It’s NFP Awareness Week. For years – since before I became Catholic – I’ve been reading blog and Instagram posts by Catholic women (it’s always women) about the struggles, blessings, disappointments, and gratitude that come with practising NFP within a marriage. Some of these women experience hyperfertility and have struggled to space babies as they’d like. Others have used it to try to conceive, without success. And there are the couples for whom it seems to work perfectly, to space when necessary and conceive when desired.
But what about those of us whose spouses aren’t Catholic? What does NFP mean for us?
Of course, I can only speak for myself. However, I rather suspect that there are many of us who are afraid to share our stories, worried that we will be judged or rebuked. And perhaps we will, but I am a firm believer that when we vulnerably share the parts of our story that we prefer to keep in the shadows, we are better able to connect with pretty much everyone.
So I’m just going to come out and say it: we don’t use NFP in our marriage. I wish we did. I pray that we will one day. Right now, though, we don’t.*
You see, for a while we did – in a way, at least (I’ll clarify what I mean by that in a minute). I explained to my husband why it was important to me, and he agreed that he was willing to try it and see if it “worked.” However, it would seem that I am on the very fertile end of the spectrum, and I fell pregnant twice during the few months that we tried it (one pregnancy ended in miscarriage, and the other was the baby I’m pregnant with now). This didn’t exactly fill my husband with confidence in the method, and the subject ended up putting a lot of pressure on our relationship.
I consulted a priest (a very orthodox, FSSP priest, fwiw) who provided me with wise and gentle counsel. He told me that I must pray sincerely for a change in heart for my husband, and that I should ask the Holy Spirit to guide me as to when to raise the topic with him again. I must not be the active user of artificial contraception, i.e. take the pill, get an IUD, etc. But if I’m doing these things, with a sincere desire to practise NFP, then my main duty is to nurture my marriage. I’m not “off the hook”, per se, but he advised me that if I keep doing the things mentioned, then I am not obliged to bring this to Confession every time (although, I usually do).
What did I mean when I say we used it “in a way”? As all well-formed Catholics know, NFP is about much more than the absence of artificial contraception. It’s about openness to life, three-way communion between you, your spouse, and God, and an ongoing state of discernment. So although we went through a phase where we did not use artificial contraception, these other elements were impossible. They require both spouses to be committed to their faith, and to have trust in God. And my husband doesn’t.
You see, it’s easy enough to explain to a non-Catholic (or non-practising Catholic) why hormonal birth control is bad. There’s science to back it up, and secular culture is increasingly critical of it. However, it is much harder to explain the problem with barrier methods. To someone who doesn’t believe in NFP, there is nothing wrong with a couple simply deciding month-by-month whether or not they want to get pregnant, and deciding whether or not to contracept accordingly; there is no problem with postponing pregnancy simply because you don’t feel like having another baby yet (or ever).
Openness to life requires an understanding of your vocation to marriage that is meaningless without a true belief that God is calling each of us to sainthood. Discernment means you must be praying daily as individuals and, ideally, as a couple, to see what God is asking of you. And don’t get me wrong – I am blessed to have a pretty good communicator for a husband, and we talk openly and regularly about what we think our family life should like today, next week, next month, in a year, in a decade. You don’t need me to tell you, though, that these conversations cannot take the same shape that they would if we both had active prayer lives.
I could go on about this for another 1000 words, but I’ll stop here. I want you to know that if NFP isn’t a part of your marriage but you wish it were, then you are not alone. And if NFP is a part of your marriage and you think any Catholics who don’t use it are doomed to Hell… well, pray for us, before you condemn us. It’s likely breaking our hearts.
*Right now I’m pregnant, so it’s somewhat irrelevant. If I weren’t though, and once the baby is born, then NFP isn’t our reality unless a miracle happens.