NCRegister Blog: NFP, God’s Faithfulness, and Family Size

“You know, “ I called to my husband in the other room, “If I had lived even a hundred years ago, I would have probably died because of childbearing by now.” We were dealing with yet another health issue of mine related to the wear and tear of pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing. It is not that I am sick very often and pregnancies are mostly comfortable for me, but I have had multiple hemorrhages, many infections, and several miscarriages, which seem to have been caused by a chronic health problem.

When we signed up for our Natural Family Planning courses and planned ahead to when we would use it, this kind of stuff was not on our radar.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

NCRegister Blog: The Benefits of Living in a Small House with a Family

It has taken me a long time to get to the point of being comfortable with intentionally living in a smaller house with our potentially large family. There is that point after having a baby, when I start thinking about if/when the next one might come along, and if/when he or she does come along, what we are going to do about bedrooms. I spend hours planning and rearrange mentally where we are going to put which person. Then I start to wonder, how much space does each of my children really need? At what point would it make sense to get a bigger house? Can we just get by with the space we have?

Often in the midst of my anxiety about house size, I have had to be reminded that these material things are passing and what really matters is that we grow in holiness. My own experience of growing up in a smaller house in a family of six, realizing how others have lived in the past, talking to friends who grew up in bigger families, and considering creative, economical uses of home space has all contributed to my husband and my decision to choose purposefully to live in our smaller house with our four children and potentially with any future ones.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

NCRegister: “Inloveness,” Virtue, and NFP

The professor and I co-wrote this one:

We began to fall in love in the early spring during college.

The chemistry was quite obvious. During the summer before we got engaged, we read A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken, in which he tells the story of the deep “inloveness” between himself and his wife, Davy.

We, too, like Davy and Sheldon, wanted to preserve and deepen our inloveness. In our marriage, our use of natural family planning, with all of its struggles and suffering, plus the joy of our children, has been a key instrument in deepening our inloveness; it has aided our growth in virtue…

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

NCRegister: How NFP Makes My Life Like a Jane Austen Novel

The fact that my husband was making just over the equivalent of ten thousand (modern British pounds) a year when we got married is not the real reason that Natural Family Planning makes my life like a Jane Austen novel. Neither is the fact that I have several very silly sisters, nor the fact that I am not going to be left a very large inheritance. The main characters in Austen’s novel and Catholic couples practicing NFP face the world in a similar way. Both combat the worldly temptations to self-love and self-indulgence by recognizing a higher good. They know that one’s every act forms one’s character, and that to be fully human one must act according to reason through the pursuit of virtue and the resistance of superficial worldly charm.

If you have ever read a novel or two by Jane Austen (I allow myself the pleasure of all six whenever I am pregnant), you may have noticed that in each of her novels, a heroine is pursued by a charming man of the world…

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

At the NCRegister Blog: The Use of NFP Can Make Us More Truly Human

Of all the moral theories I learned in my few years of studying philosophy, a morality based on virtue was the one that made the most sense. Furthermore, in the writings of the doctors of the Church and the great spiritual works, again and again, virtue is the basis for human happiness.  St. Augustine explains that, “Virtue is a good habit consonant with our nature.” And as our nature was created for union with God, virtues are habits that make us like God. Also, seeking a life of virtue is inseparable from loving God, for to form virtue we must first keep God’s law as we see in Matthew 19:16-17:

And behold, one came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”

Virtues are good habits, and when one uses discipline to follow the commandments and the moral law, one is habituated in virtue, and by being habituated in virtue, one is happy—for that is what happiness is.

It is Natural Family Planning awareness week again in the Church, and the discussion of NFP in the blogosphere is one that never seems to cease. After nine years of charting cycles, eight years of charting while married, and four beautiful children on earth, I can honestly say that the most human approach to sexuality is one that is based in virtue…

Read the rest here…

At the NCRegister Blog: The Church, Not the CDC, Has Empowered me as a Young Woman

I am honored, humbled, and pleased to share that I will be blogging a few times a month over at the National Catholic Register.

Click through to read the whole of my first article for the Blogs:

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The CDC recently released new guidelines for women of childbearing ages: if you are going to be drinking, you better be using contraception. Their concern is with fetal alcohol syndrome, which is a legitimate concern, but their solution to preventing it does not respect women at all. They seem to think that young women are ignorant, helpless creatures who cannot make good decisions without the government to help them along.

They go on to recommend that health providers tell women to stop drinking if they are not using some form of contraception to prevent pregnancy. Women are going to have to face even more pressure to use contraception. And further those who follow Church teaching and do not use contraception are going to be pressured to not drink alcohol at all, ever.

This new recommendation by the CDC has a glaring truth to it that the Church has always embraced: a new human life is one of the ends of the sexual act.

Don’t do NFP alone!

Catholics are talking about Natural Family Planning all over the internet this week. It is after all, “NFP Awareness Week.” Simcha Fisher is doing some NFP giveaways. Haley at Carrots for Michaelmas has a neat series she shared on her blog featuring various writers on NFP. Kendra at Catholic All Year wrote a very sweet letter to newlyweds on the fact that we cannot take our fertility for granted. Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum wrote last month on how Catholics should just learn NFP, because you never know when you will need it. There is so much more out there.

I have written some on the topic as well, and have compiled all my writings on a new page at this blog. My pages are all listed in a row under the header photo of the blog, “Home, About Me, Who is this Lady Philosophy?, etc.” The new one on NFP is labeled “NFP.” You can find it by clicking there or here.

If I have any new advice about NFP, and it is not really new it is this: my positive experience with learning it and being confident in it has been because I have maintained a relationship with my practitioner. Even if we don’t talk for months at a time, due to pregnancy and the breastfeeding actually delaying cycles sometimes, I always send her that email when I  need her. And she always gets back to me. She told me at our last pregnancy eval (for the baby that we lost), that we have been charting for seven years together. The last time I talked to her was not even for an eval; I just needed some practitioner and friend advice on how to deal with post-miscarriage cycles. She knows my signs as well as I do, and because we have been charting with her for so long, she knows what we can handle. She knows how well I know my signs, and encourages me to trust my knowledge. She is pretty great. Anyway, I did already write her a tribute, which you can find on my new “page.”

My point is, you do not have to chart alone. I am pretty sure that I am right in saying all the methods, have practitioners and doctors you can go to for help. We have been very happy with Creighton. Even as someone who uses yellow stamps, I love the ease of one sign to look for.

I feel like someone should have linked up how to find practitioners in your area. I think the posts on Haley’s series have links to more information. If you can’t figure it out and want some help, I would be happy to search around with someone or answer any questions. My practitioner thinks that I know enough to be one, but please don’t email me about mucus. Just email me: livingwithladyphilosophy (at) gmail (dot) com.

Natural Family Planning Needs a New Name

Family by Chris Sigmon. Used under Creative Commons.Family by Chris Sigmon. Used under Creative Commons.

I was sitting in my pro-life, NFP promoting doctor’s waiting room, leafing through a secular magazine. Ever since I started having children, I have always detested these magazines, but early pregnancy often leaves my brain in a fog and I could not read the book that I had brought. I was pulled out of the fog by a two-page advertisement for a new form of birth control.

Normally I just flip past those in disgust, but this one made a statement that embodied everything that is wrong with mainstream society’s view of the family. The image in the ad was a father and mother laying in their king size bed, looking seriously up at the camera. Between them were three small children, probably aged 1-6, laughing and oblivious of their parents’ intention to have no more children. “Your family is complete,” it stated in bold white letters under the family.

Then it gave the medical details of this irreversible birth control, including a list of dangerous side effects. But the details of it did not shake me; it was the belief that we can decide when our family is complete. That it is socially acceptable to see the gift of children as something so easily dismissed or controlled is one of the things that is wrong with the world. And this is the prominent mainstream mentality. Just do an internet search of “family is complete” and dozens of links to blogs and message boards come up where people evaluate how they “know.”

This idea is completely foreign to Church teaching, and to the way I was raised as a Catholic. Even after the birth of my parents’ fourth and last child, I always got the sense from them that they would welcome another child if that is what they discerned as right for our family. As a married adult, my parents’ understanding of openness to God’s will and use of charting still strikes me as a truly Catholic approach to having a family.

Last September I wrote about this same issue, criticizing the idea of being able to “plan” our families. This idea of a complete family is a consequence of the family planning mentality. The title of “Natural Family Planning” is not working. It is time to think of a new way to talk about charting cycles and using periodic abstinence when one has grave reasons to do so. It is too much like the mainstream mentality toward children. I am not sure what title would be the best, but recognizing the problem is the first step to solving it. The Creighton Model, calls it a “Fertility Care System.” Billings is the “Ovulation Method.” The Marquette Method and the Couple to Couple Leagues Sympto-Thermal Method both claim to be methods of NFP. Another part of the problem is that they are all often promoted as a form of “birth control.” We, as Catholics, need to stop using the language of “planning” and of “birth control.” Something like “Fertility Awareness” seems like appropriate language, though it leaves out the rational aspect of discerning God’s will.

In the Creighton Model (which I have been charting with for seven years), the pregnancy follow-up includes several questions about the couple’s intentions regarding the pregnancy. One of the questions is, “Was this baby planned?” It always strikes me as weird that I am being asked this question. Every time we have conceived a child, I realize the great gift of a new life coming into existence inside me. While we can hope each month for a new child, it is never something that we have planned. We can do everything we can to make it possible for a human to come into existence, but we can never plan this child into our family. We can look at the calendar and have an expected due date, but we cannot entirely plan or control when the baby will come out.

Most recently, we had a baby leave us much sooner than we had hoped. I lost a baby at 6 weeks pregnant, and I realized even more how our children are gifts to us, whom we can never plan or think we deserve. Before we were married, we talked about wanting ten children, looking at our ages, how much space we might have between children and at what age I would stop being fertile. We never planned on having ten, nor do we now, but we hope for one child at a time. There is nothing we plan until the child is conceived, and then we plan for the months after the child’s birth. Before a baby is on the way, we cannot plan at all. Even then, our plans are always tentative, since there are so many uncertainties when it comes to pregnancy.

But, from the language you hear in the parenting world, most people think otherwise. A friend told me about one of her Catholic friends questioning her about at what age does she want to stop have children. The questioner had the age of 32 in mind. My friend thought this idea was so strange, being 30 herself and having just a one year old to care for. We chatted about how we always imagined having children into our early 40s. But then, maybe one should be open to even later, if it is possible. It is anti-cultural, but it is not anti-life.

God calls married couples to have children, and each individual couples He calls to follow His plan for them, not their own plan. I do not know what God has in mind for my family, our little unborn baby who passed away was not something we had hoped for, but we are trusting in God’s plan for our family. And if you have not yet read, Bridget Green’s article about how Catholics maybe should think seriously about having large families, then read it. If you have read it, read it again.  I responded to her piece, talking about it is important to use reason in our decisions about being open to children, but I want to emphasize now, how we are called to generous when choosing when to hope for children. I wonder more and more if what society really needs is a whole lot of Catholics trusting in God’s plan and giving up the concept of “family planning.”

When Children Are a “Choice”

Something I have been trying to wrap my head around lately is whether or not the mentality of “planning” to have or not to have children is a good thing. I am fairly certain it is not, but then why is the language so acceptable among Catholics? In the non-Catholic world, family planning is associated with using some sort of contraception, but for us Catholics, since we are morally opposed to contraception, there is what we call Natural Family Planning.

We are caught up in the language of planning families. Are children really something we can plan, or should plan? Some couples spend months and years trying to conceive and others spend the same amount of time preventing conception. Some couples have more children than they think they can handle, some never ever want to have a child. But is it ever really, fully a choice that we can make? We can set up the conditions so that we are more likely to help another human being into existence or we can try not to, but ultimately it is working with the natural order. And the Creator of the natural order is God.

I think that the model to turn to for how we should view having children is Mary, Our Lady. I have discussed before that there are moral times for many couples when having another child may not be prudent for them, but when couples feel called to have children, what is the right feeling, right motive to have? Or when there is the unexpected pregnancy, how should the parents respond? When I think about Mary, she probably never expected to have a child, and then all of a sudden an angel comes to her and announces that she is to be the Mother of God. Her response: “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?(Luke 1:34)” And when the angel explains to her how it will be possible, she immediately declares: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word (Luke 1:38).” Mary’s first response was one of wonder and questioning. I think for new parents, there are a lot of questions about parenting, and whether they can really take care of their children well. But God calls us to this, and Mary is the example for us in how to respond to this call. For a women especially, becoming a mother is an act of acceptance, it is a “yes.”

In the Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem Blessed Pope John Paul II said this about motherhood:

“Motherhood as a human fact and phenomenon, is fully explained on the basis of the truth about the person. Motherhood is linked to the personal structure of the woman and to the personal dimension of the gift: “I have brought a man into being with the help of the Lord” (Gen 4:1). The Creator grants the parents the gift of a child. On the woman’s part, this fact is linked in a special way to “a sincere gift of self”. Mary’s words at the Annunciation – “Let it be to me according to your word” – signify the woman’s readiness for the gift of self and her readiness to accept a new life.” –Mulieris Dignitatem 18

Becoming a mother is a “yes,” an acceptance, and a gift of self. So, what happens when we see children as choices, something we can control? Why is it so easy to fall into a desire to plan families? What is wrong with this attitude?

I was waiting in a hair salon with my four and two year old daughters when I could not help but overhear the conversation between the two other women in the sitting area. One of them had what I guessed to be a five or six year old son getting his hair cut. The two women were discussing having children. The older woman was explaining that her doctor told her she could possibly still have children; the other told her that she would be careful if she were her and explained that she had “gotten her tubes tied” after her third child had been born when she was 31. Since I am in mostly Catholic circles and stay at home with the kids, this is the first time I had heard this stated so publicly in front of strangers. From what I understand, these topics are fairly open among women. (And I should not be entirely surprised since I discuss the details of charting cycles with many of my closer female friends.) But to be so open about never having children again, being against having children, this strikes me as very evil. A child after all, is a human being. A child is to be loved and respected. When a child is a “choice,” what becomes of that child even when the child is “planned” by the parents? There is something very wrong going on in our society when it comes to children. The attitude is very disturbing, and it is not just the attitude about planning when children are born, but also the way children are viewed after they are born.

When my mom was pregnant with my younger brother, she was by herself (probably a relief for her!) in a gas station. A man asked her if it was her first. When she replied that this was her fourth child, he told her that she was disgusting to him. Is this how society responds to children? One or two are okay, and if you have more than that you are some uncontrolled animal? Or when people ask parents of large families if they know about birth control, or tell them that they should use it, do they not realize the precious gift that children are? Do they not know how each human being adds to the perfection of the universe?

And for women, who have so many options in modern society, it is difficult to remember that our fulfillment is in giving ourselves to others. When children are considered a choice, society forgets that they belong to God. The idea of accepting many children from God is incomprehensible.  Parents of large families are considered irresponsible, or ignorant about “where babies come from”. But it is the families who are open to God’s plan, that discover that it is never about our plan when it comes to children. Society does not know it, and does not want to tolerate it, but the only thing we are called to say to God when we are presented with a child is “yes.”

God’s Providence and NFP

When I was a girl I remember going into my mom’s room with her and seeing a little notebook she had. She also kept a thermometer on her nightstand. She would show me her notebook and I would look at the numbers for each day and a line graph she made charting the ups and downs of the numbers. I really never knew what it was for, except that it was what a grown up woman did to monitor her body or something.

Flash forward to my third year of college. I was engaged, and my fiancé, Mark, and I decided that we should learn how to chart so that we could fulfill the Natural Family Planning class requirement in order to get married in my home diocese. We signed up for an introductory sessions for the Creighton Model Fertility Care System, and we learned there that there is much more to charting than the “family planning” hype surrounding NFP. With this system of charting we had about eight sessions with our own personal practitioner in the first year who personalized my charting to my unique signs but also fit them into the rules that the founder of the Creighton Model, Dr. Hilgers, laid out. It was really great to have someone to bring my questions to who knew my cycles history and kept me accountable for charting correctly. The thing about charting cycles is that it is important to be consistent and thorough, only then can a woman be truly following her cycles.

Because of the consistent charting of women, Dr. Hilgers and those in the Natural Procreative Technology field, have been able to find the cause of many abnormal conditions a woman may have, such as premenstral syndrom, infertility, repetitive miscarriage, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, postpartum depression, and more. Once the cause is pinpointed, then it can be treated. I never had had any of the health issues listed above, but we thought, why not use a method that can help me stay healthy, especially since we hoped that we would be blessed with many children.

After several months of charting, I discovered that there was a good chance that I would be fertile on my honeymoon, and Mark and I were excited about the possibility of having a baby right away in our marriage. We were engaged for 18 months and during that time Mark was applying for graduate school. We were blessed with an assistantship (which we decided was a living wage for a small family) and health insurance for Mark (as a student employee) and his dependants. Thankful for our blessings, we knew that when we were married we would be able to be totally open to the fruits or marriage. We contacted our practitioner to schedule a “pregnancy follow-up” about a month after our wedding. She used my careful charting to determine possible conception dates and project our due date, which is more accurate than a due date projected from the first day of a woman’s cycle. Our first daughter was born nine months and one day after our wedding.

Then we discovered the complication of charting and breastfeeding at the same time. Once again, we had our same practitioner to go over our charts (this time over the phone) and address any questions about charting to. I do not know how we would have understood anything about post-partum charting without her help. For example, you may have heard that breastfeeding suppresses ovulation, but you may not have heard that when the baby does any other sucking (i.e. bottle or pacifier), the mother does not produce as much of the hormone that suppresses ovulation and therefore her cycles are more likely to return sooner.

Two children later, I am still very pleased that we are charting and keeping a record of my health. If it were not for starting my post-partum charting 56 days after the birth of our third daughter, I do not think I would have gone for help with what became a diagnosed case of post-partum depression. The treatment was so simple; an injection of progesterone, which within hours changed my feeling of being mostly overwhelmed by three children under four to a feeling of being able to handle my daily life. If I had not been using a method of NFP where I had a practitioner to talk to and further a doctor who knew the system (which I am so blessed to have!), I may have just credited my feelings to lack of sleep, a long Minnesota winter, and what it is like to have three little kids. I began to enjoy being a mother, instead of feeling resentful and then guilty that I was unhappy with a life I had chosen and wanted.

Now I have heard some say that charting is not for everyone, that people use NFP in with a “contraceptive mentality,” and that the Church needs to define what it means for one to have a “iustae causae” (literal translation: just or fair cause) or a “seriis causis” (literal translation: serious or grave cause). The “just cause” phrase is found in Humanae Vitae 16 (in this translation it is “well-grounded reason”) and “grave cause” is found in HV 10. We know that the ends of marriage are the procreation of children and the unity of the husband and wife, and that the end of the marital act is procreation and union. We also know from Church Tradition summed up in the Catechism that we are to participate in Divine Providence (God’s ordering of all things):

To human beings God even gives the power of freely sharing in his providence by entrusting them with the responsibility of “subduing” the earth and having dominion over it. God thus enables men to be intelligent and free causes in order to complete the work of creation, to perfect its harmony for their own good and that of their neighbors.(CCC 307)

The ability given by science for a husband and wife to understand the wife’s fertility and her cycles gives them the opportunity to exercise the God-given power to have dominion over nature. They can use their reason to understand her cycles and exercise their will knowing all the circumstances of the family, taking into account it the physical and psychological health of the man or the woman as well as other external circumstances. I am not going to say all couples have an obligation to chart, but God is calling them to be aware of their circumstances and make reasonable choices about when they have children. I do not think this takes away from the ideas espoused in Gaudium et Spes quoted by my fellow Truth and Charity writers. I am including the quotation but also going back further in the paragraph originally cited:

 Parents should regard as their proper mission the task of transmitting human life and educating those to whom it has been transmitted. They should realize that they are thereby cooperators with the love of God the Creator, and are, so to speak, the interpreters of that love. Thus they will fulfill their task with human and Christian responsibility, and, with docile reverence toward God, will make decisions by common counsel and effort. Let them thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring. For this accounting they need to reckon with both the material and the spiritual conditions of the times as well as of their state in life. Finally, they should consult the interests of the family group, of temporal society, and of the Church herself. The parents themselves and no one else should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God. […]
Thus, trusting in divine Providence and refining the spirit of sacrifice, married Christians glorify the Creator and strive toward fulfillment in Christ when with a generous human and Christian sense of responsibility they acquit themselves of the duty to procreate. Among the couples who fulfill their God-given task in this way, those merit special mention who with a gallant heart and with wise and common deliberation, undertake to bring up suitably even a relatively large family.(GS 50)

We need to remember that God gave us all different strengths and different circumstances in which to serve Him, and the bringing about of a new human is a very important matter. Every child is caused by God and in virtue of divine Providence; the parents provide the matter and God the soul. This is a serious thing, and couples should be reasonable when considering becoming co-creators with God.  This, I think, is why for every couple what is considered to be a grave or just cause to have recourse to infertile times is different. And this is why I think the Church is not going to define this more precisely. When a couple is truly open to God’s plan for them, they may feel they need to postpone being open to another child for a time, or they may feel that they will be able to accept another child at any time. This is between each couple and God.

For some parents, they may not be able to handle “a relatively large family” due to health or other just or grave reasons. They have discerned between them and God that another child would not be prudent at that time. We do not know that in their hearts they will happily accept another child, if God were to bless them with one, but knowing their current circumstances they feel that should not purposefully do so. Other parents have the ability to handle many children and home school them, even children born very close together. Those who do not do so should not feel like they are inadequate; they just have different abilities and means. Some families can afford to send their children to the very best of Catholic schools, and some cannot. Couples who have a lot of support in childcare from their families have different circumstances than those who live far away from their relatives.

We never can know fully another family’s circumstances or what they believe to be God’s will for them, but we can pray that all couples are open to God’s will for them and are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to trust in God’s providence.

___________________

One last point of interest: In my research for this post I found the Magisterium’s first statement about a couple using infertile times to avoid conception of a child in the Enchiridion Symbolorum compiled by Heinrich Denzinger. Here is the English translation in the latest edition by Ignatius Press:

3148: Response of the Sacred Penitentiary, June 16, 1880:
Question: Is it permitted to have marital union only on those days when conception is more difficult?
Response: Spouses who use this above-mentioned method need not be troubled, and the confessor can, though with caution, suggest the idea in question to those spouses whom he has sought in vain to lead by some other means away from the detestable crime of onanism.

Originally posted on Truth and Charity.

P.S. You also could check out if you have not yet My Tribute to my NFP practioner (who is not an iPod App).