Five Ways I Don’t Love Natural Family Planning

I don’t want to write about NFP. I hate to write about NFP. And yet, here I am…writing about NFP.

I brought this on myself. I completely forgot about an editorial deadline and found myself scrambling for a column topic at about 10:00 p.m. Naturally, I turned to my dear friends, Mrs. Twitter and Mr. Facebook, to see what they thought I should write about.

“NFP!” came the answer, immediately and repeatedly. It is almost NFP Awareness Week, it turns out, and this is a topic in the forefront of Catholics’ minds.

So I will write about NFP — but I do so under protest. Are we clear? Good.

So what do you want to know?

Do I use NFP? Yes.

Do I recommend NFP? Yes.

Do I see problems with the current practice and promotion of NFP in Catholic circles and wish that someone who knew better had been there to advise me at the beginning of my marriage? That would be a big fat yes.

Some thoughts, in no particular order, clarifying what I mean by that last “yes.”

 

1. NFP does not work well for everyone.

I know the NFP teachers and promoters say that’s a copout and that it can work well for everyone — but what they don’t tell you about, and what they cannot accurately predict in a general way, are the complications of breastfeeding.

When I nurse a baby, I have nonstop fertile symptoms. I am not exaggerating that description for dramatic effect; when I say nonstop, I mean nonstop. I know that not everyone shares this experience, but I also know that many do. This means that each time I have given birth to a baby, I have needed to choose between total abstinence for at least the first year postpartum, weaning my baby early, or deciding to “risk” it and (as has happened several times in 17 years of marriage) become pregnant again while caring for an infant.

These are not always happy options, and I could have been spared a lot of anxiety and self-doubt if someone had at least told me this could happen. Instead, I went into marriage all starry-eyed about how NFP was going to be an aid to our communication…and then wound up sad, lonely, and wondering what was wrong with me and my marriage when NFP seemed not only to be interfering with the way I wanted to mother my children, but actually hurting my relationship with my husband on occasion.

 

2. NFP is not mandatory.

I think that some NFP promoters (most of them with the very best of intentions) give a false idea of the kind of control human beings should expect to have over their fertility. Whereas Catholics once accepted fertility and procreation as a natural part of every marriage, we now feel we have a measure of “control” over these things, in a way that tempts us into thinking that controlling fertility is a virtue in itself. There is a brand new, modern way of looking at children through the lens of “responsibility” as opposed to “generosity” and “blessing.”

While some cultures might need a nudge in the direction of parental responsibility, generally speaking, our modern society needs a nudge more in the direction of parental generosity. The problem, very simply, is not that we are having too many babies.

Catholic couples do not need to use NFP at all, ever, in order to have happy, holy marriages, but that is not something you are likely to hear from an NFP instructor of any kind. The mentality sometimes calls to mind the Protestant idea of being a “good steward” of your fertility, which is anything but a Catholic notion. It makes me wonder how any Catholics managed to have holy marriages before Creighton and Billings came along to save us from our sorry selves.

 

3. Have we no shame?

Because of the pervasiveness of NFP talk and information in Catholic circles, I think many of us have lost a sense of awe and holy shame about sex. I know this is also a symptom of the sex-saturated culture in which we live, but I see this as a Catholic version of the problem. Grown women talk about charts and mucus in group settings. Couples share intimate details about their love lives in casual conversations.

Call me a standoffish New Englander, but I say: TMI! Enough already!

I have heard it argued that we need to talk about these things, that it’s beautiful and holy to talk about Catholic sex, and that we should “have no shame” in discussing such matters. But I say it is beautiful and holy, and that’s exactly why we should have some shame, particularly in public settings. By “shame” I mean proper reverence, respect, and discretion for what is a sensitive, sacred, and yes ,very private topic.

 

4. It’s only information.

Fertility monitors are a popular modern way for couples to observe and track symptoms of fertility in order to avoid or achieve a pregnancy. There are different models that work in different ways, but the idea is that the machine helps you interpret your symptoms and gives you a measure of confidence in determining whether you are fertile or infertile on any given day of the month.

Believe it or not, though, I have read books in which NFP teachers caution against the use of fertility monitors. They warn that couples will come to rely only on the machines to interpret their symptoms, and that marital communication will suffer as a result of that.

It should be noted that these are the same people who think my husband is going to wake me with a smile and hand me a thermometer at precisely 6:00 a.m. every day of the week.

To me, this is an example of where some of us have lost our way and gotten off track in our pursuit of all things NFP. The charts and mucus and temperatures are not good things in and of themselves. In the best of worlds, the practice of NFP should be about couples acquiring information about their fertility and then using that information to make decisions about their family size. Communicating about that information is a separate issue and does not need to be part of the method itself. Monitors simplify the gathering and interpretation of information — so, hooray! Marriages only stand to benefit from clear, easy-to-obtain information about fertility.

 

5. Temperament matters.

Some women I know don’t seem to mind the process of monitoring their fertility symptoms. I think of these women as amateur scientists, and I envy them. They make detailed observations, record symptoms, and look for patterns. They are naturally good at these things and even enjoy doing some of them.

I do not enjoy it. For me, an awful lot of what is required for the successful practice of NFP feels like too much information. I would sometimes prefer a healthy dose of mystery when it comes to my physical self. The bottom line is that those of us who are loath to make personal observations are an awful lot less likely to succeed in collecting and interpreting data than our scientist sisters.

It should also be noted (but too seldom is!) that some of us are better at abstaining than others. Those who find abstinence especially challenging are not bad people; it’s just part of their temperament. They struggle with purity, where others’ weaknesses might be pride, greed, or gluttony.

We need to remember that abstinence inside of marriage is not a good in and of itself. I worry sometimes that the NFP promoters would have us believe that the challenge of abstinence is the same for everyone, and we can all perfectly plan the sizes of our families (just use some of that self-control, folks!), when nothing could be more potentially harmful than expecting that.

Our personal differences as individuals and couples are a good thing. Our temperaments are part of God’s providence working its way into our lives, even in places where we might be tempted to believe we have control. A married couple that finds abstinence especially difficult, for example, is more likely to have a large family, whether they were planning to or not.

 

I hate to be an NFP downer.

I fully recognize the kinds of people who research, study, teach, and promote methods of natural family planning usually have the very best of intentions. They want to spread the good news, save couples from the destructive effects of contraception, and teach others about God’s plan for marriages and families. These are very good things.

I think we are all better served, however, when the happy talk is balanced by an occasional reality check. I have attempted to give one here, but perhaps have failed in some glaring ways. Experience tells me, though, that readers will not hesitate to make any necessary corrections and offer their own experiences — the good, the bad, and the ugly — with NFP in the comments here.

So what do you think? Have at it.

Danielle Bean

By

Danielle Bean, a mother of eight, is Editorial Director of Faith & Family. She is also author of My Cup of Tea: Musings of a Catholic Mom (Pauline 2005) and Mom to Mom, Day to Day: Advice and Support for Catholic Living (Pauline 2007). Her blog is a source of inspiration, encouragement, and support for Catholic women of all ages and life stages.

  • http://www.myclonesinaction.com Krystin

    Danielle, I agree.. NFP is GOOD, but not perfect.
    I have PCOS and let me tell you sympto-thermal doesn’t work for me, unless I’d like to some day, build an amusement park!!
    Seeing as I am NOT a roller coaster engineer, we had to find something new..Creighton “worked”, but alas, now we’re just winging it, nearly a year after the birth of our last child.
    Prayer and communication are key to any marriage!!

    Thanks for writing, even if you we’re unhappy about it!! ;o)

    • Debra

      Thanks for the sharing. My husband and I have used NFP for our 29 years of marriage. When I hear my friends tell of the difficulties and bad side effects of contraception–especially the chemical types, I am grateful not to have had those set of challenges to deal with. One friend’s daughter almost died from the pill. We are so fortunate that someone shared NFP with us, and I know in this world of Too Much Information my reaction is often to sit quietly. But I realize that everyone is bombarding our children and friends with the latest in contraception so I have come to believe it is my obligation to share a few basics about NFP when I can do it tactfully. We have offered to help married couples pay for NFP materials when needed. This usually takes place through our daughter as she talks to couples and becomes aware of needs. Young people are so open to being environmentally responsible and this is where a lead into the “green” benefits of NFP can be shared.

  • Five joys

    I’m like you — sign me up for a healthy dose of mystery. I’ve never felt comfortable discussing with others the ebb and flow of my cycle or details of the intimacy shared with my beloved husband. It’s private. My dear spouse and I have discussed that yes, although NFP does open up our marital communication in some fashion, it seems like we spend too much time thinking about and communicating about when we might next be free to NOT abstain. Ugh. I’ll just say it: We both agree that with NFP we are thinking about and talking about sex all the time. And in these recent peri-menopausal times, we find it all-consuming (and a bit more confusing). Thanks Danielle for being a voice of reason. Sometimes when I read other discussion blogs on the subject, I just feel like a failure since I’m constantly challenged to embrace the practice with the outward glee professed by others.

  • Marguerite

    We used NFP for 13 years (until menopause) and never had a problem with it, emotionally or physically. It requires discipline, something our society has tremendous difficulty understanding since the sexual revolution of the 60s. People go through worse regimens to lose weight. The Lord gives strength and grace to those who sacrifice in their marriages to do the right thing.

    • yvette

      We’ve used NFP for 15 years. Still have about 10 years until menopause, I reckon. I could have used it for only 13 years easily.

  • Five joys

    Marguerite, that’s the kind of comment that leaves me scratching my head. Congratulations on your success. And thank you for your judgement. I am glad NFP hasn’t presented the challenges for you that perhaps it has for me … and by this article, Danielle. Thanks be to God–we are all different.

    And yes, there are greater burdens out there on all of us than NFP. I would never relate my challenges with it to something like the trials of fighting cancer, or struggling with a disability or living with an addiction or abuse or … even your example … for some, losing weight. These are my challenges. I respect your success. Can’t I, and others say they do it, but don’t really LOVE it without being reminded we are weak undisciplined humans? Last time I checked, we are all weak and imperfect and will remain imperfect … all while hopefully, with the grace of God, continue striving to the do right thing.

    • http://bit.ly/chastityrevisited nfp4life

      @Five joys “And thank you for your judgement.” ??
      I also congratulate Marguerite for her discipline! God gives grace to different people in different ways. Why begrudge a sister of her good fortune? Danielle gave us an honest look at what lots of people won’t say, but often think; but Marguerite also has the right to rejoice in what NFP has brought to her. Balance is good. God bless.

  • http://sfomom.blogspot.com Barb, sfo

    Thank you for writing about the challenges–I remember that whole “starry-eyed newlywed” thing as well.

    But here’s where I chalk one up for having lots of information: because of NFP, I was able to identify patterns and I knew when something was happening that was not “usual” for me. When I started having GYN-related health problems, I was able to give my doctor very detailed information. This helped lead to the diagnosis and treatment of endometriosis. I credit my NFP training and experience for giving me the awareness needed to get that taken care of. So if you have a health problem, it helps to be a scientist!

  • walkeke

    Thank you! I especially loved the smiling husband at 6:00 am . . .

  • Joan

    Danielle, I am totally in awe!! Did you just read my mind? This was a great article. I agree with you about the TMI part, and laughed my head off when I read the part about the smiling husband waking me at 6am to take my temp. I will be the first to admit I am a slacker when it comes to NFP. Seems we had a similar experiences when breastfeeding. : ) Wait till you hit perimenopause, that is another whole new issue. (Sorry, TMI) Thank You for this “real” article. It was very refreshing to read.

  • Katie

    I had the opposite problem while nursing – NO fertility signs whatsoever. My temperature did not rise until AFTER I ovulated and was pregnant! So please excuse me if I did not have the “discipline” to abstain for an entire year.

  • Suzy

    It seems to me that one of the chief problems with the way NFP is taught is that it gives the illusion of having the same kind of control that contracepting couples think they have. What it does not acknowledge is that, at the end of the day, God is the one who is in charge. A surprise pregnancy is not a method failure, it is the beginning of a unique human being created by God (with the cooperation of his or her parents). Every contraceptive method has “failures,” because sometimes God overrides our efforts at control. The only way that one can avoid pregnancy is total abstinence, and other than couples practicing Josephite marriages (not something that is encouraged as normative) or couples where fertility is no longer a possibility (such as where a hysterectomy has happened). Pregnancy is otherwise always possible, even if less likely than at other times. It seems to me that initially the things I read about NFP acknowledged that ,and even celebrated the fact that we were using NFP because we were open to the possibility that God might have a better plan. I know a young couple who really struggled at the beginning of a surprise pregnancy early in their marriage because they felt like they’d been sold a bill of goods in their pre-Cana prep.

    I think that one of the problems is that Catholic couples are attempting to embrace the culture which encourages few children and materialistic success, at the same time that they are attempting to follow the teaching of the Church. Some people may have such “success” at NFP that they can have few children. They may even convince themselves that wanting to provide those few children with all of the goods of modern suburban culture are serious reasons for avoiding pregnancy. However, not all couples will have this sort of success with NFP, for various reasons (some related to biology, some perhaps related to personality). For pre-Cana classes to “sell” NFP as though it was a ticket to joining the ranks of those who “control” their fertility with contraception seems to be a mistake.

    I’m not knocking NFP, it allows couples to live their marriage vows while still attempting to avoid conception if they view that as necessary. However, I think that to view practicing NFP as a normative thing and simply being open to life as something that happens only rarely is not what the actual teaching of the Church on the subject is, no matter what impression couples get in their NFP classes.

    Sadly, there are far too many people inside of the Church who look at those families with lots of kids as simply having no self control. There has been, for at least the past forty years or so, a growing anti-child mentality even within the Church. I have a friend with 9 children who got dubbed a “fertile turtle” by fellow Catholics. The attitude of her fellow Catholics towards her ninth pregnancy was a contributing factor in her oldest daughter’s turning her back on the faith.

    Some people are blessed with easy fertility, some people are not. There are people who get pregnant more easily than they might prefer who envy those who don’t, NFP may or may not help highly fertile couples to manage their fertility.There are others for whom conception, or maintenance of pregnancy are very difficult. For them the information garnered by NFP techniques may be helpful. In any case, NFP is more like medicine than it is a wonderful aid to marriage unless it is accompanied by a heart that is truly willing to set aside their own plans and joyfully welcome the will of God in their life, whether that means another baby quickly, or means that a baby isn’t part of the plan. We aren’t meant to follow the methods or the attitudes of the world either as to our “rights” to not have a baby, or our “rights” to have them by any means that science will generate. To give the impression that babies are anything other than a gift from God (sometimes long anticipated, sometimes a huge surprise) is to simply be seduced by the message of the culture.

    And Danielle is right, some of the scientific types may love knowing all the details about their bodies. They may well love knowing all the stuff about how they are fearfully and wonderfully made. However, not everyone wants to know all the details.

    I don’t think, however, that those who “fail” in abstinence in marriage are guilty of a moral fault. One of the ways that we are fearfully and wonderfully made is that we have a legitimate desire for our spouse. For many women that desire is actually the greatest at the time of the greatest fertility. We’re designed that way. We may, for serious reasons, put that aside. However, there’s not necessarily something wrong with us if we don’t. A conception doesn’t necessarily happen just because you are intimate at the most fertile time. Loads of infertile couples will tell you that all of the exact timing in the world does not result in a baby unless God wills it. A loving married couple does need to look at the goods of both people, and sometimes NFP is a way to be loving towards one or the other spouse due to health issues, or due to one or the other being too overwhelmed to eagerly welcome another baby into the family. However, beyond being loving to your spouse, it seems to me, that a “failure” in abstinence is simply loving your spouse in the way that married couples express love.

    The Church doesn’t teach that couples must have as many babies as they can crank out. I’ve seen places where people even debate the morality of breastfeeding induced delayed fertility. There are people in the Church, as well as in the quiver full movement who seem to think there’s something wrong if your babies are more than about 18 months apart. That is not what the Church teaches. She gives us NFP as a way to practice prudence, she also has teachers who give us information about how the natural rhythms of breastfeeding can space our babies a bit further apart than they would be if we didn’t breastfeed. But never, never does the Church tell us that there is something wrong with us if our babies arrive quickly, or if due to breastfeeding they happen to be quite far apart (some women have very delayed return to fertility while nursing). But none of this should be seen as a guarantee that we get to be in the driver’s seat. I know of one young couple that have been quite surprised that God’s plan wasn’t for them to have babies even two years apart while they have friends who were very surprised to find that it was God’s plan for them to have babies less than two years apart. The first couple has learned to rejoice in God’s timing as being good for their little girl, while the other couple has learned to rejoice in being able to give their son a sibling close in age. It seems to me that the bottom line is that NFP is a tool only, sometimes it’s a tool that works well, but it isn’t a tool on which to base your marriage. Marriage needs to be based on faith in God’s love for everyone in the family, even if they are a surprise arrival and trust that He will provide the graces and resources necessary to provide for all of them.

    • Grace

      This is so well said! I wish more people looked at it in the same way. Too many of us (and my husband and I have fallen into this at times, too) think they can and should be in the driver’s seat, whether it’s in regard to having a large family of closely-spaced children, or fewer children and/or larger gaps between them.

    • http://commonsensecatholicism.blogspot.com Kevin Tierney

      I think Suzy hits on a very important point, but something I think needs deeper examination.

      Since when in Catholic culture is a married couple coming together in love to renew their marriage vows become a “failure?” I view it the dark undercurrent in some of the TOB craze that NFP rides alongside. Despite their protests to the contrary, I actually think many of the “NFP OR DIE” acolytes have just a distorted view of the marital embrace and marriage itself as the worst Victorian prude or contracepting couple.

      • http://bit.ly/chastityrevisited nfp4life

        In our CCL classes, we define the use of NFP as fertility awareness. John Paul II taught that this study of our “sexual powers” reveals the “profound mystery of the human person.” Anyone who separates fertility awareness from what it reveals to us about our own worth and dignity has turned NFP into a biology lesson, and has succumbed to a worldly view.

        “Method failure” is simply a technical term used by NFP teachers, but Suzy’s and your concern also reveals that we need to be sensitive in how it is used. In any case, it never suggests that we don’t rejoice in the gift of life, that would be contrary to why we became NFP teachers in the first place.

    • GinnyM

      tl;dr

    • http://www.megnanimity.blogspot.com MW

      Thank you for this excellent comment! I just wish I heard more stuff like this on catholic blogs!

    • Irene

      Thank you, Suzy, this comment is exactly what I needed to read. I am pregnant with my fourth child in 5 years and feeling overwhelmed and doubtful. While my sentiments were parallel to Danielle’s, your comment has brought me more comfort and peace than the original article. The most difficult part for me is not the laughter and mockery of my non-Catholic friends but those who are Catholic.

      I am guilty of being disappointed that my Driver’s seat did not yield the results I was so carefully aiming toward. But even worse–i was looking at my own shortcomings as a mother and feeling a great deal of anxiety as I prepare for another. The last line of your comment really brought me home. Thank you.

      • http://freakinominalblog.blogspot.com/ Patty in CT

        Irene, I was where you are with my third son. It was after he was born that my husband and I took an NFP class to “avoid these surprises” in the future. And then, for no apparent reason, God took away my fertility.

        It was after much begging and pleading, and falling before the Blessed Mother that almost 3 years later, I was able to conceive my fourth child. It was a much needed change of heart that made me realize that each child is a gift from God, and that He wanted them, even when I may not have wanted them, so much.

        I’m not saying this to preach at you, but to assure you of my prayers and best wishes in this new blessing in your family’s life. If I could give you just a little more encouragement: God gave this baby to you to carry and raise, BECAUSE he knows that you are the best woman for the job! Keep going, and know that many of us are with you in spirit, even some are hiding a few pews behind you:)

    • Margaret

      right on the money, Suzy!

  • Ashley

    My first experience with an NFP teacher left my husband and I incredibly frustrated. I was breastfeeding and the teacher had us abstain for nearly six months so that SHE could figure out my cycle. Let me tell you…she made us feel guilty for our frustration. SIX MONTHS?! Needless to say, we stopped going to her. I bought a book and figured it out myself. NFP is not easy and I’d by lying if I haven’t had a few temper tantrums over the past 5 years of our marriage. My last one included the words “Why do I feel like I’m always being cornered into having another baby?!?”

    Obviously I was upset and frustrated. It took me a while to cool down…but I honestly believe that practicing NFP will take part in our sanctification. I have love hate relationship with NFP. There are times I resent it SO MUCH…most of the time I’m okay with it and even thankful for it. So far I haven’t had an unplanned pregnancy while using NFP, but if I had gone on the pill after the birth of my first son, I can almost guarantee that I wouldn’t have my youngest two children. For that reason I am grateful.

    • Ashley

      OH, and I just wanted to add….while I do appreciate the knowledge I have obtained through learning about my body and it’s signs, I do agree that there is something to be said about “TMI.” I guess what I mean is that now that I have this information, now that I know what it means, now that I can practically read my body like a book, it leaves out the mystery. It makes things feel very “sterile” for me. I don’t want the first thing I think about when I’m with my husband to be whether I need to find a way to subtly hint to him that “this isn’t a good time.” It’s a lot of pressure on me. And it’s hard for my husband, too. I can tell that he feels like he almost needs to ask permission in order to be flirtatious with me. And I feel like I am obligated to tell him all of my “measurements” for the day so that we’re both aware of the “situation.” Nothing like talk of mucus to kill the mood!!

  • Renee

    I have a reason I hate NFP that I haven’t seen listed here. It seemed to me that the times we needed to abstain were the only times I really, really, really didn’t want to abstain. I have been so happy with my decreased fertility in my late 30’s (only had one baby in my 40’s.) It was great to say good-bye to all that NFP stuff.

    • Michael

      Yes Renee, I can relate to that! In my fertile period, for the past 40+ years I really, really, really, have not wanted to abstain. In my infertile period it was much, much, easier!

      I think it is OK to teach fertility awareness to teen girls with instructions to reflect on their attentions and interests during that fertile window so as to realize how their body is trying to make itself pregnant!

      Another good point about your posts is that sooner or later NFP becomes much more doable! So lets take up the long haul challenge regardless of sometimes impurity with latex or kinkyness. NFP is not just birth control but is planning to remain a family!

    • Melanie N

      I think that’s the cool part of knowing your body so well, though. God created our bodies TO procreate. Have you ever seen a female cat in heat? They’re out looking for the Tommy cat! God has given us the same drive to be intimate with our husbands at the time when we’re very fertile. It does make it hard when we have good reasons to abstain, but it seems easier to deal with when I understand that the desire is from God.

    • Ramona

      I have found some challenges with NFP like what Renee said and I find it a pain to observe every time and actually look forward to my heavy days of period when I don’t need to observe. I do like that it is natural and no hormones. My biggest concern with it is that I have 2 small children under 5 and the fact is that financially we cannot afford to have another. I think its wonderful to have children but some people cannot financially afford to have more. I would like to know how some deal with the financial aspects of having more. We are fairly frugal already.

  • Lydia

    Terrific article. As someone who struggles with subfertility, an understanding of NFP (Creighton) as a diagnostic tool has helped me. When we got married six years ago I had the fairly normal newlywed fear of babies. I’ve never been one of the gals who oohed and ahhed over babies, at least, not until the birth of my daughter three years ago. Like many young Catholics we were persuaded by the theory of NFP as a boon to marriage, no matter what. We had no intention of using artificial birth control, and dutifully went the route of CCL’s class. Without going into detail, feeling like I HAD to use NFP either to conceive or postpone made me anxious about sex. After our first miscarriage we both realized the whole baby thing might be harder than we thought it would be, so we relaxed the NFP. Doing so, helped our marriage enormously. Being a slightly neurotic, not having the pressure of the NFP gods looking at everything I did and didn’t do, and what my motivations were, relaxing about it helped so much! When we discovered my fertility issues we began looking into using NFP as a way to diagnose our difficulties without being “forced” to abstain. I feel that while being able to acknowledge that periodic abstinence can be a sacrificial blessing to many couples (us included) it’s important to note what St. Paul says: only abstain by mutual consent for a time for the purpose of prayer/sanctification, and then get back together again! Obviously, I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the idea. NFP is a tool for understanding fertility, not a sacramental. Like any tool, it can help or hinder. I wish someone had told me that.

    • Grace

      Well said! I completely agree with you!

  • Amber

    As someone who struggles with infertility issues, and as someone who is still yearning to have a firstborn, this article, and more especially, the comments are very difficult to read. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be blessed with having a child!

    It’s so interesting the differences in perspectives.

    • Matt Watkins

      Thanks Amber for your perspective, you’ll be in our family’s prayers

    • Grace

      I have three children but I know the pain and frustration of subfertility. My children are farther apart in age than I would have chosen them to be, and we have been struggling to conceive again. A friend told me that she (and others) were under the impression that we used artificial birth control because of the spacing of our children. That was so hurtful! My prayers are with you as you carry your cross.

    • Lydia

      It’s so hard, isn’t it? Though I now have a beautiful daughter (and possibly only child), iI well remember the pain of primary IF, and now struggle with secondary. I think that if I had realized that conceiving and carrying was going to be so hard, I never would have used NFP at all, except to try to conceive and diagnose my problem. Prayers for you!

  • http://www.catholicdadsonline.org Rob Kaiser

    I think this is a great article. I particularly appreciate the point that NFP is not necessary for a good and holy marriage. A couple CAN opt to trust and see what comes about. That point is often lost when talking about NFP.

    I also agree that we have too few children. I have four, and we gets stares as if THAT was a lot. When I see a family with 6 or 8 kids, I smile. That is a witness to God’s love, not something to be avoided.

    • Grace

      I agree with you — most people probably could use a nudge toward generosity. But Humanae Vitae doesn’t actually enumerate valid reasons for postponing a pregnancy — it is pretty vague. Only the husband and wife can discern this for themselves.

      “With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.” (Section 10)

      “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 and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained. ” (Section 16)

      These two paragraphs are the closest that I can find in the document listing acceptable reasons for postponing pregnancy, and they are quite vague. I have read the encyclical many times, and have never seen the strictures that some people refer to.

      That said, I completely agree with you that most Catholic couples today are erring on the side of “responsibility” and not toward “generosity” (as though they are mutually exclusive, which of course, they aren’t!)

      My husband and I are in a somewhat different situation in that we desire a larger family but so far (in 12 years of marriage) have only been blessed with three.

    • yvette

      God bless you, Rob.

      • L.Aragon

        God bless you, Rob!!!

        • L.Aragon

          I love to see a large family too! is crazy how things got so crazy that people think 4 kids is a lot…

    • Aran

      I’m the youngest of seven children, and my father has a second cousin with fourteen. Yep, we get some stares. . .

  • Robert

    I agree totally, but I would add to what you and someone else alluded to: most of us could do with that nudge toward generosity. Most of us don’t really have the valid reasons enumerated by Pope Paul VI to space out births. We ought to give quite a bit more of the “control” back to God, and generously accept what he gives us. I think NFP has become way too mainstream and “normal.” I think it ought to be the exception and relatively rare. This is NOT to judge how couples choose to use NFP, but more about how NFP is being taught and presented and promoted.

    • Grace

      I agree with you — most people probably could use a nudge toward generosity. But Humanae Vitae doesn’t actually enumerate valid reasons for postponing a pregnancy — it is pretty vague. Only the husband and wife can discern this for themselves.

      “With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.” (Section 10)

      “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 and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained. ” (Section 16)

      These two paragraphs are the closest that I can find in the document listing acceptable reasons for postponing pregnancy, and they are quite vague. I have read the encyclical many times, and have never seen the strictures that some people refer to.

      That said, I completely agree with you that most Catholic couples today are erring on the side of “responsibility” and not toward “generosity” (as though they are mutually exclusive, which of course, they aren’t!)

      My husband and I are in a somewhat different situation in that we desire a larger family but so far (in 12 years of marriage) have only been blessed with three.

      • Deanna

        Actually, Humanae Vitae doesn’t give specific examples but it does list the categories.
        Couples need to ask themselves if there are any physical reasons for avoiding a pregnancy. I’d say that for the majority of people, there would be no physical reasons except for fatigue and various health conditions. I feel terrible when I’m pregnant, have a tendency towards anemia and blood sugar problems and can get many colds (last time I had pneumonia), but I don’t think these physical reasons would be a valid reason for any woman to avoid a pregnancy. My life was never in danger. I can work on prevention by proper diet.
        In regards to economic reasons, I think there has to be a great degree of povertyor financial stress to consider this. We are so influenced today by our materialistic society to provide the best of everything for our children, the best clothes, the most opportunities, etc, the need to save $$ for their education, which are good things. I believe it’s nice to have nice clothes and to help to develop our children’s talents, but are we to avoid bringing another life into this world so that we can make sure the children we do have have all the opportunities we desire for them? Eg. A husband has X job and wife stays at home with the kids so in order for our X # of children to all go to college/university, we need to save X $ every month for 18 years per child, so no, we cannot afford a child. Is this a valid reason not to bring another child into the world? I don’t think God would think so. However, if a family is scraping by and I mean by providing for basic necessities, then that’s a different story. However, I’ve heard it said that every baby born into this world comes with a loaf of bread. Remember, the encyclical says Serious reasons. I think we don’t focus enough on the word Serious. Then there’s psychological which is different for everybody. There’s alot of stress in our society today and everybody handles their own different stressors differently. Mental illness (and it can be as simple as chronic mild depression) is rampant. However, with this in mind, I think we are so affected by our self-centered culture and desire to have everything we want that it is possible for one to view a lack of buying a cabin in the mountains that they’ve wanted since they were 18 yrs old and don’t have yet and they’re 40 yrs. old now as a stress.
        Well, maybe you’re right and things aren’t spelled out for us enough, but I think because it is an intimate decision that should be between husband, wife and God with alot of prayer and a desire to submit to God’s will, perhaps exact scenarios cannot and should not be spelled out for us.
        What do social conditions mean? Does it mean if our country is at war (today there is alot of civil war in many countries, or civil unrest), then it’s ok not to conceive a child? Does it mean if the employment situation in the family is not stable that it’s ok not to conceive a child? Many have lost their jobs in the past 3 years. I think everybody knows somebody who’s lost a job in the past 3 years. Is this a valid reason to not have a child? Perhaps. But, if it’s an attitude of we cannot have another child until we have X $ in savings, then that’s probably not a valid enough reason.
        I still think the key words are SERIOUS REASONS. I too would actually like a few good examples spelled out for us.
        Bottom line: are there SERIOUS psychological, economic, physical or social reasons for not co-creating with God? That decision needs to be taken into prayer for all of us.

  • Maria

    NFP is a tool that may be used when a couple has a serious (gravis) reason to avoid pregnancy. That’s it. It’s not a way of life, though I agree that it is often presented that way. There should be a sense of sadness/disappointment that circumstancs are not great for a child right now. So, by definnition, NFP is part of our life when things aren’t at their optimal

    • Deanna

      Are you saying that because there’s so much turmoil in the world that it’s ok not to bring a child into the world right now?

      • Leslie

        I think she’s saying that when using NFP to avoid a pregnancy, a couple ought to feel sad/disappointed that it’s not a good time [for them] to have a baby [right then]. In optimal circumstances a baby would always be welcome or hoped for and NFP wouldn’t be needed. Hope I am explaining this well.

        • Maria

          Yes, Leslie, you are expressing what I’m thinking. And so in this light, we can’t expect NFP to be all rosy and wonderful anymore than we would expect medicine to be all rosy and wonderful when we are sick.
          Deanna, there is always turmoil in the world. That is too vague. But if I myself live in a war torn area and am a refugee fleeing for my life, that would be ONE EXAMPLE of things not being optimal for conceiving and nuturing a child. Every situation is a specific situation.

    • Amanda

      I agree 100% with this statement. For a variety of reasons, we have discerned that right now is not the time for us to have another baby. This has been such a difficult/sad time for me.

  • J.L.

    Amber, I’m with you. I’m 23, married, and infertile, and I would love to have this problem. We all have different crosses, I guess.

    • Deanna

      Contact a Creighton Instructor. There could be a very simple solution to your problem……

      • Kay

        I find that an odd response. A woman just told you she is infertile, and you just wrote it off. My youngest sister has known she would be infertile since she was 14. One of my nieces will find out she too is … when she is old enough to learn that news. I imagine how my sister would feel if she disclosed her infertility in the com box of a blog (mostly discussing managing the fertile part of fertility), only to be told “it’ probably nothing.” And go talk to someone who knows. I don’t get that.

        • Micha Elyi

          Maybe you “don’t get that” because you’re putting more of your own ideas into the remark you’re criticizing than reading what is actually there.

          Nowhere did the earlier remark say “it’ probably nothing”.

    • Renee C

      You are in my prayers, and I’ve recently discovered that I have several friends suffering infertility (even some who have used Creighton model). Trust in God’s plan can be so difficult – when having children and wanting children. Do not feel judged by God’s plan for you, and know that accepting and living with His will is the best you can do, and that you are supported in that.

  • James

    Danielle,

    I must say, thank you for your honest writing. I was a huge NFP promoter until about a week or so before I got married. I have learned that the approach to the teaching is in itself not exhaustive and provides even more anxiety and confusion to newly weds.

    Since then, my understanding of its application in my life has taking a different meaning to the shock and amazement of my friends who until that point considered me to be orthodox.

    The strange thing is that NFP is mostly an American way of life. There were other Catholic countries before American came along. My mother never practiced NFP, but the good God gave her 5 kids. One of my uncles has 7 kids, the other 4 and the other 1. My mothers parents had 2. These are all people who do not know what NFP is or what contraception is, but probably practiced periodic abstinence as God wanted them to.

    Another point is that young couples fall into the trap of not wanting to have children right away because their conscience is telling them to save for a house or to pay off college debts first, or to at least get settled down into marriage before considering another change i.e., let’s spend time together travelling the globe. These are honest Catholics who think they are doing the right thing, because they think they are using their God-given powers prudentially.

    One of the points not considered is that on infertile days (depending on if they are trying to avoid pregnancy), certain things (happenings and schedules) may interrupt the occasion to come together and therefore narrowing the opportunities to have that bond experienced. This is not always true in the case of newly weds, but happens more frequently with couples who have children and are just exhausted at the end of the day.

    On instances, the feeling of being regulated to a thermometer is not romantic, and sometimes could be a downer especially if feelings of love overwhelm either the husband or wife, or both, but then the unnatural stop sign of the thermometer serves as the awful reminder of “where they ought not go tonight”.

    For me, the concept of NFP as taught today wore my wife and I out. We discussed and have practiced periodic continence as it is more definite and we are the ones deciding when to come together, not the thermometer, which is based on her cycles.

    We now have more time to love each other without the coldness of asking or thinking about cycles, but rather, just being with each other when we want to be with each other.

    James

  • Mike

    Children are a blessing. The church seems to have migrated from saying “it is permissible for grave reasons to limit number of children, but only by using natural means”, to “this is something everybody should do so they won’t practice contraception”. “Grave” means things like a health crisis, etc. Otherwise, if they are a blessing, why are we avoiding them? Is it them, or is it us? Do we need to rethink our take on what marriage is for? (What life is for?)

    “Take my yoke upon you, for my burden is easy and my yoke is light.” “Let the children come to me, for of such is the kingdom of God.” “Their angels continually behold the face of my Father.”

    • Grace

      The word “grave” is a mistranslation. The official Vatican English translation uses the words “well-grounded” and “serious” — which are still a far cry from the prevailing American attitude — but are not to the extreme of “grave”.

      http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae_en.html

      I agree with the point you are making, but I think that it gives those of us who are orthodox and take this matter seriously a bit less credibility if we get the translation wrong. :)

      • Anonymous Seminarian

        I agree that HV is more ambiguous that I would prefer on this point, and I recognize there is a certain hierarchy in the use of the terms ‘grave-serious-just’, but Lewis & Short lists ‘grave’ as the first definition for ‘serius’ http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/morph?l=s%C4%93r%C4%ADus&la=la#lexicon. But even if we stick with ‘serious’ in a usual sense, clearly simple preference or American habit or only having a 3 bedroom home, etc., doesn’t qualify.

      • Maria

        The word in Latin is “Gravis”. I don’t think you’ll find that translated in a Latin dictionary as well-grounded. It is usually translated as grave or serious.

      • http://bit.ly/chastityrevisited nfp4life

        In paragraph 16 of Humanae Vitae, four different terms are used for “serious reason” or similar. They are translated differently by different people, Janet Smith being one of them. It seems that the Vatican translation may leave a little to be desired. The phrases in Latin are: “iustae causae”, “argumenta…honesta et gravia”, “probabiles rationes”, and “iustae rationes”. These all pertain to Recourse to Infertile Periods.

  • Matt Watkins

    A dart board, really? Was that your choice Danielle or the editor’s? But it seems more apropos as I digest the article. There are folks who a quite good at throwing darts and others who never quite get it no matter how hard they practice.

    I realize I am treading into a subject that while I know quite well, my opinions may not be wanted.

    I am that smiling husband with the thermometer at 5:30 a.m. My frustration came about when the EPA and Consumer Protection Safety Commission (CPSC) banned the sale of mercury thermometers and required they all be digital. I never figured out how to use the darn thing and had to rouse my wife daily to help me clear and set the new technology. Now we don’t use it at all.

    I agree that not everyone needs to use NFP. But I do believe everyone should know how to use NFP, I say that because, for example, unexpected illnesses can arrive and prudence would say there’s a serious reason to avoid pregnancy. Being able to jump right into any method at a moment’s notice is being prepared.

    And it should not be viewed as the panacea for Catholic couples. Reality checks during classes are a good thing, as former teachers we always let folks know that there would be difficulties and we shared ours.

    I’m glad Danielle defined “shame” for us, I agree discretion is warranted when speaking about fertility signs, this is not talk for the locker room.

    Thanks for fighting the urge not to write about NFP and giving all of us something to nosh on, so we can empathize with that other person who has a different experience with NFP.

    • http://www.crisismagazine.com Brian Saint-Paul

      “A dart board, really? Was that your choice Danielle or the editor’s? But it seems more apropos as I digest the article.”

      It was the editor’s choice.

    • Michael

      Well, it could have been worse. Could have been a roulette wheel. About 50 years ago some called the now obsolete rhythm method “Vatican Roulett”!

      I think many people do not know of the advances in fertility monitoring in the past 50 years. Or mayby many do know and still discredit it.

      • Arthur

        Is there a particular fertility monitoring you are talking about in regards to improvements? A particular fertility monitor assistance device? Thank you.

    • Vi

      Matt,
      Your reply is heartening. And I agree everyone should know NFP.

      The way I see it: there are crabby NFP people and not-crabby NFP people. The not-crabby ones (myself included) are not all rosy all the time. They just believe that it works and use it when they prayerfully discern they need it. (I never wax poetic talking about cervical mucous).

      I have a theory based on years of listening to others. Not-crabby NFP practicers tend to be those who learned it at the very beginning, before the rigors of marriage and family life set in. They don’t ever say that NFP doesn’t work. The women do not necessarily all have perfectly regular cycles. Some of them are breastfeeders who experience the charting difficulties of that time of life and have to deal with a bit more abstinence than normally. They never say, “I have NO idea HOW I got pregnant that time.”

      Crabby NFP practicers tend to be those who never thought they would use it, but 8 kids down the line they started to get overwhelmed and tried to learn it. I for one am a big advocate of learning while engaged even if not practicing it at the beginning of marriage. I can’t imagine trying to learn it while breastfeeding, caring for several children, piles of laundry, and hubby not used to following the rhythm of the cycle. Crabby NFP people may also resort more to external fertility monitoring devices. Wife: “It’s the red light (not me)! saying we have to wait.”

      Anybody concur here? I should apologize if my tone is crabby! I just realized that I am tired of crabby NFP articles. (The first one I remember reading was in the early 2000’s by H.W. Crocker III in Crisis. It was titled something like, “NFP! It Doesn’t Work!” It was actually a hilarious article. But the “doesn’t work” part drives me crazy.)

  • http://www.sherryantonettiwrites.blogspot.com Sherry

    Yes, thank you thank you thank you thank you.

    Also, I would argue, some of us who stink at NFP and I count myself amongst those, do not so much struggle with purity as with passion. It is not impure to desire one’s spouse.

    Also, had to fend off a friend who wanted to talk to our daughters about NFP and the “beautiful white flow.” and I said, “Ewwwwww. Thanks but no thanks.”

    • Kathy

      “It is not impure to desire one’s spouse”. I always thought I had major self-control issues or was immature. It took some time for me and my husband to realize that NFP was not for us. Practicing NFP is not a requirement to achieving holiness or a requirement to be a good and “responsible catholic”. I always resented the idea that by overcoming those natural and very strong urges to love my husband during fertile times and practicing self control I was doing something wonderful and holy for my marriage. I would rather fast from food and eat bread and water…..forever.

  • Karen

    Thanks – I find similarly rosy pictures painted in homeschooling books as well ;) I love NFP and homeschooling, but like everything in life, there are sacrifices and downsides.

    I would add that our communication consisted of :

    Hubby: Are we safe today?
    Me: Look at the chart.
    H: What does this mean?
    M: Do I have to explain it all over again?

    Repeat whenever certain feelings arise…
    I definitely felt most of the burden was on me; afterall, I’m the one with the symptoms!

    We threw the chart out years ago, after going through a long stretch of infertility. That was frustrating – we thought we were in control of this ;)

    We place everything else in God’s hands, why not our fertility?

  • http://thefraternityofstgenesius.blogspot.com/ Caroline

    Danielle, I just love your attitude.

    I think that we Catholics are afraid to express negative views about NFP. Thank you for your honesty.

    • Deanna

      I actually am very surprised and very disappointed about all the negative comments. Let me explain. I’m 41 yrs old, grew up in a strong Catholic home, went to Catholic schools from gr. K throught 12 and never heard teachiing or preaching about contraception except from my mother who I thought said it was wrong because she was my mother. During marriage prep NFP was not even mentioned as far as I can remember. If it was, it wasn’t explained in the least bit of detail. Most Catholics don’t even know what it is. I basically learned about it in the past 3-4 years. Isn’t NFP to be practiced when a couple doesn’t want a child because they discern together, in prayer, that they have serious reasons not to have another child at this time? Other than that, it sounds perhaps like a couple is to be open to life all the rest of the time. Is this correct? When you couples who say you’ve scrapped the practice of NFP, do you mean you’re always open to life and don’t have any reasons to avoid children, or do you scrap it and use contraception? I’m a bit confused here.

      • http://www.megnanimity.blogspot.com MW

        I am fairly certain given this crowd that people who talk about scrapping the charts and NFP mean they are just letting nature take its course- no birth control. You should read Humanae Vitae. You can find it on the vatican website.

  • Kristin

    (Let me preface this by saying that I do not believe in contraception in any form.)

    Awesome article. I think there has been an element of honesty missing from the NFP discussion for some time. I started reading a popular NFP text book while engaged to my husband, and dumped it after a couple chapters–and I think NFP is a GOOD thing. But the book was so ridiculously sappy and came across as unrealistic. I couldn’t stomach it. I also agree about the problems that arise with NFP after you’ve had a few children. As a breatfeeding mom, it’s hard to rely on the morning temp if you’ve been up 12 times with three different kids and the baby in one night. If we are honest enough to acknowledge the illegitimacy of contraception, we should be honest enough to admit that NFP can have its limits and difficulties.

  • KaleJ

    Thank you Danielle. You are a fabulous writer and always seem to hit the mark.

    As the male half of an NFP teaching couple, I quite agree. We usually give a dose of reality with the starry-eyed promises. My wife has the same issue with nursing and we have 8 children, so there has been plenty of anxiety and chances taken. And sometimes the dice have come up all sevens (or 4s and 5s in the sequence).

    NFP, fertility awareness is a tool. And I think it is a good tool, given to us by God through good people, appropriate for our time when the rhythm no longer worked. But it is just that. We have put the charts away at times when we desired another, or left it in His hands.

    It is a tool, not a perfect method and promoted/taught by fallen mankind. I think at times it is so difficult to get through, so the teaching often goes over the top in the starry-eye way. But as we tell our students. NFP, or the idea that children are a blessing, is a way of life. We didn’t plan on 8 children. But through each one, God has taught us how to love. We have 8 because we are slow learners I guess.

    • http://bit.ly/chastityrevisited nfp4life

      KaleJ- Good thing you didn’t say “method failure”! ;-)
      God bless, Linda TC #1439

  • Ed

    As a longtime NFP user and 11-year NFP sympto-thermal instructor, I can relate to many of the points made by Danielle and other commentators here.

    What seems to be missing in all of it though, is a grasp at the transcendent. We mention some terms like grace or sanctification, but do our discussions draw us to ponder more deeply the spirituality of “marital intimacy”? (I prefer this contextual term over “sex.”)

    John Paul II’s Theology of the Body serves as a constant challenge to me to strive to “see” with the eyes of “original innocence” that Adam and Eve shared when they could be “naked without shame.” Our whole frame of reference about marital intimacy and NFP would probably change dramatically if we could see with those eyes. I suspect the frustrations about charts and thermometers and TMI would quickly fade from importance if we could draw deeper into these mysteries. Wish I was there, but I’m a work in progress.

    All that being said, the benefits and positive impact of NFP on a marriage far outweigh the downsides. I’ll always be a cheerleader (with realism) for NFP.

    • yvette

      I don’t know. NFP has always been a real problem for us.

      • NFP=AWESOME

        Why is it a problem? You know, NFP teaches so many ways of regulating cycles naturally with nutrition and hormone replacement. It also supplies extra classes and books on postpartum stages during breastfeeding, etc. I feel like a lot of people commenting here is not really doing their research as well as they could be. I also want to point out that the Sympto-thermal method DOES NOT JUST RELY ON TEMPERATURE! There are other ways to determine fertility. And what is so hard about taking your temperature every morning? And what is so wrong with knowing about your body and the way it works? I mean come on, I wish some of you would open your eyes and really listen to what you are saying. Have a little bit more discipline and less whining and complaining. NFP has soooo many great things to offer when you really dive deep into it. Also, I feel like a lot of people here have not heard much about Theology of the Body. Man, once you learn about TOB, NFP just seems so much more beautiful. Everything about it goes along with how God created us and our natural rhythm. It also teaches us how to love our spouses outside of sex. It teaches us discipline and sacrifice. It gives us opportunities to strengthen ourselves and receive the graces from God to live a better and holy life. Forgive me for being to cynical, but I am really disheartened by all of these comments. I think you all need to spend more time with this is prayer. Maybe God will help you to see NFP more clearly and in a better light. IT’S REALLY NOT THAT BAD!!!

        • Theresa Bey

          I wrote my thesis on Theology of the Body and I do not see NFP as any more or less beautiful than I did before. NFP, in and of itself, is not beautiful, it is functional. Our bodies and the way we were made to use them and express ourselves and God through them is beautiful. I also think there are other ways to grow in discipline and sacrifice and to receive grace from God rather than, or other than, NFP; these things are not dependent on the use of NFP. I am currently preparing for marriage and my fiance and I have not taken any NFP classes, mainly because we maintain a long-distance relationship currently and will spend the first few months of our marriage apart (he’s in the army). I also don’t have any current reasons to use NFP–we don’t really need to wait to have children (if God so blesses us) and I know the basics of my fertility and I have no current or foreseeable health problems thus relating. I will, in the future, learn NFP in case of need or health issues. Many of my friends have learned NFP or used it to help diagnose health problems. There is much good that can result from it; however, NFP can be very difficult for some people. My best friend, for example, has always struggled with it and it can be much more of a burden to them as a couple than it is a good. The use or non-use of NFP should and does vary couple to couple and situation to situation; let’s not forget we are all made differently with different callings. NFP may not be all that bad for you, but for someone else it could be doing damage to her marital relationship.

          • NFP=AWESOME

            I’m sorry but “damage to their marital relationship”?? NFP?? Something given to us by our Church that is pro-marriage???

            I don’t think it is NFP damaging marriages, I think it is selfishness. Please people, look inside your hearts and seek the truth. NFP is not damaging marriages, society is!!!!!!!

        • http://bit.ly/chastityrevisited nfp4life

          NFP=AWESOME- Thumbs up!

          • Theresa Bey

            how can you speak for everyone? do you personally know every person on this planet and understand their inner–workings, inner struggles, weaknesses, strengths, and know God’s plan for them in detail? because that’s how it seems–like you know everything and if you’re not using NFP or it really is much more of a struggle and burden than the good coming from it then you are a bad person and a bad Catholic. get off your high horse and take a big dose of humility. but of course, maybe pride is YOUR struggle.

      • yvette

        NFP is a problem for us b/c I find it easy, but my husband does not. His temperament is such that he feels these things difficult emotionally. Technically, I have no problem with it.

    • http://thetheologyoflaundry.blogspot.com/ marissa Nichols

      Well said, Ed. Couldn’t have said it better.

    • http://commonsensecatholicism.blogspot.com Kevin Tierney

      And yet I think Ed’s comment gives weight to the problems in a nutshell.

      As far as “original innocence”, we can’t return to that. TOB doesn’t teach we can. The issue of sexuality and “naked without shame” is really not relevant to the amount of time we spend talking about intimacy. If something is discussed so casually, it is no longer “intimate.” I would say even if the fall had never occured, you would not see an “openness” in regards to the marital embrace in society. It would still have a degree of privacy towards it.

  • LAnderson

    I encourage anyone who has questions, problems, or concerns about NFP to find a doctor who understands NFP and can help with finding what is right for you and your spouse.

    If you can get to Austin, Texas, we have the Vitae Clinic which is truly amazing.
    http://www.vitaeaustin.com/

    I hope that after reading this that couples don’t get discouraged from an interest in learning NFP. It can only support a couple in loving each other and their ability to bring souls to this world.

  • Mary P.

    I DO take a bit of issue with this statement:

    “Those who find abstinence especially challenging are not bad people; it’s just part of their temperament. They struggle with purity, where others’ weaknesses might be pride, greed, or gluttony.”

    Wishing to be intimate with a beloved spouse is not the same as struggling with sins against purity.

    • BMM

      AMEN! Wanted to post a comment earlier making this point- thank you. As another commenter noted, we often forget the sprititual and emotional aspects of “marital intimacy” when talking about NFP – the longing to be united to your spouse physically, emotionally, and spiritually, is not the same as struggling with purity.

      Otherwise, GREAT piece Danielle. Many thanks :)

      • NFP=AWESOME

        Struggling with discipline is something you have to deal with in your life with God’s help and graces. It is not something you should just feel entitled to give in to. Even in marriage, we are called to be disciplined.

    • yvette

      Good point. Perhaps a struggle with “discipline” might have been better terminology?

    • Michael

      I would look at issues like that and say it is a long term process. Stay off systemic contraception (pill, IUD, patch, “the snip”, etc) and if there is good reason to postpone another child and for whatever reasons pure NFP is too difficult remember that ultimately pure NFP becomes doable after “impure” NFP. Maybe some cycles you do purely and abstain and some you “cheat”. But the beauty in the NFP system with the built-in cyclic repeating is you get another chance!

      Ultimately, usually in mid -to-late 30’s and after several children NFP more or less shines! Not yet a cake walk, but it shines.

      But you have to accept the challenge and the odyssey and learn, take steps.

  • mrd

    There are some medical facts that should be made more commonly known re NFP which make it easier to use:
    1)For the first 6 months of breast feeding, if you are not supplementing with formulae then it is very unlikely a woman will ovulate, fears of Ms Bean may have been unneccessary.

    2) Using the simple urine tests for ovulation detection ( or more precisely the LH surge prior to ovulation ) if used as a supplement to some aspects of NFP, can reliably predict ovulation with much less stress and hassle.

    3) My wife and I used such tests , a calendar, and her subjective symptoms, to use NFP, Never attended a class and have used “NFP” with relatively little stress. ( not no stress, it is not always convienent !) It probably helps that I am a physician and she was a nurse, however, neither of us was involved with Ob-GYN professionally, so I think the learning involved is achievable by anyone. To some extent the NFP community should incorporate the use of these tests into the program.

    4) One last word NFP should not be CAtholic contraception, in that the attitude is more about child spacing and not having more children than you can reasonably take care of, but we always thought if the method “failed” well God sent the child, so must know best. As it happens none of our kids were suprises, our personalized version of the method worked out fine. Some of the stress is because of the view that one must not 100% have a baby, and some of the traditional NFP teaching comparing NFP to contraception is responsible for the confusion. (Perhaps in rare cases the mom has a medical condition that really makes pregnancy a risk. In which case, using the test described above can identify a 100% safe period post ovulation )

    In most cases for seriously Catholic couples we should be generous in bringing new souls into the world, and when used in this spirit NFP is not all that hard.

    • walkeke

      I would add some real world experience to your first statement – this seems to be a popular statement banded about; however, it should always be remembered that it is an average and not one that works across the board. I have three children and ecologically/exclusively breast fed all three – My fertility returned within 8 weeks for each of the children.

      After speaking with others, I discovered that this was not unusual and, in fact, have quite a few friends who have conceived within 6 months of giving birth and were breast feeding their infants at the time.

      I would be interested to see studies that discuss the illusive 6 month – 18 month figure that is oft quoted, but not cited.

      • Maria

        I have met one woman who had a similar return of fertility to yours and it intrigues me. Yet, there are studies that show that “on average” with ecological breastfeeking fertility returns at about 18 months. I know because I participated in one such study in which I recorded EVERY FEEDING for about two years. I say this just to reassure you that people don’t make this stuff up. Still, we are each “wonderfully and fearfully” and uniquely made by God. Acceptance of this uniqueness is part of trustin in God.

        • Rebecca Balmes

          I understand that people don’t “make this stuff up”… but I’m another one whose fertility returns reliably between 8-10 weeks post partum. I wish it weren’t so! The decreasing distance between our children (4 so far) is a testament to my frustration and denial about this fact of my fertility. ;-)

          • donna

            I exclusively breastfed all of my children – and co-slept – my fertility returned by 3 months post-partum. It’s not simply a matter of refraining from formula supplements – the key is the space between feedings. If my babies did not wake for a night time feeding – my fertility would return.
            As soon as feedings are spaced more than about 4 hours apart – I don’t think you can rely on nursing to extend infertility.

      • Grace

        Did you ever struggle with milk supply? I had early-ish returns to fertility (about 6 months — and I am a complete ecological breastfeeder/long-term cosleeper, etc.), but I always struggled a bit with milk supply. With my 3rd child, my supply was so bad that I actually sought medical advice and found out that I had such low prolactin levels that I couldn’t produce enough milk for my baby. When I got my prolactin levels straightened out, I actually had amennorrhea for about 20 months postpartum.

  • Regina Olguin

    Great article. Especially #4. After our third, my husband got me to use an ovulation test and by #5, we had the system worked out. I’m not good at symptom gathering but had resisted it because one of the key experts in the U.S. had told me that LH tests shouldn’t be necessary – [see also reference to: smiling husband at 6 a.m. ]

    Oh, and somebody should come up with a boiler plate ‘and I totally accept Church teaching on contraception and have had my annual contraceptive mentality rejection review on mm/dd/yy’. You know, the kind that they tag on to your emails at work.

  • Steve

    Let me go through Mrs. Beans points:

    1) I would want to know what method she was using and if she went to an NFP doc to get herself checked out. Mucus observation is the only necessary observation (temperature is a secondary sign). Even if someone has constant mucus, they can establish a basic infertility pattern. Yes, breastfeeding can be tricky but not impossible.

    2) She’s absolutely correct. A Catholic doesn’t have to use it. However, learning the method in prep for marriage is very good, for when the kiddos start coming, later on a couple may discover the need to postpone for a serious reason. I completely understand her issue with fighting against the contraceptive mentality that has crept into so many Catholic marriages. We as teachers need to do a much better job and helping Catholics to think “generous” when getter married. Props to my wife for convicting me on this issue.

    3) The fact that the cat is out of the bag is a huge thing and there is something to be said for delicacy. Yet it does us no good to stick our head in the sand. We need to speak about these things, appropriately. We cannot stick to the ‘sexual silence,’ as Archbishop Gustavo of San Antonio, so pointedly put it, but we must proclaim the beautiful vision of love and life that God has written into our sexuality.

    4) Can’t speak too much on this, as I’m more for mucus-only observation, but I can see her point. Yet the more info that a couple can have about their fertility, the better.

    5) The fact that she admitted that she’s quasi-skittish about talking about these things (#3) helps me to understand why she “doesn’t enjoy” doing her measurements. Simply knowing about these things doesn’t decrease mystery, but actually helps us to be more in awe of how our bodies are made. In learning NFP, I’m humbled by the way my wife is designed and have learned to radically grow in my appreciation of her.

    One of her points is valid: Using abstinence in a selfish manner will be deadly to your marriage. We need to always be intentional in everything we do, and this esp. involves NFP. If we don’t have a serious reason to postpone, then perhaps we should re-examine why we’re using it.

    One thing that isn’t talked about at all is that NFP is very effective in helping couples to achieve pregnancy. We need to share this info much more, esp. because couples are getting married later and after years of contraceptive use, it can be very difficult to achieve, which is why some “good” Catholics turn to IVF.

  • Joseph

    My marriage was annulled by the Church. We did, however, have two unexpected children..practicing NFP. Without getting into too much detail, I suspected the mother-of-my-children being less than honest about NFP-related information (she desperately wanted a child) with our first, but clearly dissapointed that NFP had not served her well with our last. Discern from that what you may.
    Without venturing into the TMI-zone, there are creative things that can be done that save couples from having to sleep in seperate bedrooms for 7-10 days. I know it’s not the same, but the MAN, showing restraint, has many good effects in the area of SELF-MASTERY.
    I’ve always thought there was a bit of Divine Economy in Intimacy seeing how much Mom has to suffer during labor being somewhat equal to enjoying all that you might read in THE SONG OF SONGS for instance.
    Our Lord’s Passion has been described as a marital embrace of His Bride, The Church. Look at the four marble pillars (bed-posts) that surround The Tabernacle in any Basillica, for example.
    After His Passionate Suffering had ended, Divine Mercy exclaims, “It is consummated..”
    The Bride allurs The Bridegroom and (spiritual) children are the result. What Theology-Of-The-Body teaches is that even a well-intentioned puritanism can become the seed of pornography. Nudity abounds in Vatican Art , expressing that each part of the body, equally as Sacred as any other, but it is the intention-of-the-heart, that only God can judge, where sin festers. This is why JPII said, even in marriage, there can be lust.
    Mystery does make a woman attractive, but in the intimate embrace of married-life, one must aspire to the kind of intimacy that rejoices in KNOWING one’s spouse, second only to desire of KNOWING the MOST HIGH.
    The MOST HIGH is incomprehensible, in many ways, to our feeble intellects, but..our spouse, with whom we become one flesh, certainly is not.
    The Marital Act is The Sacrament of Matrimony, not conception, nor child-birth, or even something beautiful as nursing.
    Some things to ponder.
    God Bless.

    • http://Www.theologyofthebody.blogspot.com nfp4life

      Joseph, beautiful post. Only one concern- and if you’ve already done your homework, great. I’m not as learned, but wonder if everything you allude to in regards to the woman is permissible within marital chastity. I’d be interested to know. God bless, Linda

  • Joy

    Thanks Danielle! I’m definitely one of those people who love NFP and think it’s the best thing that’s happened to my marriage but NFP has always been very easy for my husband and I and I’m also one of those “scientist” girls that loves charting. You’ve given me a very different (and much needed) perspective on the issue. It’s important for us gung-ho NFPers to keep in mind the different ways everyone is living and struggling with merging their own will with God’s when it comes to family planning.

  • billy g

    I’m pretty sure that fertility during nursing is why God gave us the gift of oral sex. It always worked for us.

    • yvette

      this is a contraceptive act and cannot be used by Catholics in good conscience.

  • Gin

    Sometimes I just sigh and shake my head. Years ago you wrote an article about how some lady in a grocery store commented on your many children and you were admonishing your readers to have more kids, you can handle it! (Not an exact quote.) I was at a point in my life where, I couldn’t “handle” the 4 I had. I then went on to have a 5th and I couldn’t be happier to have my little guy now, but your article made me cry for days. I felt I was a bad catholic because I didn’t want any more kids. I was emotionally and physically done. Now I read about all the down sides of NFP from you. I have spent the past 10 years as a teaching couple for CCL. NFP and CCL are very dear to me. I have taken it on the chin from society for a lot of years because of my faithfulness. Yes, NFP is hard. The last thing I want to think about are all the downsides to NFP when I am teaching a new class of engaged or newly married couples. I don’t want to lead them into sin by giving them excuses to not use NFP. I don’t know why you got pregnant while breastfeeding and I am certain you wouldn’t give that child back no matter what. Something that I believe you failed to state or emphasize in your article is that it is not all about “us”. God is the creator and giver of life. God blessed you with a pregnancy when you weren’t looking for it. Maybe that was the only way HE could get your attention. My 5th baby was not a surprise, my husband and I knew we were taking a chance. It wasn’t something that I planned, but it was my decision to take that chance. My husband and I were open to life and life happened! People assume that we should have perfect control over our fertility. I have little control over other areas of my life too (job, health, weather, gas prices …). And the truth is that self control is the only control we do have with our fertility and our lives. NFP is helpful in making better decisions regarding fertility and family. I am grateful for all that I have learned about my body, the amazing way I am made, the way I can deny myself and give to my husband and to God all through NFP.

    • NFP=AWESOME

      Amen! Thank you. I’m glad someone else realized that this article was a little on the selfish side.

      • http://Www.theologyofthebody.blogspot.com nfp4life

        I second that NFP=A andGin! God bless, Linda

      • Sue from Buffalo

        I guess I disagree here. I didn’t think the article was selfish at all.

        After a certain age I took an NFP class and used it to get pregnant. If I knew years ago what I know now, we would have had more kids. We have five now and are very grateful but we still wish for more.
        (my conversion came late so…I didn’t know).

  • Famijoly

    This is a wonderful discussion stemming from a well-written column that broaches the subject of some much-needed balance on the topic of Natural Family Planning.

    My first up-close-and-personal encounter with NFP came 15 years ago when my first assignment as a priest took me to where the only (at the time) NFP instructor couple in our diocese are parishioners. They often used parish facilities (a classroom in the parochial school) for their classes, and, of course, they also traveled to give NFP instruction. I got to know them quite well and still keep up with them. I even interviewed them and did a feature story on their NFPteaching experience for our diocesan newspaper.

    They freely admit in their personal testimony that they began their marriage “on the pill” and that their first child was conceived while still “on the pill.” While the hormonal effects of the pill were already bringing about tensions in the marriage (As the wife puts it, “My poor husband didn’t know each afternoon if he was coming home to a loving wife or the Wicked Witch of the West.”), the contraception failure was what had them researching other methods. That led them to take the NFP course at Creighton and then to teach NFP. They sing the praises of NFP but also encourage balance.

    I thank God for putting that couple in my life very early in my priesthood. Their story inspires me to preach passionately and frequently on the evil of artificial contraception. But their story also helps me to avoid the temptation to regard NFP as the end all and be all for Catholic couples. The story of that couple captures the essence of what NFP is about: a method to counter the contraceptive mindset so prevalent in our society. But as has been pointed out here, even something well-intentioned like NFP can become an avenue for the contraceptive mentality as well.

    God bless you and keep you.

    • http://Www.theologyofthebody.blogspot.com nfp4life

      Dear Father Famijoly, Thank you for being open to NFP. Your courage to speak about NFP and openness to life will bless your parishioners for years to come! God bless, Linda

  • Ann

    This is a very interesting article. Please continue to write about this issue and your observations specifically. One might come away from your post with a negative take on NFP if they were not predisposed to the benefits of it already. In other words, if I didn’t understand the Church’s teachings and Theology of the Body, I might find justification in your problems with NFP to not use it. And I know that was not your intention. Even so, I think this is written very well. This is so important. The Church’s teaching on this is the only way out of our culture of death so you cannot say too much about this. The fact that you hate to write about it may mean that you need to write about it more. You know, maybe God wants you to but it isn’t what you want to do. Just something to think about.

    BTW, we all enter marriage starry eyed about one thing or another. And my guess is that no matter how NFP is presented a couple is going to find it a tough go at times or maybe even most of the time. We did not use NFP early on and that caused it’s own set of problems. My guess is that a couple is better off with unrealistic expectations regarding NFP and all the ensuing frustrations than with the problems that come from no NFP. Using NFP you had God in your corner the whole time giving you the grace to weather this struggle. Have you ever looked back at your growth over the years because of this struggle? Spiritual, mental, emotional growth? As I look back, I see that our contracepting truly hindered my growing up process. I agree that NFP is not presented well in many cases and that should change but I also think that while doing that the folks in trenches, like Daniell and her husband, should keep trying to articulate the beauty that comes from their struggle.

    Thanks and God bless you.

  • Michael D.

    I like what you said and I believe you. I married late (at 53) and in this diocese my wife and I had to take the marriage preparation classes. I’m so glad they didn’t teach NFP. How about giving grown-ups some credit and screw over-weening church bureaucracy,

  • Colleen

    Danielle, I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed and appreciate this post. #2 especially hits home for me, as many good Catholics I know refer to non-NFP users, like myself and my husband (and I’m only pregnant with baby #3!), as “irresponsible,” and tout NFP as an absolute requirement of a real Catholic marriage. It is completely contradictory to the Church’s actual teaching on procreation and the blessings of children.
    I do think it is important for people to have resources available for learning NFP if it becomes necessary for your family. However, sometimes NFP advocates try to force NFP down the throats of those who are consciously choosing to simply accept children as they come because they do NOT feel as though they have a sufficient reason to use it. It gets old. I am bookmarking this post so I can pull it out next time I hear a “good steward of your fertility” comment.
    Thank you so much.

  • http://www.sherryantonettiwrites.blogspot.com Sherry

    I think Danielle is bringing up critical points about NFP, that it isn’t easy for everyone, that for some the scientific method is either offputting or difficult because the couple is not 1) very organized or 2) very methodical or 3) very disciplined and NFP if used to space children even for the very best and most moral of reasons requires organization, methodology and discipline.

    It is not a bash of NFP to point out that this method will require something of couples and isn’t easy for everyoone. It is not a bash of NFP to point out that not every woman responds to nursing the same way, or that some women have irregular cycles, or that for some, their desire and love and passion for their spouse with the added knowledge that “it’s a baby day” makes it hard to consistently apply.

    Just as everyone knows how to live on a budget (don’t spend more than you make) or on a diet (eat less, eat healthy, exercise and get 8 hours of sleep), doesn’t mean that everyone can apply the mental and physical and emotional discipline to make this very good advice and effective method of spacing children according to ones means and family dynamics and health, without error, or without occasionally forgetting to chart or not wanting to abstain.

    The reality is NFP is a tool, and like any tool, only as effective as the one using the tool. I still would never use contraception, I have in the past and know the pain it caused our marriage, but I’m grateful to have it acknowledged that NFP still for some, not as cut and dried as classes, books and some teachers presume it to be.

    • Jenni

      I use the Creighton method. (I have miscarried 6 times before using NFP). I COMPLETLY understand the need to be scientific. But the idea that if you are just diligent it will work. Is just not always right, even my Creighton trained physician is a little stumped with what is going on with my cycle.
      While I understand that we as a Church want to provide new couples with an understanding of Church teaching. I don’t think we overcome the contraception mentallity by saying use NFP to space.
      Thank you Danielle for writing the difficult that many of us have been saying in our discussions with our spouses for years.

  • Blake Helgoth

    This is a much needed article. Three more points I would make: 1) The way NFP is taught by most does not seem to take into account that marital intimacy was designed by God to renew couples and provide a glue that bonds them together. Often, health, other family concerns or just the family schedule prevent couple from coming together in marital intimacy on the non fertile days. Does that mean they should abstain for multiple weeks, or even months at a time? That would certainly be unhealthy for a marriage, unless an unusual grace was given. That is one of the problems that I see with NFP, it makes abstaining out to be virtuous when sexual union between spouses is meant to renew their marital covenant. It is a holy act! Abstaining should, therefore, only be practiced for a very serious reason, if a couple desires a healthy marriage. 2) My wife and I discovered that using NFP seemed to allow (or cause) a contraceptive mentality to slip into our marriage. It was the ‘oh no, we might conceive,’ factor. Even the little charts use red stickers for fertile days. 3) NFP implies that couples can have whatever number of children they want whenever they want, ‘oh, we will wait 2 or 3 years and then have 5 children.’ Well, what happens if you wait until you are in your 30’s and then find you have difficulty conceiving, a spouse become very ill, or you have trouble caring a child to term? What happens if you wait and then one of your children or a spouse, God forbid, dies early? We have no idea what the future holds for us and it is very presumptuous to think you can plan out your life and your family as you would an annual budget. NFP seems to give one the illusion that they control their own destiny.

    • NFP=AWESOME

      NFP does not only recognize that sex is a holy act made by a husband and a wife, it PREACHES IT! And yes, it is very unfortunate when a couple has to abstain in the infertile period due to illness, etc. but that allows the couple to find other ways to love each other. And NFP DOES recognize that abstaining is HARD (as noted in the recent edition of Family Foundations – a magazine put out by the Couple to Couple League of Natural Family Planning). It also recognized that we MUST have self-control and discipline in our lives, even in marriage. NFP does not imply that you can have whatever number of children when you want, it totally implies that it is up to GOD always. However, it does teach us to recognize that God put a natural rhythm into a woman’s body for a reason. We are called to recognize that and use it when there is a serious reason we do not feel called or ready to bear a child.

      • Jenni

        “but that allows the couple to find other ways to love each other.” That is exactly the NFP mentality of which I was speaking. Marital intimacy is a much higher good. It is not a lack of self control and discipline that causes us to ‘fall’ into this act. The act is holy an the desire for the holy is not concupiscence. What about the point I made about marital intimacy providing a glue to hold a couple together? Why is it viewed a good to try and live a marriage without this glue? And, yes, technically, you are leaving it up to God with NFP, but you are really only leaving Him a small window if He chooses to act through it. It just seems that NFP ought not be the norm. Did God create marriage to be lived this way? I do not see any evidence of that, but He does allow it.

        • Blake Helgoth

          The previous post was made by me, not my wife. Sorry. I forgot to change the user that outomatically popped up.

        • NFP=AWESOME

          How about you go and look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church and stop saying I, I, I. You do not know better than the church.

          Quote straight from the Catechism speaking about the love of husband and wife:

          2362 “… At the same time, spouses should know how to keep themselves within the limits of just moderation.”

          2368 “A particular aspect of this responsibility concerns the regulation of procreation. For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood.”

          2370 “Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality…”

          There is so much beauty and greatness in what the church teaches – if only we would read it and trust it instead of trusting our own flawed, selfish desires and opinions.

          • fiestamom

            NFP=Awesome. I am going to try to say this in charity. I wish you and others like you would try to see how your attitude might be off-putting to young married couples, or an
            “old” married couple like me. (married 20 years). NFP has been difficult for my husband and I for some reasons listed here by Danielle, and other reasons as well.

            Teaching NFP must be a difficult job in this day and age, given where our society is at. On the other hand, judgmental attitudes and/or cheerleading may come across the wrong way to people.

            20 years ago, at our Pre-Cana class, we had a sincere couple, who were way to corny, and sunny about how NFP worked. A little honesty, and reality about the difficult parts would have been nice. It’s almost as if the PreCana teachers don’t “admit” the difficult parts of NFP to engaged couples, b/c they want it to seem “easy.” young people today are savvy, and a little cynical, so it’s better to be honest.

            Listing off parts of the catechism to people who struggle with NFP isn’t very charitable.

          • NFP=AWESOME

            Fiestamom,

            I am not quoting the Catechism to be uncharitable to those struggling with NFP. I am defending the fact that NFP is encouraged by the Church. If it was really there to harm marriages like so many people claim, I believe that our Church and all it’s wisdom would surely not place it in our Catechism. I agree that NFP is a struggle, I KNOW! But there are so many ways to deal with those struggles and that is a part of NFP – they are not separated. God Bless you that NFP is hard for you – what a grace! Anything good in life is never easy. God allows us to go through hard things so that HE can give us graces and help us through them. NFP is not the problem here, it is the selfish mentality that is the problem. If someone came to me and said that they struggled with NFP, I would do everything I could to give them suggestions that would help them to work through those problems. However, I would never say, “Oh, just ditch NFP if it’s that hard.” The truth is there, no matter how hard it is, you should not abandon it. There are ways to work through issues, it just depends on how bad you want to work through them. Where there is a will, there is a way. Call on the grace of God!!

      • dozendelights

        How do you know when you are called to bear a child?

  • Ken

    I successfully avoided any “NFP” class during my pre-Cana instruction and still have absolutely ZERO interest in knowing how to prevent children, novus ordo Catholic style.

    • cali k.

      What a judgemental attiutude, let me guess, you’re still somewhat newly married and have life and marriage all figured out, right? I have 9 children and have been married 21 years, life gets tough and thank God we have the NFP option. You can’t be holier then the Church, Ken. It is an option that holy Mother Church approves of for circumstances I hope you in your utopian world never have to face.

      I would love to have more, I am only 38 and my arms ache for more but I don’t think that will ever be.

      • Ken

        I love when liberals scold others for being “judgemental” in the above manner.

        • cali k.

          Liberal? SAH/Homeschooling/mother of 9, seriously?

          The NO is an approved Mass and NFP is approved for couples who need to use it.

          The word protestant comes to mind here, always “protesting” what the Church teaches in Her wisdom.

          • yvette

            I do think we need to realise that NFP is there for our weakness (so we don’t have to abstain completely).

            Although I attend the NO myself, Ken has a point.

            We need to read and re-read Danielle’s article here.

        • fiestamom

          So Ken, do you look at families in your church and if there are only 2 children you judge and assume they use contraception or NFP? How nice to know!

          • Ken

            Um, no, fiestamom. But thanks for assuming the worst — very open-minded of you.

            Can we discuss and debate the actual issue instead of all the straw men arguments and catty personal allegations, ladies?

          • yvette

            Well, personally, I don’t judge particular couples, but I do judge parishes/communities. Nothing wrong with that.

          • Maria

            Ken, you’re the one who made the “novus ordo Catholic style” comment. So now you want to debate the “actual issue”? People in glass houses….

    • Lisa S.

      Quoting Deanna below: “Try the Creighton Method. Even though you may always have mucus, it may not be fertile mucus. It’s based on billings but more accurate and gives you fewer days of abstinence. One cannot simply be fertile endlessly. Again, yes, you may constantly have mucus, but it is not always fertile.”

      It’s all about the mucus — join the fun!

    • M C

      Tell that the couple where the wife may die or suffer serious physical harm from another pregnancy. Catholics in the developed world forget about the reality of high rates of maternal death in developing countries. In some places, 1 in 10 pregnancies lead to death.

      Or tell that to the couple where the wife developed severe mental illness that can only be controlled through significant medication – but that same medication will in all likelihood greatly harm a child in utero. Even if the wife can handle being off of medication through a pregnancy, the stress of a large family can induce psychotic states.

      It is just incredible easy to say ‘don’t worry about having children’ until you’ve learned something about the trials faced by real human beings.

      • Kate B.

        Thanks for speaking up for those of us with mental health issues.

  • Kate

    I think I liked you before this article, but I love you now!!

  • Penguins Fan

    I have a different perspective about NFP. I saw it as a tremendous aid. NFP can be used as a tool to determine the most fertile time for a woman and in that sense, my wife and I were able to use NFP to conceive.

    I admit to having none of the negative experiences highlighted by others. My wife and I have had other crosses to bear not involved with NFP.

    • yvette

      Yes, and that’s important to remember. Really, life is hard for everyone.

  • Mary

    I do think that environmental factors have altered women’s systems a bit since the 60’s and 70’s. Whether it’s estrogen-like pesticides, or the pill runoff in the water, or dietary differences, we have gone from a population that, like those taught in the Third World, did well on Billings alone, to a population that has hormonal variations that need a megacomputer to analyze. I am wondering if this is the case around the world.

    Still and all, as one who had fertile symptoms during long breastfeeding times, one learns to distinguish when one has to, but total abstention means one does not try the “possibly infertile” days and so does not learn that yes, they were infertile, and yes, you are reading that subtle sign correctly.

  • Ann

    I’m like you–signs of fertility immediately after delivery even with total breastfeeding. I understand what it is like to feel like fertility can be a “curse”. We had 7 children in 9 1/2 years and people would be astonished if they knew t how much we abstained over the years!!

    That being said, I have learned over the years that the begetting of children is so much more about trust in God’s perfect plan for our lives rather than control. At the same time, the Lord asks us to use our common. I find it difficult when I see good Catholics who believe that we should “close our eyes” since “God knows the perfect number”. I have seen good Catholic women immersed in guilt because they have 4 children under 5 and are totally exhausted and feel they need a break and somehow “if they were REALLY holy”, they’d be thrilled to have another one on the way. I’ve seen husbands upset with their wives’ “lack of holiness” because they wanted to postpone a conception for a while. I’ve seen families with so many children they are at poverty level who think God is saying to them to have more. It is one thing if in these situations a couple is trying not conceive per the Church’s acceptable methods and, through difficulty in abstaining–and I KNOW what that is–,conceive another child. God will look out for them. To deliberately conceive in these circumstances seems irresponsible to me, and I’ve seen it lead to marital difficulties and divorce more than once. This “chosen blindness” gives such a bad name to both large families and NFP alike, unfortunately.

    • cali k.

      Ann,

      I have read and reread your comment, you have nailed it perfectly.

      ” I have seen good Catholic women immersed in guilt because they have 4 children under 5 and are totally exhausted and feel they need a break and somehow “if they were REALLY holy”, they’d be thrilled to have another one on the way”

      From experience, as a practicing, orthodox Catholic, which I consider myself to be,we can easily get caught up in the extremes of the Faith. I think the devil knows he will never convince me to say, knock off a bank but, he can tempt me to live my Faith in an extreme way, thus, eventually exhausting a pious soul and leaving it disillusioned by leading a counter-cultural life.

      Children are a blessing! I have nine beautiful ones and I am so thankful for them everyday, but our circumstances have become so dire (poverty level, lost house due to economy, etc, etc) that to conceive another child right now would beyond my physical, emotional and spiritual strength. It makes me sad but thankful for the merciful grace of God to provide this option that His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church has approved of.

      I see so much of this extremism in the orthodox circle, NFP vs. Providential (leave the number up to God) wearing skirts only(sola skirtula) only vs. wearing pants, to wear a veil vs. not to wear a veil, homeschooling vs. the orthodox Catholic school, and on and on. The Church is balanced and reasonable, She will not force onto her children demands that will burden. Each family, each couple, needs to determine what God is calling that family to do. Just as there are Dominicans and Franciscans with different spiritualities, so each family has to live out their own unique plan God has for them.

      • Pat

        Ann and Cali, I agree with you. I used to be one of those moms who would feel guilty and cry because I only had 2 kids. Just because some parents have the means and the emotional strength to raise 10 kids doesn’t mean that the rest of us are all less holy. We are all different, we fight different battles.

        It is is easy to judge people like me, who practice NFP with the intention of not having more kids. I see how NFP can be used for the same purpose of a condom but I guess is less “evil” because it is the Church’s option for all of those who have decided not to have another baby for a SERIOUS reason. Only God knows what is in people hearts and their real struggles, and anybody judging their neighbor should be worrying about other aspects of the Faith, like humility and charity.

        I have seen severe poverty in South America, families that were not able to support their kids and had to beg for food and shelter. It is easy for us to say that “God knows the perfect number” but since this is a broken world maybe we are left with the pain of figuring out what we can honestly deal with. If the “God knows the perfect number” theory was true, then kids would all be taken care of everywhere in the world but we know that is not true. In this broken world, we have to do our best to listen to God and use the free will and intelligence he gave us to do what we honestly consider responsible.

  • Celine Ryan

    I think that the people who are drawn to teaching NFP are the ones for whom it has been a blessing in their marriage. If more of the couples who struggle with it were to become teachers, it could go a long way toward avoiding misconceptions about what it is like to practice NFP in a marriage.

  • Mom of Seven

    “I have heard it argued that we need to talk about these things, that it’s beautiful and holy to talk about Catholic sex, and that we should “have no shame” in discussing such matters. But I say it is beautiful and holy, and that’s exactly why we should have some shame, particularly in public settings. By “shame” I mean proper reverence, respect, and discretion for what is a sensitive, sacred, and yes ,very private topic.”

    Amen! If only more of your fellow authors grasped the notion of privacy in regard to marital intimacy. There is actually a book out there by a Catholic author called” Holy Sex! — a guide to Toe-curling,Mind-blowing, Infallible Lovemaking” …Toe-curling? Gag, gag, and double gag! I can’t get past that adjective to even wonder what the heck he means by infallible.

  • Jennifer

    I am currently in the process of writing an NFP article for my church’s quarterly newsletter! So I enjoyed reading Danielle’s article and agree that NFP is not easy for everyone. As I read her article and all the comments, however, I see faithful Catholics all trying to follow the Church’s teaching in this area. This is NOT the typical Catholic. I think much of NFP teaching is trying to reach people who aren’t necessarily open to placing their fertility entirely in God’s hands. There are many couples who are using NFP where one spouse is not too happy about it. As I say in my article, when I first got married, I thought the Catholic Church’s teaching on this was archaic, so I got on the pill. I wound up with a re-version a few years later and knew that I was not following the Church’s teaching on this. My husband and I took a class but we were real iffy on the whole thing for the first few years….even though I’m what Danielle calls that ‘scientific’ type who carefully charted (my husband NEVER shook the thermometer once, I may add). I basically replaced ABC with NFP. I bet MANY Catholics start off like that. (When I say many, I mean many of the precious few who even consider NFP.) It took years before I really understood that NFP was not Catholic birth control. I stopped charting shortly thereafter and felt so much more at peace. But, honestly, there was precious little guidance on this from within my church. My husband and I were the blind leading the blind.

    My point? I don’t think you’re going to get the average Catholic in the pew to go from ABC to nothing. It is totally foreign to them. We are a generation that has been catechized by the evening news.

    How do we turn these tides? How do we present NFP to those who think it’s crazy? If we tell them all the shortcomings, will they walk away entirely?

    Danielle … I always enjoy your articles, honesty and sense of humor. God bless you.

  • Mike

    My ex-wife and I used NFP. She said felt rejected because of the lack of sex, lack of spontaneity, taking her temperature in her vagina seemed weird to her. She became distant and wanted to have sex more often. She had an affair with another man and divorced me. She has been married to him for 16 years now. That’s what NFP did for me.

    • Deanna

      The woman is not supposed to take her temperature like that. It’s not in the literature.

    • yvette

      Your ex-wife is a selfish b*tch and that’s all there is to it. She will probably go to Hell. I say this as someone who is suffering in a way very like you and who certainly acknowledges the very real strain that NFP can place on the emotional well-being of one or both spouses. Yes, I recognise the troubles of NFP, but that is no reason for a husband or wife to leave a marriage. We make vows for a reason.

      NFP is a “stressor” to marriage, but so is complete abstinence and so are children. “Birth control” does not seem to relieve anything, however, b/c all those people are trashing their marriages too.

      Selfishness is what causes divorce.

      I will now pray for your ex-wife and for you.

  • MamaBear

    I’m in the same boat with you, Danielle, on the post-partum ALL-THE-TIME fertile signs. My husband and I might as well be celibates at this rate. After 4 very difficult c-sections and scary, painful and lengthy recoveries, we just don’t feel that we can “take the risk”. So, we’ve been abstaining for the better part of a year.

    I think that monitors are the future of NFP, and I hope and pray that they become more accurate and widespread. I’ve been told (by more than one post-partum mother) that they don’t work. I’m scared to even try one, but I’d sure love to hear from others what their experiences have been like with monitors in the post-partum period.

    • Deanna

      Try the Creighton Method. Even though you may always have mucus, it may not be fertile mucus. It’s based on billings but more accurate and gives you fewer days of abstinence. One cannot simply be fertile endlessly. Again, yes, you may constantly have mucus, but it is not always fertile.

    • http://tenwhitsonsandcounting.blogspot.com/ Carrie

      I’ve wondered why you can’t use the fertility monitor in addition to the charting that goes along with the Creighton (or any method). To me it would help me better id my fertile days. I just need to take the time to do it. I think there is a new method out there, Marquette model that is trying to do this.

      • Grace

        Thanks for mentioning the Marquette model! I know many people it would be helpful for!

  • Nic

    Fabulous. Someone is saying what I have been feeling. I’m so frustrated! I’m a nursing mom of 2 who is trying to make sense of her “basic infertile pattern.” I think the guilt we feel comes from not wanting people to be turned off to the NFP method. I want my friends to believe in it. But I’m afraid to tell them how hard it is, for fear that they’ll stick with the pill when they realize how hard it can be. But if I’m being honest, part of what is so hard is I’m not a very disciplined person. I’m lazy and spontaneous. I forget to fill in my chart sometimes. I forget to pay attention to the fertile signs. So, if I was more careful, it probably wouldn’t seem so difficult. Ironically, I thought I was infertile for a couple of years after we got married. Then I conceived. Now I’m afraid I’m too fertile. We humans will never be happy with what God gives us, will we? Interestingly, this showed up on the NYT website tonight: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/09/us/09beliefs.html?_r=1&smid=tw-nytimes&seid=auto

    Sad.

    • MLT

      So very sad!!

  • yvette

    Very refreshing, Danielle. Part of the problem is that NFP is put as an alternative to contraception, so already a contraceptive mentality is assumed. I do think Catholics would be better served by the reality check that before “effective” contraception and the lovely backup of abortion on demand as a kind of way of life, people of all religions and none were in the position of having babies because they were married and having sex. When couples found they could no longer look after any more children, they abstained and that’s all they could do (morally). Really, this is how things have always been and the only things “effective” contraception has brought are unrealistic expectations (eg the two-kid no-mess family) and an horrendous abortion rate (which masks the actual ineffectiveness of contraception).

    So, instead of straining to convert contraception users, NFP promoters need to be more blunt about reality.

  • yvette

    Also, the “You deserve it” lifestyle of eating, sleeping and having fun as the core activities of modern life do not help anyone. People with lots of little kids need to be told (before they marry) that life is hard and people really need to work hard. Really hard. I know if people had taught me this kind of thing, our marriage would have suffered a lot less.

  • yvette

    Danielle, really, this was a desperately needed article. I hope it gets wider exposure.

  • http://thetheologyoflaundry.blogspot.com/ marissa Nichols

    Danielle, it’s a pleasure to discover your post! I just have a few question about the five points which I hope you can clarify.
    Point 1: Well taken. Post-partum time seems to be a very confusing time physically for every woman. I feel we really need more ‘warning’ or support for going through this time as NFP practitioners. I’m just a little curious about this:
    “I went into marriage all starry-eyed about how NFP was going to be an aid to our communication…and then wound up sad, lonely, and wondering what was wrong with me and my marriage when NFP seemed not only to be interfering with the way I wanted to mother my children, but actually hurting my relationship with my husband on occasion.”
    I totally sympathize with loneliness in marriage, but can you perhaps strengthen the link between how the practice of NFP was the root of the interference you felt with mothering and spousal relationship (if it is not too personal, of course)?
    Point 2: You’re right, it’s not mandatory, nor should it be taught as such. Is it therefore more a case that you dislike how NFP is portrayed (vs. NFP itself)?
    Point 3:You write: “By “shame” I mean proper reverence, respect, and discretion for what is a sensitive, sacred, and yes ,very private topic.” Of course we don’t want to be obtuse about any bodily functions, but could you perhaps elaborate a bit what a more proper setting for discussing such topics would look like? Women speaking about their fertility with other women seems appropriate, and couples speaking with couples is format of the couple-to-couple league foundation. Is it just discreetness that you feel needs be present? IN which case, I agree wholeheartedly!
    Point 4: You write:” In the best of worlds, the practice of NFP should be about couples acquiring information about their fertility and then using that information to make decisions about their family size. Communicating about that information is a separate issue and does not need to be part of the method itself. ” Call me mis-informed, but I thought communication was one of the main aspects of NFP exactly to foster the dialogue of both family size and monthly cycle. And so I’m a little confused about this point: do you see communication as essential to NFP and visa versa or just something extra? Or something else entirely?
    Point 5: I echo earlier commentors’ concerned sentiments regarding the following statement:”It should also be noted (but too seldom is!) that some of us are better at abstaining than others. Those who find abstinence especially challenging are not bad people; it’s just part of their temperament. They struggle with purity, where others’ weaknesses might be pride, greed, or gluttony.” Wouldn’t it seem that NFP is most beneficial especially to those who struggle with purity?
    And, if I may just ask the following:
    I was just wondering why the practice of any method if you don’t love it? Why not just throw yourself totally on God’s will? He never disappoints! But for sufficiently serious reasons, I’m grateful there’s a natural, moral option. How about you? Are there things about NFP you are grateful for?

  • Petrusca

    It is true, as Ms. Bean points out, that not everybody functions in the same way, and hence NFP does not work equally well for everybody. This is a point that I can’t recall having ever been mentioned even once in the classes that my wife and I took shortly after getting married. The literature and in-class instruction all seemed to be sending the message that making NFP work is simply a matter of following directions. We are currently expecting our sixth child, and the last three pregnancies can be called “surprises”. In each case, signs either never appeared in any evident way or they appeared after conception had already taken place (in one case, there was no indication that cycles had resumed after the birth of one child before we were pregnant with the next, despite the breastfeeding). The timing and magnitude of the signs prior to ovulation varies widely among women, and this is something that couples learning NFP should be taught more explicitly. We have really come to resent it when the response to this is along the lines of “Send me your charts! I’ll help you to interpret them!” This isn’t a problem of charting at all, but of recognizing accurately what signs should be indicated on a chart.

    Second, I agree with what has been said above about the misrepresentation (even if well-intentioned) of the legitimacy of NFP. In the diocese-sponsored classes we took, no mention was made that I can recall of the criteria issued by the Church (discussed above) for determining if the use of NFP is legitimate. Rather, we felt that we were being told that – of course! – we would always be using it except for those rare times when we would be looking to conceive a child. To me, it is a serious matter when those who are teaching NFP on behalf of the Catholic Church further (even if unwittingly) encourage the “contraceptive mentality” by teaching NFP classes as if NFP is simply “Catholic contraception” and is always legit to use.

    Finally, I thank Ms. Bean for what she said about differences in temperaments being important. My wife and I both tend to be melancholic in temperament, and hence are prone to anxiety about decision-making, especially when it is “high-stakes”. During those times between pregnancies when we have tried using NFP, we have both found our stress levels rising considerably. She is primarily responsible, naturally, for reading her signs, but they are often very unclear in her case. Signs don’t always fall into neat categories as we were led to believe in our classes! Hence, she feels an immense amount of pressure upon her to make a correct observation about her signs (something that NFP promoters often misrepresent as usually being an easy, straightforward task), and the lack of clarity makes her apprehensive. Then, when she and I talk about those signs, we’re often very unsure what, if anything, those signs mean and are afraid of making the “wrong” decision, whatever that may be. We have come to find the claim that NFP enhances communication in a marriage to be a bit amusing. Sure, we talk rather freely with each other our bodies and sex, which NFP by its nature encourages, but so much of that communication is of a kind that tends to acccompany a panic attack, and hence is not something that we enjoy. I have to remind myself at times like those that failing to use NFP successfully or properly is NOT a sin or failure on our part! And, of course, there is the matter of making observations to begin with. When you have a bunch of small kids in the house needing care and attention, you can’t always observe signs properly. Sometimes, she gets woken up quickly and at an odd time in the morning, before she has a chance to take her temperature. And, in the usual daily chaos (of our five kids already born, the oldest is six!), it is easy to forget to monitor or check signs at recommended times.

    We support NFP as something that, if used in appropriate situations, is a tool that Our Lord gives us to help us make prudent decisions. However, my wife and I have become rather tired of the extra anxiety it has added to our lives as well as the condescension and lack of understanding on the part of some of its promoters, well-meaning though they may be. We’ll give it another try after our newest addition is born, but I must say that we have become considerably less-enthused about it over the years.

  • Suzie Q

    Just a word of encouragement to anyone who has had difficulty with constant mucus or with interpreting post-partum breastfeeding stuff. Take ALL the data you can: Mucus, temp, cervix, and spring for the ClearBlue Fertility Monitor if you possibly can.

    It seems like different symptoms are more useful for different women at different stages of their reproductive lives. Now in my late 30s, I haven’t used my thermometer in years, and rely a lot more on the cervix during the breastfeeding/postpartum ambiguity. This is also my first baby where I’ve had the monitor, and appreciate having that additional data point. In my early 20s, though (can’t speak to the monitor because I didn’t have it) the temperature was what gave me the assurance to know I was “reading” everything else right. Go with what gives you the most useful information, even if it’s not one specific textbook method.

  • http://archaeologycatmusings.blogspot.com/ Archaeologycat

    Haven’t read all the comments – anyway, I agree with most of what you’ve said. Regarding your first point, I think that’s where women should be aware of the various methods, because I think some fit some women better than others. I pretty much rely on ecological breastfeeding, but also (halfway) chart with Billings. What I love about Billings is that the mucus observations are subjective, so what may be classed as “fertile” mucus in one method might not be in Billings, if it’s an unchanging pattern. Thus why it’s good to have an instructor.

    Disclosure – I am a Billings instructor, but I do not think everyone must use NFP. As I said, I only halfway chart myself, because I don’t see it as necessary for us to fully chart when I’m doing ecological breastfeeding. I also think we (NFP instructors) do people a disservice if we paint NFP as all lollipops and rainbows instead of giving the full picture. It can be incredibly frustrating, especially when breastfeeding (after my first, we charted religiously during breastfeeding, and I became quite bitter about it at times, to be honest).

  • http://commonsensecatholicism.blogspot.com Kevin Tierney

    I think there’s one thing that has always perplexed me a bit. Now I might be speaking from ignorance. I’m a single (though hopefully soon to be married) Catholic bachelor.

    Whenever I hear talk about “responsible parenting”, I always wonder: When did the measure of a responsible parent go from a discussion about having one kid or ten, from making sure the quality of the raising of those children, whether one or ten?

    • Dawn

      Great point, Kevin.

    • Maria

      Not sure I understand your comment exactly, but Humanae Vitae definitely talks about the responsibility of educating the child, not just having them. I was one of ten very closely spaced children. We were, by necessity, emotionally neglected much of the time. It didn’t have to be that way, and I certainly don’t want that for my children.

  • Sophie

    NFP- the charts and the mucus and the thermometers! oh my! For anyone who is struggling with this, and feeling like its a bit too mechanized, and a bit bizarre (I never could get past ‘observing my mucus’). AND I never thought it fostered the kind of communication I actually want in my marriage (a little mystery is a good thing)….
    Consider a method called CycleBeads. Its a very simple inexpensive, visual tracking device.
    As long as your cycle is regular, it is very reliable for determining likely times begin or avoid a pregnancy.
    Although it relies on a larger window of fertile days, I’ve just found it to be a whole lot more user-friendly and therefore more effective than other methods of NFP.

  • Dawn

    Among non-contracepting Catholics, (and aside from couples struggling with the heavy cross of infertility), there seems to me two basic camps: those who use NFP, with all its frustrations, to space children and those who chose not to use it at all.

    Among the former, I think the problems are pretty well-known and more discussed: instructors painting too rosy a picture, a contraceptive mentality, the struggles to track and interpret signs, struggles with abstinence . . .

    Among the non-NFPers (Providentialists?), the problems seem to be a holier-than-thou attitude, or a husband who refuses to practice any abstinence even when prudence would dictate that he should (overwhelmed wife, children in need of a little more parental attention). This is especially apparent when a husband, who refuses to practice any self-control wrt sex, is allowed to turn this selfishness into a form of generosity or a matter of faith, ie, “we’re always open to life” or “we trust in God to decide our family size.”

    • http://www.bannonoceanart.com bill bannon

      Dawn
      Your last point is well taken. According to WIKI citing the World Health org., 6 million children die each year from starvation. That means that God is not providing physically in their cases for them though I believe He is compensating each one of them spiritually. Here in the US, runaways can survive on discarded restaurant food or the dumpster at Dunkin Donuts. Africa does not have that in the bush. Right now African women with many children often make the decision to leave one to die in order to handle the others as shown on the BBC news this week.

    • Blake Helgoth

      Um, I don’t know about your marriage, but it seems that life itself provides plenty of opportunity to practice abstinence in Marriage.

  • Jen

    My husband and I have practiced NFP for all four years of our marriage using mucous observation only. We have found this knowledge and the times of abstinence a great blessing and aid to our marriage and growth in virtue.

    This article helps to provide the realistic picture that periodic abstinence doesnt solve all your problems. But I also think we should make even more of an effort to praise the teaching of the church on responsible and generous parenthood which often includes periodic abstinence. We should be careful that when we are criticizing certain poor methods of teaching or viewing NFP we dont discredit NFP itself (especially in this day in age where confusion over and criticism of church teaching on sexuality is all to common).

  • Recovering Feminist

    There is one discussion item that seems to be avoided by the Church, priests, married couples and others. That discussion item lacks clarity even in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I know of more Catholic families than not who practice NFP contraception–that is–they think that having 2 children is following the Teachings of the Catholic Church, as long as they use NFP or abstinence, citing the “need” for their children to enjoy vacations, material goods, etc. Their response is that they would have been “happy” with three, but their objective was not to have more than two children. When the Catechism is cited, especially as it relates to selfishness: CCC 2368 “…It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. …” Those that use NFP for “natural” contraception also cite the Catechism that states that married couples: CCC 2368 “…For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. …” As you may guess, “just reasons” is not clearly defined in any Magisterial Teachings of the Catholic Church that I can find. If “just reasons” is Magisterially defined somewhere, please let me know. Oremus!

    • http://www.bannonoceanart.com bill bannon

      RF
      I think it’s great that it’s not defined. This way people can’t judge others….as one lady noted above about her friends judging that she was using ABC due to spacing of her children. Economic circumstances for many in the future will not be so much about vacations but about actually having any money for old age if social security vanishes….after paying astronomical bills for Universities.
      We now have 9.2% unemployment in the U.S. North Carolina used to be the heart of the furniture business until
      most manufacturers moved large segments of their
      manufacturing to China. If young people want to retire prior to 70, they are going to have to save a large amount especially if medical insurance replaces medicare for them.

      • Blake Helgoth

        Bill,

        It seems that you do not put much stock in divine providence. Did you know that St. Mother Teresa use to throw out every thing they had at the end of the day so that they had to rely on God for the following day? Oh, many saints did the same thing. What did Jesus say about storing up your treasures? I am not trying to be judgemental, just point out some errors in you your thinking.

        • http://www.bannonoceanart.com bill bannon

          Blake
          No, a proper understanding of Providence would then be able to explain why 6 million children die every year of starvation. Can you do that explanation without saying that 5 year olds in Africa dying with flies on their face have failed to trust God?

        • http://www.bannonoceanart.com bill bannon

          PS Blake,
          I don’t believe the Mother Teresa anecdote at all.
          To waste in order that God must supply you tomorrow is the sin of tempting God which Christ would not do when Satan told Him to fling Himself from the parapet because scripture had foretold that the angels would support Him lest He dash His foot on a stone. Hence Christ ended by saying Mt.4:7 ” You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”
          For example, it could be that St. Joseph being older (or sickly) than Mary and passing away prior to Cana made very little money because otherwise he and Mary may have adopted 4 children or 7. But were that the case, Mary would not have needed John to
          be her support after Christ died when Christ told both to be each other’s son and mom. So the Holy Family was small and could have been big if Joseph were making more income. He may have made so little that adopting would have been tempting the Lord.

        • http://www.bannonoceanart.com bill bannon

          PS 2
          Mother Teresa throwing good things away also contradicts John 6:12 where after the miracle of the two fish and three loaves, Christ commits against wasting:
          “When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.”

          • http://bit.ly/chastityrevisited nfp4life

            Bill- A holy priest told me that “nothing will be wasted” has to do with care in handling the Eucharist.

          • bill bannon

            lol….and the fish? That’s a priest missing a detail.

  • Mouse

    Well, I hope this doesn’t sound critical, because I think you are great! I just want to say that I would prefer to see an article that was a little more positive, whereas this article, to me, seems to have kind of a negative tone, starting with the headline. Not that it’s wrong to speak honestly about some of the difficulties with using NFP, but I’m thinking of the many readers who are not on board with Church teaching. To those readers, I fear that the article may come off as “excuses not to try NFP” or validation of their excessive fears about trying it. Catholics desperately need a gentle hand to say, “You don’t have to be so afraid, you really can be faithful even though it can sometimes be tough. Overall, it’s a real blessing. It’s worth it.”

    We should all know that it is worth any kind of hassle to avoid sin, but that’s a grace… I think a little tweaking could create an article that is honest but also contains more encouragement to souls that need to be converted out of the contraceptive mentality. So many people read your posts that it would be a real service to the Church! If you get what I mean.

    • yvette

      At this point, I think it’s more important to assist the people who are trying to practice Church teaching faithfully. Honesty about real difficulties helps. Because they are really trying to overcome their selfishness etc and trying to live a life of virtue – unlike their contracepting co-religionists – they deserve more help IMO.

      • Jane

        Yvette,
        I think this is a very natural human reaction. However, what do you think Jesus would say to this attitude? I can’t really see the God who said to leave the 99 sheep and go in search of the 1 lost sheep agreeing to focus all his efforts on the righteous. This is, after all, the God who said he came not to save the righteous, but to save sinners.

        • yvette

          yes, fair point, but I don’t see, in any case, how sugar coating the difficulties associated with NFP will help those coming off the pill either, dan you?

          It’s the rose-coloured glasses Danielle is taking issue with and so do I.

          If we were just honest with young people prior to marriage about the fact that marriage can be a really difficult thing and that includes the times where sex is not going to happen (including such times as in a severe illness etc) then people would be better prepared going into marriage. Instead, we’re fed a diet of rom-coms and some fairly lite marriage prep.

  • Mary

    I might have missed it but are you talking about the Ovulation method or the Sympto-Thermal method of CCL?

    If the CCL method I would say I agree with the complaints.

    Things for us were much better when we needed to space out our children and switched to the Billings Ovulation method. But around here, to say anything bad about CCL is verboten. No one says anything bad about CCL or it might seem like you’re not a good Catholic!

    • http://archaeologycatmusings.blogspot.com/ Archaeologycat

      I think it’s sad that there are sometimes what I call “NFP wars”. Let me be clear that I’m not accusing you or anyone commenting here of that, but I’m commenting on what you said about how criticising one method is “verboten”. There’s been quite a lot of tension between Billings and Creighton, for example. Personally, I think it’s great that we have various methods so women can choose what works best for their bodies and their personalities. I teach Billings, but I will refer people to a friend who teaches STM if they want that instead.

  • Sam

    Thank you Danielle, especially for the part about bringing sanity to the whole mucus description discussions. I was at an NFP education meeting last year for seminarians and was overwhelmed by the extensive descriptions by a woman of her mucus. There is not enough talk about keeping the sacred – sacred. I attribute it to the effect of some of Christopher West’s loose discussions of human sexuality. -God bless.

  • Anon777

    Danielle, thank you. You said much that needed to be said, especially about the lack of shame anymore. The things that are discussed on Catholic fora are disgraceful; I would be timid in discussing 90% of this with my priest let alone put it out there for all to read and comment on. And Sam is right on – Christopher West and his offensive, distasteful and sinful presentations have done more harm than good.

    Regarding NFP, I don’t think much of it. I say just go with nature and, if there is a serious reason to watch your fertility periods, then use it. Otherwise, it is too invasive a method and is known to harm relationships rather than enhance them. They don’t tell you this in the books, lectures and radio/television shows, but I have know not a few couples that it tore apart rather than brought closer.

  • Stephen

    I have no idea how I ended up on this web page, but…
    I’m a very happily married old School Catholic with a house load of kids and a Saint for a wife.

    If I could quote myself.
    “No is fine honey, but spare me the details OK?”

    Show me a man who fully and wonderfully supports his wife’s chart with great interest, and I’ll show you a man who can’t throw a baseball.

    • Maria

      My husband loves my charts, can throw a baseball, a football, a frisbee and anything else he has a mind too.
      And if he ended up on this website, he would know how he got there. Geeesh.

    • Sue Ellen

      My husband is so interested in my chart that he takes my hand-written chart and makes a spread sheet. Then he uses that to predict when is a good time for us to take vacations together or days for him to work out of town. And he PITCHES BASEBALL almost every evening for 5 of our 7 children. One has already gone to seminary, and one is too young to bat. Granted his spreadsheet has only 3 types of days and no gory details.

  • Red Hen

    Everybody thinks this is an individual couple problem, and needs to be solved by the individual couple. But actually it is a sociological problem. We live in a very highly sex saturated world. Men think that sex daily is a right. Think about the old days when wives were thought of as sweetheart and not sex-kitten. Over! So spacing out marital acts would not be a trauma for couples back then. Also, I think most women who truly love God in the person of Christ and dearly love their husbands would have a whole houseful of kids. It is God’s and nature’s way! But the reality is mom does most if not 98% of all the work, not many husbands are really in for the long haul as far as sacrifice and unselfishness goes, mom does all the homeschooling, driving, and dad comes in to finish up at the last minute. Most dads I know work very long hours and are very tired at the end of the day and week.Oh and what about the support systems of grandparents? We are lucky to get birthday cards. Never have they babysat. What about the support of the local parish? Zilch. And society at large?-scoffed at for having so many kids, and every once in a while they give a family discount for places like amusement parks. But even Catholic schools are skimping on the deduction for more than one child. I love my kids and never regret a day, but the realities of raising kids now is overwhelming.

  • Ann

    What a sad thing it is, and I’m sure the devil is just delighted to hear it, that we are all striving to be good and holy and obedient Catholics and yet here we are arguing with one another. About NFP!!! John and Sheila Kippley would be so saddened by this. But the evil one surely revels in our ability to take something meant for good (and has proven to do way more good than not for marriages) and point out everything we hate about it for the sake of public discussion. I personally love NFP though my husband and I don’t strictly practice it. But my parents taught it my entire childhood and it literally brought them to love their faith more than anything. and boy am I grateful for that because if it weren’t for their love of the church, of Christ and their prayers, I probably wouldn’t be where I am yet in my faith. I’m glad I didn’t have to wait my whole life to get here!
    Lets respect one another’s vocations as married people and pray that we can make the best decisions for our marriages, therefore putting our families first. I think shallow jokes about mucous and taking temperatures really gets us nowhere. I have never felt the need to get confirmation or support about NFP from anyone but my spouse. And if we have questions about church teaching, we know where to find the answers. The beauty of marriage in our Church is the grace we recieve in the sacrament to discern what is best for us after much prayer and sacrifice. I say if you don’t want to talk about it, leave the room… or Facebook… Or whatever other social medium is ticking you off. I don’t believe it is in the manual anywhere that we need to have group discussions about our bedroom activities.

    • yvette

      there is nothing especially evil about high controversy (if done charitably) – it’s how we arrive at the truth.

    • http://bit.ly/chastityrevisited nfp4life

      Ann, The Kippleys, as loved as they are, have had controversies of their own! As far as not needing to share, it’s obvious from this discussion, that people need support in their path to holiness. You are strong, but there may come a time when you and your spouse need strength from your brothers and Sisters in Christ. God bless, Linda

  • Linda

    As a woman who suffered from years of infertility (and as one of 10 children), I have a big problem with NFP. I can see where it’s OK if the mother has a serious medical condition, but there was no NFP for centuries, and Catholic families flourished! Maybe they were poor, but they considered themselves rich in the gift of children!

    St. Catherine of Siena was one of 23 children!

    The good Lord finally answered my prayers and gave me 2 healthy children, but I would’ve accepted as many children as He saw fit to give me; even 23!

    God should be the one to determine how many children we have. It’s as simple as that.

  • ManassasGrandma

    Why don’t you people just chuck it and have some kids? Fertility is gone quicker than you think.

    • http://www.mommylife.net Barbara Curtis

      Love this!!! You are so right. For marital sex to take on such angst – well, I just don’t think that’s what God intended.

      See my comment below.

    • mama*5

      I agree w/ this. As I have gotten older, I get sad just thinking about NOT being able to bear children. Some think that’s crazy but that’s just how we feel.

    • Grace

      I am experiencing secondary infertility (after 3 children), and I agree with you! I would LOVE to have another baby right now, more than anything. :)

    • LJ

      because we’ve had 4 kids in 6 years (we’re both only 31), are $50000 in debt, hubby’s now got a pornography addiction, I’m yelling at the kids and talking to myself all day. That’s why.

      • bill bannon

        LJ
        My specialty is months of prayer for tough situations….You got yourself an intercessor now….but make sure the TV is something you watch together not apart even if you both have to surrender your favorite shows. Nature shows can be a compromise. It might not be that….but it could be that….a small thing but not small given stresses and little time off. LJ is easy to remember…..Lord Jesus….just like dog is God backwards ( and both are glad to see ya).

  • Blake Broussard

    It seems to me that sadly more and more people are too self consumed. That may sound harsh, but seriously reflect on that…. What is the very purpose of our humanity? Are we truly honoring that purpose by giving back to God what he has so abundantly given us, Love? We must put God before our desires, even though they may be divinely written in our very nature as male and female. The problem is that people often forget that we are a fallen race, and our world view will always be distorted compared to the authentic world view that God had intended for us to experience. We will constantly struggle with things of this world, and in this case, our sexuality. Yes its easy to get frustrated with the many complexities involved in our own unique experiences with NFP. But it’s not about us, and our experience through it, and expecting to get what we want. It’s about respecting the dignity of life, and how we can participate in the trinitarian love that God has created us to share in with Him. Going back to putting God first….when you become frustrated with living out your sexuality in conformance with the Churchs’ teachings, do you ever stop and ask: am I being selfish? Is my idea of all this in line with Gods plan of sexuality? Do you ever ask God to redeem your sexuality, so that you may become pure and holy in light of this? You see we don’t get the picture, we need to constantly pray for God to transform our hearts. To give us the graces to live out our sexuality in the way it was intended. So before we go off bashing NFP as some “good” but “not perfect” method that is just hard to live with in our messed up society and culture, we should look at our hearts and pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit to enable us to live out the Catholic virtues so that we may not be bound by the vices of this world.

    On another note, NFP is an amazing gift that the Church gives us to battle our culture of death. NFP is not something that is the Gospel Truth on how to live as a married couple, but in many ways is a response by the Church to the contraceptive world. It gives us the means to be aware of our fertility, and how we would like to manage our family and its’ size given our unique circumstances in life. If contraceptive methods would have never entered our culture, this would not even be an issue. NFP gives us the avenue to live out our sexuality in marriage while respecting that sexuality, and the dignity life. We have to remember that our desires are an attempt to know Love, but many times those desires are disordered because of our fallen nature. We have to look at God’s order of things, or at least pray for that insight.

    Couples in pre-NFP times lived in a non-contraceptive culture, for the most part. Also, families benefited from larger sizes due to the way of life, farming, share cropping, etc. So it is not wise to compare the struggles of our culture to: what did couples do before Creighton came along? Our culture is different, and I thank God that Jesus left us a Church, guided by the Holy Spirit to bring us through the ages in the fullness of Truth. It is His Magisterial Church that teaches us how to have a healthy marriage and family in our age. The family is the hinge upon which our society swings, and if the family is not rooted in Truth, then our culture will follow suit. In the contraceptive world we live in, it is a miracle that we have such a beautiful teaching from the Church. I don’t have to get into the details of NFP, as I am aware that many of you know the routine, and are probably more experienced than I am in it. But all I ask is that many of you who are struggling to accept the difficulties encountered with it, please turn away from yourself and back to God. I am sure that He will bless you with the graces you need to live it out, whether you have 2 children or 10. He will also bless your marital relationship with your spouse. Remember, your goal is to get each other to Heaven, please don’t take that lightly, and give into complaining.

  • http://www.mommylife.net Barbara Curtis

    I don’t have time to read everything here, but I heartily recommend surrendering all to God and having a bunch of kids if He blesses you with them

    As a 63-year-old mother of 12, I can tell you beyond all doubt that raising children with good character was the greatest accomplishment of my life.

    The more there were, the easier it was to keep them all on the straight and narrow. Today most are grown up and best friends. There is great joy in our family for each person, and my kids have thanked their dad and me for having a big family specifically because of the love they have for their siblings.

    I can’t imagine having to focus on and worry so much about controlling something God intended for our pleasure and joy.

    • http://www.bannonoceanart.com bill bannon

      I sent money for a decade to Catholic Near East Welfare for a child in India whose mother had 5 children but the father died of an aneurism and the mother had to give her children to orphanages and take a job as a maid near the orphanages to visit her children. Why is her story tragic and yours is not? It’s baffling. In her case God did not provide physically.

    • Suzie Q

      Not everybody’s health — physical or mental — is up to that, Barbara. I married young and my husband and I are *very* fertile. We’ve been blessed with nine lovely children so far (and no “surprises,” btw.)

      Yet at this point, I have to say the pregnancies have taken a huge toll on my body, and the logistics involved with raising so many are starting to get to the overload point.

      I honestly cry at the thought of not having another baby. But I also cry at the thought of being pregnant again right now when, over a year later, my lower back and hips are literally still recovering from the last one.

      For right now, on a month-to-month basis, we’re waiting on the next one. I am deeply grateful my holy mother church, far wiser than I could ever hope to be, permits us to do so via NFP.

    • Maria

      Barbara, I’m very happy that your children have grown up with “great characters”. That is a testament to the way they were raised, not necessarily the number of siblings. Big families are wonderful, but not a magic bullet for holiness.

      • Mom of 8

        Yes, Maria. Likewise, a smaller family doesn’t necessarily make for children that are better cared for. In your case, had your parents decided not to have had you and/or one or more of your siblings, there is certainly no guarantee the others would have been any better off as a result.

  • mama*5

    While we were engaged we attended classes for the Creighton method. We got pregnant on our honeymoon. ;) NFP has strengthened our marriage but I will say I haven’t charted since our honeymoon.

    Ok, here’s what I found funny when speaking of avoiding when women have the desire as someone said above. We were told by our instructor at the time to ”find something else to do together during those fertile times when you are trying to avoid, like polishing silverware, that’s what one couple I teach does.” LOL!! :D

  • Kay

    I find that an odd response. A woman just told you she is infertile, and you just wrote it off. My youngest sister has known she would be infertile since she was 14. One of my nieces will find out she too is … when she is old enough to learn that news. I imagine how my sister would feel if she disclosed her infertility in the com box of a blog (mostly discussing managing the fertile part of fertility), only to be told “it’ probably nothing.” And go talk to someone who knows. I don’t get that.

  • Kay

    Sorry. That was a response to a comment above. I re- posted accordingly.

  • pegleg

    Wow. What a great article, and so many interesting comments!!! I think it’s safe to say, that Ms. Bean is probably a huge supporter of NFP, as many Catholics that read this site. Starting with that base, I can see why she could branch out and maybe, just maybe point out some of the minor flaws with NFP. Why are we taking this to extremes? Instead of people seeing this as such a negative article, and deciding to not use NFP, maybe they will see it for what it is, and take comfort that maybe someone else has some trials with this method! Maybe that feeling of “you’ve been there too?” will give that person more conviction to see through their difficulties in marriage, because they know they aren’t the only ones.
    It reminds me a lot of my breastfeeding support group meetings. Breastfeeding is beautiful, and natural, and we’re all committed to breastfeeding. However, every once in while, you just need another person to admit to- that it’s tough, or not what you thought it would be. Does admitting that mean we should wean our child and not breastfeed again? NO! It just means we are human. We are fallen. We all struggle with things sometimes, that others may not, but we all struggle in some way. Sometimes it is in hearing of others struggling, it helps us to deal with our own. We need more loving support, and understanding for where we are in our lives.

  • d.mom

    You said:”Those who find abstinence especially challenging are not bad people; it’s just part of their temperament. They struggle with purity, where others’ weaknesses might be pride, greed, or gluttony.”
    I just have to dissagree with you here, I do not think you can equate a struggle with purity to marital expression of love. Marital love-making is pure, and it is chates within the bonds of the two married. So, maybe you need to find something else as the weaness here-perhaps just plain old lack of self-control?

    • http://www.bannonoceanart.com bill bannon

      d.mom
      You may be projecting your experience onto others because I Corinthians 7 talks about two different groups not one as far as sexual rythmn and need goes. The first group are told to marry rather than to burn with desire and they are told not to abstain for very long lest Satan enter into their situation.
      A second group (verse 27) who apparently can take or leave marriage in terms of sexuality are simply told that if they marry they do not sin. Yet the first group was told to marry to avoid fornication. You are probably of group two but the Holy Spirit through Paul really spoke of two groups in that chapter 7.

  • d.mom

    Pardon me, my keys on my typing pad were out of order-I meant to say “chaste”, not chates(don’t know what “chates” is?!)

  • kat

    “Big families are wonderful, but not a magic bullet for holiness.”

    This statement is the impression so often given in pro-NFP materials, that just by giving birth to a large brood the result is a holy Catholic family who homeschools, prays the rosary every night, has several children contemplating the religious life… the example of St. Catherine is always mentioned. You never hear about all the large Catholic dysfunctional families whose members have all left the Church or accuse their mothers of neglect.

    NFP is hard, not just because you can use it as a weapon to bash your spouse (“don’t bug me, I could get pregnant tonight.”) or your neighbor (“all good Catholics have at least 5 kids”) but because the consequences for any given act or abstentension from the act is enormous: a precious child that must be brought forth after 9 months of weight gain and nausea to be nurtured, cared for, and educated for 18 years.

    I’m tired, after 9 pregnancies and 6 children in the past 12 years my body wants to rest. But I still have to chart, decide on any given night if I want to take the chance of another baby, and say yes or no to my always eager husband. The whole thing makes me almost look forward to menopause.

  • Chris Stewart

    “There is a brand new, modern way of looking at children through the lens of ‘responsibility’ as opposed to ‘generosity’ and ‘blessing.'”

    Ms. Bean’s words make an important point insofar as the term, responsible parenthood, is used in popular parlance. But in Catholic moral theology, responsible parenthood has a specific meaning that has very little to do with the popular understanding of the term. According to Humane Vitae 10, which is an entire section of the encyclical dedicated to defining it, responsible parenthood is:
    1) Awareness of, and respect for, the proper biological functions used in procreation. Thus, it is patently irresponsible to treat sex as if it were separate from procreation. Under any circumstance whatsoever.
    2) Reason and the will must exercise control over man’s innate drives and emotions.
    3) This was mentioned earlier, but responsible parenthood is exercised by families who have many children as well as by families who have few, so long as the means used to either end are moral. It is patently irresponsible, for example, to use IVF as a means to the end of bearing several children, just as it is equally irresponsible to have recourse to contraception or sterilization as a means to the end of having few. Importantly, however, the moral understanding of responsible parenthood understands and encompasses the notions of generosity in the service of life, where children are viewed always as blessings. The conflict between generosity and responsibility only comes about as a result of the contortions used in the popular parlance that seek a definition different from the moral one.
    4) Responsible parenthood requires an understanding of the objective moral order as established by God, meaning that a proper ordering of priorities must be recognizes insomuch as a person has duties to God, to themselves, to their families, and to their societies.

    One of the necessary consequences of a proper understanding of responsible parenthood is that it is indeed sinful for people to misapply the term. There is an objective order involved, and that order has nothing whatsoever to do with the specific number of children a specific family is called to have. The very act of recasting the term in opposition to generosity — which has been done by the modern culture and its servants, not by Ms. Bean, who is simply reporting — is an evil act. There is no responsibility to be imputed from the act of concern over my current children when considering the possibility of another. There may indeed be some prudence involved. But responsibility, technically defined, does not apply.

    • Grace

      This is SO well said! Thank you!

  • Ilse

    Thank you for writing this even if you did not want to. I wish I had truly understood all of this years ago. After my husband and I had four children, I had my tubes tied. Just a couple of months ago, I had it reversed. We are so much happier now. The beginning of our marriage we did our best to practice NFP, and had three children in three years. I was so overwhelmed because it did not seem so easy for us to chart as it seemed to be for other people.
    I like you was fertile the whole time that I breastfeed. I wish I had had someone explain that the sympto-thermal method was not for everyone.
    As a couple now, we are starting over, and we are open to life once again.
    Thank you again for sharing.

  • Wi

    Wonderful and honest. And an indirect admission that this whole question is a lot more ambiguous than people (Especially NFP priests) think. A grey situation does not demand black and white answers. That’s the reason I, as a priest, give people the freedom of their prayerful informed consciences.

    • http://bit.ly/chastityrevisited nfp4life

      Father, What does that mean, “freedom of their prayerful informed consciences”? To use NFP or be providential? I know couples who have heard what you have said from their own priest, and take that as permission to contracept! God bless you, Linda

  • kmk

    “That’s the reason I, as a priest, give people the freedom of their prayerful informed consciences.”

    Father “Wi”, not sure what you mean, Please elaborate. Thank you–

  • Jennifer Frey

    I really enjoyed this article, though I have almost nothing to say about it. Instead, I’d like to speak about some of the comments made here. Of course, there are the cranky traditionalists, with their cheap shots at anything remotely smacking of post Vatican II Catholicism. I have nothing to say to those folks. Then there are the NFP true believers–the ones who bristle at any suggestion that NFP is not he way the truth, and the life, and who wag their fingers and those of us who don’t embrace it as the ultimate expression of all that is good and holy. I don’t have much to say to that crowd either.

    Then there’s the rest of us: the Catholics who love the Faith, love the Church, and struggle for holiness (and often fail) in this contraceptive culture. The reality is htat most Catholics contracept, so this is already a debate among the very committed and orthodox. I think for most of us orthodox Catholics, we appreciate Danielle’s honesty about not loving NFP, even though we practice it (to some extent) and even though we would recommend it to others. We just won’t pretend that it’s the key to a good marriage, because it isn’t. It can be part of a good marriage, but it isn’t essential (say, in the way that prayer is).

    I’ve been lucky with NFP so far. I have very, very regular cycles so far, and I don’t even have to take my temperature. Even my post-partum body is pretty straightforward. At the same time, my husband and I do not find it an undue burden (physically or spiritually) to abstain. In fact, contrary to some of the comments here, I think we find that abstaining for a certain time each month is a very healthy practice, just as fasting is. Very few people today have much self-control, and it is always good to practice abstinence from food and sex. This is a very Christian practice, and we do not do well when we neglect it. So Danielle’s problems with NFP are not mine, exactly. But I have a great deal of sympathy for her problems, and they might well become mine. Hormones change, after all.

    On another note, it makes me very sad to read some comments here of women who have nine kids and who are desperately afraid of having another one. I really can’t imagine how you feel–I have only three and I am totally overwhelmed!! It is perfectly reasonable for you to not want more children–please don’t be hard on yourself (and don’t let anyone else be hard on you either). It is perfectly reasonable for you to take the necessary non-contraceptive measures to prevent further pregnancies until you do not feel overburdened and completely terrified!!

    I have been married for five years and have three kids. I probably don’t want any more for at least a few years (for lots of perfectly legitimate reasons). But I do remain “open to life” in that I am a faithful Catholic who prays to discern and listen to God’s will, and so if he changes my heart (he’s done it before!) then we’ll stop charting and see what happens. In the meantime my husband and I will practice periodic abstinence, which is a good spiritual practice. But I won’t pretend to love every minute of it, anymore than I’ll pretend to love every minute of being a Mother–I won’t and I don’t. That’s OK. It’s OK not to love NFP, and its OK not to practice it. It’s OK to say that NFP sucks. What isn’t OK is to contracept, period, for any reason.

    • yvette

      Well said, Jennifer.

  • Marsha

    Danielle, I encourage you and everyone who commented on this article to visit http://www.naprotechnology.com
    Dr. Hilger’s has over 30 years of research and has answered and addressed many of these issues and concerns that you and others list. In my opinion the Creighton Method is the ONLY method that properly addresses all Scientific and Theological components to NFP. They call it a fertility system, which I prefer. NFP has automatic negative connotations. I also encourage anyone who is serious about their Catholic Faith and serious about getting answer’s to the questions, concerns, and frustrations listed among those that commented to attend The Love and Life Unlimited Conference held in Omaha Nebraska. The next one is coming up in October. Visit http://www.popepaulvi.com/events.htm for more information. Danielle, maybe you could attend this conference and write an article about your experience? I would like your readers and yourself to know that I used to be 360 degrees from where I am now. I detested those LIFE loving people that stood outside of abortion clinics praying their rosaries, I detested being told that women aren’t supposed to enjoy sex it is just for procreation, and I detested someone telling me that I had to trust “God” with my fertility. Then I met a beautiful Catholic doctor, who simply loved me enough to ask me some questions. Questions I didn’t have the answers to. As I began my search I came across Christopher West and Gregory K. Popcak. I read their books. I came across Brian Gail who wrote “Fatherless” and “Motherless” and I began to see over and over the same signs pointing in the same direction. Our God is a loving God and he would not leave us empty handed in matters of Grave importance. Without preaching or shoving something down anyone’s throat I invite you to keep searching and go just a little further. Read the above mentioned, and PLEASE email me and tell me what you think. Attend the conference. Contact Dr. Hilgers directly at the Pope Paul the VI institute. Maybe you can interview him? Read Humanae Vitae….it is beautiful, breathtaking even. Don’t give up and resolve that there isn’t an answer. Don’t just decide that NFP sucks and God left us in the ocean drowning. Is that really the GOD you know? I will leave you with this….I am a convert. I am Catholic because being Catholic allows me to use my faith and my reason. I NEVER have to separate them. I have not run into one teaching that forces me to separate the two. All that the Church (not necessarily all Priests, or all Catholics) but Catholicism itself teaches, is reasonable and good and for our happiness! For all those suffering with infertility you MUST check out http://www.naprotechnology.com. God isn’t going to let you drown. Dr. Hilger’s has medical/surgical applications for infertility and an effective rate that is THREE times greater than IVF for achieving pregnancy. Unlike IVF it respects the couple, the act and (their pocket book). Thank you Danielle for your courage in writing about this topic that in my opinion needs to be spoken about until the TRUTH is both spoken and heard. My prayer is always that more priests see the need and the hunger and feed us with homilies on this subject.

    • http://archaeologycatmusings.blogspot.com/ Archaeologycat

      I’d hesitate to say that Creighton is the only method that properly addresses the scientific & theological components, and not just because I’m a Billings instructor. Creighton is great, don’t get me wrong, but I think we do people a disservice by not realising that the other methods are also good, and even by referring people to other methods if our method isn’t suiting them. I’m a convert to Catholicism, too, and I absolutely agree with you about the beauty of our faith, and how it is wonderful to not have to give up our faith or reason to follow our faith. :-)

  • Kathy

    Thank you for mentioning that one does not need to practice NFP to be a”good” Catholic. For various reasons we don’t use NFP (reasons like, we are financially blessed, we started having children when we were older, we are in our 40’s, we are both healthy, our six children are healthy etc). At times I have felt that we’re doing something “wrong” because we don’t ever prevent a possibly pregnancy. I have read more than once that couples “should” use NFP for spiritual benefit, even if they have no serious reason to avoid a pregnancy. This has never made sense to me . . . .

  • NYa

    NFP comes off like an alternative to ABC because that’s the culture we live in. I’m already third generation pill user, or at least, I was. My grandmother used it and then my mother used it – and other forms of ABC and of course I grew up thinking that educated, sophisticated, in-the-know Catholics knew it was perfectly ok to use.

    There is no way on earth that I would EVER have left it behind if it weren’t for NFP. NFP IS educated, it’s sophisticated and it is science. But I see science as the design and language of God; HE made me this way, with all these chemicals, hormones, this endocrine system, the ability to conceive in only a small time frame, etc. This is His design and to gather His information about how He made me is another way to get closer to Him.

    There is an odd thing going on with some Catholics that science is the opposite of God. I never understood that.

    But here’s my question: If you have a large family, like the author, what did you use NFP for? I mean, go back to the start of your marriage, imagine redoing it without NFP and how different would your family size be now?

    For those of us who knew that a small family was what God’s plan was for us, NFP is the ONLY way to go. (and remember: just like you knew that a large family was God’s plan for you, so can we know, too. It works both ways.) Doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard, but for us, it was necessary. It was not an option.

    But if you’re going to, or better, are in the process of having a large family, then you don’t *have* to use it.
    So what’s the problem?

    • Suzie Q

      Large family mom who uses NFP here. Without NFP, we would have either just had to abstain for very long periods of time, or…

      a) My family would be even larger than it is now. I’m guessing three more kids plus the nine we have. I’m not counting that as a “problem” but you did ask about numbers, so…

      b) I would not have been able to have needed surgeries to repair carpal tunnel syndrome because my fertility typically returns <6 months postpartum, YES even with ecological breastfeeding.

      c) I would not have been able to have invasive diagnostic testing done after a heart scare a few years ago.

  • Therese

    Your description of NFP issues sound very similar to what happened to the good old natural activity of breastfeeding: books, classes, lectures, lists of do’s and don’ts, and a group (LLL) always ready to tell you how it HAS to be.

    • Bill Foley

      from Bill Foley

      Just some random comments.
      Many years ago I read an article in the wonderful journal Christ to the World that Mother Teresa’s nuns had instructed women in India how to use NFP, and the success rate was 96%.
      By the way, my father abstained while my mother was carrying me.

      • Debbi

        “Mother” Teresa has been outed by many of her volunteers, including Hemley Gonzalez, as a money-laundering Munchausen by Proxy misery addict fraud who lied and inflated her “successes”. NFP has an 80% FAILURE RATE after one year. “Mother” Teresa only tracked the couples for one month. Your dad went to hookers with the parish priests, Mr. Ostrich, –just like my dad did.

        • http://archaeologycatmusings.blogspot.com/ Archaeologycat

          No, NFP does not have an 80% failure rate after a year. While I generally hate talking about effectiveness rates, I’ll say that Billings, Creighton, STM (and probably the other modern methods of NFP, though I don’t know as much about them) are very effective. Billings has been approved for use in China even with the 1-child policy, last I heard. Even the NHS talk about how effective NFP is on their website. Yes, you have to follow the rules for it to be effective, but you’d also have to consistently and correctly use contraceptives for them to be effective, so that really isn’t an issue. Some couples who use NFP may say they want to avoid pregnancy, but then decide to take a chance anyway knowing there’s a high chance of conception. That isn’t a failure, but using the knowledge of NFP and making a choice based on that, despite what they’d previously decided.

          God bless

  • http://micaelaswift.blogspot.com mswift5

    its funny. I never see NFP as “postponing pregnancy” as it is often presented. Its clearly just the natural method/the science that is ‘true’ that is ‘there’, to recognize and learn, rather than to violently manipulate, frustrate, or cause serious damage to(aka, contraception).

    Each woman has her own unique cycle to learn, to chart, to become familiar with, and each couple has the “challenge” to grow in love, communication, especially in the intimacy of such a unity within marriage, always holding the highest reverence towards fertility, towards that precious place where a new life is to be welcomed.

    NFP should always be presented as the very ‘Opposite’ of contraception. The bottom line fact is that each and every couple MUST have the disposition regardless of life situation, to welcome a new child even in the midst of complication, unexpected circumstances. We live in an age of materialism, stability, access to so much health that we need to be brutally honest about whether it is righteous to deny life, to ignore that gift we possess in marriage and to be generous with God.

    This culture is so obsessed with “controlling” everything, and often that is not true to life, nor true to “freedom”. Responsibility lies in adapting oneself to the situation, and being ready to accept responsibilities with a heroic good heart, prepared to accept God pan no matter what.

    What NFP has a “truth”-that is, that every woman is not always fertile and that she is certainly “free” to take advantage of abstaining from the intimate union when she is fertile. However, to take this to the control level where the blessing is continually being avoided without being sincere on the situation of life, it may be a pathway towards coldness, rather than good faith and heroic love.

  • Sherry

    One of the most beautiful books I have ever read is “Heart Sounds” – personal stories from 12 Catholic Doctors. Two of the doctors, Dr. Paul Carpentier and Dr. Mark Rollo, have written about their experience with NFP in a way I had never seen presented. I ordered the book from the Catholic Medical Association. The book is a treasure.

    Someone above mentioned Brian Gail’s books. They are excellent novels that put a lot of the comments above in perspective in a very engaging manner.

  • MandA

    interesting article. i have felt simlilar to some of the things expressed.

    my son was in the hospital for the first 5 months of his life. he is only fed through a tube in his stomach- has never been able to nurse or take from a bottle. I pumped so he could have breastmilk exclusively for the first 9 months of his life.

    i also had CONTINUOUS fertility signs. even after speaking to some of the top CCL NFP experts, i was not able to get a solid answer on how to evaluate if i was fertile or not. abstinence for months on end was just an extra stress on our incredible stressful situation. i basically had to figure it out myself…which was frustrating and stressful.

    i would love if more solid guidelines could be given in these areas.

  • K

    Thank you, Danielle, for a great article. It’s discouraging to have only roses and no realism. It’s also discouraging when everyone assumes that the mother *can* have as many children as she’d like. What about women who have health problems? Who would love to be open to life but cannot? Who find NFP difficult? Who would love to be intimate with their husbands during their fertile time, but have no hope for that short of miraculous intervention? I know God can heal anything, but the reality is that He often does not. Suffering is a part of this life. My health problems are a difficult cross to bear. NFP has been a difficult cross to bear in our marriage. And, honestly, judgemental and overgeneralized comments are also hard to bear.

  • berniethomas

    The above discussion is terrific. It shows that couples have many different experiences with NFP. But that even when it is hard, the alternative is not contraception!
    It also shows that different individuals have different comfort levels in talking about sexuality. Danielle, who is lovely in her love for life and the Church and in her honesty, seems a bit conflicted in that she wants less talk about the body and sex but also wants more so she can have more information.
    I suppose Crisis scheduled this piece before the article in the NYTimes (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/09/us/09beliefs.html) but the timing is unfortunate; it seems to add to the picture that NFP is just not what it is cracked up to be. That depends, of course, on what it is cracked up to be. If couples are led to think that if they use NFP, there will be no difficulties in their marriages and family planning will work perfectly, they have been sadly misled. Certainly, not everyone should or needs to use NFP; some are blessed to be able to “just let the babies come.” But one can hardly blame those who sing the praises of NFP. Compared to the alternative of contraception, it is truly a God-send. We should never falsify the difficulties of NFP but we should always remember that life is difficult, all of us have a different learning curve and different challenges. In the end, the evidence is overwhelming that self-discipline helps rather than hurts marriages. NFP can help couples gain some self-discipline and helps couples manage their family size without recourse to contraception that demonstrably is terribly destructive to marriage.

    • Debbi

      NOT using contraception is destructive to marriages. Your extremes of abstinence only or killer impoverishing breeding is precisely why men began divorcing women in droves after WWII. Wars give surviving men a fabulous surplus of pretty women to trade in their sex-hating brood mares for. Contraception also SAVES HUSBANDS’ LIVES! — they used to die a decade after breeding killed their wives from the stress of 100 work weeks supporting their broods! And only closet gay men marry women to practice the sexual anorexia of abstinence in marriage. I know many Catholic women suckered into such fraudulent marriages. Would you go to your favorite restaurant to FAST FOR DECADES?? Abstinence is for clergy and pedophiles ONLY, not married couples. Moreover, couples don’t owe pedophile priests their own deaths and homelessness just to restock the perps’ supply of altar boys. Lack of contraception in the third world causes wars, human trafficking, outsourcing of American jobs, and the illegal Mexican invasion overwhelming our public services.

  • Jessica

    I see how NFP can have a contraceptive mentality, I have long said this. And I agree with most of what Danielle says. However, Danielle, and some of you, seem to come down too hard on the value of periods of continence in a marriage. I don’t see anyone mentioning the Catechism here or actual Church texts, but you can find it in the Catechism as well as the Theology of the Body. Yes, it is natural and beautiful to desire your spouse, but it is also virtuous to deny bodily passions now and then, as a mutual choice, to strengthen your love and purify your intentions. So lets not through that concept of NFP out the window.

    Personally, we do not chart. We know how, but we choose not to (also, ecological breastfeeding has spaced our babies about 2 to 2.5 years apart). But we are learning the value of choosing periods mutually to abstain, and it strengthens us, and purifies our intentions and desires.

    Also, about breastfeeding, there is a reason why ECOLOGICAL breastfeeding is 99% effective at delaying the return of fertility. It is important to distinguish, instead of just saying “its difficult to chart while breastfeeding” or “breastfeeding didn’t work for me to delay my fertility”- well…are you ecologically breastfeeding? It is possible, although rare, to ecologically breastfeed and still have return of fertility, but the distinction needs to be made. Those who ecologically breastfeed have an average of 14 infertile months after a birth. That is an AVERAGE….meaning there will be some lower on the spectrum (less months), and some even higher (more months).

    All that said, I agree that NFP is not necessary for a holy marriage…it can be a means of holiness, or an obstacle, depending on how it is used or not used…but then again, NOTHING is simple,….we must always seek to purify our intentions and constantly re-evaluate our decisions (in other words, there is no magic guarantee of Heaven when you choose NFP, you have to practice it appropriately, and know when to stop, and even in those moments, to purify your intentions with your spouse constantly).

    • Vi

      Jessica, We can speak of using NFP selfishly — not good motives. But it is misleading to say “using NFP with a contraceptive mentality.” I first heard this opinion from a very scholarly priest and it immediately rang true. Contraception is an act. The act of unnaturally thwarting conception at a time when our bodies would naturally be open to conception. NFP when avoiding conception is a “non-act”. It’s a choice to NOT be intimate during the fertile time. We must be careful to distinguish acts and intentions. An intention can be blameworthy, but we need to look first at the act itself. Please let us informed Catholics stop using the term “NFP with a contraceptive mentality”.

  • M C

    Catholics who support the church’s teaching on sexuality have to come to terms with the reality that this teaching is almost completely ignored by Catholics. Recent polling on the subject suggests that 2-4 percent of Catholics follow Church teaching on contraception. Moreover, Catholics have children at essentially the same rates as Americans as a whole. Evangelicals have more children than do Catholics, and they believe that contraception is morally permissible.
    This lack of fidelity to church teaching cannot be ascribed to lack of effort (considering NFP offices, promotional campaigns, books, websites, younger priests who aren’t afraid to speak about it, etc.)

    I don’t know what it is, but somehow the Church and lay Catholics need to find a better way to promote this teaching. Perhaps acknowledging that NFP is hard might be a first step.

    • Debbi

      Sensible couples don’t risk their lives and homelessness by relying on guaranteed-failure NFP. Their own Catholic parents’ marriages were ruined by NFP, so no lipstick on the pro-pedophile priest pig of NFP FRAUD will trick these smart Catholics into copying their parents’ Stockholm Syndrome misery.

  • Judy

    Although NFP can be difficult it will never be the same as contraception. It provides self denial in the form of abstinence AND children. Both draw us away from self! Both show the strength that we think we lack! Both lead us to an understanding that we MUST lean on the Lord of Love to live out our sacrament! Oftentimes as an NFP teacher i just want to say……hey…marriage = babies, deal with it! NFP instuction should not be a form of teaching people to have control, but to love as Jesus loves…fully, faithfully, totally, freely. We can use charting and diapering to love in these ways.

  • http://www.romancatholiccop.com Jamie McAdams

    I have an app on for phone to track my wife’s cycle. We don’t use NFP—I just use so I know when or when I can’t make smart-alec comments around the house.
    Danniele, thanks for the article and thanks for not telling us about your cycle. :-)

    • http://tenwhitsonsandcounting.blogspot.com/ Carrie

      what app is that Jamie?

  • http://tenwhitsonsandcounting.blogspot.com/ Carrie

    I’ve had this fertility monitor sitting in the back of my closet since number 6 was born. Bought it because I too have problems during the breastfeeding stage. Even so, I guess I am lucky enough to not have my fertility return too soon while BF. Now, I’m pregnant with Number 9. After every pregnancy since then I have questioned myself as to why I had not learned to use that thing and I found myself saying you should have broke down and bought those expensive test stips that go along. Some of the most negative comments come from my Catholic family members, I have gotten to where I don’t even want to share the news with them. And I am referred to as a Fertile Mertile. After getting tired of them saying to me, you are just going to have my kids for me, I finally replied one time, you can send the checks here. Never heard that again! I do think that having this many kids in 17 years has at times affected our marriage relationship negatively. You hit the nail on the head on many sentiments I also feel. Thanks for your article and saying what you said about using the Fertility monitors, doesn’t make me feel as guilty to give it a whirl now!

  • carol

    I use NFP but there is a painful side of it no one talks about: when it doesn’t work and your husband BLAMES you and calls you incompetent even though he will not take a class with you or even look at your chart or anything. It almost makes me wish it didn’t exist because the burden is ALL on me and that’s just the cross I have to bear I guess. And to make it even worse, when I am real careful to avoid any risky days, he has given me heat about it. It’s like he wants to have his cake and eat it too. Sorry, but what’s the point of your husband having gone to a great Catholic college if he doesn’t apply what he should have learned there. Please pray for me, and if anyone has any advice, let me know. Thanks!!!

    • Vi

      Dearest Carol, That is not an NFP problem that is a marriage problem. I say this with great humility, sincerity and gentleness. And I sincerely promise to pray for you.

      It is important to distinguish between NFP problems and people problems, the method from our imperfect use of it.

      In addition to prayer would it be possible for you to seek counsel from a wise priest, and possibly even a compassionate Catholic therapist?

      I know that it can be very hard for men during the fertile time. At some point in recent years I finally realized that my husband can’t keep his hands off of me when I am ovulating. I hear people talk about women being more in the mood during that time. True, but I never hear people mention this. The drive often astounds me. God’s design in nature! Also in our early years I remember some tense times, esp during breastfeeding when I felt like I was having a hard time observing and he had a hard time with that. The method requires self-mastery and respect from the man for the woman, and that is especially tough for some men.

      Another idea: would he read a book about it? Anyone have any good suggestions? Art of Natural Family Planning by Kipley?

      Sister, I wish you the best in this trial. God be with you.

      • Carol

        Thanks Vi. I do agree that I have a marriage problem. I have told my husband that I would like to go for marriage counseling but he has refused. I may need to seek my own help. If I could do things over, I probably would have told my husband that I will only practice NFP if he takes a class with me. If I leave a book out in the bathroom, maybe he’ll take a look at it, but as you can probably guess, he is very stubborn and thinks he’s got all the answers and knows all he needs to know. Men and women both need to remember that NFP should be practiced with great humility and respect.

        • Vi

          Amen, Sister. I will continue to pray for you. I will offer up some serious struggles we are having in our marriage.

    • Debbi

      Your husband caught several college priests sneaking around with local hookers, so why should you make him practice more abstinence than them? Why did you bother marrying? — you should just be a nun!

  • Laura

    I kid you not, my sister and I have been saying these exact ideas for a couple months now. I love this post. Great job! NFP is not always beautiful and it certainly is hard.

  • Mary

    The “science” part of NFP is extremely accurate for pinpointing ovulation for both achieving or avoiding pregnancy.

    The “art” part of NFP is what presents both blessings and challenges for couples. The “art” part includes a couple’s own fertility; personal and spousal communication factors; motivational factors; instructional components; particular circumstances– health, financial; support systems like extended family, Church and wider society. The “art” dynamic in NFP involves an extremely large and complex set of factors — the comments above surely attest to that.

    Yes, NFP, like life in general, can be challenging and sometimes difficult–and do understand and appreciate comments above. (Also would mention that from some of the comments above, I would question some of the teaching/instructional methods couples used during particular circumstances–seems that the teaching &/or method might have contributed to difficulties.)

    Do appreciate the comments about sharing the sensitive nature of some of the details related to NFP methods and the importance of recognizing the impact these may have on others. NFP is supposed to help us become aware of our communication and communication style as a couple, and hopefully, this extends to an awareness beyond our spouse. Not always easy to know in today’s world–sometimes errors of TMI are made with the best of intentions and would have been best left unsaid or saved for a different forum. Do think though there are times when “censoring” and “silence” are applied only to topics related to authentic Church teaching, so discernment and prudence are in tall order for all of us.

    One aspect of the “abstinence part” of using NFP that may not be appreciated until much later in marriage is its impact on now adult children. They have grown up with a faithful witness of parents as spouses, despite all the difficulties. To know that their parents obeyed church teaching, whether they had a large family, or used abstinence as in NFP, for the good of the family–despite challenges– is a most valuable lesson not easily forgotten.

    While this entire blog has focused on a more balanced picture of NFP at the level of the spousal relationship, today, more than ever, given all the attacks on marriage–divorce illegitimacy,cohabitation, and of late, gay marriage, any reality check on NFP should mention the “big picture” too.

    Couples choosing to use NFP, including those who find it difficult and/or who may dislike it, participate in a “great work.” They uphold civilization’s “marriage” culture. By respecting the unitive and procreative aspects of the marriage act, these couples impact marriage within larger society as a force for the good: they are the foundation for any real culture of life and efforts should be made to support them.

    “You have to live life forward, but understand it backwards.” For all those who have had a difficult time or are having difficult times or a lonely journey, I can say that having used NFP for our entire marriage, 30 years, and having a “large family” by today’s standards, while not always “rosey,” has definitely has been worth it. I hope and pray you persevere!

    • Debbi

      All the children I know of NFP-using parents were abused in some severe fashion and completely reject Catholicism because of their parents’ misery and fathers’ adultery.

    • Debbi

      All the husbands I know who put up with NFP are getting sex on the side with much prettier hookers and mistresses. Many also beat their wives. You call that family values?? I see an annulment in your future when your husband settles on your trade-in.

  • http://BTyahoo.com Mary Gamble.

    Very well said.I hope and pray you persevere too-it is well worth it.

  • casey

    As an NFP (Billings) instructor, I appreciate the frankness and struggles expressed in this NFP blog. My husband usually accompanies me to the teaching sessions so that he can tell people how HARD NFP can be to live, but also how GOOD and RIGHT it is. Most of the couples we present to in marriage prep are already living together, and I don’t ask about their contraceptive choices. I just pray that their hearts turn towards the teachings of the Church, and that they see NFP as a viable option. Even if they enter into the practice of NFP with a “contraceptive mentality,” they may turn their lives towards an NFP lifestyle that has a totally different take on accepting fertility and surrendering to God’s will, accepting the challenges and joys of having children.

    In 19 years of marriage, we have been blessed with 7 children, all two years apart. I did not chart in those child-bearing years, but was totally aware of my cycles and signs of fertility. After the 7th, health issues made it imperative that we have no further pregnancies, so I started charting. We got through 5 years of charting before menopause set in. It wasn’t ever easy, but it was so GOOD. Now we are “expecting”–in the process of adoption of two boys.

    Breastfeeding and peri-menopause were the most challenging times, and I suggest that instead of these long stretches of uncertainty and abstinence, getting some good guidance from a qualified NFP instructor would decrease these times of abstinence, as we look for patterns of fertility/infertility that are somewhat different than in regularly cycling women.

    Thanks to all, for these very enlightening comments. God bless you all, and I thank the Lord for our Church and its guidance in the very essential matters of family and moral life.

    • Debbi

      Imagine if your religion was run by anorexics instead of misogynist pedophiles and eunuchs: Would you risk your life forever eating food guaranteed to be contaminated with deadly toxins while your husband is only served toxin-free food? “Unitive” sex puts such deadly burdens on you while your husband gets off scot free with unpunished, safe gluttony. That you promote this nonsense to other UNHEALTHY women is CRIMINAL MEDICAL MALPRACTICE.

  • Elena

    I am one of those young married couples who was sold the “bill of NFP goods” in pre-Cana glasses. We ended up pregnant first cycle. If I would have known what NFP can do to a marriage I would never have used it in the first place.

    • casey

      There’s more to your marriage struggles than “using” or “not using” NFP. Natural Family Planning does involve, first, proper instruction and understanding and compliance with the guidelines, and second, times of loving sacrifice, which does not hurt marriage. There are times in any marriage, with NFP or not, where loving sacrifice (putting the needs of the other spouse or the needs of the whole family) is what is required of us. I’m sorry for your struggles, but don’t blame NFP. This is a good article: http://ccli.org/nfp/nfp-advantages/strain.php

      • Debbi

        NFP betrays women by forcing them to risk ugly and bankrupting pregnancy complications, death and their husbands’ adultery. There’s nothing loving about kicking sex out of marriage for months and years just to win brownie points from misogynist heretic priests who molest their children when fed-up husbands finally leave. Elena, read “Unholy Trinity” by John Loftus and Mark Arons to learn of Paul VI’s GENOCIDE during the Second World War.

    • Debbi

      Elena, you should sue for child support and press criminal medical malpractice charges against your instructors. Did you know NFP nearly killed the notorious Arizona mother of four with a deadly fifth pregnancy? Even though the fetus’s toxic placenta was already killing it and its mother, her Catholic physicians were excommunicated for early delivery of the 11-week-old fetus to save her. Even though her pregnancy-ruined health guaranteed death by another pregnancy, her pedophile priest-serving church still forbade her to rely on sterilization or effective contraceptives. The adulterous three-time married Deal Hudson egregiously demanded that the mother be forced to die for a DEAD FETUS! NFP doesn’t work because stress causes SECOND ovulations in ONE cycle. There’s nothing natural about charts, thermometers and abstinence for DECADES.

  • http://babystepsjmj.blogspot.com/ sam

    My husband and I went to NFP classes before we were married. I practiced it before we were married and then at different times in our lives, me at a pro life talk and my husband in front of the Blessed Sacrament, felt like God wanted us to let him be in charge of our fertility. I always wanted lots of children and didn’t have any reasons to wait to have them. So we agreed to let God take control. We got pregnant on our honeymoon and have 12 wonderful children. I know not all people are called to this vocation, but we both love it. I actually havent been able to get pregnant and have considered using NFP to concieve. We decided not to since we have always said Thy Will Be done!!! Obvioulsly God has a greater plan!

  • Thanks!

    Danielle, THANK YOU.

    Many of us arrive at marriage confused. We grew up in divorced families, and/or in non Catholic homes. We get married, we convert, and we try to make sense of it all and be good spouses and parents. When people paint an unrealistic rosy vision of nfp, we wonder if something is wrong– with us, and/or with our spouse– for finding it all so difficult. The articles about nfp/ nfp teacher said this would enhance our communication skills and draw us closer together… why is it not doing that? I wish I had had your article years ago, when, as a convert, I learned nfp. It would have been helpful if a fellow Catholic had been there to admit to me that yes, this can be really difficult! I would have known I was not weak, or unloving, or unholy simple because I found this wonderful gift difficult to bear.

  • http://catholicnewlywed.blogspot.com Mandi

    I definitely agree with you and I appreciate the post! I especially agree with #2…I recently wrote a post on how using NFP to postpone pregnancy (like I was taught to as a “responsible Catholic” actually hurt my young marriage and how my husband and I are much happier and feel like we are following God’s will now that we are expecting a child. We’ve decided not to postpone pregnancy and simply accept children as they come until (and if) we ever have a major reason to postpone pregnancy.

    And to be perfectly honest, we were unhappy using NFP even though it did work perfectly for us, my husband did wake me with a smile and the thermometer every morning and he actually ENJOYED charting for me (he’s a big science guy so he loved plotting the temps and figuring out when I was fertile).

  • William Taylor

    Somebody with the background, the experience, and the insight should take this whole thread and make it into a book. Wonderful, wonderful discussions. Joy, pathos, anger, hope. Maybe the author of the article could do something with what we have here.

  • Tina

    Amen and Amen, Danielle! Thank you for writing this — especially Nos. 2 and 3!

  • berniethomas

    I recommend this article by Pia de Solenni. http://www.headlinebistro.com/en/columnists/desolenni/072611.html

  • Sarah

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!! Thank you for writing this! Finally someone says it! I have the same bfing “problems” and abstaining for a year hurts your marriage more than helps it. I got to the point where I said “is this helping or hurting?” We can not afford–financially (&emotionally I think) to have a lot of children so “giving in” is not an option. Plus my NFP teacher has not been very helpful and there is only 1 teacher around me for like a 150 mile radius! I think NFP classes need to address these issues too.
    My other big problem with NFP is that when a (this is a TMI moment) woman is MOST fertile (and most in the mood I might add), that is when the couple must abstain if they are trying to AVOID getting pregnant. For us, there is more time spent trying to avoid pregnancy than achieve it (it’s not hard for us to get preggers) so that means the time that would be the most “enjoyable” for me is the time that we have to abstain unless we want to be pregnant. Talk about unfair & FRUSTRATION!
    We now use a combo method of NFP & contraceptives —I know, I know, skip to the next comment, bring on the judgement—she’s not a REAL NFP user—but you go through what we went through and then I’ll listed to your judgement of me. It was a VERY hard decision to make, but NFP just ultimately wasn’t for us when it’s hurting you more than helping.

    • http://archaeologycatmusings.blogspot.com/ Archaeologycat

      I know it can be frustrating, believe me. If that method of NFP wasn’t working out for you, I’d encourage you to try another one. I know you said there wasn’t another instructor nearby, but some instructors will teach via email or phone (I do that, and I learnt that way, as well, because there wasn’t an instructor near me). You can find Billings instructors here: http://www.nfpcharting.com/. I’ve been hearing good things about Marquette lately, too, but I don’t know as much about them.

  • NFP=AWESOME

    NFP is not the problem.

    Very good article: http://www.headlinebistro.com/en/columnists/desolenni/072611.html

  • http://slightlycrunchycatholic.blogspot.com mel

    Yay! Great and honest article, thank you. I’m extremely glad that the NFP knowledge is there for me if I need it. We just feel like we are weighing “it’d be nice to have a little more space between them” vs. “bothering with charting and abstaining”. I mean, for my husband, who works 12 hour shifts at weird hours and often finds one of our five children between us in bed, I know that’s what he’s thinking…”Yes, the budget pretty tight. But is it tight enough to be worth abstaining during this rare 15 minute window alone?” Sorry…guess that’s not particularly pius. :) Right now, we aren’t using it,,,we are just open to the children that come and I hope we can stay that way. If we can’t for whatever reason, we will be glad NFP is there.

  • Helen

    Thank you for a wonderful article. I thought that NFP was going to be so easy while I was exclusively breastfeeding (and co-sleeping) my babies but it turned out that NFP was impossible during these times. My fertility returned within six months of each birth, NFP did not work due to temperature and signs, and I was not in the physical or mental condition to have another child.

  • Ellen

    Danielle: You have a beautiful family. God will reward you for all of your sacrifices and your willingness to follow the Church even when it was really hard.

  • Jo Flemings

    Bravo Danielle- well and succinctly stated!

  • Paula

    This article makes many good points. However,I was a little surprised and disappointed that it made the old stereotypical connection between large families and couples that have difficulty abstaining. Anyone who has a large family knows that there is plenty of ‘abstaining’, but usually not for the purpose of avoiding conception

  • http://john448.blogspot.com/ Noah Moerbeek,CPMO

    What was also left out on this article is when the choice to use NFP is a sinful one NFP should be avoided. To examine that question I would refer you to this sermon which has citations from various popes on the use of NFP and its morality. Chances are you have been mislead if you use it frequently.

    http://www.audiosancto.org/sermon/20071014-Series-on-Marriage-Part-4-Periodic-Abstinence-and-NFP.html

    Our Lord Jesus Christ said “Whosoever shall receive one such child as this in my name, receiveth me. And whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.” Mark 9:37

    Those people who abuse NFP or refuse the children that God wants to send to them reject the love of Jesus Christ and will be punished in this life and the next.

    • Mary

      Great discussion by Father Ryan Erlenbush, “NFP: The Myth of the “Contraceptive Mentality.” (found on Crisis Magazine website!)
      http://www.crisismagazine.com/2011/nfp-the-myth-of-the-“contraceptive-mentality”

      To quote from F. Erlenbush:

      “The encyclical Humanae Vitae (10, 16) speaks of “serious reasons,” “just causes,” “worthy and weighty justifications,” “defensible reasons,” and “just reasons” for spacing children or avoiding pregnancy through the use of natural family planning. What exactly qualifies as a serious, just, worthy, and defensible reason for spacing children is certainly a point of debate — and there is no easy, one-size-fits-all answer!

      It is clear that the Church has never taught that NFP should only be used in the most extreme circumstances, or in life-or-death situations. Further, it should now be clear that a couple who uses (or even misuses) natural family planning will never be in danger of a falling into a contraceptive mentality. For a more philosophical presentation of these ideas, see Janet Smith’s article on the subject.”

  • Isez

      There seems to be a plethora of reasons among those who are writing about their experiences with NFP, for using it in the first place, but so far I’ve seen nothing that justifies its use in accord with the instructions of the Catholic Church.  It is obvious that couples who are involved with NFP have been taught a lot about the wonders of  charted fertillity, timed abstinence , the joys and enrichment of ‘communication” about same,  and  are permitted to  lament the difficulties sometimes arising when the human will cannot quite conform.   But are all married couples today in dire straits?  Are they so compromised in health, physical and mental, as well as  finances that they dare not bring forth a child, except when everything else is in order according to their particular wants.?   Is it even hinted at in NFP classes that there is NO justification for practicing “planning and avoiding”  except for “GRAVE” reasons.?  The answer to all is NO.  The word “GRAVE”? has been modified to the more acceptable “serious” which can mean anything one wants it to mean.The fact that NFP  is a wholesale industry  tells the story.  While claiming to be a helpmate for achieving as well as avoiding,  there is no overabundance of testimonies as to how NFP is thankfully credited for achieving pregnancy.  It is promoted as an alternative to chemical contraception. If not,  why are all Catholic couples  entering marriage today forced to take instruction  in  NFP.  ?  Are all marriages starting out in dire poverty, with the bride in a compromised state of health?  EVen common wisdom would dictate that such a marriage is not getting off to a good start and should be posponed.    NFP education has become a behemoth of an industry which reaches even into elementary school  , with programs and curriculum implanting the message that NFP is as basic to marriage, as spaghetti is to meatballs.   Some even  delude themselves that they are exercising great virtue in the practice of NFP.  What nonsense.  Speaking of modesty and shame, what do young children need to know about mucus, fertility, etc.   God ordained marriage between a man and woman for the begetting, nurturing and eduction of children…..as many as HE sees fit to bless them with. 

  • Pingback: NFP is hard to do…Part 1: Backstory and definitions | nfpdiaries

MENU