The lowdown on NFP from a working mom

| Rachel Lu | July 15, 2015 | 0 Comments

I decided to live contraceptive-free for a very simple reason: I wanted to be Catholic, and as I understood it, those were the rules. Not having grown up in the Church, I naively assumed that this was simply The Done Thing among Catholic women.

As a single woman, contraceptives weren’t hugely relevant to my life at that time. But for the sake of due diligence, I read a book called “Love and Responsibility” by Karol Wojtyla [aka St. Pope John Paul II]. It sounded reasonable, so with no experience at all of sex or marriage or children, I signed my name on the dotted line. That was it: contraceptive-free for life.

A decade later, I’m married with four boys under 6. People gawk when I parade my menagerie through public places. I have a Ph.D., but I squeak out a secondary income by freelance writing (in between pulling children off of bookshelves, bandaging cuts and sweeping up glass). How do I feel about the Church teaching now?

My prognosis: that Karol Wojtyla was a wise, wise man.

Many people, I find, are astounded to meet an educated woman who chose this, under no compulsion whatsoever. Here are some questions I’m frequently asked.

Does natural family planning work?

A lot depends on what you mean by “work.” Does NFP allow you to do whatever you want with no consequences? Does it enable you to avoid pregnancy exactly up to the minute you’re ready to have a baby?

No. In that sense it does not “work.” Then again, neither does any other method.

Natural Family Planning Awareness Week is July 19-25

The dates of Natural Family Planning Awareness Week highlight the July 25 anniversary of the papal encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” which articulates Catholic beliefs about human sexuality, conjugal love and responsible parenthood. The dates also mark the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne (July 26), the parents of the Blessed Mother.

–U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Isn’t it stressful to be constantly guessing as to whether or not you might be pregnant?

The general principles of natural fertility management are pretty simple. While male fertility is relatively constant, women are able to conceive only at particular points in their monthly cycles. By learning to identify those times, couples can exercise some degree of prudent control over the growth of their families. So, no, it’s not just a guessing game. But then again, the practice really is a little messier than the theory. There are challenges.

Still, let’s not fool ourselves. We can’t actually turn our bodies on and off with the flick of a switch. I would rather make rational, informed decisions about my fertility than submit blindly to the ministrations of  “97 percent effective” modern medicine.

This sounds like a lot of hassle. Are there upsides here that I don’t immediately see?

There are innumerable upsides. It can be a huge relief to stop running away from the realities of our own bodies.

Have you seen that Dove commercial about being “comfortable in my own skin”? Think about it like that. Is it good to spend years of your life using drugs and devices to suppress a natural, God-given capacity? Or would you rather learn to live as the woman you really are?

Natural fertility “works” the best when you combine the methods with a different kind of mindset. That doesn’t mean that everyone needs to plan for a dozen children. It means we need to understand that fertility is a capacity, not a disease. It’s a feature of womanhood, not a bug. Learning to live your life within those natural rhythms can be beautiful and empowering.

How did you talk your husband into this?

My husband is a fellow convert, so he was already on board. Some of our older friends and relations might think we’re a little crazy. But in my completely, 100 percent unbiased opinion, we make awfully beautiful children. It’s hard to look down at an adorable, grinning baby and say, “I sure wish you didn’t exist.”

Sometimes we need to stop for a moment and think: What really makes my life meaningful? What will bring me the most joy 20 years from now? Very few of us, I suspect, will retroactively wish we could trade in a child or two for an extra bedroom or another line on the resume.

Then again, as perfect strangers remind me almost hourly, I “have my hands full” right now and don’t have much time to worry about it. Ask me again in a decade or two, and I’ll let you know if I’ve got regrets.

Lu, a parishioner of St. Agnes in St. Paul, is an adjunct philosophy instructor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

Category: Commentary