Disclaimer: Do review my commenting policy before blasting an insult or intentionally provoking controversial remark. Also, please keep in mind that my ideal audience is a particularly Catholic one with a fundamental understanding of the teaching of the Catholic Church on fertility, such as is written about in Blessed John Paul II's Theology of the Body. Feel free to pose questions if you are unfamiliar with our beliefs or don't understand. However, if one wishes to make an off-topic remark or pick a fight about something only vaguely related, e.g. "Catholic priests are pedophiles omg hatesss," he or she will be promptly ignored.
I've not had the privilege of growing up in an active, loyal, practicing Catholic community. Only recently has it been called to my attention that eager Catholics who practice NFP too often take sides and nitpick over which family planning method is the best, most accurate, easiest lifestyle, etc. Conversation to improve and propagate NFP methods is good and desirable. But I'm worried sometimes about the direction our thought patterns are headed when I glean bits of these conversations.
Herbert James Draper, A Water Baby
The fact of the matter is that there is no competition. If you are a loyal practicing Catholic, you know that to approach NFP with the attitude that it is "an acceptable form of Catholic birth control" defeats the whole purpose of Natural Family Planning. I hope I'm mistaken, but I'm getting this impression more and more.
How do we remedy this attitude in the Church? I think it has everything to do with our attitude toward children and child-rearing. If in secular culture, fertility is undermined as something to control and submit to our will, there is no inherent difference between the single, sexually active woman who has successfully avoided pregnancy and the married woman who has 2.5 perfectly spaced babies. She may even have six! And it is all well and good, in secular society, as long as she has the means to provide for them (no need for a father for that), and chose when to conceive each consecutive child--God forbid she do otherwise! Then she is careless, irresponsible, a burden to society, and an enemy of planet Earth. As if a child's worth in existence depended on an active decision by its parent(s) and not by the will of God.
A prayerful Catholic couple may have none to twenty children in their lifetime together, but that is not the point. I feel strongly that the term "planned" and "unplanned" applied to children--human beings, with immortal souls and infinite worth--should be stricken from our Catholic vocabulary. It puts too much emphasis on control, on what we want, on the identity and worth of a child being in the decision to allow conception, like some kind of defeat.
"I despise Birth-Control first because it is a weak and wobbly and cowardly word. It is also an entirely meaningless word; and is used so as to curry favour even with those who would at first recoil from its real meaning. The proceeding these quack doctors recommend does not control any birth. It only makes sure that there shall never be any birth to control."--G.K. Chesterton
I think this tension can be eased even more by loosening the strict expectations we have of motherhood. I'm not advocating for careless parenting here, but we should embrace the variety of parenting styles and parenting types out there--there are as many as there are personalities in the Church, and there as many personalities in the Church, Saint Therese pointed out, as there are colors and types of flowers. It is the variety that makes the world beautiful. We may disagree on structure, proper nutrition, appropriate bedtime, how much stimulation is allowable, being ecologically responsible, but please, please--there is no better way to discourage a couple to openness to conceive than to make them feel like they would not be "good enough" parents. We're all working our way to sainthood, which is very telling. It means we're not yet saints. And we shouldn't be made to feel guilty or like failures because of that. A child needs his mother and father. No one else's. If we are prayerful and love truly--the way God loves, meaning putting the good of the beloved before all else--the child will be happy, and safe, and emotionally healthy, regardless of whether or not he gets a bath regularly.
In this way, we should also show patience and sympathy for couples, especially Catholic ones, who don't yet have the courage to give up their fertility to the hands of God. It will help to remember all the shortcomings and vices we continue to nurse. Everyone has their personal weaknesses. Let's pray for each other.
Last, let us remember that NFP is a fairly recent development. But the Church has always forbidden contraception. I'm no expert, but interest in and research into medieval lifestyle led me to discover that sex in marriage was under strict prohibitions by the Church in the middle ages. A couple was not to have sex during holy days, menstruation, Lent, etc. Far from being shocked and angered at these "prudish" guidelines, I felt smug and warmly proud. This is the clever Church, doing what she does best: making feasts and fasts a mystical rhythm of life, and seeing to it in her own way that her women had proper rests between pregnancies.
So don't apologize for your fertility. Don't blush shame-facedly when you find yourself pregnant after having announced to the world that you practice NFP and that it is a perfectly valid and effective method of spacing pregnancies. Don't. Because that "pregnancy" is a person, with a face and a life ripe with potential stretched out before her. When someone asks me, "Was your son planned?" I will say, with surety, "What do you mean? This child blossomed like a wildflower in the mind of God before all of time began."
For further reading, see:
- NFP doesn't work! You have so many kids! at House Unseen
- Never Say Never at Conversion Diary
- Fertility Charting vs. Birth Control at iusenfp.com
- Done? at Camp Patton
Also, join me in fasting and prayer for Dwija and her little one. It is during times like these that the universal Church is summoned to battle.