This is Pamela’s post for the Say Yes to Life Blog Carnival
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Once my husband and I were engaged we began to plan our union. According to every bridal magazine I have ever seen this must mean pouring yourselves into meticulous details about the reception color schemes, place settings and flower choices. For us however, it meant delving into the sacrament of marriage; to create a culture of life-giving love for the family we hoped to create. One aspect of our relationship we needed to explore was what to do about birth control.
The Catholic church teaches that the only acceptable form is Natural Family Planning, being Catholic that didn’t seem like a difficult decision. However when I talked to people about it, all I had heard was that it didn’t work, and that we were crazy to make this choice. After a number of negative reactions from friends and family I began to get a little nervous about it. I had lots of questions about its effectiveness, the process, and how it effects your relationship. After all, I wanted to be a responsible parent and partner. The divorce rates are so high (50%), it would break my heart if this hurt our loving relationship. But, I kept an open mind and signed us up for a class, and I am so glad that I did. Educating ourselves about Natural Family Planning allowed me to put away my concerns; I was then able to proceed with knowledge, instead of fear.
Natural Family Planning is understanding the signs of female fertility, and reading those signs. When done correctly, it is over 99% effective which is more effective than a condom in postponing pregnancy. However, there are no negative consequences to NFP. Barrier methods can cause infections, allergies, even toxic shock syndrome. What is worse is that it disrupts the marital act of giving yourself completely to your spouse. The love between man and wife is a reflection of God’s love of us. For love to last it needs to be given fully and each person treated with respect. The marital act is not meant for selfishly seeking pleasure but pleasing the other and giving all of yourself to your beloved. Life-giving love comes by understanding the nature of what your sexuality is for. The marital act is not being demonized by the church, it is a gift meant to be treated with respect as it allows your love to create new life. NFP teaches you how to be responsible with such a gift.
By the time we were done with the three classes, I couldn’t believe how much I had learned about my own body. I thought I had a pretty good understanding of how it all worked but I was really missing a great deal of the science behind my own biology. It made me realize, how little most women understand about their own fertility, how much we rely on what doctors tell us, and how using chemical birth control changes their body. What I had always hear about the pill was that it kept you from ovulating so you can’t get pregnant. Apparently, that is only half of what it does. If you do ovulate, and you become pregnant, the pill keeps the fertilized egg from taking hold in your uterus and it dies. Very few people I talked to seemed to know that because none of their doctor had told them the ugly truth.
NFP works in a very different way. Instead of altering your chemistry, you just learn to understand it. The idea is that you are only fertile at certain times during your cycle. If you are able to calculate where you are in your cycle, then you will be able to know whether or not you are fertile. In the class we took, which was for the Sympto-Thermal Method, this calculation was made by taking your temperature and documenting changes in mucus.
I have to admit, in the class I was the less mature of the two of us on this account. Although initially having those conversations may be a little awkward, it does get you in the habit of having very open communication about fertility on a regular basis. You have to be upfront about when you can have marital relations if you are not ready for a child. Opening up your ability to communicate about that easily leads itself to better communication about other aspects of your relationship too.
NFP does have some consequences on your relationship. The 50% divorce rate goes down to .2% for couples that use NFP. There are a number of reasons for this. Along with the good communication habits we have already discussed, there is more mutual respect. If you are able to keep that sense of anticipation and excitement about when you will be able to be together, you never really get a chance to take that intimacy for granted. You look forward to it, and you appreciate it when you can. Of course there is also the fact that you are truly giving all of yourself to your partner, by doing this, you are treating your love as it is meant to be a reflection of God’s love.
Sitting on my patio, I saw a glimpse at what life-giving love means. This patio of mine is made of concrete, rock, and metal bars. Left untouched, it better resembles a jail then scenic outdoor living space. However, since my husband and I have moved in, it has been transformed slowly but surely. Now it has been draped in 28 pots of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Finally, it looks more like a garden, full of life giving nutrients, and shelter as it was meant to be. As I sat there in this once dead space, petting my cat with one hand, tossing a ball for my dog with the other, with a baby growing in my belly (planned I swear) in my little make-shift garden I see how much life our love brings into the world. I could feel God’s presence in that moment. I am so grateful for all the blessings my life has rendered. Knowledge about NFP, I feel, is one of those blessings. Everyone seems to want organic lettuce, and chicken, because that is more natural but the same people look at me like I am crazy to use NFP which is based on the natural order of things, or even that I pray we are able to have more than one child. If what you want is the natural law, shouldn’t you start with your own body?