NFP: 19 years later


It's NFP Awareness week. This year, there's a bold, fresh website on the scene to take on the challenge of introducing Natural Family Planning to a new, decidedly digital generation. There's a great new collection of articles there that I'm sure will enlighten most everyone. And there's more: is another new site--this one run by two young women--designed to promote the value of natural family planning. 

I heartily applaud the efforts of these young people (and I feel a bit like my grandmother calling them "these young people."). As I read them, I remember being young and married and not at all a part of the contraceptive culture. While I think these sites do run a calculated risk of sounding a bit like "The Natural Approach to Contraception," I think the good outweighs the potential for misinterpretation. They're definitely getting good information out there, information that is not readily available on the maintstream information superhighway. Over the years, I've grown to appreciate the spiritual aspects above all the rest. Openness to life is the ultimate self-improvement --God-improvement-- program. Hopefully, that, too, will come from these young writers.

My early NFP days predate said superhighway. I learned about NFP mostly from another young teacher who was also a newlywed at the first school where I taught. I had heard of it during an Engaged Encounter just before the school year began (we were married the first week of school), and Betsy followed up with her own experience. She was open and frank, but not nearly as frank as what's floating out there now. From there, I did some reading on my own and we took a Couple-to-Couple League class. 

We had decided on that Engaged Encounter not to contracept. And, frankly, we were pretty much open to whatever God had in mind. We welcomed our first baby just after our first anniversary. And I would do it exactly that way in heartbeat, if I had it to do again. It wasn't really until after that baby, and after cancer, that we started to understand the theology behind NFP. Our early marriage story is pretty different from most, but it's dear to us. 

Anyway, that's a rather longer introduction than I planned. All that to say, I figured that since I'm old enough to call the folk "these young people," I should probably go back and dig up my own words before I share what I thought about NFP back in the beginning. I have three artcles from exactly 19 years ago today to share over the next three days. These were originally published in the Arlington Catholic Herald on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the very prophetic Humanae Vitae. I'm going to try to refrain from editorializing too much. The articles are just as I wrote them, with my comments today in pink.

Here we go:

There are table tents set up all around the waiting room of the OB/GYN office where I teach childbirth classes. "Ask about your birth control options," they scream from every corner of the room. Ask indeed. I wonder what I would be told.

Would I be told that the pill is an abortifacient? I don't think so. Rare is the doctor who sit down with a patient and discusses the fine print. Most couples know that the pill often prevents pregnancy by suppressing ovulation and altering the cervical mucus. But how many people understand the ultimate "back up"? When a baby is conceived, he is aborted without his mother's knowledge because hormones have rendered the uterus inhospitable to life. Some option! Before a woman could even consider her choices, the hormone in the pill she takes so routinely can abort her baby. All hormonal contraceptives work in a similar manner.

Norplant, new and trendy though it appears, is merely a steady stream of hormones for five years. A woman will never have to give birth control a second thought. But will she think about what those hormones are doing to the natural chemsitry of her body?  [Note: Norplant was discontinued in the United States about ten years after it was introduced. Hmmm]. 

Depo-Provera, a recently introduced injectable hormone contraception, provides up to three months protection against pregnancy, while remaining in the body and preventing the resumption of a normal cycle for up to eighteen month. Of course, once it has been injected the woman is stuck with it. Once they give her the shot, she can't take it out--for better or worse, no matter what the "side effects." ["Side effects" is a joke term. All efects of a drug are just that, effects. They may not be what you signed up for, but they are effects. Incidentally, Depo-Provera is Melinda Gates' drug of choice. You can read more on that here.]

Let's consider the side effects. "Side effects" are what the pharmaceutical companies call the unpleasant effects of drugs. They all listed in a rather lengthy insert included with every prescription of hormonal contraceptives. A woman may not experience every effect of the drug. But the list--which includes risk of blood clots, heart attack and strokes, gallbladder disease, liver tumors, headache, nervousness, depression and hair loss--is pretty scary reading material. Most couples never even glance at the insert. 

Then there are the other "options" which society and the medical community present to us. Another abortifacient, the IUD, works to prevent an embryo [a real live baby] from implanting in his mother's uterus. Instant abortion. Barrier methods, especially the condom which the popular press holds in such high esteem, prevent the very physical intimacy that lovemaking seeks and deny the unitive as well as the procreative nature of intercourse. And as far as spontaneity and romance go, I don't think it's spontaneous or romantic to go to bed with barriers between us.

When the couples in my classes ask me about birth control and I mention NFP, I amost always get the "you-must-be-an-extremist-hope-to-have-ten-kids" look [I was 27, with two children, when I wrote this. I am well aware that this line is amusing now. In a very, very good way.] I've often heard that the Catholic Church is unrealistic, rigid, and chauvinistic in its approach to contraception. I disagree.

When my husband and I really looked at the "options," when we took the time to educate ourselves about what was being professed by the secular society versus what the Church taught, we found that the Church was not only reasonable, but very supportive of marital sex. Far from being evil, in a Christian marriage, sex is a high and noble thing--a gift from God. The Church approves of lovemaking, even if for serious reasons the couple isn't trying to achieve pregnancy. The Church's stand on birth control seeks not to make life difficult by to help married couples make a good thing even better. Sex is holy; it is God's idea. And openness to children is an integral part of God's plan. 

Artificial birth control isn't good for women. And it isn't good for marriages. It deprives couples the third party in their union. God. When sex denies life, it denies Life. That is, it excludes the Creator of Life. once He is exclueded, one third of the mrriage covenant participants has been asked to leave--the wisest one. In my nex tpost, we'll consider Natural Family Planning, a way to plan families that embraces God.

[Am I a bad witness for NFP because I have nine children? I don't think so. I don't think so at all. I think there is a danger to think that good or successful use of NFP guarantees that your family makeup will look just like that of pharmaceutical family planners. If so, then clearly you have excellent scientific charting skills and applaudable self-control. I've even seen blogs where couples have practiced for years and never knew these few lines existed in the Church's teaching: With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.  

We learned quickly that we couldn't out-give God. His generosity--of adequate wealth, but more importantly of grace and strength--was sufficient. Always. For us, NFP was there, an underpinning of an awareness of fertility and hormonal cycles. Every one of those nine children was welcomed enthusiastically. We knew there would be challenges. And we trusted He would equip and bless. He always has.]