I’m so excited to present my first guest blog written by Jennita Wagner (our.cultivated.home on Instagram). I haven’t done a deep dive into this topic myself, but after reading this extremely thorough and informative piece, I asked her if I could add it to my blog to make it available for anyone who may want to learn about this topic. There’s a whole list of resources at the bottom if you want to dive deeper. Please enjoy all of this valuable information. Jen, take it away!
I shared this information with a small group of young married women in my church group. A few reasons I shared on this topic:
1.Quite a few of the young women in our church group, including myself, have had hormonal issues, miscarriages, or fertility struggles. In an effort to understand and find answers to my own fertility issues, I began to dig deeper and question things. Although my own fertility journey is still full of questions, I hope maybe the information I’ve learned by much labor and research can offer a shortcut for others. I wish I had understood more on the subject of hormonal imbalances earlier when it was easier to correct them.
2.God has given me a love of knowledge and a passion to equip others. I always hoped this burden would find an outlet in teaching my children, but I don’t know if I’ll ever have that opportunity. I hope that maybe, rather than waste what I’ve learned, it can be useful to other women who have children to teach and less time to research. I often learn I am ignorant in some area I wish I would have been more prepared in, and my goal is to never stop learning.
3.Growing up, my family always had a very straightforward approach to topics like these. We even discussed them respectfully and appropriately in a mixed family group as we got older, and we were blessed with the teaching that there is no shame in these topics. We understood they needed to be treated with dignity, but it was nothing to be embarrassed or awkward about. Having this freedom, we were better able to go into our marriages well informed and uninhibited, but I learned this wasn’t always the case for my friends. In both conservative and secular circles, I learned that women are often not thoroughly informed on many topics, I think due in part to previous generations having less access to information and being more reticent about discussing topics of this nature. As information became more readily available, so did censoring and misinformation.
4.Although I believe doctors have their place, it is essential to recognize that many doctors simply regurgitate what they are taught without research or question, and may not operate from a moral ground. Because we live in a Godless and secular driven world, the unfortunate truth is that we can’t always take the word of health care professionals at face value. In fact it’s in the best interests of pharmaceutical companies and many medical professionals to keep us uninformed. When we are uninformed, we have to rely on the counsel of a biased and mostly secular, sometimes misinformed, medical field for advice and information. This can lead to a conflict of interest both medically and biblically, without our knowledge.
I do not share this from a place of superiority, I’m sharing these things as I do with my own sisters because I want them informed and protected by knowledge. I love research because I believe God wants us and our children to be appropriately informed.
Remember: uninformed does not mean innocent, and innocent does not mean uninformed.
So today I’d like to share what I’ve learned about how our hormones and monthly cycles should be working, as well as how contraceptives impact our hormonal health. I feel these topics affect younger women significantly, as we begin married life and are in our child bearing years. My goal is to share scientifically and Biblically accurate information that enables us to make informed decisions.
Some of this information you will already know, so bear with me there. I need to cover all of it in order to make sense, and I think what we already know will be clearer to us afterward.
(I have taken every care to be thorough in this information, and to base my research on reliable sources. I’m happy to share these sources with you if you’re interested or would like them for future reference.)
Hormones in your monthly cycle
It seems that PMS and birth pain came into the world with Eden’s curse, and although I firmly believe we can be healed of the curse spiritually, it doesn’t seem that we are always healed of the physical symptoms in our earthly body. These symptoms are a natural outworking of our body’s functions, and often make more sense than we realize.
We have many hormones and chemicals in our bodies that are meant to work together in harmony, and I’m going to touch on the prominent ones. Men and women share many of the same hormones, such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. But the levels of these hormones are different in men and women, they affect your sex drive, how you gain and lose weight, muscle, bone, hair growth and loss, body development, and many other things. When these hormones are imbalanced, it causes health issues and sometimes even mental health issues to varying degrees.
In today’s society, chemical and hormonal imbalances are becoming a common problem for women, and even for men. Polluted water sources, toxic cleaners, detergents, all of our hygienic products, meat grown by injected hormones, pesticide sprayed veggies and fruit, preservatives in nearly every bought food item, so many things are bombarding our bodies with toxins and poisons at once. Each one by itself may seem like a small thing, but when you consider that every thing you put on, and in, your body is full of poisons, you realize why hormonal imbalances have become so prevalent.
So let’s talk about our monthly cycle, and how hormones should work in our body leading up to pregnancy or a period. It is truly beautiful and incredible how intricate and complex the female cycle is!
The Female Cycle
The average normal cycle is 21-35 days.
We all know the basics of how our cycle functions, but it can be hard to visualize exactly how it plays out in our body.
I’m going to quickly share two short YouTube videos here, then expand on the information.
The first half of this video does a great job at explaining where the whole process starts in your brain, and how these signals and chemicals begin the cycle.
https://youtu.be/YE-a7XiEYB4 (play to marker 5:40, the rest of the video is not necessary to this topic)
This video is a very straightforward summarization of the basics as we know them, and offers a clear overview of the cycle. It would be a beautiful way to introduce your young daughter to an understanding of how her body works.
So to recap and expand, on the first day of your menstruation cycle, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain work together to release Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) to your Ovaries.
You have two Ovaries, their main function being the maturing of eggs and the production of hormones.
You may note I didn’t say ovaries produce eggs, this is because you are already born with all the eggs you will ever have in your lifetime.
Some facts about Eggs
As a fetus, early in development, a female is believed to have around 6 million eggs. The number of these eggs is steadily reduced through cell die-off so that when a baby girl is born, she is thought to have between 1 and 2 million eggs.
Between birth and puberty, more than 100,000 eggs will die through natural cell death, and the average female begins puberty with around 400,000 eggs. It’s estimated that you lose around 1,000 eggs a month after puberty begins. According to these numbers, by the time a woman reaches 32, her fertility begins to decrease and declines more rapidly after 37. By the time she reaches 40, she is typically down to about 3 percent of her pre-birth egg supply.
This is what people are referencing when they refer to the ticking biological clock.
These eggs lie dormant in their individual Ovarian follicles. Ovarian follicles are microscopic fluid-filled sacs in your ovaries, each containing a single immature egg. These ovarian follicles also produce hormones which influence different stages of the menstrual cycle.
In the beginning of your monthly cycle, FSH stimulates a number of your ovarian follicles, each containing an egg, to begin growing and maturing. However, most of this group of follicles do not reach maturity but fade away. One follicle is selected as the healthiest and goes on to maturity. The development of these follicles triggers the egg inside them to mature and begins increasing estrogen production in your body.
Estrogen, a dominant hormone for women, is produced mostly by the ovaries but also in smaller amounts by the adrenal glands and in fat tissue. (Remember that last part)
Levels of estrogen rise significantly by day seven of our cycle, and bring the egg follicle to full maturity, prior to ovulation. Both a lack of sufficient estrogen, or too much estrogen production, can cause infertility and prevent this ovulation from occurring.
Estrogen is also necessary for growing and thickening the uterine lining in preparation for nurturing the egg. This lining is shed during menstruation if an egg does not implant.
As estrogen levels rise, FSH production declines and Luteinizing Hormone production increases. Luteinizing Hormone (LH) is also released from the pituitary gland in the brain. The spike in LH levels, at this phase, indicates that ovulation (an egg being released from the ovary) is about to occur. LH can be tracked by ovulation strips at this point, something I’ll refer to later.
When the follicle has matured and grown to the right size, LH works with estrogen to cause the follicle to rupture and release the egg.
Ovulation takes place 28-36 hours after the onset of the LH surge and 10-12 hours after LH reaches its peak. Until LH begins to surge, you can not get pregnant during intercourse.
This surge of LH is usually on day 13-14 of the menstrual cycle, and the egg is now ready for fertilization.
Once the egg is released, it must be fertilized within the next 12-24 hours for pregnancy to occur. Whether fertilized or not, the egg travels down the fallopian tube to the uterus. The empty follicle, now referred to as the corpus luteum, produces progesterone during the egg’s 6 day journey to the uterus.
Progesterone, another of the primary female hormones, dominates the second half of the cycle. The presence of progesterone indicates that ovulation has definitely occurred, because if no egg is released, there is no empty follicle or corpus luteum to produce it! The rising Progesterone levels stabilize (control) the build up of the uterine lining, and help mature and maintain the lining at optimal thickness to support implantation.
If there is no pregnancy, your progesterone levels fall and the lining of the uterus is shed. An unfertilized egg will disintegrate, rather than implanting in the uterus on arrival. Since there is no pregnancy, over the next 6-8 days you will shed the egg and lining through a period, ending an average 28 day menstrual cycle and preparing for the next.
But let’s back up to day 21-24, to see what happens in the case of fertilization.
If the egg is fertilized, and implants on arriving in the uterus, the progesterone levels must remain high to maintain the health and life of your baby in utero. Implantation typically occurs seven to 10 days after ovulation, around day 21-24 of your cycle. Up until about the 8th week of pregnancy, the corpus luteum produces the progesterone to support the pregnancy and feed the baby. After about the eighth or ninth week of pregnancy, progesterone production is taken over by the placenta and continues to nourish the fetus for the duration of the pregnancy. If your body doesn’t transition and continue to produce high progesterone levels, you will miscarry. This is why miscarriages often happen in the 6-8 week time frame, and why pregnancies are usually considered more stable/safe when they progress past this phase.
Lack of sufficient progesterone production is another common cause of infertility and miscarriages. The rise and fall of natural estrogen and progesterone is such an intricate dance. The lining needs estrogen to thicken and prepare for the egg, and progesterone to balance the growth and maintain the health of the lining. If these are out of balance, or the levels of either are too low, the lining will be defective and hostile to receiving and nurturing a fertilized egg.
(This is where my personal hormonal issues lie, not only do I have difficulty ovulating, when I do ovulate and become pregnant, my body fails to make the transition for progesterone from the corpus luteum to the placenta and I lose the baby around week 6-9.)
Sometimes women receive progestin shots (a synthetic form of progesterone) in the hope of maintaining the pregnancy, however, these shots can have negative side effects on both the mother and child. While they may or may not help to maintain the baby in utero, they can cause birth defects and compound the hormonal imbalances. It’s important to note that there is no natural form of progesterone outside of certain foods and topical creams.
I mentioned Testosterone earlier. Although it is much more dominant in men, it’s an important sex hormone for women as well. Women have much lower levels than men, it’s produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands (right on top of the kidneys), and has a surge at the time of ovulation, followed by a slight rise just before menstruation begins. Testosterone helps women maintain muscle mass and bone strength, enhances our sex drive and helps with an overall sense of well-being and zest for life. As we all know, men have extremely high levels of testosterone all the time, meaning they have greater muscle mass, deeper voices, hairier bodies, and higher sex drives than women. This also seems to correlate with the confident, competitive, almost arrogant persona of men, as testosterone affects the part of our brain related to aggression, dominance, self esteem, ambition, and motivation.
Testosterone imbalances in women can cause issues just as low levels do for men. Low testosterone in women can lead to low energy and lack of libido (sexual desire) for example, while high levels can lead to unwanted facial hair, balding of the head, deepening of the voice range, and increased muscle mass.
The way hormones act in our bodies was beautifully designed by God to perfectly fit us for the roles we fill. When these hormones are imbalanced, they affect our physical, sexual, reproductive, and mental health in more ways than we can imagine.
So let’s talk about PreMenstrual Symptoms (PMS) and what causes it? As the hormone levels naturally fluctuate throughout your cycle, you may have some of the following physical symptoms, leading up to your period:
- Bloating and feeling “full.”
- Breast soreness or swelling
- Food cravings and appetite changes
- Back and muscle aches
- Swollen hands and feet
- Migraines or headaches. Some women can tell which side of their body is ovulating because their headache will be located in that temple
- Temperature changes, chills or fever
- Diarrhea or gas
- More trouble with body odor
- Feeling tired and lacking energy
- Skin problems, acne, oily or dry skin
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Heavy, puffy feeling eyes
- Hair texture changes. Yes, bad hair days can be related to your hormones. Your hair may be more oily or dry
- A general, icky “off” feeling
You may also have some of the following emotional symptoms:
- Mood swings
- Feeling discouraged
- Seemingly illogical crying spells
- Easily upset and overwhelmed by things you might normally take in stride
- Feeling reclusive
- Being forgetful
- Distracted or trouble focusing
- Easily stressed and worried
- Feeling lonely or isolated
- Low self image
- Feeling restless or jittery
- Not sleeping well
- Feeling impatient, irritated, and grouchy
- Changes in your libido (sex drive). You may have higher or lower sexual desires at different times of the month, and things that feel good to you some times during intimacy, may feel too abrasive or uncomfortable at others. Let your spouse know if you find it to be true for you. It’s helpful for both of you to understand why what brings you pleasure one time can seem to change til the next.
There are a lot of disparaging jokes and negative perspectives directed at PMS. Women may feel discredited, because they can seem illogical, unreasonable, or less capable. It’s important for you and your husband to understand that how you feel is not crazy or abnormal. Your brain is simply being flooded with natural chemicals and rapid spikes of changing hormones, and these affect your emotions.
Understand why you’re seeing these changes, or feeling this way. We can quickly feel like bad wives and mothers because we feel easily irritated or impatient. But knowledge is power. Knowing that your body is undergoing thousands of little changes inside, and working exhaustively, you can better understand why you feel the way you do, recognize the symptoms, and be prepared. Give yourself more grace and lower your expectations during these days, in your schedule and household tasks. Give your menstruating daughters the same grace.
If PMS makes you highly emotional, before acting on those emotions, pause to remind yourself that you’re not feeling like yourself. Take a deep breath and evaluate the situation fully before responding. You are created beautifully capable, and these feelings and emotions may be frustrating but they are natural and controllable. God created men and women, not to be equally capable, but to complete each other and to be what the other cannot be. God gave women the ability to bring life, and with that ability comes these hormonal changes. He gave men the ability to maintain that solid, level headed reasoning, when we’re not feeling like ourselves. Rather than seeing this as weakness on either side, recognize it as two beautiful, perfect halves of one whole.
For some women, this time of the month is much harder than for others, they may have more symptoms and more days that they feel unwell.
Women who have heavier or longer periods may feel these feelings compounded as they drag out, especially if your body is not functioning as it should be. Taking a good vitamin supplement and chlorophyll over this time can help you stay built up and feel more energetic. There are many nutrient rich foods that are natural sources of minerals and aid in health and energy.
One thing I highly recommend for all girls and women once their cycle begins, is tracking their periods. This not only aids in noting imbalances or irregularities, it enables you to be prepared and notice the early symptoms of PMS, or gauge when you may have gotten pregnant. I recommend the free app called Clue, it’s highly customizable and comprehensive. There are also many fertility trackers that can help in predicting fertile days and ovulation.
By tracking your symptoms, you’ll start to notice a pattern and know what physical/emotional symptoms are related to your hormones. This is very helpful in gauging safe days or fertile days for unprotected intercourse.
One last word on hormone induced emotions: women sometimes make the mistake of laying responsibility for all their actions and feelings on the great, mysterious scapegoat of Hormones, or make excuses for being selfish, impatient, or sharp tongued. I encourage us to recognize that this is not God’s way. We can always bring our emotions into subjection to God, and recognizing these tendencies will help us in thinking before we act. Since writing this, I found an excellent blog post on this topic, by El Stoltzfus.
For some women with hormonal imbalances, if they don’t ovulate, they don’t have a period, but it is possible to have a period and not ovulate. Estrogen will still cause a lining to build up and when those levels drop, your body can shed the lining without ever having received an egg.
If you don’t get your period regularly, you can still check whether you are ovulating by checking your temperature or cervical mucus to know when you do ovulate and can or cannot get pregnant.
As women hit puberty and childbearing years, they may notice a clear, cloudy, thin or thick fluid on their underwear or toilet tissue. Some women even emit enough of this that they wear thin panty liners to remain dry.
This is cervical fluid. It’s how sperm travel to the egg, and the texture and health of your cervical mucus directly impacts your ability to get pregnant.
You’ll notice that some days you don’t see this fluid, or that it’s a different texture or thickness. Your body does not produce cervical fluid every day and on the days you don’t produce it, or don’t produce the correct texture, you will not be able to get pregnant.
Some women track ovulation by charting this cervical fluid. You can soon learn to recognize the signs if you are ovulating. Researching the Billings method can be informative for aiding in fertility, or for avoiding pregnancy. (Some women find the finger check method easier than charting.)
Just before ovulation, cervical fluids will increase and become more like elastic, raw egg white in their consistency. In this form, cervical mucus nourishes sperm cells and enhances their ability to move through the cervical canal. After ovulation, cervical discharge may decrease in volume and appear thicker or cloudier. Thicker mucus means sperm are not able, or are less able, to reach the egg. Any problems with the mucus can impede this process and make getting pregnant difficult.
- Unvarying thick, dry, or sticky mucus is often a sign of hormonal imbalances and frequently coincides with ovulation problems. A thickened consistency directly interferes with sperm motility. Some medication side effects can cause this, and most contraceptives (birth control) work to thicken the cervical mucus to prevent pregnancy.
- Acidic mucus creates an environment hostile to sperm. While hormonal issues can interfere with your pH balance, the acidity can also be from a bacterial or yeast infection.
- Inflammatory cells are produced in response to an infection such as yeast infection. When this happens in the vagina or cervix, the cells can actively target and kill sperm.
- Anti-sperm antibodies are defensive proteins produced by the immune system in response to a past infection where sperm was either present or involved. While less common, these antibodies can also attack and kill sperm
Facts about Sperm
Sperm have a lifespan of up to 5 days, and it takes one to two hours for sperm to reach the ends of the fallopian tubes. Millions of sperm are ejected in a single ejaculation and very few of them survive the journey in the cervical canal. The sperm usually meets the egg in the outer one-third of the fallopian tube, after traveling upstream in the cervical canal.
Women who produce a lot of thinner cervical fluid and ovulate often obviously tend to get pregnant very easily, as the sperm can travel faster to the egg and therefore have a higher likelihood of surviving.
I wanted to share one last video before approaching another aspect of this topic. We all know the basics of pregnancy but I loved this visual example. It makes the miracle of life in the womb very real.
Synthetic hormones in Contraceptives (birth control)
Now that we understand how our cycle functions and hormones work, I want to go deeper into hormone imbalances and how they are typically treated by doctors.
As I explained before, our body naturally produces estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. But if our body is imbalanced, it can produce the wrong levels of these hormones naturally. The longer this problem persists, the greater it becomes and the harder it is to correct.
The most common hormonal problem for women is estrogen dominance. Hormonal imbalances are caused by root health issues, and those health issues are most commonly caused by our environment. Our bodies are inundated with overwhelming amounts of chemicals, toxins, and off-gassing from plastics and house products. As our bodies become imbalanced through exposure to these things, it can cause a snowball effect. For example, estrogen dominance can cause swelling, water retention, and weight gain in the hips, waist, buttocks, and thighs. These fatty deposits store and produce more estrogen, which creates more weight gain, which causes more estrogen, and so the cycle continues.
To get to the root cause of your hormone imbalances, I recommend being tested for the MTHFR gene mutation, thyroid imbalance, insulin resistance/blood sugar regulation, Vitamin K2 an D levels, and high prolactin levels. These things are often root causes for the evident hormonal issues in many women.
It’s important to know that herbs cannot always treat these issues and sometimes herbs can actually worsen the issue because they aid in estrogen production. Testing helps you know what your imbalances are and where to begin treating. Once you have this information, it’s helpful to find a doctor, fertility specialist, or herbalist, who will work with you to treat root causes and monitor your progress. This is often the hardest part.
The problem many women with infertility issues face is that most doctors treat symptoms rather than root causes. The common practice for doctors is to prescribe synthetic replacement hormones in an effort to band-aid the symptoms of low estrogen or progesterone. Because synthetic hormones are also used as birth control, the patient is generally put on rounds of oral contraceptives, the idea being to promote normal cycles by kickstarting your body into its natural pattern. In fact, most doctors will not do anything for cycle/hormone imbalances until you have tried several rounds of synthetic “hormone therapy.” But because these are synthetic hormones, and not tailored to your imbalances, they can actually create worse hormonal imbalances and further cause your body to stop producing the natural ones. Doctors response to miscarriage is often that miscarriage is common in women, and so they don’t consider it a fertility issue until you have had repeated miscarriages. But the reason this is so common is because our hormones are not functioning properly.
What you should know about the effects of synthetic hormones on your body
Synthetic hormone replacement, or therapy, goes by several names, including oral contraceptives and birth control.
On the health end of the spectrum, these synthetic hormones can trigger weight gain, water retention, severe hair loss, and dangerous mood swings such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal feelings. Women who use contraceptives have a 70% higher risk of developing depression and suicidal tendencies, than women who have never used contraceptives. I also believe this is directly related to the ethical and spiritual side of this issue.
While some forms of birth control can keep you from having any period at all, in general birth control (BC) works to prevent pregnancy while allowing for a seudo-regular cycle.
It’s important to note that simply stopping the BC does not end the effects on your body. Some women see short term effects, others can have a lifetime of health issues, or suffer from side effects that show up later in life. Most of them never make the connection between their health issues and these synthetic hormones because they are not fully informed.
To give you an idea of how devastating these synthetic hormones are to the body, here is a brief outline of the history and statistics.
Some of the first research and hormone replacement experiments began during the Holocaust of Nazi Germany. Non-Aryan women in Auschwitz were unknowingly given daily doses of synthetic estrogen in their food allowance, with the long-term goal of sterilizing them. In 1972, Dr. Jean Jofen reported that in testing the children of Holocaust survivors, the offspring of women from the Auschwitz had the lowest IQs. Dr. Jofen held that the synthetic estrogen experiments were responsible, likely due to the effect of the synthetic estrogen to the uterine lining.
Since then, synthetic estrogen has continued to be developed and experimented with, and the side effects are no less devastating.
Skipping forward to 2002, studies showed that synthetic estrogen in Prempro hormone replacement therapy for menopause increased chances of breast cancer in women by 26%. Estrogen treatment increases breast density so that tumors are harder to find, meaning that breast cancer can be more advanced by the time it is detected. The studies also showed that there was a 43% increased risk of ovarian cancer, while women on a combination of synthetic estrogen and progestin had a 54% increased risk. Even if they stopped taking these synthetic hormones, they had a lifelong 24% higher risk of developing breast cancer.
The manufacturer of these synthetic hormones was a company we now know of as Pfizer.
So rather than adding to your body’s imbalances with harmful synthetic hormones, the answer is to treat the imbalance at the root.
Saliva tests, blood work, and mucus tracking can be helpful in determining which hormones you are low in. Diet and natural forms of the low hormone can help you regain balance, with continued monitoring to ensure you don’t tip the scales the other way. But this takes time, and the earlier the imbalance is treated, the better. It’s important to note that there is no known natural form of progesterone available outside of topical creams and progesterone enriching foods. Prescription progesterone has serious possible side effects for both the mother and child, although they’re called “natural.” These side effects include the possibility of sterility in the child.
Synthetic hormones in Contraceptives are a topic that most women are given very little information on. Thousands of women use birth control with no idea of how it impacts them physically or ethically. My husband and I began to dig into the topic of family planning when we were dating and considering what options were or were not morally open to us. What I learned left me shaken, and passionate about informed consent. I feel that as Christians we should lead the charge in being clearly informed on all matters pertaining to life. Cloudy understanding leaves us more easily influenced by immoral philosophies, especially when we’re in a position where we might want to believe a lie of convenience.
There are two aspects I feel impact the majority of our decisions in this area.
1. Many of us come into marriage hoping for a little time as a couple before starting a family. I personally feel this is natural and healthy. Marriage brings you into a phase of life you have never been in before. You’re going through changes and adjustments emotionally, financially, spiritually, and physically, as you learn to relate to someone who alters every area of your life, and may be very different than you. You become as connected to a second individual’s life, emotions, struggles etc., as you are to your own. Your body even goes through some changes as you become sexually active. For some people, this transition is easier than others, depending on your emotional maturity, personality, and external influences. Whether you find this transition easy or not, to immediately add the hormonal and emotional changes of a child into the mix, can appear overwhelming for a young couple. Feeling this way doesn’t mean you don’t want children, and the desire to feel secure and adjusted in your new marriage before bringing children into your home is not unGodly.
Now if you NEVER want children, I encourage you to dig deeper into these feelings. Those feelings are not natural or Biblical, and are often linked to hurts and spiritual roots that may need healing in our hearts. And if you’re waiting to have children until every part of your life is on perfect financial and marital footing, that day will never come. You may need to realize that selfishness and materialism is what actually lies at the center of this.
But operating on the assumption that that is not your heart, I believe wanting that initial time together in the beginning is perfectly natural.
2. There can be a lot of pressure on the size of family a couple has. We’ve probably all heard the phrase “let God plan your family.”
There is nothing inherently wrong with this perspective. Couples who want a significant number of children and love the idea of a close knit, large family group, are sometimes viewed as uneducated baby factories or setting themselves up for financial poverty and less effective parenting. This is not a necessary outcome, and children should always be seen as a wanted blessing no matter when they come. There is also much to be said for having a family early, and for having a large one.
On the flipside, the “let God and nature plan your family” perspective can cause stress and frustration for couples who feel overwhelmed at the possibility of having an indiscriminate number of children. We can suggest that a love of children, a reliance on God, and a simpler lifestyle may be the answer to the fears and reservations a young couple has, but in reality it isn’t always enough. These considerations are valid. Caring and providing for children brings added challenges to marriage and our financial or physical life.
I personally feel that deciding when you’re ready for children and how many children you are equipped to parent, is a choice that must be made by each couple for themselves, and should be influenced primarily by what God calls you to:
- Some couples are more equipped to raise large families than others, and I truly believe God gifts us differently. There are many large, thriving family homes, and I believe God has blessed and gifted those parents for that calling, but He may not gift or call us all to the same thing and that’s okay.
- Having as many children as your body can produce does not mean you are fulfilling God’s divine plan more than anyone else. God allows us freedom of choice with consequences, and created our bodies to function within a natural order. Being sexually active can produce children, because our bodies are created capable of it. If simply being able to bear children were a sign of God’s blessing and will, we would have to say that a pregnancy happening outside of marriage must be within God’s plan, or that God blesses rape just because a child can come out of it, or that God’s plan and blessing must not include those who face infertility. Children are a blessing, but not a proof of God’s approval or divine will. He does not withhold children from bad parents and give them only to good ones. The health of our earthly bodies plays into this as well as personal choice, right or wrong, which He allows us.
- The Bible does not instruct us to have as many children as we can produce but we are told that to fail to provide for them is worse than an infidel. However many children we are blessed with, we will answer to God for how we cared for them, taught, and equipped them. And I believe it is responsible and wise for us to consider these things in having our family. (Side note: the average number of children by one woman in the Bible was 4. Although people may have had more children than are recorded, the largest number recorded was 7, possibly 8 by Leah. Although Job began with 10, he may well have had multiple wives, as was common, especially for a rich man.)
So then…if it’s not a sin to use discretion in procreation, we need to be equipped to do this in a healthy and Biblical way. It’s important to understand that there is a difference between preventative contraceptives, and abortive contraceptives, and the science of this is firmly interwoven with the ethical and spiritual aspect.
Although you will find many people, including doctors, scientists, and Christians, who will offer you arguments in opposition to this fact, it is an infallible truth that Life begins at conception for these reasons:
- Conception is the point at which the twenty-three chromosomes from the female’s egg and the twenty-three chromosomes from the male’s sperm create a unique and separate living human with forty-six chromosomes. The fusing of egg and sperm is the literal instant in which that person is given his or her own distinct DNA, and immediately begins growing and developing rapidly.
- The shape, size, abilities, mental, or physical development of a human does not make them any more or less a human, before or after birth. Short people are no less human. Deaf, mute, deformed, mentally handicapped, and paralyzed people are no less human. As a living person they have “inalienable rights.”
So establishing that point, we would obviously have to agree that preventative methods mean non abortive methods.
There are different birth control options and brands available. I’m going to quickly list all pregnancy preventative methods and share a few of the side effects, most of the straight from the Planned Parenthood website.
An Intrauterine Device (IUD) is a small T shaped device inserted into the uterus by a doctor and remains until removed by a doctor. Setting aside hormonal imbalances, these devices can do physical damage to your body. Your body was never meant to have foreign objects inside your uterus for months. A few of the possible side effects include:
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Life threatening infection even within the first few days of insertion
- Puncturing or becoming embedded in the wall of your uterus
- Pain, dizziness, bleeding, ovarian cysts, headaches, inflammation, and skin problems
- Higher risk for cancer
All IUDs are synthetic hormone based options except the copper IUD. The copper IUD is the most “effective” one but also most detrimental to your health. Along with the side effects listed above, a few possible side effects include:
- Heavier period bleeding and cramps
- Copper toxicity
- Panic attacks, depression, paranoia fatigue, brain fog, anxiety
- Hair loss
The Implant is a synthetic progestin option placed under the skin of your upper arm by a doctor. It can last for 3-5 years. A few of the possible side effects include:
- If the implant moves from where it should be, it can be difficult or impossible to remove
- It can cause infection and injury to the nerves or blood vessels, implants have been found lodged in a lung blood-vessel
- Can cause blood clots, stroke, heart attack
- Ovarian cysts
- Breast pain, headaches, and nausea
- Weight gain
- Ectopic pregnancy
The Shot is synthetic progestin you receive from your doctor every 3 months in the arm or hip. A few of the possible side effects include:
- Headaches and severe acne
- Appetite changes, nausea, and weight gain
- Lower bone density (brittle bones)
- Commonly delays the return of your period and possibility of pregnancy 6-10 months or longer after stopping the shot
- Ectopic pregnancy
The Patch is synthetic estrogen delivered through a skin patch you apply weekly on the lower abdomen, buttocks, or upper body. A few of the possible side effects include:
- Heart attack and stroke
- Blood clots
- Liver tumors
- Breast cancer
- Ectopic pregnancy
The Hormonal Vaginal Contraceptive Ring is synthetic estrogen delivered through a ring that is inserted into your vagina every three weeks. The possible side effects are the same as the patch.
The Emergency Contraception (or “Morning After” Pill) is a high dosage two-pill synthetic contraceptive that forces an emergency period after unprotected sex to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting.
The Mini Pill is a progestin-only pill taken daily. Possible side effects include:
- Irregular vaginal bleeding or spotting
- Breast pain or swelling
- Stomach pain, bloating, nausea, vomiting
- Balding of the head, increased facial and body hair growth
- Depression, trouble sleeping
- Weight gain
- Vaginal itching or discharge
- Cardiovascular (heart) disorders and hypertension
- Sudden vision loss
- Breast lumps and increased risk of cancer
- May cause masculinization of the female fetus, meaning genitalia may be bloated and enlarged as partially developed male genitalia. (Baby girls may still have a vagina and reproductive organs but have engorged and overdeveloped clitoris)
You are advised to speak to your doctor at once if you experience:
- Swelling and uncontrollable weight gain
- Liver problems
- Blood clots
- Shortness of breath
- Pelvic pain
- Ectopic pregnancy, which can cause death
- Tremors and cerebral thrombosis
Oral Contraceptives (OC), Birth Control (BC), The Pill, is a month’s supply of 28 pills, to be taken in a certain order, one daily. It has low doses of synthetic estrogen and progestin, or progestin only. There are many brands of oral birth control, but they all work to prevent pregnancy in the same way, by controlling the level of hormones during your cycle through synthetic hormones. Like the Mini Pill, the success rate of preventing ovulation is lowered if you do not take the pill at precisely the same time each day. A few of the possible side effects include:
- Microbiome disruption: BC shifts the healthy flora and allows harmful microbes to flourish. A healthy gut microbiome is an essential piece for the body’s ability to remove excess estrogen from the body. (Excess estrogen can cause weight gain which produces more estrogen/weight gain)
- Thyroid function: BC can impact thyroid function and cause thyroid symptoms, which is one reason weight gain issues can become a long-term issue.
- Cardiovascular risk: BC can increase the risk of blood clots, heart attack, and stroke due to higher estrogen levels. This is especially concerning for those who are already predisposed to heart trouble
- Cancer: BC can increase the risk of breast, cervical, uterine, and liver cancers.
- Inflammation: BC often increases C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammatory marker linked with various conditions such as depression, autoimmunity, cancer, and other chronic illnesses.
- Nutrient status: BC depletes the body of valuable nutrients including B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, selenium, and zinc.
- Hormone regulation: BC often decreases libido, lowers DHEA (a natural steroid in the body), and makes it difficult for hormones to regulate after the pill is discontinued
- Immune function: BC can disrupt the th1/th2 balance within the immune system. This imbalance can contribute to autoimmunity.
- Liver toxicity: BC can tax the liver and hinder detoxification, causing liver cancer
- Ectopic pregnancy: the chance of ectopic (tubal) pregnancy is significantly raised, and is a cited possible side effect of taking any form of BC
Herbal Contraceptives such as Queen Anne’s Lace (Wild Carrots Seed), Thistles, Jack-in-the-pulpit, Rutin, and Smartweed have been used as a natural plant-based contraceptive. While these have fewer side effects, they still act similarly to synthetic BC in preventing implantation
Spermicide gel or foam can be injected deep inside the vagina, close to the uterus, just before intercourse. Spermicide blocks the uterus and immobilises and kills the sperm so they can’t swim, thus preventing them from reaching the egg in the fallopian tube. It is important to note that spermicide is not necessarily a healthy alternative. Some people have allergic reactions to spermicide as it is high in chemicals. It also needs to be left in place 6-8 hours after intercourse, which can raise the chance of UTIs in women.
It is a fact readily acknowledged by doctors and BC manufacturers that no BC method can guarantee 100% prevention of pregnancy, but they have a high success rate when used perfectly according to directions. This is because ALL of the options listed above follow this three step method:
1. Inhibiting Ovulation
2.Thickening Cervical Mucus (making it more difficult for sperm to travel to the egg)
3. Making changes to the endometrium, which is the uterine lining
Steps 1 and 2 are preventative contraception, and so long as they work, they are not abortive. But as we know, they don’t always work. When step 1 fails to inhibit ovulation, an egg is released into the fallopian tube.
If step 2 fails to thicken the cervical fluid enough to prevent the entry of even one of the millions of sperm released in a single male ejaculation, the egg can be fertilized.
It’s important to understand this next part very clearly, because this is where ethics and moral responsibility enter in.
Because life begins at conception, at this point the egg is no longer “just an egg.” In the instant it is fertilized by a sperm, it becomes a living baby. The size and shape of this baby does not change the fact that it is a human. It will immediately begin growing and developing into the baby you hold in your arms 9 months later. This development starts in the instant that sperm fuses with the egg, and ends on the day he/she dies.
In this first moment of your baby’s life, it has a gender and a personality.
It is a product of combined genes from you and your husband, genes you received from your parents. In that moment, your baby can inherit your husband’s eyes or humor, your dad’s quirky nose, your mother’s generosity, your smile or your love of music, in his/her DNA.
You are a mother. Your husband is a father.
Because steps 1 and 2 have failed, your little baby now begins the 6 day journey down the fallopian tube to your uterus. Typically the baby would burrow into the thick blanket of your uterine lining and receive continued nutrients and oxygen. The health of your uterine lining enables the baby to thrive, and can directly affect how healthy and well developed your baby is at the end of nine months.
But because you are on BC, step 3 comes in as a backup plan. While your little baby travels down the fallopian tube, the 3rd contraceptive mechanism has already done its work. By removing estrogen entirely, and creating a progestin-only state, the uterine lining is thinned and shriveled to the point that the fertilized egg is unable, or less able, to implant.
When your week old baby enters the uterus and attempts to implant, that high success rate of BC hinges on whether or not your baby manages to implant in a lining designed to abort it. If the BC accomplishes its purpose, it cleans house through a period and the baby is flushed from your system. Steps 1 and 2 are preventative, step 3 is abortive. When step 3 succeeds, you are still a mother, but your baby was the victim of an abortive miscarriage.
Doctors will acknowledge that up to 6% of women will become pregnant while on BC. This number is based on the number of full term pregnancies that survive the statistics of BC. All BC warning labels warn to stop use immediately, and remove IUDs or patches, if you become pregnant. This is because the manufacturers are fully aware it causes induced miscarriage.
The problem is that while we know both successful pregnancy and abortive miscarriage can occur with BC, doctors are unable to predict precisely how often pregnancy occurs and a forced miscarriage happens in the form of a heavy period. For example, we know that 4 in 10 women on the mini pill continue to ovulate, meaning it fails to prevent ovulation for 40% of women. Even allowing for a reasonable amount of prevention by thickening of the cervical mucus, the 93-99% pregnancy prevention statistics mean a significantly high rate of prevention by implantation. In order to gain fully comprehensive numbers on the rate of ovulation prevention vs abortive implantation prevention, every single woman on BC would need to take regular pregnancy testing.
But given the data that is available, pro-life advocates estimate there is anywhere from 1.8 million-4 million BC induced abortions a year!
Possible birth defects
So what happens when steps 1, 2, and 3 fail and a woman carries the baby to term? Because the BC has sabotaged the health of your uterine lining, the baby is not as easily able to properly implant and receive nutrients and oxygen. We all understand the effect poor nutrition and oxygen deprivation has on a child outside the womb. It can have the same developmental effects inside the womb, and the baby has a higher chance of being born with birth defects and handicaps. While we love our handicapped children, none of us would wish to deliberately deprive our children of the normal life they could have had. So while it is possible for a baby to survive the effects of BC on the uterus, and be born healthy, there is significantly higher risk of defects and lowered IQ or immune system.
Further fertility issues and miscarriages
Because BC is raising and lowering your hormones contrary to nature, it can still affect pregnancies that occur months after discontinuing BC, and cause miscarriages. In fact, the manufacturers recommend avoiding pregnancy for at least three months after discontinuing BC, in order to avoid miscarriage. This in itself further proves that they know their product is abortive.
Some women suffer long-term affects from the havoc that BC wreaks on their hormones and the thinning of their endometrium lining never fully recovers.
This topic is heavy on my heart because I know a high percentage of women even in conservative cultures use abortive BC. Many pro-life women are assured by medical professionals that BC is not abortive. And in case you think doctors do this in ignorance, in 1992, proabortionists wrote this in opposition to banning abortion: “Because nearly all birth control devices, except the diaphragm and condom, operate between the time of conception…and implantation, the statute would appear to ban most contraceptives.” The same argument was used in representing abortion clinics to the Supreme Court in 1989. BC is considered a woman’s “right” and banning abortion could include IUDs and BC.
So let’s look at non abortive methods.
Preventative birth control options include:
- Surgical Sterilization (Tubal Ligation or Vasectomy) is a permanent surgical method of birth control. Tubal ligations prevent a woman’s eggs from reaching her uterus. Male vasectomies prevent sperm from entering a woman during intercourse. While this option can have questionable considerations for us as Christians, from a purely scientific aspect it is not abortive
- The one pregnancy preventative option I listed before that is not abortive is spermicide. Spermicide is intended to block and kill the sperm before it reaches the egg, and does not affect the egg or the uterine lining. However it can fail to completely neutralize each sperm, and instead cripple or harm them. In the case where it only partially neutralizes a sperm that reaches the egg, the result can be defective sperm that cause handicaps and deformities in the child.
- Some people choose to use the pull-out method where the man simply pulls out before ejaculation. But obviously this is a less reliable method.
- Intuitive tracking of your cycles aids in predicting your fertile days, so you can use protection. Tracking your fertile days can obviously be more difficult if you’re not regular, so I recommend utilizing mucus tracking even if you don’t chart. You can also track your temperature using a basal thermometer. Your temperature will typically begin to rise with LH and then spike during ovulation. There are even thermometers that connect to phone apps for helping you track and detect ovulation. Using these aids can give you a very close estimate of your fertile and infertile days. The Billings method of mucus charting is considered the most reliable.
- For help in tracking when you can have unprotected intercourse, and when you need to use protection, ovulation strips are a good option. These work like a pregnancy test. You dip them in a urine sample to measure levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) in your urine. A rise in LH signals the ovary to release an egg, so when the result line is as dark or darker than the control, it’s safe to assume that ovulation will occur within the next 12-36 hours. This is helpful for preventative measures, and even spacing out your pregnancies.
- Fertility trackers such as Lady Comp, Ava, or Pearly, come highly recommended and do a lot of the work for you. They track your temperature and tell you your fertile days and safe days. They also work during pregnancy and postpartum
On days you need protection, here are some non abortive options:
- The Male Condom – Condoms create a barrier which helps to keep fertilization from occuring at all, meaning no pregnancy involved. Of course this isn’t 100% successful but should pregnancy occur, there are no abortiveside affects. (I would also interject here that while condoms are the easiest form of non abortive protection, not all condoms are created equal. Try different brands and find one that feels as natural and comfortable as possible. Condoms fit and feel differently for different people. There are a lot more options online than in-store. Some couples feel that condoms limit sensation, but in general this just means they haven’t found the right kind yet. It’s also important to use a good lubricant, and find one that works well for you. There are water based, silicone based, and oil based lubes. Check the ingredients and look for one that is glycerin and paraben free, these ingredients can harm the vaginal PH levels. Keep in mind that natural lubricants such as coconut oil, break down the structure of condoms and raise the likelihood of condom failure. When avoiding pregnancy, lubricants such as KY jelly and Astro-glide are popular. But they can decrease sperm motility and viability, so if you are trying for pregnancy, you may want to use something more natural.
- The Diaphragm – A shallow latex cup that prevents sperm from reaching the egg, and must be fitted by a doctor.
- The Female Condom – Worn by the woman, fits your into the vagina and prevents sperm from reaching the egg.
- Cervical Cap – A thimble-shaped latex cup that prevents sperm from reaching the egg via the cervix.
Hosea 4:6 says My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…
I have seen this to be true in every area of human life. Where there is a lack of spiritual, physical, emotional, sexual, or intellectual knowledge, we are crippled in some form. In some of these areas it is so serious as to cause unintentional sin.
My heart is not to bring condemnation to anyone who may have used abortive birth control without understanding the ramifications. God is not a God of condemnation, but redemption. He knows our motives and the intent of our hearts. But with knowledge comes responsibility, and what we do with this is a serious matter. In the end, the science doesn’t matter, and my personal opinion doesn’t matter, only God’s opinion matters and I want to seek that out in my life.
I am passionate about being educated in these things and able to self advocate for myself in dealing with medical professionals. It’s a dangerous thing to be reliant on health care providers who are uninformed or fully informed on these matters, yet have so little regard for human life and moral ethics as to tell us that BC is not abortive. I find it hard to trust them implicitly with my own health, knowing that for many doctors and nurses, their decisions are utilitarian rather than humanitarian.
God is a God of truth, and if we as His people don’t represent truth, who will? My heart is that we can teach our children the truth so completely that they can never make the decision to sacrifice life through lack of knowledge.
Below are links to references/sources for most of the information shared in this document. While learning and researching, I compared many peer reviewed articles and credible sources for each topic, then tried to collectively summarize them.
Recommended reading: Why Pro Life and Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions? both by Randy Alcorn.
From Conception to Birth by Alexander Tsiaras,
From Hormone Hell to Hormone Well by C.W. Randolph Jr.
Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler
I have included quite a few facts from these books, all of which have cited sources and well researched information readily available.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4313438/ (This article is not pro-life and cites a lot of common misconceptions about the mini pill. But it does admit that 4 in 10 women will continue to ovulate.)