Did you know that there is a week known as National NFP Week?
Yeah, neither did I until I read about it recently.
You may even be wondering what NFP is. “Well, I’ll tell you…” Natural family planning, or NFP, is a method by which [usually] a couple tracks the fertile and infertile periods in a woman’s cycle and plans accordingly either to conceive or not.
Though I am not a supporter of it, I want to be clear about this: it is not considered a form of contraception. Nothing is done to alter either partner’s body nor to block the sperm from reaching the egg. Also, it is allowed by the Catholic Church for “grave” reasons. It is a form of prevention though, which is where my problem lies.
You see, I am what is known in some circles as, apparently, a Providentialist. Until my brother pointed this name out to us, no one in my large family full of so-called Providentialists had any idea that there was a special name for us, other than “Catholic”.
We believe that by promising to be open to children in our marriage we need to be open to God’s timing as well. When my husband and I got married, it was with the understanding that by marrying each other we were making the decision, right then, to be open to life. We knew that this might mean expecting a child at times that seem to the world inconvenient. We also knew that it was the only way we could fully live out our faith in God and His Providence (hence the term).
Since we married, our finances have not been what one could call “stable”. My husband was “gainfully employed” (if by gainfully you mean earning a salary that is almost sufficient for our needs) for most of our marriage. We lived simply and made do, trusting in God. He has been out of work, however, since last April. We never once saw this as a reason to avoid a pregnancy, and were in fact thrilled when we found out I was expecting last August. We were devastated when we learned that our daughter had passed away, regardless of how much “easier” life might be without having another “mouth to feed”. Likewise, we were thrilled again when we learned another baby would be arriving this December. Life is always a blessing, regardless of whether or not it comes when our finances are in perfect shape. Besides, God has never failed us before. Why should we start doubting Him now over something as “trivial” as money?
I’ve heard people call my lifestyle irresponsible, both openly, and in a more backhanded sort of way. Yes, people who practice NFP have told me to my face that they “couldn’t imagine living such an irresponsible lifestyle.” Don’t I know, God gave me a brain for a reason? When someone tells me that practicing NFP makes one a responsible parent, I can only assume he or she also means the reverse of that statement: not practicing NFP makes one an irresponsible parent. A prime example of this is the mission statement of a new website called “I Use NFP”: “Through the use of NFP we desire that men and women see themselves as equal partners with the responsibility to prudently manage their family, to recognize their bodies as deserving of the respect which only NFP promotes…” (emphasis added). Reading this, it seems to me that the alternate message one could take from it is that if you don’t use NFP, you are not “prudently [managing]” your family. Also, you and your spouse do not respect each other or the intrinsic value of your bodies or your fertility, because “only NFP promotes” that sort of respect. As a Providentialist, this statement is telling me that my husband and I are little more than sex-crazed drones who cannot control themselves or respect each other as people, only crave each other as fallen animals.
Our sexual relationship couldn’t possibly be the result of love, right? We couldn’t come together in love without it being scheduled while still respecting each other’s needs and personhood, apparently.
When someone actually spells it out like that, that a husband and wife might have a large family simply because they are “responsibly” choosing to practice their God given marital rights solely with each other on a regular basis, or “whenever the mood strikes”, it sounds wrong to imply that it’s irresponsible, doesn’t it?
NFP is not something my husband and I will never use. For us, it would show a tremendous lack of faith in God and His ability to provide for us.
I’m not saying what it is for anyone else. That’s between them and God and Church teaching (which allows for certain specific uses of NFP under “grave” circumstances).
I’m simply saying that there needs to be a change in the way NFP is presented to the people of the Church at large. It used to be that, when getting married, the hope was for a large family. Just because the world has decided that two and a half children is the perfect size for a family does not mean that the Church and practicing Catholics need to be treated as irresponsible for still accepting children on God’s schedule.
NFP went from being something that one was told about when they sought the advice of a trusted priest over some serious issue they may have been having in their family or finances or with their health. Now? It’s presented as a class that’s mandatory before marriage. It’s gone from being a rare occurrence for grave reasons to something that many Catholic couples start their married lives practicing, at the behest of their local Catholic community.
There’s needs to be a little less talk of “responsible parenting” and a little more understanding that each couple walks its own path to God and, so long as that path coincides with Church teaching, it is “responsible”.