I avoid ever paying full price for a book (I know, I know - it's good to support the author. But it's also hard to fit in our budget.), and I didn't expect this one to show up in our library anytime soon. I hoped to borrow it from a friend, but they were all reading Kindle versions (darn that new technology!). I finally buckled down and bought it on Amazon (it's selling for a really reasonable price, so if you're still curious about it, buy it!) because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
I have to admit, I expected to hate it. Maybe I even wanted to hate it. Despite all the reviews claiming that Simcha finally spoke the truth about the challenges of NFP instead of rhapsodizing about what a magical beautiful thing it is, I suspected that she must still be secretly "propagandizing" NFP - something I believe to be a legitimate, but often over-rated practice.
I was pleased to discover that this wasn't true. She spoke a lot of sense in this book, and shared a great deal of wisdom - gained over the years of her marriage. More than a guide about dealing with the challenges of NFP, I would say that this is a guide to how we fallen humans can live out a Christ-centered marriage. Even though my husband and I are not using - and never have *really* used - NFP, there was still a lot for me to learn here.
It's an age-old truth, but something which has continually impressed me is the fact that with age and experience often comes wisdom. Recently, I've gained a bit of understanding on something about NFP that used to baffle me.
I've shared some of my thoughts on NFP before (see here and here), so you might know that I'm pretty down on the way it is is commonly "sold" by Catholics. I think people want so badly to provide an appealing alternative to contraception (which is always immoral) that they talk up NFP as being a positive thing, rather than the morally neutral tool that it is. It's kind of like saying, "isn't it awesome that I got sick on Sunday and was dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass?!" No, actually. You may have been perfectly sinless in missing Mass, but it kinda sucks that you had to be sick, and I don't think it's anything to be thrilled about - even if it means you finally had a chance to pray five Rosaries.
At least some portion of my distaste for NFP came about because I just could not understand the motivations a lot of people had when deciding they needed to postpone another pregnancy. Yeah - pregnancy and children are exhausting, but...who said life was supposed to be easy? The primary purpose of marriage is procreation. I suspected that NFP was often over-used by Catholics. I tried very hard never to presume anything about particular people, but something always seemed "off" about the fact that pretty much every couple we heard about seemed to be using NFP to intentionally plan out each of their conceptions. What ever happened to just accepting babies as they came - even when they came close? Do you really need to jump right back into charting and postponing the second after you give birth? Why do the midwives have to write down what sort of family planning I'm going to use at my 6-week post-partum checkup, and why won't they accept my answer when I tell them "none"? I never understood the fear I sensed in other women over the thought of another pregnancy.
But then I gave birth to my third child.
When my first two kids were born - I mean the moment they were born - my very first emotions were this intense mixture of relief and "joy that a man has been born into this world" (Jn 16:21). But when my sweet little Linus came out, I just felt numb. Joyless. Tom was weeping in happiness, our doula was praising my hard work and smiling at the beautiful baby we helped create, the nurses were all fussing over him. And there was me just lying there, staring straight ahead. Stiff with dread. All I could think was "how many more times? How many more times do I have to go through pregnancy? Through labor and childbirth? I don't want to do this for the next fifteen years straight. I would like to never have to go through this again."
I'm not saying any of these thoughts were entirely rational. And they weren't very holy. But they were very human.
Even after we brought him home, my transition to caring for three kids - as I've mentioned before - was not easy. It was NOT EASY. For me to even admit this means it was a significant hardship for me. I am a person who is usually able to deal with stresses and challenges fairly well - I may get frazzled, but I never feel defeated. But there were days this time around when I was not sure I could handle it. When I felt like I was drowning. I felt like I kept putting out feeble "calls for help", yet no one understood or listened. Everyone expected me to be strong like always, and adjust to the new baby as easily as I had with the first two. No one realized that I needed to be taken care of.
|This expression of despair captures about how I felt|
But I had begun to notice a trend on comment boards and internet forums. In many cases, the people who were either the most critical about the use of NFP or the most fanatically impressed with it were rather young - with maybe one or two kids. The ones who had the more measured and reasoned perspective on it were those who were older and often had many children: People who had endured the exhaustion and wear-and-tear of many pregnancies, but also felt pleasure and relief as their kids grew old enough to help and began to blossom into unique and wonderful people. People who knew the anxiety and despair of an unintended pregnancy, yet had also found that those unplanned children were one of their life's greatest blessings.
I was talking to Tom only a few weeks before Linus was born about how I wouldn't be surprised if my perspective on welcoming new children continually changed as our family grew. I realized that we could conceivably hit a point where we just felt too overwhelmed and as if we could use a break between pregnancies. And now for the first time, I've had a taste of what that emotion is even like.
So I think I've gained some perspective now. Every family and every person is different, and sometimes people really feel that they could use a "breather" between the babies in order to be a better parent. (and I'm sure there are any number of other legitimate reasons for postponing a pregnancy, which I'm not mentioning now). Most people wouldn't go through the struggle of practicing NFP unless they believed they had a legitimate reason. Perhaps if they're honest with themselves, not all of those people do have legitimate reasons. But maybe those reasons don't have to be as dire as I once thought. If things hadn't settled down significantly for me this time around, maybe I'd be considering joining the ranks of those many confused women attempting to make sense of their wacky post-partum fertility signs right now...
But I am dealing better with everything. Though life is still very busy with all the projects we're doing around the house, I think the toughest portion of the transition to having three kids has passed, and we've found a new rhythm. (And um, can I just brag right here for a minute about my amazingly easy third baby? He goes to bed at 9pm, wakes up once at 6 am to nurse, then goes right back to sleep until 10am or so. It must be God's special gift to me!)
So here's about how I'm feeling now: At this point, if someone told me "you are going to be handed a new baby in nine months", I'd say, "ok - things might be a little crazy, but I'm game." But if someone told me, "starting today, you will have to suffer through another nine months of pregnancy, and then endure the travails of childbirth, and then have another child to take care of, making you the mother of four under five", I'd maybe flip out a little. I really....don't like being pregnant (Tom is encouraging me to remove the word "hate" from my vocabulary). But I do love new babies :-)
I still don't want to use NFP, and I still think it's important to think of it as something that is definitely less than the ideal. But it's presumptuous to assume we will never have a reason to consider postponing a pregnancy. Who knows what the future holds. Who knows how my perspective will change as I gain experience and insights. Seriously, I only have three kids now. In my circles, that's a small family. What do I really know yet about life and marriage and child-rearing? Not much! But I'm continually learning and growing.