A Theology of Choice

Yet another woman in my church announced her pregnancy last week.   Sometimes it feels as if I’m only married woman under 40 and over 25 in a six state radius who is NOT pregnant or the mother of young children.    I think the pain-prick gets worse with each new announcement, especially since it has now been a year now since I started the process of trying to find out why I have severe dysmenorrhea and infertility.   With no answers in sight, I’m having a harder and harder time putting the proper smile on my face and subduing the internal sense of frustration.   The sense of isolation and invisibility I’ve felt since I lost my hearing has been compounded by the emotional turmoil of infertility.

There’s no easy way to separate the tangle of medical and psychological issues from each other: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.   When people give me advice on a single issue, it always seems inadequate because it doesn’t take the other problems into account.  I can’t really address the feeling of invisibility without also talking about the exclusion of infertility, nor the other way around.   So far, I haven’t found a doctor that really understands that tangled web.   Doctors want to solve a problem, to fix things; they don’t want me to accept the status quo as I sort out my thought and feelings.

It is the sorting that has been the major stressor of the past six months.  On the one hand, motherhood has never been my ultimate top priority in life;  on the other hand, it seems like a bleak future with no children, a life bereft of basic experiences that connect human beings to one another in shared life stages.   I think I would like to have children;  I know at least that I don’t want to be told that it is impossible.  But deciding what to do between the two extremes?   That’s a decision I don’t want to have to make.   My pastor suggested I needed to pray about whether I was “called” to parenthood or not, and make decisions on that basis.   That seems to me to be the wrong question.  How can I presume to know the future of my life and marriage with a certainty that would permit me make this kind of choice?   I see no Scriptural warrant for that kind of attitude towards children, or the lack of them.

My primary desire – as I have thought and prayed and sorted out and talked about and prayed some more – is to have my life, my choices, my future be conformed  to the will of God.  What will it profit me to gain children, if I lose the integrity of my faith?   Which of the options facing me will be an expression of my belief in God’s sovereignty and of my hope for the life of the world to come?   “The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen…”   I have a responsibility, if I really believe in the principles and tenets of my faith, to give them concrete expression the deliberate choices I make in my life.

The problem with choice is that the burden rests on me.   When I lost my hearing, I didn’t have any choices:  the only possible option was to get up and keep going.   I had to accept the new shape of my life because there wasn’t any alternative.   With issues of fertility, however, I have choices.   For the first time in human history, I have the ability to exercise control over the productivity of my womb.   But should I?   Just because something CAN be done does not mean it SHOULD be done.   This choice doesn’t affect just me, or my marriage; it also affects a potential human life.   If human life is a sacred imago Dei, then I cannot treat the potential creation of life in the same cavalier attitude I use to decide what to cook for dinner.

I think that we have finally decided on a course of action: do nothing.   The decision has not been easy.  Worse, we are deliberately deciding NOT to take the “easy” path.   Please note that I am in no way condemning anyone who makes a different choice, but I want to explain my reasons.   Because there are so few people who will understand this choice, and even fewer flesh-and-blood people in my life whom I will ever even attempt to explain it to, I want to offer my thoughts in the anonymous void of the internet, hoping that I can receive encouragement and prayers from strangers.

The more we have talked, the more my husband and I have realized that we are in perfect agreement in rejecting artificial means of conception.   After visiting fertility clinics and doing lots of research, we both reject the attitude of baby-as-commodity ethos that modern fertility medicine seems to embrace.  Therefore we will refuse to use injectable hormones (or anything that might result in a need for “selective reduction”), IVF, and IUI.  In addition to rejecting the high-cost, artificial methods of conception, I am also rejecting the resumption of birth control as a pain remedy.   At this stage, going back on birth control would mean that I would HAVE to use fertility medicine if I wanted to be pregnant at some specific point in the future.  Multiple doctors have made that clear to me.  In addition, any form of birth control would still take the question of children out of God’s hands and throw the choice back at me again.   But our current choice – this decision to do nothing to either cause fertility or to eliminate it – means that I am intentionally choosing to face absurdly severe menstrual pain every month.  I am deciding that I would rather endure pain while living in the certain confidence that our future (and any potential children) are entirely in God’s hands.  I am choosing to be secure in His will instead of grasping for happiness or freedom from pain.  I would rather know that my integrity before God is intact than live with the doubt that I’d put my own self-serving desires ahead of Him.

This has not been an easy decision to reach, and I know that it will be incomprehensible to most people – family, friends, strangers, even my doctors and probably my pastor.   If I want children, and IVF has a high success rate – if childbearing would help eliminate the intense pain I feel every month – then why would I walk away from these options?   Why not pursue that which I desire?   Or if birth control would eliminate the pain and give me control over my fertility, why would I choose instead to endure pain?  What doctor is going to think I’m sane in my choice?   How many people reading this are going to think I’m out of my mind?

This isn’t some kind of dream of noble self-sacrifice.   I am confident that this is the right decision, even though I fear carrying out as a plan of action.  After all, I’m not a stranger to pain, and I know how hard it is to get up every day and keep going when it feels like my body is betraying me.   I know.   I broke my back.   I lost my hearing.   I have counted the cost that this decision will exact from me.   And yet – this is the right decision.   My husband and I agree on this so completely that I’m astonished by it.   It is nearly as hard on him to watch me suffer – again and again and again – as it is for me.   And still, I think this is the right choice.  No matter how hard it is, how hard it will be, this is the only course of action for us.  After all, pain avoidance isn’t the goal of life.  I know people who have suffered more than I have.   I’m a historian: my suffering is practically nonexistent compared to what people in the past have endured.   And children aren’t an inalienable right; plenty of woman who would make better mothers than I would go to their graves having never married, never borne children.  Why do I think I “deserve” children more than they?

More importantly, if I am going to a live a life that is obedient to Christ, despite the views of “the world”, then even my sexuality and the basic human urge for reproduction should reaffirm the truth of God’s word.   In contrast to a world that thinks sex is just for fun, and thus there’s no reason for people to avoid it or postpone it, I recognize that God created us for a higher purpose than mere physical pleasure.  Sex isn’t just about fun;  it’s about expressing that “one flesh” relationship that reflects the relationships of the God-head – and the casual attitude of our culture towards sex violates that reflected image.   In addition, the divorce between sex and procreation that western culture has embraced has fundamentally perverted our culture’s ability to show and experience genuine love.   Godly love is about sacrifice – with Christ being the ultimate example – while currently all the messages around us are that love is about self-seeking pleasure, self-grasping happiness, and self-serving use of another person.   (Can anyone watch any television show without seeing this?  Dating is the game, and sex is scoring points.   The other person doesn’t matter.  And once you’ve used up a person, or have stopped having fun feelings for them, they are disposable.  Personal wants trump other people every time.)     In contrast, I want to live a life that rejects that perspective and shows the deeper, more meaningful truth that no matter how lonely or painful or unhappy life can be, the joy of the Lord is strength, the knowledge of the Lord is precious, the love of Christ is unmatched by anything in this present age.

I am not trying to say anything in judgment of anyone tho chooses IVF, or birth control.  This is my own deep conviction.   For others, the conviction will be something else.   As Paul said “everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.”   These options may be permissible for someone else, despite my conviction that they are not permissible for me.

If I never have children, yes, it will hurt, both physically and emotionally.  I will continue to feel excluded, invisible, defective.   I will probably always struggle with resentment against the fertile.   Even recognizing that hurt, however, I still am convinced that this is the right decision for me.   I don’t want to create a human being just because “I want.”  That perspective is simply another way of expecting a mere human being to serve my happiness.    I also don’t want to play God with human life, creating it artificially in a way that divorces the joy of children from the joys of marriage and sex.  If I did that, how could I claim that I was resting in God?   How is that different from people who want a road map to life rather than faithfully following one step at a time?    Human life is not a commodity to be bought and sold, created and destroyed at whim.   Sex and marriage aren’t a game or a struggle to achieve certain goals; they are expressions of relationship.  And if I take these principles seriously – if I really believe in God’s sovereign love and care – then this path, this choice to do neither one thing nor the other, is the right one.   If we have children, then may God’s will be done!   If we do not have children, then may God’s will be done!

I’m not sure I’ll be able to explain all this to my doctors, who are, rightly, trained to seek solutions for pain.   Unfortunately, I’m rejecting the two easiest solutions, as “against my religion”!  I will continue to search for a diagnosis and solution for the pain, but only within these parameters.  I will leave the matter of children alone, and wait to see what the future holds.  I hope that closing the decision-making book on this will help with my depression, my insomnia, and my sometimes precarious perch on the edge of a nervous breakdown.  I doubt it will entirely, although for the first time in six months I feel like part of the burden has been lifted.  In facing these choices, I seem to have developed a new personal theology about choice, based on a real desire to sanctify every decision and every action to God.  Surrender and rest will not – and never have – come easily to me; normally I make good use of stubborn obstinacy to help me get what I want.  And yet…it will take a different kind of stubbornness to live out the convictions that I have formed, in spite of pain, in spite of other people’s misunderstanding of my position, in spite of all the difficulties and disadvantages it will entail.   In the end, I want to be able to pray alongside Christ to “let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will”. 

Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra.

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6 Responses to A Theology of Choice

  1. Daryl says:

    My husband and I have made a very different decision regarding our infertility, but as long as you and your husband are in agreement and happy with the decision you’ve made, who am I to judge or try to convince you to change your mind? I hope taking this burden off the table brings you some peace.

    • I hope that you – and anyone reading this – understand that I am NOT saying that anyone who chooses a different path on infertility is wrong. This is the right decision for me; it might not be the right decision for everyone. It won’t make the pain of infertility go away in my life; and it certainly won’t change my empathy for all the other women in the world who will face similar circumstances. We’re all dealing with something that I think most of us never thought we’d have to face, and there are no easy answers.

  2. Pain avoidance is not the goal of life ,but we live in a culture that tries really hard to make it a big goal. I do not suffer from infertility but because of all my health problems my husband and I have made the very hard choice not to have children (one sentence does not do enough to describe all of that pain). Just because it was a choice, does not mean there is not enormous pain. The place I often feel our lack of children the most, is, of all places, church. It is in church that I feel the most alone in this area. Your thoughts on this subject are one of the first times I have read someone else really exploring many of the issues that surround being childless from a Christian perspective in such a thoughtful and non-typical manner.

  3. Pingback: Decisions, decisions | DeafMedievalist

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