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Why You Don’t Have to Use NFP

{disclaimer: I realize that NFP is not always used to avoid pregnancy, but can also be used for medical awareness and to help achieve pregnancy. For purposes of this article I am referring to NFP used as “periodic continence”, that is, to avoid pregnancy.}

There is a faction of Catholics who, in their desire to promote Natural Family Planning as the antidote to contraception, have overstated its importance in Christian marriage. They are rightfully reacting against contraception, which is always intrinsically evil. (CCC 2370) But in their desire to steer people away from contraception, they sometimes become overzealous in their promotion of NFP: they insist that Catholics have a duty to learn it and use it.

The insistence that “good Catholics use NFP” has caused confusion for many, and has made many faithful Catholics feel as though they are somehow failing on their path towards sanctity by NOT practicing NFP, and by simply having children as they come without regard to temperatures and charts. There is often a disdain towards parents of many young children spaced closely together, and others suspect that they must not know about NFP, or even worse, that they “cannot control their impulses.” A friend of mine confided in me that once she became convicted to no longer use NFP and to throw away her charts, she went to confession for it because she thought she was being irresponsible. Thankfully, her priest reassured her that NFP is not required, and commended her trust in handing her fertility completely to God.

The simple truth is, as Catholic married couples, we do NOT have an obligation to use Natural Family Planning, whether it be to space births or to limit the number of children we have. If we were to have an obligation, then 19 centuries of Catholics did not fulfill this obligation, since the science of fertility was not well-understood until the advances of medicine in the 20th century. As Catholics living in the 21st century, we certainly are fortunate to have access to this information, since many families do have a legitimate need to avoid pregnancy at one time or another during their marriage. But the Church has not suddenly changed Her teachings to require something of us that has never been required before.

Oftentimes, the phrase “responsible parenthood” is touted as a mandate for NFP use. After all, don’t “responsible parents” plan their families by deciding exactly how many children they should have, and when they should have them? Here is what Humanae Vitae says about responsible parenthood:

“With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.”

So “responsible parenthood” does not mean limiting our family size; quite the contrary! It means that barring serious reasons, we are actually practicing responsible parenthood by being generously open to having more children!

Make no mistake – with the overwhelming statistic that 80+% of Catholics use some form of contraception, we DO need to encourage NFP. Contraception is intrinsically evil, not to mention the abortifacient nature of the Pill and IUDs, and NFP is a way for couples to legitimately prevent pregnancy without frustrating the marital act and is in line with the teachings of the Church. We need to inform people about the ills of contraception, and if they have a reason to avoid pregnancy, encourage NFP instead.

But NFP is not a “Church-approved method of birth control.” So many times it is presented as such. Instead of offering NFP as the main alternative to contraception, let’s offer CHILDREN as the alternative. The opposite of being “against conception” is being FOR conception. The Church teaches that having children is the ideal, and NFP is merely a tool we can use in our marriage if necessary, rather than the other way around. NFP should be promoted as a tool for times of serious need, and not as a requirement or a divine directive.

As Catholics, we are not all called to be “providentialists” and to have as many children as we are physically capable of bearing. If we determine with our spouse through prayer and spiritual direction that we have a serious reason to avoid having children for a period of time, then we are certainly permitted to use NFP. However, many Catholic couples may come to the conclusion that for the majority of or all of their childbearing years, they do not have serious reasons to avoid having children. For those of us who fall into this category, we should REJOICE that God is calling us to bring many little souls into this world for his glory! Often, those of us who are in this position are nervous and unsure – can we truly handle the demands of a large family? How will many children impact us financially? And far too frequently, what will others think of us? We struggle with human respect, which is “the putting of the opinion of others in the place of our conscience.” (Frank Duff, Servant of God)

Let us not let others’ opinions disturb our peace of soul; let us care only about what God requests of us, and let us rely on His grace. Let us BE COUNTERCULTURAL. What is more countercultural than being Catholic, anyway? We believe that contraception is wrong. We believe that sex should be reserved only for marriage. We believe that a priest can speak words while holding a piece of bread, and that bread becomes a Man, Jesus Christ, and that Man is God. That’s about as countercultural as it gets! Let us not be afraid to bear children simply because we fear what the world may think of us. Let us not deprive God of the souls He wishes to place under our care. While battling with temporal issues, let us always keep the eternal in mind. As Blessed Zelie said, “I wish to have many children so I could raise them for Heaven.”

Let us beseech our priests to preach this; to talk about how having children is one of the ends of marriage, how children are blessings to a marriage, and how GOOD it is to have them! Let us truly promote the culture of life, not simply by standing against abortion, but by standing FOR LIFE. Let us realize that as women, our fertility is a GIFT, a gift that we only have for a relatively short time in our life, a gift that some do not have and dearly desire! Let us share with all whom we meet the positives of having children, and how much we cherish our vocation of motherhood. Let us openly encourage others in their journeys of parenthood (religious sisters and single women – I cannot express how much your support and love of babies and new life means to us! Thank you!). Let us work to shift the mindset of the entire culture – that children are not commodities, nor are they burdens. They are blessings. ALL of them.

God has given us the amazing privilege to participate with Him in the creation of new life. We women are the vessels He has chosen to bring this new life into the world. God knows what He’s doing, and He will send us the right number of children. No child will be created without His Divine Help; no child is “unwanted” or “unplanned” by God. The number does not matter, whether God sees fit to send us two children or twelve. What matters is that we are open to His plan for us.

From Pope Pius XII’s “Dear Newlyweds”:

“It will depend on you whether those innocent souls, whom the embrace of Infinite Love desires to call from nothing, shall come to the threshold of life, in order to make of them one day His chosen companions in the eternal happiness of Heaven. But alas! If they remain merely magnificent images in the mind of God when they could have been rays of sun that illuminate every man who comes into this world (John 1:9), they will remain forever nothing but lights extinguished by the cowardice and selfishness of man!”

About Colleen

Colleen is wife to her wonderful husband and Mommy to three little boys and a baby girl. She spends her days sweeping Cheerios, reading stories, and building with Legos. She enjoys sharing her Catholic Faith with others, and trying her best to live out her vocation generously, graciously, fully. She loves the Traditional Mass. She also appreciates anything crafty or chocolatey, and is blessed to reside in the great state of Kansas, which actually is not all black-and-white – she has the red shoes to prove it.

May 11, 2012 - 9:13 am

Mandi @ Catholic Newlywed - Thank you! My husband and I decided a while back not to use NFP unless we had life-threatening or other very, very serious reasons (I wrote about our decision making process here: http://catholicnewlywed.blogspot.com/2011/06/open-to-life.html) and I often feel like a “bad Catholic” for it. There is such pressure to “present ourselves well” as Catholics – to show that even though we are against birth control, we still can live “normal” lives with only a few evenly-spaced children. It makes me feel as if I’m doing a disservice to the faith by welcoming any and all children God sends our way. I agree that NFP can be wonderful but only in certain situations. Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone and that I’m not in the wrong here!
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May 11, 2012 - 9:43 am

Rebecca - Great post! My husband and I have never used NFP. When our friends ask which version of NFP we use, our response is “We use the woo fly method. We let it fly & leave it up to God.”

May 11, 2012 - 10:26 am

Lindsey - Love this post! My husband and I first learned of NFP as an alternative to contraception after I did some research on the pill and found what it REALLY does. It introduced us to a new way of thinking and we are gradually becoming more open to the idea of putting trust in God, rather than our own ability to plan and anticipate the future. So I am thankful for the effort the Catholic church has made to show that NFP is a legitimate way to delay pregnancy, but it would be wonderful to not need it at all!

May 11, 2012 - 11:09 am

Allison - Completely agree!
For us,when it comes to charting or a child, a child always wins. Have you read that CCL book? We’re converts, and when we began to read through it a few years ago, we realized that a couple must really, really not want a child, to go through all that trouble and work.
Thank you for writing!
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May 11, 2012 - 11:40 am

Erika - Great article! Sharing it, this has been a topic of conversation on FB with some of my friends. I am very grateful that you took the time to research this and post it. Thank you! <3

May 11, 2012 - 12:17 pm

Deirdre - Thank you so much for putting all of my thoughts into words! I feel this so very strongly, but it is so infrequently said! Our culture is obsessed with *choice* and we need to resist that mentality. The choice we make is made at the altar when we say our vows and affirm that we will welcome children into the world and raise them according to God’s plan!
I so appreciate this post!!
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May 11, 2012 - 1:59 pm

Colleen - Deirdre, I am a little bit giddy and starstruck – I LOVE, LOVE your blog and am so honored that you took the time to read my post! Thanks so much for stopping by!

May 11, 2012 - 2:35 pm

Sarah - I don’t think I’ve ever encountered this attitude that you’re talking about, of NFP users making it seem as though one is duty-bound to practice NFP. And nearly all of the Catholics that I know do not use contraception. Not saying it doesn’t exist, I just haven’t encountered it.
My hubby and I have practiced NFP from day one of marriage (used to achieve pregnancy, avoid pregnancy, diagnose fertility problems and now hopefully to achieve pregnancy again), but I certainly don’t think all couples should do what I do. I would hope that those who choose to not learn NFP would say the same. I think a big part of the problem is our tendency as people to think that our experiences are normative and so everyone should do what we do (or don’t do, as the case may be).
We learned from the get-go that we had two choices, we could learn NFP so that we could use it with confidence to both avoid and achieve pregnancy, or we could leave it up to biology and God. Either choice is valid, and both are good. I’d imagine a lot of people float between the two at various times of marriage. My dh and I will use NFP for as long as we are of child-bearing years becase I have hormonal problems that make miscarriage likely, so I need to know ASAP if I do get pregnant so I can take hormones that will help me stay pregnant. But again, my experience is not normative, and neither is yours. We just present the truth and trust couples to make the best choice.
Thanks for sharing!
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May 11, 2012 - 3:04 pm

Kathryn - Beautiful post! Thank you. This is a great post and reflects so much of what has been on my heart.
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May 11, 2012 - 4:12 pm

Megan - Great post :) I have not really encountered the “good Catholics use NFP” mentality and, knowing just how pervasive the contraception is for young couples today, I am grateful for promotion of NFP. However I think the message you are presenting is timely and extremely important. “Instead of offering NFP as the main alternative to contraception, let’s offer CHILDREN as the alternative,” sums it up for me. Even for couples using NFP (like my husband and I) it is important to keep in mind that openness to life is essential in God’s plan for marriage. Thanks for the reminder!

May 11, 2012 - 8:26 pm

Maria - I think there is a lot of misunderstanding among those who practice artificial bc and those who choose to let the babies come. I have been a practitioner of the Billings Method (simple to use…no temp) for over 20 years and still this argument is brought up again. I have had some very rude comments made to me by those who choose not to learn NFP as if they are better Catholics than couples who choose to use NFP to space (not prevent, mind you) their children. The NFP couples I know have many children, btw.

I had a conversation with a lovely elderly woman who put it in perspective for me. She had 10 children. But she remarked to me that she would have loved to have used NFP to space. The babies came quickly and she felt very overwhelmed at times. Using NFP, she would have still have happily had 10 children but at a better pace for her.

Blessed John Paul advocated couples to learn NFP as engaged couples in Familiaris Consortio #30. Learning NFP is helpful for all women because if a woman is having trouble conceiving or has strange discharges that could alert her to get checked out for cancer, I would say that charting is a good thing to do.

Remember our Church isn’t anti-intellectual…we have two lungs to breathe – faith & science.

May 11, 2012 - 10:03 pm

Colleen - @Maria – thank you for your feedback. I am sorry that people have felt the need to make rude comments to you about using NFP; I, too, have heard many rude comments about it being irresponsible NOT to use NFP. I think there are misunderstandings on all sides, and my article was an attempt to clear up some of the misunderstandings that I have encountered. Catholic Sistas has had several posts promoting the benefits of NFP (including “Why Size Doesn’t Matter” and “Natural Family Planning: 5 Truths Everyone Should Know”); I have simply approached this topic from a different angle, one that is not often acknowledged.

Your comment about the conversation with the elderly woman is very interesting to me. I am in the throes of young motherhood with babies coming quickly myself, and I certainly understand the feeling of being overwhelmed at times. But I can’t agree that if I used NFP to space my children, I would still have the same number of children with larger age gaps between them. If I used NFP to space my children (let’s say, so that I didn’t get pregnant until the “baby” was 2), my second child simply would not exist, at all. Using that logic, I would only have 2 children right now. Where would my sweet Ben fit in? Would he be the same child, just 20 months younger than he is? Or would he just not exist, at all? I think playing the “what if this were different” game can be very dangerous, because things happen for a reason, and we truly don’t know WHAT would have happened otherwise. Maybe your friend *would* have had 10 children still, simply spaced further apart. But maybe not. I know SO MANY women who suffered with secondary infertility, early menopause, cancer, a hysterectomy… If they had spaced their children more with the intent of still having that same number, their last few might never have existed.

My mother was her parents’ 5th child in 6 years. If her mother had spaced them out more, my mother may not have come along for another 10 years, and then where would I be? Certainly not here right now. Our lives are like a delicate piece of knitting, the yarn all intertwined – if we were to cut just one thread, so much of the knitting would unravel, and ruin the beauty of the work of art. I just feel that thinking about how we would change the past if we could can lead us down a dangerous path, especially when it comes to the intimate details of our children and their timing of coming into this world. I do acknowledge that high-tech knowledge of fertility is a huge, wonderful advance of science, and I echoed the Popes’ teachings that periodic continence is certainly acceptable for parents to use for serious reasons. But sometimes, even people who *do* have a hypothetically good reason to use NFP still aren’t called to use it, and that does not mean that they are irresponsible.

I certainly agree with you that NFP can be extremely beneficial to learn for medical reasons and to achieve pregnancy; as I stated in my disclaimer at the top, I was referring to NFP used purely as periodic continence in this article. And of course, I agree that women should be familiar with their cycles and know the basics of reproduction and fertility. But again, I was specifically referring to using NFP to postpone pregnancy in this article. I did not say that the Church teaches we should be in the dark and uneducated about our bodies; I was simply trying to give encouragement to the multitude of women who are made to feel guilty for not ‘planning’ their pregnancies, and to remind us all that God has His own plan for each one of us.

May 12, 2012 - 12:17 am

Kate - This is the first post I have read of yours. Please write more on this topic. Especially in regards to how you deal with the opinions of others.

We have been using NFP for about a year and it has been very difficult and with little support. I don’t know that I will ever give up charting, although I hope to eventually feel secure enough to make the leap- let go and let God. For now, spacing pregnancies is a big concern for us, and I am glad to use NFP for it. I wish that so many Catholics would not be so judgmental on either side.

Thanks for your post.

May 12, 2012 - 6:38 am

Jake - Colleen,

Thank you for this message – this has been one of my two pet peeves of my concerning NFP for quite some time (the other being the illusory “99% effective”).

At the risk of shameless self promotion, I wrote a nearly identical piece a while back at

http://causafinitaest.blogspot.com/2011/03/does-church-require-natural-family.html

It was prompted by a bulletin blurb at our parish advertising NFP, which read something like, “NFP is a must for couple who want to live the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality.” Not true! Not true! The only thing that is a “must” is that a couple must be perpetually open to life. NFP is one way that the Church allows to live out this disposition.

However, the article that got the most attention was the one I wrote debunking (or at least explaining) the “99%” rating that NFP often touts. It is available here:

http://causafinitaest.blogspot.com/2011/03/effectiveness-of-natural-family.html

Effectiveness ratings are radically misunderstood and often are used as one reason “why” a couple should use NFP.

Thanks for all of your hard work on this!

May 12, 2012 - 9:39 am

Shannon Lawson - Thank you for a great post! I feel the same way. My husband and I have used NFP to avoid, acheive, and diagnose fertility problems. We began our marriage thinking we had one of those “valid” reasons for postponing pregnancy: we were both in grad school, paying off loans, and not making very much money. After a few months, we just felt called to give it to God. We continued to chart, but solely for the purpose of tracking fertility. Once pregnant, I found out I had some health problems that if left untreated, and if I had gone much longer without conceiving, could have rendered me infertile. It truly is amazing what God has in store for us.

May 12, 2012 - 12:30 pm

Claudia - Really enjoyed your post. We have been blessed with 6 children thus far and have long way to learn as far as our Catholic faith and understanding this teaching. I am barely coming to hear of it, just being honest. I think most importantly for many of us is we need a conversion of heart. So now I pray for that, to truly welcome with a open heart what God has in store for our family.

May 12, 2012 - 2:21 pm

Lacy - My only hesitation with everything that is mentioned in this beautiful, well-written blog is that it seems as if this lifestyle, in which children are the ultimate goal at all times in one’s childbearing years, is that it sacrifices the quality of life for the woman. Christianity is all about sacrifice, that is true, as Christ sacrificed for us. Maybe that is the point. Pregnancy is very hard on a woman’s body, and in the time that she is pregnant her quality of life is significantly reduces. She cannot partake in activities that make life enjoyable, she must constantly be in a doctor’s office, and must constantly be aware of what she is eating. If she chooses to nurse her baby, this continues for another 6 months to a year or longer after her pregnancy ends. Only to do it all over again a few months after that. This cycle of low quality of life continues for the duration of her childbearing years, which, depending on when she married, could be 10 to 20 or more years.

It is not all bad, of course. She loves her children and they bring joy to her life, and hopefully her husband brings her joy as well. But the same can be said for women who only have three or four children, except for those women, an end is in sight. An end in which they can experience both the joys of motherhood and being a wife, while also experiencing the sense of freedom that comes with having a body not shared with another, which is the same joy and quality of life our husbands get to experience. I am sure all mothers know this sense of freedom, after you give birth and/or wean your nursling. But for the women described in this post, that freedom is short lived.

Maybe that is the point…that for Catholic women, our high quality of life awaits us when we are past our childbearing years, or when we get to Heaven. I will have to pray on this.

Thank you for your post.

May 12, 2012 - 3:22 pm

Colleen - @Lacy – I think you hit the nail on the head in the last part of your comment! I know some women truly do have extremely difficult pregnancies, hyperemesis, sciatica, vein problems, gestational diabetes. Some of us have lesser difficulties, but even with regular old morning sickness, lower back pain, and heartburn, pregnancy is often just not fun. Not to mention the limitations on our activities – it certainly IS a sacrifice! Since I found out I was pregnant not-quite 2 months into our marriage (which was nearly 4 years ago), I have not gone a single day where I have not been pregnant or nursing a baby (or both). And there have definitely been times where it has hindered what I’ve been able to do. BUT, I would say in general, I’ve been able to live a wonderful life despite it. My husband and I have gone on dates, our whole family has gone to fairs and other local events, we have gone on vacations. We went to the top of Pike’s Peak with a 5 month old when I was 2 months pregnant (and I almost got sick on the way up, but I can look back and laugh and say that I still truly did enjoy myself). My husband and I plan to return to where we had our honeymoon in the next few years. There are some limitations, to be sure, but I think in general we can still lead a fun and fulfilling life even if we are “perpetually” pregnant or have a baby attached to us.

I suppose I see it this way. A woman who is called to be a religious sister has many duties – daily Mass, hours of prayer, and whatever “work” her religious order does (working with the poor, sewing priestly vestments, teaching, etc.) She fulfills her vocation by doing these things. Sometimes, she is offered a respite from the tedium of her days – she and her fellow sisters go ice skating, visit their parents for Christmas, go to Rome to visit the Vatican, etc. But the majority of the time, she is called to simply live in the convent and to go about her daily business.

The life of a woman who is called to be a wife and a mother is much the same story, although the details are different. She is called to be faithful and loving towards her husband, to be pregnant, to care for her babies, to teach and raise her children. She wakes up each morning to do nearly the same thing as the day before. She may have moments where she is free from her immediate duties of motherhood – she and her husband go on a trip alone, she goes to dinner with friends, she makes a silent retreat for a weekend. But she still realizes that the day-to-day life of caring for her children is her vocation. Of course, mothers need breaks, too, if only for their mental health, but I think if we realize that PRIMARILY we are called to love our husbands and raise our children, and that THAT is our most important thing, then it is much easier to come back and surrender to the daily grind. We have to realize that our children are not holding us back from living life – they ARE our life. We have to sincerely seek joy in our humble lives. I know women who can go on as many vacations as they want, and they are unhappy. I know women who find joy in their marriages, their housekeeping, and raising their children, and they truly radiate with the joy and love of God. I think the key is to not let our circumstances dictate our happiness, but to find joy regardless.

I suspect it may have been easier in previous generations where having many children was just a normal part of family life. I know it’s easy to feel like we are “missing out” on some life experiences when we are raising children and others’ are already grown (or in my case, they are married but haven’t yet had children.) It’s difficult to be content with what God is calling us to do sometimes. But we have to remember that the things of this world will pass away, but the immortal souls of our children will remain forever, and God willing, we will share in the beauty of heaven with them. And as God loves each of these souls dearly, He will reward us for doing our part to bring them into the world. It has really helped me to truly realize that we aren’t made for this world. Of course, God wants us to have happiness in this life, but only insofar as it reflects the beauty and happiness of the next life.

Thank you for your thought-provoking comment; it certainly is something each of us must pray about – that we may know God’s will for our lives and follow it. God Bless!

May 12, 2012 - 4:30 pm

Valerie - I agree with everything Colleen said, Lacy. I have five children and have much the same experiences as Colleen mentioned in my marriage and family. I have had your same struggles, especially early in my marriage.

Also remember that pregnancy only lasts nine months! The Holy Church does not require us to nurse our children, and we are permitted to take advantage of the articial alternative for any reason. I nursed my first two children until 6 months, but for my younger three I have taken advantage of that alternative, and I have found that it lifts the burden off of having to sacrifice your body after your pregnancy. Because of that, the time in between my pregnancies are much more relaxed and I do get to enjoy a period of time not sharing my body. That is always an option for you as well.

Good luck!

May 12, 2012 - 5:47 pm

Lacy - Colleen, your reply is very encouraging to me. I never thought to make that comparison between the different vocation’s expectations. I guess one thing that really bothers me is that it seems the burdens between married men and women are disproportionate. Women are asked to find joy despite being perpetually pregnant or attached to an infant, and men get to enjoy parenthood and married life free of that. Their only responsibility is their career. It just seems very unfair. But of course, Eve did eat the apple first, so it is only fair she have it worse.

May 14, 2012 - 8:14 am

Sheila - I LOVE that reply, Colleen! I don’t really love being pregnant, but I do love breastfeeding, and I just don’t feel that urge to “get my body back” … I’m busy with my vocation, and I like it. Nuns might not *like* chastity or obedience, but they accept the sacrifice their vocation takes, and it’s the same for me.

Lacy, I disagree that it is “supposed” to be harder for women. I think if men have the idea in their head that just doing their career is enough, they’re doing it wrong. There is no WAY I could be this happy in my vocation unless I was getting a lot of support from my husband. His job doesn’t end at five p.m. any more than mine does — he gets home and plays with the kids, helps with bedtime, and handles some of the night wakeups. Then on weekends he helps me catch up on chores. The father of a family wears a lot of hats, and I think it’s a copout for him to say “well, I bring home a paycheck, and that’s all I need to do.” (Meanwhile, for many men, making enough to support a large family means taking a job he doesn’t like and working more hours than he wants. That can be a really big cross, too.) I suspect that my husband’s life is, in many ways, a lot harder than mine, because he’s constantly juggling so many things. Every vocation, if you’re doing it right, requires sacrifice and hard work. But there’s so much joy to it, too.
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May 14, 2012 - 8:39 am

Michael D. King - Sheila, I agree with you. As the father of 11 children (all born by c-section), I can attest that if women want real power (as we are told so many do) then they should simply be open to life. There is no-one on the planet more “powerful” than the mother of a large family; and no man on earth more domesticated than the father of a large family. The increasing demands of family life expand the hearts of all who are open to the truth. God never gives you more than you can handle.

The long and short of it is this – in the old days, you had to have a good reason to not have another child – now you need a good reason to have one. This is wrong and is the defining sentiment in what John Paul the Great called “the culture of death”.

The greatest gift you can give your children (including an Ivy League Education, massive home or new automobiles)is another little brother or sister. All too often we believe we are supposed to sit across the table from our spouses and support each other in the mentality that “we’ve done enough”. In actuality, we are supposed to support one another in the mentality that “we can do more”. There is no greater way on the planet to unite yourself to Christ on the cross, open and vulnerable, out of pure and fair love, than to be together with your husband or wife, knowing you may get pregnant – even though now may not be the best time to do so. The issue is not the number of children you have – it all comes down to one number – the next one – and that’s all. We must understand that contraception is a mentality, not a device, chemical or technique. These children, we are saying no to, are God’s children – not our own.

May 14, 2012 - 9:45 am

Kristi - Thank you for this article! We are new Catholics, I really appreciate your take on the issue and I can relate to what you wrote. We have 6 children, we are open to more, and even our dear mentors (long time Catholics) have looked at us sideways when we have mentioned not using NFP. They made it pretty clear that’s what good Catholics do.

May 14, 2012 - 9:49 am

Carolann - I just wish that there wasn’t so much judgement on all sides concerning how a husband and wife decide to plan (or not plan) their families. My husband and I are both one of many siblings and we do not feel called at all to have a larger family, and our family is already large by non-Catholic standards. Both my husband and I feel like we grew up in families that were too large for our parents to handle. I can honestly say that I’ve never had a one on one conversation with either of my parents and know that many of my siblings feel the same way. This is not to say that we aren’t open to children who come along, but we both really feel content with what we have. I am very tired of all the pointed questions from fellow church moms, now that my youngest is five. I spent a large portion of my last two pregnancies in the hospital and really don’t want to do that again (and I would because the problem I had just gets worse with each pregnancy). I think these things are best left to a couple and God and we need to keep our noses out of other people’s business. I have never heard of anyone criticizing someone for not using NFP, but see the criticism on the other side all the time.

May 14, 2012 - 10:04 am

JoAnn - Beautiful! Well-written and always-timely discussion for Catholics seeking truth about the gift of fertility! I am going to share this with my young-adult children….Thankfully, they have studied Theology of the Body and “get” this already….

May 14, 2012 - 10:08 am

Jenny Nicole - CarolAnn, I agree with you. I have had similar rough pregnancies, and when I was pregnant with my third and last, my other two children were not well taken care of due to my state. I also have a job as a teacher, in which I had to go on extended medical leave. I love caring for my children and my job, and taking care of those things is where my calling and vocation is. This idea of letting the babies come freely assumes that all married women are called to be stay at home moms, and this is not the case. Marriage and Motherhood is a vocation in which the details of the responsibilities vary from person to person. I am using NFP, but I am done having children. My youngest is four so it has been successful thus far (I have been blessed with easily interpreted cycles), and I will continue to use it so that I can serve God through my vocation as an able-bodied, not bedridden, mother and teacher.

May 14, 2012 - 11:13 am

Mark - Hello Cathleen,

Nice article. I’m a guy and I have a question. It seems that every NFP article I read talks about using NFP/practice continence if you have a “serious” reason to space births. But that seems to indicate that if your reason is not “serious” then it’s morally illicit to practice continence. That’s where I get confused. What is the moral or theological reason it could be wrong NOT to have sex, assuming both spouses want to refrain from sex? Here’s my line of thinking: You’re not separating the unitive and procreative aspects of sex, because you’re not having any. You’re not denying your spouse anything because the continence is mutually desired. And finally, there is ancient tradition whereby if a married man is ordained to the priesthood, he and his wife live as “brother and sister.” And in the East, married priests practice continence for the day leading up to celebration of the Divine Liturgy. So what gives? What could be wrong with not having sex?

May 14, 2012 - 11:14 am

Mark - ^^ That’s supposed to say Colleen, not Cathleen. Sorry!

May 14, 2012 - 11:45 am

Martha - I really enjoyed this post!! My husband and I have to use NFP to conceive, but we have never tried to avoid. Sometimes we don’t chart and just let our marriage be what it is…and then we think, where’s our baby, Lord!! And start charting because we want a little one.

I realize that these decisions are intensely personal and we cannot know if a person is doing the right or wrong thing, absent clear abuse of NFP or their fertility. But I always ask myself to change my heart instead of changing the course of history by withholding another child from the world. Probably because I was almost aborted, and that still haunts me. How would that change the lives of those I’ve touched – not only my husband, friends, and siblings, but even my own parents? I am the one that converted to Catholicism in college and my parents followed three years later. God may be waiting to send me the child that would change my whole life!

I can’t bear the thought of passing up a cycle and not even trying, because I always wonder – who am I denying? Granted….my life is very different than most people’s. I don’t ovulate regularly, most of my cycles are infertile. But still…those thoughts stay with me.

May 14, 2012 - 11:55 am

Colleen - @Jenny Nicole – “Marriage and Motherhood is a vocation in which the details of the responsibilities vary from person to person.” I COMPLETELY agree with you, and that is why I said that “many” couples come to the realization that they do not have a reason to use NFP for the majority of their marriage, not “all” couples. You and your spouse must discern for yourselves whether or not you fall into that category.

May 14, 2012 - 12:04 pm

Colleen - @Carolann – you are exactly right – these decisions are something that each individual couple must discern for themselves, and if they are at all concerned about whether or not their reasons are valid, they should run it by a solid spiritual director. Which is essentially what I said above. Yep, we need to keep our noses out of each other’s business. But please don’t take offense at an article that is trying to give encouragement to women who do NOT feel as though they have serious reasons to postpone pregnancy. If it doesn’t apply to you, then you are free to ignore it.

May 14, 2012 - 12:22 pm

Celeste - Just wanted to say that I really enjoyed this article–well-written, and a great primer to share with friends! I think you’re right that too many well-intentioned faithful Catholics see NFP as the answer to the Catholics-use-contraception problem. And it is, in some ways, for those who have grave reason. But it is certainly not an obligation and should not be the default for married couples, as the Church has made clear.

May 14, 2012 - 12:24 pm

Bonnie - I have always considered NFP to be more about prayer and less about charting but I’m beginning to see that I must be alone in this. In my mind, a Catholic practicing NFP may or may not be charting depending on what God has called them to, as discerned through prayer, conversations between spouses and with spritual directors/confessors.

I think it’s good for all couples to learn how to chart for NFP, and my husband and I pray with each cycle to see what God wants us to do: “Should I chart this month to get pregnant? Should I chart this month to not get pregnant? Should I not chart at all and see what You bring us?” And, okay, sometimes the prayer is more like, “I’m not ready for another kid but if You think I am than change my heart.”

And all this coming from a woman who’s been pregnant 5 times in the last 5 years!
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May 14, 2012 - 1:13 pm

Salome Ellen - I find it a sad shame that the “FP” in NFP stands for “family planning”. I married at 30, had six children (and a few miscarriages) before my 42nd birthday, and am now 61. I would never say that we “used NFP”, but I stayed aware of my fertility cycle, which helped me 1) know that baby #2 was actually due 2 weeks later than the LMP dates — this was before routine ultrasound — and therefore was not dangerously overdue; 2) keep a rein on my crabbiness when I knew it was due to hormone shifts and not my family suddenly becoming incredibly annoying; and 3) be sure that my last period, at age 57, and 11 1/2 months after I thought I’d had the “last,” was just my hormones trying one more time, and not a sign of cancer or some other dysfunction.

I absolutely agree that no one is “required” to pay attention to their fertility, but I also believe that thinking of it as “family planning” devalues the advantages of having this information, which all couples can use in whatever way is appropriate to their unique circumstances before God.
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May 14, 2012 - 1:20 pm

Colleen - @Salome Ellen – good points. I think “fertility awareness” is probably a more accurate term, and of course, something I think everyone should at least pay some attention to. We certainly aren’t required to chart, even if only for medical purposes, but from a purely biological perspective it is good to have at least a general sense of what is going on with our bodies! I am certainly not advocating sticking our heads in the sand in regards to our fertility so that we end up on one of those “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant!” shows. ;)

May 14, 2012 - 2:34 pm

Dina - My husband and I used to teach the sympto-thermal method of NFP. With that being said, we have never really used it to avoid pregnancy but for fertility awareness. We have found it very useful to chart my temperatures throughout our years of marriage. I tend to have delayed ovulation and, with the information from our charts, have been able to convince the OB/GYN to push back the expected due dates. This information has helped me to prevent forced inductions and possible c-sections. I have to say that I am happy to be a stay-at-home mom, but I am glad that more women are in the work force today. I think we are a better society in many ways for it. I am glad to hear Jenny Nicole is able to use NFP and work as a teacher. I do wish more women would choose to stay at home if they were able. It can be lonely in this highly educated neighborhood! So I guess I am on both sides of this issue!!

May 14, 2012 - 3:44 pm

Juliana - Thank you for your beautiful article!

I am currently pregnant with our eleventh baby. We lovingly accepted each one as he or she came, and by God’s grace (and the nature of breastfeeding) each baby was spaced at least 22 months apart from the next.

Our last pregnancy resulted in a set of identical twin girlies. It was my first extremely difficult pregnancy. The babies had Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome, and I spent almost the entire pregnancy on bed rest. They were born at 32 weeks and spent 2 months in the NICU. Six weeks after they were born, we decided to take our very first NFP class, not knowing how long they would be hospitalized or what medical issues we were facing.

I must say it was mighty funny seeing the looks on the faces of the other young couples when we said we already had ten children! I’m sure they were thinking, “It’s about time you two figured out how this works!” We bagan charting, and enjoyed learning how to track my fertility. I prayed to the Lord and asked Him to please give me two years before a new pregnancy.

Praise be to God, our twins are perfectly healthy and developmentally right on target. They turned two in January. We were pregnant in February. ;) God NEVER gives you more than you can handle. Trust in HIM!!

May 14, 2012 - 6:37 pm

Mary - You are correct, NFP is NOT required, but what is required is prudence and responsibility. God gave us free will and he won’t give us more than we can handle, when and if it’s something we have no control over. But we can and do have the ability to give ourselves more than we can handle, as a result of our free will. Having said that, we do have the responsibility to evaluate our family size whether or not we practice NFP. If it is not in the good interest of the children we already have, or the mother, father etc, we are still responsible for taking actions to prevent pregnancy. We do not have to use NFP, but what has been used since the beginning of time is just plain old abstinence. All of us can abstain even if it is a year or two or indefinitely because of health concerns. NFP is a blessing because it gives us a way to abstain when necessary, but not necessarily forever. If you choose not to use NFP, you are still held responsible for the decisions you make. We should not judge other people’s decisions, but we also can’t assume that “just because we are having as many children as God wants us to have” that we are making the right decision. God is not making that decision, he gives us the free will to choose to bring another life into the world. That decision must still be evaluated and discerned with each child whether or not we use NFP.

Another item that keeps popping up in the comment box concerns trust. It seems that people consider those not using NFP as more trusting in God. That is absolutely incorrect. In using NFP and continuously discerning whether God is calling you to have more children there is a ton of trust involved. We have felt called to have another child, and chose to follow that call from God, however had many circumstances in life that seemed impossible with pregnancy and another child on the way. However, because of our discernment process and guidance with our spiritual director we decided to try for another child. And believe me that took an intense amount of TRUST in God. NFP is not just some easy out for couples.

May 14, 2012 - 8:29 pm

Colleen - @Mary – hmm, I definitely agree with you to a certain extent – we have to be prudent, of course. But I think there’s a difference in getting pregnant vs. a lot of other decisions we can make with our free will that God might not want for us. We can’t get pregnant on our own. Getting pregnant literally requires an act of God – God has to infuse a soul into a body at the moment of creation. It is more than just a “natural consequence” of the marital act. CCC 2367 says: “Married couples should regard it as their proper mission to transmit human life and to educate their children; they should realize that they are thereby cooperating with the love of God the Creator and are, in a certain sense, its interpreters.” We only have so much control over whether or not a new human is brought into the world; there is more than simple biology at work.

May 14, 2012 - 11:21 pm

Mary - Colleen,

I agree with you that we can’t bring life into the world without God and that it is more than simple biology. However, God gives us our free will and allows us to make mistakes even though it is not his will. Examples of this would be an unwed teenager who gets pregnant, victim of rape who gets pregnant, incest, surrogate mothers, artificial insemination, test tube babies etc, etc. God infuses souls into all of these children although it is clearly not what he would have intended, but he gave us the free will and allows us to choose. So we can’t necessarily assume that, if we do nothing and continue to have sex without constant discernment of God’s will in our marriage and family, we are making the right decision or best decision for our family. Now I’m not saying that some people haven’t discerned this and come to the conclusion that 10 kids in 10 years was God’s will for them, but I am saying that many people can assume that it’s God’s will that they have 15 kids just because they are married in the church and having sex, but it might not be.

Having said all that, I do use NFP and do want a large family, but figure we will take it one child at a time as we never know what God has in store for our family and our marriage. Also I come from a large family of 10, we were all 1.5 to 2 years apart. My parents didn’t use NFP, they “left it up to God so to speak”. Our situation wasn’t ideal. None of us have a relationship with my father. He didn’t take the time to raise us just brought us into the world. My mother was overwhelmed and busy and I was raised more by my older siblings. I don’t remember my mom sitting down to play with me ever, give me a bath, dress me, even put me to bed at night. It was always one of my siblings because she literally had no time for me. I don’t think this is necessarily how God intends us to be raised, but God can of course bring good out of a less than ideal situation. Here I am a practicing catholic, grateful that my parents did have me, but I now bring from my family tons of emotional baggage and issues because of the lack of relationship with both my father and mother. I would never say that I wish my mother didn’t have me or any of my siblings, but I do know that I will choose to do things differently as a result of that situation. I think God is bringing good out of the mistakes my parents made, but it doesn’t mean we should repeat their mistakes.

May 14, 2012 - 11:51 pm

Colleen - @Mark – the licitness simply depends on the intention. You aren’t off base – see Humanae Vitae #11.

May 15, 2012 - 12:00 am

dadwithnoisykids - Colleen: Nice post. Shortly before we got married, I resolved to let God determine the size of our family. My wife Carolyn was already totally open to life, and was waiting for me to come around to her way of thinking. The final straw was when we took a class on NFP before we got married. I thought it would be a good thing for a doctor to know and to share with his patients, and we married while I was still a medical student. It was really bad to hear the NFP teachers describe it as “the only contraceptive permitted by the Catholic Church.”

We became NFP dropouts, and after almost 23 years of marriage, we are blessed most of all by our children. Carolyn has been pregnant 16 times, has given birth to 13 children, and we are blessed to have 12 living children to love and to cherish and to help become Saints in Heaven.

Carolyn is the 10th of 16 children, and I thank God that my in-laws did not contracept or NFP her out of existence.
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May 15, 2012 - 12:02 am

Natural Family Planning Todd Meade Grief Fisher More College | The Pulpit - [...] Why You Don’t Have to Use Natural Family Planning – Colleen, Catholic Sistas [...]

May 15, 2012 - 6:21 am

Carolann - @Mary – thank you for the beautiful post which really hit home. People always assume that coming from a large family is a wonderful thing, but both my husband and I had a different experience. I must admit that I disagree with the statement that God does not give you more than you can handle. I think God gives you the grace to accept what life gives you to handle. I totally agree with your statement that God can bring good out of a mistake but that doesn’t mean that we should repeat it. Thanks again.

May 15, 2012 - 6:47 am

Elizabeth - Colleen: You said “with the overwhelming statistic that 80+% of Catholics use some form of contraception, we DO need to encourage NFP.” I’m sorry, but that’s just more contraceptive thinking. In fact, the sticky point of papal teaching is STILL being either completely ignored or twisted to fit ~ the part about spacing and/or abstinence is indeed permissable for SERIOUS reasons, not as it seems to be widely practiced by Catholics who are under the false impression that they can choose, not God. Blame it on the Bishops, blame it on the lack of proper catechesis over the last 50 years, but the fact remains that NFP is permissable for serious reasons, period.

May 15, 2012 - 7:03 am

Colleen - @Elizabeth – I also said in that same paragraph: “We need to inform people about the ills of contraception, and if they have a reason to avoid pregnancy, encourage NFP instead.” I also used the term “serious reason” multiple times in the post. I have many friends who have life-threatening reasons not to conceive again. The likelihood of them dying if they get pregnant again is high. The combination of a vulnerable woman and a doctor telling her “You will DIE if you have another child. Think of your 7 children at home, do you want to leave them motherless?” is enough for even some of the most devout women to consider a tubal ligation or some other form of permanent birth control. I have known women who HAVE (and regretted it deeply). They need to be informed about NFP so that they will make the choice that is in line with the Church.

Again, I was not referring to people who just don’t “feel like” having any more kids, so they use NFP instead of contraception. The context surrounding that quote is important.

May 15, 2012 - 7:04 am

Colleen - @Mary – But see, everything else you mentioned (surrogacy, AI, IVF, rape, incest) are sinful in themselves regardless of whether or not a child is conceived through them. The marital act is not sinful in itself, and barring certain circumstances borne out of selfishness, is usually quite meritorious, so these things are on completely different planes. In fact, even if a couple has a serious reason NOT to conceive, sometimes it is better for them TO participate in the marital act, if not doing so would seriously tempt one of the partners to sin. So do we need to use prudence? Yes, of course. Do we all need to grow in the virtue of temperance? Yes. But I don’t think we can draw an exact parallel between these types of situations. And if a couple gets pregnant at a time that is less than ideal, they do have 9 months to pull things together in their home and to make their home more ready to accept another child.

I am so sorry for your negative experiences growing up and for the lack of parental interaction you suffered. You are right, EVERY child deserve to be cared for primarily by their parents. The Church has never taught that we should have many children and yet not care for them, which is why they teach the importance not only of the procreation of children, but also of their education. I hope you are able to find some healing, and how wonderful that you are conscientious and will establish a deliberate, loving relationship with each of your children!

May 15, 2012 - 7:30 am

Elena - Keep it up Colleen! great article

May 15, 2012 - 7:46 am

Elizabeth - Colleen: Yes, I stand corrected. I was thinking of your Disclaimer at the top of the article about this post being specifically relating to those who are wanting/needing to avoid pregnancy. Of course there are those situations where medically it is called for; that would be a serious reason. Sorry if I sounded like I was attacking you ~ I wasn’t.

I also wasn’t talking about those who just don’t feel like having any more children. My statement is more of a reaction to the multitude of blog discussions across the web by practicing Catholic women (and men) who are sincerely trying to be true to the Faith, but who still talk about it in terms of “much prayer”, “between you and God”, “between you and your conscience”….that sounds all very Protestant to me.

As I said, I’m not blaming or attacking them either. There has been a decided lack of clear, clear, clear teaching on this. And yes, of course the word ‘serious’ seems to be very subjective unfortunately.

May 15, 2012 - 9:58 am

Carol - Refreshing! Beautiful! These words are sweet to ones ears. I never practiced NFP. I always trusted what God would give me. Unfortunately, his will is not ours. I didn’t have 15 children like my mother. Who, by the way, was told not to have anymore children after me because she almost died having me(I was third). My mother, happily had 12 more and lived. I could never imagine my life without my siblings. What fun we had as a large family growing up. For myself, I had three children very close together and than God didn’t give me anymore. I remember how long it took me to reconcile myself to a small family. Than one day a priest told me that God did not want me to sanctify myself that way. It was just that simple. I have no regrets. God always knows what is best for us.

May 15, 2012 - 10:25 am

Ezabelle - A well written article from a point of view we rarely hear.
I’d like to offer some food for thought. A very close friend of mine who I grew up with and who I went to school with (an Opus Dei school), is the oldest of 12 children. They came from a traditional Catholic upbringing, raised in the tradition of Opus Dei.
After school she entered the Opus Dei work as a single female, both parents were Super Numeri and she became a Numeri (celibate for life). She left the Work and what she thought was her calling in life 5 years after entering at the age of 16.
Today, she no longer practices her faith as before, but attends Mass only for Easter and Christmas for the sake of her family, but regardless of her leaving Opus Dei, is still respectful in that she won’t talk negatively against the Faith, the Work or of Opus Dei- even though they treated her in the most unChrst-like manner when she decided to leave.

Now the reason I bring up this story is that my friend, although loves her siblings dearly and remains single because she helps her siblings and feels a responsibility to care for them, tells me that she believes her parents should never have had 12 children. Although very devout in their faith and attend mass daily, pray regularly etc… They were very irresponsible parents in terms of nurturing their children emotionally and spiritually. And to this day, with many of the children who having gone through an education in an Opus Dei school, refuse to Practise their Faith.
They see too clearly the hypocrisy in their parents faith- neglect of their vocation to their children, irresponsibly having child year after year with no attempt to fulfill the responsibilities of true loving concerned parents. This irresponsibility has had profound negative affects on many of their children’s spiritual and emotional well-being. I could tell you similar stories of the same abandonment of faith by children from very large families who never felt the true love of a parent because a) there wasn’t enough hours in day b) the child felt like a number c) the parent didn’t attempt to make time for the individual child too busy creating more children and “praying”

So to conclude I feel the need to make this point as a lesson I learnt hearing from the mouth of these now grown children from large families and seeing the pain they carry. My husband and I use NFP and Im a happy mother if two beautiful girls (so far), I think that the spacing of children is important and you as a parent MUST make a conscious promise to be fully committed in your heart to live out your vocation as a parent- caring and nurturing ALL your children spiritually, emotionally and physically ALL the time BEFORE, and AFTER you have each child.
God did give us free-will to be exercised in accordance to HIS will. To use our reason and Faith together. God bless ALL parents especially mothers regardless of how many children they have, and especially bless the children He entrusts in our care.

Thank you.

May 15, 2012 - 12:59 pm

Carol - P.S. Ezabelle,sad she feels that way. Sounds like she has many issues to work out. She is not practicing her faith for one. I don’t nor do my siblings feel that way.We and many other families have no regrets. But that is not the issue. We are talking about church teaching here. Are we cafeteria Catholics? You didn’t say if you were Catholic. Sounds like you are not. This article was about “Humanae Vitae” and what the church teaches.I won’t argue with that. I accept this teaching wholeheartedly, do you?

May 15, 2012 - 1:26 pm

Kristi - Well some of these stories are very depressing. I’m so thankful some of you with good experiences from big families spoke up. As the mother of a large family I am always worried whether or not my children get enough attention, enough fun, enough memory making. I try the best I can but won’t doubt that my children may look back and criticize or judge me for certain things. God knows I was not easy on my mother and I was an only child! What a MISERABLE childhood I had! But there comes a point where we all have to come to terms with our childhoods and what we feel we didn’t receive or missed out on. We all have those things. I hope my children grow up with good memories and look fondly upon their childhoods.

May 15, 2012 - 1:38 pm

Sheila - While I can see that prudence is required, I just can’t see that it can ever be a sin to be intimate with your spouse (with mutual consent of course) just because children could result. It’s even allowed to have children in circumstances that other people deem “irresponsible.” Not everyone is called to that kind of radical trust — it’s kind of like holy poverty. Some are called to travel around, basically homeless, and make a living off begging. But only a very few have that calling, and the rest of us own houses and jobs and aren’t any the less holy for it.

I just hate the attitude that “well, there are SOME people in this church who are having TOO MANY kids.” How can there be too many kids? Couldn’t we instead say that there is too little dedication on the part of the parents, or too little support from the community?

My husband comes from a family of 10. It has its problems, but the one thing they have is an amazingly tight-knit family that will really pull through for any of them in need. My mother-in-law had her first five kids in five years. It really wore her out. But my father-in-law died when the youngest was two. If they’d spaced their kids any further apart, they would have missed out on some of the kids.

In my case, I come from a family of six, but we were only two for the longest time. When I was a teenager, I was depressed to the point of contemplating suicide. That was when my first little brother was born. I can honestly say that he may have saved my life. Having this small person looking up to me, relying on me and rewarding me with unconditional love, just happened to be exactly what I needed. Could my parents have predicted that? No, but I am thankful that they were open to life, because God knew it was what I needed.

There’s really no way of knowing what the ideal space is between kids, or what the ideal family size is going to be for you. You don’t know how you will handle one more child, or whether you’ll get twins. You don’t know if you will get a raise in nine months, or laid off. Trying to plan for things like that is pretty much impossible. We’ve found that trusting in God to work out the details is easier.

NFP is great for when you really need it AND want it. But it’s never necessary. It’s a gift the Church allows us, not a new responsibility it saddles us with.
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May 15, 2012 - 1:58 pm

Amy - This is great! Thank you! We are expecting our 11th child and now get “heat” from the secular world AND our Catholic peers (sometimes). I love this article and will be bookmarking it.

May 15, 2012 - 2:22 pm

Colleen - @Sheila – beautifully written. Thank you for your thoughts; I could not agree more.

May 15, 2012 - 2:26 pm

Colleen - @Kristi – I have 10 siblings and I assure you that I couldn’t be happier that God blessed my parents so generously with lots of children to love. I am SO close with my siblings, and I never felt deprived of my parents’ attention. I think the simple fact that you are worrying about whether or not you are giving enough children means that you are a wonderful parent – you CARE. Many negative stories I have heard involve parents who simply don’t care about their children enough to be involved in their day-to-day lives. This happens to families with 2 children and families with 10 children, but for some reason, when it’s a family with 10 children, the sheer NUMBER of children is what is blamed, which isn’t fair. You sound like you are a wonderful mother!

May 15, 2012 - 5:38 pm

Ezabelle - @Carol. I write this not to sound “depressing” nor to advocate against large families. I wrote this to tell you the reality of the experiences of many from large families, when the parents just have child after child but do not care for them as they should. And if you read my comment clearly you will see that I am Catholic, and practising and follow the Churches teaching, educated in an Opus Dei school- you won’t get more fidelity to the Churches teaching than an Opus Dei education haha ( there is a lot of good info on the Internet available if you don’t know about Opus Dei- not the rubbish Da Vinci code). I am grateful and respectful of The Wrk, even through the flaws of it’s people. St JoseMaria knew what he was talking about!

The Church is guided by Christ and the Pope is infallible and I believe and adhere to this. But being human, one must not live in a fairy tale thinking that members of Christ Church are infallible. Catholics hurt other Catholics all the time, and it is a shame that some (not all) hurt their own hiding under the guise of their faith, neglecting their vocation!

I enjoyed Colleens article and really saw her point, one that is rarely talked about and no one should discriminate against parents who have many kids- as shown above the experiences of many including Colleens was wonderful- primarily because her Mother nurtured and made it that way. She chose and was conscious of this and God Bless her for it.

But like I accept Colleens experience and view, you must also accept that when you have the children, you must look after them and nurture them spiritually and emotionally. Not just have them because the Church teaching says or to look more Catholic than the next person- as some families I grew up with did. These parents, from the words of their OWN children, present a hypocrisy to your children with your lack of love yet blind following. This is not what Christ taught. Joseph and Mary made every attempt, through much adversity to keep safe and buried Jesus as a child- accepting Gods calling. They made the conscious effort and choice.

I hope now you can see my point. Being Catholic is about seeing the reality of life and living it the way Christ taught. Not sugar-coating things and following a formula blindly in order to look good infront if ones peers.

God Bless

May 15, 2012 - 5:42 pm

Ezabelle - Not “buried” Jesus as a child, nurtured Jesus as a child. Silly spell-check!

May 15, 2012 - 7:21 pm

WMG - Colleen, please send your great article to the Natural Family Planning Program, USCCB, whose recent promotional flier describes NFP as the way to “Celebrate and reverence God’s vision of human sexuality.” But… there are no children to be seen. I suspect that the Divine Master, who commanded His followers to bear much fruit, may have a problem with this.

May 15, 2012 - 8:13 pm

Fertility News Round Up | Natural Family Planning - [...] Why You Don’t Have to Use NFP (Catholic Sistas) [...]

May 15, 2012 - 10:31 pm

Catholic person - NFP helped ruin my marriage. My then-wife became frustrated with the requirements of NFP and the periods of continence needed. She had an affair and ended up divorcing me and marrying the man she had the affair with. They are still married almost 20 years later.

May 16, 2012 - 6:02 am

Why You Don’t Have to Use NFP | Foundation Life - [...] Continue… 0No related posts found [...]

May 16, 2012 - 6:10 am

Christina - Great post, Colleen, on the celebration of parenthood and the blessings it pours down on us all. If only the rest of society could understand that, but as you said, we are happy to be countercultural. The only issue I wanted to stress is the inaccuracy of the “98% using contraception” number (I saw you had put 80+, which is closer to accurate). Statistics can lie, and statisticians know that – the Guttmacher Institute is the research arm of Planned Parenthood, and that is who crunched the numbers for the government. Here is a great link to the truth below, if interested. A GREAT breakdown of the numbers…..

http://truthinesswillsetyoufree.blogspot.com/

Thanks again Colleen for this great post, and I just stumbled upon your blog, which is just what we need – a place for Catholic women to come TOGETHER, since the media is trying to pull Catholic women away from the church and apart from each other.

May 16, 2012 - 7:32 am

Kevin Banet - True, having children is the norm for marriage, not practicing NFP. But if you want to win over secular-minded people, including Catholics, to being open to life, the best approach is to use the appeal of a healthy, safe and marriage-building form of family planning, and that is NFP. The appreciation for the Church’s teaching will come to them later. The path of truth is taken step by step.
Read my article below on marketing NFP: “Woman Blogs of Fascination with Catholic NFP Teaching.”
-Kevin Banet, Promoter, Couple to Couple League Chicago Chapter
Kevin Banet recently posted..Woman Blogs of Fascination with Catholic NFP TeachingMy Profile

May 16, 2012 - 7:42 am

Carol - Eazbelle,your comment sounded negative against Opus Dei. This girl right now is away from the church for whatever reason.Her opinions are therefore not clear.Sounds like she has lost her faith. Should her parents have chose not to have her… or does she feel entitled. Second, I will not judge her parents or her family. You or I cannot know what really went on there. By the way, this is still about church teaching. It is not about feeling good,convenience,democracy,etc. Its about knowing and loving our Lord and what the church teaches. Truth. Trying to understand them better. Praying through them and following them. Sanctifying ourselves. Holiness. By way, I am surprised you feel the way you do having gone to an Opus Dei school. I am exceeding grateful for the help and fostering of my faith that Opus Dei has given me. I am eternally grateful for them. They don’t live near me anymore and I miss them sorely.

May 16, 2012 - 8:35 am

Rachel W. - @Lacey – I will admit I cringed when I read about your concerns about the ‘high quality of life’ you felt would be lost with the arrival of pregnancy, nursing and etc. that comes with children. Colleen’s advice was spot-on when she compared our lives as mothers as merely a different vocation from God.
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But, the other reality I want to present is that no one knows exactly how many children they will have. Some young people will come into a marriage stating they want X number of children and God will challenge them to Y.
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For some couples their X-number will be 4 and they will have 8 and love every single moment of it as they realized God knew more than they did.
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For other couples their X-number will be 7 and they will struggle to get 2. They will then also have to decide to prayerfully (and painfully) accept that this too is God’s plan and will for their lives.
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I was ‘never’ going to have a large family having come from a family of 10 (with some great memories but enough parental neglect to worry about my own worth). God knew better than me and after years of sinful disobedience, we were introduced to NFP. Over a few years of teaching and promoting it (focusing on just trying to get fellow Catholics and others to stop contracepting), my dh and I used our charts less and less and before you know it – 11 kids!
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And, not surprising, my life is exactly what I need. All of the ‘plans’ I had for what my life should be (made during my child-less, single days) have been replaced with better ideas, plans and adventures planned by God, Himself.
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The bottom line is this – God knows exactly what you want but, more than that He knows exactly what you NEED and in His great love for you and your happiness you will get it. Interestingly enough, in that children are often a part of His great, joyful plan for us, they will never ‘get in the way’ of those things that are most necessary for the only real plan that matters – getting back to heaven!
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I don’t know how many children you (Lacey) might have but I am thinking you might be worried about a future that might not even happen. Enjoy today and what God has planned for the immediate present and its holiness. As Jesus said, tomorrow will take care of itself.
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And yes, now that I am looking at fertility in my rearview mirror as my youngest is turning 5 tomorrow, I wish I had more. I am wondering about the children lost in miscarriage and those lost during my years of contracepting. Thank you, Lord, also for your mercy.

May 16, 2012 - 8:43 am

Suzanne - I understand what you are saying, but I also have never encountered anyone who expressed a “requirement” to use NFP. I have encountered pastors who require it for marriage prep, but that has more to do with teaching couples why NOT to contracept rather than forcing them into NFP. That said, NFP helped my husband and I to have more children than we might have otherwise had, as my fertility is naturally on the low end of the spectrum.

May 16, 2012 - 8:58 am

melody - This is excellent. Like so many things in our faith, it’s not really primarily about the “rules”… it’s about love. And it is important to change the emphasis of the dialogue in that direction while still providing the NFP tools to people who need them. God bless you!

May 16, 2012 - 9:02 am

Anita - Just wanted to drop by and say thanks for the post. My husband and I started out using NFP and gradually.. well… stopped. We grew out of it. Maybe not everyone does… maybe everyone does not have to. As Sheila above says — it’s a call to radical trust. It can be a slow, steep climb — but it’s pretty cool when you get there.

May 16, 2012 - 9:12 am

Rosalinda Lozano - Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful! commentary. God bless you always with courage and truth.

May 16, 2012 - 9:13 am

Colleen - The criticism has come up several times in the comment box that no one has ever told anyone that NFP is required for a good marriage. This Washington Post article on NFP is pretty much the embodiment of what I am talking about. “Arguing that church theology has been poorly explained and encouraged, they want to shift the image of a traditional Catholic woman from one at home with children to one with a great, communicative sex life, a chemical-free body and babies only when the parents think the time is right.” We are trying to secularize our view of children and family life, say that parents have the ultimate decision in the timing of their children, and that being “at home with children” means that we must have sacrificed our sex life and our marriage. That is NOT what the Church teaches.

I originally thought, well, maybe the WaPo article isn’t a good indicator of what NFP couples actually think; they are a secular site and have a tendency to skew stories. But once I saw links popping up all over the internet from NFP promoters praising this article, my initial reaction was confirmed.

Of COURSE NFP is better than contraception, and I said that explicitly in the article. We need to promote NFP to people who are using contraception. But we need to give people the whole truth, not feed it to them piece by piece. I know SO many people who honestly did not know that they needed a valid reason for NFP, and they WISH someone would have told them 10, 15, 20 years ago! We need to be completely honest with people, in a gentle way. They may not have appreciation for the Church’s teaching at first, but they can never COME to that appreciation if they aren’t taught it in its fullness.

May 16, 2012 - 9:14 am

Mary - Suzanne – I dare say that you will find the attitude that NFP is required right here in this very combox discussion.

May 16, 2012 - 9:25 am

Colleen - Thank you for the link, Christina! The Catholic Sistas bloggers had a good laugh at that 98% statistic, as well, and how they basically ruled out the majority of people who weren’t using contraception because they “didn’t qualify” based on the guidelines. We decided to do our own poll a couple months ago just for fun: http://www.catholicsistas.com/2012/02/15/results-98-of-non-mass-going-women-who-identify-themselves-as-catholic-contracept-where-do-the-faithful-fall-in-line/

May 16, 2012 - 9:26 am

Brian Killian - Hi Colleen,

I’ve never encountered anyone who thought NFP was a requirement of Catholics. I could see, however, when confronted with a providentialist viewpoint, that Catholics might insist on using prudence. Is it possible that this resistance to providentialist thought is being interpreted here as a requirement that all Catholics must use NFP? That would make sense.

I think that, although you do make the right disclaimers and distinctions, nevertheless there is still a conflict in your article between this idea that “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle”–also expressed many times in the comments–and the Church’s acknowledgment that there are serious reasons for periodic continence.

If the Church is right that there are ‘serious reasons’ for avoiding pregnancy, then there really is such a thing as ‘more than we can handle’.

But if we take literally that “God never gives us more than we can handle” then any reason one might have for avoiding pregnancy could not truly be ‘serious’.

I think this is why some Catholics are so afraid that couples using NFP are doing it with a ‘contraceptive mentality’, and interpret ‘serious’ in the most rigorous way possible, or otherwise try to make the existence of these serious reasons to be rare or practically un-obtainable.

They can’t take the idea of ‘serious reasons’ seriously.

This tension is present in all these types of discussions, and I feel that it’s the real source of conflict. The real point of contention is ‘control’ and the whole view of marriage, man, and providence that is implicit in whether or not we think there ought to be any such thing as ‘family planning’ or just ‘family’.
Brian Killian recently posted..Why Marriage ‘Equality’ Ruins MarriageMy Profile

May 16, 2012 - 9:27 am

Mary - I 100% agree with Sheila’s comment above.

I also think that a lot of words have been put in Colleen’s mouth that she did not say, and I think that’s a shame.

May 16, 2012 - 9:46 am

Dr. dom - well said!

May 16, 2012 - 9:59 am

Colleen - @Brian – “Is it possible that this resistance to providentialist thought is being interpreted here as a requirement that all Catholics must use NFP?”

Absolutely not. Prudence and using NFP are actually not always synonymous. The Catholic definition of prudence is “Correct knowledge of things that ought to be done and of things that ought to be avoided.” Saying that NFP = prudence means that Catholics were not prudent until they started using NFP. If a couple HAS a serious situation and prudently decides that they need to postpone having children for the time being, then they certainly can have recourse to NFP. They can also practice complete continence, as many of the saints did. But NFP in itself is not “prudence.”

When people say “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle,” they don’t mean that it’s okay to act imprudently and that God will then come “fix” the problems you have created. They simply mean that if we follow God’s laws (in this case, God’s directives for marriage – to procreate and educate children), God will supply us with the graces necessary to thrive in our vocation. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ said: “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Is Jesus saying that we should quit our jobs and lounge around all day watching TV because God will drop food off at our doorstep anyway? No, of course not. We have to do our part, and discern what God is calling us to do. If we have a serious reason to postpone having children, then prudence may dictate that we use NFP for a little while. But if we get pregnant anyway, God is obviously calling us to have another child, and we have to abandon our will to His. People who say “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” aren’t people who are throwing themselves off buildings expecting the angels to catch them. Christ didn’t do that, and He was God. But there is a big difference in throwing ourselves off a building and participating in the legitimate act that God has reserved for married couples, an act in which on their wedding day, they bestow rights on each other to partake in.

I also want to throw it out there that total abstinence has ALWAYS been an option, even in the early days of the Church. Many people who had obviously grave reasons to postpone STILL had more children, and God obviously chose to sanctify their decision. We would not have had the great Pope St. Pius X otherwise, who lived in a house with a dirt floor. So just because a couple appears to the world to be “imprudent” does not mean that God is not blessing their decision to continue to bring new life into the world.

The term “contraceptive mentality” was never used or even hinted at in my post. I did not quantify or qualify “serious reasons.” Please do not read offense where none was intended.

May 16, 2012 - 2:22 pm

Timothy Putnam - Colleen,

Thank you for your post. I am a strong proponent of the Billing’s Ovulation Method for monitoring reproductive health, for achieving pregnancy for those who find it difficult, and for spacing children when the couple feels it it necessary.

I am a diocesan Family Life Director who spends a great portion of my time preparing couples for marriage. The percentage of those in our diocese who say they plan on using contraception in their marriage is astronomical. We do promote the use of NFP, and have had good success in changing couple’s minds about contraception, but we also promote the truth that family (read “children”) is the primary end and fundamental purpose of marriage.

It is a truth that has been lost to the “instant gratification / self fulfillment” culture in which we live. I am grateful for your boldness in proclaiming the truth.

May 16, 2012 - 3:50 pm

Jim - NFP is not required of anyone. (Although charting does produce excellent records of a woman’s reproductive health.)

On the other hand, you need not “qualify” to use NFP, as some providentialists seem to think. Charting provides awareness of fertility and the couple makes decisions about whether or not to have relations based on that information. Neither charting, nor abstaining on a fertile day, nor using a day believed to be infertile is an immoral act.

My problem with the providentialists is not that they don’t use NFP, but that many can be very judgmental of those who do. It’s not the providentialist lifestyle, it’s the “holier than thou” attitude that can sometimes accompany it that bothers NFP users. Not every Catholic couple is called to have a large family. Not every married Catholic woman is called to bear large numbers of children. Total abstinence has always been an option for Catholic couples, although, fortunately, modern scientific knowledge does not require such a great sacrifice to avoid pregnancy through moral means.

The question of whether or not to use NFP is one of prudence and one of discernment. Some couples feel that God is calling them to throw the charts away (or at least ignore them). And if that is the case, by all means go for it. But sometimes God calls couples to “virtuous continence”. The need for discernment is why the Church does not provide specific reasons for when a couple should or should not be avoiding a pregnancy.

Finally, I believe the concern that couples are using NFP for trivial or selfish reasons is overblown. Our bodies are designed for reproduction. Abstaining during the fertile period is HARD and it tests a couple’s intentions every month. A couple who is ignoring God’s call to have more children will not be able to successfully use NFP to avoid for long. You need God’s graces to abstain through the fertile period, and if you do not have them you will fail. Couples who are using NFP to avoid and are called to have another baby will either abstain less and eventually achieve a pregnancy or they will resort to contraception.

May 16, 2012 - 4:26 pm

Jacob - Wow! You hit the nail on the head of the issue. In the past, I was always turned off by anti-abortion politics, not because I supported abortion, but because I always got a funny feeling that somehow it was missing something important.

As you say, if people could be convinced that having babies is a good thing, then much fewer people would have to be convinced that abortion or contraception is wrong.

I recently wrote a blog post along a very similar line of thought:

http://livinginmexico-jacob.blogspot.ca/2012/03/family-planning-other-way-around.html

Essentially, we think “family planning” means avoiding having children or rigidly limiting how many we’ll have. This is true of both contraception and even how most people use NFP. However, as my wife’s great uncle proves (see the blog post) “family planning” could mean planning to have as many children as possible. That’s also a real possibility.

(By the way, on Friday, six months into pregnancy, my wife and I got the wonderful news that the one baby we thought we were having is really 2; we’re having twins!!! No real reason to share this except that I’m excited about it!)
Jacob recently posted..Family Planning, the Other Way AroundMy Profile

May 16, 2012 - 4:39 pm

Laura - @Rachel W. You “cringed” when you read a reader’s concern about the toll that pregnancy and nursing takes on her body?? How incredibly judgmental. Childbearing and nursing are incredibly difficult and hard on a woman’s body, no matter how you slice it. And not only does a woman’s body take a hit from pregnancies that are very close together, but health outcomes are worse for babies as well. To “cringe” when reading someone’s honest expression of her personal concerns and experiences relating to childbearing, especially when they are objectively accurate, is the same kind of judgment that it seems the original piece was advocating against.

May 16, 2012 - 4:56 pm

Colleen - @Jacob – congratulations on the twins! What a wonderful blessing for your family!

May 16, 2012 - 10:07 pm

Why You Don’t Have to Use NFP » Catholic Sistas | The Average Catholic - [...] Why You Don’t Have to Use NFP » Catholic Sistas. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Catholic, Culture, Pro-Life. Bookmark the permalink. ← Michael Voris on Bishop Jenky’s Speech [...]

May 16, 2012 - 11:59 pm

Robert - Awesome!

May 17, 2012 - 3:32 am

Ezabelle - @ Carol. You have on both instances COMPLETELY and utterly misunderstood my comments. I have in NO way cast negativity upon Opus Dei in anyway, but to say that my good friend left Opus Dei. My oldest daughter is enrolled to go to the very same Opus Dei school that I went to for next school year. My Cofessor and Spiritual Director is an Opus Dei Priest! The faith I am grateful to have today was formed through Opus Dei. Period! I completely object to your comments regarding this.

Secondly, having children and using NFP is not about feeling good, democracy, convenience. Completely agree! I don’t advocate this AT ALL, nor has anyone here that has commented. But as many have stated in their comments, each should exercise Prudence when having children.

If you don’t intend to look after them- if you intend to lock yourself in your bedroom to attend to mental prayer instead of making dinner for your 12 children, or if you choose to go to a Circle rather than celebrate or even remember your child’s birthday, or if you choose to go to morning daily mass than attend to making your 12 children’s school lunches then why have 12 children???

Because last time I checked the Catholic Churches teaching was not to neglect your vocation as a mother and father, and neglect your daily duty- this is mocking God. This is actually a neglect of your obligation TO Gods calling for you- being a parent!

These are some examples that my good friend experienced, and although this article and post wasn’t about Opus Dei, I brought up the fact my friend left because when she chose to enter at 16, her parents offered her NO guidance or advice to the choice she was making at such a young age- in my friends words (not mine, and I re-iterate this), her parents didn’t care! She made a choice to join Opus Dei to escape a neglectful family life (her words also). And She lost her faith ( in her words not mine- I again re-iterate this) because her most treasured example of the Faith, her parents, failed her.
She continues today to help her parents look after her siblings, she has no bitterness to her family or her parents. But the pain is still carried.

In response to your comment, NO she doesn’t sit and choose which of her siblings her parents should never have had. She believes her parents choice, to not nurture the children they had was wrong- couldn’t handle the number of children they had. We all look back in hindsight at mistakes we made, bad choices we made. Do we advocate to keep making them? No we learn.

I agree that this story could have happened to an only child- and bad parents around the world neglect children even from single child families.

Which brings me back to my point- I believe that if you as a parent have NO intention or the ability to look after children- one child or 12 children, then prudence should be exercised and NFP utilized. Don’t have children to be more “Catholic”, it doesnt make you more Christ-like than the next person if you neglect the children you have. And it is a far greater sin to neglect a child that God has sent to be entrusted in your care.

Please don’t come back to me with accusation that I advocate childless marriages, or abortion, or any of the like. I am pro-life to the core. I have been a phone Pregnancy Counsellor Volunteer for 6 years. And if God sent me a child “that wasn’t planned for”, for want of a better term, I would accept it whole-heartedly. I just don’t think I could handle 12 children, so I won’t go out and have 12 children. This is me. The people that do and handle it beautifully, and I’m sure these people are plentiful, may God bless them always and everyday of their lives. I mean this and pray this from the depths of my heart.

There is no opposition or conflict in Church Teaching in my above or previous comments. I hope you read this and understood my intention and point of view. If not…..nothing I can do.

God Bless

May 17, 2012 - 8:44 am

Diane - Excellent! My husband & I are involved in marriage prep in our diocese and the instruction of NFP as a substitute to contraception is a continual thorn in the side of true marriage prep. Thank you for stating this so well!

May 17, 2012 - 9:31 am

jim in colorado - Bravo Colleen! My wife and I are parents of six wonderful adult children and have never regretted bringing them into the world. They are “oaks of righteousness, planted for the Lords Glory”!
I love the title “NFP,not required” and the idea that havong children is not a crime but a Blessing, that sadly, most Catholic famlies are depriving themselves of. May the Holy Spirit use this article to help awaken the “sleeping giant”, the catholic faithful, to be totally open to Life!

May 17, 2012 - 12:05 pm

Julie Hecker - Great article. After I conceived my eighth child, I made the comment to my husband that NFP is really 100% God’s Will!! I had obviously misread my bodies signs, but, oh my(!), I am so glad that my little Martin is part of our family now! I cannot regret having children–only not having them. We lost our oldest daughter at the age of 8 to leukemia and had two miscarriages. Knowing these precious babies are in Heaven helps the ache, but holding on to the precious children we have here on earth confirms our purpose–to get them all to Heaven!!
Julie Hecker recently posted..Why I Became Catholic (and Not Buddhist)My Profile

May 17, 2012 - 2:20 pm

Jodi - It is not much the actual content of this article, but rather the tone that just has something about it that bothered me. My husband and I are becoming certified to teach the sympto-thermal method through CCLI right now, and one thing I have rediscovered through this process is how much the Catholic Church emphasizes the employment of the well formed conscience in regards to planning ones family. In my opinion, if a couple decides to avoid using any sort of method to try and achieve or avoid pregnancy and just “leave it up to God and biology” that is a form of planning ones family! If it is a couples opinion that they have no apparent reservations or discernment that leads them to believe they need to postpone a pregnancy then they are basically deciding to have another child whenever it comes along. NFP couples do exactly that! They just have more knowledge in the process about their body and fertility, and it can often help to reveal medical problems such as thyroid dysfunction, or hormone imbalances which can occur more and more commonly as one has more and more children.

Pope JPII was a tremendous advocate of NFP, not so much bc he wanted people to “plan their families,” but bc of the sense of awe and wonder it can create of God’s created order – it reveals so much about the magnificence of our sharing in God’s creative process. And it is NOT mandatory, and no one should be made to feel otherwise. Again, the WELL FORMED conscience. But we shouldn’t be afraid of it either. There have been times that my husband and I decided we definitely needed some space btwn our children, and then there have been times where we decided, “you know what, we would love to have another child, let’s put the chart away…” and we have also said, “I’m not really sure I’m up for this, but I feel God tugging at me to have another, so let’s put the chart away and just let go of it for now…”. In all of these cases, however, we WERE letting God decide. We WERE letting Him be a part of the process.

And lastly, it is pitiful that anyone should be treated as crazy for having lots of young children. We have been! And we have always used NFP! On the other hand, NFP can be so helpful in marriages. In many cases a mommy IS overwhelmed, and she DOES need to space her kids, even just a little bit to help her regain some balance. And in these situations, the healthy habits of a couple who has integrated a lot of self-control and “integral self-mastery” in regards to the conjugal act can often times find discernment MORE clear and MORE accurate. When people are ruled by their passions, even in marriage, this CAN cloud their decision making and the “responsible parenthood” that we should all be practicing. The fact that you and are husband feel that it is healthy and that you can handle another child is wonderful! Let’s just be careful not put God’s plan for OUR OWN family on anyone else!

May 17, 2012 - 2:28 pm

Mary - I have to admit, I always laugh a little when I see someone assert that anyone who does not have serious reasons to avoid pregnancy will not be able to abstain for very long during the fertile time, and therefore very few (or no) people could be using NFP inappropriately. This is what is called universalizing your own experience. Perhaps it is difficult for the person saying this to abstain during the fertile time, and perhaps you know that you would fail unless you had a truly serious reason to abstain, but that may not be everyone’s experience. Some people become so accustomed to the routine of having marital relations only when the calendar say it’s okay that it stops really bothering them. It’s just the way their life is and they accept that. This becomes particularly easy, I think, if you both work long hours and don’t have much time together anyway, or if you are just plain busy with life.

I honestly think it’s much easier for some people to leave God out of the month-to-month equation (or mistake their own voice for God’s) than people think. I also think that even if you find abstaining difficult, you can be motivated enough to abstain by reasons that are not truly serious but that are important to you nonetheless. Say “John and Susie” are saving for a brand new luxury vehicle that serves no practical purpose but is something they REALLY REALLY want, and they know that their insurance deductible for another birth (not to mention the cost of more diapers!) will get in the way of that. If they want that car badly enough, they might have no problem abstaining (or one or the other of them might have no problem abstaining and no problem telling the other spouse “too bad” when they want to be intimate). This may seem silly because people apparently assume that the choice to use NFP means you have some kind of special virtue that will protect you from this kind of selfishness. But none of us is above sin or a lack of virtue in any area.

But let’s consider another situation, that paints the couple in a less unfavorable light. Say “Susie” is just scared of having another baby (been there done that), not because she has a truly serious reason for being concerned about bringing another life into the world, but just because she is a fearful person who, like many of us, struggles with faith and doesn’t like to take up the cross. She is afraid of change, afraid of judgement from people who she she has “too many kids”, afraid she’ll never get her figure back, afraid she won’t have enough love for everyone. I can tell you first hand that that kind of fear can be a very strong motivator to abstain even though there really is no serious reason to avoid in that scenario.

There are many couples who use NFP or fertility awareness for reasons besides morality (like because it is “green” and hormone free) and somehow they manage to follow the method. And some couples, even good Catholics, will choose to use NFP but fall into sexual sin month after month because the abstinence is difficult for them. They will choose to keep using NFP instead of BC and instead of ceasing abstinence, but they will fail at remaining chaste despite wanting to.

The popes who have written on the morality of periodic abstinence have *specifically stated* that just choosing NFP over contraception is not automatically a moral act. They feel the need to state that you must have serious reasons, and they feel the need to give examples and guidance about what may constitute serious reasons. Why would they bother doing this if it were so crazy to think that people would resort to periodic continence without serious reasons?

By the way, I feel the need to state that I am not a ‘providentialist’ (which almost seems like a dirty word on this thread). I have used NFP in my marriage. I am confident that the author of this post is also not a ‘providentialist’ if that means that she has not ever and/or does not ever plan to use NFP. It may be surprising to some, but there are many NFP-users out there who take a stricter approach to this whole subject than I read in your average NFP blog post. It’s not just the ‘providentialists’ who think that many people have a lot of incorrect notions about NFP-use. And funny enough, I haven’t ever met a judgmental ‘providentialist,’ but I certainly have encountered a lot of judgmental NFP-using Catholics here on the internet… people who look down on other Catholics for having “too many children” or having children “too close together.” If you’re not one of them – GREAT. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

May 17, 2012 - 5:07 pm

Jodi - Mary -

I am not sure who are saying asserted that “anyone who does not have serious reasons to avoid pregnancy will not be able to abstain for very long during the fertile time, and therefore very few (or no) people could be using NFP inappropriately,” but I certainly did not assert that.

My main point is this: whatever people choose to do as far as their family should be in every circumstance DISCERNED. It is not good to avoid discernment and just keep having children without thinking, and it is not good to use NFP consistently and selfishly in failure to be generous to new life.

When I stated that couples who use NFP can develop healthy habits of self control, that was NOT an assertion that couples who don’t practice NFP don’t have any self control. It was merely a commentary on my experience and the experiences of many whom I know.

Of course, anyone can use NFP selfishly, although I would argue that over time, as a couple grows in holiness in their marriage, they will get better and better at discerning God’s will for their lives. But what I also want to point out is that the opposite is also true. Couples can choose to continue to have children without REALLY DISCERNING whether or not this is God’s will for their family at the time. And both are wrong. The Church’s teaching on this has become pretty clear — Responsible Parenthood is left up to the well-formed conscience of the couple to properly discern and apply to their family. Part of responsible parenthood is acknowledging and respecting the fact that NO ONE can really know for sure what is inside the hearts of another married couple, and people’s family planning decisions must ultimately be respected and supported by those around them, whatever the choice of the couple should be.

Humanae Vitae was a critical document for the Church in regards to its teachings on marriage and family life, but it was NOT a final word. With the Theology of the Body we have a deeper understanding of the profound mystery of grace and how it can work in our hearts. We are not only capable of but called to an interior transformation that goes beyond the extrinsic avoidance of temptation that some people stop at. While this is a VERY important and valuable idea, we should not limit the sexuality in our marriages to a “remedy for concupiscence.” We must allow Christ’s grace to transform our lives in such a way that we have an integral self-mastery. That this area of marriage has an established, REAL virtue.

How a couple is called to live this out is so very personal, and so very unique. And the Body of Christ is wide and diverse. And for some the physical and emotional sacrifices of having many children very close in age may be God’s ultimate plan for sanctifying them, through their body and soul, their personhood. For others, there may be very apparent reasons (not necessarily all life threatening in nature) which challenge a couple to abstain and only use the infertile times, teaching them a different kind of sanctifying discipline. In both situations, if couples are consistently receiving the sacraments, staying informed on the Church’s teachings, and practicing TRUE responsible parenthood through intense discernment, they can’t miss. And if they do, it will be a stepping stone to their spiritual growth over time.

I’m sure there are always people who will feel the need to look at others and judge their family size, for better or worse. Ultimately what we should learn to do is stop measuring ourselves by how well we perform God’s will for someone ELSES family, and instead look to His will for our OWN. He will direct us.

May 17, 2012 - 8:00 pm

Michael - Does it seem like this entire discussion can be paraphrased by stating the NFP should not coincide with a contraceptive mentality and that breastfeeding is the natural way to space births? Of course, all in light of “thy will be done”

May 17, 2012 - 8:02 pm

Susie Lloyd - “The Church teaches that having children is the ideal, and NFP is merely a tool we can use in our marriage if necessary, rather than the other way around.”

So right. I’ve always said, it’s a remedy for an evil (poverty, illness, even stress, etc.) Marriage is for family so if NFP is used it too is at the service of family life.

May 17, 2012 - 8:55 pm

Colleen - @Jodi – I’m not sure what it was about the tone of the article bothered you, but I assure you that the point of it was not to disregard or bash NFP in any way, shape, or form. I think your comment is referring to the “whole” of NFP – fertility awareness, really. I was referring specifically to periodic continence, but that term isn’t familiar to many these days since it’s not commonly used anymore, and periodic continence is usually just referred to as “NFP.”

I definitely understand what you are saying, and I specifically didn’t say whether or not my husband and I have used periodic continence because, quite frankly, it doesn’t really matter for the purposes of this post; if we use it, it’s for a serious reason, and that is exactly what it is supposed to be used for, and if we don’t use it, it’s because we don’t have a serious reason. I don’t want to disclose intimate details of my marriage on a public blog, but I will say that this post was simply encouragement for people who feel called to more than the average # of children and yet have reservations about it because they been told that isn’t “responsible parenthood.” I definitely realize that not everyone is called to a large family, and maybe I won’t even be called to one! I have no idea what the future holds. But the basic idea is simply getting across what the Church teaches about this issue – children are a blessing, NFP is not a requirement for a holy marriage (and I don’t really think it’s fair to imply that people who don’t use NFP are “ruled by their passions” – some of the greatest saints did not use NFP and yet were quite self-disciplined.)

May 17, 2012 - 9:02 pm

Colleen - @Michael – that might be a bit simplistic, though. NFP should certainly not be used “selfishly” (it really can’t be used “contraceptively” since it doesn’t frustrate the marriage act the way contraception does). And breastfeeding to space pregnancies may work for many, but not for all. And although it is part of God’s design for nourishing a child, there are enough women who try and do not succeed (whether it’s because of a medical condition or a lack of support) that I think it’s tricky to say that that’s the antidote to ever NEEDING to use NFP. I do think it plays a role, though, for many families.

May 17, 2012 - 9:29 pm

Mary - Jodi – I am perplexed as to why you took my comment as being directed at you just because it happened to show up after yours. I didn’t address you or imply that I was talking to you at all. In fact, your initial comment wasn’t even there when I posted mine (mine did not have a lag in moderation because I’m a blogger here).

Now that I have seen you original comment, I am also perplexed by your reading of a negative “tone” to this blog post.

May 17, 2012 - 9:43 pm

Mary - **This comment is directed at no one in particular**

I find it interesting that the words “responsible parenthood” are mentioned so, so often in NFP discussions, and yet the balancing principle spoken of by our dear popes — generosity — is rarely mentioned. If we focus on the “responsible parenthood” part (usually deciding for ourselves what that even means) and leave off the generosity, then we are left with an imbalance in our view of NFP. And I think that is exactly where the problem lies, and why people misunderstand what NFP is for, and, yes, misuse it.

I also find it interesting that we so often find the postponement (or shunning) of children to be the solution to our problems in our marriage or family. If a mother is overwhelmed and is not parenting in a “responsible” manner, then maybe the problem lies with her habits instead of with the number of children she has. Maybe she needs to pray more and be on FB less (for example), rather than not have [more] children. If a family feels that they can’t afford another child, maybe they need to take a harder look at their finances and their priorities and see if/where they are overspending and can cut back so as to be more *generous* in their cooperation with bringing new life into the world. There was more than one saint born into poverty. Would we call those parents “irresponsible” by bringing those children into the world?

May 17, 2012 - 9:47 pm

Anne - “The popes who have written on the morality of periodic abstinence have *specifically stated* that just choosing NFP over contraception is not automatically a moral act.”

Could you clarify which pope and which quotes you are referring to here?

May 17, 2012 - 9:54 pm

Mary - One more comment…

I think it is selling the Church short to imply that it wasn’t until the 20th century with JPII’s writings that we had any idea about the true nature of human sexuality, and moving beyond marriage/sexuality as the “remedy for concupiscence.” JPII’s thoughts, that later were compiled into what we call Theology of the Body, were not meant to be new doctrinal statements or some kind of revolutionary insight into the human person that no one had ever heard before. I think he is probably surprised that it has turned into that, and I think he would take issue with the idea that it somehow supersedes an infallible encyclical.

I also know that the vast majority of people who think they are familiar with Theology of the Body have not read much or any of JPII’s actual writing and have instead read stuff by people like Christopher West, who has put his own personal spin on the theology that may or may not represent the Pope’s own thoughts (many people say he has distorted JPII’s writings). Certainly, the theology of a lay person like Christopher West has nothing on an infallible papal encyclical. (This point may not apply to anyone who has commented here, I’m just talking about my general experience talking to people about Theology of the Body).

May 17, 2012 - 10:11 pm

Mary - Anne -

Pius XII wrote: “The mere fact that husband and wife do not offend the nature of the act and are even ready to accept and bring up the child, who, notwithstanding their precautions, might be born, would not be itself sufficient to guarantee the rectitude of their intention and the unobjectionable morality of their motives…

Serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise from medical, eugenic, economic and social so-called “indications,” may exempt husband and wife from the obligatory, positive debt for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life. From this it follows that the observance of the natural sterile periods may be lawful, from the moral viewpoint: and it is lawful in the conditions mentioned. If, however, according to a reasonable and equitable judgment, there are no such grave reasons either personal or deriving from exterior circumstances, the will to avoid the fecundity of their union, while continuing to satisfy to tile full their sensuality, can only be the result of a false appreciation of life and of motives foreign to sound ethical principles.”

This is in his Allocution to Midwives. It’s well worth reading. This is the only example I have of it being specifically stated that just choosing NFP over contraception is enough for the couple to be acting morally. But it is certainly heavily implied by the statements in Humanae vitae that couples need “serious” or “well-grounded” reasons AND respect for moral principles (Colleen quoted one of these statements in her post). It’s obvious that the intention AND the method both matter in determining the morality of avoiding pregnancy.

Hope that helps.

May 18, 2012 - 7:00 am

Andrew Goddard - Well said, Colleen!

I’d only like to add something about the word “responsible”.
It means to respond to something…to Someone. Respondere.

It means to respond to God by doing His Will…whatever that might be. 15 kids, or just 1.

Keep writing!
Andrew

May 18, 2012 - 9:53 am

Jodi - Colleen-

I think we actually really agree, as do most people on this blog. I actually vowed off reading this kind of conversation when I deleted my Facebook acct. several months ago because it seems that people often times create a dichotomy that doesn’t really exist. And it frustrates me.

I love your attitude of openness to life. It is so important, and so absent in our culture of death. And I love that you wrote an article to support people who feel like they want more children and are afraid because of some extrinsic pressure they are experiencing.

What I believe the church to say about this (and I now realize you completely agree about it) is that these are decisions that are made by the couple and only the couple. Married couples are called to be very generous and life-giving, and this can occur in so many ways. And I admire our Church in these times, that it stands up and defends the individuality of personhood within the bounds of morality. God’s will for us is sometimes a mystery, so if we aren’t even sure of what WE should be doing at times, why are we so concerned with defining a serious reason for someone else? (and I’m not saying you are doing that) :)

The avoidance of the fertile times (or periodic continence) is a SACRIFICE. And while it is not always a decision a couple makes righteously, every human person deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt, and we should keep our concerns about family planning limited to our own. The sacrifice that is made, hopefully in prayer, will lend itself to keeping a couple properly ordered in their discernment of whether or not is time to pursue another child.

But I completely agree that fertility awareness and abstinence are NOT the same thing. And in your article you were trying to support people who were finding an obligation to abstain when they really just want to have more children. I wish for people to have more confidence in themselves than this! I wish for people to be able to look into their own hearts and their own spouse for support and pray about these decisions in front of the Holy Eucharist and be obedient to God and what he wants from them, rather than worrying so much about what everyone else thinks!

A side note** knowing a good reliable method of NFP, like the sympto thermal method, is very helpful in giving a couple the accurate knowledge to understand the times when conception is more likely, and thus the freedom to discern and apply God’s plan for them over a period of time. And its NOT required, or necessary to learn any particular method, that’s very true. But if a couple came to and said “do you think I should learn a method of NFP, even if we don’t feel we have a reason to abstain during the fertile times?” I would say, “it really can’t hurt!” I mean whether or not a couple abstains is really up to them, which I know you agree. But like JPII emphasized, it is helpful in creating a sense of awe around the entire process, as well as giving a couple a lot of information about health, and the flexibility that should a very serious, and unexpected circumstance arise, they already have the knowledge of when to apply abstinence and they don’t have to face abstaining for long periods of time while they try to learn.

Anyway, I guess I come from the point of view that more knowledge is better, not worse, and that is what I love about the sympto-thermal method. It gives lots of information, and then the couple can decide!

Peace be with you. You seem like a really good mommy :)

May 18, 2012 - 10:13 am

Nicole - This article is spot on. I just found your blog and am loving it! Great to get this perspective…I have nothing against NFP, but do sometimes feel out of place in social circles because my husband and I just never really felt the need to use it. I also think the point about NFP NOT being the “Catholic-approved alternative birth control” is really important and urgent, especially now. There are a lot of non-Catholic (and Catholic!) people who practice NFP, but that doesn’t mean the root of the problem isn’t still there.

God Bless you ladies!
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May 18, 2012 - 10:24 am

Jodi - Mary-

I wrote my thesis on the Theology of the Body. I have read it in its entirety, as well as may commentaries and criticisms of it. And it is considered to be a very NEW and DIFFERENT approach to morality, which John Paul II KNEW when he was addressing it during the papal audiences. He knew that while the basic principles behind it were derived from truths that have always been taught, we needed a radically different approach to these truths and how they are presented, due to the drastic difference in how philosophy and education are conducted in today’s culture.

He did not DISAGREE with Humanae Vitae. But he took a very different approach, one that was not from a “natural law” mindset (although he of course knows natural law). He approached everything from the question of love and experience. And this had really never been done, at least not to this degree – as regards sexuality and its upsetting misuse – because up until the 20th century people were educated in such a way that they understood how to follow an argument and reason through something as to whether it was right or wrong.

Now people just plain don’t care about that. They can’t even tell if what they are saying is just plain absurd and irrational. So JPII, bless him!, looked at modern man and realized, its not so much the principles that need to change, but how we conduct the dialogue. So he used words like “personhood” and “dignity” and “integral self-mastery” and “freedom” and “love” and “shame” and “naked” and explored it through the eyes of experience rather than reason. This is why it was so powerful, although also probably why it was somewhat misinterpreted by SOME in its early development.

In my experience, you are right though. The Theology of the Body is a dense, heavily philosophical document to get through, and I hard a really hard time understanding all of it at first, and so many people probably don’t ever read it. If that is the case for people reading this, maybe it will help clarify some things!

May 18, 2012 - 11:04 am

Kristi - Mary, I agree with you on “responsible parenthood.” That always confuses me, too, seeing that a couple cannot become parents without GOD creating a child. We can have marital relations as much as we want without a child being created- just ask any infertile couple.

Of course there are some parents and families who (through our eyes) don’t seem to be able to handle more children. I’m sure we all feel that some days. But what is God’s plan? And how is avoiding His hand through avoiding the chance of conceiving synonymous with being “responsible?”

May 18, 2012 - 11:29 am

Jodi - Kristi,

I think that is a tremendously valuable question, and one a couple should discern very carefully. The thing I really respect about a couple who uses a method of NFP to space their children if they feel called to, is that they are doing their part to work within the created boundaries that God has given to sexuality WITHOUT leaving Him out. A couple could “follow all of the rules” of NFP and still end up conceiving. And this is why a couple’s attitude should NEVER be to have intercourse without welcoming the possibility that this act could bring about a new life. Many find it comforting to know that if they are feeling called to postpone a pregnancy, and they are practicing the discipline of abstinence during fertile times, and they conceive anyway, that this is very clearly God’s will and they can rest assured that everything is as it should be.

But people don’t have to “act blind.” If a couple is thinking of uniting in the conjugal act, and they KNOW that this is a time that is highly fertile and would lend itself to a higher likelihood of conceiving, and they KNOW that they have very good reasons not too, then they have to make a decision that is right for them in that moment. If the decision is, well it’ll be all right, then that’s great! Or if the decision is, ya know what, we better just wait, then that is also great! The point in a term like “responsible parenthood” is to encourage people to THINK and DISCERN what they are doing and NOT just go along blindly having or not having children. God gave fertility a rythmn and a cycle so that people can participate MORE in co-creation, NOT less.

May 18, 2012 - 11:39 am

ANDREW GODDARD - I thought of another thing to say, and then I’ll be quiet, not being a “sista”.

Before marriage, abstinence is the only moral option. Chaste continence is the rule, not the exception. However, after the wedding, chastity is the other way around.

Nobody practices NFP. “Practicing” implies “doing”. Continence means NOT doing something. The question about NFP is if spouses can morally NOT do something right then, and the Church answers that under special circumstances, it is permissible to NOT…but otherwise it would sinful to NOT.

Clearly this implies that under ordinary circumstances they SHOULD. They AUGHT to. They are OBLIGED to. So usually the debate tends to focus on ordinary vs. special circumstances and what “do not judge” means…and they totally ignore the implied OBLIGATION, as if it were simply optional, or contingent upon petty emotions.

God didn’t have to create women (or men for that matter). He could just have easily have made the entire human race consist entirely in Adam. Or He could have made Adam like a worm, as a hermaphrodite, but He didn’t and we know why. The Bible speaks of specific reasons why God created women…and one of these, I’m sure, was the Θεοτόκος.

We also know why we have marriage, both as a vocation, and as a sacrament. Everybody knows marriage is the perfect union of Christ and His Church, sacramentally represented (made into
reality) by the visible consent of a man and a woman, to form a family…and it’s only valid if both parties consent(matter), say “I do” (form) and consummate by the marital act.

Anyway, we know why God created women, and we know why He instituted the holy sacrament of matrimony, but what we don’t know is why spouses insist on NOT using their God-given faculties for the very purpose they exist.

And no, it’s not just because I’m a “brotha”.

May 18, 2012 - 12:10 pm

Mary - Jodi – I misunderstood your original point about Theology of the Body. It seems to me that a lot of people do think that it truly is a new set of truths and not just a new prism through which to view the same truths. I think that comes from reading interpretations of Theology of the Body rather than Theology of the Body itself, and not really knowing a lot about Church teaching prior to what has been said by JPII. I think it’s great that you did your thesis on the topic. Sounds like it would be an interesting experience. I have an undergrad degree in Theology and very much enjoy this stuff.

I completely agree that we need to mind our own business and not judge other people’s usage (or non-usage) of NFP. I think talking about the guiding principles in a general sense (not in judging particular circumstances or couples) is imperative, though, and I think that’s what Colleen was trying to do.

May 18, 2012 - 2:01 pm

Jodi - Mary,

I totally agree! Glad so many people care about this issue enough to delve in :)

May 18, 2012 - 2:09 pm

Jodi - Andrew –

I agree with your comments…i just find it so funny when people put it that way! Like someone has to be TOLD that being with their spouse is an OBLIGATION. I mean I am sure you are right and that there are marriages where this might be a problem. I just find it humorous when I imagine this played out in a real life situation – a husband and wife want to be together but have GOOD reservations about having another child but look at each other and say, well, we are obligated too! I mean I just don’t see that as what most people experience when they are making these kinds of decisions. I’m sure for most people they would rather live that out then not, especially during the times that abstinence is generally applied. Ideally, the fact that a married couple has to make a sacrifice of this mutual right they have given one another over their bodies would lead them to be honest about their interior motives, rather then continue abstaining if they thought their reasons were not all that compelling. Anyway, just thought it was funny. I am sure there are people who find that idea really helpful in discernment so I’m glad you posted it :)

May 18, 2012 - 3:26 pm

c - This whole thread makes me laugh. It’s not a matter of ‘practicing’ or ‘not practicing’ at my house. With two or three kids in the bed every night, a husband who has to sleep in a chair with his CPAP machine, and us working opposite shifts for about nine months out of the year, there is no need for birth control, NFP, or any sort of planning or non-planning at our house because we hardly ever see each other, much less have the time to do anything else. Consider yourself fortunate if you truly have enough time to worry about any of that! And doubly fortunate if you have enough time to worry about what someone else is doing!

May 18, 2012 - 4:13 pm

geneva - Colleen,

Can we be friends? :) After reading this post and your well-thought-out responses, I’ve got a major girl crush on you! Thanks for putting my thoughts on this matter into such clear, succinct, joyful words!

May 18, 2012 - 11:58 pm

Leila - I have read this thread with interest. I have an off-topic request. I am hoping that you will indulge me in this probably stupid question. How do you deal with the continual possibility of being pregnant? Here’s a bit of background. Due to the traumatizing stillbirth of a daughter with a severe birth defect, a subsequent miscarriage, along with my poor health, and my personality (in part an overactive sense of personal responsibility) I am a wreck when I think I may be pregnant. I can’t enjoy anything, because nearly everything seems dangerous to a pregnant woman and her unborn child. I worry about having eaten fish twice in one week because of mercury consumption, having a cup of coffee in the morning, breathing the VOCs as I walk across that newly sealed blacktop in the parking lot, getting an X-ray before my chiropractic care, getting that CT scan to check on my kidney stone, taking a pain killer for that migraine … you name it, it strikes fear into my broken heart. I would feel personally responsible if something happened to a child of mine en utero that I could have prevented. But my charts are often not helpful. I have delayed ovulation, anovulation, short cycles, and long cycles, all intermingled with a few normal ones. So even if I thought that “periodic continence” was necessary, it’s virtually impossible to employ accurately. Besides, since my husband travels a great deal, it would be even harder on us, as we already have periods of abstinence. Do any of you have any advice to give me for how you deal with the continual possibility for being pregnant? Are you on “high alert” too, or am I just crazy and neurotic? Am I the only one who finds it so extremely stressful to be facing this possibility regularly? Am I just not willing to accept God’s will if He sends me a child during times like the aforementioned and he or she is affected? I have no problem being open to more children. It is the fact that I can’t know for sure that I’m pregnant until weeks into the pregnancy that freaks me out. It is extremely stressful to live as if you are permanently pregnant. I hope this makes sense to you. Thanks.
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May 19, 2012 - 12:39 am

Katherine Yost - Hooray!!
Yes! Thank you!

May 19, 2012 - 11:08 am

Jen - Colleen,
I am so happy to know that there is a word for my husband and I…Providentialists!! I love it. I never heard this word before, let alone knew there were other couples out there who felt as we do. Thanks so much for posting this. It was definitely an encouragement to me, and sparked a great conversation between my husband and I.

May 19, 2012 - 11:34 am

Salome Ellen - My husband, who never actually read this post but heard me talking about it, weighed in on the topic of “responsible parenting.”
http://princeofthewest.blogspot.com/2012/05/irresponsible-parenting.html
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May 19, 2012 - 1:38 pm

Elena - My husband and I started out with NFP and then just gradually quit. It wasn’t something we planned but it just happened over time and it was very freeing. I had six babies and seven pregnancies and I was happy for every one of them.

This was an article that needed to be written and it’s certainly nothing that is going to come up during the usual Pre-Cana preparation. Thanks for writing it.
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May 20, 2012 - 12:10 am

britt - When my now husband and I were taking pre-cana, we were red flagged on the marriage test question that asked “are you planning to use NFP?” We both answered no, because we saw no reason to. Luckily our priest totally understood, but how aweful that the church do blatently promotes conception control of this kind for little to no reason!

May 25, 2012 - 9:06 am

This Week’s Miscellany: Vol. 12 | Carrots for Michaelmas - [...] Why You Don’t Have to Use NFP: Catholic Sistas [...]

May 30, 2012 - 1:41 pm

Mari - Beautiful post!!!! I am bookmarking it, love it!

June 9, 2012 - 6:41 pm

Tall, Bald, and Called - [...] found this post while reading a different one.  but how sweet it is!  I particularly liked *this* [...]

July 29, 2012 - 5:07 pm

Tori - Hi, I notice I’m a few months late commenting on this, but I only just found it. I have to say that I am really quite terrified, lol! I was raised Catholic but only just “came back” to the faith in recent years, after having a period of “think what I want, do what I want” for a while. I like to think I am in good standing with the Church, but the thought of leaving something like pregnancy to chance seems INSANE! Maybe it’s because I’ve seen friends who are struggling financially have loads of kids left and right, maybe it’s because I’ve seen my friends literally almost die from being pregnant so much that their body can’t handle it anymore… Maybe it’s just my brain is still stuck in its old way of thinking… I agree with the Church on everything (or try to if I don’t), and I think deciding how many children to have is so twisted…like making children into personal accessories to be rightfully owned rather than gifts to be cherished… so I’m not trying to argue that you’re crazy :) I’m just hoping that maybe you will pray for me, because you seem so enthusiastic about having a million children and I don’t! I don’t want to die of being pregnant so often and leave my children motherless, I don’t want to struggle so much financially that my children can barely stay fed… Things like that keep me from thinking not using NFP is okay… So please pray for me, because I know you’re right and I’m wrong, and it scares me to death.

July 29, 2012 - 9:16 pm

Colleen - Tori, Thanks for commenting! I will definitely pray that God makes His will for your family abundantly clear, since THAT is really the crux of the whole discussion – what does God want for our family? We never know what the future holds. I know women who married only planning on having 2 children but ended up with 10. I know women who wanted large families and only had 4, 2, or even 1 child. And God has given man the knowledge about NFP, and He does call people to use it for various reasons – we must simply decide if He is calling US. He may be calling one woman to a truly heroic sacrifice of her body that He is not calling another woman to. I have a sweet friend who has a myriad of health problems and still discerned to leave everything completely in God’s hands without the use of NFP. She has been richly blessed with several living children, but she has also known the anguish of losing many babies and TREMENDOUS physical suffering. Not every woman is called to the level of sacrifice to which she has been called. We are all different, and God asks different things of each of us. If we find ourselves in a situation where we are concerned about having another child, it is up to us to discern with our spouse whether or not our situation merits the use of NFP. A good priest can give us great insight if we are struggling in our discernment, and of course, our decision should always be rooted in prayer!

Also, take it one child at a time! You may not have a million kids, and I might not either. ;) One child at a time, one day at a time. I completely understand the idea of having a lot of kids being overwhelming – it’s overwhelming to me in some ways, too, and I grew up in a giant family and have ALWAYS wanted a lot of children. I find it helpful to think that about the fact that God is outside of time – He knows everything that will happen before it actually does. He knows how many kids we will have; it’s not a mystery to Him. So on days when I’m overwhelmed with my 3 and the possibility of 20 more years of childbearing, I try to remember that He knows the future, and if I lean on Him, He will help me figure out what I need to do to line up my life according to His will. It can be both terrifying and extremely freeing at the same time. I may not know what His plan is, but I’m sure it’s better than mine! If he throws us a curveball that prudently requires us to use NFP for the rest of our childbearing years, then He knows that is what is best for my soul. If we don’t find ourselves with a serious enough reason to use NFP and have several children right in a row and incur the stares and branding as the “weird family with lots of kids”, He knows that dose of humility is what my soul needed. If we keep our eyes on the prize of Heaven, we can have peace in our soul about whatever God is calling us to do (even if it simultaneously freaks us out.) <3

November 15, 2012 - 10:03 pm

Shania - My question is this: what if you don’t “love” being a mom? I’m a mom to a beautiful baby boy who I really do love, but the day to day task of being a mom does not bring me the joy it seems to bring a lot of other moms. My husband wants to have as many kids as is physically possible, and I get almost depressed by the thought of having more children. (I should point out I am not depressed, but when I think of having more kids and going through the whole ordeal again it gets me feeling down).

I really must stress that I love my son (who is 7 months old now), but I feel I’d be a terrible mother to a large number of children. I’ve never been the motherly type and even now, I’m not the best at comforting him when he’s upset. However, these are probably not suitable reasons to the Church to abstain. So confused :/

November 16, 2012 - 12:13 pm

Erika - Colleen

Thank you for this as a mom with 4 under 5 years of age and who works full time. I struggle with wanting to use NFP!

Your article hits home for me. A serious reason? Don’t quite have one! Sanity?! Is that one?! I joke. But honestly it is hard. If you really look at the “serious” reasons one could tweak it to fit their life. I think that is where real prayer and discernment come in! Thanks for challenging us women out there!

November 16, 2012 - 1:53 pm

Colleen - Shania,

Thanks for commenting! The Church has never given a specific list of suitable reasons, but per Humanae Vitae, they can be things of a serious psychological, physical, economic, or social nature. The Church allows each couple to discern together through prayer what is a serious reason for them, and what is a serious reason for one couple may not be for another. Pray about it with your husband. Discuss it with a solid spiritual advisor, perhaps in confession – you may get some great guidance there.

Also, not all moms love every minute of being a mother. Parenting really is HARD work! Padre Pio said, “Remember that there are difficult duties to wedlock that only divine grace can facilitate.” I suspect more than more than just the relationship between the spouses, these “difficult duties” encompass the child-rearing aspect of marriage. Try to live in the present and not worry too much about the future. I completely understand being concerned or depressed about what the future may hold (I may worry about different things than you do, but I still do worry!). Remember that God’s grace is sufficient, and all we have to do is get through TODAY. We have no idea what God has in store for us tomorrow, but we do know that it is going to be something that will be the best for our eternal souls. I find myself stressing less when I pray, “Lord, help me have joy today.” But do not worry too much about how many children you will end up having. God will give you the grace to handle it, if you are supposed to have a large family, or the grace to discern if you have a serious reason to avoid having more children. He knows exactly what you need to get to Heaven, and He will gently guide your heart to know His will for your family. I will keep you in my prayers!

January 30, 2013 - 4:59 pm

Erin - My husband and I practice and teach NFP. It was never a matter for us of people not practicing NFP being irresponsible parents. For us it doesn’t make sense in light of taking part in God’s will. We are all called to seek God’s will and take an active part in fulfilling whatever God is calling us to do. So as a family, my husband and I will discern together whether God is calling us to have children or not, and then to take an active role is fulfilling whether he wants us to wait (use NFP to avoid pregnancy) or to have another (use NFP to achieve pregnancy).

If God has made our bodies so easy to read and given us the knowledge so that we may properly interpret our fertility, then it has always seemed to us that we should use it to follow his will. I don’t think that people who don’t use NFP are irresponsible, but this seems such a passive way of trying to fulfill God’s will. For us, we can’t justify not actively seeking his will.

January 30, 2013 - 6:26 pm

Mary - Hi Erin, welcome to Catholic Sistas.

I find your comment to be interesting, but I find it problematic for several reasons. Inherent in your post is the assumption that taking an active role in discerning and fulfilling God’s will requires the use of NFP. This is a very short-sighted position, historically speaking. It wasn’t until the 20th century that we had a well-developed version of NFP that made understanding signs of fertility and being able to avoid pregnancy remotely ‘easy’ [and it still is the case that many women find it far from easy]. How do you suppose that people actively participated in seeking and doing God’s will for the first 1900plus years of Christianity? Or do you think that they did not?

There is another assumption here which I find incorrect, and that is that trying to fulfill God’s will requires us to ask ourselves whether God is calling us to have children. That is not the way the Church views and teaches about NFP. NFP is permissible when there are specific and legitimate reasons to avoid pregnancy. We are supposed to be asking ourselves the question whether we have a reason to AVOID children, not whether we have a reason to have them. Many NFP teachers seemed to have turned the Church’s teachings on their head, to say the opposite of what they really say, and I think it’s quite a shame. It pains me to think that you are teaching your NFP students that they must use NFP if they want to ‘actively seek’ God’s will. This is not a Catholic position and you are doing damage by teaching it.

It is only in light of the contraceptive culture that people have started to think that they need to justify having babies and that whether or not we have children should be something that we have control of. Control of fertility is an illusion. Determining whether God ‘wants’ us to have children is not a requirement of an authentic Christian life. If we conceive a child, it’s because God willed it. He is the author of life. If he doesn’t ‘want’ us to have children, we won’t conceive them.

Your comment also seems to take it for granted that making this determination about God’s will every month is somehow simple. This kind of decision is one that can be very difficult for anyone who is really giving it the attention it deserves. I don’t think that God wants us to spend all of our fertile years obsessing over the question of whether and when to have more, and living our lives according to a chart.

I hope that you will spend some time considering and praying about what I have said here and what was said in the original post and other comments. Since you are a teacher and you are likely passing on your views to many people, it is extremely important that you understand this issue correctly.

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