Catholics Do What?, Contraception, Culture of Death, Evangelization, Family Life, Living Humanae Vitae, Marriage, motherhood, NFP, Sex, Theology of the Body

Living Humanae Vitae: stories of faithfulness to the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage

May 1, 2018

How many times can she write about NFP?

I can write about it as many times as it takes in order for me to internalize the seemingly simple concepts undergirding this most perennially misunderstood of Catholic teachings: openness to life.

I’ve spilled plenty of digital ink on the splendors of HV in the past, and I don’t retract a single character of any of it, but boy, living it out day-to-day is a little different than studying it in abstraction.

I just finished reading a trilogy of stories set in ancient Rome, around 70 years AD, and the grit and virtue and boldness of the early Christians whose lives it chronicled astonishes me. Not only because of the certain death in the arena at the jaws of wild beasts which they faced if their clandestine faith was exposed, but because they were truly – at least in the fictional narrative I read- in constant conversation with one another and with God about His will.

It reminded me a little bit (and only a little bit) of practicing NFP. The willingness to look foolish, to feel foolish, and to be subject to some degree of rejection – varying from bemused to downright nasty – by the culture at large. This comparison both consoles and shames me, because on the one hand I probably don’t need to worry overly much about imprisonment and martyrdom in 21st century America (not at this precise moment, at least) and on the other hand, how embarrassing that the relatively benign cross I’ve been asked to shoulder feels so crushing upon my feeble shoulders.

Because for all the beauty and truth and goodness I perceive in the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage, living it out is often none of the above. I don’t want to spend the next 12 to 14 months “getting my body back” only to balloon to an unspeakable number on the scale again with another pregnancy. I don’t want to practice copious amounts of abstinence within marriage, feeling more like a roommate than a spouse while I learn the ropes of (yet) another method of NFP. I don’t want to peer anxiously into the mists of my 40’s and wonder if I’m going to be one of those lucky women who keep ovulating well into their 5th decade, thereby prolonging the suspense and surprise of another baby in the very twilight of my fertile years.

I don’t have the faith of Sarah and Abraham. I don’t have the confident humility of Mary. I lack Elizabeth’s joyful surrender. I spend a lot of time worrying about all of this, to be perfectly honest, and for the first time in my life, I can wholeheartedly empathize with the temptation of contraception.

But.

(It’s a big but.)

God knows my heart better. God knows our needs better than we do. And God asks so relatively little of us modern Christians in the developed world. My children have food and medicine and beds to sleep in. There is no conflict in our region that daily imperils their lives. We have medical care to bring them all, almost certainly, to adulthood, a reality unthinkable only a few generations past. We are richly, richly blessed. My life is not without its challenges, but should I come face to face with a Christian mother from the ancient world, I don’t think she would recognize my suffering as such. Maybe she would look around at the vast temptation all our technology affords us to ignore God – to become like gods in a real sense – and she would nod her head in understanding at the real difficulties this presents in raising a faithful family. But I think she would probably also look at our overflowing closets and dishwasher and running water and marvel at the sheer wealth and provision we tend to take for granted.

And I wonder if she would look at me with my access to a clean, safe hospital (and epidurals!) and good maternal healthcare and a supportive, faithful husband and no known health issues and steady employment and wonder why I was so afraid of bringing new life into the world.

I wonder that, too.

Is it because I’ve been conditioned to not overdo things in the gestational department by a culture that hammers us over the head with the message that two is plenty? Is it because I have unrealistic beauty standards for myself based largely upon the availability and use of contraception? Is it because we have little to no daily support outside our extended family (which alone is an enormous advantage) as we parent these children of ours, the village having since passed into the realm of history and metaphor?

All I know is that we had 5 babies in 7 years, and I’m tired. I want my body back. I want to sleep through the night again. I want to eagerly count down the months until all 5 kids are in school full time and my professional life can ramp up again during those 35 available hours a week.

Basically, I want motherhood and child rearing to have been a fleeting season that flies by (as I am repeatedly told by strangers at Target) and is gone in the wistful blink of an eye, but I also want to reject the cultural narrative that my children are somehow holding me back and that my fertility is something to be tightly managed, suppressed, and ultimately discarded.

I want it both ways.

I want to live in harmony with the culture of which I am a part while also raising children who transcend the culture to seek the Lord’s will over their own. I want to be confident in our choice to live faithfully the Church’s call to marital chastity and fruitfulness and also look great in jeans and effortlessly drop the pounds that pregnancy hangs on my diminutive frame. I want to fill my home with happy children and also be handed the keys to a Nissan NV with a wink and a smile from a God who, as it turns out, subscribes to the health and wealth gospel Himself, despite what the actual Gospels say, and will surely reward my faithfulness with material abundance and children who sleep through the night from birth.

I want a lot of contradictory things.

And my greatest discomfort lies in that friction between what I claim to want as a subject of Christ and what I pant enviously after as a citizen of the world.

I have some stories to share with you from friends and fellow Christians in the coming weeks as we approach the 50th anniversary of Bl. Paul VI’s prophetic text, Humanae Vitae, in July. They are stories of suffering and heartache. Stories of loss and betrayal. Stories of hope, of fidelity, and of a peace that surpasses understanding. They are the stories of ordinary men and women who are using NFP and struggling, failing, confessing, and getting back up again to keep at it because the struggle is worth it. Because the Church asks us to do this thing in Her wisdom, not in Her sadism. Because either we trust in the Apostolic authority handed down from Peter or we are each our own little magisterium and, as such, are tasked with an exhaustive and impossible list of things to discern for ourselves using the quivering compass of our own consciences.

The Church asks us to do much harder things than what Humanae Vitae contains. We worship the Creator of the Universe contained in a scrap of bread. We proclaim the Resurrection of the dead and immortality. We turn our cheek to let an enemy get a better angle for the second punch. And yes, we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice even in the bedroom, which is the very last place our culture encourages us to exercise any sort of restraint or charity.

It’s a wild ride. It’s an impossible mandate without Jesus. And it is going to the stuff that 21st century saints are made of, I’m firmly convinced.

I think after reading some of the stories I’ll be sharing over the next 2 months, you’ll think so, too. We hear plenty of stories of people who find the demands of Christ impossibly high and, like the rich young man in the Gospel, walk away.

But sticking with it when the going gets tough? Relying on the unfathomable depths of Jesus’ mercy when we inevitably stumble and fall?

Now those are some stories worth telling. 

 

40 Comments

  • Reply Julie May 1, 2018 at 9:04 am

    A beautifully, honest piece, Jenny. I look forward to hearing the stories of others.

    Now, being (close) to being on the backside of raising seven children, I look back at that early time when I had five in six years and I remember the exhaustion, the stress; however, I also remember the complete trust that I had that the God who (finally) granted my prayers to be a wife and a mom, would give me the graces I needed to be a Godly wife and mom. Did I fail? Oh, yeah. Did I keep trusting? Absolutely! I am convinced that what matters most at the end of the day is just falling on our knees to God and just surrendering with, “I don’t understand, but Jesus, I trust in you.”

    Now, with a brood that ranges from 23 to 7, there are new challenges, new demands, but also my constant, “I trust you, Lord” to cling to. He does know what I need, what I can and cannot handle and His grace and love truly are sufficient when I can get beyond my own self will and desires.

    I know that it doesn’t seem like a comfort to hear, “It goes so fast” but honestly? It goes so fast. While you’re in the midst of it all, it feels like the burden of the world. Beg God constantly for His grace. He won’t fail you.

    God bless you, Jenny.

  • Reply Anne May 1, 2018 at 9:42 am

    As a Protestant who reads and loves your blog, I am confused about one aspect of NFP for Catholics. How do long periods of abstinence equal openness to life? How do you interpret I Corinthians 7:5, where it seems to say clearly that we should not deprive our spouses of sex unless it’s for a “limited time for the purpose of prayer” and also cautions against opening ourselves up to temptation by abstaining? Clearly, there are times when sex is not possible due to illness or physical separation. However, I know your readers have mentioned abstaining for VERY long periods of time when nursing and during menopause. Wouldn’t openness to life dictate “have sex in marriage when you want, come what may?” And I cannot imagine the stress surrounding sex when you don’t want to be pregnant but want to enjoy intimacy with your spouse. I very much get not wanting to be pregnant (although I adore my 4 children ;))! I am genuinely confused, not trying to be antagonistic.

    • Reply Jenny Uebbing May 1, 2018 at 12:18 pm

      Great question, and I’m so happy to have non Catholic readers! Such an honor, seriously.

      The short answer is: abstinence in marriage is hard, but so is abstinence before marriage. We don’t believe it ends at the altar, since there are times of illness and physical separation like you mention. There are also seasons where another baby/pregnancy would be really, really difficult, and sometimes dangerous. But we also believe that contraception is a mortal sin that cuts us off from a life of grace with God, so as difficult as abstaining during periods of serious avoidance/postponement of pregnancy can be, nothing is more difficult than trying to do life apart from God’s grace. There is scriptural support for the practice of avoiding contraceptives, but in the past 100 years – since the Anglican Church first adapted their position at the Lambeth Conference – every other Christian denomination has slowly followed suit at adapted the practice as “limited use within marriage for grave reason” and then “prudent use within marriage” to now, in 2018 (at least in many, many denominations) contraception is now frequently spoken of as a blessing to and a responsible stewardship of the sexual aspect of marriage. I don’t see great fruit from this massive cultural paradigm shift when I look at the rates of divorce, infidelity, fornication, abuse, and a whole long laundry list of things that the author of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI, pointed out rather presciently 50 years ago in a document that was largely rejected even by most Catholics. It is definitely not a popular teaching, but like so much of what Jesus asks of us, it is true and it is beautiful even in its demands and suffering. As a final point I’d add that the idea of unlimited sex within marriage but with a limited number of children is a very modern concept, and is only made possible by artificial contraception. So theologically this is a really recent and radical development (the shift from contraception as a sin to contraception as responsible adulthood, that is.)

      • Reply Anne May 1, 2018 at 12:56 pm

        Jenny,
        Thanks so much for taking the time to respond so thoroughly to my question! “The idea of unlimited sex within marriage but with a limited number of children is a very modern concept….a really recent and radical development” is great food for thought. Unintended consequences definitely abound!

        • Reply BridgetAnn May 2, 2018 at 1:19 pm

          Sorry to jump on, but to re-inforce with another 2 cents that come to mind, “the idea of unlimited sex within marriage but with a limited number of children” is just that, an “idea”. Contraception has a failure rate- so it doesn’t always equal limiting children- and, more importantly, part of the mechanics of the birth control pill specifically is the prevention of implantation, i.e. a very early abortion, very grave matter indeed.

    • Reply TM May 1, 2018 at 12:43 pm

      Anne,

      As a former Protestant and convert to Catholicism, I understand where you are coming from. I think there is a large range of views on that. I have met women who say “whatever God gives us” and have 13-14 children. Myself, and most of my friends, tend to practice NFP when we feel it would not be wise to have another child. Being open to life doesn’t necessarily mean having a ton of kids, it just means that we do not place any physical barriers in God’s way (condoms, IUDs, tubal ligation) should he choose to bless us with another child. Long periods of abstinence during your fertile window is still being open to the possibility of life – I have a friend who just conceived 10 days before ovulation and one who conceived 7 days after her peak.

      We are called to be responsible parents to the children we do have, so if there is a serious reason to abstain (not like we really want a European vacation), it’s worth looking into. Debt, mental illness, and physical health problems are all examples. Other examples: I have severe and long lasting postpartum depression with each child and tend to abstain until it’s under control. Right now, we are abstaining due to the fact that I just had my 3rd c-section in 6 years and I have an autoimmune disorder. I am so weak from the surgeries and unhealthy from my wonky immune system that I have been unable to be a good mother. I can’t clean the house or cook or bathe them without help. I can very rarely play with them. Everything falls on my husband right now. If I were to get pregnant right now, I don’t feel I would be a fit parent to the ones God already blessed me with. I am trying to get my health under control so I can sustain another pregnancy; but if we can’t, I’m okay with that. At the same time, because we are not using birth control, we could conceive, and that is terrifying to me and requires a lot of trust in God.

      It is stressful to not be able to be with my husband right now – but this is also the best way for us to love our children and for him to love me. Some women in my situation may choose to conceive. NFP can be very subjective. It is possible to be selfish while using NFP. For example, having too few children for frivolous reasons could be selfish. I also know some couples who can not afford to feed or clothe their children because they refuse to abstain – I think that’s selfish too. Sometimes we are called to practice self control. I am not sure if that answers your question. I just waned to let you know people’s approach to NFP really varies. We generally tend to talk with our priest for guidance in this area. If I am not having health problems or anxiety, he usually encourages us to stop charting. When I have even the slightest hint of depression or chronic fatigue, he encourages us to practice chastity for my sake.

      • Reply Anne May 1, 2018 at 1:09 pm

        TM,
        I am honored that you would take the time to share such a personal account of the way in which you and your husband practice NFP. It has most certainly impacted my understanding. “It is possible to be selfish while using NFP” – thanks for acknowledging this. One of my concerns about the practice was observing Catholic neighbors who had 8 (or more) children they could not feed or clothe, living in filth, and eventually losing their home to foreclosure. It was so painful and baffling to watch! To be clear, I know that is a RARE situation. I am so impressed by Jenny and the commentators on this blog, who clearly love the Lord and are seeking to glorify Him with their full lives. I pray that you will experience healing and grace as you battle chronic illness!

      • Reply Jessica May 2, 2018 at 8:33 am

        I am honestly stunned that you have friends who conceived 10 days before ovulation and 7 days after. My husband and I are currently in the opposite boat — we would eagerly accept a second child but so far haven’t been able to conceive (after 3 months…not that long in the grand scheme of things but still a bummer at the end of every cycle) so I’ve been reading a lot about the chance of conception on certain days. I’ve never heard of sperm surviving more than 8 days, and everything I’ve read says that the chance of conception returns to 0% about 2-3 days after ovulation (of course, when using NFP you have to account for the fact that in some cycles you’ll have a second ovulation 24 hours after the first). It seems more likely that the date of ovulation wasn’t correctly identified.
        Either way your stories point to the fact that practicing NFP does involve openness to life, but I just wanted to make sure that anyone just starting out with NFP understood that conceiving 10 days before ovulation or 7 days after, if ovulation was identified correctly, would be a near-miraculous level of fertility!

        • Reply Julie May 2, 2018 at 10:39 am

          Ah, and this is the beauty of NFP–God’s intervention! Miracles indeed abound when we work with our Creator!

        • Reply TM May 6, 2018 at 7:25 am

          Yes, those stories are rare. And I am curious to know if any of them ovulated twice! I probably should have pointed out how uncommon their stories are. I have one such story myself, in which my NFP instructor told me to calm down, there’s no way, it’s not possible…and then boom. Baby. Whenever I want to complain about my “cross”, I think about all of those women who are trying so hard to conceive. And then I feel terrible for complaining. I have heard it can take up to a year for a fertile woman to conceive, so I am sure you will get your baby soon!

  • Reply Karyn May 1, 2018 at 11:57 am

    I love your writing, Jenny.

    Can you share the trilogy you just read — it sounds awesome!

    I’m looking forward to reading the HV stories. My husband turns 50 two days before the anniversary 🙂

  • Reply Sarah May 1, 2018 at 12:30 pm

    Yes, Jenny, I would love to know the titles of this Ancient Rome trilogy.

    • Reply Jenny Uebbing May 1, 2018 at 12:51 pm

      Oh sorry, it’s “The Mark of the Lion” trilogy by Francine Rivers. So, so good. I tore through them all in about a week.

      • Reply Sarah May 1, 2018 at 1:18 pm

        Thanks, Gonna check into it at my library.

      • Reply Rachel May 2, 2018 at 7:32 am

        Ha! I knew this was it when you first mentioned it! What a wonderful set of books 🙂

        Thank you also for posting about NFP so often! I’m getting married this August and am still new to charting and the spiritual journey of learning who God intended me to be through knowing my body, and I so love hearing the stories of NFP veterans. I’m looking forward to this series!

  • Reply Monica May 1, 2018 at 12:59 pm

    NFP was never intended to be the norm, it’s for difficult (read grave) cases. Infinitely superior and significantly easier is supernatural family planning – God knows best. Why struggle against having another child when you can abandon yourself to God and trust him? I am firmly of the view that while NFP needs to be available in a very small number of cases its prevalence is leading many young couples down the culture of death road – because they have their minds so fixed on not having a child that when conception occurs their reaction is not what it should be – gratefulness, love, acceptance. Instead disappointment, failure, loss. How can this be a good start to a relationship between the parent and child? We have to die to self to live in Christ. Die to vanity, comfort, ease of life….. The other side effect of NFP in whatever form it is practised is dysfunctional spousal relationships. Both men and women in a marriage relationship need to be intimate, not in a hedonistic way but in a generous, not counting the cost way. I have seen marriages break up over NFP because either the husband was not fully on board or the couple drifted apart due to prolonged abstinence – we cannot underestimate the wisdom of Christ and His church in emphasising the essentiality of the unitive as well as the procreative aspects of lovemaking. I don’t want to judge anyone but I do want to encourage others to embrace God’s plan in its fullness – and reap the rewards in your family. Maybe, it’s just possible, that NFP is so hard because it doesn’t accord with God’s plan for our marriages?

    • Reply Jenny Uebbing May 1, 2018 at 1:08 pm

      well, since the entire point of this series is to reflect upon an encyclical of the Church which has been officially promulgated to the faithful, I think it’s safe to say that NFP is within the bounds of God’s plans for our marriages. All marriages at all times? That’s for each individual couple to discern between themselves. I think it’s wonderful when couples are selflessly open to life and able to welcome baby after baby without grave circumstances like illness (mental or physical), financial hardship, and lack of material support (to name a few) standing in the way. I also think it paints with a pretty broad brush to say that NFP is only permissible/appropriate in a very limited number of cases. The Church has not said that, and so it is well above my pay grade to make that call. Do we all need to be more open and more generous in our marriages? Certainly. But that’s called being human and struggling against concupiscence. It’s not an intrinsic flaw to NFP. Also, the translation “grave” is also translated as “serious” and there is much scholarly discussion on whether the original Latin to English translation was perhaps misleading. Grave can mean serious, but it can also mean unbelievably rare/terminal/somber. Whereas “serious,” if that is the more accurate translation, can cover a broader range of issues.

      I don’t know any couples personally who are using NFP lightly. It requires tremendous fidelity, patience, and sacrifice. But then, so does having sex as often as desired and ending up with as many babies as that results in. I don’t think there’s a one size fits all solution here, just that we eschew contraception, keep in constant communication with God and our spouse, and pray for the grace to be as wise and generous as we can be.

    • Reply MTG May 2, 2018 at 9:43 am

      Of course we are called to “whatever God wants” but God works THROUGH our intellect and will. He intends to cooperate with us. In making any life decision, you use your intellect to discover, to the best of your ability, what God’s will is in this particular circumstance. Then you use your will to follow through. This is how ALL decisions are made…it does not make intellectual sense that decisions about a couple’s sex life should be any different.
      Could God’s will for a particular couple be that they should be open to whatever happens? Of course. But that doesn’t mean it applies to all, or even to most.

  • Reply jeanette May 1, 2018 at 1:52 pm

    “I want a lot of contradictory things.”

    Such an important thing to consider. It really is a spiritual subject all on its own. The whole life of the Christian is geared towards conforming one’s will to God’s will. Discernment is needed to understand God’s will, but at the same time, careful consideration of what one wants and why is a real help in deciding whether you are moving in the direction of following God’s will or not. Wanting to merely imitate the culture is a good indicator that it might not lead towards God’s will. Feeling the pressure to conform to the culture is not always something we readily see in ourselves either.

    Fear of pregnancy for financial reasons is a common struggle. So, one can assess what their financial fears are and work towards conforming themselves to a life that is not so burdened by material wants and more aimed towards meeting material needs. The problem often arises that the financial issues predate the pregnancy period by quite a bit.

    Debts are often acquired long before thinking about even getting married. Not just college loans or other debts intended to support a long term goal, but just the kind of debt that feeds the “I wants” of life: I want to go out to dinner, I want to go on a weekend getaway, I want that pair of shoes. Later on, after one settles into marriage and starts grappling with the reality of financing the daily needs of one’s family, the pressures will start to build. We cannot undo the past, so we are faced with suffering the consequences. And we are making our children face them, too. It doesn’t leave one with a good feeling about enlarging their family.

    An elder couple at a parish I attended had 12 children. The couple said they trusted in God’s Providence throughout their marriage. In the end, the wife developed Alzheimers, and two of their adult children helped their 80 year old father to care for her in their family home. See how God did provide for them when they took on living out life according to His will? What a blessing it was for the husband to have that support in place. He had so much gratitude and the sons who helped him showed so much tender love towards their mother. That is the consequence of living the Gospel of Love.

    Don’t be ever be afraid, just trust in Divine Providence and God will not disappoint! Maybe not in the way you think you need help or at the point in time you think you need it, but He will not fail you, just as in the end He did not fail this married couple for their faithfulness.

  • Reply Melissa May 1, 2018 at 3:12 pm

    I can’t wait for this!! I am about to have our fourth in six years, and my son’s kindergarten teacher and her husband (who have seven girls, the first four born in five years) have been my inspiration this past year. On Sunday after church the husband said to me “I see you with your three little ones and another one on the way, and I think… I know we did that. But how did we do it!?” I think a lot of people are yearning for the kinds of stories that you’re planning on sharing and I’m really looking forward to them.

  • Reply anon May 1, 2018 at 3:36 pm

    Sounds like it will be great! I would *love* if you included some stories from people who have discerned that they do not have serious reasons to use nfp and just accept the children that come.

    (With my cycle seeming to return at 4 months postpartum no matter how much I feed on demand or co-sleep, I am definitely nfp-er. But I do think the mentality of accepting babies is really important and would love to see that portrayed, since, yeah, lots of use nfp, but HV does not equal nfp).

  • Reply Celia May 1, 2018 at 4:01 pm

    Jenny, I keep meaning to send you an email. (I am not sure whether I’ve commented here before, though.) I so appreciate your candor when you write and have found so much encouragement in your posts about a number of topics. Thank you in advance for this series.

  • Reply Rose May 1, 2018 at 5:38 pm

    You go, Jenny! Sounds like an awesome series. I am weirdly enthusiastic about this for someone who has never lived it (I have secondary infertility, so a very different perspective – ha!) and want you to know that you will be in my prayers, as will all of the guest writers and your readers. All glory to God, and so much love to my brothers and sisters who walk a different, hard path alongside Our Lord!

  • Reply Amanda May 1, 2018 at 5:50 pm

    I too want contradictory things. Right now, I want to say God makes all body types and bodies change with babies, but have that be for other people and be thin. It’s a mental fight. I have 6 kids, and a necessary hysterectomy so nfp doesn’t have to be a thing doesn’t seem so bad.

    My husband makes good money, and I feel fear over that not always being the case, even while I want to totally trust God. Basically, I know exactly how Paul felt in Romans 7.

  • Reply Arenda May 1, 2018 at 7:25 pm

    I’m really looking forward to this series, Jenny. My husband and I joined the Church last Easter (he was in seminary to become a Protestant pastor) and one of the things that led us there was just how sensible the Church’s teachings on marriage and contraception are. 🙂

  • Reply Megan May 1, 2018 at 9:36 pm

    I’m looking forward to this series too! My husband and I are marriage prep mentors for engaged couples, so I told him that we really need to read HV and this is a good year to do it. Then we’ll tackle Theology of the Body.

    As an aside about the abstinence required in NFP, I like to tell our couples that it’s good training for “medically required abstinence,” like the 6 weeks after a baby is born, if someone is ill, or spouses are apart (how do those military couples do it?). Going into a non-optional period of abstinence is so hard if you haven’t had practice. And you had better bet that after the birth of our last child, who was an emergency c-section, my husband was definitely on board the 6 week abstinence train if it meant avoiding any possible infection that might slow my recovery and ability to help parent our other children.

  • Reply Beth May 2, 2018 at 8:05 am

    I love to read about NFP and the Catholic church’s teachings on it. I wonder if you could consider how you talk about people who don’t have more than 2 children. I’ll preface this by saying I am probably very sensitive to this right now–I have 2 kids and I just had a miscarriage of a very wanted, very longed for 3rd baby that we waited and waited for. I would give anything to be in your situation. I don’t know if it is in God’s plan that I will ever have another baby but I do know that I will be open to it. But (considering that I am in a really sensitive state right now) it makes me wonder…do people who don’t know my story think that I just stopped at 2? Am I a good enough mom just having 2 kids? Again, I recognize that my feelings might stem from the fact that I’m grieving the loss of a baby…but I feel like I don’t fit with people who practice NFP because of my “average” sized family.

    • Reply Jenny Uebbing May 2, 2018 at 4:50 pm

      I’m so sorry for your loss. I really, really get it. We haven’t lost babies but one of my best friends just miscarried two months in a row and then a much longed for adoption fell apart just last night. Teen birth mom is parenting the baby, which is just so hard all around. My heart really aches for both sides of the fertility spectrum. because I sit in my women’s group with some wives who are existing as roommates with their husbands for long stretches of time (and I’m in this demographic) and then other friends in the same room who would give anything to have another baby on the way. I think no matter what side of the fertility spectrum you find yourself on it’s really hard. When you have “only” 1 or 2 and suffer loss after loss privately, you worry that people are judging you silently for not being open to life, and you ache because the suffering is so, so lonely and private. When you’re hyper fertile you’re holding back tears when someone scolds your naughty 2 year old who is standing up on the pew screaming but you’re too huge and pregnant to pull him down, and you can feel the eyes boring into the back of your head as you imagine people thinking “why don’t they just get a hobby, already” when in reality you’ve maybe had sex half a dozen times in a year and that was enough to conceive. (And this is a real situation for real couples.) I think there is so much misunderstanding all around, and we all feel at times (I know I do) unsupported and misunderstood and judged. I hope that in a small way this series can open more conversations and bring more into the light! Thank you for your call on to be more sensitive, and I am so sorry for the loss of your baby.

    • Reply BridgetAnn May 3, 2018 at 9:09 am

      Beth, I’ve been in a similar situation. (And my two were the “ideal” boy and girl.) Your are carrying a heavy cross. I just want you to know that you are not alone. And, after my experience, I realized just how many others find themselves in a similar way, suffering silently. Different but in a way equal to the private sufferings of moms with large families. You do fit in- we are all there together at the fifth Station with Simon, helping Jesus to carry His Cross.

    • Reply TM May 6, 2018 at 7:39 am

      I am really sorry for your loss. You ARE good enough! Sometimes in Catholic circles I feel like there is this invisible measuring stick in which we judge someone’s holiness by their family size. I know how you feel. I had someone, of the no charting unless you are on your deathbed variety, ask me 6 months after my c-section why I wasn’t pregnant again! So yes, there are nosy and judgy people out there. But we shouldn’t waste a precious minute of our emotions on them. Their attitude is not holy anyways! When I see someone with a small family, I just assume they had the amount of kids that was right for them, whether it was because of infertility, or because they had reasons in which they should not have had more. Not all of us are called to a large family. I hope you find healing, mama 🙂

  • Reply Karyn May 3, 2018 at 9:28 am

    Monica, I struggle with this as well. I feel like NFP is touted as the Catholic birth control and that I’m foolish for not wanting to use it and for being open to whomever God sends to us despite having several “serious” reasons that I could rationally offer up. I know ultimately it’s between me, my husband, and God but I wish I didn’t feel sort of guilty for wanting to just surrender it all to God and trust that He will send the right amount of children.

    • Reply Monica May 3, 2018 at 9:13 pm

      Good to know that I’m not the only one who worries about the not-so-subtle mindset change that happens with NFP use. I also wonder with all the grief that couples go through trying to avoid baby, that energy could be better spent on focussing on working hard and reflectively to make their families great. If for example you have 5 children in 7 years with NFP what would have happened if there had been no use of NFP, I doubt it would have been any different in terms of family size. Trust God and trust your body, several couples I know have never used NFP and have one baby every two years (give or take a couple of months) which is the natural cycle of things if you breastfeed. This may be interrupted by anxiety over having another baby disturbing the body’s natural cycle. Let go and let God! Even well intentioned people in the church (not my Diocese, the vast majority of Catholic couples where I live have never heard of HV or NFP!) have said to me you don’t have to just accept all the babies God sends! I reply, which ones should I send back, I love them all?

      • Reply TM May 6, 2018 at 7:55 am

        I don’t think there is anything wrong with not charting. If you don’t have a reason to abstain, then why would you want to? I do, however, regain my fertility 2- 3 months after birth – even with breastfeeding. And every single one of my babies was conceived on the first try. Not all of us can space things out naturally. Some of us are hyper fertile. Reasons for spacing are subjective. I have always felt guilty for charting, even though I have had 4 babies in 7 years, because I have had people tell me my reasons are not grave enough. I think there can be misunderstanding on both sides. NFP can be used like birth control, and that is a dangerous mindset. However, most of us are charting for solid reasons. Hopefully, as women, we just support each other through it all – large families, small families, etc. But seriously, never feel guilty for wanting more babies! We tend to forget that babies are the blessing and abstinence is the cross. If I was able to care for another baby right now, I would much rather have a baby and enjoy sex with my husband than have to abstain.

      • Reply Jenny Uebbing May 7, 2018 at 8:20 am

        Oh that we could all achieve that breastfeeding nirvana where fertility is suppressed and weight is controlled and everything just works perfectly, Monica. How about we keep our eyes on our own paper and focus on what the Church has called us to in reality, and not a particular personal and individual ideal? 😉

        • Reply Karyn May 7, 2018 at 9:14 am

          I can’t speak for others but I’m talking about my own experience….I feel guilty for NOT practicing NFP. I don’t know why, because I only know one person in real life who even practices NFP and not “regular” birth control. Anyway, I have the sneaking suspicion that I’m one of those people Pope Francis referred to as “breeding like a rabbit”. I feel like I’m supposed to be responsible and reasonable and use NFP like secular people use birth control when really I want to (and do) leave it up to God. I have what most would probably consider “serious reasons” (including being 42) but still want to leave it up to God, even if it’s foolish in the world’s eyes. However, I’m not saying that everyone is called to do/feel the same.

          • Julie May 7, 2018 at 9:25 am

            Karyn, God bless you for being so open to life! DO NOT feel guilty. EVER. That is society’s (and satan’s!) trap! My Mother-In-Law always told us, “The future belongs to the fertile.” And with every child I had, I prayed that each child would belong to God! How in the world can we expect a moral and virtuous world if we aren’t open to having and raising Godly children? So many young people have decided to not have children “for the sake of overpopulation” but that is a lie. I say “breed like rabbits” (if you feel God is calling you to that) and let’s regain the world for God by raising saints! 🙂

  • Reply Mom of Six May 3, 2018 at 6:47 pm

    Definitely understand all this. Made a miscalculation while NFPing which led to 6th child. Considered having tubes tied (I’m not RC), but conscience wasn’t clear about unnecessary surgery and chance of ectopic pregnancy, so back to NFP. Lack of self control after period of abstinence = 7th baby on the way! Will we starve? No, but the budget will have less wiggle room. Will I lose my mind? No, but I may wonder if I have every afternoon. Will we love the baby so much we will wonder how we ever thought we could live without him or her? Absolutely.

  • Reply Monica May 5, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    Another Protestant here who follows and loves your blog. I’ll admit that I’m definitely more Catholic in my view toward children and birth control. I also have some concerns about NFP…I practice it (even though I would desperately like to have another baby following a heartbreaking loss 27 months ago), and my hubby is so controlling of it (not willing to be active during large parts of my cycle) that it makes it feel like birth control. What are your thoughts on the possibility of NFP technically being birth control?

    • Reply Jenny Uebbing May 7, 2018 at 8:14 am

      Oh, I defiantly have some thoughts :: I think NFP can be used selfishly (I know I’ve struggled with that), but by definition it can never be contraceptive. Because NFP means abstaining – not stripping away the procreative aspect of sex from the unitive. Contraception means making sex sterile. It doesn’t mean you refrain from the thing you very much want (sex) in order to avoid the natural consequence which sex sometimes achieves (babies). Do you see the difference? I like to make the comparison of dieting versus bulimia. In both cases you might be avoiding excess calories, but in the latter you’re trying to still get the pleasure without the consequence. (not that bulimia is all that effective at weight control, speaking from experience). If you want sexual intimacy with your spouse, you have to accept it on God’s terms. And His terms are that sex is always open to life, and is often resultant in new life. His terms also permit sex during non-fertile periods of a woman’s cycle because He wrote them into the program. But what God didn’t design is sterile sex where fertility is surgically dismantled, mechanically blocked, or chemically suppressed. There is no precedent for that kind of sex in all of Christianity until about 100 years ago.

  • Reply Brigitte May 10, 2018 at 10:08 am

    I practiced nfp because I wanted to be a faithful catholic. I was not 100% convinced personally. What would your position be if the church changed Her position? I completely agree with your comment about the error in each person trying to decide “by the quivering compass of their own conscience”. Love that phrase!

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