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).

The Empty Womb: Forsaking Fertility in Marriage

I have been trying to write this post for days now, and today I am squeezing the writing into the afternoon as the five month old baby is asleep (for now), the two year old is resisting the urge to get out of bed instead of nap, and the four year old is building with blocks in her quiet time. It has been an eventful day. The baby took a short morning nap, which caused her to be in hysterics for her next nap as I was making the big kids their lunch. I got the chance to nurse her to sleep when the kids were occupied with eating. The two year old is potty training for the third week in a row; it is not going well. My four year old, in anger at being told she lost her naptime story (for lying to me), dumped her milk all over the table. I ask myself, is this the life that I would choose to have: changing diapers, potty training, naptimes, cooking, cleaning all day, everyday, without days off? Why am I planning on having more? There are some married people who have decided to not have any kids, ever. Not just delay kids for ten years and then have a boy and a girl three years apart. These people never want to have kids. 

And there followed him a great multitude of the people, and of women who bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning to them said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, `Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never gave suck!’’ (Luke 23:27-29)” 

Jesus said these words during His Carrying of the Cross, prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred in 70 A.D., but in another interpretation, it applies to those who have forgotten what marriage is for. The marriage debate and the cause for so-called “same-sex marriage” is only making progress because society has rejected children as an end of marriage. 

What I mean by ends is based in Aristotelian philosophy. The human person is directed by nature towards certain ends (fulfilling goals)by nature, and one of these ends is reproduction. Within human societies, marriage is the proper institution for reproduction to take place; to separate reproduction from marriage is immoral and to separate marriage from reproduction is not marriage. To deny this end, to act against this end is an immoral act, acting contrary to the ends of the human person. 

Further a valid Sacramental marriage in the Catholic Church requires the openness to children: “For matrimonial consent to exist, it is necessary that the contracting parties be at least not ignorant of the fact that marriage is a permanent partnership between a man and a woman, ordered to the procreation of children (Canon 1096 §1).” Canon law states that if either person in the marriage does not intend the goods of marriage (procreation is a good), then it is not a valid marriage. Society does not agree with this view of marriage, and it began with the acceptance of contraception as normal, divorce, and further abortion. 

There is so much going against a couple who is open to having kids, and they are surrounded by it daily. Take the standard of what a beautiful woman looks like, and it is definitely not that of a woman who has had multiple children. It is just about impossible for a woman to regain her pre-children body, even if she tried, but that is what she is surrounded with whenever she goes to buy clothes, watches television or movies, or is in the check-out line at the grocery store in the magazine rack. A man has to overcome this standard, purge his mind of the women who are not his wife, and see the beauty in his wife who has born the children. 

Still the pictures of the models and movie stars cry out, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never gave suck!” 

Then there is the pressure for women to succeed in the workplace. If she takes time from her job to have children, she misses the promotions that her male coworkers can take. The movement for women to choose to be at home instead of at work is one positive trend in society, but what about those who feel they can’t afford to, especially those who are used to a more expensive lifestyle? 

When a woman chooses to have children, she sees other women without children who are moving up in the professional world and she hears, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never gave suck!” 

And then there is the daily toil of taking care of children; either the money spent on childcare or the parents attending to the day to day needs at home. After a long night being woken many times, then a long day full of diaper changes and cleaning up spills, or a busy afternoon driving children from activity to activity, one might envy someone who does not have to do this and think, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never gave suck!” 

A marriage may seem better if there were no children. The couple has time for each other, can bathe when they wish, take vacations wherever, sleep without being woken up, and focus on loving each other without the distraction of little people. But that is not all that marriage is about; tradition and God dictate otherwise. If we don’t remember what marriage is for, the procreative, as well as the unitive, then marriage will no longer be marriage. And raising children is hard; but it is for the sake of someone outside ourselves. It teaches us to give of ourselves, to love as Christ loved us, and those same children are not for us but for God.

My Tribute to my NFP practioner (who is not an iPod App)

Natural Family Planning has been a big conversation topic lately among Catholic women in the blogosphere and internets. Jennifer Fulwiler wrote on it the other day for the National Catholic Register blog, how more Catholic women are becoming aware of the Church’s teaching on contraception. My friends Mary wrote about an app she has been using. A Catholic mom’s Facebook group I am in discusses it nonstop. I am going to talk about my awesome practitioner who taught me the Creighton Model System when I was a 19 years old and engaged to be married.

Photo by Jen Pagnan

That first meeting with her when I had only been charting four weeks, with my fiance (M of course), was definitely potentially very awkward. I don’t remember any of the details really, except that I was not having normal mucus. (Ewww, I am going to talk about mucus.) Anyway, through her help and through the research that has been done on mucus discharges, I learned to distinguish different types of mucus and follow my cycles. It was not easy and I had to be consistent in checking for mucus every time, EVERY TIME, I used the toliet, showered, went swimming. I charted for 15 months before I got married, and 12 months from the wedding we were fairly certain that a honeymoon baby was in order. She came nine months and a day from our wedding…

Then came the postpartum charting, which is super confusing, especially when you are nursing a baby and have nonfertile mucus most of the time plus not really sure if you are having cycle again or not? My practitioner reminded me to start charting again after my pregnancy, did follow-ups and chart reviews, and helped me understand what was going on with the my body. I can’t remember how many times I have called, emailed, or Facebook messaged her to get advice on whatever I was charting on various days. She always looks into the research and the studies and gives me helpful advice. When I have been so confused and needed support, she has listened to me cry and helped me figure things out.

Last week, we had my first postpartum follow-up after baby F. I had been having some confusing days of charting again, and when she looked at my chart and the research (I had already messaged her about things before the follow-up) she recommended that I go see my doctor for some progesterone to help balance out my hormones. It was then that I realized that I had been having a lot of symptoms of postpartum depression and needed to be treated. If it had not been for my charting and follow up I might have continued to wallow in my fatigued, overwhelmed, unhappy state. Since I was treated just a week ago (with a progesterone injection), I have noticed a huge difference in my ability to handle everyday life. Also, my childrens’ behavior is slowly improving. We are no longer dealing with temper tantrums in the middle of the night or right before bed (though the help of new parenting strategies have aided us there as well). We would not have been able to say calmly, “It is time to be obedient. It is time to be in bed,” a billion times if I had still been dealing with being depressed. It affected everyone in the family, and the fact that I was charting revealed the problem we did not even see. It is worth it not just for knowing when I can “achieve” and “avoid” having another baby, but for all aspects of my health as a woman.

So, not to go on a tangent from the point of this post, but I really wanted to say that Natural Family Planning takes work and effort on your part and you cannot really do it alone. Even the iPod app requires a doctors advice from time to time. Pick a method, find a practitioner, and stick with it. I have a regular doctor I see for my medical needs and for prenatal and postnatal care, my kids and husband have a doctor, I go to a doctor for my eyes, I go to one for my teeth, so why not use an expert to understand my fertility and help me live my life within the moral teachings of the Church which I love so much?

Seven Quicktakes Friday-Feb. 1

I am going to link up today, so make sure you go visit Jen for all the quicktakes.

1. The major thing that happened to me this week was the realization that I have been having mild postpartum depression. Some days I have been totally fine, but other days I have felt completely overwhelmed at the thought of taking care of the kids and the house. I was attributing it to the adjustment to everything new in my life, but it turns out it is probably a hormonal imbalance. I was shot up with some progesterone yesterday and I am already noticing a difference. Hooray! So please keep me and the family in your prayers. And also please pray for someone else I am close to who has been diagnosed with depression (the non-postpartum version).

2. And here is an advertisement for the Creighton Model of Natural Family Planning and NaProtechnology. They only reason I went to the doctor about feeling not normal was because my charting (which I started dutifully at 56 days postpartum which is what they ask when one is totally breastfeeding) indicated that my hormones levels were not quite right. I had a follow-up with my practitioner and she told me to call my doctor which lead to me getting some more hormones which after 30 hours seem to be helping a lot. So, if you are thinking about charting; having a regular follow-up person and charting can help with a lot of things, not just for avoiding or achieving pregnancy. Such as helping you be a nice mom instead of a spastic yelling mom who can’t handle tantrums at all…

3. G gave this to me today and said: “This is to help you with your blog.” Here it is:

I think that is a “G”.

4. We went to the Mall of America on Saturday despite G’s pleas to go to the art museum. My kid is already geeky. We got some smelly soaps since I had a gift card from my birthday in June that I had not used. Now everytime G washes her hands she says, “Mmmm, this soap smells like flowers! Do you want to smell my hands mom?!”

5. Lent is coming up. I am going to adapt a Tenebrae service this week for a Lenten devotion for my family. Look for more on it at Truth and Charity this week. Also, don’t forget that tomorrow is Candlemas, the Presentation of our Lord, and the last day of the Christmas/Season after Epiphany. So, it is the last day for your nativity scene and tree.

6. Now that I am going to be feeling better, I am going to attempt to do potty training for real again soon. Typical potty training episode so far which is why I had given up:

L: “I have to go potty.”
Me: “Okay, let’s go!” I put her on the toliet.
Me: “Have you gone yet, L?” L grabs at the toliet paper and pulls off a piece.
Me: “If you go you can have a frozen blueberry!”
L: “Blueberry!”
Me: “Have you gone yet? I am going to count to ten and then you go. One, two, three, four, five…”
L: “A flag!” She waves the toliet paper in the air.
Me: “Are you going to go?”
L: “No. All done.” She drops in the toliet paper in the toliet and then flushes.

7. I have just started Sigrid Undset’s biography on Catherine of Sienna. What an incredible life. I will probably be blogging about sainthood in the future, but one thing I do know and I told M last week is that I am not living a life of heroic virtue. His response: “I could have told you that!” Thanks dear. 🙂