Catholic Spirituality,  Contraception,  motherhood,  NFP

Isn’t NFP just Catholic “birth control?”

I’m probably either the world’s best or worst ambassador for NFP, depending upon how you look at it.
Because:
– We’ve had 3 babies in 4 years, the most recent edition being somewhat surprising in her timing
– I forget to chart. Often.
– I frequently say terrible things like “Let’s give them back” or “We’re never having sex again” … in jest, of course, but still… what kind of a person says those things? (A tired, hormonal person. That’s who.)
– I have sometimes fantasized about taking a magical pill which will forever ‘free’ me from the burden of motherhood.
And that’s exactly why I want to talk about contraception, which is, as it turns out, an entirely different animal from NFP.
NFP does not equal contraception. It is not ‘Catholic birth control,’  however persistently our illiterate culture pushes the notion. Contraception necessitates a step taken, a physical or chemical interference in the life-giving process of human sexuality.
Delaying conception, on the other hand, or to use soon-to-be-Bl. Pope Paul VI’s phrase, “the intentional spacing of children,” does not tamper with the life-giving potential of sex.
On the contrary, using knowledge of one’s cycle to avoid a pregnancy virtually bows down in the face of Divinely created human fertility and says “I defer to your awesome power” — there’s no funny business about shutting down or circumventing or cutting off or wrapping up and proceeding as if nothing has changed.
So in this way, fertility awareness aka NFP aka ‘birth control’ in the real sense of the phrase is about the furthest thing from contraception. A better term for it might simply be self control.
Instead of enabling sterilized, life-denying sex, it summons temperance. Prudence. Delayed gratification. Concepts few couples seem to have room for in their bedrooms or their marriages in our present culture.
NFP says “I recognize the gift, I am in no position to receive the gift, I offer the gift back to the Giver in gratitude…even when it’s a difficult offering to make.”
And it’s sometimes a very difficult offering — both the abstaining part and the ‘maybe we really are ready to welcome another child’ part.The Church isn’t anti contraception because She is anti science or anti technology (couldn’t be further from the truth, actually, but that’s another post entirely), but rather, because contraception is fundamentally anti-woman and anti-life. And anything that opposes life itself definitely opposes the Source of all life.It’s not a matter of finding a ‘natural’ way to avoid getting pregnant; it’s about coming to terms emotionally, intellectually, physically, and spiritually to the reality that sex and procreation are intentionally, inextricably linked. For a reason.

I actually fairly frequently encounter friendly, non-hostile and curious strangers who are genuinely surprised and happy – if a little confused – to see a youngish mom with so many little kids in her charge. Especially kids who look like they could maybe be twins but aren’t.
Nobody has kids as close together as some of us practicing Catholics tend to (well, maybe Mormons), and so while to some people it’s repulsive, for most it’s simply … surprising. And I don’t mind being surprising.
Except when my kids are misbehaving. Or when I’m sleep deprived. Or when I’m in a hurry and I honestly don’t want to talk to you about how you came from a family of 10 but your husband had a vasectomy and you always wondered if you should have tried for a third but it’s a relief to be done with the diaper stage, anyway, and doesn’titalljustgobysofastanyway?
Those are the times when I have to summon my deepest reserves of grace and patience and put-a-smile-on-your-face-and-make-this-look-good attitude, because I, me and my little family, and you and your families, are cultural missionaries — emissaries from another planet — however you want to look at it. And we must send the message that we come in peace.
I remember hearing about how an acquaintance’s husband would sometimes remind her to smile when they were in public, “so people will know we’re enjoying this.”
“This” being her teeming, boisterous life with 5 small children in tow.
I recall being mildly scandalized by this, hearing it with only a year or so of mothering my firstborn under my belt (and pregnant with my second born under my belt, literally) and wondering how he could be so callous toward her, because mothering is hard, dammit, and you’re reminding her to smile?!
Now that I’m deeper into it, I realize how right he was. I think about it often, talking myself down when somebody is melting down in the grocery store or trying to crack my nose with their skull while we share a skinny airplane seat or maybe just pew-diving on any given Sunday … I mentally revisit his very helpful reminder to “look like you’re enjoying this.”
Because for as much as our culture professes to hate life, to fear life, to seek its destruction, even…our culture is starving for a little slice of authentic happiness.
Bl. Mother Teresa said that Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.
I think if it’s a painful smile, like the kind you might flash at Costco when a particularly horrific behavioral issue might be rearing its head over the lack of quality of samples that day or the denial of ice-cream from the snack counter, it’s probably even more beautiful.
So, act like you’re enjoying it, mama. Even when you’re not. Maybe especially when you’re not.
NFP isn’t the Catholic solution to the problem of ‘too many children;’ rather, it is the Church’s response to the gaping void of too little love.

38 Comments

  • Agnes

    “Instead of enabling sterilized, life-denying sex, it summons temperance. Prudence. Delayed gratification. Concepts few couples seem to have room for in their bedrooms or their marriages in our present culture. “

    PERFECTLY SAID! GOOD JOB MOMMA

  • Geena Cooley

    Thanks for this post! I am recently beginning NFP (I forgot to take my temperature a record of twice this week), and I struggle with explaining it to my skeptic friends (Catholic and Non Catholics alike). This really helps!

    My favorite part is when you say, “NFP says “I recognize the gift, I am in no position to receive the gift, I offer the gift back to the Giver in gratitude…even when it’s a difficult offering to make.” ”

    I love that.

  • Liz

    “NFP says “I recognize the gift, I am in no position to receive the gift, I offer the gift back to the Giver in gratitude…even when it’s a difficult offering to make.”

    YES! love it! i’m going to remember this line when i need a short and succinct explanation!

    i recently was talking with a religious sister who was talking about the frustrations of traveling through airports in a habit and that she has to remind herself to smile, and look happy, even when she’s mad as all get out that she’s getting patted down by TSA because of her habit.

  • runtomary

    I’m a long-time reader – from the pre-mommy blog days – and I just thought you’d appreciate knowing that posts like these are what brought me to accept and love the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage about six years ago. Thank you for that. Keep up the great work.

  • Micaela Darr

    Oh, Jenny. Knocked another one out of the park, truly. I wish I was at this talk so that I could have given you a standing ovation. I think about it often, the smiling and looking like I’m enjoying my kids. And guess what? It leads to greater joy! Fake it until you make it, right?

  • Valerie

    I am in North Denver visiting (is Lakewood considered N. Denver?) , and I wish so much that I knew you were speaking while I was here. Very well written, and I too loved the last line! My husband and I teach NFP classes through CCL, and I always feel a little funny telling our new couples that we have five children and are expecting #6. In my mind, I feel like saying that in our intro might completely disqualify our whole class in their minds. Like you said though, I think to most people it’s surprising, which isn’t a bad thing.

  • Kelly Kopp

    Absolutely beautiful post. I cannot get enough of your writing. My heart jumps a little beat everytime I see you’ve written a new post. Thank you for being such an incredible and very ‘real’ inspiration. You’re saving souls one blog post at a time!

  • Ann Scheidler

    I’m a grandma now, but heard every one of those comments made to moms with many kids (7) through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Now people ask me if my kids are done having kids! I always say, “I hope not.’
    Ann

  • mary

    oh man. after mostly holding it together at lowe’s today while my big boys circled me and the baby kept trying to dive bomb out of the sling, i was totally NOT full of love and charity once the van doors closed. womp. womp. my mom, who had eight, had to do a lot of smiling and making it look like she was having fun. maybe i shouldn’t have a big family- i’d be a poor representative ; )

  • David Manthei

    Excellent article! One of my favorite quotes from this is: “The Church isn’t anti contraception because She is anti science or anti technology (couldn’t be further from the truth, actually, but that’s another post entirely), but rather, because contraception is fundamentally anti-woman and anti-life. And anything that opposes life itself definitely opposes the Source of all life.”

  • Jennifer S.

    This is so well written! Trying to explain NFP to people can be challenging, so this is very helpful, thank you.

    Question: When you end up hearing about people’s vasectomies and other such things, what do you say? Do you leave your witnessing to simply smiling and being evidence of different choices?

  • Adrie Little

    Mmm hmm! Great post!

    I’m having a hard time lately because, well, we don’t have any kids. We’re open to life- taking a very “Catholic” view of contraception, actually, despite not being Catholic (but seriously? Why aren’t all Christians living out openness to life? But that’s a whole other post).

    The trouble is, no one knows that we’re open to life. Because life hasn’t come- and maybe it won’t. My body doesn’t seem to be co-operating. I truly value our stance towards children and life, but I have to be more… overt? about it, since we don’t have five kids under 6 or what have you. And that makes me kind of sad, because we’d like a big family…

    • joaninordinarytime

      Adrie,
      I know so many good couples who struggle with this — it is definitely a cross and a burden that can’t be underestimated. People with huge families can never judge a couple without kids or with one child because you never know the grief, pain, and desires. (I think recognizing children as a gift is key — and not something to be collected or accumulated, which can sometimes even be the mentality in big Catholic families… but that’s another post…)
      Have you looked into Natural Family Planning? It isn’t just for spacing children — it is for helping women conceive. Also, NaProTechnology is the world’s best secret when it comes to this as well. I’d recommend both of those.

  • Kelsey Shade

    Well said.

    I’m expecting kid number three right now and my eldest is 3. The first time I got the ‘You know what causes that?’ comment I felt this rush of delight because I had ‘achieved’ large family-hood somehow. Yay for lots of life, even if it is exhausting! Hang in there, momma. We’re in the hard stage right now with all littles. It can only get easier as we train them well and they become old enough to help us. 😉

  • Jen

    I once got the “You know what causes that?” comment and without even thinking I said: “We do, and we have a great time doing it.” He just stood there dumbfounded. It was great!!

  • Karina and Ben

    Love this. My hubby and I teach NFP and have had a little bit of a hard time explaining the difference between contraception and NFP. We get it, but it’s not always easy to articulate. This is beautiful!

  • Anne

    Found this post via a Facebook share….the day after reading Jen Fulwiler’s awesome chapter where she realizes the Church’s wisdom on contraception….what a great post. Well said.

    My favorite, favorite part: It’s not a matter of finding a ‘natural’ way to avoid getting pregnant; it’s about coming to terms emotionally, intellectually, physically, and spiritually to the reality that sex and procreation are intentionally, inextricably linked.

  • Martha Miller

    Jenny,
    Well written material. Concise and powerful. We are implementing NFP in the Dioceses but it is a hard-sell for couples that have been contracepting for years. I was so inspired by your post that I will forward our NFP teachers!

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