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.

4 thoughts

  1. K, I think you’ve made a good observation – that NFP has the potential to place a burden on poor families (women) that is not fully appreciated by many who either aren’t facing the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy or who have the means to deal with it. Even if one fully supports the teaching, it helps no one to not acknowledge that.

    I have read advice that if a couple is having trouble discerning fertility, they should work to be open to a large family and trust that God will provide… to me that essentially the same argument that Pentecostals make about snake handling – there is a fine line between trusting and testing. And it reminds me of the story of the drowning man who won’t accept help from passing boats because “I trust God to save me” and then asked God upon death why he didn’t save him, and God’s response was “I sent boats!”

    Essentially, I think it disregards the very limited agency that women have had historically and many continue to have about both vocation and reproduction. Men have essentially always been profession/vocation and/or husband/father but women have been limited to wife/mother or (religious) vocation. Biological parenthood, no matter how egalitarian a marriage is, limits women’s choices in a way that it never does men’s, and unrestrained or only marginally restrained reproduction reinforces other limits on the agency of women (and the poor). Ultimately, I think it is makes women’s role in the Church utilitarian.

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