Monday, September 12, 2005

Sterilization: poison for marriage

Waiting in the packed waiting room of the chiropractor's office, a young couple came in with an almost-six-months baby. The mother sat down next to me while the father retrieved the child from his carrier and held him up, kissing him affectionately.

All in the room turned toward the child and began to proclaim his cuteness. It was easy to see how the child got his looks: he had a tall, handsome father with blond hair and an muscular build. His mother was short with an amiable face, olive complexion and curly hair.

The child was fascinated by a set of twins near the front of the waiting room, carefully looking from one young woman to the other. Everyone giggled in delight, commenting on his curiosity. I suggested to the mother that maybe the child will have twin sisters one day, and he can be fascinated every day of his life.

"Well, if they don't come in the next pregnancy, he's not getting them," she responded. "I'm only having one more pregnancy, and then he's getting fixed." She pointed to her husband.

My heart was saddened, and I knew this was a moment given to me by God to witness to the damage that sterilization brings to couples and their marriages. Earlier in the day, I had been sharing with a man who was greatly troubled about his wife's plans to get her tubes tied during the upcoming birth of their third child. Her reason was fear: all of her deliveries had been through cesarean section, and she feared for her health because another c-section would be risky.

I shared with from the stories that I read in a book compiled by One More Soul called Sterilization Reversal: A generous act of love. In these stories, couples share the chilling details of their decisions to seek sterilization, the detriment it brought to their marriages, and their journeys to understanding and accepting the fullness of their fertility in light of the marriage covenant. Here are some excerpts from Brad and Kerry's story.

"I told Brad to have a vasectomy because I was afraid of getting pregnant," said Kerry. "I was afraid of the comments that other people would make if I got pregnant again [with the fifth child]. I did not want to have to tell my family we were pregnant again and hear the disappointment in their voices…"

After years of using various birth control devices and methods, "I waited for a year for the magic to come back into our marriage after the vasectomy—but it never did. Where was the spontaneity? Where were the good times? Why did our communication worsen?

"Our marriage did not get better after the vasectomy. Our communication was less, and everything in the marriage was worse."

Their marriage almost ended in divorce due to the division the vasectomy brought into their lives. Only after conversion and the Sacrament of Confession did they come to love one another again, and in that love made the decision to have the sterilization reversed.

"I was not aware of it at the time, but the effects of the reversal would have a profound effect on me, too… We had a marriage to put back together, [but still] did not want another baby at this time. We had learned that sterilization did not enhance our love for each other, but using NFP helped us to communicated better and, in the end, helped us to be one—spiritually, emotionally and physically."

The Catholic Church forbids intentional sterilization. It is a sin against chastity within marriage. In the 1968 document Humanae Vitae, this is specifically addressed as an illicit means of regulating birth. After mentioning the offense in procured abortion, contraception is addressed in theses words.

"Equally to be excluded, as the teaching authority of the Church has frequently declared, is direct sterilization, whether perpetual or temporary, whether of the man or of the woman. Similarly excluded is ever action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" (para. 14).

Surprisingly, many of the couples cited in Sterilization Reversal were unaware of this fact, or that because they failed to understand why the Church taught this, they were unwilling to accept it. However, the Church is sensitive to the needs of her people, while at the same time demanding suffering and sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel.

"Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection" (para 17).

Quoting again from in Sterilization Reversal, a wise mother speaks of how this "contraceptive mentality" is fostered in youth and how its roots are deep in our culture:

"The analogy that would later come to me was that if an alcoholic comes in for health care, we don't tell him to continue to drink. We advise smokers to stop smoking and obese people to lose weight; but if teens admit to being sexually active, we act as if they can't control themselves. So instead of counseling about chastity, we hand out the contraceptives!"

We pray especially for the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima for the intention of healing and understanding for all married couples, especially those tempted by sterilization. We pray also that all children and young adults may grow up to understand and live a life of chastity.

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