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Saturday, September 8, 2012

NFP: It's About Planning to Have Families

Earlier today, I read a blog entry about Human Life International and did a double take at a comment accusing Fr. Paul Marx, HLI founder, of "supporting birth control." Reading on, I realized the individual was talking about natural family planning (NFP) which he obviously considered immoral and one more item in the Planned Parenthood inventory. As a long-time NFP teacher, I couldn't disagree more.

NFP is all about being open to life and planning to have families.
Does everyone use it that way? No. Do some people abuse it? Absolutely. But condemning NFP for that reason is like condemning matches and gasoline because some people use them to burn down houses. In my experience, NFP has a teaching effect that almost always moves couples closer and closer, not only to each other, but to the Church and her teaching.

First of all, NFP is based on knowledge about the biological realities that govern a couple's fertility, a gift from God. He made us complementary and understanding fertility emphasizes our complementarity. There is certainly nothing immoral in teaching basic reproductive biology. NFP expands on that information explaining the specific signs a woman experiences that tell her she's getting ready to ovulate and the signs that indicate ovulation is past. Ignorance is rarely a good thing and understanding how her body works helps a woman to better deal with the ups and downs of her changing hormones.  In my own life, learning NFP helped me realize that I wasn't going crazy at certain times in my cycle. I was simply in a post ovulatory slump. That knowledge helped me cope better with the stresses of being a busy wife and mother.

But let's get down to the nitty-gritty. Is it wrong to use NFP to plan your family? The Church says no if you have serious reasons. And in fact, NFP has been developed over the years with the assistance of the Church. Obviously, if you have a contraceptive mentality and use NFP to exclude children permanently or even to give little and selfishly, NFP can be sinful. But if you have a Catholic mind that desires God's will, then NFP is one more aspect of the way you communicate with your spouse. And the fruits of NFP are positive. Fewer couples divorce, only about 2%, despite living in a divorce culture. NFP couples have more children than average as well.

There is certainly no obligation to use NFP and I am always delighted when I meet families who have decided to leave the planning of their family to God alone, but, even those couples may find themselves in serious circumstances (illness, necessity to care for elderly parents, financial setbacks, etc.) that may make having another child difficult at a particular time. Using NFP in those circumstances is a way to remain open to life while doing the best one can to cope. I've been there myself since I had cancer when I was 39 and was on chemo for eight months, certainly a serious reason to avoid pregnancy since the chemicals attack the fastest growing cells. Knowing NFP was a blessing during that stressful time in our lives.

But the greatest benefit to NFP is its contribution to communication. Every cycle becomes an opportunity to discuss the will of God for the family. And it's also an opportunity to realize that God is the one who opens and closes the womb. Desiring another baby is no guarantee that a couple will conceive. So a good question for them to ask themselves is, "If this cycle is the last opportunity we have to conceive another baby, how would we feel?"



Anonymous said...

A little comment on your NFP article. re: "families who have decided to leave the planning of their family to God alone"
I don't see any problem with families who decide to leave the planning of their family to God alone as long as they follow all of God's plan for mother and baby and include ecologically breastfeeding with no bottles, no pacifiers. Ecological breastfeeding impacts not only the woman's fertility but also the psychological well-being of the mother and the children (baby and siblings). If they choose another way to feed and care for their babies, then they are not leaving the planning to God; they are doing it their way which is why they have babies every 13-18 months apart, which is not part of God's design for the well-being of mothers and babies.

(Sometimes I think there's a contest going on titled "she who dies with the most kids, wins"... just a little rant there...)

Just my thoughts on the subject.
Thank you for defending NFP. It often gets maligned because of misinformation - kinda like the Catholic Church... :-)

Anon 2 said...

While I've never heard the term 'ecological' breastfeeding, I've exclusively breastfed all my children with no more than 3 - 4 hours between feedings until they were over 9 months and ALL of my children were born 13-17 months apart. Some women just resume ovulating more quickly than others. The only way we could space our children farther would be to abstain. Sometimes I think that others assume what works for one family works for every family... just a little rant there.