Romeo & Juliet, John Legend & Jack Johnson... and Birth Control
The day had been long and dreary, which I [weirdly] kind of liked. Jason was working hard at his office late on a Saturday to finish a big school project. I had had a quiet, uneventful and yet happy day with the boys - drunk in love with the 70 degree run I got on my favorite greenway trail in the late afternoon. We had eaten our simple supper of leftover pizza - no KP for the win :) - and the boys' happy babbles in their room had finally quieted; the locusts were chirping loudly outside the open windows, and I curled up on the couch with a glass of Shiraz and the iPad. Inspired by the crispness of the air coming through the open windows, I closed Scandal on Netflix and instead opened up Romeo & Juliet.
I cannot get enough of this love story. As an English minor and Shakespeare addict, I do understand that Shakespeare was not, in fact, channeling an early Nicholas Sparks with this play. I get that there is much evidence within the text itself to point to the fact that he was not necessarily glorifying the type of love that Romeo and Juliet had.
But just as there is a vivid and unique beauty in the very short-livedness of the daylily - the flower that blossoms overnight in rich, full hue and shrivels by the next day... there is a vibrance that anyone can appreciate in the youthful love that surges up in an flash and rages, passionate and all-consuming, til it is put out. "These violent delights have violent ends and in their triumph die, like fire and powder" [Act 2, scene 6]. I personally have always thought that Shakespeare was neither spinning the world's most famous chick-flick, nor was he simply penning a cautionary moral tale.
I will never be too cheesed out by Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet either. And this song:
I love the poetry of this play; the imagery, the lines I have practically learnt by heart over the years; the liveliness and energy of the characters. And watching it the other night made me realize something else I love. Although I did not marry my husband the day after I first clapped eyes on him... although I did enter into my marriage with a bit of a check on the passions flying around... there is something Romeo and Juliet-worthy about the kind of in-loveness we have committed to guarding and growing for our whole marriage. The kind of inloveness we seek together daily.
Here is a love that is pure and fearless and completely self-giving. This story would not have endured the last few centuries if we didn't all universally recognize some poignant beauty within it, some heart-wrenching truth.
The love that gives completely of self without fear or manipulation or control of the situation. The love that isn't hedging its bets while kissing you. The love that is ready to die to self without a second's hesitation. This is the kind of love we all, deep down, desire. I believe the truthfulness of the story lies in the fact that no great love is without sacrifice.
You can never have it all. This is life! There are downsides to every desirable thing. There is nothing you can fall in love with on this earth that won't disappoint or challenge you in some way. Romeo and Juliet had this intensely idealized vision of each other; the unique heart-aching beauty of their story is that their love ended before any disillusionment could enter. Although the romantic in me likes to believe that, just as Juliet was able to choose to love Romeo after he had killed her cousin in a hot temper, so they would have been able to continue to choose to accept and cherish one another with each test of time and hardship.
While I have a humble love that endures through grumpy days and sick days, and long nights up with a baby, and dirty laundry, and balancing the checkbook, and gas after eating Mexican [not exactly that intoxicating high of a new love, no?]... there are those days that catch you off guard with the intensity of love you feel when you look at his profile and adore his strong jaw... or when something happens to make you feel all over again the rush of excitement and disbelief that you get to be his. Jason and I have found there are so many ways you can encourage these moments and continue to woo the heart of your spouse. Ever since we were dating, we committed ourselves to aiming for a protection of our "inloveness". We believe in the love that surges up strong again, after each test of time and tiredness; the love that never stops cherishing and respecting the other person or forgetting their "otherness" - never treating them like an accessory or appendage to oneself [in other words, not making your marriage all about you]... We believe that enduring love is every bit as awe-inspiring and gut-wrenching as Romeo and Juliet's youthful, passionate new love.
I want complete oneness with Jason. I want to never take him, nor the fact that we get to make love to each other, and only each other, for the rest of our lives, for granted. Not using contraception is the biggest and most effective way we guard against that.
This does not actually mean that we are going to have 13 kids. We are not the in the Catholic camp that necessarily wants a huge family. Some days we love that idea, other days it seems overwhelming. We are going to take it one baby - (slash job/house/circumstance) at a time. [Did you know that a woman is infertile except for the day she ovulates? There are some caveats to this - all biologically proven and much more unique to your body than the old "rhythm method", and which you can easily learn in a few classes. The extent to which you follow the rules (i.e., how many days pre and or post-ovulation you are willing to risk intercourse) varies greatly based on how seriously you need to avoid pregnancy. ] What it does mean is that every time we make love, we do it all the way. And yes, there is always the recognition that there could be a chance that you read your chart or your body incorrectly, and you are ovulating. This adds quite an edge of excitement and danger to lovemaking. ;)
In my love life, I believe I should give of myself completely - I believe I should completely receive the gift of love from my spouse, without doing anything to my body or to his to effectively manipulate the physical act. A good analogy for why we believe that would be wrong, is why you would believe someone had a very real eating disorder if they ordered a delicious Filet Mignon that they chewed and tasted and then spit out in a napkin so they wouldn't take in the calories. We believe that, like anything else in life when it comes to our bodies, sex is good [and sometimes really really really good ;)] but it has real consequences. You have to approach it with moderation and discipline to enjoy it fully, neither trying to trick nature nor taking zero responsibility.
Honestly, there are many nights in a given month that we can't make love. Many days we are looking at my fertility tracking chart and GROANING. Its not easy... it is definitely a sacrifice. But there is nothing like the anticipation of that first night you get to be one again after you've been waiting and waiting. (For me, right now with breastfeeding hormones all over the place, that can be up to a 2 week waiting period. In my experience, it does get much shorter as time goes on).
I am not trying to convince anyone that my way is the only way to go. Everyone has their own journey, and this is definitely completely counter to all that is common in our culture. I get that.
But I do think its important to share what I see to be the beauty of Jason and my choice. Indulge my romantic over-the-topness and believe that I am neither exaggerating nor sugarcoating anything to spread an agenda.
Two examples I can give of the kind of love that Jason and I choose each day, are two songs that may surprise you. They are neither of them Catholic or even Christian, but from the first moment I heard either, I thought they perfectly embodied life-giving, procreative, sexual marital love.
One is John Legend, "The Beginning". There are a few lines that give me shivers...
"Soon as I saw you, baby, I had plans
Plans to do it til we have a baby
Even if the world is crazy
Pick some names, boy or girl,
And we'll change, change the world...
Its the beginning of forever
You don't have to go
Sometimes you just know
Its the beginning of forever
It don't have to end
Keep doin' it, and doin it again"
There is something powerful about making love and knowing you might be making a baby. Not because you are necessarily trying for heirs or you've had your 10 kid-free years of marriage already under your belt or you're lonely or its just the next box to check... no, that kind of approach to sex can totally feel like work. But I'm talking about something different; when you are so in love you want to go all the way, the way nature intended it to be. You want to feel that your love is so real, so intense, that it can literally create new life. Sometimes you might be a little nervous about that - a little unsure of yourself - but sure of your love and unafraid of that love being tested by babies and brief cases and coffee-stained mornings and dark-circle-under-your-eyes late nights.
In that sense, I do live in a Romeo & Juliet type love, because we face our future with that same kind of passionate, fearless eagerness to give everything. The difference is, we promised to "keep doing it, and doing it again" when the lows of life hit us. And they do, and you do your best to prepare for that. You neither freak out about it, nor do you settle comfortably, nor do you go off in search of new loves for the thrill of the high. I think life is like the tide; there is an ebb and flow to it. Peaks and valleys. Things don't get progressively harder nor do they just hit a steady status quo. Love doesn't get progressively more boring, nor can it stay at the same intense altitude of besottedness. As we are committed not just to loving but to being in love with each other, we make date nights and little weekend getaways a priority, not a luxury.
I met him after his class a couple weeks ago for an impromptu little wine date. We stayed up way too late and it was more refreshing than countless hours of sleep.
The last song is Jack Johnson, "Angel".
"Got an angel
She doesn't wear any wings
She wears a heart that can melt my own
She wears a smile that can make me wanna sing
She gives me presents
With her presence alone
She gives me everything I could wish for
She gives me kisses on the lips just for comin' home
She can make angels,
I seen her with my own eyes
Gotta be careful when you got good love,
cause those angels will just keep on multiplying
You're so busy changing the world
Just one smile and you can change all of mine
We share the same soul"
Isn't it funny how both the songs that talk about this kind of selfless, fearless, "rash" openness to new life, to making babies out of nothing more or less than love... isn't it funny how they both literally also talk about changing the world? I don't think its a coincidence. I think its reflective of something true... something about that kind of love, that kind of powerful approach; I believe it does have the ability to change the world.
I know for me, my heart is full. Our life is not easy. But it is also kind of exciting that it's not stretching out ahead of us in boring, careful predictability. There is a daring kind of adventurousness to our life and our approach to making babies. I mean, really... when is making a baby ever easy or cut and dried? How can you ever be truly prepared when you never know ahead of time the physical and emotional challenges of each unique baby?
There was a Buzzfeed thing going around recently - I don't really understand why - the decision of one company (with many competitors who would happily take their business) to plead their right to refuse to pay for birth control? - the whole thing seems odd to me in a nation where birth control is not hard to acquire foranyone, and is in fact pushed on you at every visit to the Gyn. It seems odd in a nation where using birth control is the rule and not the exception. Anyway. I know several women who were angered by the Buzzfeed post, which felt like a flip of the bird to their own very personal sacrifices and non-confrontational religious beliefs, rather than a necessary or helpful contribution to any sort of dialogue.
I just felt sad. I freely chose to not bring birth control into my lovemaking for wholly positive reasons. For reasons that have brought beautiful fruit into my marriage and effects I feel each day. AND HEY! I didn't have 5 kids in 5 years! Not that there's anything wrong with that - but I think many people imagine you would only give up birth control along with family planning. Jason and I still do approach our family with planning, but we believe it is less cold and calculating and cut-off than it might be were we using artificial means. I didn't choose this way of life because I felt forced to or because I felt judged. In fact, I feel like a strange minority most of the time, even among other Catholics. But I am okay with that because I am so grateful for my choice. Its sad to me that there are so many people who have no idea what it could be like, what they are missing out on.
I choose this way of life daily because I love the consequences of my choice. I find it incredibly romantic. I get to date my husband on the few times of the month we can't make love - I get to feel like he wants me so badly, not just sex. I have to say - when I was pregnant both times, and we got to have sex whenever we wanted, we both actually missed the romance and anticipation that comes with doing Natural Family Planning and abstaining from intercourse for some of every month.
I am aware that people may look at me, 25 years old with 2 children and open (physically and emotionally) to having [undetermined number] more of these little people in the next 15 years...
they may look at my husband and I not being able to have sex whenever we feel like it - regardless of my fertility cycle - unless we're pregnant or trying to be...
people may look at us and feel pity. I am aware of that; but it doesn't bother me in the slightest. They don't know what they're missing.
I know what I'm missing; trust me! Its a sacrifice; a sacrifice of convenience, of the feeling of total control. But I am willing to make it, day in and day out, for the unique beauty of the life I choose instead. The peace of never being taken for granted (or at least, making that much less easy to do, ha!); of never using or being used to scratch a sexual itch (intentionally or not); of only making love when we can do it all the way; of my husband seeing me as fertile and liking that - seeing me as "an angel making angels"; the joy of accepting the gift of children with a love that stretches and expands to meet their needs, trusting in grace from the Author of Life, rather than coldly calculating it ahead of time. Of course, simply not using birth control does not give you a free pass on all of those things I just mentioned. Selfishness has a way of creeping into everything. You can never just relax and be like, I got it in the bag. But it makes it a whole lot easier for us to be selfless, to be focused on each other with mutual appreciation, to grow and grow and grow in love.
"Did my heart love til now?"
That is a sentiment I have been lucky to feel many times over again in the last [almost 5!] years I have spent as Jason's girlfriend, fiancé, wife; feeling like you are more in love than you ever were before, even when you couldn't imagine that being possible. This, we believe, is the beauty of a love that gives freely of self, a love that is total, fruitful, and faithful.