This holiday weekend, as I prepared Thanksgiving dinner, dodging children underfoot, I thought about what I might say when we had the inevitable “tell everyone something you’re thankful for” moment around the dinner table. My ideas ranged from the brutally honest “that I don’t have to touch raw turkey skin for another year,” to the brown-nosing “that I can be here with all of you,” to the true-but-not-appropriate for polite company “for my IUD.”
It’s true. I’m very thankful for my IUD. Just as I was usually thankful for the birth-control pills I took (when I wasn’t pregnant or trying to get that way) for the first decade of our marriage.
We got married when we were both 22. I was a new college graduate, about to start my first teaching job. My husband still had a year left before he got his bachelor’s degree, but he had big plans, involving years of school and lots of postgraduate training. We lived in BYU’s Wymount Terrace, where pregnancy seemed spread through the apartment complex as quickly as swine flu on a band trip. I desperately wanted to join what I perceived to be the cool kids’ table filled college students (and their babies!) who were so righteous that they didn’t let their lack of a college degree from getting started multiplying and replenishing.
During that year, the pill I swallowed each morning tasted bitter. Once we got out of Provo and both started grad school, I was relieved that we’d waited. But the morning I threw out the pill pack and we started “trying” was one of the happiest days of my life.
My grandma got married in 1950, when she was 19. Before her fourth wedding anniversary she had three children. She talks about being devastated when she found out she was pregnant for the third time, and spending the first year of my aunt’s life in an overwhelmed fog. She went on to have three more babies by the early 1960s, which is also when the FDA approved the pill (until that time condoms were one of the only reliable reversible options). While she certainly doesn’t regret any of her kids, she would have felt mentally healthier and better prepared for the challenge of raising her large family if she’d had more control over when they arrived.
We should be thankful to live in a day when many of us can choose when to have children, and how many children to have. For my husband and me, having babies right away when we had so much school ahead of us would have been devastating financially. The three years we had together before our first baby cemented our relationship as a couple, which was especially beneficial for us because my husband spent much of our four kids’ baby years working insane hours. We’ve also been exceptionally lucky that once we felt it was the right time to add another child to our family, we stopped birth control, started baby boot camp, and got pregnant pretty quickly.
I don’t think birth control necessarily removes Heavenly Father’s will from the family planning equation, as long as we’re open to the whisperings of the Spirit and relatively flexible to adjusting our plans. In the days before birth control, “another blessing from heaven” was usually the simple biological result of fertility and sex, regardless of will, mental health, or added strain to already stretched resources. If we as women of the first world are grateful for birth control, it’s likely that reliable birth control has had an ever greater impact on the lives of women in the third world.
Now that I’m done having babies, I’m very thankful for my IUD. I don’t have to worry about getting pregnant, don’t have to remember to take a pill every day, and don’t even have to mess with a monthly period. And the fact that it’s reversible really helps with my tendency to “what if” every situation.
I recognize that the choice of when and if and how to control when we add children to our families can be intensely personal, but if you too are thankful for the pill, or your IUD, or your husband’s vasectomy, or if you fear that our desire for control sometimes manifests itself too strongly, speak up. We want to hear your story.