Simcha Fischer has been writing at great length about her love/hate relationship with NFP. She even wrote a book about it -
It's the kind of book I would feel more comfortable giving to my young homeschooling mom friends who are struggling with raising their six kids under six, than to the marginally Catholic couples that I might meet at the annual pre-cana day even. Nonetheless, Ms. Fischer's thoughts on NFP are so honest and so familiar -
NFP boosters tend to paint a rosy picture because it's a hard sell, persuading people to turn their sex lives over to God. And so, not wanting to scare anyone off, they emphasize the benefits while glossing over the sacrifices that often come along as a matched set. I understand why they do this. You're not going to convert the masses by saying, "Hey everybody! Who's ready for some redemptive suffering?" But so many couples launch into NFP expecting sunshine and buttercups and are horrified to discover instead the Cross.
The cross indeed.
Mr. Pete and I are out of our childbearing years now. I miss them. Yet last night as we were watching our 3-month-old granddaughter who was loudly expressing her frustration at not being able to fall asleep in her own room at home, I was reminded of how hard those years had been at times, There is something to be said for being able to send the grandchildren off with their parents - who hopefully are now appreciative of us and the parenting we tried to give them. As grandparents, that little cross, as lovable as she is, is a little lighter for us than it is for them.
I was very young when I took my first NFP training. I was a senior in high school and Mr. Pete had been out a year. We were engaged to be married but that was two years out and I wanted to understand how this all worked before we got married. I can remember that one of my high school teachers and his wife were also in the class, which was a little awkward for both of us.Nonetheless we all stuck with it until the course was over.
I remember our teaching couple was very sweet and middle aged (although probably younger than I am now!) They talked a lot about how well the method worked and how great it had been for their marriage. But they never talked about (or at least it didn't make an impression on me) about how NFP was supposed to be used for important, perhaps even grave reasons, and not just because you didn't feel like having a baby. For us, in the late 1970s and products of a very liberal Catholic education, just saving the planet from overpopulation and landfills full of disposable diapers was enough of a reason to stay out of the reproduction business. I doubt that the term "redemptive suffering" was ever mentioned even once.
I learned the method, and I took temperatures and wrote down fertility signs as best I could understand them. I was delighted to see that my chart looked very much like what we had seen in our classes and I was convinced that we were going to be able to use NFP in our marriage successfully.
But after we got married, things got real. Just the stress of getting married was enough to throw my body and consequently my NFP chart, into all kinds of turmoil. Figuring out fertility signs and weird symptoms certainly wasn't a very romantic way to start out married life. But eventually my system settled down and we became a good little NFP couple- taking temperatures at 6 a.m. and then writing them down later, maybe. He'd want to fudge the end of stage I or the beginning of stage III and we'd fight about it, just about every month.
But after a while I figured out that there were certain things about my system that were very consistent - I was blessed with unmistakable, knock-the-wind out, sock-in-the-gut mittelschmerz that painfully, but unmistakeably announced that ovulation had occurred. Eventually our charting became more sporadic, and then nonexistent. I knew my fertility signs and we went by that.
Now we weren't exactly living as good Catholics, although we were following our own form of fertility awareness. We had had no catechises about the importance of children to a marriage or that our marriage should be open to the creation of new life. Nothing we had learned before ever exposed us to that way of thinking. Instead we thought we were being "responsible" (to the environment, to the planet, to feminism,)while pursuing our own interests - and that's pretty much how we spent our 20s.
It wasn't until the birth of our first child (undoubtedly conceived while fudging those beginning-of-stage- III rules) that we began to question any of this, and then all of it. And finally upon embracing and reverting back to our Catholic faith and wanting to live an authentically Catholic lifestyle, did we come to understand that NFP was an option for us if we had strong reasons for avoiding or postponing a pregnancy, but it wasn't supposed to be a lifestyle choice! And figuring that out, for us anyway, was very freeing because it made us really look at our priorities and our lives.
Part of what influenced me was a talk I heard by Kimberly Hahn, where she discussed "just being open" to new life and being open to God's plan for our family. This just astounded me. I had never heard anyone verbalize that it was okay to just not do anything! It was an entirely new way of thinking about family life that I had never even considered before. But even more then that, I remember feeling remorseful - that I had spent so much of my marriage already not being open to the gifts of children but instead being reluctant and even a little scared to have them. I can remember pondering all of this and then praying to God that he would restore to us the years that I had foolishly let the locusts eat away.
So in our 30s we didn't follow any sort of NFP at all, and conceived four of our children during that time, and then two more children in our 40s. Did it help our marriage or hurt our marriage? I think some of the ideas we picked up as children of the 60s and 70s were more hurtful to our marriage than NFP ever was. At least with NFP we were able to see that God does have a design even in our very bodies - a sort of Theology of the Body before we even knew what that was. And in that way I think NFP was better for our marriage and certainly for our spiritual life. My only regret is that we didn't understand more completely the role of motherhood and fatherhood and our relationship with God earlier in our marriage.
Just being open to the possibility of a new baby wasn't always easy and at times it was economically almost impossible. But as I look at my family now, (even the older kids who are testing my parenting skills and patience in ways I never considered before) I am so very happy that they are all here and even happier for the sweet memories and experiences Mr. Pete and I now share.
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