Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Monday Musings (vol. 5): NFP and Being Careful With Our Words

Yes... I know it's Tuesday.  Thank you for not pointing that out.  I really tried to post yesterday, but none of my musings were coming out coherently, and I was not in the state of mind to sift through all the pictures we took this weekend.  And I'm just not ready to post about how I'm absolutely failing at our keeping Sunday holy resolution or how motherhood has been kicking my butt the last couple weeks.

So instead, I plan to distract you with gratuitous pictures of my kid while I share something with you that has been on my heart, i.e. Natural Family Planning (NFP).

When we announced our pregnancy to our friends back in January 2011, our news was met with the utmost elation.  At the time, we had been married four and half years.  I was chatting with a friend about the exciting news when she interjected our conversation with the statement,

"...We (another friend and her) were just talking about you guys the other day.  I was getting ready to call you and tell you that y'all were doing NFP wrong."

(Now, I did not take this statement offensively at all.  I felt like I could safely assume that this came from a loving place.  This friend was really excited for us when my husband and I got married and had been super excited at the thought of us having kids, because she loves us and wished all the grace and blessings that come from parenthood upon us.  Plus she knew that our baby would be super scrumptious and adorable, and I'd say we did a good job, no?)

Before I go further, here are a couple notes for clarification:

1) Natural Family Planning (NFP) is the observation of the naturally occurring bodily signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman's menstrual cycle.

2) NFP Methods are sets of rules used to interpret the signs and symptoms recorded in order to achieve or postpone a pregnancy.

3)  "Responsible Parenthood" is the choosing to achieve or postpone a pregnancy by using the knowledge that comes from NFP.

It was natural for my friend to expect us to have children after we got married.  That is, after all, how God designed it:  For when a man and a woman come together in holy matrimony the natural order is that a baby would follow.

"That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become on body.  "  Matthew 2:24

Planning your family, means that during the fertile phase of a woman's cycle the couple either comes together to achieve pregnancy or abstains to postpone a pregnancy.  See, what my friend was implying (whether she meant to or not) was that (according to her) we had been abstaining too long and possibly without just cause.

While the teachings of the Catholic Church on love, marriage, and procreation are extensive, deep, and beautiful, and if you get some time I highly recommend you dive into them; they are very hard to summarize in a blog post.  But when it comes to postponing pregnancy, the Catholic Church gives this guideline:

"For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children." - Catechism of the Catholic Church
I've also heard other words such as "grave reasons" or "serious reasons" used. The Church doesn't list out anywhere what those grave or serious reasons are for postponing a pregnancy.  What this means for me is that every month that my husband and I choose to abstain during the fertile time of my cycle, we do so with prayer and discernment in regards to what God's will is for our family.  That means that every month, at least, we give thought to if God is calling us to have a child.

This teaching was easy for me to understand, but really difficult for me to live out.  What I mean is, it was easy for me to understand the idea of inviting the Author of Love into my marriage bedroom, that He has plans to give me a hope and a future, including in regards to having no or lots of children.  But taking that step of faith and saying "Not my will, Lord, but YOURS be done" was, and still is, a struggle for me.  Cause, you know, I like to control my life.  This means that I acknowledge that my body is not my own, it is His creation, and that I strive to submit to His will for me.  It also means that He will provide the knowledge and wisdom, if we ask it of Him, to discern whether or not we should try to conceive a child this month.

Which brings me back to my friend's statement that "we were doing NFP wrong."  I think this reflects a big misunderstanding that I have experienced from people of all belief systems.  The reason the Church doesn't list out those "serious reasons" is because they are different for everybody.  What may be a serious reason for us may not be a just reason for her and her husband at our current states of life.

I have heard judgements (and, unfortunately, have probably thought them myself) such as "they have seven children, they're such a good Catholic family" or "shouldn't they be having children by now?" or "when are you going to have children?" or "they have a large family, they MUST be Catholic" or "they don't have many children, they're using NFP wrong" or "they have too many children, they're not using NFP right".  I've heard these in various forms from various people of all walks of life.  Some of these may not even seem judgmental to you.

What people don't understand or think about when they say things like this, is that child-bearing is a very personal thing.  They don't know that the person they're asking (often with a combination of joking and seriousness mixed together) "shouldn't you be having children by now?"  may have been trying to have a child for a few years, but is struggling with infertility with every month being met with disappointment and grief when the pregnancy test comes up negative.  And that question, which is so prevalent in our casual conversations, is striking at the deep wound.  Or, the person that they ask, or imply, that they should be having a second child by now is really struggling in the marriage, or that having another child is a topic of tension in their marriage.  Or that person that they have deemed as not practicing "right" because they have "too many" children, has actually chosen to have that many children based on their wisdom and discernment, and not because NFP has failed.

So instead of judging other people's families, let's pray for them, that they would be open to what God wants for them.

And while you're at it, we'd love yours prayers too! :)

Certainly sons are a gift from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb, a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the sons born in one's youth.
Blessed is the man who has filled his quiver with them.
He will never be shamed
for he will destroy his foes at the gate.
Psalm 127: 3-5

If you would like to read some testimonials about NFP, NFP methods, NFP and infertility, etc by women from different walks of life, go here.

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