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feature: sex & relationships
December 8th, 2008

Why NFP?

A young, modern, well-educated woman discusses her choice to use natural family planning

 
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The Church teaching is that natural family planning may be used to avoid pregnancy when a couple has just cause to do so. NFP allows a couple to use biological markers of fertility to prevent or achieve pregnancy. It is a mistake to think that this is used simply in lieu of chemical or barrier methods of contraception, or that this is the Church’s approved “method of contraception.”

It is a mistake to think that NFP is used simply in lieu of chemical or barrier methods of contraception, or that this is the Church’s approved “method of contraception.”

The system we happen to use is actually not called NFP but, instead, a method of “fertility awareness.” To me, this makes perfect sense. Knowing that you are fertile, you can prayerfully and responsibly evaluate each cycle to decide whether you will take advantage of that fertility by being open to conceiving a child. If you are not ready for a baby right then, you don’t have sex — which is a fulfillment of the sacrament of marriage that was created to unite husband and wife and to be open to procreation.

Commonly, today’s married couples are conditioned to what I call a “contraceptive mentality.” In this case, the default state is to sterilize the sexual act, even within the context of marriage, so that sex and fertility are disconnected until some perfect moment when one decides to “make a baby.” I have even heard couples who are trying to conceive talk about what a chore their intimate life becomes. Sex is no longer uniting for the couple; it is an item on a to-do list: clean out the car, bake a cake, procreate. Substitute natural family planning for chemical or barrier methods with a mindset that is still contraceptive, and the practice is often difficult and burdensome for couples. They are being obedient to the prohibition on artificial contraception, but they are sadly missing the point.

Does this mean six kids in eight years for everyone?

On the other hand, when trust in God and openness to life are central to marriage, couples find great joy in the practice of natural family planning, and in knowing that sexual unions are free from barriers to procreation. Does that mean that everyone is supposed to have six kids in eight years, like me? Many of these couples have larger families not, as some might think, because NFP is an unreliable method of preventing pregnancy, but because their lives and marriages are arranged to be open to life whenever possible, even if this means material or physical sacrifice.

The birth of our twins was really a turning point for our marriage and for us. That pregnancy was different than my others because right from the beginning I was huge! When we went to the ultrasound at twenty weeks and the technician announced that there were two babies, my husband just started laughing. The tech said that she had never seen a man react that way—that usually they were in shock or terrified. I truly believe that laughter came from the Holy Spirit.

I stopped wondering when my kids would be old enough for me to go to back to work or grad school. I realized that I wasn’t making the plans, and that my path to holiness could be anywhere, doing anything, so long as my work is given over to the Lord.

The announcement of twins changed everything because it was as if God had said to us, “I have a plan for your life and, if you trust me, the plan will make you happy and holy.” At that point, I stopped wondering when my kids would be old enough for me to go to back to work or grad school. I realized that I wasn’t making the plans, and that my path to holiness could be anywhere, doing anything, so long as my work is given over to the Lord. Caring for children and babies is what I need to do right now, and if I need to do something else, that season of my life will come.

Life is a journey, and sometimes it is hard for me to understand how much change God has worked in my heart as I have had these children: from obedience to a rule mixed with some fear, to openness to life combined with trust that He will provide the wisdom to use our fertility responsibly.

If you had told me when I graduated from college that I would be bringing six children to my tenth reunion, I would probably have run away to Colorado. If you had told me that in ten years I would be happy and fulfilled, deeply in love with my husband, working with a strong sense of purpose to my life, and that it would have taken a lot of hard work and some anguish to get there, I would have signed right up.

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The Author : Mary Alice Teti
Mary Alice Teti is a contributor to Building Cathedrals (buildingcathedrals.blogspot.com) where she and other young mothers reflect on Catholic family life.
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  • Brian

    Great article!

    My wife and I would make church & dinner a date, when we were dating. We are still dating for over 10 years now and out of the 10 years we have been married for 8 years.

    It is a challenge to have 3 kids under 5 & pregnant, but it has so many blessings as well. We were talking the other day about the limited amount of time to have children together. Once that time is over you can not go back, and their is no second guessing your decisions.

    We feel that our legacy will be our children, and we are doing the best we can to raise them as good Catholics.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Teri

    Oh, AMEN SISTER! Thank you, Mary Alice. May God continue to bless you and your family.

    To respond to Nicole: have you heard of NaPro (Natural Procreative Technology)? The Catholic Church doesn’t just care about the uber-fertile, but also those who have trouble conceiving. NaPro is one of the ways the Church has developed to identify and help rectify the causes of infertility and other gynecological problems. Google it. Don’t know where you are, but Dr. George Delgado at Culture of Life Family Services in San Diego, CA helps couples with this, and if you’re not near him, he could probably suggest other places to find NaPro docs.

    You have my deepest sympathy, as do my many Catholic friends in the same boat. Spiritually, I’ve found that when I really really want something, that is exactly when God isn’t going to give it to me. But when I give up that desire and just abandon myself to His will, I either find peace and He gives it to me, or I just find peace (both are good). Easier said than done. I guess this is why a lot of couples I know who gave up trying to conceive and then adopted wound up getting pregnant right after the adoption went through! May God console you and keep you.

  • johanna

    So when do we get to hear from a young couple that chooses to use other methods of family planning, and their formation of conscience on this issue? For many, I don’t think it’s as simple as “ignoring” or being “disobedient.”

  • laurie

    Thanks for your insight!! As a mom of 5 and fertility awareness gal ( along with my husband !) we too have been blessed. I appreciate so much your honesty too about the “realness” of motherhood…and i was a camp counsleor type!! But this is hard work..Being active in ministry I have had to slow down a bit and not miss the present! the gift! ..though i am pursuing the Masters now that the baby is 3!!!!! little by slowly! thanks…and many blessings to you and yours!

  • Nicole Williams

    I struggle with NFP because I am infertile. If every woman had such a predictable cycle, as God intended, NFP would be a lot easier used to achieve or avoid pregnancy. As an infertile, Catholic woman I feel like a pariah. I want children but cannot use any reproductive technologies to get them unless I want to go against Church teaching which, of course, I don’t.

  • Mary

    You might be interested in the NFP forum: http://www.geocities.com/nfpboard

  • Heather – Doodle Acres

    Just wonderful!!! Isn’t it a blessing to see God working in our lives??? God is good!!!

  • Chris Volpe

    From another NFP mom to six…your article is right on the mark, Mary Alice! Great job!

  • Charles Paternina

    Mary Alice, everything you say is true. We have experienced exactly the same. Congratulations.

  • Julie C

    You brought tears to my eyes. Julie
    59 year old mother of 3 girls and grandmother to 6 children

  • AWOL Mommy

    Thank you for taking the time to explain what you don’t have to explain for our benefit. Oh, and your family is totally rad.

  • Red

    Thanks Mary Alice for engaging this very important topic. As an NFP instructor and fellow blogger at buildingcathedrals.blogspot.com, I linked to your piece and added a few of my own thoughts.

  • LINDA CESCHINI

    Excellent article, Mary Alice!!

  • Mary Ellen Barrett

    Standing ovation here M.A.!!! Well done.

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