Betty Duffy

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

More NFP Conversation

Simcha Fisher has a very good post up today about why the church doesn't make a list for what constitutes a good reason to avoid pregnancy.

"If the Church seems distressingly vague, it’s because she doesn’t want to get in the way of the conversation you could be having with God."

That conversation seems to me the most critical element of practicing NFP. The conversation remains open between husband and wife, and between each individual and God. And my guess is that there will be varying degrees of tension and some disagreement between each participant in the marriage at various times throughout the fertile years about whether or not to conceive.

Don't get discouraged with a spouse's close mindedness about another kid (and it would be a mistake to assume it's always the man who feels negatively). Also, don't get discouraged with a spouse's seemingly reckless procreative urges (though it would be unjust for one person in the marriage to lie about charting or signs of fertility in order to commandeer the family size without the other spouse's knowledge or approval). Keep the conversation open. Keep talking with your spouse. Keep talking with God, through frequent confession, and perhaps obtaining a good spiritual director.

The years of fertility last a long time, and it's likely that the minds and bodies of both spouses will feel very differently at the end of it, than they did at the beginning.

But perhaps even before one gets around to discerning just reasons to have or not to have another baby, my guess is that more Catholic marriages suffer silently under the strain of disagreement about whether or not to even use NFP vs other means of birth control. Often, one spouse is not on board with the Church's teaching--or they might be partially on board but insist on finding ways to avoid abstinence during the fertile period.

If you are in this position, remember that conversion is gradual. Go to confession often--to the same priest, who knows your circumstances, or find a spiritual director who can give you good advice on maintaining the life of Grace, and your marriage. Your marriage is the safety net for the children you already have, and if it becomes riddled with conflict and resentment, it ceases to be what it needs to be for your kids--and for you. Seek guidance. Seek reconciliation. Seek ways to keep the conversation open between you and your spouse, and you and God.

Don't pester your spouse. Prayer is more powerful than persuasion. If you're arguing about fertility issues weekly, even monthly--it's probably too much talk and not enough prayer.

If you or your spouse has already been sterilized, seek reconciliation with the church and with each other. Concentrate your prayers on forgiveness, if you feel resentment. Talk to a priest in Confession.

Do what you can to maintain the life of Grace. If you are going to fight for something in your marriage, attempt to remove the struggle from your relationship with your spouse and invest it into the fight for your life of Grace--to stay close to the Sacraments of Penance and Eucharist. Let your conflict be with your tendency towards discouragement. Don't ever assume the book has closed on you and your marriage. It is not over.

Prayers and peace be with you!


Lisa said...

Betty, this post is amazing and strikes so closely to home for me. You're dead-on that prayer is sometimes the only way to move forward when you and your spouse are at am impasse.

Erin said...

This is beautiful and encouraging. I remind myself all the time that marriage is always too good to give up on, especially when you're "fighting" for something good. That is when prayers comes in handy. I absolutely love praying with my husband before we fall asleep at night. It's a great comfort to know that even when our prayers are different, the point is that we are praying together and God is listening.

Kate Wicker @ Momopoly said...

Thank you for this. Beautiful, honest advice.

Dobrovits Family said...

Keeping God the 3rd member of the conversation (and your marriage) is so critical. We started out as chemically contracepting Catholics moved to FAM then to NFP then to "reckless procreation" (lol!) and now, in our waning years of fertility we have discerned a call to international special needs adoption! It has been a bumpy, crazy ride but we are so blessed to FINALLY understand that following God's will brings the Greatest Joy!!

Kelly@inthesheepfold said...

What an excellent post! Conversion can be a process. For many of who have been poorly formed in the faith, reforming the mind may take time as well.

This post speaks to real women who live in a less then perfect world. You comments about prayer can be applied to any area of conflict in a marriage.

You are right on when you say that marriage is the safety net for the children we already have. Constantly seeking the grace needed to sustain it is so essential.

Ashley said...

This a beautiful and well-written post. I especially appreciated your encouragement about fluctuating, fluid, changing desires. You are right. Conversation must continue. Thank you!

Elizabeth K. said...

Thank you for this! It spoke to me directly--to my heart and to my situation. We don't talk about this issue enough, I think.

Elizabeth K. said...

Also, here's something I would love to see addressed: Is it ever all right for couples to decide that, given their druthers, they'd rather not have more children because of the number they already have and because of their ages? I don;t mean they wouldn't be open and loving towards a child--but they have reservations about seeking it out directly.

I ask this because most of the conversations I see about NFP focus on couples who are pretty young--20s and 30s--and while I know more women do have babies in their 40's, we also all know that it's considered high-risk by doctors (they put you under that horrible label "advanced maternal age") and that there's more risk to the baby. Again--I want to be very clear--I'm not in ANY WAY suggesting someone should not have a baby in her 40s or should not be wildly happy about it. But do we SEEK it--I suppose that's my question.

Has anyone else thought about this/seen it addressed somewhere?

mags said...

Exactly what I needed to hear x
Thank you xxx

BettyDuffy said...

"Is it ever all right for couples to decide that, given their druthers, they'd rather not have more children because of the number they already have and because of their ages?"

In short, yes. Simcha's post goes into more detail. It's worth reading.

JMB said...

Elizabeth K,
I too wish more older women would talk about it too. I struggled more with the idea that I really didn't want any more children than with the decision to have them. At some point, every family has a youngest child. Also, I haven't gotten to the point where I regret not having any more. What if you don't? Isn't that telling you something? I always thought there was something wrong with me when I didn't want to dive back into the baby thing at the age of 40. We struggled with this for a long time, and finally I just accepted it. We use NFP, if God so desires for us to have another, it will happen.

Elizabeth K. said...

Thanks Betty and JMB. I think also, even beyond wanting more babies after forty, a lot of us start counting the years--when she's my age, I'll be 80, etc..--and, like I said before, recognizing the real physical risks involved. So one might want another baby--but it's much different to have a baby in one's 40's when one is already raising several other children. My husband and I have talked a lot about these reservations, and are in a similar place to you, JMB. Good to know we're not alone--especially when it seems like everyone around us is having themselves sterilized now.:(

nicole said...

I think we're not praying enough about this specific issue in our marriage. Well, it is not an issue, per se, because we both agree that we are not called to have any more kids at this time (we have six, oldest is 9, youngest is 10.5 months). And right now we feel like we might not have any more, but I'm only 31 and obviously very fertile (so far) and the idea of charting and abstaining for 10+ more years is daunting. But the idea of even one more child is also daunting, right now. So, yes, more prayer is needed. We have to pray for the grace to surrender every day, to whatever may come.

Anonymous said...

You are dead on, I am a catholic and my husband is not, we have 5 children and then i went on the pill as he said no more children and that he wanted to have a vasectomy so going on the pill was a "compromise". Anyway the whole thing knawd at my conscience and i started to attend daily mass and to pray the rosary every day about this and when after 2 years i approached the subject my husband agreed to follow nfp. so we are taking our first steps like this thanks to our Blessed Mother she will do everything for you in this area. Ann

Eric said...

Jim Blackburn from Catholic Answers posted the following, the most concise reply to this question I've seen:

Re: What are acceptable reasons for avoiding pregnancy?

The regulation of births is one of the responsibilities of parenthood. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) explains, “A particular aspect of [the fecundity of marriage] concerns the regulation of procreation. For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children” (CCC 2368). But the catechism does not explicitly define what constitutes “just reasons”. Instead, proper determination is left up to the couple: “It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood” (ibid.).

However, the language used in Church documents may be somewhat helpful. For example, Gaudium Et Spes (GS) states, “certain modern conditions often keep couples from arranging their married lives harmoniously, and… they find themselves in circumstances where at least temporarily the size of their families should not be increased. As a result, the faithful exercise of love and the full intimacy of their lives is hard to maintain” (GS 51).

And Humanae Vitae (HV) says that a couple may morally space births if there are well-grounded reasons “arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances” (HV 16).

Ultimately, each couple must determine for themselves whether “just reasons” truly exist. Vademecum for Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life explains, “Certainly it is a duty of married couples—who, for that matter, should seek appropriate counsel—to deliberate deeply and in a spirit of faith about the size of their family, and to decide the concrete mode of realizing it, with respect for the moral criteria of conjugal life” (VC 3).

“Parents should regard as their proper mission the task of transmitting human life and educating those to whom it has been transmitted. They should realize that they are thereby cooperators with the love of God the Creator, and are, so to speak, the interpreters of that love. Thus they will fulfill their task with human and Christian responsibility, and, with docile reverence toward God, will make decisions by common counsel and effort. Let them thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring. For this accounting they need to reckon with both the material and the spiritual conditions of the times as well as of their state in life. Finally, they should consult the interests of the family group, of temporal society, and of the Church herself. The parents themselves and no one else should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God. But in their manner of acting, spouses should be aware that they cannot proceed arbitrarily, but must always be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself, and should be submissive toward the Church's teaching office, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the Gospel. That divine law reveals and protects the integral meaning of conjugal love, and impels it toward a truly human fulfillment” (GS 50).

Anonymous said...

I think there's a common misapprehension that this is always a case of the wife wanting to use NFP and the husband not.

In our case it is the other way around - I believe contraception is wrong and I desperately want to use NFP, but my wife (understandably after 5 pregnancies including 2 miscarriages) is adamant that we use contraception.

I am prepared to be careful by abstaining when there is any chance of conception, however difficult that is. But she is so affraid of falling pregnant that she cannot be convinced.

At the moment we have the unhappy compromise of using condoms and (at my insistence) strict abstinence during the fertile time.

I understand her view point but I very much want to follow Church teaching.