Wednesday, July 27, 2011

It's Apparently NFP Awareness Week...

Note: I know that NFP is a scientific and very effective way of understanding a woman's fertility. It can be used to great effect in helping couples with fertility troubles to conceive. This is certainly a good thing. But, as we all know, NFP is mainly discussed as a moral alternative to artificial birth control. And this is the aspect of it which I want to address in this post.

All over the Catholic Blogosphere, people are singing the praises of NFP today. I admit, when I first learned, years ago, just why contraception was wrong - and that there was a Catholic alternative for postponing pregnancy - I thought it sounded pretty great. But over the years, after reading more about it, talking to people who use it, and dabbling in (an admittedly minor and half-hearted way) it myself, I have to say: I just don't get what all the hype is about.

Sure, it's moral, and it's effective. But that does NOT mean it's ideal. For a married couple to have to postpone pregnancy is NEVER ideal. It means your family is experiencing tough circumstances. Raising children is the primary purpose of marriage. Of course, it's virtuous to be able to accept the fact, and cooperate with God's Will for no new babies for a time. But it's basically a self-imposed temporary infertility. Isn't it proper to think of infertility as something less than good?

You always read how NFP is so great for "communication" and engenders "respect" between a married couple. Some sources even seem to promote it merely for this reason. Why doesn't anyone talk about the difficulties of abstinence? The ever-present questioning of one's motives? The strain it can put on a marriage?

Maybe Catholics are too concerned with spreading the Gospel of NFP that they don't want to admit any of the negatives?

I don't know. Sometimes I get sick of hearing people go on about NFP like a high-schooler with a crush. One priest once asked us what we thought about the idea of using NFP all our lives. Using it "to achieve pregnancy" at those times when God seemed to will it, and "to avoid pregnancy" at times when He did not. I understand that sacrifice - even of a sexual nature - can be good for the soul. But we said we didn't think that was the right thing for us to do. I mean...what ever happened to just leaving things completely in God's hands?

Sometimes, too, I feel unsettled because it seems like some people use NFP with a contraceptive mentality. I'm not trying to judge other people here. I really can't know what anyone's situation is actually like. But I have trouble seeing a desire to "space" children as a grave enough reason for using NFP.

Maybe if there was a child with special needs, the parents might legitimately need more time to adjust. Or they'd had multiples or something....

So many people cite financial reasons for postponing children. I wonder if everyone is being realistic about it, though. Okay, if you don't have health insurance, or both parents are unemployed, it's probably not the best time for a new baby. But kids can be much less expensive to care for than society wants us to believe.

Unless our financial situation completely turns around, there's pretty much no way we can pay for our kid(s) to go to college. We might not be able to give our children a ton of gifts at Christmas, or go out to dinner much, or have two cars. But these are facts that I'm okay with. I think God wants us to experience some measure of poverty. And it's okay for children to be raised in homes without a lot of money. The children who lived through the Great Depression grew up to be known as "The Greatest Generation." And there's a reason for that.

Maybe I'll understand better after I've been married longer, and have more children. Maybe one day, we will have to use NFP, and I'll experience the blessings it can bring. But for now, I just thank God that we don't have to use it.

I'd be interested to hear thoughts, experiences, and wisdom that anyone has to offer about this topic. I apologize if anything I said brought offense to someone. Please correct any misunderstandings I may have.


  1. i agree- in no way is nfp the ideal. Up until a few months ago, i was pretty- very- critical of nfp, thinking that we would never resort to nfp, but i have found it to be a blessing when circumstances necessitate it. it seems that all too many people abuse nfp to create their perfectly-spaced, ideally-sized family. i've also come to see that it's not my place at all to judge what circumstances others may consider to be "grave." thanks for posting on a subject i've often considered posing myself.

  2. Good post. I'm glad we have the same thoughts on this :-) In just the few weeks that we've been married, it has been a blessing just to know that we are leaving it all up to God on how soon we have a child, even though it would be more ideal financially/insurance-wise if it takes a few more months.

  3. We are some of the odd ones who love NFP. (I guess that's why we became certified NFP promoters.) We love it for many reasons. I love the science behind it and love the can I pinpoint my ovulation date exactly. I also love to see how my physical symptoms coincide with my chart.

    Beyond that, Brian and I love NFP because it gives us a chance to be creative about how we express our love for each other. It lets the anticipation build each month and every month, we have a week or so where it is like being newlyweds on our honeymoon. It's pretty cool to get to relive those feelings and experiences over and over each month.

    NFP also allows us to have the same conversation about when is the right time for another baby every single month. We reevaluate our reasons and prayer and after much discussion, decide if those reasons still hold up as grave or not.

    Also, I agree strongly with Kellie. It is important not to judge what situations are grave. This is my biggest gripe with NFP critics. Until you walk a mile in a person's shoes, you have no idea what their physically, emotional, and spiritual life is like. The Church has no list of grave reasons and there's a reason for that. It's not so black and white and cut and dry. I'm not going to list our "grave" reasons and explain them to everyone who reads this blog. I don't have to and I'm not required to. They are between me, my husband, God, and our spiritual directors. It takes prayer. The important thing to remember is that many people do have grave reasons. What is grave for Brian and I may not be grave for the couple down the street. Judging is not what we are called to do as Catholics, and the Church allows the use of NFP for a reason. It is not evil or wrong to use it when necessary.

    So, pretty much we are an NFP loving couple. I feel blessed to have such an amazing way to postpone pregnancy when absolutely necessary. Our marriage has seen so many blessings result from it, and I know many other couples feel the same way. I am glad you do not feel the need to use it right now, but honestly, it's not so awful or horrible when you do have to use it. And those you are using it should not be judged.

  4. And just to clarify, Christine, I do not think you are at all being judgemental. I went to lots of theology classes in college with many people who deemed themselves the grave reasons experts. It was irritating, to say the least.

  5. The way NFP advocates skim over the difficulties of abstinence is a pet peeve of ours.

    I think that one can choose to leave things completely up to God, but I'm not sure that's necessarily the ideal either, mostly because I view human free will as meant to be used in a fundamentally creative way as opposed to saying yes via passivity. However, I agree that NFP is not necessarily the ideal either. I really don't think that there IS an ideal, frankly.

    I think that couples ought to know how their fertility works, though, and once you know that ... it's kind of hard to pretend you don't. So there will always be an element of choice involved, if in an inexact way.

  6. (I should clarify I meant I don't think there is ONE ideal that applies to all couples, but I think there can be, of course, an ideal for any given couple (God's will for them) which they can discern.)

  7. I am in no way skimming over the difficulties of abstinence. Sometimes it is hard, but I definitely found it harder to practice before marriage. Now at least I know we will have a time very shortly where we won't need to use abstinence. For one thing, it's only for a few weeks out of the month. The rest of the month is fair game. Those few weeks usually go pretty quickly and we do other things to express our love for each other. There are other times in a marriage when abstinence is necessary. (Right after childbirth, sometimes during pregnancy, during an illness or after recovering from a surgery.) It is not the end of the world or the worst most horrible thing to get through as a couple. I guess we figure that since we already survived losing our daughter, we can survive two weeks of abstinence. (And if you get really good at NFP, you can pretty much pinpoint that period of abstinence down to an even shorter amount of time.)I think having a grave reason also makes the abstinence easier. We know that our situation would be dire and almost disastrous if we conceived now. That makes the short amount of time we use abstinence worth it. If the difficulties of abstinence are the worst a marriage goes through, couples should consider themselves blessed.

    Bottom line is that I guess we used abstinence for the entire 14 months we were together before we got married. Two weeks at most is nothing in comparison to that. :)And like I said, the anticipation builds and we get to relive our honeymoon every single month. The benefits our marriage sees from using NFP far outweigh the "difficulties" that abstinence brings.

  8. Just to clarify, I was responding to Christine's comment that talk of NFP in general often skims over the difficulties of abstinence--speaking as one who was in Phase II for part of the honeymoon. ;) (Sorry if that's a little bit TMI!) But Danielle, I do love the idea of reliving one's honeymoon every month, and find that a beautiful way to think about it. :)

    I just got married, and we are practicing NFP for the first few months for several very specific reasons. I just now read your comments and have to say I completely agree with you about the grave reasons, and there being a *reason* for the Church not having a list of them--and that what is grave for one couple may not be for the next, and vice versa. Well said. That was part of what I was getting at in saying I don't think there *is* an ideal approach, on the planning vs totally unplanned scale.

  9. I totally get you now. Guess I should've reread Christine's approach again before responding. (Having a baby gives you very bad short term memory loss.)

    And you are right that there is no ideal. It's a month to month thing and a very delicate balance to strike. Nothing in theology is every black and white. Only God's Grace guides us in the right direction.

    You and your new husband are in my prayers as you start out your new life together. :)

  10. I think I should elaborate a little on "leaving it all up to God." (No offense was taken by anyone's posts-I just want to explain our thinking a bit more) I don't like to think of it as "totally unplanned." That seems to me to mean uninformed or irresponsible, although I'm sure no one meant it like that. I've read enough about NFP (and have an extremely regular cycle) to generally know when I'm fertile. So it is a conscious choice for us each time to not abstain when I'm fertile. I don't think this qualifies as using NFP, but our child won't be unplanned either, and we're not passively saying "whatever happens, happens."

    We know it would be much easier for us financially if I didn't get pregnant until this fall. However, it won't be impossible or disastrous to have a baby sooner. Do I worry about having a baby sooner than next June or July? Well, yes, sometimes... I would stop working much sooner, we'd have to figure out an insurance plan for the baby... But we are trusting that if God blesses us with a baby sooner, then things will work out fine. The blessing I mentioned before is not in simply leaving it all up to God, but in being able to put that kind of trust in Him. I hope that makes sense?

  11. I would like to recommend the book, "Holy Sex: A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infalliable Love" by Gregory K. Popcak. It is phenomenal. It talks a lot about why "leaving it up to God" is not what we as Catholics are quite called to do. It dives into JPII's Theology of the Body, where he actually expresses the same thoughts, and explains them in a language that lay people can understand. Basically, he explains that yes, we are to trust in God's Divine Providence, BUT we are also called to called to live another set virtues along with that trust. Those virtues include things like self control, generosity, chastity, and prudence. This is where NFP or practicing period abstinence even during nonfertile times can be of great assistance to aid in the development of those virtues.

    He also elaborates on JPII's idea that we should practice periodic abstinence even if not during our fertile times as a married couple. This helps promote self mastery and is actually good for the marriage itself. I found this section quite interesting.

    He even has a whole chapter on how to deal with the frustrations that using NFP can bring. (And they aren't just ideas like hold hands and cuddle. They are much more detailed and passionate and actually work in a marriage to ease the frustration that is sometimes felt.)

    I would highly recommend this book to any married couples, even if you aren't having difficulties. I found it enlightening and supportive of everything I've ever learned or been taught about NFP as well as Theology of the Body. It will be my go to Bridal shower gift for all Catholic girls from now on. I cannot say enough good, and I think if anyone takes the time to read it, they will better understand NFP and the virtues it can bring.

  12. I've just recently discovered your blog and thought, even though it's way later that I'd leave a comment. I'm not catholic, and truth be told about all I know of catholocism can be neatly labled in a box called, a college friend took me to Ash Wednesday with him. That aside, I've enjoyed reading your discussion and your reasons, both you and your commenters about NFP.
    I have never believed that birth control is wrong, but due to my own body having some problems with hormonal birth control methods we used NFP for a period of time. About the time I figured we were getting a better grip on it was about the time we found out I was pregnant with our second child, who truly has turned out to be a gift.
    I do agree though about not judging what leads other to make their choices. I am LDS, my husband was born and raised that way and I converted at college in Ohio. I have health problems that are exasterbated by pregnancy and made unimaginably worse by the post partum period. Contrary to what many LDS people believe my husband and I prayed long and hard and relied deeply on the lord to make the choice that for the safety of myself and our children that we had been blessed with a beutiful girl and an amazing and healthy boy. Two children for us was enough,and so we made the choice to have my husband sterlized (OB recommended him over me for other risk factors). Many would, and have, judged us; but we know we make the choice that we have been led to. In the end these are choices to be made in prayer with God, no matter your religion dictates. Sometimes even what to other appears as "wrong" is in fact right.
    My last comment, is really more this. Sometimes, God works so that even when things are being done with the best of intentions, he chooses to override them. My favorite broth in law and his wife have twin girls. His wife, who is a truly lovely woman as you might ever meet, talked about how after their first pregnancy ended in miscarriage at 12 weeks they were devestated (even though it was a surprise baby, they were using bc). They decided to go back to waiting and she went off some meds she was taking that likely led to the miscarraige, but they increased their birth contorl to try and prevent a pregnancy. About a year later they found out they were pregnant, even though they had been actively trying to prevent a pregnancy and at the 20 week ultrasound found out it was twins, as it turned out fraternal twins. Sometimes, what will be will be. Heavenly Father is just that way.

  13. I agree with you, Christine! I noticed the "NFP awareness week" in the back of Church a few months ago and thought how ridiculous that sounded. "Catholic birth control???" That's what it is. Anyway, I learned ALOT about fertility from charting and NFP after being sick with adrenal fatigue for the first year of marriage. It ultimately helped me to conceive and monitor my increasing fertility after having a 6-7 day "luteal phase".