This will come as no surprise if you’re a Catholic woman who is at all active on social media this week. But just in case you’re not, let me clue you in. It’s Natural Family Planning (NFP) Awareness Week!
Yay. Great. Whoop-dee-doo.
Now, my holier-than-me Catholic lady friends… please don’t go clutching your pearls or your rosaries or your NFP charts at me. Maybe this week doesn’t thrill some of us like it thrills you. Perhaps, instead of feeling like this is the week we get to actually be seen in all of our glorious Catholic weirdness, some of us feel like it’s one big long week of finger-wagging and hiding in shame.
Maybe, just maybe, some women (and even a dude or two) feel pretty alienated by the whole thing.
Now, before I proceed, let me reassure you that this is NOT an NFP-bashing post. Rather, this is going to be a “let’s widen the lens and see a bigger picture” post. OK? OK. Here goes.
NFP – A (Very) Brief Primer
I’m sure by now some of my non-Catholic friends are thinking, NFP what? Isn’t that just the rhythm method? (They’re probably also thinking I’ve lost my mind to talk about this and maybe I have. Oh well!)
Short answers – No, NFP is not the rhythm method. Yes, I might possibly have lost my mind.
Now, then. If you took the time to click through those links, you’ll have gotten a brief primer of what NFP is and is not. There are several different methods of NFP (Billings, Creighton, Marquette, etc.) that are highly scientific and highly effective. What it is not is a roulette-esque game of Fun With Calendar Math (that’s the rhythm method).
But why exactly are Catholics supposed to use this instead of birth control? Well, that’s a question that would take way more than one blog post to answer. A very (incredibly low-level) basic answer, however, would be that Catholic married couples should be open to new life in their marriage and that anything used to alter our bodies rather than work with them to prevent life from being formed is to be avoided. (Here’s a link to a page that has a wealth of knowledge if you’d like more information.) Furthermore, all people (married and unmarried) are called to chastity.
A Shift in the Culture
That all sounds pretty good, right? How could all of that science working alongside faith and religion make anyone feel alienated?
Well, let me tell you a little secret.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most Catholic women around my age (hello, 42!) who were raised in the 80s and 90s and married in the late 90s or early 00s, had not actually heard about NFP before they got married. In fact, I’d wager that their marriage prep, pre-Cana, Engaged Encounter sex talk went a little something like this:
Nice Catholic couple stands up before a crowd of 20-somethings. He’s wearing a polo shirt and khakis. She’s wearing a denim jumper. They tell you all about their 7 kids that they homeschool. Next, they tell you that you aren’t allowed to use birth control because the Pope says it’s wrong and that the rhythm method has been around forever. Just use that and everything will be fiiiiiiiiiiiiine. Good luck!
Nowadays, however, I’m pretty sure that couldn’t be further from the truth. Somehow in the last 20 years, be it through a return to orthodoxy or the persuasiveness of St. Pope John Paul II’s teachings (see: Theology of the Body and Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI), more and more Catholic couples are being taught real NFP. They’re being taught what is good and true and holy for their bodies and their souls and their marriages. And that is a wonderful thing!
Unless you’re one of the many, many people who feel like the missed the NFP boat.
Who Could That Be?
Like I mentioned before, I believe there’s a whole generation of women who missed out on being taught the beauty of their sexuality and fertility through NFP. Not only did we miss out on the methods, but we weren’t taught the why behind them, either. And without the latter, the former makes no sense.
There are those who converted to the faith, who grew up and got married or were even years into their marriage before they learned about the benefits of NFP. Once you’re used to experiencing marriage and all it entails in one way, it can seem downright impossible to make the switch. No matter how much you might want it or how hard you try.
Consider, too, those who have struggled for years to live up to what the Church teaches but (for any of a million reasons) don’t feel able.
Or, those who are married to non-Catholics who don’t believe the Church’s teaching in this area.
How about those who have medical conditions (physical or psychological) that make pregnancy really freaking scary who don’t feel equipped to take on an NFP lifestyle?
Then, there’s anyone who has had their tubes tied or a hysterectomy. Anyone who’s experienced this can tell you about the many levels of emotions and side effects that go along with it. As a side note – Friend, if this is you, please do yourself a favor and watch Mary Lenaburg’s IGTV video. It will do your heart good.
And, of course, we can’t forget those who are burdened with infertility or hyperferitlity, with PCOS or endometriosis.
Let’s be real, OK? As many women as there are in the Church and in the world, there are that many different experiences and histories being brought to the family planning table. And we have to meet people where they are.
Widening the Lens
Oh, friend. What is the bottom line to all of this?
First, Natural Family Planning is good and true and beautiful. It can also be really hard and a humongous sacrifice. If this is how you live your life as a Catholic woman and experience your fertility, then I am so happy for you! I am proud of you for struggling to live this call from God in your life. You have my prayers.
Second, if NFP is not part of your life for whatever reason, I see you. I’ve been you. I understand you and I love you and God loves you, too (which is the most important of all). You have my prayers.
Third, if you are one of the people for whom NFP Awareness Week seems off-putting or alienating in any way, you are not alone. I promise. You, especially, have my prayers.
Let’s all take this week to widen our lenses a little bit, shall we? Let’s celebrate our “Catholic weirdness” in all of its wonder. And let’s hold some space for each other in our differences. If NFP is totally your jam, share it in love and honesty (my favorites for this are @sylbass, @kwhitaker96, and @emilystimpsonchapman on Instagram). If it isn’t part of your life, maybe take the opportunity to pray and learn more about it. What better time than the present?
After all, we’re all working for Heaven the best ways we know how. Let’s give each other – and GOD! – room to move.