“Why I Use Birth Control”: 11 Women Speak Up

Contraception has been in the news lately in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that closely-held corporations whose leaders object to contraception for religious reasons can opt out of covering contraception as part of their employee health care plans. (Though the Hobby Lobby case focused on just four forms of contraception, the Court has clarified that the ruling covers all 20 forms of contraception protected through the Affordable Care Act.) Considering the fact that around 90 percent of corporations are closely-held, the ruling could affect a lot of women. 

Opinions about the ruling aside, I’ve been stunned by some of the misinformation circulating around social media about contraception, the most unhelpful of which characterizes women who use contraception as “entitled,” “sluts,” “moochers,” and “whores.” 

I’ve shared my own thoughts on contraception in a post entitled “Privilege and the Pill,” but today I wanted to yield the floor to ten women whose stories challenge these unfair caricatures. I am incredibly grateful for their bravery and honesty in stepping forward to tell the truth of their experiences. Please, listen: 

Samantha Field 

Samantha

Samantha

I had my first hemorrhagic cyst when I was just fourteen. After a barrage of tests to eliminate insulin problems, my doctor diagnosed me with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and prescribed hormone therapy to manage it.

Over the next six years, I experimented with a variety of “birth control pills” trying to find one that wouldn’t cause migraines and nausea. Eventually I discovered the NuvaRing, which worked amazingly—except that in graduate school, I couldn’t afford it anymore. This meant I had to deal with periods that were so debilitating, prescription narcotics couldn’t touch the pain. It affected everything in my life. 

Once, during the middle of a lecture I was assisting, I felt a sudden, breathtaking surge of pain. I stumbled out of the classroom, half-blind, not even really understanding where I was going except away. I collapsed in the hallway and went into shock, and my boss had to call an ambulance. I waited in the ER for fourteen hours before a doctor told me what had happened: a cyst had ruptured. 

Today my medical insurance covers the NuvaRing for free; my periods have returned to something approaching manageable, and I haven’t had any cysts for the last two years. I don’t know what I would do if my employer suddenly stopped covering my treatment.

Rachel McGlone Hedin

I am a pro-life lactation consultant and public health nurse. I use birth control because I love my husband and three kids. I have had three cesarean sections due to a congenital uterine malformation, and the risk of uterine rupture is too high to get pregnant again.

I never used birth control prior to having kids, though I am a supporter of it for many reasons. Using birth control now protects my life and my family. 


Heather Barmore 

Heather

Heather

In 10th grade I had my first incredibly painful period. The cramps were excruciating and I was vomiting. I spent two days at home in the fetal position, wishing my womanhood away. The only things I used to alleviate the pain were Midol and a heating pad. 

It wasn't until college, during another month of severe cramps that I resorted to birth control. At the time, I was one of those people who believed there was no need for birth control if I wasn't having sex. Let's just say that ignorance isn't too blissful when you're crumpling in pain once a month. 

I use birth control not for precautionary measures—though that is a nice side effect—but because I cannot spend one week out of every month immobilized in bed. I use birth control to improve my health and the quality of my life.

Erica March Menard 

My 15-year-old daughter suffers from ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease. She was diagnosed at the age of 9.  Before starting birth control, her monthly periods (which exacerbate the chronic pain she experiences, especially while in "flare") were so unbearably painful that she couldn't even walk.  I'll never forget picking her up at school, where she—a stoic, proud and reserved girl—told me that she had to limp to the nurse's office, in full view of her classmates and with tears running down her face, because she was in such agony.  

If my daughter didn't have access to birth control, she would be unable to attend school (or get out of bed to go anywhere else, for that matter) for five days of each month. 

Jen Buck 

Jen

Jen

I first started using birth control as a 16-year-old teenager to help with migraines. There were added advantages that it helped clear up my acne and eased my menstrual cramps.

I was celibate until I was married at age 27, and I took contraceptives that entire time, not for the purpose of birth control. 

Now that I am a married woman, I still use birth control because my husband and I feel convicted by God to adopt children. We believe there are more than enough children in the world that need a home, and we want to become parents through adoption rather than biologically. 


Kristen 

I use birth control because I don’t want to get pregnant. I’m 33 and have been married for six years, and I don’t want to have a child right now—neither does my husband. We use birth-control methods that allow us to carefully and responsibly plan our family. For now, that family is planned for two people, and we’re taking up both slots!

Heather R. Owens 

Heather

Heather

Just a couple of days ago, a friend of mine put on her Facebook page a disturbing status about how women who are on birth control are all sluts. Little did she know I use birth control because my uterus is misshapen, causing it to have pockets where blood gets caught.

This makes my periods ten times worse than most women's. Birth control allows me to go about my life without being interrupted by three to five days of being completely bedridden.

Dianna Anderson 

I am no longer on birth control for medical reasons (higher risk of clots in my family), but when I was on it, I used it because I didn't want to get pregnant while working full time, writing full time, and living as a single woman.

My insurance covered it (for a short time) with a $25 co-pay at Planned Parenthood.

Jenna 

I'm a virgin. On birth control.

As a 20-something single, I know I'm going against the norm, even as a Christian. Almost everyone my age has "done it" at least once. But I believe sex is best saved for marriage.  I just have seen too many friends hurt and too many lives fall apart to seriously consider sleeping around. Plus, I actually live a pretty great life as an independent single woman and have no desire or plans to change that anytime soon.

So what's with the birth control? Last October, as the sweltering Southern summer faded into a cool autumn breeze, I noticed my friends were getting out their jackets and scarves. I was still burning in my short sleeves. As everyone else shivered in the winter, I started having shaking episodes at least once a day while feeling like I was in an oven. I was suddenly extremely sensitive to sugar and got so lightheaded that once I almost passed out after eating a few M&Ms.

After months of lab tests and doctors and "here, try this medicine and see if it works," I still had no diagnosis. I mentioned to my endocrinologist that I had also become really emotional lately. My anxiety was higher than ever and I was occasionally depressed. I would get angry at nothing or overwhelmed with nondescript emotions taking over my mind and heart. He suggested we try putting me on the Pill for a few months.

I never got an official diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome or anything. We eventually gave up trying to find a label for whatever causes these symptoms after testing everything he could. But I can say without a doubt that my life is better because I'm on the Pill. 

The shaking episodes have stopped. The hot flashes (that never seemed to "flash" off) are greatly reduced. I'm no longer afraid of passing out in public. Best yet, I'm back to being in control of my emotions instead of drowning in them. I refused to believe the lie that these emotions were "just part of being a girl" or typical "female crazy" as stereotypes would have me believe. My boss, mentors and friends all remarked that this new moody irrationally paranoid girl wasn't the real me, the me they knew before last fall. 

Thanks to the Pill, I'm me again. I can live a normal life. Well, normal for me anyway. I'm still a happily single 20-something virgin. Who happens to rely on the Pill to be healthy.


Neely Stansell-Simpson

Neely

Neely

I recently saw an article that said birth control can be purchased for as little as $9, so health insurance coverage for contraception should be a nonissue. However, not all birth control is the same, and women use birth control for a variety of different reasons. 

When I was taking birth control to control ovarian cysts, I had to take a specific type, which was $60 out of pocket, $20 with insurance. $60 is a third of what I budget weekly for groceries. So I definitely want it covered by insurance, especially since I'd much rather take birth control for ovarian cysts than have an ovary removed or get a hysterectomy. 

After my daughter was born, I began using an IUD because I was breast feeding, and breast feeding mothers can't use hormonal forms of birth control. An IUD costs $1,000 without insurance. Luckily, my insurance plan at the time covered IUDs. So, I only paid $500. I'm just sayin':  this stuff is expensive, y'all! So is health insurance. You know what else is expensive? Babies.

Emmy Kegler

I had painful periods beginning almost immediately at menses at age 13.  They got progressively worse, to the point at which (at age 16) the maximum dose of over-the-counter pain medication still couldn't give me relief.  Two days a month, I was in immense pain, spending hours cramped up in the fetal position, curled around a hot pack, or soaking in a scalding bath -- trying to get some kind of relief.  

I was on Vioxx (rofecoxib) and Tylenol 3 (with codeine), maxing out the daily dosages.  I saw three specialists, all of whom were certain it was endometriosis, but after three separate exams, no evidence could be found.  The final doc sent me back to my GP, who wrote a prescription for oral birth control -- "the pill", as I knew it then.  After a few months, my periods were significantly reduced in pain; just an Advil could take care of the cramps and back pain for a whole day.  I was amazed.  I spent four years on the pill entirely to regulate that unmanageable pain, and I am so grateful for the doctors who made it possible.

***

Also, be sure to check out Ellen Painter Dollar’s excellent piece, “How Having an (Insurance-Covered) IUD is Saving My Life,” where she writes: 

Because of my IUD, I hardly get periods anymore. This is convenient, but it’s far more than that. My periods were horrible, painful, long, irregularly constant (as in, I would sometimes bleed all but three or four days a month), copious, clotty, hideous things. I am deeply grateful for the reproductive goings-on behind even my horrible periods, because they allowed me to conceive and carry three children. I am also deeply grateful to no longer have my vision narrow to a pinpoint in the throes of menstrual cramps or bleed out of my vagina more days of the month than not. (Sorry to be graphic, but I want you to understand from what sort of captivity I’ve been freed.)

More important, because of my IUD, I carry no anxiety about an unwanted pregnancy. My desire not to have another baby is not just because we have three beautiful kids and that feels like enough, just right. I don’t want another baby because I’m convinced that carrying and giving birth to another baby would damage me, and secondarily our entire family, in deep, perhaps irreparable ways....read more.

***


If you are using, or have used, contraception, please feel free to share your stories in the comment section.  If you haven’t, maybe consider just listening for a while. 

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Jesus Jukes and Why We Need To Know Where You Stand (by Ben Moberg)

A couple of weeks ago, I engaged in an interesting conversation on Twitter with my friend Ben Moberg and several others about Christian leaders who hold their cards close when it comes to their positions on same-sex relationships and LGBT people. It became clear that such a conversation was worthy of more than 120-characters, (as important conversations often are), so I invited Ben to share his thoughts here on the blog. 

Ben is a Christian gay man from Minnesota. After spending his life in the closet within a conservative evangelical culture, Ben, at last, came out and found love and freedom patiently waiting for him on the other side.  Ben is a brother to four siblings, the youngest son, the very best uncle, a world traveler, and a painfully slow writer. Between his part-time jobs, he is writing a memoir about finding God in the hardest of places. Be sure to check out Ben’s fantastic blog and his Facebook page. 

***

Ben and his adorable nephew

Ben and his adorable nephew

A couple months ago, Jen Hatmaker did the impossible: She wrote that same-sex marriage is sinful and yet left me in layers of love. It was a startling and confusing moment for me. 

What I respect most about her article is that she didn’t brush the issue off. She didn’t shy away. She said: “To the degree it rests on my transparency as a leader, I bear responsibility for the conscience of others, and it is unfair to withhold.” Furthermore, she offered up a compassionate and grace-filled way forward for traditional marriage supporters and reminded them that many Christians disagree with their position, but they are no less godly, smart, or loving for doing so. And for all that, I so appreciate her. Even though I believe she is dead wrong. 

In the pack I run in, most of my friends are slightly right of center. And when it comes to the issue of same-sex marriage in the church, they are committed to ambiguity. It’s brought up in conversation and they look at me, warmth in their eyes, and say: “You are you. You are not an issue to me. To be honest, I just don’t care about the theology stuff. You’re my friend. That settles it.”

Because I know their intent is good and it certainly sounds sweet and affirming enough, I nod and let it go. Yes, I am happy that I have not been cut down to one characteristic, and yes, I am happy that I am your friend and that you love me no matter what. This is all good news for me.

But just underneath the surface, I rebuff a little. There’s a tic. Something doesn’t feel right, because from my vantage point, there is a world of difference between I don’t know and I don’t care. 

To not know is human. It’s where we all begin. There’s nothing shameful or wrong about not knowing where you stand on same-sex relationships. The Bible is a thorny book, chaotic with its thousands of translations. We have to gage cultural contexts, unearth a hermeneutic, parse through the Greek and Hebrew, deal with the anonymous books, the hyperbole, the question of what “God-breathed” actually means, the question of the Gospels’ authority over all the other texts, and the fact that each generation has interpreted Scripture from a different slant, passing the message down like a game of telephone. 

Unearthing the truth out of all that is an act of faith in and of itself. Those who’ve done the hard labor ought to be celebrated, no matter where they wind up.

On the one hand, to not care is to have no concern for your brother, your friend, who, depending upon your conclusions, could be stepping off into the abyss of sin, perhaps never to return. On the other, to not care is to be apathetic to the oppression of both the Church and the state on my life. To not care is to think both of these scenarios are unworthy of time spent in study, in prayer, in speaking to God. To not care, in a way, is to not love. 

Many Christian leaders that offer up the ambiguous "I Don’t Care" response follow with a suggestion that not caring about this is somehow the way of Jesus. They say they’re more focused on what Jesus did, which was “lovin’ on people” and making friends and all that. In these moments, my “Jesus Juke” detector spikes, as does my blood pressure.

You know the Jesus Juke, right?

Well, it’s quite handy actually. It’s a wormhole that can be opened and jumped through when one is faced with a contentious and complicated issue. The Juker says, for instance, that since Jesus didn’t talk about gays, I don’t need to either! He says that since Jesus talked mostly about poverty, justice for LGBTs is a big distraction, a nuisance, a we’ll-get-to-it-when-we-get-to-it sort of thing. Pushed to the end of his patience rope, the Jesus Juker will inevitably say something like this: Jesus is our unifier. His is our center, so please, for Pete’s sake, DROP IT!

But for me, I can’t. It’s my life and this is our friendship. You are my pastor, you are my teacher, you’re my favorite author, you’re a highly visible voice with influence. You are someone I want to trust. If you can’t trust me enough, love me enough, to be transparent over a rather large part of my journey, then how am I to still trust you? 

 All I am asking is that you stop sidestepping, that you stop saying, “I choose not reveal, because the culture war is so bad already [and so on and so forth]” when the truth is, you actually haven’t arrived at a conclusion.

If you do know, if you’re in a place of peace with your convictions, then as a leader, you have a responsibility to come out. You don’t get to withhold. That’s the burden of being a leader.  

If you don’t know yet, then say that. Don’t Jesus Juke. Don’t claim abstention. Grab a Bible and some commentaries, grow a hermeneutic, and then go figure out what your role in this conversation is going to be. 

Unless, that is, you actually don’t care. Then disregard this message altogether. Let us all know, so we can move on to someone who does. 

***

Thoughts? Do Christian leaders have an obligation to share their position on same-sex relationships? How do you respond to those who say that since Jesus didn’t address homosexuality, they won’t either?  Would love to get your feedback. Please be respectful. 

If you want to hear more from Ben (and trust me, you do), check out his blog. He also writes for Deeper Story. 

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5 Ways Progressive Mainline Churches Can Welcome Disenfranchised Evangelicals

I’ve never considered denominationalism a bad thing. I like to think of the various Christians traditions as different facets of a diamond refracting the same light, or as workers tending to a shared garden but with unique tasks, or as a single body made of many interconnected parts (see 1 Corinthians 12). No single group owns the copyright to Truth, and we need one another. 

There is much to love about evangelicalism, but lately I’ve been receiving a lot of messages from disenfranchised evangelicals who, after a break from church, are looking to return. Many hope to find a place in a more progressive tradition, but feel a bit disoriented their first time in an Episcopal Church or at a PCUSA coffee hour.  In addition, when I travel, I meet many progressive ministers who are eager to welcome new people to their churches. So with all that in mind, here are some ideas for helping those evangelical visitors feel more at home: 

1. Update your Web site. 

Disenfranchised evangelicals aren’t looking for a highly-produced show. They aren't looking to be impressed by the latest and greatest technology. (They’ve had enough of all that, trust me.) They are, however, looking for your address. And maybe a belief statement of some sort.  

Millennials in particular tend to start their search for anything—be it a church or an apartment or even a date— on the Internet, so if your site is difficult to navigate and embarrassingly out-of-date, they may not bother to come for a visit. I also appreciate it when a church’s Web site includes information about beliefs, ministries, worship, ministerial staff, educational programs, etc.  And if your church is located in a more conservative area (say, East Tennessee), you might even want to make special note of the fact that you welcome LGBT people and affirm women in ministry. 

Just keep in mind that often our first "visit" to your church is via the Web site. So it might be worth putting some extra time and resources into it. 


2.  Take risks on unconventional church plants. 

In my next book, I feature several unusual church plants that are thriving in their communities, and many are associated with mainline Protestant denominations that were willing to take a risk on unconventional models. One such church is St. Lydia’s in Brooklyn—a small “dinner church” centered around the Eucharist as both a sacred ritual and a meal. St. Lydia's is associated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. 

Another church that comes to mind is Missiongathering in San Diego, which is associated with the progressive denomination The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), but which has a very evangelical “feel” to its worship because it attracts a lot of folks who come from evangelical traditions and enjoy evangelical worship but are looking for a church that welcomes LGBT people. I think too of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, also associated with the ELCA.  

I’m no expert on church planting, but what these churches seem to have in common is a pastor with a vision for ministering in a unique way to a specific group of people in a specific neighborhood, partnering with a denomination that can help with resources and accountability. These days, it’s less about getting people to come to you and more about going out, serving the people, and then letting them build the church together. 
 

3.  Infuse the traditional liturgy and sacraments with some creativity. 

A lot of disenfranchised evangelicals like me are drawn to the beautiful and ancient liturgy of more traditional churches. For us, it’s a refreshing alternative to the highly-produced contemporary worship services we’ve grown used to (conversely, folks who grew up with more traditional worship may love the contemporary worship of an evangelical church). So you don’t have to replace your smells and bells with electric guitars to welcome evangelicals. But it’s nice to see a little creativity infused into the liturgy.  

House for All Sinners and Saints seems to do this beautifully. On their Web site, they explain:

“We follow the ancient liturgy of the church (chanting the Kyrie, readings from scripture, chanting the Psalm, sermon, prayers of the people, Eucharist, benediction, etc.) We also sing the old hymns of the church. So there's lots of ancient tradition at HFASS, but there's also some innovation. We always include poetry and a time called ‘Open Space’ in which we slow down for prayer and other opportunities to actively engage the Gospel; writing in the community's Book of Thanks, writing prayers, making art or assembling bleach kits for the needle exchange in Denver. We like to say that we are ‘anti-excellence/pro-participation’, meaning that the liturgy is led by the people who show up…”

St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco also takes a creative approach to their traditional liturgy. Check out the worship section of their Web site. 

You don’t have to make any radical changes all at once, or go as far as HFASS and Gregory of Nyssa, but doing things differently now and then actually enriches the inherent beauty of the liturgy and reminds both longtime members and newbies why it's so central and so important to the life of your church.  

 
4.   Don’t assume we know why you believe what you believe, or why you do what you do. 

The other day I had a conversation with a young woman who grew up Methodist. She explained to me that when she went to college and began attending a conservative complementarian church with her friends, she felt ill-prepared to explain why she supported women in ministry. “They had all the Bible verses,” she said. “And I had no idea how to respond to them. I guess growing up Methodist I’d always taken women pastors for granted.” She grew up knowing her church affirmed women in ministry, but she never learned why her church affirmed women in ministry.

I also hear from a lot of evangelicals who have begun attending Mainline Protestant churches precisely because they welcome LGBT people, accept science, avoid aligning with a single political party, practice traditional worship, preach from the lectionary, affirm women in ministry, etc. but these new attendees never hear the leadership of the church explain why this is the case.  This need not happen from the pulpit, but perhaps a Sunday school class or Bible study addressing these issues would be helpful, not only for those new to the church but also for those who grew up in the tradition and need a refresher. 

Also, don't assume people know all the nuances of your particular tradition. I can't tell you how often I've spoken at a Baptist church (American or Cooperative) and had readers come up to me and say, "I can't believe they let you speak in a Baptist church!" because they assumed all Baptist churches are like Southern Baptist churches. 

The Episcopal church we’ve been (somewhat sporadically) attending held “Anglicanism 101” classes recently that served as both an introduction to Anglican theology and practice and as confirmation classes. We were unable to attend due to travel, but two of our friends (former evangelicals) did, and they were confirmed this spring. They said many in the class were longtime Episcopalians there for a refresher, and many disenfranchised evangelicals just learning the ropes. 

(Note: If you're an evangelical finding your way to a church in the Anglican tradition, you will love Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail by Robert Webber.) 


5.  Create safe places to talk and build relationships. 

We former evangelicals LOVE to talk about our faith and are sometimes surprised by how little opportunity there is to do so in a Mainline Protestant church environment. I’m not sure why this is, but it seems like Mainline Protestant churches are less likely to have “small groups” where members gather together in one another’s homes to simply share life together. (If I’m making an unfair assumption or generalization, let me know.) Obviously, such groups can be problematic when they divide everyone up by age group and marital status, but I’ve also seen them represent what is most powerful about church as members become deeply invested in one another’s lives. Weekday Bible studies can also serve this purpose, or perhaps even certain Sunday school gatherings. I’m convinced that one thing folks from my generation long for is the chance to talk openly and honestly about our faith, our doubts, our questions, our ideas, our struggles, our joys, etc. in the context of a faith community.

 

What else? How can progressive Mainline Protestant churches welcome disenfranchised evangelicals? 

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