Baby
Part 5: Tested Twice
Part 6: No Regrets
- Humanae Vitae
- Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan
- Children of the Reformation: A Short and Surprising History of Protestantism and Contraception
- Sanger's Victory: How Planned Parenthood’s Founder Played the Christians—and Won
- Birth control is moral (but not all methods)
- Organic Sex, Organic Farming
- The Vindication of Humanae Vitae
- Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution
- Find an NFP class