Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
A few weeks ago, our front door broke. The handle became completely useless, to the point that there was no way at all to open the door. It was like Introvert Christmas. Salespeople, Jehovah's Witnesses, neighborhood kids and a few other folks all came knocking on my door, and I had a legitimate excuse not to interact with them. "I'M SORRY, MY DOOR IS BROKEN!" I'd shout from inside my house. "YOU'LL HAVE TO COME BACK LATER."
My husband finally fixed the door after a couple of days of this, bringing my exciting foray into the life of a recluse to an abrupt end. On some of my more overwhelming days, like the afternoon when the baby's nap was interrupted twice by loud knocks at the door, I put a disturbing amount of thought into taking the broken door thing to the next level by permanently sealing it shut. To make sure everyone got the picture, I could include a sign that read "Sorry, Can't Deal Right Now. Please Go Away." I got surprisingly far into this fantasy before I realized that intentionally breaking my front door would be too weird, even for me.
I was reminded of these adventures in pathological introversion the other day when a friend brought up a totally unrelated subject. She was asking why I wouldn't consider contraception or sterilization, even after all that we went through with this last pregnancy. I didn't have enough brain cells to go into a long discourse about the Theology of the Body or to break out any zingers from Humanae Vitae, so I just shrugged and said that contraception seems unnatural. I reminded her that I, too, once thought artificial birth control was a good thing, but once I took a second look at it and considered what it does to women and what it does to society, it led to a tremendous paradigm-shifting moment when I could no longer see contraception as anything but bad.
Not surprisingly, the conversation didn't go much further than that. My friend uses contraception, and chuckled at my aversion to it. I couldn't articulate myself any better than to keep repeating, "I dunno, it's just kinda weird."
As I was pondering our impasse on my way home, my door situation came to mind. After puzzling over why I would have thought of it in this instance, I realized that it provides a handy analogy for the way I've come to see contraception:
Different people have different ideas about the frequency and number of visitors they want in their houses: Some folks love to have bustling homes with people dropping by all the time, others like a smaller number of visitors spread out over long periods of time, and others of us probably missed calls to be desert hermits. Everyone occasionally likes a break from guests, though: Even the most extroverted, fun-loving hostess likes to have some time to have her house to herself. So what do we do on these occasions, when we'd rather not have new people coming over?
That's where the analogy to contraception comes in.
There is a certain natural order to social interaction, one that we all understand on a gut level. In the case of hosting visitors, during times when you'd rather have your house to yourself for a while, there are ways you can achieve that that are more natural than others. For example, it would be within the normal order of things to avoid hosting events, to stop inviting people over, to turn off the porch lights, or to draw the curtains to send subtle signals that you're not up for guests right now. It would also be unfortunate but not unnatural if your front door were to become inoperable through no fault of your own. However, if you padlock your front door, seal it shut with caulk and top it with barbed wire and a sign that says "KEEP OUT," that is not natural.
This may be difficult to accept. It may be inconvenient. There may be days when you really want to seal your door with caulk and padlocks and barbed wire and threatening signs (or maybe that's just me?), but that's not how it works. You can do it if you want to, but it would be an inherently disordered way to avoid visitors.
And so it is with contraception: Just as there are natural and unnatural ways to regulate new people coming into your home as houseguests, there are natural and unnatural ways to regulate new people coming into your family as children. It's one thing to abstain during times when you know there's a good chance new life might be created; it is another to go out of your way to destroy or disable normal, healthy pathways through which new sons or daughters might enter your home.
The analogy isn't perfect, one of the main reasons being that our cultural norms are so far out of whack in the area of human sexuality that it dulls our natural sense of what's healthy and what's not. Only weirdos like me would ever consider chaining their front door shut, but perfectly normal, well-meaning people could do basically the same thing with their fertility, since it has become the norm in our society. But my experience has been that once couples do some serious research, thinking, and praying about contraception, they get increasingly uncomfortable with it. In fact, of the many people I know who used contraception at one time but gave it up to space their children naturally, none have returned to contraception use. I'm not suggesting that that never happens, but, at least in my experience, it seems to be very rare. Once you see the truth about this issue, you can't un-see it.
That's not to suggest that giving up contraception is easy: Sticking with the natural order when it comes to birth control certainly has its challenges, and I'll be the first to admit that there's plenty of grousing among those of us who use Natural Family Planning. But once you take down the glaring "KEEP OUT" sign from your front door, you'll find that it just feels like the right thing to do. And even if you encounter a few difficulties from its absence, you'll never be tempted to put it back.