DISCLAIMER: If you struggle with infertility and don’t want to read about someone who gets pregnant all the time, this isn’t the article for you. If you believe that women are called to have as many children as they can regardless of their physical and mental health, I disagree and this article is not for you. If you are engaged or newlywed and you don’t want to hear the dark side of NFP (which I totally understand) this article may not be for you right now. If you have a medical reason not to practice NFP, this article is not for you.
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It’s national Natural Family Planning awareness week so you will see many great articles bouncing around the internet about the benefits of NFP. I’m glad for these articles and the stories of all the couples who have been helped by this type of planning. This will not be a cheery article but I hope the ending will give you a stronger conviction in your faith.
Personally, I am mostly filled with bitterness and anger about NFP. And no, not the righteous kind that’s noble but the sinful kind that I have to confess. All the books I’ve read about NFP have made me feel small, stupid, and selfish because I simply have not experienced all the grace and loveliness they have touted.
Please, tell me one more time couples who practice NFP hardly ever get divorced! Of course not! Because it’s mostly uber devout Catholics who practice NFP and even they are a minority in our faith community. Those type of people would not get divorced anyway, it’s not BECAUSE of NFP. It’s because they are faithful.
I was pregnant 7 times before we reached our 7th wedding anniversary. Not only has that been emotionally heartbreaking (the miscarriages) but also super unhealthy for my body. If you never get a chance to recover from pregnancy, you end up tacking on more problems for the next one.
Another benefit of NFP that I haven’t received is greater intimacy in my marriage. When you are super fertile, no matter which form of NFP you decide to practice, you are required to abstain… a lot. Now it’s fair to say if I had a stronger marriage, this might not be as hard. I can’t really say. But having grown up in the hook-up culture, with divorced parents and only becoming Catholic at 25, my husband and I were properly educated about how to live out our call to holiness through constant abstaining.
Our sex life has always been sort of mediocre… again I blame porn and all the television/magazine lies I was fed from the age of 13 causing great confusion about what healthy and loving sex should look like. And don’t get me wrong, we know how to orgasm within the rules of the Catholic Church. I just don’t know how to feel loved through sex. If you don’t feel loved through sex, expecting a deeper intimacy by not having sex is really difficult to attain.
We’ve basically been pregnant since our honeymoon. It took us three pregnancies to figure out that the sympto-thermal method doesn’t work well for people who have insomnia. It’s hard to get your basal temperature so it messes up your chart.
We finally embraced Creighton, which has been really wonderful and effective for us. We successfully planned one pregnancy and then the other two, though they were in very low in probability and we were still hoping to avoid pregnancy, were not a surprise. We knew we were rolling the dice and we accepted ahead of time that we might get pregnant. And that’s the thing, I always do if there’s a chance.
I have horrible pregnancies and traumatic labors. Though I would gladly raise a huge family with love and faith, I really don’t want to be pregnant ever again. Those are often scandalous words to speak out loud if you’re Catholic. But it’s okay to have our opinions and to express our wishes. In the end, all that matters is that we are open to God’s will.
There is only one reason I practice NFP despite all the struggles and heartache that has come with it for my family… because I am Catholic. When I converted from Protestantism to Catholicism it was largely because I was drawn to the idea that the Catholic Church never changes, it never contradicts itself and it is always true. I have a great conviction about this and it gives me confidence about my faith, especially when I’m sharing it with other people.
I could hardly sit down in front of someone and tell them that the Catholic Church is unwaveringly true… except for this one tenant that I think they got wrong that I really don’t feel like practicing. It’s an all or nothing deal.
God calls us to suffering and that’s what NFP has been for me. I imagine it’s His way of saying, “Really Sterling, do you trust me? Will you still love me now?” And though my selfish heart wants to say, “No Lord, how could you do this to me again? Why won’t you give me a way out?” I confess my lack of trust and I keep being obedient.
God asks obedience of us. We don’t like that word and we don’t like being told what to do. But we cannot be cafeteria Catholics and still be confident Catholics. We don’t get to pick what we want and no other aspect of the Catholic Church is so ignored. Even people who don’t like going to confession will still acknowledge its importance. And yet when it comes to NFP, the vast majority sweep it under the rug and say, “Nope, that’s not for me.”
This is one of the reasons it’s so hard to practice. We’re in the minority. And not only am in the minority of Catholics who practice NFP, I have found that a great number of people who practice it actually struggle with infertility or genuinely want to have 12+ children. So I feel like my brand of super fertility mixed with not wanting my body to keep going through this, is a very small percentage of our faith community.
There is also almost no support for couples, especially men. Where does my husband go when he’s feeling frustrated and doesn’t know how to connect with his wife during long stints of abstinence? Where can he go to be consoled by other men who are going through the same thing? Even priests often don’t have much to say when we admit we’re drowning and we don’t know what to do.
I hope we change this soon. I see many movements trying to including this great week about NFP awareness. I am happy that everyone is sharing their stories both good and bad.
In the end, I am Catholic and that is why I practice NFP. I will continue to do this because God and the Catholic Church have asked me to. I don’t like it, I struggle with it, it’s painful, and I really don’t get it but it doesn’t matter. I don’t truly understand how glorious the Mass really is either and yet I have faith that it is and I obediently go every week.
I love God with all my heart and I can’t wait for Him to tell me what this whole NFP thing was supposed to look like when I get to Heaven. I’m sure it will be beautiful and then I will understand. In the meantime, I will obey and be faithful.
P.S. If you haven’t read Simcha’s book The Sinners Guide To Natural Family Planning, it’s great and did give me some consolation.