“So, what IS NFP?” I asked our priest during one (of two) premarital meetings.
“Oh, erm, a sort of natural birth control you can use so you don’t have too many kids.” The Monsignor replied.
That, my friends, was my introduction to world of Catholic Birth Control. Now before you modernists get all up in arms about my misuse of the term birth control, that is exactly how NFP had been presented to us. And to be quite honest, that is how many women within the Body of Christ present it—while they may not say the words “birth control” their flippant comments about avoiding children to the point of bragging does make one cock their head in confusion. Controlling Birth does not have to be in the form of a pill, condom, or IUD…better fertility care has made it now very possible for the non-contracepting woman to indeed have a contraceptive mindset. Until about sixty years ago, it was well known that the Church taught the procreation of life is the first end of marriage (1917 Canon 1013). Did marriage change around the time of the Vatican 2? No, but the world changed, secular culture changed (ie the sexual revolution) and the modern church has been toeing the line ever since.
I have written in the past of our being open to life—the journey which we realized we really had no grave reason to abstain even when we were in the thick of Brennan’s kidney journey. I can say without a doubt that having Winston was wonderful and good, even though I did not know the extent of the surgeries that Brennan would need in Winston’s first 10 months of life. This brings me to my first point…the idea that a husband and wife pray and discern if it would be a good time to have a baby… as if they can tell with any certainty what the next year would bring? Looking back on Brennan’s troubles, would it have been easier to go through that with only one child? Maybe. Would it have changed my mind on being open to life? To be honest, perhaps. It is honestly very easy to “discern” with your spouse while unconsciously making excuses about why a baby simply could not fit in to your life.
The idea of discernment brings me to my second point… the incorrect notion that discernment to avoid new life (THE LITERAL POINT OF CATHOLIC MARRIAGE) could be done without guidance from a good and holy priest. But instead…discernment is often being placed into the hands of fertility-care practitioners. A short story: a few months ago, I was at a book club when someone brought a [Catholic] fertility care practitioner as her guest. An older woman gushed at her job, mentioning that it must be so rewarding to help infertile woman and asking about how many she’s helped in her 2+ years on the job. Her response? 0. ZERO women helped. She went on to say that her primary job was helping Catholic women avoid pregnancy. Is teaching women about their fertility problematic? No. But does helping women avoid pregnancy without grave reason put you in a state of mortal sin?
Can charting lead to sin? For us, it absolutely did. There were only four months when we purposefully avoided between Brennan and Winston and those were the most miserable months of our marriage by far. Not because of the lack of intimacy, but because of my obsession with temping and charting and checking allthethings. I was afraid I would get pregnant and thus become a “NFP method failure”. I just was not very pleasant to be around. Then it dawned on us, what if we just trusted God? We trusted Him totally and completely with every other aspect of our life, so it was absolutely asinine that we would hold a stupid chart higher than Almighty God. If we did not have families live out their marriage vows completely, we would not have St. Catherine of Siena, Pope Pius X, and St. Therese (and many more I cannot think of at the moment).
Modern NFP culture tells women that grave is whenever they feel like not having a baby. Of course, the modern Church doesn’t even like to use the “G” word anymore so they ask couples if a reason is just…No explanation and certainly no direction to seek counsel from a priest. NFP week is blasted on social media pages to turn non Catholic friends into a healthier, “more effective” alternative to birth control, and while yes it is indeed healthier than pumping our bodies with artificial hormones, trendy NFP culture is pumping God’s daughters with untruths about Catholic marriage. Is pregnancy to be feared? Are babies the enemy? Women quite literally brag about how long “they’ve been clean” (not pregnant). Newlywed couples are instructed, as we were, to use NFP because we needed to “get to know each other for at least a year” (and the best thing we did was ignore that advice!) Catholic women who are pregnant are nervous and “extra thankful” when people are happy for them being pregnant again because they genuinely fear responses from family, friends, and social media.
The 1958 “Catholic Marriage Manual” by Reverend George A. Kelly, states, “In former times having no children or having only a few children would be so scandalous and un-Christian as to merit only a short note of condemnation[…] The birth control state of mind is nowhere more clearly manifested than by many engaged couples who, without any grave problems at all, enter marriage with family limitation upper-most in their young minds. For a couple after ten years of marriage to think in terms of family limitation is one thing. For a couple with two or three children to exaggerate their money, health, or space problems is much more common and much more deserving of criticism. Reverend Kelly later notes explicitly that “[t]he control of births, therefore, should always be the exceptional situation in marriage, never the normal.”
Making the transition from disordered thinking to actually trusting God has not been been easy. Liam and I went in to marriage assuming we’d have a few kids and “be done” by 30. It is certainly daunting at times to think I have almost two decades of fertility ahead of me. However, the idea of a truly big family has become less daunting since joining a parish where big families are simply the norm (we are a family of 5 and considered small). To see parents, whether in the trenches of littles or raising young adults, gracefully rearing 5-13 children in joy has been nothing but awe-inspiring. This is something we have never experienced in the novus ordo.
Overall, ditching the NFP mindset would have never crossed our mind had we not made the jump to Tradition but, like every other part of our lives, this has been both liberating and sanctifying. When will we have another baby? How many more will we have? In the words of Bishop Schneider, “May God decide. For He is wiser than we.”