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.”
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.
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.