Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Potential Dangers of an NFP Mentality

This post originally appeared {here} on June 8, 2013.

I've not had the privilege of growing up in an active, loyal, practicing Catholic community.  Only recently has it been called to my attention that eager Catholics who practice NFP too often take sides and nitpick over which family planning method is the best, most accurate, easiest lifestyle, etc.  Conversation to improve and propagate NFP methods is good and desirable.  But I'm worried sometimes about the direction our thought patterns are headed when I glean bits of these conversations.

Herbert James Draper, A Water Baby
First and foremost, before even picking up an NFP pamphlet, we Catholics should be made to understand and internalize that fertility is a precious privilege and inherently good.  Learning about how it works is wonderful, but only so much as being aware of what and how you eat nourishes your body is wonderful.  It's a tool, not to be mistaken for the goodness of the thing itself.  I feel too often we're bringing the conversation into secular territory, with emphasis on 99% accuracy, arguments about which are less likely to "fail" during fertile periods, and exclamations of better sex lives and closer couples.  Like we're trying to compete with the artificial birth control out there, like we have to prove ourselves.

The fact of the matter is that there is no competition.  If you are a loyal practicing Catholic, you know that to approach NFP with the attitude that it is "an acceptable form of Catholic birth control" defeats the whole purpose of Natural Family Planning.  I hope I'm mistaken, but I'm getting this impression more and more.

How do we remedy this attitude in the Church?  I think it has everything to do with our attitude toward children and child-rearing.  If in secular culture, fertility is undermined as something to control and submit to our will, there is no inherent difference between the single, sexually active woman who has successfully avoided pregnancy and the married woman who has 2.5 perfectly spaced babies.  She may even have six!  And it is all well and good, in secular society, as long as she has the means to provide for them (no need for a father for that), and chose when to conceive each consecutive child--God forbid she do otherwise!  Then she is careless, irresponsible, a burden to society, and an enemy of planet Earth.  As if a child's worth in existence depended on an active decision by its parent(s) and not by the will of God.

A prayerful Catholic couple may have none to twenty children in their lifetime together, but that is not the point.  I feel strongly that the term "planned" and "unplanned" applied to children--human beings, with immortal souls and infinite worth--should be stricken from our Catholic vocabulary.  It puts too much emphasis on control, on what we want, on the identity and worth of a child being in the decision to allow conception, like some kind of defeat.

"I despise Birth-Control first because it is a weak and wobbly and cowardly word.  It is also an entirely meaningless word; and is used so as to curry favour even with those who would at first recoil from its real meaning.  The proceeding these quack doctors recommend does not control any birth.  It only makes sure that there shall never be any birth to control."--G.K. Chesterton

I think this tension can be eased even more by loosening the strict expectations we have of motherhood.  I'm not advocating for careless parenting here, but we should embrace the variety of parenting styles and parenting types out there--there are as many as there are personalities in the Church, and there as many personalities in the Church, Saint Therese pointed out, as there are colors and types of flowers.  It is the variety that makes the world beautiful.  We may disagree on structure, proper nutrition, appropriate bedtime, how much stimulation is allowable, being ecologically responsible, but please, please--there is no better way to discourage a couple to openness to conceive than to make them feel like they would not be "good enough" parents.  We're all working our way to sainthood, which is very telling.  It means we're not yet saints.  And we shouldn't be made to feel guilty or like failures because of that.  A child needs his mother and father.  No one else's.  If we are prayerful and love truly--the way God loves, meaning putting the good of the beloved before all else--the child will be happy, and safe, and emotionally healthy, regardless of whether or not he gets a bath regularly.

In this way, we should also show patience and sympathy for couples, especially Catholic ones, who don't yet have the courage to give up their fertility to the hands of God.  It will help to remember all the shortcomings and vices we continue to nurse.  Everyone has their personal weaknesses.  Let's pray for each other.

Last, let us remember that NFP is a fairly recent development.  But the Church has always forbidden contraception.  I'm no expert, but interest in and research into medieval lifestyle led me to discover that sex in marriage was under strict prohibitions by the Church in the middle ages.  A couple was not to have sex during holy days, menstruation, Lent, etc.  Far from being shocked and angered at these "prudish" guidelines, I felt smug and warmly proud.  This is the clever Church, doing what she does best: making feasts and fasts a mystical rhythm of life, and seeing to it in her own way that her women had proper rests between pregnancies.

So don't apologize for your fertility.  Don't blush shame-facedly when you find yourself pregnant after having announced to the world that you practice NFP and that it is a perfectly valid and effective method of spacing pregnancies.  Don't.  Because that "pregnancy" is a person, with a face and a life ripe with potential stretched out before her.  When someone asks me, "Was your son planned?" I will say, with surety, "What do you mean? This child blossomed like a wildflower in the mind of God before all of time began."


For further reading, see:


  1. Love, love, love this post!!!! I'm new to your blog....found you on Ginny's Yarn Along. I've been reading and taking it all in. There were a few quote worthy word that you wrote. Although I am not Catholic, I do believe in letting God have control over fertility. My husband and I have been blessed with 8 children. This post has been a soothing balm after some hurtful words from a friend. My husband and I are having marriage difficulties. Something we are getting help with. It's a VERY long story, but my friend knows most of it. After explaining my hurt and trying to wrestle with the idea that God put us together (I was not a believer at the time), she exclaimed to me: "Why in the world did you have 8 kids if you felt that way about (hubby's name)?" Thank goodness I had been sitting down when she said that! I know her thinking was that our issues would affect the children, so therefore we should not have had any children. But from my point of view, it has been the lives of my children that have made life worth living! I thought to myself, which child should I 'give' back to seemingly make my marriage better? Anyways, these words were wonderful to read. I have always seen my children as a wonderous gift from God, and I could not imagine my life without any one of them.

    Looking forward to reading more!

    1. Kerri! Big hugs to you! I'm so sorry your friend said that to you. She doesn't realize, or else she (probably) wouldn't say it, but it's like saying one or more of your children shouldn't exist! My husband and I had difficulties in the very begging of our marriage--and we _were_ believers at the time, so we should have known what we were getting into! That marriage was for keeps and that evil would be after us. If you want to drop me an email I'd be happy to be a listening ear to you. I can definitely commiserate.

      Be happy today, friend. Special prayers offered for you and your family!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...