From time to time I talk with married women who are eager to be fruitful and multiply, but God has not yet blessed them with children. It can be difficult and confusing. Questions arise like, “Am I barren permanently?” or “Is God punishing me?” or “Why are we not having kids when everyone else seems to do this so effortlessly?” So I’m going to begin a few posts on this tender subject.

First a few observations about the modern mindset. Frequently, newlyweds practice birth control for the first year or two because one or both are in school or because husband’s job needs to get on a more solid footing, or simply because they have been told that they should wait a year so they can “get to know each other.” Whatever the reason for the delay (and they may have entirely valid reasons), there is an assumption of fertility, that they’ll be able to have babies whenever they desire. And though they may not realize it, this attitude can border on presumption. You just don’t know how fertile you are when you get married. You may be diligently preventing conception not knowing that you are one of those women who may have a harder time conceiving.

I always advise women to stay off the pill, not because I am an expert on the effects of the pill, but because I’ve talked to lots of women who have had a hard time getting themselves back on a normal cycle once they go off the pill. It would be far and away better to get pregnant a little sooner than you thought was prudent than to wonder if it was the pill that caused you to be unable to conceive later. Messing around with delicate hormonal balances is way over my head. But I would rather hear of women taking the pill after they have their quiver full of children than before they have ever gotten started.

The problem is setting yourself up for regret. You don’t know if you are able to conceive. We all know women who couldn’t get pregnant for a couple years and then went on to have several kids. Or, women who had a couple of kids and then never were able to have more. If you go on the pill for the first couple years you are married, and then switch gears because now the time seems right for babies, but have trouble getting pregnant, then it is easy to wonder if those two years on the pill contributed to this state of affairs. It would be much better to make love “irresponsibly” the first two years and let God bring on the babies, than postpone the process and tamper with things you know nothing about.

At the same time, I freely admit that I’ve known women who went off the pill and conceived the next month. The point is, we just don’t know, so we ought to be careful. We ought not just assume that we are able to conceive whenever we want. In all things we are to walk humbly before the Lord. Conception isn’t something we can order from a catalog or pick up at the mall. And taking a pill seems pretty harmless. Think it through and consider the other options before you. You may think you are simplifying your life when you are actually complicating it.

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35 thoughts on “Be Fruitful

  1. Just the other day my husband and I were talking about this very subject. We were on the pill for our first two years of marriage while we were in school and “getting on our feet” and then we just felt like we shouldn’t be doing that anymore and to let God bring the babies when He wanted. It took a couple of months but then we got pregnant with Isaac. We look at our firstborn who is a little over two and think, “What if we wouldn’t have gone off the pill? Here is this precious, boisterous, amazing little life and we love him so much!” Needless to say, everyone thought we were totally irresponsible because my husband was an intern and didn’t have a permanent position but let me tell you, God provided for our every need, he got a teaching job just three weeks before Isaac was born and it was one of the most faith building and marriage strengthening times we’ve ever experienced. We now have two blessings and can’t wait for more!!

  2. One more reason to stay off the pill: it can be abortafacient. The primary action of the pill is to prevent ovulation and the secondary protection is to prevent the endometrium from hospitably receiving the fertilized egg. To simplify that a bit: the pill can cause an abortion of the newly created life before a woman even knows she is pregnant.

    I’m a midwife and if a couple wishes to delay childbearing or decides that they are finished bearing children, I direct them to the Billings ovulation method. Not to be confused with the rhythm method, Billings draws couples closer together in an understanding of their shared fertility and is approximately 99% effective without hormones or the worry of abortion.

    Of course, if the door is open I also share our family story- 4 children in 5 years while on and off birth control, a vasectomy followed a couple years later by a heart change and a reversal. We have since welcomed 2 more children into our family and the next baby is due May 08.

  3. Isn’t one mechanism of the pill to create a hostile environment in the womb which can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting?

  4. Looking forward to hearing more about this topic. I am one of the women who you referred to in the beginning. I have spent my lifetime looking forward to leading a large brood of babies into adulthood and it seems to be MUCH harder for me. I do have two children, four and one and have had them in the five years I have been married…but as each month passes that I am not getting pregnant-worries arise that perhaps I am one of those ‘have two and that’s all you get’ kind of gals. That would break my heart, which I understand, is still wrong. I should be content and happy with what the Lord HAS given me. There are many women out there who are unable to have any. But it is a hard pill to swallow after having looked forward to many children since I was a child myself. What’s worse. I have a girl and a boy so EVERYONE loves to make those hideous comments about having ‘the perfect family’ and not needing any more. It makes me want to scream. I CERTAINLY don’t want to look like I am one of THOSE type people!

    Anyway. This is something I struggle to tears with and I just wanted to say I am happy to hear that you are going to be addressing it. I really value everything you have to say. REALLY. Rebecca from http://www.zeahrenaissance.blogspot.com

  5. I totally agree with you. Presumption is exactly the way to describe today’s attitude toward fertility. Yet, so many young couples feel pressure to be “responsible” in their early years of marriage. Sadly, this pressure runs rampant even in the church. I have witnessed dear friends go off of the pill after five years or so only to face the disappointment of infertility. It breaks my heart. And, I know that their’s is even more broken.

    In regards to children, I do believe that it is quite wise to take what you can get. I had a our first child only six months after marriage (yes, it was a terribly sinful time in my life which the Lord redeemed) and our baby only served to strengthen our relationship. We were poor, but she didn’t care! Heck, three kids later, we’re still scraping by, but their souls are fattening quite nicely. : )

    This seems to be a pretty sensitive subject. Do you recommend that a young woman ask you about it before offering advice? I have a brother who is to be married soon, and I would so like to share this with them, but I don’t want to be annoying or overstepping my bounds.

  6. My understanding is that some forms of the pill may act as an abortifacient. Please research what your doctor is offering you carefully. I think it would be so heartbreaking to find out later that your birth control method may have functioned in a way that allowed conception but inhibited implantation.

  7. All hormonal birthcontrol has the potential to prevent a fertilized egg (a baby) from implanting. The new medical ‘definition’ of a baby is an implanted egg, not just a fertilized one. This is a different definition than has been understood for years.

    This site: http://www.americanpregnancy.org/preventingpregnancy/overviewtypesbirthcontrol.html

    lists BC and talks about how they work. Under hormonal BC

    “Hormonal methods work in one of three ways: 1) preventing a woman’s ovaries from releasing an egg each each month; 2) causing the cervical mucus to thicken making it harder for sperm to reach and penetrate the egg; 3) thinning the lining of the uterus which reduces the likelihood that a fertilized egg will implant in the uterus wall.”

    Note #3

    I am not attacking Christians who are using the pill, but I think they are under-educated by doctors, who simply say ‘No, it’s not an abortifacient’ and leave it at that.

  8. Thank you for addressing this issue. You mentioned you would write a series of posts and I am wondering if you will address the issue of a couple knowing when their “quiver is full”.

    By the way, I am due to deliver our 3rd child next week. He is the product of my husband’s and my “irresponsibility” (he comes closely on the heels of his older siblings). God is good. Never has my “irresponsibility” resulted in such sweet fruit. (:

  9. Nancy,

    Thank you for addressing this topic truthfully and with sensitivity.

    My husband and I have been married almost two years and have been prepared to welcome a child into our family since our honeymoon. No baby yet, but also no regrets. We’ve been receptive, we’ve received excellent medical care (I’ve had two operations for fibroids in the meantime) and, most importantly, we trust God.

    It has been crucial for me to discipline my thoughts during this time. I must remember that God is sovereign, is in control of everything. I must trust that God has a good plan for my life and this good plan includes, at least for the time being, infertility. I must trust that even though this isn’t my “Plan A”, it is God’s “Plan A” for my life and is therefore good, merciful and loving. God’s character is good, and me being childless does not change that.

    There are difficult days, when disappointment is keenly felt. But conception and children must not become idols in the life of a believer. There are instances when women with children taunt the childless, absolutely–examples of this are peppered throughout the Old Testament and times have not changed! But God comforted those godly women of old, and I must trust that he will comfort me, too.

    I’m thankful that we did not wait to be ready for children. We were ready from the beginning. No children yet, but we’ve been ready to welcome them–so have no regrets that we prevented our family from growing.

    Thanks again for starting this series. I look forward to reading future entries!

  10. Thank you for addressing this subject. I was never one who wanted a “ton” of children,but I didn’t go on birth control pills for that reason. I started on them in college as a way to deal with my debilitating menstrual cramps. After I met my husband, we decided that I should go off of them to have a baby. Well, it took a year and a half before I got pregnant after stopping birth control! After my first, I told my husband I wanted a “break” and went back on them… It wasn’t until I read an article about them possibly causing abortions that my mind was changed. It has been fairly easy for me to get pregnant after that. I now have 4 children 5 and under. Sometimes, I still struggle with wanting a break and wanting to prevent pregnancy. My heart aches for these ladies that cannot have as many as they want. However, I am coming to terms with the fact that the Lord seems to be teaching all of us, in His own way, to lean on Him and to be content with what He gives us, no matter how “big” or “small” the numbers may be.

  11. Mrs. Wilson,

    Thank you for addressing this issue which for many, including myself, can be heart breaking as each month passes by without being pregnant. I, too, am/was (depending on the day) am in the throws of “what if I hadn’t gone on the pill?” I was actually using the patch (a higher dosage of hormone) and was only on it for about seven months. Now as we would love to start a family we are experiencing problems. I am so thankful for the wisdom from my doctor who has been ever so kind and compassionate. She has walked in my shoes and has been such a blessing in the process. My husband has also been such an encouragement and has been quick to point out where we have seen God work in the process of meeting with a doctor, charting, and some different tests. I have the support of some very wise women in my church who are willing to walk this road with me, too… and are so very sensitive because many have walked the road of infertility as well. They have been pillars of love and warriors in prayer. I appreicate you pointing out that there is a presumption of fertility when there could have been problems all along. It helps to fight the “what if” demon at times. I look forward to reading your upcoming posts.

  12. Another problem with the pill is that it sometimes causes women to miscarry once they go off it. It took miscarriages between my 1st and 2nd and then 2nd and third children before my body seemed to adjust to being off the pill.

    Thank you for your ministry to women.

  13. After countless discussions during our engagement, my husband and I got married not knowing what our stance on BC should be. Soon after, God directed us to just let Him be our Lord and give or not give us children as He desired. It did take us eight months to conceive, and now we have a precious son – also named Isaac:) This time of waiting seemed like an eternity since we so badly wanted to be parents, but I know that it is so much shorter than many women must go through. (It took my mom 4 miscarriges and 7 years of trying before she had me.) Anyway, God’s timing is completely perfect. He gave Ben and I enough time to have the free, newlywed spirit – ‘though I can’t say that’s completely gone ๐Ÿ™‚ – and He gave us the trials of having friends getting pregnant before us and being FRUSTRATED that it happened so soon. I never would have learned to trust in Him and find my satisfaction in Him the way that I have if I would have gotten pregnant right away. He also is a generous God, and decided not to make us wait forever. Trusting God with this issue has totally strengthened our faith and marriage. I know there are times and circumstances which necessitate BC, but it is such a joy to see God provide for us at every turn in the road. He gives us faith, He gives us joy in our present circumstances, He gives us children, He gives us physical provision, He gives us so much! Thanks be to God our Father.

  14. I am on the other end of this…after our second son and two difficult and pre-term pregnancies, my dh and I decided to have a tubal ligation. It made so much sense at the time, “two is enough” and everyone thought we were wise to do so…oh how I have regreted that day! But God in his wisdom took our folly and turned it into his Glory by allowing us to adopt two of our foster daughters. Now we are on the road to tubal reversal, as our home aches for another baby. I feel so blessed to be surrounded by women who trust God with the size of their families, what an encouragement you all are to me.
    Thank you Ladies

  15. In a “Christian Religious Traditions” class I took some years ago, the subject of birth control came up. The one and only Roman Catholic girl in the class was pretty strong in her anti-contraception beliefs, and pointed me in the direction of The Art of Natural Family Planning (John & Sheila Kippley) and the Couple to Couple League. While they make some moral judgements that I’m not sure are correct, they have a lot of good things to say, also. (you know, the whole wheat/chaff stuff. Surprisingly more wheat than I imagined!)

    Another great book (found here): http://www.amazon.com/Contraception-Treatment-Catholic-Theologians-Canonists/dp/B000NATCTC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1195180181&sr=8-2

    Could Canon Press re-publish this one? For less than $75? ๐Ÿ™‚

    I was one of those women on the pill (originally for my complexion!) and after stopping, it took 2 1/2 years before my husband and I conceived our first baby. I’ve had a doctor say it had nothing to do with me being on the pill, and everything to do with the tilt to my uterus. Hmmm… And then a nurse tell me that having a post coital exam basically inseminated me. Hmmm again. I’m not sure the “experts” always know what they’re talking about. And even if the pill didn’t work (tertiarily) as an abortifacient, have you read all the possible side effects on the insert? Has your husband? Is he okay with exposing you to all those risks (and others not published) just to postpone a pregnancy? And why is it fertile people take pills as if fertility were an illness? Okay, better stop. Touchy subject! Needless to say, I’m no longer a proponent of the pill!

  16. This is in response to Rebecca above…I am glad that you brought up the idea of people looking at you “that way” because you have 1 boy and 1 girl. I have two friends that come to mind. One had one child and the other had two children and that is all God gave each of them. These ladies wanted more, but that is not what God had for them. I know that people look at them with judgemental eyes sometimes. Scenarios like this are a good reminder to us all not to judge others according to how many children they have. Also, there is nothing wrong with using a non-abortive method to try to steer your fertility a bit. We are not just to have as many kids as we possibly can, but we are called to raise up godly children. Here is a link to a great article by Doug Wilson on the subject. It is not very long and really worth a look:
    http://www.credenda.org/issues/18-4husbandry.php

  17. Dear Nancy,
    How wonderful to have an older woman talk about this! As you can tell from the number of comments, it is a very sensitive subject and of course you have touched a nerve here. I have been married for over 12 years, never used birth control, and have no children. This is the greatest tragedy of my marriage. I doubt anyone who has children can fully appreciate the heartache. Even those with children who want more just don’t get it. My house is silent. I’ve been writing a book about the theology and practical aspects of this with a friend who has undergone the same heartache and recently adopted a baby from China.

    Since most of the Christian people I know assume that we either don’t want children or that I am a hardboiled professional type who is not interested in babies, I’m interested in what you think the church could or should do to minister to the (unwillingly) childless, and also what you think of a culture that terms this condition ‘child-free’.

  18. This topic needs wise treatment in the church; thank you, Nancy, for leading it here. We probably come to marriage with our cultural presumptions because of the prevalence of humanism in our education. We forget that all good gifts are from the Father. When we look to the Lord and desire Him more than anything else, He can guide us rightly in this area. We had our first two children fairly close together ( 2 1/2 yrs apart with a miscarriage in between). Our third child came 5 yrs. later, our 4th child six yrs after # 3, and our 5th child 5 yrs. after # 4. (Yes, I’m an OLDER mom!) The point is, God used those barren years to school my heart in joyful submission to Him. I wouldn’t change a bit of His good plan!

  19. Thanks for the post, I completely agree. I appreciate you mentioning that some couples have a legit reason for practicing birth control, too. I’ve known folks on both sides of the fence, and I have been reminded many times in my own life that God is in complete control of every woman’s fertility. I am living proof that the pill doesn’t work if God doesn’t want it to. ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. How encouraging to see that other Christian women are aware of the abortifacient properties of the Pill!

    ALL hormonal birth control (pills, patches, rings, implants, etc.) work in this same manner – preventing the lining of one’s uterus from developing. This means that when the tiny, days-old baby looks for a place to implant he cannot find one and thus dies.

    I learned this just before becoming a nurse-midwife. It has always shocked me how (willfully?) ignorant the Christian community, even pro-lifers, have been on this issue.

  21. It’s amazing how fruitfulness and the sin of presumption are so tied together!
    One older woman we used to attend church with had one boy and one girl. I assumed the usual–until I had a long talk with her and found out that she had 4 miscarriages, one stillborn baby, and then the boy, followed by the girl (who also both nearly died in childbirth). I had a lot of repenting to do after that conversation!

  22. Nancy,
    I’ve stocked this site for months and have had some great reads from it. This particular topic is very dear to my heart. I must tell you that I’ve spent more time in the last few years and particularly these last few weeks seeking counsel reguarding this. My DH and I have 6 healthy, wonderful children. They are spaced 2 years apart. My DH is also an AD Marine and is currently in Iraq until next spring. I homeschool the oldest 3 and manage to keep a healthy schedule, by God’s grace! However am confused. I find myself betwixt and between the thoughts that A.) This is a heart issue and varies from family to family and B.) Do we trust God? I am 30 and have no trouble conceiving. However with the lifestyle of being a Marine Wife I am reluctant to keep bearing children knowing full well what the next 10 years in my husband’s profession could bring. My DH and I are on the same page and we so thoroughly long to bring Glory to God! Would having a tubal ligation or vasectomy knowingly bring sin into our healthy home?

  23. May I step in and also recommend the Billings Ovulation Method? One of the advantages of the method is that you can work out what is actually happening with your cycle. My friend was having difficulty conceiving then learned the method and discovered that she was not actually ovulating. She was able to take some vitamins (of all things!) which fixed up the problem and conceived soon after. She is now using the method to monitor her fertility as she recovers from breaking her tailbone during delivery (Ouch!). There is also an organisation which helps treat infertility using a standardised Billings method, called Fertility Care. They are on the web.

    Of course, this doesn’t guarantee that God will open your womb, but I am amazed at how much I’ve learned about my body since learning the method between babies 4 and 6. I’ve had a couple of issues since my cycle came back after #6, and I am very glad that I have some sort of an understanding of what’s going on.

    I plan on teaching the method to my daughters in their late teen years.

    In Him

    Meredith

  24. Christi,
    I’ll be working on this topic of birth control over the next few weeks, so I’ll try to address your questions there.
    Blessings,
    Nancy

  25. Thank you for such a balanced, compassionate perspective on this, and prompting others to share their stories! I loved your comment about “irresponsibility,” and wish more in the church had that attitude. We were one of the couples who was on the pill because we thought it would be wise to wait a couple of years for financial reasons. Plus I had overheard enough snide comments behind other friends’ backs about their honeymoon (or soon after) babies – as if having children so soon was a sin!!! But happily, God had other plans for us – after just less than a year, I got pregnant while still on the pill. I immediately realized I couldn’t be happier – God’s timing is perfect! I am about to have our son any day now, and don’t want to imagine our life any other way. And the financial concerns we had were more a matter of priorities and making wise decisions. It will be tight this winter, but God will be faithful.

  26. My pelvis separates during the 4th month of pregnancy. It’s called a Separated Pubic Symphysis. I had a tubal ligation (without prayer or true contemplation just a “I can’t deal with this anymore” attitude) after my third daughter. The Lord changed our hearts, we also recognized that we made the decision without inquiring of him first. We were different Christians, different people altogether back then. We then had a reversal. An ectopic pregnancy followed one month after the reversal, they showed me the baby in my right fallopian tube, there he/she was with a big beating heart and everything. I couldn’t let them go in there for as long as I knew the baby was living. They wanted to go in and “remove the pregnancy.” So we prayed the Lord will take the baby by the time they went in there surgically. Sure enough, by the time they got me prepped for surgery the baby had died and had ruptured the tube. I lost the right fallopian tube, which was the better tube and was left with the left with only 2 cm in length and was told I would never conceive and if I did it would be an ectopic.

    Six months later as we were settled in the fact that we would not have any more children God opened the womb, the pregnancy was in the uterus, moreover it was a son. The Lord has been so very very merciful to us. Now we have some decisions to make, but this time we are robustly Trinitarian thinking. After 3 times of separating your pelvis you ask yourself “what are my duties as a Christian woman in this situation?” We still don’t have answers. We are praying and being very careful.

    This is a very very tough subject, very touchy, and women do tend to get into camps. We all need grace, grace and more grace. Grace for ourselves and for others. We must be careful and offer much charity in this area. I’m not talking about winking and turning the other way, I’m talking true Christ-like charity. And may the Lord grant us and our shepherds wisdom in this entire area.

  27. Meredith, The Billings Method looks (from my short glance) just like the “sympto-” part of NFP’s “sympto-thermal method.” It is amazing to see what is going on with your body and realize that in this area, too, we are fearfully and wonderfully made! God has given us a way to know when we’re fertile so we can try to either achieve, or postpone a pregnancy. My only issue with NFP used strictly, is that if postponing a pregnancy, you have to abstain when you have the least desire to! Maybe this is part of His plan to help us welcome lots of little olive shoots? Anyway, that gets into the “moral judgements I’m not sure are correct” mentioned earlier with regard to which method you use to postpone a pregnancy. Specifically, I’m not sure the use of a barrier method constitutes “Onanism.” After studying this, it seems that Onan’s sin was not performing the duty of a brother-in-law, not simply “spilling seed.” Thoughts? Instruction? I’m way open!

  28. Luma,
    Cases like yours do require great care and wisdom. I suggest you get input from your pastor and from a Christian physician.

  29. Speaking of waiting for “financial stability”, my parents are still not financially stable after over 20 years of marriage, they have 6 children, and God always provides!

  30. Nancy,

    As far as decision making goes, you’re absolutely right, we are and will be seeking advice from our pastor and doctor as we continue to seek the Lord in prayer.

    We tell our history in this area, however, as a testimony to how unbelievably merciful and gracious the Lord is. Every time I look at Athan I recognize what a complete miracle he is, I see him for the gift that he is. I am always left in awe of how God has loved me through all sorts of things and how he gave me this precious son, as undeserving as I am.

  31. I’ve been dealing with this myself a little. I conceived after we’d been married barely two months only to loose that pregnancy and likely 2-3 others in a year’s time. We’ve been married just over a year. It’s been rough, and I look forward to Mrs. Wilson’s wise words.

  32. Children don’t get here by accident. This is true whether we have lots of children or no children. We teach our children the catechism question: Who made you? What is their answer? God Do we adults really believe that or have we adopted the mindset that God set things in motion and then just lets it all happen?

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