Does your contraception only prevent fertilisation? Or can it also prevent implantation of a healthy embryo? Claire van Ryn shares about the moment she realised that she’d chosen the wrong contraception.
I made a terrible mistake.
Please bear with me as I explain to you a journey Iâ€™ve been on to remedy an unwitting choice I made that rubs against the grain of everything I stand for. This is going to be hard. Itâ€™s hard for me to share, yes. Extremely so. But hard too because I know that many of you who read this will be in the position I was about nine months ago.
So, I will preface this by saying, no judgement. Just truth. With bucketloads of love. Because I donâ€™t think itâ€™s loving if we know a truth and donâ€™t share it. Agreed?
A conversation on contraception
Rewind nine months. Iâ€™d somehow dropped into conversation with a friend that, after our second was born, Iâ€™d opted for the Mirena intrauterine device (IUD) for contraception. I received an odd response. Like a long â€œoh?â€ hiking to a tonal summit. Then hanging there. Unresolved and sparking like rogue fireworks in my (often oversensitive) thoughts.
Did I overshare? Did they think contraception was wrong? Was it something about Mirena?
It completely unsettled me. I admire and respect this person, so I decided to do some research. I spoke with a midwife friend, had a chat with Dr Google and, most importantly, I dug into a book thatâ€™s been sitting on my shelf gathering dust for a while. Because, in truth, it reminds me of a university textbook. Itâ€™s called Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, by Dr Megan Best, and is sub-titled â€œEthics and the beginning of human lifeâ€.
Dr Best is a medical doctor and bioethicist whose research is highly regarded, and who has been involved in the development of Australian legislation regulating the treatment of the unborn. She is also a Christian, and her book looks at life through the lens of faith. I quickly flicked through to the chapter on contraception, and then to intrauterine devices; Mirena, also known as â€˜intrauterine systemsâ€™ or IUS (bear with me, the terminology is important, youâ€™ll see!).
â€œThe IUS causes damage to both sperm and eggs, interfering with the way they function and reducing survival, and so decreasing the rate of fertilisation. It also lowers the chance of survival for any embryo that might be formed in the fallopian tube before it gets to the uterus. This last mechanism operates after fertilisation, making the IUS an unethical choice for contraception.â€
There it was, in black and white.
Mirena can cause abortion.
My heart dropped to my heels and I thought back to when it was offered to me, at a post-natal appointment at the hospital. â€œWe can insert it straight away,â€ she said. There was an urgency to it. I was told it was better to have it soon after birth while my cervix was still â€œsoftâ€. I believe she outlined what it was, how it worked by releasing a hormone called levonorgestrel (similar to progesterone). At no point was it explained that Mirena can also prevent implantation of an embryo. But then, I also didnâ€™t ask. I guess I just naively accepted that, if itâ€™s called a contra-ception, then it must prevent conception. Silly me.
The point of realisation
You can imagine how much more gutted I felt in that initial moment of awakening. There I was, a person who frequently takes to a soapbox to advocate for the unborn and their mums, wearing a contraceptive device that could be doing the very thing my heart was bleeding for.
I waited until the kids were tucked up in bed before I spoke with hubby about my findings. We were in immediate agreement: Mirena had to go. We used other precautions until the date of the appointment. And it was all made a wee bit more traumatic as I had to have it surgically removed, under full general anaesthetic, because my cervix likes to play hide-and-seek!
I distinctly remember the conversation I had with the OBGYN before I was wheeled into surgery. â€œWould you like me to insert another Mirena while youâ€™re under?â€ No, I said, Iâ€™m no longer comfortable with it. â€œYouâ€™ll regret it,â€ she replied. â€œYouâ€™ll be back when youâ€™re getting a full-blown period and all that.â€ I was a wimp. Didnâ€™t tell her the real reason. But I didnâ€™t feel particularly respected in my choice. I was also a bit flummoxed by her description of what is a womanâ€™s natural bodily process. Note to self: donâ€™t ask her to give my daughter advice on womanhood.
What’s this mean for you?
If youâ€™ve read this far, I figure you might fit into one of these three camps:
- You are as shocked as I was and want to know more.
- You believe Iâ€™ve made a big deal of something unmeasurable.
- You knew this stuff (and maybe youâ€™re surprised that I didnâ€™t!).
I can speak to the first two, because Iâ€™ve bounced back and forth between those places. I have absolutely no idea how many times sperm might have fertilised egg and been prevented from implantation. No idea whatsoever. And I cannot find definitive data on that. All I know is that, as long as there is a slither of a chance that an IUD could prevent an already fertilised eggâ€¦ an embryoâ€¦ a budding lifeâ€¦ to reach its full potential, I want nothing to do with it.
There is no doubt in my mind that I did the right thing. As soon as the truth was lit up before me, there was no other option. And I call that Godâ€™s steely conviction â€“ of which I am so thankful. Because of his clear voice, Iâ€™ve also been able to accept complete forgiveness. There is no room for shame when we walk in truth with our Lord.
And if you fall into the third camp, maybe you can help people like me with awareness. Thereâ€™s so much clamour in a new mumâ€™s life. Decisions like this can be made without full cohesion. If youâ€™re in the privileged position of doctor or other caregiver, please point this out. I wish someone told me.
I want to sign off with the history to this. A while back, some medical sorts decided to change the definition of contraception to suit their dollar-driven agendas. Consider it the marketing strategy behind contraception, because we must remember that all contraception is produced by big companies wanting to increase their profit margins.
â€œAfter the introduction of the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) in 1958, Albert Rosenfeld was concerned that rather than only preventing the sperm from fertilising the egg (the classic definition of â€˜conceptionâ€™), the pill might also terminate embryonic human life by inhibiting implantationâ€¦ Since such interference would occur after conception, he realised that some people would say this represented an abortion. He recommended the â€˜solutionâ€™ to this problem suggested by Dr AS Parkes of Cambridge: â€œEquate conception with the time of implantation rather than the time of fertilisation â€“ a difference of only a few daysâ€. That is, he got around the fact that these drugs might cause termination of a pregnancy by changing the definition of when a pregnancy startedâ€¦ Following Rosenfeldâ€™s logic, the subsequent printing of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologistâ€™s terminology text in 1972 saw a deliberate change of the definition of â€˜conceptionâ€™.â€
(Source: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Dr Megan Best, p104)
You see? The deception is real. And as Christians we need to ask ourselves if weâ€™re ok with this. We need to be more inquisitive and careful of who and what we put our trust in. I know I certainly will.
When does life begin?
I think most Christians would answer, â€œAt conception.â€
And then we must ask, â€œDoes your contraception choice reflect this?â€
Another great resource for Christians and other people who object to contraceptives that prevent implantation is Contraception: A Pro-life Guide by Dr O E O Hotonu.
Dr Bestâ€™s Summary of available contraceptives
*The above table should really be read in conjunction with Dr Bestâ€™s entire chapter on contraception. If it piques your intrigue, I suggest you grab yourself a copy.