NFP is hard…Part 2–Day to day

So another week has passed and I’m back to the blog.  So far I’ve been so happy to have this time and to see the progress.  I can’t wait to reveal this to people in July!  This is the best I’ve done with a project to date 🙂  Well, that may not be fair, but whatever.  To the point:  NFP, the journey continues.

Part 2–Day to day NFP

So In this section I’m going to just offer up a perspective on how day to day NFP presents a struggle for couples who have previously enjoyed secular vs. holy sex.  Basically, my hope is to offer you kids, as I said in the previous post, some solidarity if you need it OR some Truth (with the capital T) if you have unfortunately started your own journey toward secular sex (herein abbreviated to SS).

When thinking about how to frame this part of the discussion, I wanted to be more systematic.  I also don’t just want to list problems without positing the benefits or solutions, so basically, I’m going to choose a few aspects of day to day NFP and do a brief discussion of the struggle, how SS is no better but actually worse, and why this struggle is worthwhile.  Here forgive my formatting problems, I’m new to this 🙂

  • You can’t have sex whenever you want without consequence.  Wow!  Even typing that had me reeling over the fact that, though our society purports to use sex in this way, it couldn’t be further from the Truth.  The struggle:  So with NFP, you’re generally looking at your fertility in order to make a conscious decision about pregnancy.  Whether you are avoiding or achieving, for optimal use of the method (and there are several methods–click here if you want to get an overview/get started), you need to sometimes either avoid intercourse for a time or time intercourse to particular days or even times of day.  This means, for practical purposes, you can’t just have morning sex because it’s convenient if it’s a day your method says won’t be green (meaning go) until the end of the day.  How SS is no better, but worse:  Our society tells us you can have sex, or a version of it, anytime, anywhere, without consequence.  Duh.  No you can’t.  The failure rates of ALL methods of avoiding pregnancy exist.  Some are quite high.  So right there, assuming you may not want to become pregnant, you ought to understand the initial lie involved in the anytime, anywhere mentality.  But I, and fellow NFPers will posit that the mentality is much more destructive than that.  When you fall for the lie of anytime, anywhere, even in a monogamous, committed relationship, you start to treat sex as a commodity.  And as anyone who has ever dealt with stocks knows, commodities can be traded or bartered, or gotten from other vendors.  To put it another way, if sex is just a thing, it’s not respected.  This leads to a disrespect of the partner.  I could go on, but I want to keep this post shorter.  I’m sure I’ll be back to this point another day.  Why the struggle is worth it:  Who wants to be told when they can and can’t have sex?  Especially in a committed marriage?  How can saying no to your spouse possibly be a good thing?  This is harder to see for a new-to-NFPer like myself, but I’ve been seeing it lately.  When I have to say no to my impulses or my desires, I have to be patient.  I have to turn elsewhere to satisfy my urges.  This can go awry, if you goal is not to follow the Church, but if you’re in it to win it, this means you turn toward God in prayer or you put your time into your kiddos, or you hold hands with your spouse over dinner and just talk about life.  No, none of these things have quite the same feeling as sex, but then, they’re not supposed to.  When we don’t get sex every time we want it, we start to see it as the incredibly special gift it is.  Remember from the last post:  sex is not just an end unto itself, it is a complete and total gift of yourself to your spouse.  Can you really do that anytime and anywhere?
  • You have to change your lifestyle.  I am sure there are lifestyle changes for men and women here, but I can only speak to those of the woman.  The struggle:  In our society, we’ve grown used to comfort and convenience.  As an American, I have really done this.  It is said that our homeless have more bounty than the richest poor person in other countries.  While I don’t know about that, I do know I live a pretty cush life.  My peers and society at large are quick to tell me I don’t need to settle or compromise my wants and desires in any way.  To this end, I am told I can do what I want, when I want, how I want.  With NFP, freedom is compromised.  Though I would say with all family planning techniques freedom is compromised, the purpose of this post is to discuss the specific ways NFP does so.  These, as I seem them, would be it changes the way I have to use the restroom, the types of medicines I am allowed to take, and the types of conversations my husband and I regularly revisit.  For example, using NFP’s Creighton method has me monitor my fertility through checking my mucus.  Well, if I have allergies, which I do, and they flair, I used to take Benedryl.  Benedryl works by drying up mucus in your sinus cavities, thus giving you relief from sniffly runniness.  But it doesn’t just dry up nasal mucus.  So if I want accurate readings of my fertility, I don’t take Benedryl and I have to find a new way to abate my allergy suffering.  Lifestyle change.  How SS is no better, but worse:  So if I practiced SS I could take Benedryl and my life would be imminently better.  I could run to the restroom without having to wipe before and after.  I could wad my tp and forget about those folded flat layers.  True.  I got nothing.  There is no way that SS is worse on this point.  See–we Catholics will be honest about our methods!  Why the struggle is still worth it:  So why NFP again? Well I feel a bit repetitive, but when you are forced to change your lifestyle, you start to evaluate what’s important.  To this end, I’m now using much less toilet paper.  I’m also really thinking about my attitude when I’m sick and I’m working harder to keep everyone healthier.  This makes me seek outside myself.  Sense the theme?  SS focuses the lens on you and NFP focuses it onto a larger picture.  It operates on something called “self-donative love” and if you haven’t heard of this concept, check it out because it is pretty powerful stuff!
  • You have to talk about the future.  The struggle:  NFP is a day to day process.  Maybe last week your spouse and you decided there was NO WAY you were ready for a baby, but today he’s feeling differently and you’re not.  The chart says you’re fertile so you have to talk.  How SS is no better, but worse:  Here I can positively speak to this.  This is why your dad and I fought so heavily in the early years of our marriage–no talk about the tough stuff!  With SS and artificial means of birth control, there is no day to day discussion.  This is easy, but it’s not good.  So if I am on the pill (much less long-range than say an IUD) and my spouse is starting to think, “let’s have a baby” and I’m not, no problem, we can still have SS as much as we want until we eventually decide to talk about the issue.  Seems fine, but trust me, resentment builds and fear builds and one of the partners starts to feel used.  I’m good enough to be “intimate” with, but not enough to talk intimately to.  When you delay those big conversations of the heart, you develop much bigger problems.  Why the struggle is worth it:  Here it is hard to say, “regular conversations about our shared pregnancy intentions are fun.”  They still aren’t.  Sometimes, they’re down-right awkward.  But this is the part that IS good:  they happen and we don’t lock ourselves into anything forever.  We can pray about things and discern just what God has in mind for us.  Often these conversations lead to more and deeper ones.  They take us back to that courtship time when we cared about and talked about our hopes and dreams, not just, “how was work” or “what do you want for dinner” or “you have got to do something about…”  Truly, NFP aids conversation and makes you more comfortable talking about everything.

And that’s what I’ve got.  I know there’s much more.  The more I learn and follow NFP, the more I realize it is a huge topic.  There are books and books written on it.  Check them out!  But these are some of the biggies as I see it and the things Dad and I are currently working on.


NFP is hard to do…Part 1: Backstory and definitions

I started to make this one post and realized there is a lot here!  So I’m going to post this in parts.  The short story is this:  Going from a contraceptive mindset to a Catholic one is tough!  But it’s worth it and it’s something I want to prepare you for, because NFP practices a patience that really is representative of your entire life.  Here are the parts I’m going to be posting:  The back story and my definitions, problems with day to day NFP when your history is less than holy, what successful couples do to make NFP work, how to prepare your kids for NFP, and why NFP is worth all the trouble even if no one else believes you.

Part 1:  Backstory and definitions

So I’ve not been blogging long, and as a result, there’s not a lot about me here, yet.  Since I’m blogging primarily for my own sanity and to pass something on to my kids, this would presumably present little problem.  We both know me quite well…however, when it comes to the actual practicing of NFP, I don’t think anyone really knows what’s up beside my DH and I so I may have to give a little backstory.  However, I promise not to pull a How I Met Your Mother and do that thing where he basically tells his kids about all the sex he had with other people…that’s weird.  Kids, you might ask why I even touch this sensitive topic at all given you don’t want to hear about it, but the thing is, I can’t find anyone to commiserate on this with and I guess I want to leave you at least a shred of proof that your possible experience with NFP is valid.  I don’t want you thinking you’re weird or just less holy!

Let’s start with the back story.  Your dad and I began our relationship in a very sinful way.  We did not follow church teachings.  Without getting too scandalous, I will simply point out that which is public record.  We bought and moved into our house a full seven months before we married…Furthermore, prior to 2006, we used artificial birth control (aka the pill or ABC).  Between 2006 and 2008, it is safe to say we did not completely follow the church teachings on sex.  It wasn’t until Jan. of 2008 that we started to embrace Church teaching in that arena.

So as we met in 1998, began a physical relationship in 1999, didn’t start practicing Church teaching until 2008, and I’m blogging this in 2013, it is imperative to understand that we practiced secular sex for 9 years and Holy sex for 5.  Furthermore, as is evidenced by your spacing, we didn’t practice NFP at all until 2012.  So we’re not typical NFP practitioners.

What is typical?  Well, the movement to get Catholics on track says there is no typical.  I think that’s fair, but I think the reality that I’ve seen is more NFPers are “from the start” NFPers, not “switched mid-marriage” NFPers.  I think this reality is important to notice when working at sticking with it.  People who start their relationship with NFP have no sexual history.  Even if they had sex prior to that relationship, they are starting clean with their forever partner.  This is an important point.  If you start, from the get-go, communicating your needs, seeing sex as a unitive and procreative act, your relationship should flourish.  That doesn’t mean there won’t be struggles.  I just think the struggles look very different (do not read this as less!).  When you embrace the world of secular sex, though, when you’ve opened up your relationship to the act of intercourse which divorces the unitive and procreative aspects from it, and then you try to put things back into Pandora’s box so to speak, your potential problems are numerous.  This is where we are.

We attended our first NFP class (Creighton Model) sometime during the summer of 2012.  Sweet Sis was just starting to chunk up and we were feeling our way out of the fog of her birth.  We wanted to have more children, but not until the C-section scar was very healed and my chances for a Vbac were highest (18 months was the hope).  Seeing as our previous history had me pregnant right before or after first birthdays, we didn’t have much time to learn.  Right away we were thrown into turmoil.  In order for the method to work, we needed to wait four weeks to have intercourse.  So, you might say?  That doesn’t sound hard.  Well…to this day, your father and I have never abstained from sex for that long.  Pretty sure about that.  Add to that the rules that, if avoiding pregnancy, you’ll spend about 10-14 days a month abstaining and you have one heck of a cross.

But why is it a cross?  Why is it so hard to abstain?  It’s just a short time.  After all, people do it all the time.  Heck, we expect unmarried people to do it indefinitely.  It seems just a minor inconvenience for a married couple who knows they’re going to get to eventually, to have to abstain.  Right?

For us the answer continues to be:  Wrong!  I tried looking for help and looking for guidance.  After all, lots of Catholics are committed to the faith and as a result, have embraced NFP.  At times it seems those willing to talk about NFP have had such an overwhelmingly positive experience that they don’t have any real negatives to share (not all true–here are some others: one man’s story, reality check?, and Simcha Fisher.).  And I will definitely share my positive stories someday I hope.  Right now I’m in the throws of the negative and I think it’s only honest to acknowledge them.  The simple fact is that embracing the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage is hard.  Additionally, it is a struggle and a cross.  I fully embrace them and I’m so sure the Church is right on all points that I do this gratefully, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is hard.

The real problem, of course, is the secular view of sex.  It is supposed to be an option at all times (especially if you’re married), it is supposed to be incredibly pleasurable, and it is supposed to be no strings attached mutual release.  Reality hits somewhere a bit far from this.  The beauty of the Church’s teachings on this is best explained using metaphor.  Secular sex is like red licorice candy and Holy sex is like tomatoes (these are two of my favorite foods so pretend they’re yours for this to work).

Red licorice is delicious, it is hunger abating, and  it is sweet, oh so sweet.  Secular sex is pleasurable, mood-enhancing, and very sweet.  Tomatoes are nutritious, hunger satisfying, and incredibly versatile.  Holy sex is nourishing to a marriage, soul-satisfying, and incredibly deep.  Where licorice can only be a candy and only satisfying in certain situations (can’t serve licorice in lieu of cake), tomatoes can be made into just about any dish.  They can be savory or sweet, an accompaniment or the main dish.  Secular sex will never fill you up, but Holy sex will.

But the journey to Holy sex is hard.  It means you have to start viewing sex in a completely counter-cultural way.  Instead of sex being something that is fun, pleasurable, and mood-enhancing, sex has to be the complete gift of one soul to another.  Can it be both?  Absolutely.  But the key here is that where secular sex sees intercourse as a means to an end (ex.  I feel like showing my partner I love him so we should have sex), Holy sex is about one thing:  completely giving yourself to your spouse and in that gift you are participating in the true gift of Christ to the world.  And while this post is littered with links to prominent Catholic theologians who know exactly how to explain the point and get the picture across to a willing heart, in the end, the only real way there is through submission, prayer, and hope.  I submit that Holy sex is the will of God, I pray that I will attain it, and I hope that He will show me how to change.

Every day we NFP is a day of challenge to our secular views on sex.  It is a day where maybe I want to feel close to my husband in the one way society has told me it’s possible, but I instead have to find another way (posts on ways to do this to follow, but this week I went to adoration and prayed for him.  WOW.).  It is a day where my nerves are frayed and the only way I’ve previously been able to release some stress is barred from me.  But instead of chucking the method out as invalid, God has given me the peace and strength to realize I need more than the emptiness that secular sex will provide, I need deep healing and my relationship will be stronger in the end if my partner is committed to doing the same.

Here I will interject that I have linked to areas where I think more info may be needed and I feel the info is good.  Additionally, I define NFP as Natural Family Planning in which the couple makes a joint and conscious decision to attempt pregnancy or attempt to avoid pregnancy.  Couples who embrace an openness to life and do not monitor their fertility are not NFPers because they don’t generally practice abstinence within marriage.  It is the period of abstinence I’m going to address.  Between 2008 and 2012 we were “simply” open to life.  Once Sweet Sis joined us in rock star fashion, we NFPed for a period to ensure my health and the health of any future littles.  Because your dad is not quite willing to drive a 16 passenger van, we will probably continue to use NFP at some time in the future.

Mucus makes a mom (or dad)

I had my first child just one month after my eighteenth birthday, in some ways, though, I became a mother much later.  This weekend, as I’ve cared for three of you with the stomach virus, I’ve thought about how far I’ve come in my journey as a mother and I’ve thought how much I want to pass on my limited wisdom to you.  This, of course, led me to thinking about “the talk” and just what I’d tell you about becoming a parent.  To your oldest brother I’ve already said, “don’t have sex until you’re ready to be a parent and don’t be with anyone that you can’t see being the mother of your kids.”  But what might be easier to tell you guys is this:  don’t have sex until you’re no longer embarrassed.

You see, too many people in my generation, including myself at times, have gotten it wrong.  We seem to believe that sex is the inevitable result of following your animalistic impulses and to expect one to avoid intercourse is akin to asking a dog to refrain from jumping up on the counter to eat the turkey:  admirable when it happens, but unreasonable to expect.  When this belief is indulged, however, we’re given what I see now:  a generation of the most selfish and terrible parents yet.

This is how I began.  When I started having sex, I did it mostly to keep my partner around and because it was what you were supposed to do.  Though I knew I might get pregnant, the thought was slightly thrilling because, after all, what could be better than a baby who thinks you’re the best thing ever?  Yeah…cause it’s about you…not!

When I thought I was pregnant the first time, I drove to a neighborhood Walgreen’s nearly thirty minutes from my house and with extreme embarrassment bought my first pregnancy test.  Everything involving sex and pregnancy was awkward and embarrassing.  Why was that?  Because I wasn’t ready.  Because I was doing what I thought I should instead of what was right.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you may say.  Heard it all before, whatevs.  But hear me out on this one.  My journey to becoming a mom, you know, the one I hope you remember, the one who wipes all the noses, holds your hair and rubs your back when you’re vomiting, cuddles you in a hug even though every part of her body is asleep or aching, started when I stopped thinking of myself first.  As I am a pretty selfish person, this took a long time.  But what is embarrassment if not a direct sign of narcissism?  Embarrassment only happens to those who are ashamed or uncomfortable with how something reflects on THEMSELVES.  But a real parent, a good parent, doesn’t let embarrassment drive their daily lives.  If I have a sick kid I hug them, I don’t hold them at armslength and say, “don’t get me all snotty, I’ve got to go to work.”  When they throw up in your hair, you don’t scream and drop them and jump in the shower, you hug them until they are done retching, clean up as best you can while comforting them, and then jump in the shower when you have made sure they’re ok.  Real parents get that.

When I taught, students would say, “I could not have kids.  I can’t imagine having to clean up puke.”  To this I say, “good, don’t have kids until you can imagine it.”  Because like it or not, having kids means yuck.  They’re born and they are slimy and gooey.  They expect the world of you every moment of their lives, even when they’re 33.  They expect you to have all the answers, to fix all the boo-boos, and to help with everything they need.  In short, they expect you to put yourself on the line, no matter the cost.  Hence, the embarrassed need not apply.

This is one of the reasons I’m so passionate about NFP.  When I first started looking into doing it I thought it would be impossible to check mucus.  I mean, eww.  I even had a conversation about it with a work colleague who said, “yeah, that wouldn’t happen.”  But the thing is, if you can’t even handle the fact that your body discharges mucus as a regular sign of your fertility, if you can’t touch test that mucus for its stretchability, then you’re embarrassed of your body and how it was designed to work.  Because what’s so gross about the way God made us?  What poor reflection on our society that our own bodies disgust us.  And if you don’t like the idea that you have gooey mucus, how comfortable are you going to be with your partners?  Your kid’s?

When I grew up and got over it, suddenly, I had arrived.  I became a real mom.  And now I appologize for how long it took.  Hopefully, you get more years of me being unembarrassed than you did of me being embarrassed.  I hope you begin your journey they way I finally arrived:  comfortable with the seemingly gross.