I have hesitated for a long time to publish this, because in the past I have caused scandal by bluntly stating certain aspects of Church teaching without bothering to dance in the nuance. And then, of course, there is the little fact that I learned long ago that few are like me in their approach to NFP. Yet I know that it is good for people to see another side, even if they would never wish to walk it themselves. And there are at least a few pre-Cana couples out there who actually want to have NFP work in their future marriages. So here goes something…
What I tell my sisters about NFP.
NFP can be easy. Sure, not all couples will need to concern themselves with planning their families, but for the majority who do need NFP, it can work very well. NFP can be easy for faithful Catholics who care deeply about following the Church’s teaching precisely. Of course NFP can be miserable. We all know that. But it does not have to be. The truth is that if you expect NFP to be a challenge, and then go on to make it even more difficult on yourself… well, you might break under the burden. Or you might flourish. I suppose that is the Catholic way of saying that your mileage may vary? Ehem. Anyway.
Abstain on your wedding night.
No, I am not joking. So many couples freak out because they think that they are making a tremendous sacrifice if they happen to get married on a day with indications of fertility. Either they feel so terribly deprived as they abstain, or they ignore their consciences in regard to responsible parenting, or they start their marriage off with a “just this once” use of contraception. Not cool. And don’t tell yourself that you *must* have sex in order to have a valid marriage. Because that’s just not true. And truth is good for marriage.
There is a flipping easy solution to this problem. Simply plan for abstinence on your wedding night. If you are sexually experienced then it won’t kill you to wait another day (or 10). If you are *not* sexually experienced, then it might do you a whole lot of good to take things veeeery slowly. Like your whole honeymoon slowly. In either case, planning ahead of time to abstain on your wedding night can set you up for success with NFP. Sure, I am crazy, but you are the one thinking of avoiding sex as a way to avoid babies. If you are not crazy too, then you should expect failure. Or something.
And if you are extra concerned about this issue, then delay your honeymoon and start your marriage off with a religious pilgrimage instead. You won’t regret it.
Avoid pregnancy for at least 3 months.
Actually, I really think you should probably avoid for at least 6 months, but since any timeline is arbitrary and the number 3 is symbolic of the Trinity or something we’ll go with that.
If you read enough I-Hate-NFP stories you will notice a theme so resounding as to become, dare I say it, hackneyed. It is the story of couples who thought they were going to be so perfect and open to life all their lives and have lots of babies and let God decide whatever. So they had no need to learn NFP. So they had babies. And then needed NFP. And then could not figure it out during the very stressful postpartum period. So they had another baby that they could not handle. And they hated NFP. Because NFP DOESNT WORK, and it is SOOOO HARD. Etc.
According to my very scientific survey of anecdotal evidence, precisely 50% of these couples (half!) would have found NFP significantly less of a burden had they chosen to learn it, and practice it at least for a little while when first married.
Some people say that you should not get married if you do not want to have a baby right away. I say you should not get married if you can not handle 3 months of avoiding pregnancy. #Snark.
Follow the liturgical cycle.
If you thought the first two suggestions were bad, you will love this one. One of the reasons that people find NFP insufferable is that they see it as a poor (self-denying) alternative to the more Catholic (fun) option of having sex whenever they want. While this view has its merits, it is also very new in the scope of Church history.
For the vast majority of years during which Catholics have been Catholic, faithful married couples abstained for religious reasons for far more of the year than modern NFP-users abstain in order to avoid pregnancy.
This sounds scary and unnecessary. And maybe it is. But it is also a great way to get some perspective on the abstinence required for avoiding pregnancy. If you are finding that abstinence for the purpose of avoiding pregnancy feels like too much of a burden, then consider the counter-intuitive method of abstaining more–for more obviously holy reasons.
Even if you have no reason to avoid pregnancy, abstaining during times of penance (Fridays, Advent, Lent, random days determined by your diocese, whatever) can knock some Catholic sense into you and renew your thoughts on sex and abstinence. If nothing else it will allow you to compete with your holier-than-thou we-use-God-family-planning pew neighbors. Nothing like penance and abstinence to help with arrogance, right?
Learn about various disorders.
And by “disorders” I mean the reproductive health sort, not the you-must-be-disordered-if-you-think-marriage-is-about-more-than-sex type.
Getting a clue about the basic problems that could make NFP more difficult will help things not be so difficult. Education is useful. Shocking, I know.
Even if you are one of the lucky ones who never has any reproductive health issues, knowing about them will help you to be less stressed when other people start telling their horror stories. Hint: no woman is actually fertile all the time. There are, however, many reasons for a woman to have continuous symptoms which some schools of NFP would declare to be “fertile.” Learn about these things, and your life will be sweet as honey and your wife as lovely as a flock of sheep. Or something.
Knowledge is good. Sure, you know that you will never need it, but maybe you can help someone else with it some day when they are asking you about how you have such a perfect marriage. Or something.
Learn about multiple methods.
What I really want to say is to learn multiple methods of tracking fertility, but I’m thinking that I will have to settle for telling you to at least learn about multiple methods.
There are as many ways to determine fertility and rules for avoiding or achieving pregnancy as there are ways to skin a mouse. Warning: this may come as a shock to your NFP-teacher, but not all methods are equally good for all couples.
It should be obvious that some ways of tracking fertility will work better for some women’s bodies than others. What is slightly less obvious at first is how other factors, such as the strictness or style of a method, will make it better or worse suited to each couple.
If you are a control freak couple you may love Creighton. If you enjoy dancing in the woods in a rhythm determined precisely by your own body you may love Billings.
Some methods are beautiful in their simplicity. Other methods have the genius of complexity that is incredibly reassuring.
You may love whatever method you stumble upon. But you may not. And if you at least know about the basics of some other methods then you will have a tremendous advantage in being able to make NFP easier, better, and hotter. Or something.
. . .
The wonderfully secret truth is that NFP may be quite a challenge–for all the same reasons that marriage may be quite a challenge–but it does not have to be impossible. If following all those blasted Catholic rules is important to you, as it is to me, then there are pretty simple ways to set yourself up for success.
Have serious talks with your significant other. Realize that if you cannot currently have a coherent, loving discussion about the possibility of things such as abstaining for weeks after your wedding, that NFP may not work for you in this relationship. Don’t be stupid. Don’t be selfish. Don’t ignore red flags… Or any color flags, actually.
Know that the ease or challenge that NFP presents in your marriage will have little to do with your bodies and a lot to do with your minds. And hearts. And souls.
Spend a little time expecting–and preparing–for the worst.
Then move on with your life and marriage knowing that you get to make the choices which can make NFP… dare I say it? Easy.