Thursday, April 26, 2012

Revamping NFP? Yea or Nea?

I think that this is it.  I've turned the corner.  Last night was not as horrible as I imagined and I'm hoping this is actually the end of the flu or whatever virus has struck our house.  Now if I could just get rid of this cough.  Sadie was cuddling with me after sneaking into bed with me in the early morning and after hearing me cough a few times she got up and went back to her own bed without saying a word.  The sound is apparently that annoying.  But I promised I wasn't going to write about being sick for the half dozenth time this week.

And I've been thinking about writing a NFP post, partially because it's what all the cool kids are doing right now, and partially because even if my recovering brain doesn't nail the subject, I know there are awesome brand-new links out there that might just carry the post along that I've been wanting to share with all of you since yesterday when I was trying not to sleep.

First I'll give you a few of the highlights from the recent NFP links I've been reading.  It was pretty late last night when I stumbled across Martha's latest post (I'll admit, I stalk her blog, waiting for her to post something new and refraining from posting comments in the combox like: "Hey, post something new!  If we can't get together for tea this week because I don't want to send you to the ER with this flu, you have to at least write an another awesome blog post to distract me for ten minutes!").  The first time I met Martha we were involved in a discussion about NFP.  Now anywhere else in the world that would sound unusual, but not in our little community here in Southern Florida.  Here it's not all that unusual that it comes up in casual conversations as a topic (or even in a discussion in a group), which sounds kind of funny when you really think about it.

The next post is from another favorite blogger, Calah Alexander.  Now Calah's post would have made it into the round up just because of the Doctor Who reference, but it's an honest and awesome post apart from that, all on it's own.  It's refreshing to read in a corner of the online world where it can sometimes seem that NFP is perpetually viewed through rose colored glasses.

JoAnna's post reminded me of sitting in my hairdressers chair, back before I decided to hand the scissors over to Paul and save myself some prying (immediately before), a proud new mom, with a cuddly pink baby.  The woman, who I'd been going to for a couple of years, asked immediately what method of birth control we used and when I said we didn't use birth control, we used NFP, in a nervous, wow, I don't want to be talking about this with you, sort of way, said loudly, "Oh the rhythm method."  She then looked skeptical as I tried to explain temperatures and that it's actually quite scientific and reliable.  Of course, it's rather disappointing when major universities decide to use the same word of mouth description from decades ago, since we'd all like to believe we can expect a teensy bit more and Cornell at the very least should know better.

Now that I've given you three awesome blog links about NFP I'll share my own muddled at-the-moment thoughts.

I've had mixed feelings these last months as NFP has been thrust into the public eye, but I'll begin with a few disclaimers.  When I'm talking about NFP, as it's come up in the public discourse, I'm not talking about couples who are using it to try to achieve pregnancy.  I think that's one of the greatest aspect about NFP and that it's praise in helping many couples with infertility problems should be shouted from the mountain tops.  I can't even imagine questioning using it to help bring a new life into the world.  Using knowledge of when your fertile to help along a complicated process just makes sense.  And being able to gather knowledge of what's going on with your body so that problems can be pinpointed and diagnosed is another wonderful NFP aspect.

But that's not how NFP has come up in the media of late.  It's branded the form of birth control that's okay for Catholics, generally with a bit of eye rolling and the attitude of "when will they join the 21st century?"

The Catholic response has been impressive.  There've been blogs on mainstream media sites attempting to make NFP hip and modern, "sexy" even, because heaven help us, we seem to think we need to make the truth "sexy" in order to sell it.  Thus begins my problem with the tactics I've seen lately.

In the past I disliked the way NFP promoters I would read online pushed "NFP as 99% effecting!  That's better than any other type of birth control!" because I felt like they were missing the point and basically selling NFP as another form of contraception.

In these later cases I dislike the way everything has to be made overtly sexual, otherwise we're afraid that it won't draw people in.  Do we that we have to be like that commercial where women are in a store looking hip and picking out their lives, with a trip to Paris and a beautiful home?  Are we afraid that the truth, that this is right and good and beautiful, won't be enough?

I'm not saying there shouldn't be a modernizing of pamphlets and books if they're outdated.  I can't really say because my NFP book, didn't have any pictures at all.  It was green with a colorful stripe down the middle.  It wasn't the coolest looking book on my shelf, but you can bet I poured over it, because the information inside of it was pretty awesome and I was amazed that a woman could know all those things about her fertility.

Then again, in the interest of being honest, I'd be thrilled if we never used NFP again to avoid pregnancy.  That's the plan and short of some catastrophic event I hope we're able to stick to it.  I have used NFP and while I think there are some great points, I'm also happy that my husband and I are on the same page when it comes to our understanding of "serious" as it applies to us.

And I guess that's what I wish was stressed more about NFP: that you don't have to use it!  Yes, it's useful to know.  But it's not supposed to be the default.  We're really supposed to evaluate whether we have serious reasons or not.  And that's something that the mainstream media's articles on this form of "Catholic okayed birth control" will likely never understand, because it's an entirely different sort of mentality.  Maybe if our culture regained it's understanding of life as a blessing, they'd be one step closer to understanding the Churches teachings on sexuality.  As it is I don't think we'll bridge the divide by making NFP "sexy."  Because while it's many things, it's not going to pass the Cosmo test of doing what I want to do when I want to do it because I feel like it.

But just in case I'll throw in some pictures of me trying not to look frumpy.  I wouldn't want to hurt the cause (eyeroll)... sorry I just think some of the arguments I've heard lately are beyond ridiculous... and if you're endangering your soul solely because you're afraid of how you might someday look, than you might seriously want to recheck your priorities.


  1. Hi Cam, it's been a long time since I read your blog (but now I've discovered Google Reader and subscribed- woot woot!) and I just wanted to say how much I appreciate this post. I wrote on my own blog about how I came to NFP as a former pill user and how it changed my outlook (the gist being, why am I taking medication if I'm not sick?) but I think you get to the point much better.

    Like you, I've reached the point where I would like to never need to chart to avoid again. That said, I still think charting is effective just for health reasons, regardless of your plans (or lack thereof) for future children. Also, I think people forget sometimes about eco-breastfeeding or other aspects of NFP that have nothing whatsoever to do with charting. When we were in pre-Cana and I was still very stupid (ha), NFP was "sold" to us as birth control, but sometimes I think that's what I needed to get me to consider it as an "enlightened" worldly person. The rest of the time I'm upset about it because of all the people who say NFP "didn't work" for them and I'm thinking, "You have a beautiful baby! Of course it worked!" But that's not the way the secular world looks at things.

  2. Uuuuh do you EVER look frumpy? Puh-lease. Amish, maybe, but NOT frumpy!!

    The pic of you with the cake and the one on the plane makes you a down-to-earth June Cleaver. And you're "green" b/c your BC doesn't pollute the earth and is free! So hey, we should all listen to you. I will point all pill using women here so that you can convince them to use NFP to avoid only for serious reasons!!

  3. Love this post! I agree with you completely.

    Before we were married I assumed we would use NFP because that's "what people do." NFP wasn't really ever presented as "you don't have to do this" sort of option, but more of the Catholic's birth control plan. Something about that rubbed me the wrong way then and certainly rubs me the wrong way now. It misses the point entirely.

    Like you, even though I love learning about my fertility, I really hope we never have to seriously practice NFP. Personally, I can think of very few "serious" reasons to avoid having children. But that's just me.

    I'm glad NFP is being promoted as an alternative fertility awareness method because I truly believe it has the capacity to help so many women and couples better understand their fertility, and of course is far better than artificial birth control. But in promoting NFP, I think it's important we don't stray too far from the teachings of Holy Mother Church which always has and always will consider children a blessing to a marriage.

  4. Oh, and so glad you're feeling better!

  5. Glad you are feeling better. When I was younger I wanted a huge family, but now I see that not every woman is cut out to have a lot of kids. For me, three was enough. The thought of being pregnant again makes me ill. The thought of going through all the newborn stuff again makes me want to cry. The sight of my old maternity tops gives me the willies! The months of vomiting, the upsetting doctors appointments, worry about the baby, the weight gain... years of nursing, the years of no sleep, the years of toys all over the house. Not being able to go on my older kids' field trips because of the baby. Worrying about the older kids getting the newbie sick. Not being able to go out for more than an hour. No thank you. I want my body back, I want my marriage back, and I don't want to panic that I'm pregnant every month. I can't imagine being "open" to having more and more babies until my body gave up or something horrific happened! I can admit that I have neither the resources nor the temperament to have a dozen kids. I do not want that lifestyle. I don't want to martyr myself. I don't want any of my kids to be "number seven of ten" and have the answer to always be "we can't afford it" or "No, I'm taking care of the babies." I don't always want to be "tired mom" or "stressed out mom" or "always pregnant mom" or "too busy mom." Maybe I am too worldly, and maybe I am too selfish, and maybe I do not have objectively serious reasons to keep from reproducing ad infinitum, but that's where I am. My husband too. We're both ready to move on to the next part of our family life and leave the pregnancy/newborn stuff behind. If the Pope said that vasectomies were suddenly okay, my husband would be first in line for one. But, since they're not, we use a very conservative form of NFP and pray that it works.

  6. I love NFP and personally think it ought to be taught in all health classes in Catholic schools so that girls can learn their "normal" and "healthy" patterns before they get older and something messes up.

    My doctors missed my low thyroid because they didn't know what my healthy thyroid level had been. So while they spent years claiming the low thyroid wasn't low because on an averaged out chart it was barely OK, my hair was falling out and I was tired, and all the other symptoms of low thyroid were making me miserable. Until a doctor put me on thyroid supplement to try and help us get pregnant. ALL the problems were cured.

    I tell that because the wonder of NFP charts is that if young women who have no health problems start charting for their own HEALTH, then they will know their normal, and will have PROOF of their normal, so when they KNOW something is wrong later, they will have evidence to present that a NFP doctor at least will recognize.

    NFP is a gift to women's health. PERIOD. Yes, it can help them avoid pregnancy or try to get pregnant, but its main value is to a woman's over-all health.

  7. I really, really agree with the previous post who said that ecological breastfeeding is a part of NFP. I realize that it doesn't *work* for every women and that for a variety of reasons, not every women is *able* or *willing* to practice ecological breastfeeding, and that is okay. However, I still think it should be taught in ALL NFP classes as God's way of spacing babies and giving each mother the time her body needs to recover from the previous pregnancy and to give her current baby what it needs (namely breastmilk). I do think that with ecological breastfeeding, many couples may never need to use NFP, as that natural 1-2 year gap between pregnancies could be all they need to feel ready for another child. I realize that not everyone feels this way, however, for many people the thought of another baby is more welcome when your current baby is 16 months or 26 months as opposed to only 6-months (at least that is how I feel). If you look at more tribal communities (untouched by formula commercials and western ideas about breastfeeding and babies) you will find that they have a typical child spacing of something like 3-4 years, solely due to ecological breastfeeding. I do believe that God designed our bodies for mothers and babies to be together and babies to breastfeed frequently day and night, providing a natural spacing between children and time for the mother to fully recover between pregnancies.

  8. @ KradleKatholic:

    I am not trying to be rude, but since you put your NFP story out in the open for the public to read, I do not feel that I am out of line by kindly suggesting that you talk to a good (I'd suggest an FSSP) priest about NFP. The Church is very clear about when NFP can and cannot be used, and if Catholics are using NFP they have a serious obligation to use it correctly.

    Difficult pregnancies physically and emotionally, worry and anxiety, etc, could be reasons that may necessitate the use of NFP to prevent pregnancy. But "toys all over the house...I don't want to martyr myself...I can only shop for an hour..." are (to put it gently) reasons that really should be run by a (FSSP) priest.

    Sure, taking care of children is hard work! My husband and I have a toddler with another on the way, so I know how hard it can be sometimes.

    If God blesses a husband and wife with children, then the difficulties (and the joys!) are all part of the responsibility that goes along with the vocation of marriage.

    I intended these comments with all charity. God bless you.

  9. @Mary Jane

    There are no FSSP priests in my area.

    And, in all charity, you will have to have a couple more kids, with a couple of awful pregnancies, and a few more life experiences until you "know how hard it is."

    We are supposed to have serious reasons to use NFP. Does that mean that if our reasons are not sufficiently serious, we obligated to not pay attention to our fertility signs or ignore them? Are we obligated to have marital intimacy when we're fertile if we don't have serious reasons to use NFP? I am genuinely curious about this. A woman does not wish to go through another pregnancy. The priest tells her that her reasons are not "serious enough." Is she obligated by God to try to become pregnant by having intercourse during her fertile days?

    99% of the families that I see in the pews at Mass have between 1-4 children. I doubt they all have a "serious" reason to not have a baby every two years. Is there a place for those families at the altar?

  10. @ KradleKatholic:

    You said, "Are we obligated to have marital intimacy when we're fertile if we don't have serious reasons to use NFP?"

    The marital debt must not be refused without serious reason. If there is no serious reason, if the only reason to refuse is "not wanting another baby", then the debt must be satisfied.

    There is nothing wrong with charting or paying attention to fertility signs. Usually NFP means more than just paying attention to signs.

    You said, "Is she obligated by God to try to become pregnant by having intercourse during her fertile days?" The obligation is that every act of intercourse must be open to life (which NFP is) but also that NFP does not interfere with the giving of the marital debt without a proportionate reason. An example of a proportionate reason to abstain is the need to heal after labor (a period of perhaps six weeks).

    This said, the primary purpose of marriage is the procreation of children. Even if the husband and wife mutually agree not to request the marriage debt for an extended period of time, there should be a serious reason to do this. The best way to find out about one's own situation is to ask a knowledgeable priest and follow his direction.

    It is not my place to say what is in people's hearts. There is a lot of ignorance these days. I think that the Church's teaching in this area is probably not clear to many Catholics. Priests have a responsibility to talk about these teachings...but now I'm getting slightly off topic. :)

    God bless you.

  11. Dear Kradle Katholic,

    First of all, let me first say, I totally get where you’re coming from. My second child (who is only 16 months younger than her older sister) was born after a long and difficult labor and an eventual (unplanned) c-section. Recovery from the c-section coupled with a little post-partum depression was extremely difficult. On top of that, it turned out my daughter was born with a certain birth defect which would require surgery and a year long therapy program. It was a challenging and stressful time, to say the least. The thought of getting pregnant again freaked me out. So I can understand where you’re coming from. Some seasons in life are like that. I get it.

    Now that my daughter is a little older and our lives are slowly falling back into a semblance of “normalcy,” I find myself ready and wanting to have another child. Maybe someday you will feel that pull too, I wouldn't rule it out entirely.

    No one is saying you have to have children “ad infinitum.” There is no one road to holiness. But as most parents can agree, children certainly help smooth those rough edges, which can eventually lead to our sanctification. To answer your question, I can pretty much guarantee that no priest is going to say, “You must have another baby.” Even if he did, that does not obligate you to immediately try to get pregnant. What you and your husband feel is a serious reason to avoid another pregnancy right now is between the two of you and God.

    Even though this time of rearing young children has its challenges, when I think of my family size, I always try to think of the end of my life. I do not want to look back on my life and regret not having more children (as many women seem to do). The nice houses, fancy vacations, new toys, even the morning sickness that accompanies pregnancies will all be a distant memory, but my children will remain. This may sound morbid, but around my deathbed, I hope I have more people, not less.

    God bless!

  12. When we were going through marriage prep (and I was going through RCIA to convert) seven years ago, our NFP instructor told us all the wonderful reasons to prevent, HOW to prevent, WHY we should prevent, etc. There was one little two minute explanation that told us that we could use NFP to achieve pregnancy if we wanted.

    My husband asked, "What is the difference, though, between NFP and contraception? It seems as though the mentality is the exact same: 'I DON'T WANT A CHILD AS A RESULT OF MY ACTIONS.'" And we were told that this was NATURAL and not ARTIFICIAL.

    Yes--but the mentality is just the same.

    A week after getting married, we had to move to Michigan. On that super fun car ride, I listened to a CD (I really wish I could remember the title/speaker!) about NFP and Contraception. The speaker was pro-NFP, but she said something that really hit home with me:

    "There is no difference between people who use artificial contraception and those who get an abortion. Their mentality is the exact same: 'I don't want this child.' The only difference is, one has already been conceived."

    That hit me REALLY hard as I was a convert struggling to understand why the Church didn't allow contraception.

    A few months later, after practicing NFP, I couldn't help but start thinking that using NFP for no good reason like we were was just the same as using contraception--our mentality was the same. And yes, NFP is "natural" and there's always a CHANCE you could get pregnant, but artificial contraception means you always have the CHANCE of getting pregnant as well. The mentality, however, is just the same.

    My husband and I--after having our first child--never talked about NFP again. We just went on with our lives, and if a pregnancy was the result, great. If not, we were fine with that as well. We left it all up to God. For some odd reason, this is the ONLY area of my life I can relinquish all control to God and let His Will be done. I don't try as hard as I can to get pregnant, and I don't try as hard as I can to NOT get pregnant--we just let His plan happen to us as it will.

    You'd be amazed at how, when you're not charting or trying to prevent, (I believe) God allows certain things to happen in your life that naturally makes sure a child can't be conceived. A bladder infection, a sudden visit from a family member on your doorstep for a week, the stomach flu, etc. :-) He knows the right timing, and I'm not going to interfere with that.

    Now, having said all of this, I will tell you that I'm getting ready to have my fourth c-section--and that's scary. The docs make it sound like I should have stoppped after ONE c-section. My doc understands our position and will only tell us to "stop" if there is a MAJOR problem internally that could result in some bad things happening to me and baby. We will have to cross THAT road when we come to it.

    I do think the Church needs to MAJORLY clarify what NFP is and what it is NOT. It's not the "Catholic birth control." It's not your way to get your boy and girl and be done. It was DESIGNED to HELP people get pregnant, but it has been turned into this way of not getting pregnant simply because one wants a jetski or that dream house or a boat.

    There are GRAVE reasons couples should not be having kids--and those grave reasons should be left up to the couple, their priest, and God.

    Sadly, though, we have priests who teach what THEY want (like, that using artificial contraception is totally okay since it's 'just like NFP.'"--a story someone I know has been told) or they push the NFP as contraception which is not what the Church has ever intended. We need a whole reform of Church teaching as well, but that's a different topic.

    Sorry for the novel.


  13. I really, really, really, really hate when people say that contraception and NFP are the same mentality. They are so, so, so fundamentally different. Contraception is having sex, but doing something to prevent pregnancy. It's wanting to have your cake and eat it too. It's wanting the benefits of having sex without the responsibility or results (a child). NFP is simply not having sex when one determines a child is most likely to be conceived. It's like simply not eating cake at all because you don't want the consequences (weight gain) while contraception is like eating cake and throwing it up again or taking laxatives. Surely, one can see how totally different those two actions are? I would even say that it doesn't matter if your reasons for using NFP are serious or's still fundamentally different from contraception because it is a totally different action or inaction. Not to say that NFP couldn't be used incorrectly or for wrong reasons, it could. But, it is still a totally different mentality and it involves continual sacrifice, work and dedication. I mean, most people are NOT going to put forth that sacrifice month after month and year after year unless they feel they have good reason..after all there will be times when they really want to come together in intimacy, and for many couples it takes a good, strong reason to deny themselves when those times happen during their fertile period. I honestly think that people who use NFP to have their 2 kids and go to Disney every year are a myth. They simply don't exist. Sadly, people who want that are going to use contraception. I have never met anyone who used NFP long term for that reason...most people I know who use NFP use it maybe a few months at a time for various reasons (ie. child spacing, health reasons, financial, etc.)..they make a prayerful reason to use it at a certain time in their lives and as soon as circumstances change, they are more than happy to conceive another child.

    Simcha Fisher has a great blog post on this very topic..just today.

    This quote from it is so appropriate:

    "So if you are a providentialist, please be a providentialist right now. Don't assume you know the first thing about couples who use NFP, because you may be one some day, and you might even like it.

    And if you practice NFP and are satisfied that you have good reasons for doing so, don't assume you'll be in this situation forever. Don't think about how now-you will handle all those potential then-kids if you stopped charting: just think about what to do now."

    Read more:

  14. I read the same article today as well.

    And I think I stated that the couple should find a GOOD priest who actually follows Church teaching, and they should pray about it.

    I do not, however, agree that the mentality of NFP (when people don't want to have another child) and contraception (when people don't want to have another child) are different. We might just have to agree to disagree on that one. :-)

  15. Amelia,

    I believe delena is trying to state that NFP can be the same as contraception. It is about your mindset, and the Church, namely in pre-Cana, RCIA, and even NFP courses are doing a terrible job explaining it. They are truly just trying to make it cool....and I think delena is a providentialist right now....right now, just like Simcha said. She also said things may be different when she has health problems. ...when that is today....if that makes sense.

  16. But NFP CAN NOT be the same as contraception, because they are two fundamentally different things. Saying NFP is the same mentality as contraception is like saying that getting pregnant via IVF is the same mentality as using NFP TO conceive. The end and the desire may be the same, but the means are totally different and one way is a moral means and the other is an immoral means. A person could get rich from working hard, or they could get rich from cheating and stealing. The end may be the same, but the means are totally different and one way is moral and good and the other is immoral and wrong. The means make all the difference..even if the end is the same.

    The Catholic church teaches that every act of intercourse should be open to life...and with NFP it is. EVERY *ACT* IS OPEN. If you don't feel you can handle simply don't act in a manner that could result in pregnancy. With contraception, the couple is engaging in an act, while purposely preventing the natural consequences.

  17. Also, wanted to add that I do think it is possible to use NFP sinfully..but it is a different sin than that of contraception. It might be a sin of not trusting in God, or one may use it as a way of avoiding intimacy or in other sinful ways. But, it is still fundamentally different from contraception which is always a grave evil.

  18. Amelia, AMEN. The "contraceptive mentality" argument makes me crazy. It's unbelievably intrusive and wrong of others to accuse a couple of committing the sin of contraception when using NFP to postpone pregnancy. Reasons for postponing pregnancy are between the couple and God and perhaps a priest; everyone else needs to mind their own lives, particularly strangers on the internet who've never even met the couple in question! This particular issue frustrates me more than anything else in the Catholic blogosphere. I left evangelical Protestantism because of the same type of judgmental, "you're sinning", "you're not saved" accusations clothed in the guise of "concern" or "compassion". I found such beauty and wonder and truth in the teachings of the Church that it makes me ill to see the same type of moral superiority in Catholics. It's one thing to carefully try and correct someone you are very close to in real life if they are in mortal sin or in danger of mortal sin; it's entirely another thing to pass judgment on a stranger in a comment box based on the few sentences they've written.

    Anyway, sorry for the rant. Thanks for your comment. I wish more people would highlight this issue that NFP absolutely cannot be the same as contraception. It's absurd, and extremely discouraging to those of us who struggle with NFP.


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