So, it's NFP Awareness Week, apparently. The internet is plastered with memes and posts and stuff. My favorite response was Simcha Fisher's, which is that when you're using NFP, the one thing you'd like is to be a little less aware of it. (She's also having a big giveaway on her blog to promote her book, so if you're interested in free stuff, you might want to mosey on down there. I wasn't interested in any of the prizes, but if you use NFP you probably will be.)
Anyway, I can hardly be a Catholic blogger and not blog about NFP this week .... but the thing is, I appear to be the only married Catholic I know who doesn't use it!
Before you gasp with horror, let me point out that this doesn't mean I use birth control. That's an odd sort of dichotomy. I don't use birth control. It's just that in five years of marriage, we've never had cause to use anything, so we haven't. So our kids are "not exactly planned" -- we just kind of let it happen, and that's been fine so far. Breastfeeding has worked well to space them out.
This doesn't mean I'm opposed to NFP, because I'm not. I can think of no end of very good reasons why people use it, like to recover after a c-section (a third of us get one, you know!) or to fix hormonal or emotional issues (if you have severe PPD, you might want to get that under control) or just because breastfeeding doesn't work to space their babies like it does for me. I honestly believe that having a baby every year is very hard on your body, and that our bodies weren't meant to undergo that. That's why breastfeeding works as birth control -- it's our bodies' natural way of making sure we don't get pregnant that often! And if it doesn't work, either because we can't breastfeed or because we're one of those people (and it's hard to tell ahead of time!) whom breastfeeding doesn't work as birth control for, NFP can be a corrective.
At the same time, I don't buy a whole lot of the advertising. Does NFP really reduce your risk of divorce? Who knows! The statistic you find of "only 2% of NFP-using couples get divorced!" isn't substantiated anywhere I can see. And even if it is true, there's no control group of those of us who just have babies. Maybe we're too buried under babies to even consider getting divorced!
For some couples, NFP helps their communication. For others, it's just one more thing to fight over. For some, it's a joyful honeymoon every month. For others, it's a miserable slog. I can really see why you would use it for a good reason. I don't see at all why you would do it just for kicks, for all the "fringe benefits." And for those who say "oh but you can use it to get pregnant too!" I would say, why go through all that trouble of charting and fussing around with the numbers when (if you are a normal couple of normal fertility) you will get pregnant sooner or later anyway?
The reason Catholics use NFP isn't because it's fun or wonderful or an enriching spiritual practice. We use it because we can't use birth control, and in a world where kids aren't free labor, but rather an expense; and where almost all of our kids will make it to adulthood so we're not hedging our bets against infant mortality; and where we now realize that maternal mortality can be avoided in most cases -- well, sometimes it does make a lot of sense to avoid having kids for awhile.
I'm not tempted to use birth control. The aesthetic does not appeal to me. I don't want to take medications long-term, especially ones that will screw with my hormones. I don't want to feel like I have to be medicated out of health to function normally. Thinking about IUD's makes me want to pass out. Condoms are just kinda squicky to me. The only way that really makes sense to me to avoid having babies is to not have sex, either at all or periodically. And luckily, lack of sex isn't deadly. We all practice abstinence at least sometimes, for one reason or another, and though it's sometimes difficult, it's not the end of the world.
But I'm not going to hand down a lecture about how all babies should be wanted (in the sense of, one should always want a baby) because the fact is, I understand. A family has no limit on the love it can provide, but it does have a limit on the beds it can squeeze in. There is a limit on how much sleep deprivation you can undergo before you become a less patient mother. There is a limit on how close together you can have babies and still breastfeed them all. Sometimes to care adequately for the babies you have, you have to take a break from having more babies. This doesn't mean you don't value life, it means you know how to be prudent too. For everyone, this moment comes at a different time. Some people bravely have babies in circumstances that look scary to others, and it turns out okay for them. Others don't feel called to do this, and I'm hardly going to hand down my opinion when I haven't walked in their shoes.
I don't care if you use NFP or not, and I am not going to ask if you meant to have only two kids or if you've had ten miscarriages and desperately prayed for more living children. I understand that I am not going to be able to tell by looking at your family how "open to life" you are. I also understand that your blase "oh, we are so done" might possibly cover up a story you don't want to tell me -- like "my life is in danger if I get pregnant again" or "my husband and I are having severe marriage problems." So you are not going to get any judgment from me. Having ten kids is not proof of being a better Catholic.
And for those who use birth control, or believe in it -- all I can say is, the life we have works very well for us. Yes, not using all the pills and gadgets the rest of the world uses does make life more difficult for Catholics. I'd be lying if I pretended that weren't so. Abstaining is more difficult than not abstaining, and having ten kids is more difficult than having two.
But I can speak to the joy that I had at 15 when I finally had a baby brother of my very own. My parents were "too old" to start over, in the eyes of many, but all I can feel is gratitude that they were open to one more. (Which turned into four more, lol.) I can speak to the joy that Marko brings to our life every day, even though by every sensible measure we should never have conceived him -- we lived in a studio apartment at the time and neither of us was working! Being part of a subculture where marriage comes first, then sex, then (inevitably) babies, means a lot of different things. There's some dysfunction here and there, but I also hear a lot of envy from people outside it -- girls who wish they could have found a guy to date who respected them enough to wait for sex till after marriage, for instance. Or women who want to have babies but their husbands refuse. Or women whose husbands insist they stay on birth control but refuse to do any of the work. Or women whose IUD or implant made them severely ill.
I hear the stories on all sides; that's kind of how the internet is if you don't hide in your own subculture. I hear women say they are pregnant for the fifth time in five years and they were using NFP but messed up some detail and now what are they going to do. And a part of me says, "This is nuts, how can we be okay with this?" But then I click to another forum where a woman says "I am pregnant again and so happy because I really wanted another, but my husband will leave me if I don't have an abortion." And I think .... there's no solution here. There's no solution anywhere. Being a woman is hard. Having babies is hard. Our hearts are going to hurt, we're going to feel like we're not enough.
Really, I'm lucky, because I haven't had anything too terrible happen to me. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed. But overall I think my life is about right. I have beautiful babies -- I'm about to have another beautiful baby -- and as much as it terrifies me to think of the pain of labor and the sleepless nights and how much less I will have to give my other kids for awhile .... I know once I see that baby, I'll think it was worth it.
And at the same time, that doesn't mean at all I'm going to be in a rush for number four. Maybe next time we'll wait longer. We know how. The choice is ours, and although there is no way to make that choice without a sacrifice somewhere, I do feel free in the knowledge that we have it.