It’s not what you’re thinking. The reason an IUD was inserted into my uterus earlier today is medical. It is one more attempt in a two-year succession of attempts to tame my monstrous, perimenopausal menstrual cycle that has plunged me into insecurity and anemia. (And I’m not sure which is worse.)
The brochure from my doctor inquires, Is your bleeding heavy? Do you pass clots? Do you wear dark clothing because you worry about accidents? Does your bleeding affect your work, social, athletic, and sexual activities? Yes, yes, yes, and heartily yes. Here is where I will stop with the graphic details: I am only burdening you with too much information in order to explore the moral implications of the procedure that has made me so crampy and introspective.
I am a former instructor of the Ovulation Method of Natural Family Planning, a Church-sanctioned way for a married couple to space the births of their children, and to keep their lovemaking both unitive and procreative. I felt uneasy from the moment my doctor suggested an IUD, or Intrauterine Device. I used to teach that IUDs were not only contrary to Church teaching on birth control, but possibly abortifacient. Even now, the literature confesses that the science of how the IUD prevents pregnancy is uncertain: it may inhibit ovulation, or it may alter cervical mucus enough to prevent fertilization, or it may thin the lining of the uterus so that the fertilized ovum is unable to implant. While all of these actions are problematic, it is the last that is particularly unacceptable.
I used to think of the IUD as the boogeyman, as the Intrauterine Devil. Now one abides in me. I would never have predicted such a future for myself. My husband and I have been pretty strict Catholics throughout our childbearing years. It has sometimes been a sacrifice, but we have tried to make our decisions out of love for each other and respect for our faith.
Reproductive technology, for a Catholic, can be a blessing or a nightmare. Lines become blurry; areas become gray; ends fall short of justifying means; moral ambiguity can keep us awake at night. A couple who is unable to conceive the low-tech way can often be aided by a fertility specialist’s expertise in testing, drugs, and procedures. The Church expects the infertile couple to stop short of in vitro fertilization, or any technology that separates the sex act from conception. It’s a lot to ask of a woman whose deepest longing is to carry a child, give birth, and be a mother. Like stuffing the proverbial genie back into his bottle, to deny the advances of science to a potential parent seems harsh and unrealistic. In my younger days, if my heart had been broken by infertility, I’m not sure what I would have done. I know I would have been tempted to try to achieve a pregnancy by any means possible. I’m grateful not to have been in that agonizing and slippery position. Fertility was never our problem.
My IUD decision, in contrast, seems simple: I am not using it for its birth control magic. My husband and I will still follow the Ovulation Method, as we have throughout our marriage. We will abstain from sex on days of indicated fertility, so that there is no possibility that our fertilized egg cannot implant its poor self. I am hopeful only that the IUD will control and diminish my flow until I finally cross the bridge to menopause.
Once again I am reminded of the Scriptural woman with the hemorrhage, desperate for healing, touching a cloak, her faith her salvation. My meeting with the IUD is neither a miracle nor a cure: it is merely another treatment of symptoms. It is also an opportunity for a Catholic girl to consider the convoluted ethics of fertility in the modern world.