Natural Family Planning has done what was promised. It has been effective in preventing pregnancy, but also for attaining it. It helps communication, balances out certain aspects of masculinity and feminity, has led to self control and a deeper sense of how our marriage reflects God’s love for the world. It’s not always easy. But one thing that was an unexpected blessing of NFP is how it has helped us in our grief.
The outward practice of NFP creates an inner recognition of children as a gift from God. Christopher West has used the analogy of NFP being like having an understanding that God is always welcome to show up. Of course, there are times when you specifically invite Him to give a baby, and He can accept or decline. But when a baby shows up unexpectedly, there is an understanding of welcome there as well. (Contraception, in contrast, is like sending a non-invitation, or a note to God that says specifically, “You are NOT welcome here right now.”)
Okay, so what does this have to do with grief? I was listening to a discussion on the radio this morning about PGD, the process of identifying characteristics of invitro embryos before implantation, being used more widely for selecting gender and even traits such as eye color or height. This is symptomatic of a view of “parenthood as a right” that is pandemic in our society. I couldn’t help but think of the possible tragic situation of a family who, carefully selecting all the traits they desire in a child, perhaps even selectively “reducing” a fetus to optimize results, would end up with a baby in the PICU with unexpected liver failure at 3 months old. The mitochondrial condition that took our kids was difficult to pinpoint even once we knew they had it. Both babies were born as healthy as can be, and a doctor who didn’t know Gianna even commented on how healthy she looked just two days before her death.
So PGD can’t predict every disease. Even if it could, how do you genetically engineer a child not to get hit by a car? Obviously you can’t. We know there are no guarantees in life. I think the problem is that someone who approaches parenthood from an illusion of control has a double grief to contend with if a child is lost. We were by no means flippant at the loss of Peter and Gianna. We continue to grieve them deeply. But underlying the process is an understanding that they were gifts from God, and as hard as it is to accept, He has the right to take them back. I would imagine that for someone who expected that they had covered all their bases, the death of a child comes with underlying anger, bitterness and blame. Worst of all, I would imagine, would be a resentment toward God. If I have a right to live my life however I have planned it, then God is the enemy for getting in the way of that plan. I know from experience that that the grief of losing a child is enough on its own. The times I have given in to bitterness and anger toward God have made that burden crushingly heavy, since I was cutting myself off from the only source that could heal me.
This is the kind of profound personal trauma that comes from choosing one’s own way apart from God. Opponents often think pro-lifers like to go around wagging their fingers at heathens because it makes them feel better about themselves. Perhaps that is true for some, and if so, I hope they repent. The truth is, an authentically pro-life Christian seeks to help others avoid the same heartache and loss that comes from repeating the sin of the Garden.
For a related post, see “Hunger”.