Welcome to this week’s Ask Caffeinated Catholic Mama! Our letter this week comes from Wendy in O’Fallon MO. Wendy writes:
By the grace of God, my husband and I have been without BC since Jan. of 2008. We now have three kiddos (just 2 in the last two years) and we’ve agreed we’re going to TTA another pregnancy for a bit. I just finished reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility and, while really encouraged, was a bit overwhelmed by her extensive charts. I’ve read about the short-cuts and I’ve heard about methods that just check CF, but I want to be thorough. Have you found any charts that are a bit less involved-looking? I don’t mind following all the steps, but I’d like the charts to be a bit more user friendly (circling more stuff) and I want my husband to be able to read the charts more easily (he hasn’t read the book–interested in NFP, but not in reading :)). What can you tell me?
PS–if there is a quick guide to NFP charting, could you suggest it for my husband? He is not a reader.
That’s a great question, Wendy and thanks for asking. Before I get to your answer, let’s go over some of the basics about the Catholic Church and it’s views on Birth Control/ Family Planning. In my personal opinion, the Church’s ban on contraceptives is probably the hardest one for people to really understand AND one of the most misunderstood. In a nutshell, God loves us with a free, total, faithful, fruitful love and we are called to love one another in the same way.
When spouses come together in the marital embrace, they are performing an act of self-donation so powerful that in nine months it may require a name! By contracepting, you are telling your spouse: “I love you, but I don’t love your fertility.” Or: “I give myself to you, well… everything except my fertility.” At the same time, however, the Church calls us to Responsible Parenthood, you should have the number of children that you can care for and support. If you are reading and you aren’t Catholic and don’t really care about what the Catholic Church says, but you value the environment and you are concerned about all of those extra estrogens in the water or you don’t really like the effects of hormonal birth control. So, what are you supposed to do?? Enter NFP: Natural Family Planning.
According to the Cathechism:
(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.158 These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil:159
Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality. . . . The difference, both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle . . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality.160
(2399) The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).
OK, so you might be thinking: So, that’s what the Catholic Church says… what about Scripture? Here are just a few:
Genesis 38:8-10 (New International Version)
8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Lie with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. 10 What he did was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so he put him to death also.
1 Corinthians 7:1-8 (New International Version)
1Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry.[a] 2But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. 3The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. 5Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
8Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am.
Ephesians 5:22-30 (New International Version)
Wives and Husbands
22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing[a] her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30for we are members of his body.
(There is a bunch more out there… if you google “Scripture on Contraception” they pop up.)
You might be thinking: “OK , that’s fine and dandy for those times, but come on… we are living in advanced technological times. God wouldn’t have given us the ability to invent contraception if He didn’t want us to use it. After all, I should be able to have sex with my wife/ husband whenever I want.” Uh… not really. In an extreme example, there is a four-letter word that is used to describe the action of one person forcing another to have sex. In a less extreme explanation, what God is calling us to do is to employ self control.
Let me explain: One is physically able to eat candy All. Day. Long… but we don’t. Why? Well, if you eat candy all day, you will get gut rot and probably end up puking. Action leads to Consequence. Pregnancy is a natural consequence of sex. (When I was a teacher, I repeatedly reminded my students that a consequence is not ALWAYS negative.) So, just like you shouldn’t eat candy whenever you want, you shouldn’t have sex whenever you want. You wouldn’t have sex if either partner was sick, you wouldn’t have sex if either partner was exhausted… so logic follows that it shouldn’t be such a stretch to avoid having sex when one is most fertile.
Christopher West, author of Theology of the Body for Beginners and Good News about Sex and Marriage (among other books) has a great analogy:
To some people this seems like splitting hairs. “What’s the big difference,” they ask, “between rendering the union sterile yourself and just waiting until it is naturally infertile? The end result is the same: both couples avoid children.” To which I respond, what’s the big difference between killing Grandma and just waiting until she dies naturally? End result’s the same: Dead Grandma.” (TOBfb: pg. 111)
So, Wendy, I think that it is fantastic that you and your husband have decided to forgo Birth Control and to be true to your body. My husband and I have been practicing NFP since after the birth of The Bear in July 2007 and right now, I am still infertile due to Ecological Breastfeeding (although EB is only really reliable for the first 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding. So, while I haven’t had a cycle, I still watch for signs of fertility.) We practice the Sympto-Thermal method of NFP (and for you doubters out there, NFP is not the old “Rhythm” or “Calendar” method and when used CORRECTLY is 99% effective in avoiding pregnancy.) In the S-T method, I take my temperature in the morning and chart it and I monitor cervical mucus for changes. The charting is easy-peasy and quite easy to learn. We opted not to take a classroom class, instead we did the Home Study Course offered by Couple to Couple. (My husband is not to keen on the class setting and does not find that sort of material to be the most interesting reading…) What I really like about the ST method is that there’s nothing to buy (except batteries for the thermometer when needed) and it really makes me feel like I am honoring my body. You can even use some on-line sources for maintaining your chart if you are not too keen on the pen and paper method.
Because I am not currently charting, I asked for some other thoughts and opinions for you and your husband:
Take a class where both husband and wife will get to hear and see, along with other couples, a specific type of NFP. The book she has read has many different symptoms, which is great but also a lot. Learning one method, like Sympto-Thermo from Couple-to-Couple, would make a husband’s understanding and charting much better. The CCLI chart that we use is not as difficult to understand and chart as the one shared in the book. The book and charts are available online, as you know. She can get started reading and charting before the class even starts!
She might want to try an ovulation machine or the OvaCue. Without taking classes or reading the NFP book thoroughly she will want something to supplement until she gets the system down.
Praise her for her decision to stay natural and true to her body. Also remind her that in order to be 100% effective in avoiding a pregnancy, she will have to abstain until she gets a method down pat and understands her body. When choosing a method, having a mentor couple to support them would be great as well to help understand charts. (A mentor couple would be the couple that teaches the class.)
(I know that some women go on hormonal birth control due to cycle irregularities and at the time of this writing, I’ve asked my priest and my OB/GYN their opinion on this (my doctor is an NFP OB/GYN… lotsa letters there) but I haven’t heard from them… yet.)
Now, don’t get me wrong… there are times when it is TOUGH. When I am fertile, my husband swears that he can smell the pheromones I am throwing off and he just wants to… you know… (which does make sense if you think about it.) But, we abstain for the 5-7 days that we need to (if we are trying to avoid) and on that 8th day… it’s like a honeymoon every. single. month.
So, Wendy, I hope that answers your question. I am sure that there are people out there burning with questions of their own. I am sure there are people who disagree with the thought process behind it all, especially the thought of not doing what you want, when you want. After all, we live in a society of instant gratification… and much like Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka, we tend to all cry out with a chorus of “I want it now!” with everything in our lives. But fertility is not something to grasp and possess and control. Fertility is a gift from God, and if you ever doubt this, ask any couple struggling with infertility just how precious that gift is. (That’s not to say that couples struggling with infertility are being withheld a gift from God, rather, that God has other plans.)
Looking forward to your thoughts! Comment below!
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