This is the sixth in a series of posts featuring some women’s experience with natural family planning. To read previous posts in this series, click here. To read the post that originally inspired this project, click here. To read about the purpose of and ground rules for this project, click here.
This issue has been one that I too have struggled with for years, as I desire to follow church teaching and yet have a chronic disease, Type 1 diabetes, that makes pregnancy a much more serious condition than it would otherwise be. After being blessed with the birth of my daughter (she is 4), I know I have not had the time and energy to pour into my health to make another pregnancy a healthy possibility. Therefore, I am one of those that ‘quietly don’t follow the magisterium” as Jonathan Post said.
As much as I try to have faith in our church leaders, the longer that I am married and experience what that relationship is all about, the more convicted I am that an unmarried man with no experience of a marriage relationship has any possible ability to truly understand the challenges faced in the marriage relationship and in raising children.
Because of this, I have sincerely changed my own tendency to judge priests, because I feel that I can only expect out of them what I wish they would expect out of me – a willingness to try and understand the other, without judgment, when both have the goal of growing closer to Christ and bringing others along with them.
But I grow weary from those who judge my choices without really understanding why I have had to make them. We cannot walk in someone else shoes. Those who are employing artificial means or birth control may be doing so for selfish reasons, but they also might not be.
I wish everyday that my life was different, that possible pregnancy did not require meetings with multiple doctors, hyper awareness of my blood glucose levels and a very regulated schedule. I burn with envy of those for whom pregnancy can be approached with some level of casual spontaneity. And all of these feelings have caused me to sincerely question God with why I, someone who fully desires to embrace church teaching, must disobey it. Though I cannot figure out an answer, I know that this struggle has enabled me to be a better minister to those who go through other struggles with the church.
Much of what the church teaches about sex is idyllic, which is lovely. But anyone who regularly practices any sort of sexual relationship knows that it is never so neat as the church makes it out to be. I often feel that church leaders, perhaps because of their own lack of experience in sexual matters, imagine the act of sex much differently than it actually occurs.
And in addition, much of church teaching gives me the impression that church leaders think that those of us who are involved in married sexual relationships are constantly refraining ourselves from our lust-filled sexual appetites. Any couple who has small children, jobs, homes, and normal American lives know that sex is often something that has to be forced because everyone is so tired from the strain of everyday life.
Fitting it in is a challenge that must be done for the sake of a relationship but often can’t be conveniently arranged around a woman’s menstrual cycle, especially when an additional burden of a disease, or financial challenges, or simply available time and energy, is added into the equation. It is anything but simple.
Update: One Year Later
In the time since I wrote the above, life has shifted a bit and we have decided it is possible to try and have another child. But unlike the first time around when I got pregnant with our daughter fairly easily, this time has proven more difficult. A friend who went through infertility problems handed me a book about infertility, ‘natural birth control’, and increasing chances for conception that was written from a completely secular perspective.
I have been using this book to help us in trying to conceive another child but I have also been considering its possibility for use as birth control if we are blessed with another child, though I am sure my doctors would advise me against pursuing another pregnancy because of my health situation.
The fact that this book was written from a secular perspective surprisingly made me much more likely to follow its recommendations. This gave me great pause. This experience has unseated within me feelings about the role the church should play in my sexuality that previously were unknown to me.
I have also begun to wonder if I am alone in this. I wonder how many ‘good girls’ (women like me who waited for sex until marriage but then employed artificial means of birth control) feel weary, after following all the rules, that the church also wants to be in our bedrooms and doesn’t trust women to make our own decisions in matters like this.
This ‘rethink’ has caused me to wonder if I might have approached NFP differently had it been presented to me by a woman with whom I identified – a working woman with a few children, who desired to live a healthy life, aware of her own fertility and how it could work, instead of by the priest in our parish who required an NFP class to get married. The church does itself another disservice in those it often chooses to teach NFP classes - many times, ‘old-fashioned, traditional’ families where there isn’t really a practice of NFP so much as a complete openness to whatever children God provides (which is a perspective I wish were possible for me).
I’m a high school teacher, and one of my colleagues always says that we need to meet the kids where they are. The same needs to be said of the church’s presentation of NFP. Young couples need to see others like themselves – perhaps people who wait a few years to have children, perhaps families that only have 2 or 3 children – and show them that this can possibly be achievable with NFP.
The church also needs to realize that what works for one won’t necessarily work for the other, not because people don’t desire it to work but because they have extenuating circumstances that make it more difficult than a ‘normal’ couple. The church isn’t meeting people where they are at, isn’t listening to the circumstances that people are in, and isn’t proposing a solution that works.
Perhaps there is an openness to life that still exists even if people employ artificial means of birth control but it is a wider understanding of what that ‘openness’ means – an openness to providing the best parenting a couple can manage, an openness to serving the less fortunate in wholehearted ways, an openness to growing in love of Christ and others in the world.