Thursday, October 23, 2014

When NFP is hard to swallow

The funny thing about talking shop about NFP (Natural Family Planning) with other users is that the conversation, either online or in person, usually goes one of two ways.

Exhibit A: NFP blows. Meet my fourth daughter, Maria Faustina, miraculously conceived 13 days post peak. She's our 5th child in 6 years. Still, be it done unto me according to my chart...

or else

Exhibit B: NFP is so magical. It will change your life, divorce-proof your marriage, and guarantee smoldering, ecstatic sex almost every day of the month (except for a teeny tiny window, if you're seeking to avoid pregnancy.) You're an idiot if you find it challenging. Because science.

I guess I fall somewhere in between there. And I'd guess that many of us do.

I had the opportunity to speak to a group of beautiful mamas at my own parish yesterday (talk about humbling) and it was just so refreshing to be able to speak openly and honestly about the beauty AND the struggle of NFP. Because, like so much else about love and marriage, it's not always easy and it's not always clear. Because sometimes it's cloudy. Or cloudy-clear.

Aaaaaanyway, the thing is we aren't doing ourselves any favors as a Church or as couples in desperate need of support, fellowship, and wisdom from other families in the trenches if we don't speak openly about this thing that we're all expected to do (wink, wink) but that few of us are actually doing. And those of us who are doing it? Well, we're idiots. And sometimes we believe that to be true.

It's not easy being open to life in a culture so utterly opposed to it.

Our neighbors think we're weirdos. Our parents think we're irresponsible. Our bosses think we don't know what causes that. And our cashiers at the grocery store wonder if we know where the condoms are stocked.

Here's the thing though; Jesus doesn't promise convenience, lack of suffering, or predictability. There was something about a cross and lifting it upright and, you know the rest.

We live in a time and a place where convenience is the highest good. I think some of us actually worship it. I think of this most often when I'm doing the microwave dance, reheating my morning coffee, wondering how 28 seconds can pass so slowly and if I stare intently at this glowing box, will it heat any faster?

But Christianity is not convenient. 

Forgoing contraception and having difficult, meaningful, frustrating conversations about love and eternity with your spouse month after month after month...is not convenient. Having a baby 11 months after the last one was delivered, or facing down months and maybe even years of abstinence due to a medical diagnosis is not convenient. Learning to practice temperance, self control, and chastity within - yes, within marriage - is not convenient.

But convenience doesn't guarantee happiness. Or rather, it doesn't guarantee joy.

Using NFP will not make you happy. It will not earn you a free ticket to heaven or a front-row seat at a papal audience. It's not a panacea for marital woes, and it's definitely not some baptized, back-assward Church-approved method of contraception.

It's more than that. But also less.

NFP is, first and foremost, a tool. It's something the Church, backed by scientific research, offers to her children as a means to understanding the mysterious and often confounding gift of human fertility.

Contraception, on the other hand, is the deliberate dismantling of fertility. Rather than seeking to understand, it shuts down, short circuits, or disables it.

NFP and contraception have something in common in that both can be used to avoid pregnancy. But only so much as both an umbrella and a nuclear bomb can shelter you from the rain. One works within reality, the other creates an alternate reality. And it's not pretty, though it might be very effective at keeping you dry.

NFP isn't Catholic contraception. But as long as those of us who bow our heads and bend our knees to the teachings of Christ and His Church on the matter try to compare it as such, whether in our mirrors or in conversions with each other, we're going to come up short. 

Contraception offers apparent freedom and happiness to couples longing for love. But it doesn't deliver. It can't. It cuts off love at the root, making small what could grow into something grand and majestic. 

NFP isn't a failsafe, foolproof guarantee against marital unhappiness. But it isn't self destructive, either. It's actually morally neutral; we inform the morality by our own use of it, and the choices we make.

So let's have this conversation, shall we? Let's admit that yes, living the Church's teachings on sex and marriage is difficult, insanely difficult in some circumstances. Especially in this culture, in this moment in history, in this climate of me-ness and mine-ness and all the nesses. But let's go further. Let's let people in for a glimpse at the messy, the chaotic, the honest, and the beautiful. Because for everything this culture lays claim to, beauty is not a credible option. We are starved for beauty, searching for meaning, and desperate to find - and to be - love.

And marriages that are truly open to life have a depth and a sincerity to them, even in the difficult moments, that is wildly attractive. That's the real reason people can't stop talking about it. Sure, some people are legitimately disgusted by the sight of more than a couple children trailing a simliar-looking adult in a crowded shopping center. But they're the minority. 

People are naturally drawn to what is true, good, and beautiful - so let's draw them in. And let's not be afraid to look them square in the eye and say, yes, you're right, my hands are full, and somebody just pissed on my foot in the Chipotle bathroom a few minutes ago...but I'm still going to keep them.

Click here for the rest of the series.

19 comments:

  1. Because sometime it's cloudy...and sometimes it's cloudy-clear. LOVE this!!

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  2. love the mucous joke, and the Chipotle ending? Totally unexpected ;) You are boldly speaking the truth AND hilarious. I like the message here too - the two camps can get a little wearisome at times, and hitting the right tone with those "potential consumers" of NFP (to put it inadequately, but packaging and presentation matters...) can be tricky. Oh, the good old Catholic Both/And - never, ever fails!!!

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  3. The mucus allusions are hilarious. And thank you for this statement, " One works within reality, the other creates an alternate reality" This is so true!

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  4. Oh my goodness- the cloudy-clear comment. I died.

    I'm not Catholic, and we practice NFP, which puts us in a pretty huge minority... but I totally agree with the Catholic church on this point-- that Christianity was never meant to be convenient. I'm a little cranky (okay, more than a little, and more than cranky) that Protestants don't even address this issue anymore, in my experience. At all. Not in engagement classes, not in women's groups at church, and definitely not as sermon material.

    We're all "God's will in our lives!" and "Lord, where You lead, I'll follow! Take me deeper, where my faith is without borders!" but not in the area of family planning. Because that's just plain irresponsible. What? WHAT?!?

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    1. Couldn't have said it better! We too are Protestant, and I still cannot believe how this is never addressed.

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    2. Former Protestant, here. Thanks for addressing this. Though I know there are areas in *everyone's* lives that they find hard to turn over to God, this area was one where it seemed to me that the general protestant consensus was against what we stood for as followers of Christ.

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  5. Another timely and inspiring post that I so needed. I'm sitting here now feeling weepy and uncomfortable, pregnant with #6 after just having had twins in May of 2013. Yes, NFP "failed" us AGAIN. But my husband and I were still thrilled (much to our amazement) when we got that plus sign. We just didn't know we wanted this baby until God gave her/him to us.

    And we always marvel at how, despite how grumpy and frazzled we often are, we are truly CONTENT and happy with our lives. Yes, there are days when we feel miserable about our situation, but they pass. And when the smoke clears, we look around at the beautiful family God has given us and can't believe He deemed us worthy of it. It is truly humbling and so exhilarating to see how much God loves and trusts us demonstrated in these little faces. So thanks for talking about this issue, and may it inspire people who are afraid to commit to the teachings of the Church on contraception to consider NFP a little more openly.

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  6. This is so great. It's so comforting to see, as time goes on, Catholics who just speak truth about NFP. No fluff, no drama, it's just a tool, as you said. The "NFP will make your marriage bliss" camp are the ones who taught me as a 20 year old, young, engaged woman. Nine months later my first child arrived, and then they showed up non-stop until we finally realized that we were going to have to abstain for months and months in order to even get the hang of NFP. Gratefully, God granted us a "breather" and I'm expecting a new one now in the Spring, 3 1/2 years after my last baby, which is like an eternity compared to the rest. I was so, so overwhelmed, combined with my early lack of maturity, NFP did not seem trustworthy to me at. all.
    Now I "get it."
    What I also "get," now that I'm older and more experienced as a human in general, is that the grass is WAY not greener on the other side. Contraception blows too. People are hurt by it, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The perceived freedom is not even close to worth it. I would rather abstain and trust in the fact that my husband legitimately loves and values me than to feel deep down that I'm being used. And I'd rather be pregnant (which is a HUGE deal, because no matter what I'm supposed to say as a happy-open-to-life Catholic mama, I don't like being pregnant), than deal with the horrifying physical side effects of fake hormones all in my body for years and years.
    You're right that it's not fun, and that's ok! I'm so glad you're bringing this message. It's so important...I wish people were talking about this years ago when I was newly engaged...

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    1. Andrea, great perspective. I, too, was brought on board by the "NFP is the source and summit..." camp. While I agree with them in theory and even in my heart, I don't think that is a realistic portrayal of how marriage works. At least not in our experience. I had 4 babies before my 6th wedding anniversary. And we're on a blessed breather right now (thanks to God's infinite mercy and basic attention to my cycle, but nothing serious). I'm thankful that these authentic conversations are happening and we're finding some camaraderie in the storm of convenience

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  7. I am currently in the middle of a major overhaul of what I'm eating because my allergies and asthma are ridiculous right now (no, I promise this comes back to NFP!). A friend of mine thinks I'm a little nuts and should just go to the allergy doctor and get a medication for it. The problem is, the idea of the medication promises "health", but it really just manages the symptoms somewhat while causing other, unintended side effects. I do not think that my dietary changes will cure everything, but what they help, they will actually help rather than harm, and they may give me some other benefits as well. More work, yes, but better in the long run. I feel this same thing applies between contraception and NFP. Neither guarantee full control of fertility, but one can at least help with the health of a marriage, where the other one is more likely to cause harm.

    As a single person, I'm a fan of charting being taught at some level fairly early on. It's really helpful to be aware of what's going on in your body as a woman, even if you're not only looking at how you want or need to space a pregnancy. I don't chart in too much detail, but I appreciate knowing what's going on enough to recognize if something strange is going on. It's another good way to keep an eye on overall health as well.

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  8. This series is so good. Thank you for posting it.

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  9. Please never stop writing! This was perfect.

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  10. Fabulous post! You are too funny! Was just talking to my hubby last night about our current state of "openness to life" since we are in our early 40's now. I hope we can welcome one more little mess maker!

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  11. Thank you for keeping it real. I am a newlywed. I was raised Protestant and "pro-life," but totally thought NFP was another way of saying "endless children." Thank God, my mind and heart were converted before we actually got married. I get it on an intellectual level, but it's still HARD. And also, those of us who aren't textbook cases make it even more challenging to implement. I want to shout NFP from the rooftops and convert all my pill-popping friends to our world, while at the same time, I want to talk to all the other NFP-ers about the reality of it. Difficult AND beautiful.

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  12. Curious...did you really conceive 13 days post peak or was that just an example?

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  13. Some very smart and courageous Catholics have hailed from Colorado and Jenny, I believe you are one of them. I truly appreciate your willingness to speak the truth, the whole truth!
    If you ever find yourself up North in the Loveland/Fort Collins area, please look me up! I'll put on the coffee and my 5 and your 3 can run amuck!

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  14. Let's just imagine we live in 2014, but something went terribly wrong during the last 100 years, and a very small percentage of women can have children. Imagine almost everyone is childless, despite trying with all their might. Imagine there is one school per large city, and the classrooms have only 10 children each.

    Now imagine what would happen if a woman in this city discovers she is pregnant. Imagine her husband's jubilation, her mother's joy, the neighbors falling all over themselves to be near her and strangers bursting with joy to see her.

    Now imagine 1000 women within a year are pregnant, when the year before there were only 10. And over the course of six years, each of these woman had five children each. Do you think for a moment society wouldn't be ecstatic with them? Husbands and wives in this imaginary world would not be having NFP conversations or struggling with abstinence and chastity. Hardly.

    My point is the struggle partly comes from the culture's disapproval of pregnancy. It's sickening that the suffering comes from social pressure to not procreate, not from pregnancies that do happen.

    The bottom line is, it's not us. The struggles are real, but many of them are caused because we have to live counter-cultural lives, and none of us likes that one bit.

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