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Tuesday, November 15, 2005


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Another thoughtful and well-said post. I can't wait to learn about Catholicism and ART- so many questions.

I was wondering if you could explain the Catholic beliefs on being 'quiverfull' if you have the time. I'd love to know more about it.

I'm a Christian who practices NFP and I loved your explanation. I think your blog, and the way you teach others with it, is wonderful.

Really looking forward to the next post in this series. So far this has been review, but I've never looked too closesly at ART and how it works, except to know that a lot of fertility treatments can be illicit. So please, fill me in!

I am taking both a Christian Ethics and a Christian Marriage course right now, and we are discussing all of the wonderful stuff, and I love it!!

A quick question, though - you said that NFP can never be used to prevent a couple from every having children. I don't think I agree. Example: What if the couple are human rights activists in Uganda their whole lives, and they are so dedicated to their work of helping others that they decide not to have children. They are not being selfish, because their work is to benefit others, no? So they aren't avoiding having children for selfish reasons at all. In fact, it might even be a problem to raise a child in that atmosphere...

What do y'all think?

PS: This blog is great! :) I'm hooked...

Adding to the request above for your views on the 'quiverful' thing. Though i understand if you don't want to! I've only heard of this concept, in terms of actual family 'planning', from evangelical Protestants, and I had assumed it wasn't something the Catholic Church 'believed' in.

A quick note from me...(sheesh, who am I kidding?)

If I sounded a little hurt, I promise I'm not. It was more bewildered, but your subsequent explanation was all I needed. Actually, no explanation was needed - I was comfortable with trusting your decision.

I'm eager to read your thoughts on IVF. Then I'd like to take the time to send you an e-mail with my thoughts, for whatever they're worth.

As my own disclaimer, I know that hands down, my position is definitely the weaker one (okay, the indefensible one in eyes of the Church) and it's unlikely I'll be able to counter on anything but a purely emotional level. At the end of the day, I'll only be able to smile, shrug and say "I know you're right and I'm just going to have to work it out with God when the time comes." I know "ends justifying the means" is a pretty lousy comeback, but I hoping that He sees my heart and that intent counts for something when all is said and done.

Couple of things...

First, I want to write out my thoughts because we plan to raise our son in the Church - the whole nine yards, including Catholic school. We plan to be very honest with him about his unusual origins because a) all our friends and family know and b) it's pretty cool and downright miraculous to us. Plus the whole "nearly dying/lost a major organ" thing should be good for the occasional guilt trip when he's misbehaving! (kidding, kidding)

Anyway, should all this honesty ever create a situation where a classmate, teacher or priest would give him pause about his existence (my, can you imagine the show and tell experience if he decided to bring in his *first* picture?), I want to be able to clearly and lovingly explain just what a gift from God, not a scientist in a sterile lab, he truly is. I don't ever want him to question his place in this world, our life or God's plan.

Second, I don't ever want to forget why I did what I did. To take for granted everything I went through or the gift of our son would be more of an affront to God (in my eyes) than choosing to bring science ever so briefly into the covenant I share with my husband and God.

It may take me a few days, but hopefully I'll have something to pass along to you, if you're interested.

Finally, I just wanted to tell you that you're my favorite blogger in the whole wide world! I read about 20 blogs, almost all of them infertility blogs (so hard to let go of that identity even when success is slobbering on your shoulder). Without naming names, I read all the popular ones and with all due respect to those women, I enjoy reading their blogs, but they aren't people I'd necessarily want to be friends with in the real world for various reasons. That's not (entirely) a reflection on them but rather me and my personality. You, on the other hand...well, please take it as a compliment that you're definitely someone I'd want to be friends with in the real world.


Um, could you guys elucidate for me what the "quiverfull" theory is? I'm assuming it's a reference to Psalm 127, but it must be an evangelical term, because I've read the bulk of Catholic teaching on the subject and have never seen it used. If someone can point me to a source that gives more information, I'll take a look and let you know my take on it. :)

Aww, JJE, you actually brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for being so understanding and kind.

I'll give another example like Ashley's, only this one taken from real life:
I had a very dear friend who had a severe congenital heart defect - one so great that when she was eventually diagnosed with it, her parents were told she would never walk and never go to school. Well, she did all those things and more (grad school, professional job, founded international patients rights organization). One thing she knew she would never be able to do, however, is carry a child to term. Notice I didn't say she couldn't get pregnant, because as far as anyone knew, anyway, her reproductive system worked just fine; because of her heart defect (she was basically missing a chunk of her aorta), and her underdeveloped lungs, she would not have been able to sustain a pregnancy. Not surprising in one way, since she wasn't even able to walk briskly without turning blue, but this was still a devastating revelation. When she met the man she would eventually marry, they talked about adopting children, but by the time that they got married a few years later, they were convinced that with her uncertain life expectancy and her physical limitations, they would never be approved as adoptive parents. I think, in fact, this is one of the things they talked about when they helped run the marriage prep classes at their (Catholic) parish - how you weather the difference between what everyone expects their life should be, and reality.
So - still unallowable? And if so, what's the alternative?

JJE - I have an IVF son as well who will be raised Catholic (he's been baptized, but he's not even four months old yet so it's a bit early for the rest of it) and we've been going back and forth on whether to tell him or not; and if so, WHAT to tell him. It's complicated by the fact that we had a LOT of embryos who didn't make it, to our devastation (he's the only one who lived) and I don't want him to feel guilty or like he somehow has to make up for that fact; his survival wasn't something he had any control over. And to be honest, I don't feel any too good over the fact that all those other embryos died; I feel like I should have protected them more than I was capable of - but then, I wouldn't unwish my son for anything, so it's a real bind. I don't want that to come across (kids are very good at reading their parents, after all) and have him feel bad or resentful about it. If you had a plan for talking about the other embryos, I'd really like to hear it. (My email's under my name, if you'd prefer that method).

Arwen - I haven't contributed to the discussion thus far because I haven't had anything really original to add, but I have been enjoying it and found it very interesting. Just wanted you to know that :).

Okay, quick answer to Ashley's question and Ellen's.

The thing about using NFP to avoid conception is that it involves constant discernment. Every month the couple prayerfully considers what God is asking of them, and acts accordingly. Therefore, it could be perfectly proper for a couple doing work in Uganda to use NFP to avoid conception, if God called them that way. However, every month they would have to prayerfully decide if God was still calling them that way. I find it highly unlikely, considering that God designed marriage the way he did, that he would call them to avoid children for their entire marriage, although I'm not saying it's impossible. But there's a difference between constant, prayerful discernment of God's will for your lives and simply deciding that you're not going to have children because something else is more important. So in answer to your question, I would say that they don't have the right to make that decision unilaterally, but that it's possible God could call them to that life, but because of the nature of marriage and sex they'd have to be constantly discerning his will. If that makes sense.

As for Ellen's case, that is different entirely. Through nature, some couples are rendered physically incapable of having biological children. Some are too old when they get married, some have specific medical conditions that make it impossible. In your friend's case, I think it's a moot point that her reproductive system was fine, because she wouldn't be able to give birth, and furthermore it sounds to me like pregnancy might be a life-threatening condition for her. Not all couples who are unable to have biological children are called to adopt children, especially the ones for whom adoption is impossible, like your friends. I would say that it is perfectly acceptable for your friends to use NFP to avoid conception permanently. The key thing is that your friends have not placed the barrier between themselves and parenthood; God has done it for them.

I'm looking forward to reading what you have to say about ART as well, but wanted to reassure JJE that she's not alone. First, one of the parishes in my Archdiocese has an Infertility, Adoption and Foster Care ministry, of which I attended just one meeting. Two of the three couples who were in attendance had done IVF. Second, I totally understand the balance you strike between intervention and the outcome - you followed your conscience, which we are commanded to do. I briefly considered IUI at the time that my exploratory surgery showed nothing wrong. We ultimately decided not to, but the thought that I had re: the church and ART was this: We had been very diligent for over three years, keeping the unitive and procreative together - after all those attempts, how bad, really, was it to have ONE procreative attempt that didn't have a unitive facet?

Anyway I just wanted to put that out there...

Good post Arwen. Sometimes in discussion of NFP it isn't made clear that NFP can still be sinful (for different reasons that contraception is sinful) if used inappropriately.

Ashley, for the situation you described, if the couple had already decided prior to marriage that they'd absolutely never be open to children (for whatever reason), I think the Church would advise against marriage in the first place. But I don't know anything so don't take my word on that.

Just my 2 cents on whether or not to tell in vitro kids how they were conceived.

I'm leaning towards don't. Heck I don't even know how I was conceived. And I certainly don't want to tell my kids!

(Let's see, you were a lunch hour, you were a Friday night, you were after church on Sunday)

Once my mom started to go there, "a little dinner, a little wine."


Think about it. Do you want to know how YOU were conceived?

Somethings should just be private - in vitro or not me thinks.

Elena - that's the approach I've been thinking about taking (I've also thought of the "I'm happier not knowing how I was conceived" bit :)), but the main thing I was worried about was whether someone might spill it to him accidentally. Not an awful lot of people in RL know, and I can't imagine how the topic would come up, but then, there are always stories of people who didn't know they were adopted until some Old Relative mentions it in passing, and, well, oops! (And I can't see how *that* topic would have come up either, yet somehow it does). For what it's worth, our priest (after the fact) advised not telling him, since it has potential to complicate things and there wouldn't be any attendant benefit (like there would be for a child conceived with donor gametes, for example, who might need to know that Mommy's genetic/disease background is not necessarily his).

I'm so exhausted right now and ready to head to bed, but I wanted to respond quickly to Elena and Sonetka.

In our situation, it will be impossible for him not to know. First of all, his embryo pic is in the baby book. Pretty tough to explain that one away.

Second, we were extremely open about our IVF attempts with friends and family. Our experience - all the wonderful "ups" and the agonizing "downs" and the whole near death thing - is a huge part of my family's shared history. It affected all of us and several relationships grew stronger and deeper because of it.

And third, though it certainly wasn't the way we wanted to go about conceiving him, it's not something we're ashamed of, either. Like I said, it's awfully miraculous to us that it worked and we have such a beautiful, perfect son.

That said, I'm not implying that we'll go into the nitty-gritty details ("well, before IVF, we had sex almost every day around the middle of her cycles and Mommy would chart her temperatures and look closely at her..." or "and then Daddy went into the closet at the doctor's office where they keep special magazines and videos just for daddies..."). Um, no. We're talking generalities.

Of course, having said that, if he had very specific questions, I reserve the right to answer them honestly. But assuming he'll be like most kids, I kinda doubt he's gonna want to go there!

Arwen, thank you so much for giving me a place to so freely express my thoughts. I haven't had much of a chance to look back on the past five months or even the nine months before that to take a deep breath and process things, so this has been rather cathartic for me.

I also happen to know of someone who after having two or three pregnancies was pretty much told she should not attempt another one because her uterus was so shriveled that it would likely burst or crack or whatever, resulting in the deaths of both herself and the baby. So yes, in cases like this, using NFP to totally avoid ever having children is not immoral.
I personally could not imagine continually avoiding having children just because I was on some mission in Uganda though. For one, what would be the point in marrying in the first place? (Oops, I guess that could be controversial) And for two, we're in AFRICA here people, where having children is SUPER important, where solidarity and support for families overabounds, (ok I know there are negative aspects in African culture as well, but these are some of the positive ones) and where in most cases, childbirth and childrearing is made as simple and natural as possible. The only reason I could see for post-poning pro-creation indefinitely would be continued proximity to extreme violence. Hmmm... I think the health problems are better examples myself. But that's just my personal opinion because nothing much phases me, and I'm the type who'd go backpacking through Europe even with a gang of kids... heh heh. Adventure is my middle name! (Although, ahem, if you look at my current life, you wouldn't be able to tell.)

Just a thought for Sonetka and JJE,

It seems to me that your situation is similar to that of someone who has conceived outside marriage, or under other illicit circumstances. Perhaps, someday, you may regret the circumstances. The Church says you ought to repent the way you went about bringing these children into existence. Others will be curious about it, and if it is widely known, there might be some rude or inconsiderate comments, or just concerned people trying to educate on Church teaching. But none of that requires that you regret your child's existance.

In the end, that might be the easiest thing to say: "We wanted a child so much that we did something we've been told is wrong, and you will be told that too, probably. We may regret not following God's plan someday, but we do not and will never regret you. God brings good things out of all sorts of circumstances, and we are grateful to have been blessed by you."

Explaining what happened to the other embryos is more difficult, but not likely to come up until the children are older. I'm afraid, if you tell them about the IVF, that conversation is probably inevitable, and unlikely to go well. But most of us have quarrels with our parents at some point, and most of us resolve those differences and misunderstandings without too much damage done.

My older sister was conceived out of wedlock, because my Catholic mom wasn't being a very good Catholic. Mom never tried to hide this from us (though she didn't exactly sit us down and tell us can do enough math to realise that 5 months married is not long enough to gestate a baby.) When we asked, she would tell us, "I have done a lot of things in my life, and made a lot of choices that weren't God's choices. But He has blessed us even in our mistakes. I regret not doing his will, but I can't regret the blessing of you children and the life I have now." And you know, that was enough for us.

OK, I'm definitely not the right person to explain 'quiver full' theology to anyone (and you pretty much already answered my question about where you stand on it!).

But as I understand it, its a belief (derived from the verse you cited) that you should have as many children as you possibly possibly can (on the grounds that God provides what is good for you) and that even NFP is verboten because you are interfering with God's plan for you. Not family spacing, ability to provide, ill-health (of parents or children) are considered excuses, I believe. I'm SO going to get corrected aren't I?).

Religious beliefs aside, I have problems with this (also because I think it's gerry-built theology without sufficient support). Apart from the obvious (not taking responsibility for your choices, seeing your children solely as extensions of your r'ship with God), I've seen it have unpleasant outworkings regarding infertile couples (well, let's be honest, its the women who get the criticism) which...whatever. I may not be a Christian, but I know what loving your neighbour is.

Google it to learn more/the correct answers!

And if you don't want to answer that, I've got another question for you to file for later! What do you think of Opus Dei?

What a nice blog you have here. You seem like such a wonderful "young person." I went and looked at your sisters' wedding pictures. How beautiful. You have four girls and two boys in your family? That's what I have----my children, not my siblings.
I hope that you'll be able to have a big family of your own very soon (actually, it doesn't have to be big to be grand!!) I can tell by your writing that you're going to be a wonderful mom. I'll be praying for you and your new little one!!

I've been reading over some of your posts and I have to admit that realizing there are people out there carrying their own cross, makes mine a little easier to bear. I'm a Catholic and I must admit I'm trying really hard to find my faith again. It's just when so many things go wrong, it's often hard to keep believing. Do you think I'm trying to hard?

Jenny, I don't know how far off you are about a quiverful family, because I haven't run into many myself, but I'd agree pretty much with the description that there is no good reason to avoid pregnancy or space them out, you just accept however many God gives you, but I think this is based more on depending on God to provide than children being an extension to your relationship with Him. Also I think that each couple is an exception and while the danger of blaming the woman for infertility might exist, it probably doesn't in all cases.

As for Opus Dei, one really has to take the individual people within Opus Dei as individual people because in the same way it takes all kinds of Catholics to make the Catholic Church, it takes all kind of OPus Dei members to make up the Opus Dei Family. I have a sister in there who I often if she lives on the same planet I do, and yet I have also met very down-to-earth people with whom I get along quite well. The idea behind Opus Dei, working to become saints through ordinary works, in ordinary life is what is important here, and I think that is a great idea. We don't have to be religious or priests to be saints, we can be simple parents and working people too. Also, the Da Vinci code is NOT the place to be learning about Opus Dei,... it's not exactly accurate.

Shocking that people on an IF blog wouldn't be experts on quiverfulls :). I've run into them (online) before; the ones I saw at any rate did not believe in any form of birth regulation, whether it involved outside agents like the pill or just watching your temps (though they called it the rhythm method, I'm guessing they meant NFP). The mindset was pretty much "The Lord determines how many children you should have, and the Lord will provide". I have no idea what the number of children was supposed to say about your relationship with God. Again, I don't know if they all hold to this: plainly, you can have a quiver full of children without being a quiverfull. But those are the ones with the most noticeable online presence, at any rate.

As for infertility, well, being infertile in such society has to be a huge burden. (Not that it's exactly a laugh anywhere else, but especially so). I think the main danger would be if the quiverfull mentality gets linked to the mentality which holds that God shows his approval of someone by showering them with earthly goods and blessings while he's still alive. That could get ugly.

I'm so sorry if my question was an insensitive one. I didn't realize it could've been potentially painful until I read through the comments.

I'm not Catholic, but I have friends that consider themselves 'quiverful' and they are Catholic, so I kind of assumed the two went hand in hand.

But, yeah, asking questions like that on an infertility blog probably wasn't the greatest idea, and again I'm sorry if I caused any problems.

Oh God, Pam, if it was my comment that made you think that - it was a joke! I don't think anyone here was offended (I don't want to speak for every infertile reading this, but I can't see where anyone would be). I mean, this whole discussion is about how to licitly space births, which kind of assumes that you're fertile, so your question seemed completely on topic to me. (Arwen - I'm sorry to jump in here, since it's your blog, but if it's my comment that made Pam think that I wanted to clear it up right away).

BTW Kate - thank you for your comment, I liked it. Hope to write more on it later when I've thought it out a bit more.

Thanks Arwen. Actually I created my blog recently and I want to remain practically anonymous except for a few details. I want it to be where I can discuss everything that is so personal to me.. everything that's bothering me and the things I have to live with.. things that I wouldn't necessarily tell people. So if you're the least bit interested, check out the blog once in a while .. it'll be more than just ramblings. Your blog actually inspired me to start mine. I just need somewhere to let it all out. Thank you

About the "quiverfull" do find it in Catholic circles, although it is usually called "providentialism" and is the province of that group of people that basically think you have to be dying to have sufficiently grave reason to licitly use NFP - and maybe not even then. Because they tend to take Church teaching seriously, they will admit in theory to the licitness of NFP, but have trouble admitting any circumstance to be grave enough to warrant postponing conception.

There are also providentialists who feel personally called to as many children as God will give them, without necessarily arrogating that call to everybody else. Both Arwen and I have met a lot of people from families like that.

Sonetka - I'm glad you found what I had to say worthwhile! I'm aware that talking about these topics (particularily without personal experience) can be very hazardous. I'm glad I managed to avoid the hot water this time.

This whole discussion has been quite fascinating (and refreshingly free of close-mindedness). I am curious about one thing, though - in the case cited by "Ellen - a different one" of a woman for whom pregnancy would without doubt be life-threatening, would sterilization be licit? It seems to me that since NFP cannot be 100% guaranteed to avoid pregnancy, and since pregnancy would lead to death (either of the mother, or the child, or both), sterilization would be the option most protective of the sanctity of life. In my mind, this situation is analoguous to a woman sterilized by cancer treatment, but I am curious to hear the opinion of those who clearly know much more theology than I do. Are women for whom childbearing would be deadly called to be celibate for life? What about couples who find out after marriage that they are both carriers for a deadly disease?

would sterilization be licit?

The short answer is no.

St. Paul told us that we can't do evil (sterilization) so that good may result (prevent death). See Romans 3:8. He didn't leave us any exceptions, not even if the evil is really small and the good really big.

A woman in such a situation has a terrible cross to bear, and may be called to abstain from sexual relations in such a circumstance.

I'm pretty sure that's the Church teaching, but I'm not an expert and perhaps others can verify what I've written.

Just something to add to that:

If a woman's reproductive organs are causing her serious health problems (eg. cancerous), it may be licit to remove them or treat them (to prevent the cancer from spreading), even if this may result in unwanted sterility afterwards.

It would be okay as long as sterilization is not the direct action taken, nor an intended consequence of an action taken.

Simone, there exists a better place for an answer to that question and for help for someone going through that. (life-threatening pregnancy) Now if only I could remember the name of it. St Pauls's Institute or something? In short they're the experts on everything NFP and all the complications and what to do in case of... etc... Does anyone else know?


It's the "Pope Paul VI Institute" and they can be found online at


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