Thursday, July 28, 2016

NFP Awareness Week!

I don't have a lot to say about NFP, mostly because, in spite of giving it a good go, we haven't found a method that can reliably help us prevent conception in the 12-18 months after a baby is born. It worked before we had a baby, but then we got the continuous mucus thing. It might work again after a few years' worth of continuous mucus observations, but we've had babies instead. That is, perhaps, its own post.

So for us to be faithful to the Church's teaching on integral sexuality, it's either have another baby (I am now 22 weeks pregnant), or avoid relations entirely for months (which is why this baby and the Scholar will be the furthest apart we've ever had at a whopping 2.5 years). That is probably also its own post that I haven't been able to bring myself to write, for reasons which have also had me seeing a counselor. Perhaps soon...

But let me tell you that there is someone who is writing very intelligently about this topic, and if you are interested to learn more about NFP or if you are struggling with it and you didn't expect to, you should check out Simcha Fisher. She was the first person I saw writing about grave reasons to prevent pregnancy that included mental health and poverty and didn't necessarily include an imminent threat to a woman's health. She was also the first person I saw who wrote honestly about what it was like to be poor and practicing NFP and relying on government programs for help. She writes about NFP with a lovely sense of humor. She was the very first one to open up the conversation about how hard it can be after the Catholic community had spent many years discovering its benefitsLots of other people have added their two cents to that conversation, because there's lots that can be said.

But I have found that Simcha Fisher is the one who has most reliably moved the conversation about NFP in the Catholic Church in America forward, and she is honestly striving to practice obedience and fidelity to the Church's teaching on this point. And she has particularly moved that conversation forward during this NFP Awareness Week with several excellent posts. Consider today's:

"Hello, elephant in the room! I see you, and I'm ready to talk about you.
 "The NFP community is full of large families like mine. What the heck? How can we say that NFP is effective, and then show up with ten kids in tow? If a told you I had a really great system for losing weight, but I weighed 400 pounds, wouldn’t you snicker and look elsewhere for advice?"

This post is so good I'm going to quote it twice.
"NFP is easier to mess up than artificial birth control. There, I said it. If couples with normal fertility want to use NFP to avoid getting pregnant, they have to stay on their toes and be committed, and there’s no such thing as 'set it and forget it.' If you make a mistake in charting, or if you know you’re probably fertile and decide to have sex anyway, you can get pregnant when you really didn’t want to. And there are occasional head-scratchers, where you follow all the rules to avoid, and you get pregnant anyway. It does happen.
"Of course, these things happen to couples using contraception, too. Raise your hand if you know someone who conceived despite using condoms, or the Pill, or an IUD, or even some combination, or someone who trusts the Pill but skipped a day because life is hectic. Heck, I know couples who conceived even after a tubal or a vasectomy. Life is so life-y."
She also has an interview with America magazine, published this week, because lots of people recognize that she's an expert on NFP. She does speaking tours, for example, and she's written a book about it. Here's my favorite question and answer from that interview:
"How is N.F.P. similar to and different from artificial birth control?
"It’s similar in that it can be used to avoid pregnancy; but it’s different in the same way that eating a sensible diet is different from sticking your finger down your throat! Not a pretty picture, but you see the point.
"The thing about N.F.P. is that it’s just information. It doesn’t do anything to your body or to sex. It simply gives us the choice to work with our bodies as they already are. Every form of contraception adds something artificial to our bodies, or removes or alters something; and every form of contraception changes the character of sexual union—and sex is so strange and so beautiful and so powerful, it’s something that you really don’t want to mess around with.
"What you want is important, but how you achieve it is equally important. Another way to look at it: Say I desperately want to inherit my grandmother’s jewels. I could either smother the old bat with a pillow and forge her name on her will, or I could care for her until she dies, and then enjoy my inheritance. Same goal, same desire, radically different approach!"
She's also giving away a fertility monitor that she has found helps her space pregnancies this week, with the help of several donors. It's an expensive contraption and might help some couples find their available, infertile days during times when they need to prevent pregnancy. I still think that a discussion of a more total abstinence is necessary for some couples - not just 7-10 days during a menstrual cycle, but for many months when the need to prevent is real and the risks of conception while using NFP simply can't be tolerated - but her work has created the space for women and men and families and the Church to have that conversation, and for that I'm very grateful. Check it out!


  1. Didn't Simcha post about progesterone cream helping with continuous mucus? I love her :)

    1. I didn't see that, and that's a new one. I'll have to look into it! I've heard I should do cervical checks, temperature, and the Marquette monitor. But all those only work after menstruation, because they can only confirm that ovulation is imminent or past. But "imminent" is not quite enough time to cease relations, because those symptoms only give me 3-4 days notice, rather than the 5-7 that you'd really need to be "safe."

      Also, I've heard about cervical cryotherapy, but I'm a bit sketched out by that. I'm not sure if it affects the ability to conceive in the future. I'm not sure if it affects pregnancy or delivery in the future. I'm not sure if it would have to be repeated every time a baby is born (and how soon would be too soon to do the procedures). I'm not sure whether doing it repeatedly would have long-term, undesirable effects. And I'm also not sure if insurance would cover it. In my husband's words, after we discussed it, he said, "Natural family planning is feeling very unnatural right now." :)

      Honestly, straight up abstinence for a good long while feels like the only way for us. So it's mostly just a question of whether we really *need* to postpone pregnancy. Counseling has helped me feel not so anxious perhaps that's the real game-changer that *we* needed. But I do think there are life-threatening conditions which I do not have but some women do, and they really need to prevent pregnancy, but they simply can't with the NFP knowledge as it stands. I met a woman like that the other day: repeated postpartum hemorrhage that was enough to keep her hospitalized for a couple weeks, c-section scar that got infected and might be more prone to rupture because of its failure to heal properly, etc. I hope that the Pope Paul VI Institute and others keep doing the research to help figure it out for the rest of us! I am certain that I am not alone in this.