It seems like last year at this time, there was much more awareness, or maybe because I was just learning to chart with Natural Family Planning and preparing for marriage, I was much more aware. This year, I haven't come across as many blog posts or articles about it. I'm now married, using NFP, going on about 10 months. You could say we are "successful," in that we have been using NFP to avoid pregnancy, and so far, we have.
So...what could I say about NFP that hasn't already been said? Likely, not much, but I will offer my 2 cents on the matter.
1) NFP is hard.
NFP, if you're using it to avoid pregnancy, is difficult. It can be difficult because you're super-fertile, infertile, have wonky signs, etc. It can be difficult because you've got signs that can be discerned, but it requires abstinence from your husband/very best friend/life partner, and you just so happen to be in love with that person and sleeping next to them every night. NFP is also hard if you're using it to achieve pregnancy and have encountered unexpected obstacles. It requires discipline, self-control, and sacrifice.
2) NFP should be universally taught to all fertile females.
I was so surprised that the signs of ovulation were never taught to me. Essentially, the heart of NFP is recognizing when you're fertile and infertile, naturally within a cycle. We all have had to learn about "that time of the month," and it's essentially unavoidable. But, ovulation is the other "time of the month," and though not quite as obvious, can usually be determined. The culture of death and the prevalent use of birth control has subtly taught us that our fertility is a hassle, at best, and a curse to be medicated away, at worst. The female body is objectified by our culture, and yet shrouded in mystery. The thought that we could use science to understand ourselves is somehow disregarded when it comes to female fertility, and it seems like the pill is seen as the universal answer. I think all females should learn about their entire cycle, from a young age, regardless of whether they'll marry or not. It cannot hurt, and maybe it'll keep some from using birth control unnecessarily. And speaking of birth control...
3) The real war on women is staring us right in the face.
I remember specifically asking my doctor about the increased chances of cancer when taking the pill a few years ago, and she said there was nothing to worry about. Come to find out, it is a class 1 carcinogen according to the World Health Organization. Follow the money on that one, is big pharma benefiting from the widespread ignorance and medication of women? Most likely. Follow the culture of death, is widespread suppression of our fertility having other negative effects? Yes.
What gets me really riled up is that, if I wanted to be chemically sterilized and on the pill the rest of my fertile years, the government would make sure that was free. However, if I wanted to have a family, whether big or small, the government and my job would make that a much more difficult choice, through the costs of pregnancy, labor, and childcare, and through the lack of support post-partum with my job. In our culture, it's easier to choose sterility or "child-free." And that lack of support for the traditional family choice really saddens me. Maybe because it's a choice I'd like to make, but don't know how it would be possible for us in the foreseeable future.
4) Stop complaining.
Perhaps related to #3, true feminism to me is the ability to have a family and stay at home, to have a family and work, or to not have a family, depending on where you feel God is calling you. (Yes, I'm Catholic and a feminist, and yes, I'm referring to grave reasons for no family at all.) Having pointed out that our culture encourages the autonomy of adults and a minimal family size, I wish that all Catholics and Christians would be supportive of other families, regardless of their size or station in life. You never know what they are going through that leads to their current circumstances. Maybe they are "open to life," and can't conceive. Maybe they have financial or medical problems that you know nothing about. Maybe their giant family and super-fertility is a cross for them.
It's just that, when you're the infertile or sub-fertile woman, and all you'd want it is to stay at home with your own children and not work, it's really hard to hear mothers in that position complaining about it. By the same token, when you're the stay-at-home-mom, working her ass off for her family, and someone says something insensitive like, "I wish I had that kind of free time...what do you do all day?" it's a slap in the face.
Let's respect one another, not make assumptions, and stop complaining about our lives. Someone may be praying to have the very life circumstances that they see you living with ingratitude, and it can be so so hurtful. There's a difference between having a bad day, needing to express frustration, and complaining about your station in life. I'm objecting to the complaining.
5) We need community.
While I think we should refrain from making assumptions and attacking one another, we definitely need community to let off steam or feel heard/understood by our fellow sojourners. That's why I think conferences like Edel are so great. (I just wish there was something like it for all Catholic women, not just mothers.) All people need to know they are not alone, and creating communities is a great way to support one another.
When I wrote about the gay marriage debate, I mentioned that creating a culture of life, supporting marriage and family life within the church through communities, is one way I think we can "fight back." I think that we need to create a civilization of love, and by making our churches vibrant, supportive places for families in all stages, it will be attractive. We need better marriage preparation and help for newlyweds. We need more NFP classes and teachers. We need to connect older "successful" couples with younger ones. We need single people to feel welcome in families. Basically, we need community. Unfortunately, in my experience, the Protestants have us Catholics beat on this by a long shot, and it's a shame. I would really like to see something happen in my own parish, and I'm trying to figure out how I can help, but I think we've got to address this as Church.
6) There is always a cross.
Before I learned about Theology of the Body and NFP, I really had no qualms about any form or expression of sexuality. I guess I thought that it was cruel to ask a gay friend to be celibate for life, when none of my straight friends were celibate or disciplined in any form of sexual restraint (myself included). I thought "anything goes." Once I learned, accepted, and practiced Church teaching, it turns out that all of us have a cross to bear, and all love requires sacrifice.
Maybe your sacrifice is in the form of abstinence for grave reasons. Maybe it's in the form of life-long celibacy due to your station in life or disordered attractions. Maybe your cross is the fact that you want kids and can't have them, or that it's difficult to raise the children you have. There is always a cross. And, embracing that cross when it comes to our sexuality is called chastity. It's a virtue, and we are all called to practice it, in one way or another. NFP has really helped me to put the gift of sexuality in perspective and realize that, it is possible (difficult, but possible) to live out the life God is calling us to. And, no matter which life that is, the grass isn't greener on the other side. We all have a form of sacrifice. God gives us the grace for that situation, not for our neighbor's situation. We should pray for one another that we would receive that grace and walk in it with greater understanding and love.
I've always been bad at Lent. Coming from a non-liturgical, Protestant background, we never celebrated Lent. I also had a healthy dose of self-loathing, and confused that with fasting or penances. I'm just coming out of all that fog and really trying to lead an integrated Catholic life. When Lent rolled around this year, I was sort of beating myself up for once again failing at Lent and not knowing how to fast, when a little voice reminded me, "Yes, I do know how to fast. We've been practicing NFP for several months now." While I don't deserve a badge of honor for this, it was a nice reminder that practicing NFP has been a good form of discipline, and it can carry over into other areas of my life. It is just part of developing virtues. And, related to there always being a cross, NFP helps me sacrifice a little bit on a regular basis, growing in love, humility, and chastity.
8) Open to Life.
Ever since learning about Theology of the Body and practicing NFP, it has been my personal experience that I am much more open to life in general. Although we are avoiding pregnancy right now, I no longer take my fertility for granted. I hope that one day, we can have children when we discern that it's time. I see my sexuality and fertility as a gift, perhaps for the first time. And, even though we don't have kids, I find myself much more open to children and excited about that prospect than I ever have been. Maybe it's the biological clock ticking, but I really think there is more to it. Some have pointed out that NFP-practicing families might be big, not because the method doesn't work, but because they understand the gift that children are, and NFP makes them more open to life than contracepting families.
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Bottom line, I thank God for the wisdom and consistency of the teachings of the Catholic Church, especially when it comes to the areas of family life, sexuality, the human person, and morality. Yes, these are difficult teachings. NFP is often hard.
But, it is so so worth it.
But, it is so so worth it.
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Bonus: I'm linking up with Call Her Happy regarding all things NFP!