Sunday, June 9, 2013

Why We're Contraception-Free, Part 5: Tested Twice

Elijah taking a nap in the hospital
While doing some walking around town on the Monday before the birth of our first child, Krista's left leg started to swell up. When she got home and took a rest, it seemed to go down. Later that evening when I was home, we turned on some music and were having fun dancing around (brilliant, I know), and Krista's left leg started to swell up again - this time, a lot. We called her midwife who told us she could possibly have a blood clot and should go to the emergency room to have it checked. We went, they did a scan, and they told us there was no clot. They said they thought the baby was probably just resting on a vein, so she should try sleeping on her other side.

But the next day, her leg was still swollen, and bad enough that it was difficult for her to walk. For the next three days leading up to the birth, Krista could hardly get out of bed.

After our son was born, the swelling in Krista's leg didn't recede as we were expecting. A doctor decided to do another scan, and they discovered that Krista had a massive blood clot stretching the length of much of her left leg. They didn't want to put her on a blood thinner yet since she had just given birth, so they rushed her into surgery to put in a filter to catch any clot that might dislodge (which can be deadly). Within a few days, though, she was on warfarin, a common blood thinner taken orally.

Here's the thing about warfarin: it is known to cause deformities or death in babies developing in their mother's womb. In other words, as long as Krista was taking warfarin, we did not want to conceive a child.

There are blood thinning drugs that do not cause problems for babies developing in their mother's womb, but they are given by injection and cost significantly more. The doctors said that they would want her to be on some sort of blood thinner indefinitely, so if she ever did become pregnant, she would have to be on the injections. We wanted Krista to be able to give her body a break from the injections when she didn't need to be doing them and so we decided she would be on warfarin pills for the time being.

We could have used natural family planning techniques to try to avoid conceiving a child while she was on the warfarin. But from what we understood (perhaps wrongly), you had to chart for a few cycles before you could start to predict when the woman would be fertile or not, and since Krista had just given birth, she wasn't having her cycle. Besides, like all forms of birth control, it's never 100%: anytime a couple has sex, they should be prepared to welcome a child. Couldn't we just hold off once she got her period back? But a period means a woman has already had a cycle and could have conceived a child.

Elijah was born-again soon after his birth.
See: Why we baptized our newborn, and you should too
Would the situation have been different if we were open to using contraception? Perhaps a little bit, although since no form of birth control is 100%, there would have always been a risk we could conceive a child anyway. Frankly, if we had tried to use some sort of birth control method (contraception or natural family planning), we would not have been able to relax; it would have always been in the back of our minds that we could be conceiving a child who would be hurt by Krista's medication.

We didn't want it on our consciences that we produced a deformed or dead child simply because we couldn't control ourselves. So we decided to take no chances and use the only birth control method that is absolutely 100%: we would abstain for as along as she was on the warfarin.

Meanwhile, we were enjoying our beautiful new baby. Even though I had come from a family of six kids, I was one of the youngest, so I had very little experience with babies. Changing Elijah's first diaper in the hospital was my first time ever changing a diaper.

It was a few weeks before the swelling in Krista's leg went down enough for her to be back up and walking around normally. I was able to take off a week from my job to be around to help out during the day, and our parents staggered their visits so we had someone there to help us for much of the summer.

We had a lot of fun taking Elijah out and enjoying the summer weather. We went on lots of walks around the neighborhood, went to the park and the farmer's market regularly, and enjoyed free outdoor concerts near where we were living. We generally took the attitude that we'd still go out to do things we'd normally do and just bring him along for the ride.

And as anyone who has children knows, taking care of a new baby, particularly one's first baby, can also be very challenging. They obviously need someone 24 hours a day. They cry, sometimes for seemingly no reason. Routine things like sleeping or going to Mass have never been the same.

But he wasn't a burden and he didn't detract from our relationship as we were warned a baby within the first year of our marriage would. He wasn't something coming from the outside to disrupt our marriage; he was the fruit of our married love. He was another person with whom we were now sharing our lives, one with his own personality that showed itself right away and his own will and desires which became apparent as he got older (what? he doesn't always want to do what we want him to do?). While it was still nice to be able to leave him with Krista's mother for an hour or two every now and then and get away together, we felt he brought us closer together. We didn't have less love to go around, we had more love.

We needed to be out of the place we were living by the end of August. We had been entertaining a pipe dream of moving to Rome for me to work on a graduate degree in theology at the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas in Rome, but after the complications with Krista's blood clot, we decided it was no longer feasible.

Elijah was growing up fast! (No, the thing his finger is in
is not an electrical socket.)
During our Senior year we had survived financially off of wedding gifts and part-time campus work, and I knew that summer work as a nanny probably wasn't going to cut it in the long-term. This is where all those concerns about how we'd support ourselves, given that we were getting married while in college and having a child right away, became a reality.

I thought it would be wise for me to continue my education, and given her medical condition I thought it would be good to be near Krista's family. Krista's mother lived in a suburb of the Twin Cities in Minnesota, so I applied to the MA of Theology program at the St Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St Paul, MN. Thankfully, I got in to start right away that fall, along with a very helpful scholarship to help cover tuition. But how would we support ourselves financially? It wasn't immediately clear, so we started praying that God would provide.

The school offered classes in the evenings, so I would be available to work during the day. I had a degree in philosophy from an evangelical college; my job experience included work in my college's alumni giving department, work as a teaching assistant in the philosophy department, a paid summer internship for two summers at the baptist church I attended back in Oregon while I was still an evangelical, a summer working in a True Value distribution center, and, most recently, work as a summer nanny; and I had just joined the Catholic Church a few months ago. It wasn't immediately clear to me for what kind of work I was qualified that could support a family.

Since I had largely read my way into the Catholic Church, I thought I could maybe work for a parish. I knew I understood the faith well; I also knew getting a parish to hire me would probably be a long-shot. But I didn't have many other leads, so a month before we were moving up to Minnesota, I applied for several faith formation jobs throughout the Archdiocese of St Paul/Minneapolis.

All but one emailed me back right away saying I wasn't qualified enough for consideration, so I didn't get my hopes up for the one I hadn't heard from yet. But a few weeks later, they contacted me and said they wanted an interview. I was still in Illinois, so I did it over the phone while sitting in our car in the summer heat after getting off my nanny job for the day.

I thought the interview went well, but I was still surprised when the priest contacted me again and said he wanted to meet with me in person as soon as I got up to Minnesota. I scheduled the meeting for the first day after we'd be arriving at Krista's mother's house (she had graciously allowed us to land there until we found a place to live). Our meeting went well and ended with the priest offering me the job.

Outside our house in Buffalo, MN last
summer soon after Adelaide was born
God had provided! It was a good job, full-time with benefits. I took it and we started looking for a place to live in the parish's small town, Buffalo, MN. With the job, a wise and holy priest as both a boss and a pastor, and a community full of good people, we greatly enjoyed our time in Buffalo.

Krista ended up being on the warfarin for about a year, during which we abstained. I'm sure there are many married couples out there who for one reason or another have to abstain for extended periods of time (a good thing for young engaged couples to remember).

Did we desire each other? Of course. Was it really that hard? For the most part, no. Life went on: going to work, taking care of our son, learning about how to be parents. We didn't feel any less married. Our relationship did not suffer in any way whatsoever. If anything, our relationship was strengthened in our mutual respect for each other.

After a year of being on the warfarin, Krista's period had returned and we were excited to try for baby number two. She switched to injections that were self-administered once a day (later increased to twice a day) - a task Krista took on with grace. We didn't want her to be doing the injections for nothing, and little time was lost: we were blessed to conceive our second child two months later.

Krista was blessed to have a gestational-diabetes-and-blood-clot-free pregnancy, and, in March of last year, our daughter Adelaide Esther Millegan was born.

Keep Reading: Part 6: No Regrets
This is Part 5 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
Post Script

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


  1. Another beautiful story. I will say that you can chart before cycles return, depending on the method. For example, this is true of Billings. I completely understand choosing to completely abstain during tht time instead, but just wanted to give that info. :)

    1. Hey Susan, Thanks for the info. We never ended up looking too deeply into the matter since we decided we thought it'd be better just to abstain. God bless!

  2. I've been enjoying reading through your blog but I have to pause and ask a few questions here...
    also, I'm not catholic. I am evangelical/baptist, so I may just be ignorant of the catholic teaching.

    1) is your use of the term "abstain" meaning strictly from intercourse (so as to prevent conception) or from all sexual intimacy?
    2) Do you believe the only permissible sexual intimacy for a married couple to be intercourse? If so, I find that hard to believe given passages of scripture in Song of Solomon.
    3) How has 1 Corinthians 7 influenced your decision on abstaining? I understand you had good reason not to conceive due to the medical risks but 1 year of abstinence seems contrary to what this passage teaches to me...though your view on abstinence in the above question would affect this question.

    1. Hello nicholasandjessica,

      I'm honored that you've been reading the series! Thanks for reading, and thanks for taking the time to critically engage with it. That's exactly what I've been hoping for. Regarding your questions, great questions, here are some thoughts:

      1) I suppose it depends on what you mean by "sexual intimacy". I would still give my wife a kiss or embrace her, but we didn't engage in anything described in my answer to question 2.

      2) Head ups: I may need to be explicit to answer this question. The only proper use of our sexual organs are with the sexual organs of the opposite sex. In other words, a man's penis should only be ejaculating in a woman's vagina. Intentionally doing anything else is contrary to nature.

      If you are referring to Mark Driscoll's perverse interpretation of Song of Songs 2.3 as celebrating oral sex, I'd say that that interpretation is a misuse of the text (reading way more into the text than what is there) and is contrary to the entire tradition of interpreting Scripture (it's a recently invented interpretation) and indeed is contrary to the entire tradition's understanding of sexuality and marriage based on Scripture and reason. Oral sex, like homosexual acts and other perversion, deny the importance of sexual complementarity. In other words, if one accepts the permissibility of things like oral sex (or contraception, anal sex, masturbation, etc), I don't see any argument against homosexual acts.

      3) Great question. Paul is giving general recommendations there. In fact he says "I say this as a concession, *not as a command*". He doesn't say that abstaining for the purpose of prayer is the only reason a couple could possibly have to abstain. I mean, sometimes a couple may simply be unable to have sex physically, or have situations like I had with my wife where there is a serious medical reason not have sex. I'd agree with the general principle though: generally speaking a couple should be regularly having sex unless they have good reason not to. This then means that a married couple should, in general, be open to receiving whatever children come their way unless they have good reason not to.

      Feel free to respond or not, I'm very open to dialogue. God bless!

    2. Can I ask where you get the idea that the only permissible sexual act in marriage is intercourse?

    3. nicholasandjessica,
      Great quesiton. Anything else is contrary to nature and a misuse of our sexuality. Sex is the expression and consummation of marriage, which is the one flesh union. Only intercourse is the uniting of the man and the woman according to their gender.

    4. You didn't really answer my question...
      what source, or by what authority do you believe anything else is contrary to nature/misuse? does the pope say something about it? a scripture passage(s)? a biblical commentary you've read?

    5. First off, we can know things about the world without being told them by someone else. Remember, it says in Romans 2.14-15 that those without Scripture can know morality. And in Romans 1, St Paul argues that homosexual acts are wrong because they are contrary to nature. He knows his readers can see that that is the case. The purpose of our sexuality is evident to reason merely by looking at our sexual organs and how they work.

      In any case, as I said in my previous comment, marriage is the one flesh union (according to Scripture). If sex isn't the man and the woman giving of themselves in total to each other, and thus expressing and consummating that marital unity, then I don't know what connection sex has to marriage. And if a man and woman can use their sexuality in ways that deny sexual difference (oral sex, masturbation, etc), then it's not clear why homosexual acts are wrong or what St Paul meant when he said that.

    6. nicholasandjessica, I'd like to ask you a question: What is the purpose and meaning of sex? What is it's connection to marriage? And why are homosexual acts wrong, and what does Paul mean by "contrary to nature"? God bless

    7. Some Early Church Fathers and writers
      "Moreover, he [Moses] has rightly detested the weasel [Lev. 11:29]. For he means, ‘Thou shall not be like to those whom we hear of as committing wickedness with the mouth with the body through uncleanness [orally consummated sex]; nor shall thou be joined to those impure women who commit iniquity with the mouth with the body through uncleanness’" (Letter of Barnabas 10:8 [A.D. 74]).

      "Who is he who cannot warn that no woman may take a potion so that she is unable to conceive or condemns in herself the nature which God willed to be fecund? As often as she could have conceived or given birth, of that many homicides she will be held guilty, and, unless she undergoes suitable penance, she will be damned by eternal death in hell. If a woman does not wish to have children, let her enter into a religious agreement with her husband; for chastity is the sole sterility of a Christian woman" (Caius 1:12 [A.D. 522]).
      "God gave us eyes not to see and desire pleasure, but to see acts to be performed for the needs of life; so too, the genital [’generating’] part of the body, as the name itself teaches, has been received by us for no other purpose than the generation of offspring" (Lactantius, [290-350] ibid., 6:23:18).
      "For necessary sexual intercourse for begetting [children] is alone worthy of marriage. But that which goes beyond this necessity no longer follows reason but lust. And yet it pertains to the character of marriage . . . to yield it to the partner lest by fornication the other sin damnably [through adultery]. . . . [T]hey [must] not turn away from them the mercy of God . . . by changing the natural use into that which is against nature, which is more damnable when it is done in the case of husband or wife. For, whereas that natural use, when it pass beyond the compact of marriage, that is, beyond the necessity of begetting [children], is pardonable in the case of a wife, damnable in the case of a harlot; that which is against nature is execrable when done in the case of a harlot, but more execrable in the case of a wife. Of so great power is the ordinance of the Creator, and the order of creation, that . . . when the man shall wish to use a body part of the wife not allowed for this purpose [orally or anally consummated sex], the wife is more shameful, if she suffer it to take place in her own case, than if in the case of another woman" (The Good of Marriage 11–12 [A.D. 401]). Augustine of Hippo, St
      "To have coitus other than to procreate children is to do injury to nature" Clement of Alexandria [150-215 AD] ibid., 2:10:95:3).

      Thank you for your blog Brantly

    8. Anon, Thanks for the quotes, very interesting. And thanks for the encouragement on the blog.

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