Vyckie's Tour de Crap: Quiverfull and the Life of the Mother

The recent “Born to Breed” episode of “Secret Lives of Women” has attracted quite a bit of attention from practicing Quiverfull women ~ and several QF/P blogs are discussing my story and NLQ.  I appreciate that quite a few of these blog commenters are giving thoughtful consideration to the message here. 

But many others are insisting that my Quiverfull “conviction” was a burdensome form of legalism rather than a true calling from the Lord.  It is frustrating to read their comments as these women dismiss my Quiverfull experience as irrelevant by concluding that what we were doing in our family was not the same heartfelt, Spirit-led decision based on our sincere love for the Lord and our desire to be open to His wisdom and guidance in this very personal area of our reproductive lives as what they are currently doing in their own families.

So ~ feeling a bit (okay, maybe a lot) defensive, I went and dug up a piece of writing from my “quivering days.”  This one happens to fit in the timeline of where I’m at in my story ~ I wrote this shortly before I became pregnant with my 7th child, Wesley.  While this started out as a personal letter to a friend, I later modified it for publication in several QF periodicals including “Unless The Lord Magazine.”

I’ll follow this one with a bit of commentary at the end:

Quiverfull and the Life of the Mother

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A friend of mine (the local La Leche League leader) is under heavy conviction right now concerning the use of natural family planning.  I can understand her hesitancy to completely give this area over to the Lord as she and her husband are only 21 and already have two children. Recently, “Katherine” posted a question on QuiverFull Digest (an Internet discussion group for families who are trusting the Lord with their “family planning”)  which basically asked the question, “How far are we supposed to follow this ‘Quiverfull’ conviction?  What if the life of the mother would be jeopardized by pregnancy – would it then be prudent to abstain during the woman’s fertile time?  If so, where do we draw the line between being ‘good stewards’ and taking complete control over our reproduction?”

Dear Katherine,

I noticed your post on the QuiverFull Digest recently asking whether it’s acceptable to use birth control in a situation where the mother’s life is in danger.  I did not want to respond to the Digest – but, for what it’s worth – here’s my take on that situation:

First of all, it’s great to know that you are thinking about this issue in depth – convictions that are lightly adopted are easily abandoned when they become inconvenient.  I had a couple of different thoughts concerning your question – and I hope it does not frustrate you too much that I don’t have any hard and fast answers!

One thing to consider carefully is our motives in dealing with the exceptional cases.  Whenever Warren or I establish a new rule at our house there are typically two responses from the children – I’ll use a hypothetical case as an example:  If I were to say, “No running in the house – period!” – I can imagine Angel, who has always been fairly compliant asking the question, “Is it okay for Lydia to run?”  I would easily recognize this – not as a challenge to my authority – but just the opposite – Angel would want to be sure that my new rule was fully complied with, so she would want to know if I expected the older children to start training the youngest not to run in the house.  On the other hand, I can imagine Berea asking me, “What if the house is on fire, then can we run?”  Then, the next time I caught her running in the house she would defend her action by claiming, “but it was an emergency – I have to tell you something really important!”  Berea tends to look for the exceptions in order to justify breaking the rule.

If I understand correctly, your concern is that if we can make a case for practicing birth control when the life of the mother is at risk, then where *do* we draw the line and on what basis?

I know you are well aware that often when a doctor tells a woman that future pregnancies might jeopardize her life – it is simply not true. It is rare that pregnancy is actually life threatening to the mother. In many cases, when a woman’s health is severely compromised, infertility goes along with the health condition (i.e. amenorrhea due to extreme weight loss or gain, etc.) – this most likely is God’s way of protecting the woman from the risks of pregnancy during that time. But what about the cases when the woman’s reproductive system continues to function normally in spite of her other health conditions, or in the (very rare) case of a woman whose health is otherwise fine – it is only pregnancy which puts her at risk?

Many would argue that in those cases, a couple ought to trust God to supernaturally close the woman’s womb.  After all, she cannot get pregnant outside of the will of God – and He knows whether a pregnancy will endanger her life, so He can be trusted to do what is best for the woman in her situation.  Abstaining during the woman’s fertile period would be a lack of faith and therefore, the couple should not expect to receive God’s protection for the woman’s health.

But then, we learn of situations (like the example you gave in your post) where a couple did trust God, conceived, and as a result of the pregnancy, the woman died.  What happened?  Was it God’s will for her to die?  I don’t know.  I do know that God generally works within the natural biological processes which He established in His creation.  He designed the woman’s reproductive system – and generally it works as intended.  Is He able to overrule those natural processes and prevent a woman from conceiving?  Certainly.  There have been very rare instances when He has supernaturally intervened – in the case of Abraham and Sarah, also Zechariah and Elizabeth, and of course, the Virgin Birth, God miraculously caused conception to occur when biologically it would have been impossible.  I don’t know of any recorded examples of God supernaturally preventing conception.

I’m sure you remember the breastfeeding problem I had with Andrew which forced me to stop nursing him at only 10 months.  Andrew had not yet begun eating solids and was nursing frequently throughout the day and at night – my cycles had not returned as a result.  When I started getting sores when he nursed, I called Anne and talked to her several times for quite a long time, trying to figure out what the problem was.  Anne looked through all the printed material she had and even called someone higher up in LLL – but we could not figure it out.  Our midwife, Judy came to the house and watched me breastfeed – she thought maybe Andrew wasn’t latching on correctly.  I talked to a lactation consultant, several nursing mothers, a naturopathic doctor – even had the elders from our church pray for me – Warren & I prayed – no answers.  We could not figure out why I was getting sores, and finally because it was so painful I quit nursing. 

Right away, my cycles returned and I got pregnant with Lydia.  When the same problem happened with Lydia, one phone call to Anne and about 5 minutes or less of consultation and we figured out the obvious – thrush.  It was apparent that the Lord did not answer my prayers with Andrew because it was His timing for me to get pregnant with Lydia.  He could easily have caused me to conceive while nursing – most women have their cycles return while nursing and usually before 10 months postpartum. But not me – I have never ovulated while nursing (well I finally did with Lydia after transferring her to her sister’s room at night when she was 23 months old).  This whole experience confirmed for me that the Lord works within His created order.  He still was in control and His will was accomplished.  I thought it was pretty miraculous, but it was not “supernaturally miraculous” like what happened to the virgin Mary.

So in a situation where the woman continues to be fertile even though pregnancy could be life-threatening it is likely that if she does not abstain during her fertile times she may very well become pregnant.  I believe it is highly unlikely that the Lord will supernaturally prevent her from conceiving – if He intended to prevent her from conceiving He would have done so through natural, biological means. Which brings us back to where we started – should the couple abstain?

As I thought about this question, a different situation came to mind which I believe is similar in that the difficulty of the situation really tested a person’s faith.  I read a lot of biographies of Christian saints whose faith is an inspiration.  Richard Wurmbrandt, who wrote “Tortured for Christ” and founded Voice of the Martyrs ministry, told of several instances in which he was tortured and asked to reveal the identity of fellow believers.  He admits that he often lied to his torturers in order to spare his brothers from imprisonment.  Rahab is a biblical example of someone who lied in order to protect herself and the Israelite spies – this seems like a lack of faith to me, yet Rahab is listed among the faithful in Hebrews 11.  On the other hand, Corrie Ten Boom said that she could not bring herself to tell a lie.  On one occasion, when soldiers demanded to know where the Jews were hidden, she blurted out, “They’re under the table.”  This was true – there was a hidden panel in the floor where the Jews were hidden – it was covered by a rug and a table was placed on top.  When the soldiers looked at the table they could plainly see that no one was hiding under there so they wrote her off as a crazy lady and began searching the rest of the house.  God protected them all.  I often wonder what I would do in a similar situation.  Of course, we don’t really know until it happens, but I’m afraid I would lie.

I hope this comparison makes sense to you.  People tend to respond in different ways – I would be hesitant to say that the couple who abstained lacked faith while the couple who did not, and the wife became pregnant and died, had great faith.  I just pray that I’m never in the situation to have to make that choice.

In some ways the “life of the mother” question reminds me of the way many Jews in Jesus’ day dealt with the Law – in trying to figure out how much they could get away with (What distance is lawful for a man to walk away from his house on the Sabbath?) they were keeping the letter of the Law while completely missing the spirit of the Law.  I am not saying this because I think it applies to you – I don’t.  But while we’re on the subject – this is something that I think is important to consider.  The “spirit” of being QuiverFull is simply to view children as God views them – they’re a blessing, plain and simple.  Whether a couple has a dozen children or only one – it is important to welcome them in the same spirit in which we would receive the Lord Jesus Himself.

God does not send children as a punishment – He sends them, in part, because He knows that we need them to keep us from our own sinful tendencies of selfishness and self-gratification.  In the same manner, I tell my children that even if I could afford a maid, a cook, and a gardener, I would still make sure they had plenty of chores to do. Not because I want my house to be spotless and my yard to be immaculate – but because I see what happens when they have too much time on their hands – they become discontented, bored, lazy, picking on each other, etc.  When they have plenty of work to do, the selfish tendencies all but disappear – they are pleasant and co-operative.  I don’t make them work day and night, of course – and the Lord does provide much that is enjoyable and rewarding in our work as parents. So, I try to keep a healthy perspective to my QuiverFull beliefs – it’s not just “we do not use birth control” – we need to see God as a loving, caring Father Who wants to give us good gifts.

I love to share my own experience and offer whatever resources I have – and I know that my strong convictions are obvious – but I do hope you know that I am not trying to “convince” you.  Only the Holy Spirit can do that – and I’ve learned that He works in His own time and His own way and He always deals with us as individuals.  I am fully convinced to trust Him with our “family planning” and welcome however many children He desires to give us – but it was a long journey for us to go from permanent sterilization (vasectomy) to no birth control at all – and it took several years for us to get to that point.

I was recently reading Dr. Sears’ book on Attachment Parenting – he stated that from the “outside” AP can seem overwhelming and like it would drive a mother to exhaustion – no bottles, no pacifiers, co-sleeping, baby wearing, responding immediately to baby’s cries, etc.  Anyone who first hears of this style of parenting might think – I would be frazzled – I’d never get any sleep, I’d go nuts jumping at every little cry, the baby would be spoiled, etc.  But the mothers who actually do it find that they are more relaxed, get more sleep, enjoy their children more, etc. 

As I was reading that I thought the same goes for the “quiverfull” lifestyle – from the outside it looks exhausting – but those couples I know who are doing it actually have very peaceful, relaxed homes.  They enjoy their children and usually have less of a workload than most of the couples who limit their family size.  I guess it’s kind of a paradox – like taking the “narrow road” which seems restrictive and hard – but in fact is free and peaceful – a “light burden” and “rest” as Jesus promised.  On the other hand, the “broad road” seems easy and carefree, but leads to heartache and trouble.  Those who seek to shirk responsibility actually end up more weighed down and miserable than those who embrace their duties.  I hope this doesn’t sound preachy – it probably does!

If, before Warren had the vasectomy reversal someone had told us that I’d spend the next 7 years either pregnant or nursing (all but about 8 months – and not consecutively) – I’d have seriously had second thoughts.  I would have said, “That would kill me.”  But, in reality it has not been burdensome to me.  Attitude helps a lot and what helps my attitude is knowing definitely that God has called me to this lifestyle.  Any mom who does not have that sure conviction from God – I would not recommend adopting this sort of lifestyle – because it would be too difficult.  On the other hand,  if I knew for sure that God gave me this conviction, but I rejected it and went my own way, I know that I and my family would suffer the consequences.  We see families all around us who are only half committed to serving the Lord – and it is so apparent in the struggles they encounter – marriage breakups, wayward and rebellious children, financial difficulties, spiritual dryness, etc.

I urge you to be in prayer (as I know you already are) and take the time and effort required to know the will of God for your individual family.  Let the couples whose health problem requires a life or death decision in regard to family planning seek the Lord for direction in their own circumstance.  Such is not the case with you.  I am confident that the Lord will guide and direct your husband and you in the choices that He desires for your family as you seek His best for your lives.

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Vyckie Bennett and her husband, Warren homeschool their six children in Northeast Nebraska.  They are expecting another blessing (their fourth “reversal baby”) in March 2003.

Just a couple of comments here:

First, I think it’s apparent that, while I did hold strong Quiverfull convictions, mine was not a legalistic, dogmatic “misinterpretation” of the Gospel, but rather a deeply personal, Spirit-led walk of faith.

I was actually trying to be generous when I wrote this and therefore held back on stating my true belief and modern OB/GYNs are, as Dr. Mendelsohn contends in his book, Male Practice: How Doctors Manipulate Women, “priests” in the cult of modern medicine.  I didn’t come right out and say that I honestly doubted that for some women, pregnancy is a life-threatening condition.  (My years as a staunch pro-life advocate taught me that the “life of the mother” argument was really only a convenient fallacy promoted by the pro-aborts.)

I also had no real comprehension that pregnancy was actually a life-threatening condition FOR ME.  Even later ~ after I experienced a partial-uterine rupture which nearly killed Wesley and me, I still did not believe that pregnancy was any greater risk to my health than it was for the average woman. 

There’s so much more I could say ~ but I think I’ll stop here and let NLQ readers take up the discussion over on the forum. ;)


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