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.

I experienced a severe bout of postpartum depression after the baby was born and in this context — with an infant, depression, and very isolated having just finished school and having no friends anywhere close to the same place in life — that we resumed NFP. It was a disaster: my fertility signals were all over the place and between the baby and the NFP we didn’t touch for months, which didn’t help with the depression or our relationship.

Then we did – once – and I got pregnant again.

In between conception and figuring out the extreme fatigue was not just another symptom of the depression, I decided I couldn’t handle having any more children, which my husband very generously accepted. I was devastated when I found out but I started a new treatment for depression and I got through the pregnancy. We were managing but it wasn’t great. We had a newborn and an 19 mo old and I was better but still struggling with depression. Again, we attempted NFP and had the same issues with the fertility signals and I got pregnant again. I miscarried very early on and I would have never thought that could be so welcome.

At that point, my husband and I decided that that we were not willing to subject my mental health or our marriage to the anxiety of that came with the “threat” of another pregnancy – that is what it felt like – or the isolation of extended periods of abstinence and I went on birth control.

Almost seven years after the birth of our first child, I still struggle with depression so we have come to the conclusion that our family is probably complete. We are both at peace with that but it has been an isolating decision. We were part of a young families group in our parish — all very gung ho about NFP (we think) – it is certainly not a group in which anyone openly considers the “grey” of contraception… and we weren’t comfortable anymore so we dropped it. The priest we had at the time was not especially understanding of the challenges of parenting, so we didn’t even consult him (he used the example of mothers “dumping their children at daycare” as an example of how we are always “looking for the quick fix and easy way out” in a homily. I got up and left).

So, I listen to these celibate, childless men — many of whom were complicit in, lied about, or continue to make excuses for those who lied about sexual abuse and consequently ignore the suffering of the victims — unequivocally and without a trace of compassion condemn my choice and I struggle with being very angry at them. I think their recent history indicates that there has been far too much concern with protecting magisterial authority at the expense of discerning the truth, which might require talking to a few women.

In light of that and stories like Dominga’s, the AIDS epidemic and, frankly, the fact that the earth does have a carrying capacity, I have profound doubts about the the truth – even worse, the motivation – of this particular teaching and by extension magisterial authority in general as exercised by this particular group of men.

10 thoughts

  1. Thanks for posting this.

    The theory of NFP is that a couple can discern the infertile days and confine love making to those days. In practice, the discernment of interfile days doesn’t always work well.

    John Noonan in his book on contraception suggested the intriguing possibility of abstinence on the fertile days and contraception on the supposed infertile days as a medical corrective to ensure more reliable discernment of infertile days. It seems to me that this would not violate Catholic teaching on contraception as it would be a medical corrective to help the body work the way it is supposed to.

    The other point this post raises in my mind is how much suffering is one expected to endure as one’s cross and how much avoidance of suffering is the priest above’s “looking for the quick fix and easy way out” ? How does compassion and healing the suffering speak to that ?

    God Bless

    1. Hi Chris,
      Thanks for your comments.

      I think you are spot-on in your analysis. I would agree that the question of “how much suffering is one expected to endure as one’s cross” is of paramount importance.

      At a minimum, it would seem as though we as Catholics should at least strive for consistency on this question.

      If, let’s say, Catholics are required to endure maximum amount of suffering to obey magisterial teaching on birth control, then it would seem that economically well-off Catholics should also be obliged to endure at least as much suffering in the process and as a result of “selling all that they have [in order to] distribute it to the poor” for example. (Luke 18:22)

      If comfort, pleasure, physical and mental health and flourishing are not good enough reasons to use birth control, then it would seem as though they should also not count as good enough reasons to be wealthy or economically comfortable to take just one example out of many.

  2. “I have profound doubts about the the truth – even worse, the motivation – of this particular teaching and by extension magisterial authority in general as exercised by this particular group of men.”

    I really appreciate your reflection at the end of this post because it’s really nice to know that I’m not the only person who has been feeling this way. A friend directed me to this blog after I was complaining about the bishops current vendetta against birth control — and I’m finding it difficult to remain part of the Church in this environment.

    1. Dear EC. Your word ‘magisterial authroity’ is excellent. Avoid ‘church’ assiduously. Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. Speak of the ‘ecclesiastical authority’, ‘magisterium’ etc. which constitues probably less than 1% of the ‘people of God’.

  3. EC –

    I too struggle. What keeps me in, for the time being, is

    (1) I am not ready to leave the Church for something “good enough,” it would have to be “better” and so far I haven’t found that.

    (2) Even though the bishops present what appears to be a united front on this, over the past 50 they haven’t been quiet as unified on this as they might seem.

    (3) Bishops are human and thus not always good and not always right. In fact, I would be having a much more difficult time if they were being more pastoral and compassionate about it and less vitriolic — I am much more comfortable disagreeing with them when they seem be modeling the Pharisees rather than Jesus.

    Someone told me once that Martin Luther made some very good points and had some very valid criticism of abuses within the Church. Where he went wrong was not staying within the Church to work to fix them. That and the dung hill covered in snow thing.

  4. Why jump overboard from the ‘bark of Peter’. Would it not be better to throw your tormenter OUT OF the bark of Peter instead ? Goes like this: Ask if the present teaching on mechanical contraception is an ARTICLE OF FAITH. Should the reply be in the affirmative, request the NUMBER in DENZINGER under which it has been promulgated. Otherwise, in case of a Church Law, ask for that number. If the reply turns out to be a deception, then the Sacerodotal concerned has put himself outside the ‘bark of Peter’.
    Never jump yourself out of the ‘bark of Peter’ (= Mystical Body of Christ). There is nothing better out there ! Take the advise of Jesus himself, that is to avoid the RATIONALISTIC, Rabinical Tradition invoking, ‘Pharisees’ as if they are poisonous vipers. If you accept their teaching in this matter your soul may die from the poison.
    Rationalistic example: how can sex during the 9 months of a pregnancy be: ‘open to new life’? It never produced twins, as far as I am aware.

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