Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Natural Family Planning Week


The day is almost done and I have yet to do my once-a-day post!  I just got back from a late night grocery trip and am anxious about my doctor appointment tomorrow, so why not ramble about something?  I'll hopefully share some fun weekend photos tomorrow if you're not in the mood for more of my long wandering thoughts...

So this is NFP Awareness Week.  I'm not sure if I've ever written about NFP on the blog.  I'm not sure I even knew what NFP was until I was in college.  NFP stands for Natural Family Planning, which is not the "rhythm method" but a medically proven method of pregnancy planning which is approved by the Catholic Church.

Growing up, I knew a couple big Catholic families, as well as some wonderful large Mormon families.  One of my good friends was the oldest of 11 kids and my Catechism teacher and Confirmation sponsor was the mother of 7 boys.  I was always fascinated by their families.  At some point around high school, I realized that the Catholic Church didn't condone artificial contraception.  Of course that didn't have much importance to me at that point in my life, but I did always hope to have a large family, so it seemed to fit in with my aspirations for family life and motherhood.

During college and through my involvement at St. Mary's Catholic Center at Texas A&M University, I started to learn more about my faith and more about the teachings of the Catholic Church.  I began to understand how the teaching Magisterium of the Church balances with Holy Scripture to transmit the teachings of Jesus Christ through the centuries.  The Catholic Church took a stand in 1969 when Pope Paul VI released the encyclical "Humanae Vitae" (of Human Life) which lays out the reasons why the Church does not believe that the artificial regulation of births to be a morally acceptable choice.

The encyclical explains it beautifully, but the gist of the teaching is that married love is a uniting of souls, a total self-giving, faithful, and fruitful.  It represents the love of Christ for the Church.  Children are a blessing that comes forth from the love of a husband and wife.  "Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents' welfare." 

Pope Paul VI goes on to explain the need for responsible parenthood, while observing the natural law, and still being faithful to God's design for marriage without the use of unlawful means of birth control or sterilization.  "If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system..."

Finally, he lists some of the possible consequences of the use of artificial contraception.  "...Consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards."  A man may forget the reverence due to women and disregard her emotional and physical well-being, reducing her to a mere object.  Public authorities may impose the use of certain contraceptives on their citizens.  (China?)  It's quite an eye-opener to realize how these predictions have come true.  

So back to Natural Family Planning.  When Steven and I met through involvement at St. Mary's and began dating and discussing marriage, we both knew we wanted a large family.  We both placed great importance on having a mother at home to raise the children.  We knew we wanted to follow Church teachings against artificial birth control and wanted to be sure we were prepared for the possibility of children coming soon after we were married.  We attended a talk on NFP, and later took a course through a friend going through training to be a certified instructor. 

What has ended up happening to us is that we've never had the need to use NFP as a means to space children.  It has helped us to understand my body and the cycles I go through.  It helps us to recognize when we could likely conceive a child.  But we don't have a great need to use it since our babies have been naturally spaced through extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping, as well as the fact that we don't get pregnant right away.  Each time my cycles return, it still seems to take about 5-10 months for us to conceive.  This has spaced our current children 28mos, 32mos, 33mos, and possibly about 41mos apart.

I know many Catholic couples struggle with this issue.  They may have children back-to-back and have a hard time finding an NFP method that works for them.  Many may undergo long periods of abstinence.  But there are also couples who suffer from infertility and even with the means available to help couples achieve pregnancy (the prominent one being the Pope Paul VI Institute), they may never have biological children.  In each of those situations, these couples carry a very difficult cross.  

We never know what crosses God might give us.  We don't take our fertility for granted and we also try not to take this natural spacing for granted.  We have experienced two early miscarriages and are currently in the vulnerable days of early pregnancy.  Facing a possible 5th c-section, I am well aware that my body may not be able to handle that many more pregnancies.  We never know what tomorrow may bring and if we may have a very serious need for the conservative use of NFP in the future.

But what I do know is this.  Parenting is hard.  Parenting a large family can be very hard.  In our case, parenting a family and homeschooling the children is a great challenge.  It forces us to rely on the grace of God.  It forces us to pray.  It forces us to be self-giving and put others before ourselves.  Whether another couple has no children, 1 or 2 children, or 10 or more children, is of no importance to us.  What is important to us is following God's design for our own family.  We pray that we will form a community of love and life in our home.  We pray that our children will be blessed through their siblings and have a wonderful support system as they grow older.  We will welcome new life lovingly and pray that God gives us the continued health and ability to raise the children he sends us.

I am grateful to Christ and the Church for this difficult yet beautiful teaching, and I pray that following it in our own family will bring about great fruits for our marriage and for our children in the years to come.


Anonymous said...

Yay, NFP!! That was the doorway into the Catholic church for us. But, like you, I am most grateful when we don't have to use it.

Anonymous said...

Great post..I love the way you explained the beauty of the Catholic teaching.

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