Friends, this post deals with a more “controversial” topic than I usually write about here, but it has been on my heart for years to share something about this. I did my very best to write this post honestly and openly, as always, and I know I can say the same for the women who were generous enough to contribute. Thank you in advance for your kindness and thoughtfulness in any responses, even if you don’t necessarily agree with everything we say. Your heart and your perspective mean a lot to me, regardless of your feelings on this subject!
I was recently asked what I think the most challenging part of being a Catholic woman today is. My answer: being called so often to live in a way that is not easy, convenient, or even always easy to explain, when all three of those things sometimes seem to be valued above almost anything else in our society. The biggest example of this that I can think of is the Catholic Church’s call to married couples to practice natural family planning. Learning to practice a highly scientific method (spoiler alert that I should really put in all caps: NFP is not the “rhythm method” despite what the media wants us to believe), being completely consistent with it, communicating with your spouse every single month about your desire to achieve or avoid a pregnancy, denying your desires in certain weeks or seasons, and praying and inviting God into this most intimate part of your lives? Nothing about that is easy, convenient, or easy to explain.
And yet. If I had to name a single thing that has strengthened our marriage more than anything else, it is this.
I know talking publicly about family planning, especially when it’s done in a counter-cultural way, is touchy, and my goal in this post is not to convince anyone of anything other than that natural family planning exists and it is a good thing. And, that it’s also a hard thing. As a Catholic, I sometimes feel responsible for making NFP sound attractive (pre-marital workshops like to take this approach :P) in order to justify our practice of it. But here’s the thing…sometimes, NFP just stinks. It feels like too heavy of a cross to bear and too overwhelming, while from a distance, other options seem so easy.
But then I remember that being a Catholic is not supposed to be easy. It is supposed to be counter-cultural. It is supposed to make me holier and make me sacrifice and push me to the feet of Jesus and His divine mercy and grace day after day after day. To us, practicing NFP makes our fertility and our family planning and yes, our sex life part of that. I am nowhere near as holy of a person as I hope to be. I mess up a lot and I struggle and I am wildly unworthy of heaven. And that is why I need this teaching. Day by day, month by month, sacrifice after sacrifice, and prayer after prayer, I believe wholeheartedly that the Church asks this of me and my marriage for a reason…a reason that is worth it.
This week is NFP Awareness Week, and in honor of that, I asked some of my friends to share their experiences with NFP…both the good and the challenging. I was so encouraged by their honest answers and I hope you find it interesting to read their unique perspectives.
I use Creighton Method and NaPro technology and it has been a gift not only for our marriage, but also for giving me answers about hormonal struggles I’ve had since I was a teenager. I’ve dealt with painful cramps, anxiety, frequent migraines, nausea, and vomiting on a monthly basis since I can remember.
My husband is a family/internal medicine doctor and NaPro medicinal consultant and that has been so helpful for me to learn about the medical system behind charting with Creighton. It was through NaPro that I learned I had endometriosis and was educated on my options in case the diagnosis led to infertility. Thankfully, I had no problem conceiving, which I owe entirely to the education I received from charting my cycles through Creighton. I’m also grateful that I found answers to my health issues that I was looking for…I wish I would have started when I was 13!
I think the most difficult part of charting is being disciplined with it. I love that I don’t have to take a birth control pill every day, but practicing Creighton requires education, consistency, and sacrifice. Honestly, some days, NFP is harder to stick to than others, but what we’ve experienced in our marriage is that the hard things in life are always the most rewarding.
The greatest blessing of practicing NFP is the gift it is to our marriage. Through using NFP, we have developed complete trust, openness, and vulnerability with one another. NFP has strengthened our love and marriage. Another blessing is seeing the fruit of our love in our son, Peter. Peter’s life is a miracle due to Mike and I uniting our love with God’s love and plan for us.
The most difficult challenge of using NFP is finding resources, and when they are found, providing for the resources. Unfortunately, we live in an area where we have to pay out of pocket for classes for the method of NFP we use. It definitely is worth it, but I wish that resources (charts and stickers) were more readily available. I often tell Mike that my goal is to get charts in the back of every church for couples!
Method: We use the Creighton Model FertilityCare System.
I really attribute NFP to my husband’s and my communication skills. By practicing NFP, we are forced to constantly be in communication about really intimate and personal things, including our hopes and fears when it comes to having children, our reasons for wanting to conceive or not conceive, our wants and desires, and frustrations and insecurities when it comes to intimacy and sex. There is no glossing over issues of sexuality and intimacy when you practice NFP. You HAVE to talk about it. Talking about such a personal thing–maybe THE most personal thing–has made us so much better at communicating about every other thing in our life and marriage.
NFP can be really tough. Intimacy is such a beautiful gift in marriage and the unifying impact cannot be downplayed. When we are in seasons of using NFP to avoid a pregnancy, it can be really hard to achieve that unifying intimacy and feel like both of our love tanks are filled. It can lead to lots of frustration and misunderstood feelings if we aren’t careful. I guess I’m mostly saying that it’s hard, ha. It’s 100% worth it and beautiful and sanctifying, but using NFP to avoid conception is not easy or convenient or fun.
Method: We use the Creighton Method and really like it!
Practicing NFP has been incredibly empowering for me as a woman. Learning about my cycle gives me confidence in knowing myself and my fertility. Additionally, as a result of being in tune with my unique cycle, I have concrete evidence of when times of stress or change are taking a toll on me or when my emotions might be a little, ahem, heightened (wink). It’s monumental to my self-care.
While NFP is a blessing, it’s also a heavy cross. Admittedly, I complain about NFP (to myself and to my husband) more than I express gratitude for it. And while I never long for an alternative, there are times when NFP really stretches a marriage.
Method: We use the Creighton model for NFP. It’s what we learned while we were engaged and it works well with my particular body.
I would say that greatest blessing NFP has brought to my life actually happened before I got married. NFP requires some form of charting and cycle knowledge, and I actually started charting years before I met Brian for feminine health reasons. Through that, I found out I was severely low in progesterone, which explained why my periods were irregular and I had intense PMS. But also, low progesterone can be a cause of miscarriage. I was able to treat the issue and prevent miscarriages as we began our married life, which I am eternally grateful for.
For Brian and I, the biggest challenge of NFP is the communication. Understanding each other’s perspective, experience, and desires has been one of the most difficult hills to climb, and we are constantly having to work at it. A lot of proponents of NFP hail the “increased communication” and connection that develops between couples who practice it. While the reality of that is true to some degree, it isn’t without the Cross.
Method: I use the Creighton Model, but am looking into possibly learning a secondary method such as the Marquette Method. I have heard it can be helpful during the postpartum/nursing phase, which I’m about to enter into!
Method: We learned Creighton while we were engaged, but switched to Marquette for the postpartum season on a friend’s recommendation, and have preferred it. I find the process easier and more seamless, and since I have relatively regular cycles, it has been a wonderful fit for us. Bonus: the OB-GYN I go to recently began to offer Marquette classes and resources! If you’re local, I can’t recommend Reply highly enough if you currently practice NFP (Marquette method or other methods) or would like to.
“We have no wish at all to pass over in silence the difficulties, at times very great, which beset the lives of Christian married couples. For them, as indeed for every one of us, ‘the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life.’ Nevertheless it is precisely the hope of that life which, like a brightly burning torch, lights up their journey, as, strong in spirit, they strive to live ‘sober, upright and godly lives in this world,” knowing for sure that ‘the form of this world is passing away.'” -Humanae Vitae
Humanae Vitae (the Church’s official document on this teaching)
The Living Humanae Vitae series on Mama Needs Coffee, in which different women shared in-depth, unique experiences of living out this teaching in their marriages
Managing Your Fertility (a great resource for learning about the different NFP methods and connecting with experts)
A Feminist Take on Humanae Vitae and Contraception, on The Catholic Feminist Podcast
The Creighton Model and Advocating for Your Healthcare, on The Catholic Feminist Podcast
Uncharted Territory: Getting Real About Natural Family Planning, on the Fountains of Carrots Podcast