Women Speak About Natural Family Planning: X’s Story

This is the seventh in a series of posts featuring some women’s experience with natural family planning.  To read previous posts, 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.

X’s Story

When my husband and I graduated from college about 15 years ago, we belonged to a perhaps unusual social group (although not that unusual if you hang around Catholic colleges): we and a bunch of our friends were getting married in our early twenties and were gung-ho for NFP. We had heard lots of talks about the evils of contraception and many testamonials about the wonders NFP did for marriage. Above all we were eager to live as young Catholics who were faithful to the Church.

However, almost all of our cohort of friends, including us, abandoned the practice of NFP within a few years because of the strain to our marriages. This wasn’t the healthy strain and struggle of trying to live virtuously. It was the strain of doing something that was actively hurting our relationships.

For some it was the way it led to poor decisions about when to have children. (One marriage was struggling and close to failing and the couple chose to risk conception so that they could have greater intimacy and bonding during that difficult time in their relationship. The added strain of the child they conceived to the problems they already had was the last straw in their marriage.)

For others it had to do with the inability to work through sexual problems (e.g. painful intercourse) because NFP required long periods of abstinence when they couldn’t do the exercises their therapist was recommending.

For another couple it had to do with the wife’s irregular cycles that would frequently mean going for months without intercourse.

Even now, I know my husband and I would never go back. We have four young kids and are exhausted at the end of most days. The chances for all the stars to align for us to be sexually intimate are rare enough as it is without more days blocked out by the NFP calendar. I don’t think anyone can accuse us of not being open to life (heck, we are even thinking about going for #5), but I think NFP at this point would mean sacrificing the unitive part of our marriage. So we are contracepting for the sake of our marriage.

There are lots of people who have had good experiences with NFP. But there are also a lot of people who have whole heartedly embraced it and had very negative experiences. (And I should add: for some, this has broken their relationship with the Church because of the resentment they feel about this and/or their ongoing sense of being rejected for doing what was best for their marriage.) The Church really needs to listen to the experiences of both groups.

I have found that priests and bishops are quick to trumpet NFP success stories and quick to discount stories where NFP had a negative impact. They assume the couple just wasn’t trying hard enough. Clearly, this is not always the case.

Women Speak About Natural Family Planning: Julie’s Story

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.

Julie’s Story

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. 

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Women Speak About Natural Family Planning: GS’s Story

This is the fifth in a series of posts featuring some women’s experience with natural family planning.  The previous four can be read here, here, here, and here.  For the post that originally inspired this project, click here.  To read about the purpose of and rules for this project, click here.

GS’s Story

What a relief it is to discover that there is a place that Catholics can come and share their real-life experiences with NFP without fear of getting a public internet pounding, conservative-Catholic style.

Brief history: I grew up in a very orthodox, very authoritarian Catholic home.  My husband’s family was also ultra-orthodox (particularly his mother), but not quite so authoritarian about it.  We both went to one of those small, very orthodox Catholic colleges dedicated to the study of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, etc.  We fell in love and married in our early/mid twenties (both virgins in every sense of the word) and just figured we would accept children as they came, because that is what we had been raised to believe was our duty as Catholics.

We did try an early method of symptothermal NFP (it wasn’t CCL–I honestly can’t remember the name of the method) in the early months of our marriage, not to delay pregnancy, but just to learn about my body.  We quickly tossed the thermometer because I am a bad sleeper at best, and being woken up every morning at the same time to check my temp was really disrupting my sleep.

I became pregnant when we had been married nearly 11 months.  The baby was born, I was depressed and stressed out in ways I never thought possible (let’s just say the ole natural maternal instincts that were supposed to magically kick in pretty much never did—even decades later! but that’s another story), but also certain I would not get pregnant right away because it had taken me nearly a year to get pregnant without using anything, and now I had a baby nursing on me constantly.

How naive.

#1 was six months old when I became pregnant with #2.  After #2, even more depressed and stressed out, I decided it was time for real NFP.  We signed up for Couple-to-Couple classes.  The couple teaching it was odd, to put it charitably.  And it felt beyond odd to discuss my cervical mucus with a man that was so socially off-kilter in the first place. But I was determined to make it work.  I woke up every day to check my temp (becoming more exhausted by the day), checked mucus just as I was supposed to, and my chart was a mess because I always had fertile mucus.

After several meetings, the CCL husband looked at my jagged-tooth chart, looked back up at me and said, “There have been times when my wife and I have had to go 6 months or more without making love due to confusing signs”.

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Women Speak About Natural Family Planning: Patty Crowley’s Speech to the Papal Birth Control Commission

This is the fourth in a series of posts featuring some women’s experience with natural family planning.  The first two can be read here and here.  For the post that originally inspired this project, click here.  To read about the purpose of and ground rules for this project, click here.

To read about the history of the Papal Birth Control Commission and Crowley’s participation in it, click here.

Crowley’s speech was provided to be my Catherine Osborne, PhD candidate in the history of Christianity at Fordham University, co-editor of American Catholic History: A Documentary Reader.  The text of Crowley’s speech is from Robert  McClory, Turning Point: The Inside Story of the Papal Birth Control Commission, and How Humanae Vitae Changed the Life of Patty Crowley and the Future of the Church

Patty’s Story

…We have been blessed with only 5 children of our own but have housed more than a dozen foster children during the past 20 years under the supervision of the Catholic Charities. In addition to an active professional life as a lawyer and the duties of a housewife, together during the past 20 years we have devoted much of our spare time to organizing and activating couples in the Christian Family Movement. This experience brought us into close contact with thousands of apostolic, intelligent young families who by their lives have demonstrated a great love for the Church….

CFM is known to be a sympathetic setting for large families. Since being told of our appointment and being authorized to consult our contemporaries, we have been shocked into a realization that even the most dedicated, committed Catholic couples are deeply troubled by this problem. We have gathered hundreds of statements from many parts of the United States and Canada and have been overwhelmed by the strong consensus in favor of some change. Most expressed a hope that the positive values in love and marriage need to be stressed and that an expanded theology of marriage needs to be developed.

Most say they think there must be a change in the teaching on birth control. Very few know what this change should be; they are puzzled but hopeful.

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Women Speak About Natural Family Planning: the Papal Birth Control Commission

This is the third in a series of posts featuring some women’s experience with natural family planning.  The first two stories can be read here and here.  For the post that originally inspired this project, click here.  To read about the purpose of and ground rules for this project, click here.

The following was very generously provided to me by Catherine Osborne, a PhD candidate in the history of Christianity at Fordham University.  Several years ago, Osborne co-edited  a sourcebook on American Catholic history entitledAmerican Catholic History: A Documentary Reader An edited version of Patty Crowley‘s 1965 speech to the Papal Birth Control Commission is included in that book.  Osborne sent me Crowley’s speech so that I could post it here on the blog.  Osborne also wrote a brief history of the Papal Birth Control Commission and the Patty Crowley’s participation in it, which appears below.

Patty Crowley and the Papal Birth Control Commission

The history of the Pontifical Commission for the Study of Population, Family and Births (which is usually referred to as the Papal Birth Control Commission (BCC)) isn’t secret at all, but it’s also probably not quite as well known as it should be.

The backstory to the BCC is the Catholic Church’s longstanding opposition to the use of contraception, which was reaffirmed by Pius XI in Casti Connubii (1930) in response to the Anglican Church’s decision to allow it within marriage.  The innovation introduced in Casti Connubii was that the use of ‘rhythm’ was to be allowed–it had not been prior to this.

The debate over contraception was reopened due to the invented of the Pill, but the Second Vatican Council did not take up the question; it was reserved for the specially created BCC, which met five times from 1963 to 1966.  It grew to 72 members over time.

In the last meeting, the four married women members addressed the entire meeting.  Marie Rendu, a Frenchwoman who was a promoter of rhythm, argued that “periodic continence can and does work.”

J.F. Kulanday of New Delhi, India, a nurse as well as a mother, told the commission that based on her surveys of Indian women, “women desire intercourse in marriage.  It binds the husband and wife together…intercourse…keeps their love aflame.”

Colette Potvin, from Canada, mother of five and veteran of three miscarriages and a hysterectomy, later recalled that when it was her turn to speak, “I felt like I was naked up there.  But it seemed to me we hadn’t been asking the right questions at the Commission.  When you die, God is going to say, ‘Did you love?’ He isn’t going to say, “Did you take your temperature?” [Potvin’s speech is excerpted in Robert McClory’s Turning Point: The Inside Story of the Papal Birth Control Commission, 105-106.] Per McClory: ‘A long silence followed [her speech]. It was broken by de Riedmatten: ‘This,’ he said, ‘is why we wanted to have couples on our Commission.'”

Potvin’s survey of 319 French Canadian couples, presented to the Commission, indicated that 7 percent were “fully satisfied with the Church’s current marriage doctrine” while half “found rhythm ‘an anguished and difficult task'” and the great majority said that they did not experience growth “because much of their time ‘is spent in the great struggle to avoid the failure of rhythm.'” (107).

The longest speech was Patty Crowley‘s.  Crowley, along with her husband Pat, were the head of the worldwide Christian Family Movement, and she based her speech partly on the results of a survey of her membership.  To read the post featuring Crowley’s speech, click here.

Ultimately, only four members of the commission dissented from the majority’s conclusion that artificial contraception within marriage should be allowed.  (The majority’s final report to Paul VI, “On Responsible Parenthood,” is included in an appendix in McClory.) Acting against the commission’s rules, Jesuit John Ford and the other three dissenters submitted a so-called ‘minority report’ in favor of retaining the existing teaching.  The result of Paul VI’s decision in favor of the minority position was, of course, Humanae Vitae. 

Women Speak About Natural Family Planning: K’s Story

This is the second in a series of posts featuring some women’s experience with natural family planning.  The first can be read here. For the post that originally inspired this project, click here.  To read about the purpose of and ground rules for this project, click here.

K’s Story

NFP has been the biggest struggle in my marriage and has really has tested my faith. My husband and I grew up as evangelicals and became Catholic in college, before we were married.   The Catholic Church is more reflective on sexual ethics than the church or my upbringing, so NFP and the Theology of the Body appealed to me on a philosophical and theoretical level.

After college my husband and I were married in the Church and were determined to make NFP work for us.  I took a year off from school to work and save up money for graduate school.  We were trying to avoid children in order to further our educations and save up money for a house.

My job was really stressful and my signs were difficult to read.  My husband and I were virgins on our wedding night, and the long periods of abstinence were adding additional stress on our marriage.  With these circumstances in mind, it’s no surprise that I became pregnant within the first year of marriage, right after enrolling in graduate school.

Working, graduate school, and caring for a baby were simply too much for me.  My husband and left graduate school so that he could work and I could devote my time to mothering.  For my husband to obtain decent employment, we had to move across the country, away from friends and family.

We were barely scraping by, but we were slowly starting to save money and secure a stable life for our family.  We decided to continue practicing NFP, despite the difficulties of reading my signs while breastfeeding.  During this time the recession hit, my husband’s company faced large budget cuts, and he was fired.

This happened the week after I learned that I was pregnant with baby #2. We were frugal and had 3 months worth of money in savings, but we eventually had to move the entire family across the country, so my husband’s parents could support us.

I’ve struggled with being angry at God and at the Church for unplanned pregnancies and financial problems. It’s one thing to experience financial difficulties without kids, but it’s a completely different thing when you are responsible for the lives of those you love. Each baby has brought a new crisis into our lives, things that would not have happened had we been in a stable position before having kids.

Sometimes I wonder if the Church’s teaching on sexuality places a greater burden on the poor than it does on those with means. The refrain I hear with NFP is to “try another method” or “take another class.”  But I seriously have anxiety issues over having to face another pregnancy with no money. How can I know if another method will work better, when the only way of testing this is to wait and see if I
get pregnant?  The stakes are simply too risky when caring for two children under 3, both still breastfeeding.

Sugar-coating NFP is not helpful, and I’ve seen Catholics attacked and hounded on Catholic forums for admitting that NFP has been a rough spot in marriage. People will say that NFP was not the problem; rather “poor communication” was the problem, or “lustful behavior,” or “selfishness,” or anything but NFP.

We decided to practice complete abstinence for a year, in order to study Theology of the Body again, try to re-learn my fertility signs, and decide if we would continue practicing NFP.  For a year we practiced the sleep-in-separate-rooms-so-can-follow-Church-teaching-but-not-have-kids method of family planning.

We were afraid of disobeying Church teaching and going to hell, but strict abstinence put more stress and strain on our already stressed marriage.

When the year was up, we decided to cease following Church teaching in our married life, finding inconsistencies with Humanae Vitae and Theology of the Body–things we did not see early in our marriage when looking at these documents with rose-colored convert glasses.   Giving up NFP has greatly helped heal our marriage and has given me psychological relief to my anxieties surrounding sex and becoming pregnant AGAIN.

For us the pressure of feeling like we had to perform on certain days combined with the frustration of “off-limits” days, and the unplanned pregnancies–-it was all very stressful and very hard on our marriage.  Nearly two years after abandoning NFP, I still feel like I am recovering emotionally from the whole experience.

Women Speak About Natural Family Planning: MJ’s Story

This is the first in a series of posts featuring some women’s experience with natural family planning.  For the post that originally inspired this project, click here.  To read about the purpose and ground rules for this project, click here.

MJ’s Story

I have gone back and forth on the issue of birth control, but was committed to NFP when we first got married.

The sexual inexperience combined with the long periods of abstinence was definitely a strain (it often felt like we’d been sold a bill of goods) but it worked as a means to delay conception for over a year so that I wouldn’t give birth till I finished my master’s program. Continue reading