When Mary Alice Teti read Dr. Christine Whelan’s recent article on natural family planning (NFP), she was excited to see such an important issue being discussed on BustedHalo. Mary Alice—who knew Christine from college—thought the original article only explained the “what” of NFP, however, and wanted to see a broader discussion of the “why” of this Church teaching. Why would a well-educated, intelligent, modern married woman choose not to use contraception?
I celebrated my thirtieth birthday this past August. My husband and I just bought our first house, and this weekend we are going shopping for a new car that will accommodate the car seat for our baby who is due in a few days. I left a job (that wasn’t very thrilling) to be a stay at home mother, and thankfully we are able to make ends meet on my husband’s salary although we can’t take the kinds of vacations that our “two-income” household friends take. So far, you’re with me, right? This is a fairly typical story for a college-educated woman of my generation. Here’s where it gets interesting: We do not believe in contraception, and the car we are looking at is a passenger van, because we cannot fit a sixth car seat into our mini-van.
My husband and I met in college and married right after graduation. We will celebrate our eighth wedding anniversary next week, and gathered around our table will be a seven year old, a five year old, four-year-old twins, a one year old and a newborn baby.
What does this mean?
Once, in the mall, a woman complimented my family and then asked me if I was an Orthodox Jew. When I responded that I am Roman Catholic she looked down at her son and said, “Oh, I am Catholic too, but not Catholic like you!” What does this mean, exactly?
The first possibility is that I naturally just adore kids, especially babies, and that I have always wanted to have a huge family. I always assumed that being married and having children would be a fulfilling part of my life, as most people do. But to be honest, I don’t really like kids all that much. I mean, I love my own children and I am happy to hold a friend’s baby if he is cute, clean and not crying, but I was never the babysitting, camp-counselor type.
If I didn’t start out wanting all these kids, the other possibility is that I am a victim of a patriarchal religion that forces me to use an outdated system of child spacing that does not work. I am the punch line to the joke: “What do you call a couple who uses natural family planning?” “Parents.” The truth is that my husband and I have successfully used natural family planning (NFP) for spacing, at times when we have needed it.
How did we get here?
The story of how we got here is as long and complicated as anyone’s journey of faith might be, but there are a few highlights worth sharing. First, when we met and started dating I had not been attending Mass regularly but had been feeling sort of guilty about it. My husband suggested that we go to Mass together, and so the Mass has been at the heart of our relationship from the very beginning. We also read the papal encyclical “Humanae Vitae” for a class in college. Before I read this, I might have ignored the church teaching on contraception, as many Catholics do. But studying this document helped me to understand why the Church, in her wisdom, has confirmed the centuries-old Christian tradition discouraging artificial means of contraception.
We understood that since the Church teaching is so clear, it would be a direct act of disobedience to ignore it. I struggled with this at times, and so I did a lot of reading on the virtues of humility and obedience. This helped me to understand that even though my nature was to rebel against almost all authority, God was asking me to trust the wisdom of the Church teaching on this matter, even though I did not know where it would take me.