Where Logic Meets Love

"Responsible" Parenthood

Saturday, March 20, 2010

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'Responsible' Parenthood | Faith Permeating Life
Mike and I practice Natural Family Planning, which we learned mostly on our own before we were married and then took a one-time Advanced class through the Couple-to-Couple League to learn the details of the charting method the CCL teaches (which I think is excellent and simple).

Because of our payment to CCL for this class, we became members of CCL and receive their magazine, "Family Foundations." The magazine is an interesting mix of articles about NFP (like finding a doctor who supports it and details about chart reading), family life, and Catholic/pro-life/similar stuff, since NFP is tied to Catholicism.

While some of the articles, mostly the NFP-centered ones, are interesting, most of the time the magazine tends to flabbergast/anger me in one way or another.

The first time, this was from a letter they published from someone who was anti-NFP. The basic idea of the letter was, "NFP doesn't work. We tried doing it but then we didn't want to wait to have sex so we had sex and got pregnant. So it doesn't work." Which is quite possibly the stupidest possible argument against NFP that I've ever heard. I guess if you have no self-control it's not for you...

But lately it's been the actual content of the magazine that's been annoying to me.

In the previous issue, there was a regular column by a woman who had been counting down to getting married, and this was her first column since getting married. What was so ridiculous about it was that the article started off saying that it was "finally time to put into practice" the NFP that they had learned. Then it goes on to talk about how they wanted to postpone pregnancy for a variety of reasons, meaning they should not have intercourse during the fertile period (Phase II of the woman's cycle).

Then, when they discovered she would be in Phase II on their wedding night, they decided to have intercourse anyway. The reasoning given was more or less, "C'mon, it's our wedding night." Hello? Is this not the exact opposite of what NFP teaches? How on Earth is this "putting NFP into practice"? Then, when they didn't get pregnant, they were relieved and went back to practicing NFP. That just annoyed me because this magazine is always talking about NFP being so "countercultural" and yet this couple, who they were holding up as some kind of model, felt they couldn't go against the "rule" that you have to have intercourse on your wedding night.

But the latest issue, the one that arrived earlier this week, just took the cake for me. I read almost the entire issue, trying to find something redeeming about it. The issue was supposedly about "responsible parenthood." After reading all the articles and all the different stories from the different families, I concluded that "responsible parenthood" means "feeling guilty if you're not constantly pregnant." Seriously. As if responsible parenthood was only possible if you spent your life having as many children as physically possible.

And the reasoning some of them gave was ridiculous. One woman said that about 18 months after each child was born, she would get really annoyed with charting every day, and she interpreted that as a "call from God" to have another child. What? You have to get pregnant because you're lazy?

I think what annoyed me most was that there wasn't a single mention of adoption as a form of responsible parenthood. (I take that back: There was one mention of adoption, to bemoan how terrible it was that anyone could "get" a child, even gay people -- and you know how I feel about that.) For me, I would feel terribly guilty about bringing nine children into this world, like some of these parents in this issue. How could I create so many children when there are already so many children living without a home? And our world getting so overpopulated? [Update: I've since learned more about the overpopulation issue!] Originally Mike and I were planning to have three children and adopt two, but I just couldn't justify bringing more children into this world than the two to "replace" Mike and me. So we plan to have two and adopt at least three, and our first will be adopted.

That is what responsible parenthood is to us -- we are postponing pregnancy to allow us to give a loving home to a child who doesn't have one. And we are waiting to do that until we are sure that we have the financial stability to provide that loving and safe home for a child.

Being "open to children" doesn't mean you have to be constantly pregnant. Mike and I are open to eventually adding to our family as many children as we can support and feel called to have or adopt.

It seems to me -- and this is pure speculation -- that people find NFP difficult or annoying, and so they excuse or justify their desire for more intercourse, and to not have to watch their cycle phases as closely, as a call to have more children. I have yet to read an article from CCL that talks about a family prayerfully and carefully spacing out two or three children, and then stopping. That's what NFP supposedly teaches: mindfulness, that you make a decision every cycle about whether or not you can financially, emotionally, spiritually, and otherwise bring another child into your family. I don't get that at all from these articles, just this vague idea that more children = better. It's as if you have to provide a justification not to get pregnant, but you don't have to provide a justification for getting pregnant.

Mike and I love NFP. It comes up again and again how glad we are that we practice NFP. And it's amazing to me how intercourse, right from the beginning, became just one of many, many ways for us to be intimate and sexual. I don't think either of us feel deprived during the times we're not in Phase III (the infertile period). It's more like, during Phase III we have one additional way of being loving that we don't have at other times. And that's it. What I love about NFP is how it provides a unique mindset about the whole of marriage, about our bodies, about respect for each other, about partnership, about life planning. It requires conversation about sex, which should be a necessity for every relationship but isn't.

I'll say one final thing about this, and if you are uncomfortable with thinking about me and Mike doing anything sexual (or if you are my mother), you should stop reading here. When intercourse is not an option for a large part of the month, you find other ways to be sexual. And while intercourse involves both parties, many of the other ways to be intimate involve one person pleasing the other. This sounds like it would be a disadvantage because you're not "experiencing it together," but think about what it does to your marriage when the primary way of having sex is being self-sacrificing and thinking about the other person's needs -- and both of you are doing this equally? It creates an other-focused, service-oriented relationship, which anyone who came to our wedding knows is what our marriage is based on anyway. [Updated to add that this is not official Catholic teaching, and to link to a later post exploring this in more detail.]


  1. Another awesome article!!

    I am an Episcopalian. I used artificial contraception for 12 years and feel absolutely no guilt about it. But I also tried to be aware of my cycle all along because, beginning when I first read the idea in Ms. Magazine, it was bloody obvious that abstaining near ovulation would help to prevent pregnancy even better than using contraception without paying attention to the cycle!

    After NFP/Fertility Awareness helped us conceive when doctors were saying our odds were very low, I was sold! We did use barriers for a while after our son's birth, but Awareness (as I like to call it!) has been our only method of avoiding conception for over 3 years now, and we love it.

    I thoroughly agree with you about the value other types of sexual intimacy. However, it's important not to represent this as Catholic teaching. I see that YOU don't believe this, but the official teaching of your church is that ejaculation must occur only in the vagina and anything else is a mortal sin, a form of murder. I believe this is the reason that so many Catholics fail to abstain so often.

  2. @'Becca

    Who said sexual intimacy has to involve ejaculation? ;)

    Seriously, though, if you read some of my other posts, such as What Life of Pi says about gay marriage you'll see that I connect with Catholicism as a mode of worship rather than an institution to tell me the right and wrong way to live. So yeah, please, don't take anything I say to be Catholic teaching unless specifically stated! I will try to make that clearer in the future.

    Also, to clarify, it's not entirely true that the Catholic Church says all ejaculation has to happen in a vagina. It says that all sexual acts should be oriented toward and open to procreation. So wet dreams would not be a mortal sin because they're not a sexual act. And you're not going to hell if you have a premature ejaculation while preparing for intercourse. The whole "spilling of the seed" thing is a misreading of the story of Onan... but I'm guessing you know that whole thing. Mike went to Catholic school his whole life and we both went to a Catholic university, so we're both pretty well-versed in Catholic teaching. We just don't revolve our lives around it.

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