Thursday, February 19, 2015

Why everybody loses when we sugarcoat NFP

There's a common thread that runs through so many of the conversations I've had about NFP lately (and, as this belly pops out more and more, I'm guessing those opportunities are just going to start rolling in gangbusters at Costco and the like) and it's the very simple and very often understated reality that it's difficult.

Did you catch that?

It.is.hard.

There is nothing easy about it, whichever method you practice and however charismatic your instructor and however earnest the smiling couple with 5 mewling children careening about their feet who run you through your introductory session as an idealistic (or perhaps incredibly bored) newly engaged may be.

It's not easy.

It's not easy to choose this alternative lifestyle, to live the practical nitty gritty of the Church's strange and beautiful and salvific teaching on sex and love and human life.

It just isn't.

I doubt it was easy 200 years ago when less was understood about the female reproductive system, and more was left up to a prayer and a chance.

And it's not easy today, for we who are often steeped in and strangled by technology, terrified at turns by our ability to procreate and our inability to control, ultimately, this mysterious force at the center of human existence.

It's heavy stuff we're dealing with, and it deserves a more serious and frank conversation, at every level of engagement.

On the one hand, yes, we ought to be encouraging and enthusiastic in our presentation of the Church's beautiful teachings on sex and marriage, but we ought not do so at the expense of reality.

Nobody has ever pointed to a crucifix and said "look how pretty, look how effortless."

Is it beautiful? Peerlessly.

Is it staggeringly difficult? An incomprehensible level of suffering?

Yes, also that.

There is nothing to be gained from hiding the beauty and the difficulty of living this countercultural reality from those who come to us with questions, comments, or even ridicule.

And there is surely nothing to be gained in failing to advise young engaged and newly married couples, enthusiastic in their love and devotion and early in experience, that the road they are going to walk down is not paved entirely in roses, or rather, that there are thorns, too.

Spouses who practice NFP are less vulnerable to divorce, yes, but not because of NFP alone. There is room in their marriages for charity, for generosity, for communication...but it's an opportunity that must be actualized by hard work and hard choices and constant death to self. It's not a guarantee.

And please, for the love, pastors, well-meaning friends, family members...if a couple is drowning in plain sight, overwhelmed by their present circumstances, or just plain exhausted by the physical and emotional strain of parenthood, do the truly loving thing and lift them up. Offer them babysitting help. Take a meal over. Drop off a gift card. Pray for a multiplication of sleep and energy. But don't lean in in a conspiratorial tone and ask them if they've thought about doing something about all those bouncing babies that keep coming their way.

Yes, they've thought about it. 

And they've either discerned that now was indeed a good time for another new life to come on the scene or they're struggling with understanding their fertility or they just plain made a miscalculation, or God one-up'd them.

Whatever the case may be, they're not morons who've never watched tv, and your suggestions are less than helpful; they're deadly destructive.

I can't tell you how many women I've talked to who have been counseled by pastors/friends/in-laws, well-intentioned Catholics and less-than-well-intentioned Catholics, that contraception was the obvious and only answer to their problems.

When somebody is drowning in plain sight, you don't chastise them for getting in the water in the first place. You throw them a life preserver and wrap them in a warm blanket and hold them until the shivering subsides.

To suggest that living the fullness of the truth of the Catholic Church's teachings on family life is only beneficial up to a point, up to the part where it gets really hard and excruciatingly challenging, empties the authority of those teachings to nothing.

Either it's life giving and soul saving, or to hell with it.

Tell me that from the pulpit and I'll sit up and give you my full attention. Anything less is a waste of my time and an insult to my intellect.

Let's do a better job of talking about NFP. Let's be bold in our conversations with our Catholic friends who are unconvinced. Let's be transparent with our curious (bemused?) family members. And let's be charitable with our incredulous neighbors.

Because there are a whole lot of people searching for real love, and for the meaning of life, and for answers to lots of big questions. Shame on us if we're not willing to offer some answers, or at least start the conversation with an explanation.

Finally, let's encourage our priests and our seminarians to dig deep in their study of these difficult, beautiful truths. There is vast room for improvement, on both sides of the altar.

We live in a society steeped in sexuality and yet utterly illiterate in matters of the heart. People are breaking their bodies and their hearts for want of a little love, and we hardly hear a word about it from the pulpit.

I live in a city populated by some of the finest clergy in the world, and I am richly blessed. Our seminary is peerless, and our parishes are full.

But many are not so fortunate. And even in familiar territory, we cannot assume that everyone is on the same page, that everyone is in agreement and has had the same level of catechesis and instruction.

There is so much room for improvement. And, thankfully, so many opportunities to let Him in, to extend grace and mercy and His beautiful, difficult, life-giving truth.

Let's get to work.

Image source.

60 comments:

  1. Amen! I was in college when a priest first assured me that being Catholic means being countercultural, and it changed the way I see everything.

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  2. Beautiful Jenny, thank you for this

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  3. Yup. You said it. THANK YOU for saying it.

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  4. So this is a corollary to what you are talking about but even withing the "NFP culture" there is so much hostility - we don't even support our own! I noticed a while back that most women who struggle with some variety of infertility don't feel welcomed in NFP groups. There is very little understanding that using NFP to try to conceive is difficult too. It's not sexy to have to schedule sex during the fertile time every month and often have to combine it with a cocktail of pills and injections. That steals the life out of a marriage too. God made marriages to be fertile and when the sexual act between you and your spouse is infertile (or in our case, results in the miscarriage of child after child), it attacks the root of your marriage. And yet, we're (the infertiles) are told to stop complaining, that we're lucky that we can have sex whenever we want with no consequences. (Not to say that people with infertility problems are always sympathetic to those who struggle to use NFP to postpone pregnancies, there is definitely an issue there as well. But infertility is a minority so we tend to get lambasted and pushed out of those groups.) It's so frustrating. Why can't we acknowledge that all NFP is hard, in all situation, no matter what, and support everyone where they are?

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    1. And I must add, NFP is often touted as an alternative of IVF, etc. It's sugarcoated in that way too - oh, you just chart your cycles and you'll get a baby, it's so easy! But it's not! No wonder so many Catholics seek IVF and other immoral ART - because we sugarcoat NFP in a way that is too good to be true, we aren't honest about it, we don't tell the truth about the pain and sinfulness of the alternatives, but instead tout Creighton or NaPro or whatever as a miracle cure. I think it does amazing things to address the root of reproductive problems that other doctors don't even bother with, but it's not going to result in an immediate baby for everyone. No wonder people give up quickly, because they are offered a miracle cure and are easily disillusioned. Let's be honest about it all.

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    2. Amen a thousand times, Mandi. I see some of this in a Creighton group I'm in on Facebook (though mostly it's really charitable) but it's not doing anyone any favors to present NFP as this panacea for whatever ails us. Thank you for pointing out how crazy difficult life on the other end of the fertility spectrum is (and how heroic a couple must be in their refusal to do what is not truly in the best interest of their children/potential children in the realm of ART.) Thank you.

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    3. Mandi - you are reading my heart and speaking my mind!

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    4. A million times yes Mandi! To see your possibly fertile window approaching and that weight of infertility clouding what would otherwise be the most joyful of times to come together. When you are robbed of romance, of hope, and feel so much less because the love of the marriage does not correlate with the people in car seats. So hard, so draining, and sometimes even with all the purported miracle cures, you're left to wonder why NFP doesn't work like they tell us.

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    5. Mandi - you are right on! We struggled with infertility for 8 years, and it absolutely sucked the joy out of our love life. It was so hard. We were tested and treated at Pope Paul VI with no change to my fertility. You're right - NFP is certainly no guarantee as a "fix" for infertility. And then, immediately after adopting our second child as a newborn, we were surprised with a pregnancy! Such a blessing, but babies 9 months apart is also insanely hard. So now we are on the other end of the spectrum - needing to avoid pregnancy for the sake of our mental health until the babies are a bit older. And that is so hard too. We feel so blessed with an amazing NFP community where we live, but you're right - even they have a hard time understanding. Thanks for bringing up such a good point- we all need to support each other. But with true honesty. And NFP. is. hard.

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  5. Thank you! I have a lot of trials with this (non Catholic husband...) and I appreciate your honesty. So far, I just keep having babies, but it might not work forever lol

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  6. Thank You! My husband and I hate NFP...yes, we hate it. It is good for us, it is beautiful and all that jazz...but we hate it. And we struggle with infertility. It isn't easy having to have sex on a schedule in the hopes you get a baby. We often feel ostracized because couple think, "Oh, well you guys don't really need to do NFP, you can just have sex whenever." Let me tell you, trying to figure out the best time to have sex down to the hour based on temperature and mucus etc. usually means having sex exactly when you don't want too, and the whole time you are just thinking about whether or not it will work. And there is very little spontaneity in your sex life anymore. It is good, and beautiful, and amazing, but as you said it.is.hard. For everyone, on whatever end of the spectrum you find yourself! I laugh when people are shocked when we tell them we don't really like NFP, but we know it is the best thing for us, our marriage, and our family, so we do it!

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  7. Jenny, this is so well done. Thank you. And thanks to Mandi, too, for such insightful comments. This is the way the NFP conversation needs to be had.

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  8. Beautifully written! I have a love/hate relationship with NFP and always feel guilty about it. We get pregnant very easily and yes I love all 5 of our kids and the newest on the way, but it is difficult and I feel we aren't allowed to express that. This is exactly the thoughts that have been running through my head lately, thank you!!!

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  9. Yes, yes, yes. I echo what Abbey said - I so appreciate this and Mandi's perspective, too. We've been on both sides of this challenge, the infertile and the fertile side, and you can't sugarcoat either. Thank you for speaking truth.

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  10. Thank you! We took the NFP and postpartum NFP classes and I can't help but feel that the teachers (wonderful people!) never let on how difficult it is. And for a while we received the CCL magazine and I felt each copy only touted how much NFP has blessed so and so's marriage and how great it is, while I'm sitting there w/ 3 kids 3 and under wishing someone would just say "yes- it is hard, I know how you feel".

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  11. Yes! As an instructor, I try to be realistic with the couples we teach. Practicing NFP isn't always hard and it isn't always easy. Abstinence isn't always hard and it isn't always easy. Using the system to avoid a pregnancy isn't always hard and it isn't always easy. Using NFP to achieve a pregnancy isn't always hard and it isn't always easy. At times you will think NFP is the greatest gift/most incredible burden to our marriage. And that is totally normal. Please reach out to others in the NFP communities when it is easy/hard because one of us will be in a similar situation or at least we were at one time and we might have some wisdom to share.

    The nature of teaching NFP makes us focus on the "rules" to avoid a pregnancy, because that is why most people are using it and we are typically helping them interpret challenging fertility signs. And I remember looking at my own charts and struggling with why my very clear fertlity signs and diligently following the "rule" to achieve a pregnancy hadn't resulted in a viable pregnancy. And then my clear fertility signs and rule following found us pregnant and the doctor said there is no way I could know I was pregnant "already" based on LMP and they didn't want to write the Rx that would save my baby's little life in those early days.

    Oh NFP, you are a cruel bedfellow for far too many if us.

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  12. What a beautifully written heartfelt post. Thank you so much! It's always so good to know that you're not alone in the struggle. I have a lot of folks to share this with. Well done.

    Mary

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  13. I really, really, really love this post. Did I mention really? This is an aspect of my Catholic religion that I struggle with daily. I have told my husband I really believe that there needs to be NFP support groups at church. This subject needs so much more air time then it is given. Thank you for this post. I always love to know I am not alone

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  14. LOVE this! Thank you so much for sharing this! I will be passing it along!

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  15. What would you say to these women to encourage them?
    http://womenintheology.org/category/women-speak-about-natural-family-planning/

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  16. Amen! This is one of the original purposes of www.ConversationwithWomen.org.....to let women know that Church teachings are not all sunshine and roses (actually a thorny rose could be a good analogy) but are still well worth the effort. Our focus was particularly on NFP because so many women have told me that they get discouraged after hearing an NFP speaker or going to an NFP class because the picture they painted was of a perfect marriage in a perfect world. I have heard, "my marriage isn't like that", "my husband is not going to take my temperature", "I couldn't make that work because my marriage isn't perfect". So we set out to share some real stories of what it is like to live church teaching with the struggle and then eventually the joys. All of the stories are submitted anonymously. We thought we would receive many NFP stories and we did get several but we have also received many more stories focusing miscarriage, abortion, pornography, infertility.

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  17. I don't believe there is any great conspiracy to "sugarcoat NFP", but those who promote NFP tend to be the "success stories". They usually go something like this:

    "I feel so much better off the Pill. Our marriage is so much better now that I'm off the Pill. NaPro fixed my problems which was why my now EX-doctor put me on the Pill in the first place. We were able to get pregnant right away when we wanted after my EX-doctor said I was going to have fertility problems. (Isn't science cool?) Catholic teaching told us it was OK to have as many babies as I wanted, instead of only being able to have 2.3 kids like society says."

    I know people who could fit this exact story or something very close to it. So yes, they are really excited about it. Still, this does not mean that NFP is always easy or that everyone will have the same experience. There are cases of unresolved infertility or hyperfertility. There are marital issues where trying to practice NFP will make the problem worse. Life is complicated and it's OK to acknowledge that.

    I also can tell that people are afraid to speak up because they are worried that what they write will be used as Exhibit A in "Why the Church is Wrong." But there's really no winning with people who are already convinced of that. They have made up their mind and will interpret whatever you say or don't say in a way that fits their narrative.

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  18. What is most harmful, however, isn't the sugarcoating, but the implication in some circles that if you are struggling with NFP or struggling with parenthood that you don't really love God or don't really love your spouse. Analogies about "killing Grandma" and accusations that husbands are using their wives for sex or that couples have a "contraceptive mentality" don't do anyone any good.

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  19. Jenny - THIS, 100%. Thank you. NFP is hard, and it's great. It's like - my non-Catholic/non-Christian friends and family think I'm nuts and will end up pregnant every 9 months. There are Catholics who think I'm just probably contracepting because we aren't trying to conceive right now. Then, the fact that I'd love to know just ONE other couple who is NFP and Catholic in our area seems pretty much impossible. The NFP training at our church consists of a dated poster in an out-of-the-way classroom that shows a couple in a meadow with the words, "Love - Naturally." Our marriage-prep NFP class was at another parish in which the teachers were pregnant with child #4 and conceived #1 on their honeymoon. Apparently, they have textbook fertility and the means to be open to life from the get-go. The class was filled with people already living together and other skeptics, just "checking the box" of marriage prep requirements...and then me, who actually needed and wanted this information. Yes, NFP sucks at times. Yes, it's so hard. Yes, it's worth it. I do feel better, more connected to my husband, more respectful of the act, of our fertility. But, yes, we need to stop presenting it as the magic fix for all. There's got to be a better way of honesty. One thing that got through to me was Theology of the Body, and the idea that all love comes with self-sacrifice to some degree - in other words, a cross.

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  20. I love this so much. Thanks for sharing. I hate NFP, and it's been a huge struggle for my husband and I. It's making us better people to be sure, and I'm so grateful to know so much about how my body works, but it's way harder than it was ever presented to be. I also wish there was more discussion of saving sex for marriage, but within the context of NFP. Because I was a virgin until I got married, and the way it was always talked about was that I was going to have this beautiful, amazing, crazy awesome sex life from the get-go because I waited. Like boom, say the vows and then get ready for the best experience of your life. And of course, I'm glad I waited for my husband, but it was not the rosy portrait that was painted for me, because we were trying to avoid for awhile after getting married, so sex was few and far between, and when it did happen it felt like I was just obligated to because it had been awhile and/or we didn't know what the next day's observation would be so we shouldn't waste an opportunity, know what I mean? I do wish there was way more honest, open discussion about it all. I felt so alone and like something was wrong with me, that I had waited so long to be with my husband, yet that whole element of our relationship was so strange for so long and not at all what people had described. How can we do better? Thanks for sharing this.

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  22. knowing when a woman is infertile or potentially fertile isnt all that hard. abstaining when she is fertile is a different story.

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  23. This is so spot on, thank you for sharing these words!

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  24. Thank You for this because its all just soo true. All the posts from Infertile to Fertile as well!! I have been on both sides. Miscarriages and hoping a Doctor would give me Rx for that "too early for us Drs to prescribe moment" etc.
    Here's the thing for me now. After having a great drive then having kids with one ending my drive completely; now its difficult for any reason having kids or not. Using NFP for not having a kid every 9 (10) months....and then knowing it, following it to a T...And having "God One Up" us. Wtheck?! Couldn't we get a little rest? It was pretty stressful for me because my Husband like many have a hard time with abstaining. I hate feeling like Im the cause sometimes. I know I am not, really. But geez after a while. It seems like I'm the only one saying no... and then we have to revise the whole plan, are we ready for another? and the answer being No. A Husband telling himself no and his Wife in the same boat, but from a different motivation. In the end its No and abstinence for a "longer" period of time for either one of us. Just Sucks. Most of the time Im not into it (THAT really bites, because I used to be...and now Im lumped into another group I thought Id never be a part of. Let alone my Husband asking himself "what happened?), but I do it for my Husband. He isn't into it when he knows that and it then becomes mechanical sometimes. Like another commenter said the Disillusionment that takes place after being told "when your Married It's Awesome!" ....riiiight. Its not in any way shape or form all the time. Yes, we know the same case is made for shortcuts but in the end its Another Kind of Cross. I guess in the end all I mean is. Be lucky for what we have and keep a stiff upper lip no matter what the case is. We all just have a Cross one way or the other. Kinda reminds me of the Straight haired girl wanting Wavy lushious hair and the girl having Wavy wanting it straight. Lol

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  25. I guess I just don't understand, when it's so hard (which I hear from all my NFPing friends) why it's a better alternative to what my husband and I do: we decided when we got married to have all the children (and miscarriages) that God sent us unless some very serious situation came up, and we enjoy "the marital embrace" without and weirdness. We always abstain on Fridays and some other fasting days. Other than that, sex is a consolation, and babies are never a problem. No charting, no guessing, no guilt or accusations. There's less money, couple-time and me-time, and a few more souls. It seems like a win-win-win.

    I'm not trying to be unkind, but I just really do not understand a generation of Catholics that's making things so much harder than it needs to be. Instead of NFP, try openness and generosity. It's actually more sacrificial, and it's actually nicer.

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    1. Laura, what a blessing that you and your husband, through prayer and discernment with God, have never found yourself in a situation in which you needed to practice NFP to postpone pregnancy for a time. That is truly a gift and, unfortunately, a rarity in our fallen world. However, please don't assume that because you never personally experienced serious reasons to prayerfully use NFP that couples who do use NFP are using it for the wrong reasons (more more, more couple-time, more me-time). As Jenny discussed in the original post, and as many of the commenters contributed as well, using NFP is extremely difficult so most couples who do use it have a truly serious reason to avoid a pregnancy, otherwise, why would they put themselves and their marriage through such a hardship?

      I believe that you are really trying to help with your comment, but I'd like to remind you that NFP is not in fact the opposite of openness or generosity, and your comments will do more harm than good for faithful, God-fearing Catholics who are using NFP exactly how the Church says that we can. I'm afraid you are confusing NFP with contraception, which in fact is the opposite of openness and generosity. Additionally, I don't believe you can decide what exactly is more sacrificial for each individual couple. A couple who desperately wants more children but because of a serious reason must prevent pregnancy, perhaps forever, may be sacrificing a whole lot more than a couple who has many children but also the means to adequately care for them. I truly believe that God judges each person's actions and intentions individually, and you should too.

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    2. Generally when somebody prefaces a statement with "I'm not trying to ..." and then still goes ahead and says the thing they ought not, well, it still comes across crystal clear that way.

      I'm glad you've never found the need to practice NFP. Of course it's a sacrifice, and of course it isn't easy. But thankfully, the Church doesn't share your low opinion of it and presents it to her children as a gift and a tool that many, many couples find necessary. Praise God if you're free from the burden of serious health problems, mental illness, and fertility issues. But don't presume your situation identical to everybody else's, and please, don't make sweeping generalizations about what is more charitable, more sacrificial, and just plain "nicer."

      NFP may not be for everyone, (and I'd count myself lucky if I ever arrived in that place myself) but it certainly does not preclude openness, generosity, and niceness. Geez.

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    3. I think, Laura, that you are very wrong to assume that what is more sacrificial for you is what is more sacrificial for everyone. Same with nicer. Not being able to feed your kids or pay your bills with 8 kids isn't as nice as feeding your kids and paying your bills with 5.

      And uh, we use NFP and there's no guilt or accusations. If you see that happening in a marriage NFP is not to blame.

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    4. Wow, lucky you - so you don't have to use NFP or worry about "weirdness" or charting or "dire circumstances." You are truly lucky. I know very few people for whom their family size, budget, provisions are not a consideration. And for some, it's a very SERIOUS consideration. You're basically making Jenny's point for her. The Church allows for NFP in serious circumstances. You cannot know what a serious circumstance is to another couple when looking from the outside in. You cannot know what their family size does or does not say about their heart or faithfulness to Church teaching. Yes, there are some who misuse or mis-interpret the use of NFP - but, how are you to know that unless you know them personally and have discussed that matter? We who are practicing Catholic (whether using NFP or not) are part of a larger cultural war against life, against love, against marriage, against truth. Can we not support one another and pray for conversion of heart rather than jumping to conclusions and judgments?

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  26. Jenny,
    I'm really seeking understanding. Sorry if it seemed unkind.

    Being raised in a multigenerational large Catholic family, I feel that the NFP crowd is distorting the Church's real teachings on marriage and family, and it's hurting individuals and the Church. And so I am trying to understand.

    Serious health problems, mental illness and fertility issues certainly may warrant the use of NFP, but it's not a forgone conclusion that they do. I do not at all assume others are in my position, but I also do not assume that NFP is wise in all cases.

    My observation in Steubenville is that NFP is not used in dire circumstances most of the time. This is the sort of NFP use that seems like an awfully lot of work for a lesser good. NFP may not be for everyone. I'd sure like to be the lady who tells a couple who's struggling because they think the Church expect's them to do it "If it's making you crazy, ditch it!" I know people who stopped using it and admitted they were out of a sense of obligation, fear, and ungenerosity. So that's who I want to encourage. If that's not you, no worries.

    I won't bother you any farther - I have to go do school. Thanks for answering!

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    1. You know what, I owe you an apology, Laura. I took you to task for a lack of charity and then I didn't extend the same to you, so I'm sorry.

      I'm just treading water here with a 4 year old, a 2 year old, a 1 year old, and #4 cooking. And they're all home sick right now which makes the day...rosy. I'm just weary of the friendly fire so many Catholics (well intentioned or not) are lobbing at each other via the internet these days. I think it's great if you guys don't need NFP, and I think your second comment was much more nuanced and less inflammatory. But I do hold couples who practice NFP in high regard, and this piece was written for them, who get little to no support, from the culture at large, certainly, but too often from their own Church.

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    2. Laura, I think that you are really well-intentioned and I think that you are seeking understanding, so I want to share with you why comments like yours are so hurtful. Also, I was where you were at one point. I spent the first several months of our marriage using NFP simply because I wanted to be a good example of "NFP works" and because I knew there were some people who would disapprove if we got pregnant right away. But then I saw the error in that and we had our daughter and I become a bit anti-NFP. It seemed like all the people we knew who used NFP didn't seem to have good reasons to use it and I was very judgmental of them, NFP, and the "contraceptive mentality". And then my husband and I had some serious reasons to use NFP and I realized that I was probably very harshly judging couples who prayed and agonized over the decision of whether or not to use NFP to postpone pregnancy and that even if on the outside it seemed like they could have more children, I probably had NO IDEA what they were going through. So now, I give couples the benefit of the doubt. Most couples who use NFP care profoundly about their Catholic faith and their relationship with God, if they didn't, they would take the much "easier" route of contraception. So I assume that those couples who use NFP (especially for any length of time) probably do have serious reasons to use it or why else would they put themselves through that misery?

      Anyway, on to the reason why I think your comment is more harmful than helpful. For those of us who through prayer and discernment have come to the decision to use NFP for a time to postpone pregnancy, there isn't a lot of support. And anytime there is support in the form of articles or blog posts or support groups, there are always comments similar to yours. Comments which imply that the vast majority of NFP users are selfish, ungenerous, unsacrificial, and "distorting the Church's real teachings on marriage and family". And these comments are coming from other Catholics, who are supposed to support and love us. Do they not know how difficult our situations are? How not only do we have to abstain from sex with our spouse, but we have to because of circumstances beyond our control - unemployment, disease, depression, etc. Not only do we have to bear the burden of NFP but we also are constantly judged and tested by our fellow Catholics - "Are your reasons good enough???" Sometimes we're even point blank told our reasons aren't good enough, even though we are following the teachings of the Church. The decision to use NFP is between two spouses and God, and sometimes a trusted priest or counselor if we need help making that decision - why must we prove to the Catholics around us that our reasons are enough? Why can't you give couples the benefit of the doubt that they are using it for the right reasons, or if they are not that they will quickly discover on their own that they are not and stop using it (just as my husband and I did)?

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    3. The best way to cultivate a Catholic community in which NFP is only used for serious reasons (and the Church used "serious reasons" and not "dire circumstances") is to be an example of a couple who has been richly blessed (not necessarily in children, unfortunately many couples never prevent pregnancy and still have few or no children) by never using NFP. And by all means, if someone shares their struggles with NFP, feel free to say, "If you don't have a serious reason to do it, don't! God will bless you for being open!" But that's not exactly what your comments were. I would have had no problem with a comment that simply stated just that, but your comment came across as generalizations and assumptions that were judgmental and critical. Remember, we are all Catholics striving for the same thing - heaven. I have no doubt that you mean well, but perhaps you should reconsider how you are sharing your message and see where you can treat others with less generalizations, judgment, and condemnation and more compassion and concern for their individual circumstances.

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    4. Mandi,

      I read your reply and I get it. But it sounds as if you're saying, "Anytime NFP is brought up, no one is allowed to criticize it or provide other alternatives---if they do, then they are personally judging everyone's private lives and they are "generalizing, judgmental, and condemning others." Wow. To say that perhaps many couples who are struggling with NFP could instead try to just not use NFP---that's wrong? Really? It's wrong to even suggest it? I didn't see where Laura personally accused anyone of using NFP for wrong motives.

      The choices in married life seem to be, use artificial birth control or use NFP. There is a third way. I don't see why it's wrong to name it, encourage it, and suggest it as an alternative. If someone has a serious reason to use NFP, then great. If they don't, or if NFP (as the original article says) is very difficult or causing stress and strain on the marriage, then maybe they should consider not using NFP. That does NOT mean they should get on the Pill. But I just think that in these discussions, everyone just assumes that it's either the Pill or NFP. It's not possible to actually just live life without birth control of some kind, or so it sounds. And wrath comes down on anyone who even suggests it.

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  28. Laura,
    Here is a great article that explains why many people think they need "grave" reason when the vatican translation asks for "serious" reason. there is a difference between the two. http://www.hprweb.com/2008/03/humanae-vitae-grave-motives-to-use-a-good-translation/

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    1. The teaching of the church boils down to saying that if the couple thinks they have a serious, grave, valid, just (all these words have been used) reason, then they can use NFP.

      But ultimately, God is the judge of what a serious reason is. The Church can't possibly judge each person's reason. But just because a couple prays and thinks they have a just or serious reason, it does not follow that God agrees with that.

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    1. Perhaps the main thing to work on as a community is to stop judging others. I spent the first 8 years of my marriage or so, feeling judged both by those who contracept, and those who advocate NFP. Judged by some for not using contraception thus having lots of babies, and judged by others for obviously being ignorant of this whole nfp thing and thus having lots of babies! The Church does not say we must avoid pregnancy for x amount of time and have x amount of children, lest we be irresponsible, and She does not say we must have all the babies we possibly could, lest we be ungenerous. Families come in all different shapes and sizes, and it is our job as Catholics to follow the teachings of the Church and not contracept, to pray, to trust God, and to love and support others. And within that, there are so many ways for it all to turn out right. I always figure, if its hard, there must be something right about it! It is undoubtedly both generous and responsible to either, through discernment and with trusting God, limit the number of children you have, or, have allllll the babies you possibly could ;) I suppose, my husband and I generally find ourselves in the "having lots of babies" camp, and it has been a real gift to us. He has given us the blessing of having lots of children and has paved the way for us to do so, but the way has been strewn with difficulties, which have blessedly drawn us closer to Him and to each other. Whatever we do, if we do it with eyes on Him "seeking His Kingdom", He will guide our way and provide the graces necessary for it. Thanks be to God, it is a difficult and beautiful journey. Congratulations Jenny on your new baby! I am right there with you, 24 weeks along with baby number 7 :)

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    2. I agree and disagree in you saying we as Catholics should not judge each other in regard to childbearing. I agree because all things should be done in love. But I disagree because I don't think questioning NFP use in certain situations is judgmental or wrong.

      When your daughter grows up, and comes to you and says, "Should Tom and I use NFP right now?" What are you going to respond? "Well dear, go and pray and I'm not going to give you any advice and whatever you decide is going to be right"? I'm sure you will want to give her sound advice in relation to whether they do indeed have serious reasons. Your daughter might wonder if it's irresponsible to have babies 1 year apart. Is this true? What is Catholic teaching?

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    3. It's not that we can't have an opinion especially when asked, I just don't think it would be right to judge another persons heart on the issue. There are a lot of reasons why it could be considered a serious enough thing to use NFP to postpone pregnancy. But, those reasons will not look the same in all families. For example, one family may be perfectly peaceful raising a house full of kids on a 30,000/ year salary, while another family may be full of anxiety and stress and unable to raise their family on a budget that to them feels extremely tight and inflexible. Sorry, that analogy seems really weak and rough around the edges the way I wrote it, but hopefully it comes across. Simcha Fisher uses a few analogies like this but of course does a much better job explaining. Ultimately, we cannot judge another's heart. Only God can know their true intentions, which matter greatly here. That being said, I have read a lot of the comments here saying that people who use NFP feel judged for doing so and I would like to point out that those who do not use it, but rather let the babies come as they may more or less, also may feel judged that they are being irresponsible or weak or ignorant or whatever. I find myself feeling this way sometimes. We have 6 kids and one on the way and my oldest is 10. I have certainly felt the need to justify my closely spaced kids to people at times. And really, that is just nonsense. Big families or those who do not use NFP and trust God in their family size do not need to apologize to anyone and neither do those who discern to limit family size and be diligent in the rules of NFP. In and of themselves, neither decision or action is more or less virtuous and both can be a huge act of generosity and sacrifice, depending on where their hearts are, which we cannot know the full extent of, and therefore should not take it upon ourselves to judge. The Church says we must be open to life and not use artificial contraception. We are called to responsible love and parenthood. And that leaves a lot of room for families to come put looking differently, and still be great and right in line with the Church.

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    4. Also, to give encouragement for anyone who may feel like I have at times, a family full of little kids is beautiful and wonderful. It is not a testament to how badly you did NFP, but rather a testament to life and love and the beauty that God can make out of our flawed humanity. Of there is a serious reason to postpone, trust thatGod will provide the grace, and if He is paving the way for a more full household with lots of littles, then trust Him to provide the grace for that too!

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    5. "I just don't think it would be right to judge another persons heart on the issue."

      I totally agree. However, the discussion usually goes like this.

      J: The Catholic Church says to not use artificial birth control, but instead use nfp.
      L: But you know a Catholic should have serious motives before using nfp, right?
      J: How dare you judge my reasons! You're judgmental, cruel and have no right to say anything.

      It's hard to know how to state an opinion when people so quickly start calling the other person judgmental. In my post above, I don't recall judging anyone personally and declaring them guilty before God. And yet in your reply to me you used judge or judgmental on five different occasions, as if I really needed to hear that. Lol.

      By the way, in your post, you seem to be very sure everything will work out just fine. Catholic couples will pray, seek God for their family size and spacing, they will invariably get it right. It can be taken for granted that nfp is being used correctly. Any family size is the right family size. Letting nature take it's course is no more virtuous than using nfp to have a family of one, if that's what the couple feels God is calling them to, etc.

      I'm sort of on the other side of that coin. I don't trust myself or others to discern the will of God so easily, especially on something so important as childbearing, with all the cultural pressures to limit one's family size. Or as an analogy, how many Catholics attend Mass each Sunday? Is the number 7% now? So I could be really optimistic that 93% of Catholics have really good reasons for missing Mass each Sunday, or I could be more realistic and say that most Catholics are probably skipping Mass when they shouldn't be, when they have no valid reason (again, as defined by God not me). The same would be true of nfp. I would tend to assume that most Catholics who use nfp are doing it for less than serious reasons (as defined by God, not by me). I would put myself in that category as well. I think there are always serious medical and financial consequences for having children and there is never any pressure exerted on couples to actually have large families. All these pressures to not have large families, a typical Catholic population that is lukewarm (as measured by every statistical indicator by the Church itself), and an nfp process in which couples have to subjectively figure out how many children God wants them to have---and voila, a perfect environment for couples to discern the correct family size every time?

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  30. Also, here is a great article that helps to push back on those who think the Church's teaching on when NFP can be used is in only the most dire circumstances.

    http://www.hprweb.com/2008/03/humanae-vitae-grave-motives-to-use-a-good-translation/

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    2. Simcha Fisher did a great job of explaining Church teaching and helping people understand different situations. Her book "The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning" was a great blessing to me at a low point. :)

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  31. My original comment was swallowed up by the interwebs.

    Thank you so much for this beautiful post. This is such a needed message. It does not help when the person best known for popularizing the theology of the body has book covers like this http://www.amazon.com/Heavens-Song-Sexual-Love-Meant/dp/1934217468/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8 and this http://www.amazon.com/Fill-These-Hearts-Universal-Longing/dp/0307987132/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8.

    I think many people are damaged by the overly sexualized reading of the TOB given by some and also by the overly romanticized vision of married life. It is hard and we shouldn't sugarcoat it as you say. Thanks for writing this! A timely and important message.

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    1. I agree that the devil can cruelly twist good messages and truly damage people. I think I am that case in point. I have shed so many tears in my 7 years of marriage over sex in general--not even always just because of the difficulty of NFP. We did everything "by the book" and expected something very different than what we got, even before reality and the unexpected tragedies and crosses of life hit. I trust His timing and His grace to lead my marriage to holiness and to that "Heaven's Song" that God means it to be, but these first 7 years have been a huge learning curve for us. I wish I had read something like years ago when I was the Girl Who Did Everything Right wondering What We Were Doing So Wrong That It Was This Hard?

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  32. Thank you for your beautiful post! My husband and I entered married life with a plan for 3 children...then God opened our hearts and we decided to turn our family size over to Him. We have since been blessed with 7 children on earth and 7 children in Heaven! Has it been an easy journey, no, but have we grown immensely in our faith and trusting in God, yes!
    We are a military family so we move a lot and our family size is always a topic of discussion. People are quick with their comments, showing us how hurtful judgments can be. Although we try to laugh most comments off, the harsh ones sting a little more giving us and our children an important lesson in humility. When asked about our family size we respond with what we believe... "Our family size is NOT based on a number, but rather on obeying God and His design for our family".
    It is sad to say, but I think there is a large dissention in the ranks of Catholic Churches and therefore families about NFP. We have seen it through the states we have lived and heard it from various families. While large families get ridiculed for not using it, families who need it for health and other reasons get ridiculed for using it. It is heartbreaking to see it bring about such conflict among each of us. Please prayerfully encourage your family and your church to revisit this issue and provide guidance so that we can all be doing His will.
    God has a beautiful plan for each family and whether that is for 0 or 20 children, we pray that everyone seek His guidance through prayer.

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  33. http://www.fairhavenhealth.com/ovacue-bundle.html So much easier than mucus, cervix, and temp!! Worth every penny!! Works for both those TTC and those trying to avoid pregnancy. It measures your electrolyte levels and from that can pin point when you are fertile both pre and post ovulation and also pinpoints when you ovulate. Doesn't make it any easier when your hubby and you would love to make love and you are in the "no zone" but it is nice having an "outside source" saying when you are!

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  34. This: "We live in a society steeped in sexuality and yet utterly illiterate in matters of the heart."
    AMEN.

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