I admit. I had started to settle in. It had been over 2.5 years since our youngest was born—our 6th in 7.5 years. I actually started seeing the end of diapers in the relative near future with dinners that looked more like dinners and less like musical chairs in a dog show.
But all that changed a couple of months ago with two pink lines thrust in front of me. I was speechless. No, really. I didn’t say anything, choosing to quiet my typical loquacious self for an extended period of contemplation. It wasn’t the reaction she was hoping for.
A year and half before our marriage, Amy had brought the topic of NFP to me as she and I detailed in two previous articles. Like most Catholics, I had resigned myself to birth control, but I knew she was serious and it was a deep matter of faith. And so it became for me. Today, even as my “fears” of a daycare-sized family are coming true, I believe it remains the right decision. Not just because I love my kids and our family. I believe it is right because 1) the church ordains it 2) my wife proclaims it, and 3) it is a full expression of the natural law (which of course ties into #1).
But in my beliefs, I must be transparent. I don’t believe that 90-95% of Catholics opt out of NFP just because they have gone morally astray. I believe that a decent number have opted out with good intent because they really want to take care of their kids and families (regardless of what the actual outcome might be).
St. Pope John Paul II and other highly-regarded Church figures have acknowledged that NFP is a cross, but few have spoken in depth about issues that the Church must address if the masses are to consider its wisdom. They include the following.
- NFP is not just as simple as abstaining for 7-10 days a month for many couples trying to avoid pregnancy. For some such as ourselves, NFP would be a reasonable proposition if the fertile period was evident. But breastfeeding and other medical realities can quickly turn what is a manageable cycle into months and months of incessant “fertile” periods. In our case, we knew Amy wasn’t fertile much of the time. We just couldn’t figure out when she wasn’t, even with the help of multiple dedicated instructors. In our desire to be physically unitive (as NFP professes as being of great importance), we found ourselves with difficult choices of a procreative and moral leaning as five unexpected pregnancies in 6.5 years left us feeling like the celibate marriage option (which neither of us desired) was the only completely “responsible” practice on theological and practical ground (which led to its own set of discussions).
- Abstaining during NFP is supposed to increase desire for conjugal unity; the problem is that fertile periods are the one assured time that women often feel like conjugal unity. Admittedly speaking as a man having abstained for long periods of time, it can be rather disheartening to find out that the desire of physical unity is not necessarily reciprocated even after a significant break. Whether it be purely hormones, fatigue, current pregnancy, or various challenges of a family/professional life, it seems that the unitive promise of NFP may not be on equal footing with the procreative promise. No doubt some large NFP families like it this way—it’s just that some of us were also trying to plan (space) our children responsibly while remaining physically connected only to find out that children kept coming anyway.
- As procreation starts to fade in the female lifespan, so does the sexual desire. As women get older and menopause approaches, thus signally an end to a procreative option, it seems that those practicing NFP are primed to utilize the virtue for its full gift of unity. But as many aging women attest, as the procreative opportunities lessen, so does the desire for physical unity through sexuality, which remains the only lifelong purpose (outside of pleasure derived through the unitive embrace) for which sexuality was created. Yet again, if the desire and ultimately the practice wanes as procreation does, then where does the theology meet the humanity? Apparently not when the eggs go dry.
Ultimately, I do believe that the Church has the capacity to address many of the challenges mentioned (and others not), but a concerted effort must occur on multiple fronts. The first is a transparency about these challenges by those in authority, not just bloggers trying really hard to live out an authentic Catholic existence. The second is advice of a wholistic support, and increased action of a financial one.