The biggest misconception of Natural Family Planning

A friend sent me an Instagram story the other day where someone was answering the question: “What is your opinion on NFP?”

The person’s answer was basically saying: NFP is often used as Catholic contraception and that you shouldn’t have sex if you don’t want kids.

I have thoughts.

Let me just first admit that I used to be that person who thought there was very, very rarely a reason to avoid pregnancy. When we first got married, we were very open to pregnancy, despite Logan making barely any money and me being temporarily unemployed. So I just figured that everyone else didn’t have any serious reasons to avoid either! (I know, I know.)

Thankfully, I’ve gotten way more perspective in the last 9 years and am truly grateful that the Catholic Church, in all Her wisdom and glory, gave us the gift of Natural Family Planning (NFP). Check out the Catechism, paragraphs 2368-2370. (It’s online here if you don’t have a copy, but I highly recommend getting one!) The main line, to assure that the Church does indeed say we can use NFP is from paragraph 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.”

Sometimes the best thing for you, your spouse, and your children (and/or future children) is to wait a bit before you have a baby. And I won’t even go into the possible reasons, because the Church does not give a list of them for a reason. NFP is designed to make us discern for ourselves.

I’m so thankful we have an option other than birth control during those times, because when my husband and I give ourselves to each other, we want to give ourselves fully, fertility and all – as terrifying as it can be sometimes! Withholding the gift of fertility from each other – using birth control – is not conducive to a holy marriage. You cannot have a self-sacrificial love for your spouse when you are giving them everything except your fertility.

Please know I am in no way judging anyone who uses birth control. I’m simply telling you that there is a better way! God intended for every marital act to be open to life. NFP enables us to do just that! (I could go on about the effects that using birth control has on a marriage but that could be another post in itself and much more qualified people have written extensively on the subject.)

Now for my thoughts regarding NFP being a “Catholic contraceptive.”

NFP is not contraception. It’s not even close. Google’s definition of contraceptive is: “a device or drug serving to prevent pregnancy.” With contraception, you are having sex and withholding your fertility, using a device or drug (or the withdrawal method, which is not effective by the way).

With NFP, you are not using a device or drug. You don’t need those because you are not having sex. You are abstaining on fertile days because you have prayerfully discerned with your spouse that this particular month is not a good month to conceive a baby.

Some couples decide to not use NFP at all. God bless them. I truly wish we were one of them, but we are not. I think God knew I needed a bigger perspective and more humility. I just cringe thinking of my former judgmental self, because now I know the reasons for postponing a pregnancy are numerous, and nobody will completely understand those reasons except for the couple themselves.

What people who have never used NFP don’t realize is that NFP is hard. Sometimes you just really want to renew your wedding vows and be close to your spouse but life circumstances tell you that you need to wait. And the thing about NFP is that you’re having to abstain during the time that your body is telling you it wants to make a baby.

In a world that tells us we should have all the sex we want, whenever we want? ABSTAINING IS HARD. But it is still so much better than the alternative.

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Could a couple be selfish in their reasons for postponing a pregnancy? Perhaps. We are human, after all.

But the thing about NFP is that it makes you communicate and pray with your spouse about whether or not we have good reasons for abstaining. You’re not going to want to abstain unless you have serious reasons to do so!

In our experience, our “plan” ends up changing because our hearts change. Each month, we become more and more open to another pregnancy. Like I said, abstaining is hard, and NFP makes sure we’re doing it for the right reasons. We eventually find ourselves in a place where we are not sure whether our reasons for postponing a pregnancy are still valid. So we give it to God, as cliche as it sounds.

NFP is actually a gift, and one we should use wisely. Like the Catechism says, “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” (CCC 2368). Nobody can discern that other than you and your spouse. It does require a lot of prayer and communication, and if you’re not doing that on a regular basis, you’re missing the point.

And perhaps that’s what the person on Instagram was referring to, but I still have to say…NFP is not a contraceptive. Each marital act is still open to life, which is what God intends.

Do read those paragraphs in the Catechism (2386-2370) to know why God and His Church has given us this gift. God has such a beautiful plan for and every one of our marriages, and NFP plays a big part in that for many of us.

A tale of 4 vacuums

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We’ve had a rough go of it with vacuum cleaners lately. A shop vac and two indoor vacuums. They’ve all been around for years, though, so when I opened our newest indoor vacuum, I was optimistic. There was no way this thing would die on me! I put it together and it worked really well. Whew.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Before I knew it, though, the vacuum had caught the loose strand from the corner of the living room rug. In a matter of 3 seconds, the vacuum sucked up over 30 feet of thread from the rug and shut off.

Say what?

I was really tempted to just throw out the darn thing and give up on vacuuming altogether (melodramatic much, I know). But I took a deep breath, found a screwdriver, took apart the new vacuum, and cut out all of the rug pieces. It took longer than I would have liked, and I was really tempted to just wait until Logan was home so he could do it. But I kept with it and finally was able to turn on the vacuum. Much to my relief, it started working beautifully again.

How often does the same thing happen in our marriage? We think things are working well, then suddenly we hit a snag – a disagreement about an issue, a betrayal – and we don’t know what to do. Why fix yet another vacuum cleaner when this is already the 4th one in less than a month that has crapped out on us? (Yes, people, four. Talk about ridiculousness.)

But there is bound to be conflict in a marriage. We’re humans! And the only way to get past it is to resolve it, no matter how difficult it may be. We need to resist the temptation to just throw away the vacuum cleaner or sweep an issue under the rug. (Pun intended.)

Our marriage is thriving now because we’ve both taken honest looks at ourselves, realized what we each need to work on, and how we can support each other in doing so. And it’s still very much a work in progress.

Sometimes we’ve had to cut loose strings that were keeping us from connecting fully – just like I had to do to the vacuum to get it to work again. Sometimes the process has been painstakingly slow and brutal. We’ve had to be patient with ourselves and each other.

But it pays off. Fix the vacuum – er, address the problem in your marriage. Do the work you need to do to make your marriage thrive. It won’t always be easy, you’ll probably hit snags along the way (remember, the enemy wants your marriage to fail!), but God gives us the grace we need to grow closer to Him and to our spouse.

I know this is a lot easier said than done. If you’re needing a little help or guidance in how to communicate better with your spouse, I recommend taking a look at these resources:

  • The Temperament God Gave Your Spouse by Art and Laraine Bennett – our temperaments play a huge part in how we react or handle certain situations, and this book provides helpful communication techniques for each temperament
  • Praying for (and With) Your Spouse: The Way to Deeper Love by Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak – prayer is a vital component of marriage and resolving conflict, and the Popcaks provide so much encouragement, inspiration, and helpful tips when it comes to praying both for and with your spouse
  • How to handle everyday conflict in your marriage at Aleteia – this short blog post provides some good tips/thoughts
  • The Bible – I’m always amazed at how many times I’m reading Scripture and come across the perfect verse that is an answer to prayer. There is so much wisdom in the Bible – don’t forget to read it often!

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” – Proverbs 3:5-6 (NRSV)