Monday, March 12, 2012

The Failure Rate

I have been told more times than I can count that if I were truly against abortion I would have to be pro-contraception.  "Contraception prevents unwanted pregnancies," the argument goes, "so putting women on reliable birth control would cut down on unwanted pregnancies and there would be fewer abortions."

It's an old argument, but always flung at me as if it were fresh and new and something I had never considered before this present moment.  I think they expect me to stand there with my mouth hanging open at the cleverness of this point of view.  This not being my first rodeo, I simply smile and ask "What about the failure rate?"

It's a statistical anomaly, I'm told, if only people used contraceptives correctly there would virtually no unplanned pregnancies.  Education and free access are all that separate us from an abortion free world.

"What about the failure rates?" I press them again, only to be told that those are just statistics.  The number of those pregnancies is so small.....

I'd like to introduce myself: I am the Failure Rate.  My husband and I have "defeated" almost every form of birth control available.  Back in our pre-Catholic days, we did the "only sensible and responsible thing " and tried to prevent babies from coming before we wanted them to come.  Look how well that worked out for us:

#1 was conceived while I was on the Pill.  It was 4 months before our wedding and we were not spectacularly thrilled.  (LOVE her now. Just wanted to get that in there.)
#1 was conceived while I was on the Pill
 We couldn't figure out what I had done wrong.  This failure was all on me.  Taking the Pill was my responsibility, and obviously I had messed it up, because I was pregnant. We decided to remove the possibility of error, so we opted for something stronger.  My OB gave me a Depo-Provera shot the day after #1 was born.  It was "fool-proof" we were told.

# 1.5  conceived on Depo-Provera

#1 wasn't even a year old when we found out that # 1.5 was on the way.  I won't lie to you.  I was stunned.  I cried a lot.  My husband was decidedly not happy.  I apologized.  Often.  I was convinced that somehow I had messed up again.  We were poor college students who were struggling to feed the baby we already had.  What business did we have having another one?

We were devastated when # 1.5 died at 11 weeks gestation.

In the midst of our devastation, we decided to have #2.  He was to be our only "on purpose" baby.

We wised up to the idea that hormonal contraceptives might not be the best choice for us.  Since we had no desire to be celibate, we reluctantly decided that it would have to be condoms.  We were not happy.  What kind of married people used condoms?  The kind who could defeat the Pill, that's who.

We learned that condoms and spermicide don't work either the Christmas just after #2's first birthday.  He was a sick and unhappy baby, and I couldn't imagine adding another baby to the mind numbing worry of my life.  It didn't matter what I was thinking.  Stunned or not, #3 arrived the next August.
No barrier was going to stop us from having #3

We were finished with artificial things which didn't stop anything.  Not only were we frustrated, I was becoming more Catholic and couldn't reconcile my actions with my beliefs.  We turned to our last hope, the Rhythm Method (no snickering, NFPers.)  It should surprise no one that #4 came along pretty quickly after that.
#4 - Proof her parents can't count
We were pretty sure that we were done having children. We had 4!  We reverted back to condoms because they were cheap and didn't require me to take contraceptives.  It was all on him, (Hah!) so it was him sinning and not me. (Okay, I know better now, but that was my reasoning.)

Within 18 months we were expecting #4.5

# 4.5 - The last time we used contraceptives
We lost our sweet Bernadette halfway through pregnancy.  It completely devastated us, but convinced us of the beauty of life. It also led to the Computer Guy's conversion.  He joined the Church in June of the next year.....just before #5 arrived.

When we realized that #6 was coming, we shook our heads and laughed a bit.  We were no longer trying to prevent their coming, but they were still arriving in the "every 2 years" pattern we had established.  We had decided that spacing was up to God, and He seems to think every 2 years is a good thing.

We were in the midst of moving and were watching my cycles and charts to avoid pregnancy in the middle of a move.  God laughed.  My midwife looked at my chart and exclaimed "There's no way you got pregnant that month!" but we did.
#7 - The "you can't possibly have gotten pregnant" baby
Once again we beat the odds.  We just laugh it off and love them all.

You can talk to me all you want about the statistical anomaly of the failure rate and how it's only around 1%.  You can tell me that the number of babies from the failure rate would be too small of a number to make a difference.  You can say that all you want, but you'd be wrong.  I know because it has surely made a difference around here. You see, my whole house is bursting at the seams from that insignificant "Failure Rate."


Christine Falk Dalessio said...

Because my own journey is so different, I just want to say Thank You for having the courage to tell this story with such honesty.
It amazes me that no one seems to see that we always had a 100% successful way to avoid pregnancy... But also (because of our inability to bring pregnancy to term) that so many people regard life as unwanted.
Great post.

Nod said...

And they're cute, too!

Michelle said...

Wow. Love it!

Michelle said...

Your children are so beautiful. God bless!

mamamia said...

Just beautiful! (Your kids and your post, lol).
We have several children blessed to us after we were told it would be physically impossible to have any more naturally. Some of the earlier ones were failed contraceptive babies too, that was before we realized that God had a far better plan for us, and we left him in charge.
We have many babies who went home before we met them, but we are ever so grateful for the 11 challenges we are currently raising.

Kaitlin @ More Like Mary said...

wow-thanks for sharing!r

Michele said...

GREAT post.

And, I have to add, we teach the "sex" class of Pre-Cana, and I love to see the looks on their faces when we discuss "perfect" and "use" rates and the "failure" rate. It's amazing to see the numbers moving...

priest's wife said...

...i won't be jealous....I won't be jealous...(of your crazy-strong-fertility)

Anonymous said...

You are so incredibly blessed. I am 35, celibate because I am not married and very much pray that God has some babies in store for me someday. I am so happy for you. Thank you so much for sharing this post with us.

aka the Mom said...

Oh, Anonymous, I hope so too! I'm adding you to my prayer list. I'll call you Anon and God will know who I mean.

Paul said...

I found this post on Creative Minority Report. What beautiful children! So much of our society sees an unexpected pregnancy as a burden or a problem, yet they fail to see that a child is a sacred gift beyond words. May God bless you and your wonderful family.

Packrat said...

I love this post. Thanks. Also, thank you for sharing the pictures of your beautiful children.

Andrea said...

I love this post, we have 4 children right now and 3 of them were conceived while using contraception, we too laugh in the face of the failure rate!
God bless!

Andrea said...

I also feel the need to say that I'm NOT using contraception right now... :) Go NFP

Anonymous said...

I love your post. Thanks for offering such a comprehensive and honest account of your journey. I am currently single and I hope one day I will become a mother too. Please add me to your prayer list :P

Cindy Willmot said...

Oh, how I love this post! Three of our 7 children (we were on a "faith journey" too) are "failure rate" babies. One from the pill, one from "so-different-work-schedules-we-couldn't-possibly-have-gotten-pregnant-after-being-together-once-in-3-months" and one on the Depo. (Talk about shock). Our #4 was conceived in the midst of NFP classes. Ugh. Finally, after we began attending the Tridentine Mass exclusively we met lots of families with bunches of kids. After many confessions of "Father, I don't want another baby" and having our priest ask "Why are you concerned with that?", we just decided to enjoy not worrying so much about it. Instead, we bought a 12-passenger van. Funny thing, though, when we are all riding together we noticed that there are 3 empty seats.....LOL. God bless you and your beautiful amazing family.

Gail Finke said...

Thanks so much for this post! Unlike you, my husband and I found that contraception (pills at first and then condoms because the pill never agreed with me) worked perfectly for us. Pre-Catholic days. And how I wish I had more children now! The truth is, I used to hope for a failure.

I know so many "failure rate" babies! People do not understand that failure rate doesn't mean "you have a 98% chance of not getting pregnant," it means, "If a hundred women take this perfectly for a year, at the end of the year 98 of them won't have gotten pregnant." And THAT means that 2 will. More than 2, because not everyone takes them perfectly. So if millions of women take them for a year, there will be a LOT of pregnancies. And the year after that, and the year after that...

A.P. said...

This story is an anecdote: while incredibly improbable, it is not impossible that all these contraceptives failed for you. Your single experience does not justify an extrapolation to the rest of society. Contraceptives are still extraordinarily useful for the rest of humanity, and the withdrawal of these tools would cause incalculable damage.

On a lighter note: CONGRATULATIONS! You have happy and healthy children, a feat not easily accomplished in this day and age.

aka the Mom said...

Dear A.P.,
Thank you for your Congratulations. We are incredibly blesses to have these children, healthy or not.

Look back up through the comments here. It doesn't look so unlikely any more, does it? The truth is that contraceptives fail at a much higher rate than people are told they do. What they seem to provide most of all is a false sense of security.

P.S. What "incalculable damage" is it that you fear? Children?

justamouse said...

YES, I have another failure rate sister!!! I've had 7 on various forms of BC, including an IUD. My first also was pill, second diaphragm, third diaphragm (Because it worked so well the first time? NO, because we decided it must have been not enough spermacide O_o) four and five were twins and were condom, 6 was IUD and 6 was condom (different condoms-which meant they must be better? Right?).

The problem with me telling people this is that they think I must be lying or giving into stretches of the imagination.

But you know. Yep, we're out there and it's the truth.

S. Ellis said...

aka the mom:

"The truth is that contraceptives fail at a much higher rate than people are told they do."

That may very well be, but it has no bearing on the question of whether birth control is ethical or if it should be used. The possibility of failure is not a persuasive argument unless not using contraceptives had a lower conception rate, which is not the case. The anecdotes are interesting on a level of personal sentiment but have no relevance to the question of ethics.

"What "incalculable damage" is it that you fear? Children?"

I cannot answer for A.P., but I can answer that many women find pregnancy to be dreadful due to the elevated risk for severe medical complications. Still more recognize they do not have the resources (financially or emotionally) to have children. Still others simply do not want to have children. The results of pregnancy for these people might range from inconvenience (which I would argue is a pretty lousy reason not to have children, since children are almost always an inconvenience of some sort) to extreme financial hardship to medical complications. Let us not forget the damage that can be done to the lives unexpectedly flung into the world because of unwanted pregnancies, many of whom will live miserable lives due to poverty, being unwanted, and so forth.

Mari said...

I am a grandmother now and my friends and I had the same experience. I really get sick of hearing the chicken littles , as evidenced by many comments here, of the awful consequences of unplanned pregnancies. We were meant to have children. We are built to have children.. The sex act is intended to produce children. If you are healthy and fertile, you will get pregnant. Maybe not every year, but you will get pregnant.
I had four close friends from college and we got together once a year and for a while there was always one of us who was having an unplanned, BC failure pregnancy. This is not " anecdotal" , which is a smarty pants way of dismissing your personal experience, it is real life. The" contraceptive, sex without consequences world is the fantasy world. " the " if you have sex often enough and you are fertile, you will get pregnant" is the real world. And ,by the way, go to any crisis pregnancy center and they will tell you that the majority of their clients were not using birth control of any sort.
One thing though, my four kids are grown now , but I told them early and often that it is a big lie that birth control makes it possible to have sex without consequences. You are young, you are fertile, you are having sex, you will get pregnant. And that is reality. At least if you have my genes.
And I can tell you they were much happier , well adjusted young women before and after marriage than some of their peers whose lives revolved around sex and the pill. Great post! Loved it. Love your beautiful family!

Deliveringit said...

You are blessed by God. We have five, and yes, it is very hard. But what a joy! This helps me when it does get hard: "Now, the duties of our state are the manifest expression of God's will in our regard. To fulfill them as perfectly as we can is to offer God the most perfect sacrifice within our giving, a perpetual holo-caust, since this duty rests upon us from morning until night... Such perfect discharge of the duties of state is likewise the best means of doing penance for persons in the world. Fathers and mothers who loyally observe all their obligations as husbands and wives and as parents have many occasions of offering God sacrifices that will work unto the purification of their souls. The one thing necessary is that they acquit themselves resolutely of their duties in a Christian manner, for God's sake, and in a spirit of expiation and penance." Pope Pius

Deacon Jason Miller, Ph.D., M.P.A. said...

The "failure rates" are propaganda. They are often based on laboratory studies, not in real life settings. Condoms made and then immediately tested after manufacturing have a 1% efficacy rate. But if one conducts a process flow in the life of a condom, it is easy to see why they fail so often. They are packaged and stored for shipment (better hope the climate control in the storage is good), then they are loaded and shipped (climate control again - especially if traveling in summer, through warm states, during truck stop breaks, etc.), then they are offloaded (hopefully they don't sit on a dock in the hot sun), then they are brought into the facility (hopefully the facility has good climate control - does the AC get shut off in the night??), then they are bought (sitting in a grocery bag in the hot car at all?!?!), stored (hopefully the home has good climate control), and used (are they being used in the robotically perfect manner that is required?). This is why the real world efficacy rate for condoms is actually between 80 to 90%, depending on the study. In response to the ridiculous comment by A.P. - you are wrong. Birth control creates a false sense of security, with people increasing their rates of sexual activity because they are told they are now "safe." As frequency of activity increases, the probability of failure is quickly approached. This is why in the well controlled and properly analyzed HIV studies, they frequently find that condom use was associated with increased rate of infection. The statistical analysis showed that when rates declined, it was because the frequency of sexual contact declined - duh!!

Deacon Jason Miller, Ph.D., M.P.A. said...

Oh, and shame on anyone for promoting hormone based birth control for people not in a relationship. They know the rates of STD infection and that the hormone based methods offer no protection.

I am obviously against all birth control, but aren't the promoters supposedly all concerned about STD rates? If they really were, you would think the pill would be illegal and it would all be about condoms. But it isn't an industry, is it?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your story. However, I do not understand your numbering of your children? Why number any child 1.5 or 4.5? For instance, I've never heard anyone say, "I'm pregnant with my fourth & a half child"...or "I'm pregnant with my second & three quarters child"...If you're numbering your children, why not give each child a whole number, because whether the child is here on earth or with God, it is still ONE whole child from God, (even if it has the tiniest body).
When my daughter was pregnant with her daughter, I went with her for her 7 month Ob/Gyn check-up. We were shocked & saddened to find out that the baby's heart beat had stopped. My granddaughter had passed. I pray & ask God to give her hugs & kisses all of the time. I do not consider her a .5 or half or 1.5 of a child. Instead, I consider her ONE whole child & my first grandchild, which my daughter was privileged to see in a vision in the arms of the Blessed Mother.
I can see by reading your post that your children are very special to you, so I would ask you, if you're going to number them, to please, give each child a whole number, as each child is a whole entire child of God with an individual soul.
Thank you very much.
May God richly bless you & your husband & your family.

Anonymous said...

I had a similar response to anonymous above me. Please reconsider the manner in which you number your children. It would be an act of kindness on your part to edit this post - and the way you have shared your story orally, if you used the ".5" to describe the children that were never brought to term. I'm sure those babies, though not in this life anymore, would like for you to think of the time they spent in your womb as a time when a whole human - body and soul - was with you. You do their memory a dis-service by this .5 business. For it is clear that though they were not born, they none-the-less had an effect on you and your husband - heck, you even named them. Please, I urge you to prayerfully consider editing the way you have numbered your children.

Blessings and smiles,


Brandon said...

With all due respect to the anonymouses, it's not really difficult to figure out from the post the rationale behind the numbering system, which is back-propagated from the children one would meet if one met the family now. Since there is nothing in the post suggesting that the .5's are considered less than precious -- quite the contrary -- worrying about the .5 makes about as much sense here as worrying about the fact that they are given numbers (an argument I've actually heard in other contexts, from someone fretting that numbering children conveys the idea that they are not equally loved -- which obviously is reading too much into numbers). It can be kept just as it is.

This was a beautiful post; thank you for it.

Lena said...

I like this post. I get the .5 numbering system, but I can't explain it. If you were the change the numbers in this post, then you have to change the numbers in all the posts.

Are you going to change the picture in your header? Do you know at first, I thought your oldest daughter in that picture was you?

Now I'm going to bug someone else to changer her header picture.

aka the Mom said...

Thank you, Lena, that was it exactly. They are people we love very much and still miss to this day, but I wasn't going to renumber everyone and change how I write the blog for the sake of one post.

Rachel W. said...

Right back at you Mom -

Here's my numbers:

# .5 - conceived on the Pill, lost at 12 weeks, drs. said I should have 'expected' it because of the chemicals.

#1 - conceived 3 wks. after the miscarriage. Dr. was really mad, "Didn't you know better?" Obviously, we didn't but God did.

#2 - conceived on the diaphragm. Discovered this gem the same day a spinal tap confirmed I had multiple sclerosis.

#3 - conceived while using condoms - my dh loves the irony that we got a boy while using them. We begin to joke about his virility that can defy anything the medical community can create!

At this point, my drs. were livid and demanded we do something about my fertility "problem" as I had been diagnosed w/ MS. We love our family but our marriage struggles - something to do with keeping God out of our bedroom perhaps??

We finally found NFP w/ the help of a great priest who also paid for our marriage counseling for 6 months that we desperately needed.

#3.5 Our first baby made out of real love and our true free will was lost during Lent. I grieved pondering Peter's denial - 3 times - just as we had but was grateful given blessings despite our sin. Peter's denial on Good Friday and his forgiveness at the seashore was mirrored in our family.

We went through almost 3 years of trying for one baby in cooperation w/ God. Finally #4 arrived, the healing I felt when I delivered her was tangible despite the pain.

We've gone on to have 7 more blessings on earth and endured 6 more miscarriages. Some were surprise gifts from God and others were not such a surprise but all, all, all of them are loved, cherished and 'wanted'.

And each one's story reminds me of God's love and His mercy.

Some days are hard but I laugh out loud at times thinking of who is waiting for me in heaven and I work hard every day trying to insure that I get the meet them face to face!!

Have a blessed Easter!