I know. It's not always that easy. And many people who reject NFP do so not because they don't like knowing about their fertility, and not because they don't like the idea of marital relations without plastic, latex, or rubber, or whatever condoms are even made of these days. Not because they wouldn't prefer to avoid synthetic hormones that may, themselves, cause health problems and don't ever provide a permanent solution for the problems they are prescribed to treat. Not because they don't like babies. It's because they either think abstaining from sex might actually hurt them or their relationship with their spouse, or they think they just can't do it.
So if you're with me, you've got some concerns about what contraception does to you and your sex life, and you and your spouse see some advantages to NFP, but you REALLY need to avoid a baby right now, and you aren't sure you can swallow the abstinence bit, read on.
First, my good news/bad news about the abstinence part of NFP during the postpartum period:
The bad news: When using NFP to avoid pregnancy in the postpartum period, you may end up abstaining a few more days than you did before you got pregnant.
The good news: You may be so tired you will hardly notice (especially if you're breastfeeding exclusively and frequently)!
Ay, there's the rub. I think it's very possible that, while you're getting the hang of things in the postpartum period, and if you're really serious about avoiding another pregnancy, you will need to abstain for longer periods of time than usual. Because things look different after you have a baby, and seminal fluid really does obscure your fertility symptoms. It blurs the lines between a woman and her man, and it can be distracting and confusing. So sometimes, it's best to just go without for a while until you get it figured out.
So that's my confession. NFP does involve some self-restraint and that can be hard. It's a sacrifice. But abstinence from marital relations, if you really need to prevent pregnancy and that's what it takes to get a handle on your cycles, will not harm you. I repeat: it will not physically harm you in any way.
- In ye olden times, some devout people used to abstain for the entire time that a woman was pregnant plus a few weeks afterward. Plus during the penitential Church seasons of Advent and Lent. Saint Louis IX, King of France? He and his wife had 11 children. Following these rules, can you imagine how many marital relations they didn't have?!
- There are thousands, if not millions, of young people around the world who wait until marriage to enjoy its relations. You may have been one of them. Oh how did you ever survive adolescence?!
- There are thousands, if not millions, of people around the world who forego marital relations for their entire lives. They are called priests, nuns, and monks. Some Hindus and Buddhists do it to, to avoid distraction from spiritual contemplation. Even a radical feminist group at one point promoted celibacy! (The war on women just keeps getting more complicated, doesn't it?)
- I am quite confident that even people who don't give a rip about saving themselves for marriage will go for months or years at a time if they don't find a partner that lives up to whatever standards they do have for a sexual partner.
- My husband and I have done it, too. When our second son was two months old, I told him I just needed some time to figure out the new normal. So in addition to the fact that we had abstained for the first 6 weeks postpartum, we took another break. And I figured it out, and we successfully planned the conception of our third child when we were ready.
Consider it free health care, if you need to prevent pregnancy for health reasons. The Obama administration wants to provide free contraception to everyone, but abstinence is always free! Not always easy, but always free. And Type I diabetics do, on occasion, for health reasons, need to prevent pregnancy. If pregnancy prevention is therefore to be considered healthcare, then let's call abstinence free healthcare. There, I give it to you. Free. Healthcare. Sacrifice sex, save a little money and keep your body healthy (because Lord knows that contraception won't do it). Knowledge is power! Now all you have to do is not have sex for however long it takes you to figure out how to use NFP to avoid pregnancy.
Or perhaps consider it a sacrifice that you offer for your spouse, your children, and your future children, so that their lives may be better. If the issue is concern for the health and education of your existing children, then you offer it for them. If it is so that your husband can focus on his work and not have so much of his life wrapped up with the family, then it's for him. If it's for your psychological health and sanity, then it's for you. Sacrifice for a greater good. Just like sometimes we even give our lives as a sacrifice for a greater good, as in the example of St. Gianna Beretta Molla.
You really will be tired after you have a baby. It's true what they say. Don't I know it, three years and three babies later! If you're reading through this with bleary, nursing-mom eyes and you're desperate to figure out how NFP works, you know this because you're trying to avoid finding yourself in this situation again in the near future. So use the extra time to sleep, or take care of your relationship in another way. Marital relations are an amazingly unique and wonderful way for a couple to nurture their relationship, but there are other ways too. Go mini-golfing. Read a book together. Take a walk with your screaming, tired baby whose making you screaming and tired, too.
And if, in the end, after doing the NFP/abstinence thing for a while, you find yourself unable to make the sacrifice, maybe it's because, in the secret calculus of your head, you've determined that children are really pretty awesome. And maybe you're not willing to sacrifice so much to avoid them, because you'd rather sacrifice a lot to have them. What this may come out of your mouth sounding like is this: "Ugh, I just can't do it any more. I want to be with my spouse, and it's too hard to abstain. Why did we decide this was a good idea again?" And perhaps what it means is that your brain is smarter than you think it is, and it is making you forget what you were worried about, and telling you that babies are good, and your reasons for not having them are coming up short. After all, many excuses just don't cut the mustard, because pregnancy is hard but children are worth it!