Playgroup story

May 12, 2006 | Birth Control, Motherhood | 26 comments

[It is not my intention to turn this into the “all contraception, all the time” blog, but the subject keeps coming up over and over again in my life whether I want it to or not, so I feel very drawn to talk about it right now. For those of you who couldn’t care less about the subject, check back in a week or so, maybe I’ll have gotten it out of my system by then. :)]

So I went to the neighborhood playgroup this morning. There were four other women there, two of the women are Catholic, and all of them are fairly religious, going to church pretty much every Sunday. Somehow the topic of church came up and we chatted about that for a while, all of them indicating that they take their faith pretty seriously.

Then we changed the subject to people who had had babies recently, and one of the women mentioned that a lady in our neighborhood is pregnant with number seven (I must meet her!). All of the mothers reacted as if she’d said the lady is a convicted felon. “Well, I hope that’ll be the last one, ” said one of the mothers. They all asked if she’d indicated that this would be her last child and expressed stern disapproval that she had not. “Well, we’re going to have one more [for a total of two] and that’s it!” said another mother to unanimous nods of approval.

The playgroup hostess (one of the Catholics) chimed in that she knows someone who just told her she’s pregnant with number five. “And she didn’t say anything about being done after this one!” she reported. “Can you believe that?” asked another. Everyone shook their heads gravely.

One of the depressing things about the situations is that these are really nice women. They’re actually not catty, judgmental people, I guess this issue just touched a nerve. Or, really, I think they probably looked at it like they were stating a simple fact (“it’s crazy and somewhat irresponsible not to limit the size of your family”) rather than passing judgment based on personal opinion.

It was also somewhat troubling to think that in a few years, if I stay on the theological path I’m on, that might be me being whispered about at playgroups (though I don’t care all that much about that).

I think the saddest thing was just the vibe in the room. The phrase “culture of death” randomly popped into my mind as I was listening to them talk. It just felt so…weird, and uncomfortable, to watch these mothers play with their toddlers as they wrinkled their faces in disgust at the notion of having lots of children in their lives. And I couldn’t help but thinking, Man, you guys must have some really spectacular plans laid out for the rest of your life that make you so excited about not having any more kids. Because, personally, I don’t have any opportunities out there that would be worth the tradeoff of drastically limiting the size of my family. Of course it’ll be hard and I don’t look forward to kissing our current lifestyle goodbye but, hey, kids are pretty cool too.

But I just hung back from the conversation and busied myself with fixing my son’s sippy cup. I thought about how much I wish I knew anyone around here who was open to having a big family. I don’t even see big families at my church, which is known for being one of the most orthodox around. Last time I went to Mass I think I only saw two other pregnant women.

Hopefully, as I get more involved in the church, I’ll discover that I am not the only person within a 100 mile radius who feels this way. 🙂

26 Comments

  1. Jennifer

    Jen:

    Here’s my take on that type of thing which I run into all the time amongst my friends and family alike.

    The culture tells them should have 2–2.5, actually, and that it is somehow irresponsible to have more than 2.

    So when they see someone flying in the face of “conventional wisdom”–they are actually JEALOUS.

    JEALOUS.

    It’s sour grapes.

    There is a cultural anorexia at work that puts a limit on our pleasures–that somehow having more children is irrational and GREEDY. Contributing to overpopulation. Depriving children who would get so much more attention and love if they only had one sibling to compete with.

    Forgetting the blessing and gift of siblings to each other.

    Somewhere, in their peer pressured breasts, they feel a longing to have more children and deeply envy those women.

    The sad thing about our miscarriages is that Jim and I always hoped that our plans to have a huge bustling family of 5 or more kids would be a witness to the culture of life. So far we remain childless while our friends have already begun to get vasectomies and tie their tubes and take the Pill because they already have their 2. Preferrably one of each.

    We haven’t given up our on that dream–and I don’t think we are alone–meaning you and I and all those who’d like to have big ebullient family clans of their own–just scattered and diffuse.

    Any woman who has been pregnant even for the merest second, like me, knows what an intoxicating feeling it can be, the act of brining life into the world.

    And most women I know, even those who have convinced themselves they couldn’t handle more than two, look enviously on as others’ bellies become tumescent, and the glow and twinkle of planning and anticipating another pair of sweet baby feet paint their cheek and eye.

    They’ve brainwashed themselves into thinking they only get to do it once or twice. They shake their heads at those who ignore this anorectic foolishness because it validates their own coldly chosen barren state and stifles the stirring in their heart that says, “I wish that was me.”

    Rock on, Jen. The Church and its angels and saints did a Snoopy dance the day you joined us.

  2. Anonymous

    About sour grapes…..I see it on BOTH sides of the story, actually. I’m the one who posted under your first blog about contraception. I have six healthy and beautiful children, lost 4 to miscarriage, and struggle every day to be the best mother I can be given my very limited mothering and maternal instincts and abilities.

    I guess I am coming from a completely different perspective than most people around here because I was raised in a very orthodox environment where contraception was NOT the norm, and people were having tons of babies. Consequently, I have seen both the good and the bad that comes along with it. I have a LOT of friends/acquaintances who have tons of kids and are going to keep having tons more. Just like anything else in life, some of them do it well, and some of them do it very poorly. There are some families who are truly loving, joyful bastions of security for their children. Others are bordering on the next Andrea Yates situation. Most fall somewhere in the middle. NONE of them would ever dream of using contraception (all of them being very faithful and orthodox catholics), but some of them definitely have some sour grapes going on. Sour grapes can go both ways, I’m afraid. I have actually gotten just as many (if not MORE) invasive (and sometimes downright rude) comments about our family size and reproduction from faithful Catholics (who apparently feel it’s their duty to constantly hint around to the fact it’s about time for us to have another, and aren’t I pregnant yet?) as I ever have from the secular users of contraception. I definitely get the impression sometimes that there is a judgmental attitude out there among non-contraceptive users, something to the effect of “Well, I may have a whole herd of kids and have a pathetic sex life due to NFP, but at least WE will be going to heaven, while these other poor souls who have only a few kids will probably not be so lucky” I guess it’s just part of human nature that the grass is ALWAYS greener. I do have a lot of women who only have a few kids tell me how lucky I am. And yes, some who tell me they wish they had had more, although I always suspect it’s a whole lot easier to SAY that now that their childbearing years are over and they don’t REALLY have to worry about it happening to them and doing all the VERY HARD work that comes along with having a large family on a daily basis. LOL!!

    I know you are in a position right now where you are on fire with your new-found faith (what a joyful time this must be for you!) and are somewhat in a honeymoon period about church teaching. Don’t get me wrong—-I think this is a very GOOD thing, and I am happy for you. Just keep in mind that NOTHING in this world is perfect, and the same goes for families who choose (whether because they really WANT a lot of kids or because they DON’T want to go to hell because of contraceptive use so have a lot of kids by default and then try to convince themselves it’s all wonderful and what they really wanted) to have many children. Some do it well and are great examples, some do it poorly and are obviously in WAY over their heads. I’m afraid it’s the latter who have really contributed to the world’s view about having tons of kids. The average woman looks at these families and immediately runs to the pharmacy to pick up her next Pill refill. Which is unfortunate, because NOBODY should base their family size on anybody else’s, and I think the Church itself is very clear about each couple having to discern for themselves what is best for them as a family, whether that ends up being 2 or 10 children.

    Children are a blessing, but more does not necessarily equal better. In my line of work, I see the opposite end of life (geriatrics), and I do see a lot of patients with psych problems who came from large families. Now, I do realize that many, if not most, people came from large families back them, so that doesn’t necessarily mean much. But it does suggest that just coming from a large family doesn’t insulate you from emotional and physical hardship. We are a fallen and imperfect race, that’s for sure.

    Just thought I’d throw out some thoughts from a mother of many coming from a very different perspective having been raised among non-contraceptive users. Nothing in this life comes easily, I’m afraid, and that includes being able to handle many children and their many diverse emotional and physical needs. Yikes, what a responsibility this is!

  3. Jennifer

    Pathetic sex life because of NFP? Are you doing it wrong? LOL.

    Not sure I follow you there.

  4. majellamom

    This is a tough one…

    I agree with Jennifer above with the cultural messages that people internalize.

    My hubby has an uber-Catholic cousin who introduced us to NFP, ecologically breastfeeds, homeschools, etc. (she’s my idol!) Who has a baby about every 22-26 months. (It looks like the break may be longer this time, though). So, she currently has 4 kids. Her first is a boy, the next 3 are girls. So, naturally, after baby #2, she got a lot of the “so, are you done now?” questions. By baby #3 many of our relatives (who are mostly not Catholic) started to ask me “How many kids do you think she’ll have???” Which is totally unfair, as several people in her generation have 3 or more kids, and her parents generation, most had 3 or more, and her grandparents had 7) I got so sick of the question that I started answering “I’m hoping for double digits!” (which I am! She’s a great mom, and just pops’em out…okay, I’m a little jealous of that!)

    At the same time that I was being harassed about how many kids SHE was going to have, people started harassing me about having kids as well. We didn’t talk to the extended family about our problems, but it took us 5 years to conceive our daughter. So, I got really annoyed by being asked (as we were trying, but didn’t want to announce it to the world) so I told them “None!” which didn’t go over well.

    Pretty much it seems as though you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t!

    So, now that I’m preggo with #2 I am really hoping for another girl so that I get the bonus kid before people start asking if I am done! Apparently, you can have 3 kids, as long as the first two are the same gender.

    Not everyone is called to have a big family, but I think that if society in general were more accepting of having large families, more people would choose it.

  5. Ersza

    I, too, have seen some very unhappy large families. We have to be careful not to equate happiness with goodness or virtue. They are two different things. Sometimes children are a burden, especially a lot of them. That said, I am sick to death of other people’s ideas of what your family size should be. If you don’t have two children, two to three years apart, one boy and one girl, or three (if the first two are the same gender) then there must be something wrong with you. Or if you have one, and it’s a longer than “normal” time before your next one is born. Or whatever. People are so judgmental about this. We need to get over it. The only correct response when someone announces they are having a baby is an enthusiastic, joyful, and heartfelt blessing. Each baby is a miracle and a celebration, whether it’s the first or the fifteenth. My mother-in-law got harrassed horribly when she had her third child. Never mind that she had suffered through a stillbirth and two late miscarriages between #2 and #3. A neighbor actually gave her the number of an abortionist–they were so sure this child wasn’t wanted. This child grew up to be my wonderful husband!

  6. Ersza

    You know, I meant “enthusiastic, joyful, heartfelt congratulations” above, but I kind of like how that came out. Woohoo! God bless you! Hallelujah! Slam dunk! You go, girl! Hee. Enthusiastic blessings.

  7. SteveG

    Hopefully I’ve established my credentials here as one who both believes in and defends the churches teaching on contraception. 😀

    Despite being obedient on this, I have to say I think that while the culture of death is absolutely abominable, the culture of life (with regards to contraception) has some dirty secrets that aren’t being discussed honestly, and I think both Ersza and Anon have some valid points that we need to be considering.

    First, I’ll mention that by historical standards the common conception that people had huge families is simply mistaken (by huge I mean 8, 10, 12 children). Surely that occurred, but that was not the norm by any stretch.

    Historically, the typical number of living children in a family was somewhere around 4 or 5 children over about a 20 year period of prime fertility. I can ‘prove’ this out if need be, but anthropologists and a little basic math is all that’s needed to arrive at this fact (considering typical fertile years, natural spacing of children due to breastfeeding in pre-industrial societies, and infant mortality rates).

    I would be the last one inclined to criticize anyone for bringing any child into the world, but there is definitely something not totally ‘natural’ in having a child every 1 & ½ to 2 years for all of the fertile years of a woman’s life. I think that the tendency of the NFP crowd to do this is an understandable reaction, and at the same time possibly an overreaction to the culture of death.

    Having kids is huge responsibility, and like Anon, I’ve seen and heard of many families who think it their job to simply crank them out as fast as possible. In some cases many of the kids end up not even remaining Catholic, or lose faith all together.

    It is NOT our job to crank them out as fast as possible. It IS our job to be responsible about bringing the next one into the world with enough resources (not money, but time and attention) available that they feel as precious as they are, but doing any such spacing in a moral way.

    Jennifer (et, tu Jen), it is beautiful and inspiring that you are embracing this teaching, and I don’t want to dampen that in the least. But my advice if it’s worth anything is please do not think that in order to embrace this teaching, or to be part of the culture of life, that you are required to produce as many children as you can as quickly as you can.

    Take advantage of the wonderful tools that ecological breastfeeding and NFP are, to actually space your children far enough apart so that they get the time and attention they deserve, and so that you and your husband can embrace the sacrifice that parenting requires while still keeping your sanity, and being able to find time to withdraw from the crowd occasionally to catch your breath (the gospels tell us that even Jesus needed that sometimes).

    ————
    Anon is making a valid point on the pathetic sex reference. I think I can explain a bit from my own experience.

    The marital embrace with my wife is amazing…when we engage in it. But NFP and abstinence can be arduous at times to the point that it can somewhat take the ‘joy’ out sex by making those times few and far between. I am not talking here about the week or ten days per month that require abstinence. I am talking about the fairly common occurrences that make things far more intense.

    For example, it is not uncommon to experience ambiguous fertility for many months after the return of menses during the postpartum period. After the birth of our second, we enjoyed pretty clear infertility for about a year and then brutally ambiguous fertility signs for another year+.

    This required abstinence of two and four months at a time. I can count the number of times on one hand that we had relations during the entire year in question. This was simply put, a real struggle. We know we are doing the right thing, but it still doesn’t make the struggle any more pleasant.

    We are now in a phase (with a 3 month old) where my wife is caring for three kids under 6 and is simply overwhelmed (despite my doing absolutely anything and everything I can to help). The thought of getting pregnant right now is nothing short of terrifying to her. And the fact that she’s terrified has caused her at her worst moments to ask why we are doing this.

    This has caused me to be literally afraid to approach her because I don’t want to 1) put her in a position where she feels tempted by all the stress to give up on NFP or 2) tempt her to commit some sin or 3) actually get her pregnant at this time. Where does that leave us? With lots of abstinence, again.

    I’ve given two examples, Anon has relayed here heart wrenching situation, and I’ve talked to not a few husbands, who when pressed, confess that the chastity required of them is one of the most challenging thing they’ve ever faced (me too).

    This is why I said the teaching is beautiful, but beautiful like a crucifix. We know that if we don’t flinch, we will find that in the end this has taught us so much, and that we will have grown and become better for it. Just as the crucifixion and suffering of our Lord led to something more beautiful than we could have hoped for.

    But when you are in the midst of it, staring at the crucifixion itself, and do not know what this beautiful thing will be like, it’s enough to make one cry out ‘”Eli, Eli, la’ma sabach-tha’ni?”’ “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

    I am not intending to complain. I don’t fault anything but my own weaknesses and brokenness for finding this so difficult. I AM trying to be honest about what’s involved and bring a little reality into the mix here.

    Bottom line is that we find ourselves in a position where we choose this uber hard road of chastity, or we have 7, 8 , 9 children (which is simply something that most people can’t handle). Both choices are crosses.

    That’s not a reason to avoid them, and it’s not a reason to bastardize the truth, or give up. But it makes me understand where the women Jen is talking about are coming from.

    They aren’t totally off the wall here. They see the choice of crosses that we have before us and say ‘no thanks’. In the end, that is a foolish and selfish thing to do, but it’s understandable, at least in my opinion.

  8. Jennifer F.

    Anon –

    Thank you for your comments to this and the other post. They’re very interesting to me since, as I’ve mentioned, I don’t personally know anyone who is open to having more than two kids, so your perspective is very valuable to me. Keep the comments coming!

    And I should clarify that my interest in having a large family isn’t just based on being on fire from my newfound faith (though I do think the Church’s teachings are good for society as a whole, e.g. Paul VI’s depressingly accurate predictions about what happens when everyone contracepts).

    But a big part of it is that both my husband and myself are only children, my dad is an only child, and for various reasons we’re not in touch with my husband’s extended family. So the *only* extended family that my children will have is my mother’s siblings and their children (and they live across the country from us). I don’t anticipate my kids being particularly close with the five cousins I have, so after we’re gone the only family my children will have in the world is each other. Scary thought.

    Thanks everyone for weighing in!

    J

  9. Jennifer F.

    Another quick clarification — I don’t interpret the Church’s teachings to mean that I’m obliged to have as many kids as humanly possible. Uh. I just got tired thinking about that. I can barely handle one!

    If I seem really zealous about the issue it’s just because I used to be so anti-life, pro-choice and determined not to have any kids at all, and the 180-degree mental turn I’ve taken is nothing short of fascinating to me. It’s hard to believe that I could have been so closed to the such beautiful, comforting, natural concepts.

  10. Anonymous

    Steve G, thank you for your apt description of the difficulties and very real burden that NFP can involve. Jennifer, in answer to your question about whether we are doing it wrong, you can reference my post under the contraception blog a few days ago, but we have been through a long and arduous NFP journey. We’ve done CCL, Ovulation method, worked with NFP instructors very closely, and still have ended up with 10 pregnancies in 10 years. I have constant fertility signs and temps that jump all over the place. I have found that NFP can really sap the joy right out of sexual relations with my husband, whom I love dearly. The fear of pregnancy is HUGE (I have a chronic and sometimes downright debilitating illness that has to be taken seriously if I am to stay healthy and live long enough to raise all six of my living children), the obviously infertile times for me have been very few and far between, when we HAVE finally had a few usable days, I feel pressured to perform and be “in the mood” because my poor husband is so desperate by that time, and finally, I find that I often don’t even feel physically very “into” it at all when I am not fertile vs. really wanting that physical intimacy during more fertile times (when we CAN’T do anything because of a very real need to avoid pregnancy). I don’t care how many NFPers tell me that women don’t feel more physical pleasure when they are fertile than when they are infertile, I simply have not found this to be true for me.

    I do think there are a lot of, as Steve so succintly put it, “dirty little secrets” in the NFP/anti-contraception (isn’t that a double negative?! LOL) closet that don’t get addressed out in the open. As I grew up in a pro-NFP, large family, orthodox Catholic group of people, I am privy to stories and experiences and feelings that a lot of people on the “outside” looking in don’t really get to hear from these Catholic women, who will do everything in their power to try to be a good example and wouldn’t want to turn anybody off to the whole thing by being brutally honest about the very real difficulties and hardships that practicing NFP and having very large families brings.

    One person mentioned that we shouldn’t equate happiness with goodness and virtue, but I do think it is reasonable to expect a certain inner peace and contentment if we live a life of goodness and virtue—-otherwise, why would anybody choose it?? And what I see in a lot of these large families is anything but peace; there can be some major dysfunction going on in them, and that can’t possibly be good for anybody involved. What good is it to keep cranking out the kids when the chaos and confusion is growing to such an extent that some of them end up losing their faith? I think the whole point is to try to raise a family in such a way that is conducive to each person/soul reaching their full potential on a spiritual/psychological/emotional level so that they will be able to engage in a wholesome relationship with their God and be true to their faith.

    Et tu, Jen—-I think Steve put it very well when he pointed out that confusing being open to life with having as many kids as quickly as possible (not that I am suggesting you were planning on that! LOL) would be a mistake. I’ve actually known women who seem to make a contest out of how many kids they each have and who is going to get pregnant more quickly (thus making the “winner” a better Catholic mother, I guess). To me, that’s downright scary, not to mention totally out of line with Catholic teaching about responsible parenthood.

  11. Anonymous

    Jennifer F.,

    I’m happy to give some perspective from somebody who has truly lived in the trenches when it comes to having lots of kids and practicing NFP. I can be brutally honest to a fault, mostly as a backlash against a lot of the hypocrisy and pretending I have seen among people I grew up with (including family). Hopefully my brutal honestly doesn’t scary you (or anybody else) too badly. LOL! I can only speak for myself, so keep in mind that a lot of other women do have totally different experiences. My experience with NFP, motherhood, and family life in general has been most difficult. I find it hard to believe I am the only non-maternal mother of many out there, though………..most women who feel the way I do (i.e. totally ambivalent about motherhood, even many years into the whole gig) probably just don’t admit it, even to themselves. And a lot of them are probably raging alcoholics (but that’s another conversation!). They don’t call booze “mother’s little helper” for nothing!

  12. Jennifer

    Well, while I can sincerely say that I’m happy to see that some of you seem to have even discovered pockets of the counry where large families are the expected norm, I can’t say that, in my experience, I’ve met many people who are living it, or enough people with large families, here in the Northeast, to even be REMOTELY concerned that an enthusiasm for NFP and large families will be encouraging women to have as many children as possible with no concern for spacing or personal mental health.

    To continue to lean on my analogy, it is sort of like warning an anorexic not to overindulge because she might get fat like her third cousin in Tulsa.

    This conversation started concerning the PREVALENT notion about family size and somehow we are STILL discussing how large families are unhappy and how some mothers have trouble coping with that many kids, the dominant stereotype that leads so many to scepticism about the undeniable benefits of large sibling groups and a non-contraceptive sex life between husband and wife.

    To argue that some families are large and have problems is silly, in my opinion. Of course some families are unhappy and some parents lack virtue. What the hell does that have to do with anything? You sadly miss the point if you think encouraging a procreative lifestyle has anything to do with the quality of Mom’s quiet time or whether Junior gets enough attention.

    The fact that some of us have met large families that are less than idyllic has absolutely nothing to do with Jen’s MAIN point which is the prevailing bias against large families and the culture of life that plauges Western civilization like a cancer.

    Your abstinence issues and your headaches over your kids (who are only in diapers for a relatively short time, remember) seem like pretty petty issues compared to the undeniable fact that Muslims are out procreating Western Europeans in unbelievable proporitions, due in large part to the contraceptive and abortion culture that has done more to the European population than the plague and flu combined.

    To anonymous, it seems to me like you have challenging cycles so I will apologize for being so flip on that score. I’m certain, that for some people NFP is more of a challenge than for me who has 28 day cycles on the nose every month with text book fertility signs. And SteveG I’m not sure what your wife’s cycles are like but it sounds like you have an odd case there when you need 10 days of abstinence as the norm and are engaging in months of abstinence.

    Frankly, however, you ARE doing it wrong if you are abstaining for months at a time and your wife doesn’t have a life threatening condition. You can safely have sex MOST days of the month without getting pregnant. The window, even in VERY fertile women, is very small indeed.

    This kind of protracted abstinence is NEVER what NFP intends, nor is it at the heart of the philosophy behind it, and maybe you both should find a good NFP physician (not just NFP teachers who are pretty much programmed toward the average) that can guide you through more awkward cycles without turning you into a monk out of a fear of having more children.

    NFP never teaches months of abstinence unless there is a danger to the woman’s life if she should get pregnant.

    You are SUPPOSED to have a lot of sex when you are married. It is necessary for the life and growth of the relationship, not just the size of your family. The Church teaches this, 100%.

    If you find NFP challenging I urge you to study the Jewish custom of hamishpacha (family purity)–which can be even more challenging. I say this to show that ours is a relatively simple guidelilne compare to our orthodox Jewish brethren, from whom we descend, and also to point out that all Godly traditions have rituals around marital sex to ensure baby spacing and to guard against an abuse of sex in the marriage.

    Admittedly, I’m not particularly objective having lost five pregnancies and I wish I was lucky enough to be “overwhelmed” with children. So forgive me if I seem a little short sighted (and short tempered) about the downfalls of big families.

    There are downsides to everything, people. Living in a country where there is prosperity means there is an obesity problem.

    I doubt that anyone would suggest that we should get rid of food in America though.

    I keep coming back to the food and eating analogy. Maybe because I’m a hedonist when it comes to good food, good wine, and good sex, and group them together in my mind. But like all blessings, they must be guarded with rules around them to protect against vice. This ultimately leads to MORE pleasure in the blessings. Not to crucifix-like sacrifice for its own sake. There is enough to suffer about in the areas we don’t control than to unnecesarily suffer about those things we do.

    I read something by St. Gregory this morning that said the devil does his best work when he makes us think that virtue is disproportionately hard work and the rewards of virtue aren’t what they are cracked up to be.

    But the devil doesn’t mean to dampen your enthusiasm, Jen. Just kill it.

    You don’t sound zealous you sound like you’ve discovered the truth. Don’t apologize! Like the prodigal son the angels in heaven joyously proclaim your return to the fold more than the 99 of us who are so blessed that we have time to sit around and talk about how our blessings are not all they are cracked up to be.

    Vent your stuff somewhere else, people. I’m starting to get pissed off here. We need more people like Jen around and frankly I’m surprised at all these negative responses.

    NFP is a crucifix? Please, SteveG. And you know I respect your credentials unreservedly–I’m just challenging you to rethink whre your problem really lies. Months of abstinence IS a crucifix indeed, poor guy, but that has nothing to do with NFP. I’m not sure what it has to do with. You say you don’t want to dampen Jen’s enthusiasm so then what is the point of airing the “dirty secrets” of NFP culture? Those dirty secrets sound to me like nothing more than the discovery that those of us who practice it are human and don’t find perfection in ourselves or the world through practicing it.

    Gee, what a bummer. I thought NFP was going to make me perfect and turn all families into the Brady Bunch and make all wives want to have sex with their husbands.

    I fully admit I have absolutely no objectivity here.

    So I’ll just bow out.

    Sorry to be witchy/snarky on your blog, Jen. But I’m getting really impatient at the way fellow Catholics are jumping on a new Catholic’s embrace of the culture of life with what I see as petty grievances in the face of the larger truth at stake in our world. The truth is that a rejection of the culture of life has much more to do with the future of the faith, Western civiliazation and the right of our progeny to worship as our ancestors have, than on the personal hapiness of you and your little families.

    Without an embrace of the culture of life you throw away what the martyrs bled for with both hands.

  13. Jennifer F.

    I haven’t had time to read the full text of the comments since last night but just wanted to throw in a couple thoughts off the top of my head:

    – Just for the record, hearing about difficult experiences or even horror stories while living the faith is not going to make any difference in my spiritual decisions, so don’t worry about me getting turned off based on people sharing less than positive perspectives. Remember, I grew up in an atheist family and my dad particularly hates the Catholic church for whatever reason, so I’ve already heard it all — especially about large families (my parents don’t understand why anyone would want to have more than one or *maybe* two kids, if any at all).

    My take on it is this: every time so far I’ve thought something like, “Well, I think the Church is right about a lot of things, but their teaching about X is antiquated and just way off,” upon further reflection I find that the Church’s views are actually quite sound and good for the individual and society. So I am very biased in favor of Church teachings at this point, and it would take more than hearing about unhappy Catholics for me to change my views. 🙂

    – Again, Anon, your perspective is really interesting to me and I thank you for it. I am also not super-maternal (or organized, or tidy, or competent…) by nature so I know that having a large family will be especially challenging for me. However, it still sounds better to me than the alternative. We have very complementary experiences in that I could talk for hours just listing off examples of the cold, distant sad families I’ve seen who only have a couple of kids. Every family I’ve ever known well uses contraception (or would seem to, anyway) and the vast majority of them are not at all what I would like for my family to be like, even (or, especially) the ones who seem to have the “perfect life” by society’s standards. Actually, I’ve been meaning to put up a post about that subject, I’ll work on that tonight and elaborate more in a separate post. But I literally, physically get a chill when I think about that family culture that permeates among people who I know who have small families. For me, nothing is worse than that.

  14. SteveG

    Jennifer,
    Why the attack? I am honestly a bit hurt by it and the viciousness with which you’ve come out on this. I apologize if I’ve done something to offend.

    I can’t say that, in my experience, I’ve met many people who are living it, or enough people with large families, here in the Northeast, to even be REMOTELY concerned that an enthusiasm for NFP and large families will be encouraging women to have as many children as possible with no concern for spacing or personal mental health.

    But this does happen, I am conveying my very real experience here (anecdotal of course) with families I know or have heard of. Even Christopher West in his unabashedly pro culture of life talks on Theology of the Body talks about this very thing. Even someone such as himself warns against this ‘danger’ and he doesn’t poo poo or make light of it in the least.

    This conversation started concerning the PREVALENT notion about family size and somehow we are STILL discussing how large families are unhappy and how some mothers have trouble coping with that many kids, the dominant stereotype that leads so many to scepticism about the undeniable benefits of large sibling groups and a non-contraceptive sex life between husband and wife.

    Please don’t take my comments as in any way being necessarily anti-large family.
    My own very medium on the way to large family is extremely happy overall and I’d not trade it for the world.

    Your abstinence issues and your headaches over your kids (who are only in diapers for a relatively short time, remember) seem like pretty petty

    You know the saying about walking a mile in another’s shoes. Ask your husband to imagine the scenario I described, combined with the immorality of self-abuse and see if he thinks it would be petty to find this extremely challenging.

    And SteveG I’m not sure what your wife’s cycles are like but it sounds like you have an odd case there when you need 10 days of abstinence as the norm and are engaging in months of abstinence.

    That’s the point. This is NOT an odd case. It’s extremely common in women who are transitioning from breastfeeding infertility back to normal cycles that there can be an extended period of ambiguity. There is nothing ‘wrong’ that dr. can fix. There’s even an entire chapter on this is in the Art of Natural Family Planning home study course because it’s so common. John and Sheila Kipply themselves (the founders of CCL) describe almost an identical situation to what I did, including admitting the massive amounts of abstinence required.

    Frankly, however, you ARE doing it wrong if you are abstaining for months at a time and your wife doesn’t have a life threatening condition. You can safely have sex MOST days of the month without getting pregnant. The window, even in VERY fertile women, is very small indeed.

    Again, I am not talking about normal cycles, but cycles as I’ve described above. The post-partum period, etc. In the life of an NFP user, these are common occurrences. Frankly, the ‘normal’ cycles are a breeze, but this is not what I am discussing. And it IS common.

    You’d be hard pressed to find someone who was better at reading charts and making interpretations than me. I’ve been through all the NFP books a million times looking for answers to the point where our CCL instructor admitted that I knew the material as well or better than she. I am not one to blithely accept abstinence and then bitch and moan about it. I have educated myself to the extreme, and STILL we have to deal with such situations. This is NOT uncommon.

    NFP never teaches months of abstinence unless there is a danger to the woman’s life if she should get pregnant.

    And about this you are incorrect as I’ve already explained. There are times when this is exactly what NFP calls for, and the advocates will admit it.

    Admittedly, I’m not particularly objective having lost five pregnancies and I wish I was lucky enough to be “overwhelmed” with children. So forgive me if I seem a little short sighted (and short tempered) about the downfalls of big families.

    I would not even begin to pretend that I can comprehend how difficult this has been. But wasn’t it you yourself who in one of your posts on suffering warned of trying to quantify and compare suffering. I’d never pretend that my own challenge is anywhere near yours, but it’s real enough to me and it is a challenge. That’s all I’ve been really trying to say. And to point out that very often NFP advocates (of which I am one) simply gloss over this type of thing, and offer little in the way of resources and discussion on how to cope (I’ve looked for it, trust me).

    There are downsides to everything, people.

    Of course there are, and I am not pretending otherwise. Again, I made my comments because it’s my own experience that the challenges of NFP are simply not discussed very openly or honestly. I’ve had many other NFP using husbands say the exact same thing to me.

    …doubt that anyone would suggest that we should get rid of food in America though.

    I hope that’s not directed at me? I never suggested that we ‘get rid’ of NFP. It might sound strange to hear this from me after what I’ve said, but I think NFP IS a blessing. I think it is wonderful. It teaches husbands and wives about the beauty of fertility, and empowers them with information. It does change (for the better) ones view on sex. It does deliver much of what it promises. And still, there are times when it’s a flat out struggle of large proportions. It usually is only temporary, but it’s very real. That’s all I am trying to get at.

    I read something by St. Gregory this morning that said the devil does his best work when he makes us think that virtue is disproportionately hard work and the rewards of virtue aren’t what they are cracked up to be.

    Of course the rewards are worth it and I testify to the same despite my struggles. But when your running the marathon, it’s still difficult to do. The reward doesn’t change that fact.

    But the devil doesn’t mean to dampen your enthusiasm, Jen. Just kill it.

    So out of fear, should we gloss over the reality? Should we follow the typical model of selling NFP without all the challenges being spelled out? So that when the new convert does face these challenges, they will feel like saying “What the hell, no one told me about THIS?” I am afraid to say that NFP as presented puts people in that position all too often. That isn’t an excuse for giving up, but it is the reality.

    Vent your stuff somewhere else, people. I’m starting to get pissed off here. We need more people like Jen around and frankly I’m surprised at all these negative responses.

    Jennifer (et,tu), If I’ve served to dampen your enthusiasm on this, I apologize. I will say unequivocally that despite what I’ve described here, I wouldn’t change a thing, and I still know and believe this to be the truth. I think my very life and the fact that my wife and I have been so open to life testifies to where I stand on this.

    NFP is a crucifix? Please, SteveG. And you know I respect your credentials unreservedly–I’m just challenging you to rethink whre your problem really lies. Months of abstinence IS a crucifix indeed, poor guy, but that has nothing to do with NFP.

    Yes, it can be a crucifix. Why are you pushing back so hard against this? It’s part of the dying to ourselves we are supposed to be doing even for those who don’t ever face what I’ve described. That’s an essential part of the Christian message. That it is in dying to ourselves that we come to eternal life. Why must we pretend otherwise?

    I’m not sure what it has to do with.

    It has to do with loving my wife and not wanting her to get pregnant with either a 1 year old (1st case) or a 3 month old (2nd case) who she’s still nursing and pouring herself into.

    It’s about seeing clearly how overwhelmed she is and not wanting to put her in a position which is beyond her capacity to handle.

    It is part of my job to protect her from that and if it means abstaining for long periods during ambiguous fertlity, well then, that’s what it takes. I can’t imagine there’s anything with that, with which you’d have a problem , so I am a bit struck and stunned at the attack.

    You say you don’t want to dampen Jen’s enthusiasm so then what is the point of airing the “dirty secrets” of NFP culture? Those dirty secrets sound to me like nothing more than the discovery that those of us who practice it are human and don’t find perfection in ourselves or the world through practicing it.

    You’re right. That’s all that the dirty secrets are (probably a poor choice of words). But I am telling you that this stuff is pushed under the rug and glossed over by most NFP advocates. I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing.

    Again, apologies if I’ve said anything that cause you to get angry. It was not my intent.

  15. Jennifer

    Steve:

    I’m sorry you are taking my unreserved approach to this issue so personally–several of the you’s were meant to be more general editorial you’s. Come on Steve, you know I think you are great. You like a good argument more than anyone and there are no ad hominem attacks here.

    My mother lion approach to this was just a sort of impatience for finding the same anti-Catholic, big family arguments amongst practicing Catholics as we do out in the non-practicing world, and I question it emerging at a moment when Jen has really taken the bull by the horns and begun to embrace teaching, against all odds, all upbringing, and in defiance of a cultural propensity toward the distinct opposite.

    Your personal relations with your wife are a very private matter with which I should have been, perhaps, more delicate but you offered yourselves as an example and I took it.

    It IS an extreme example and a common NFP myth that it involves months of abstinence. I stand by my assertion that you are being VERY scruplous by engaging in months of abstience. You are trying to play it REALLY safe.

    Months of abstinence are NOT the norm of NFP unless one is being very scrupulous–even 10 days of abstinence in a normal cycle is being VERY scrupulous indeed. The Billings Method will show you that to be relatively safe you can get it down to 3 days pre and 1 day post. You increase the risks but there is sort of the understanding in NFP that hey, kids happen, and that’s the point of this whole thing, anyway.

    You and your wife are making difficult choices and walking the walk and that is great. I applaud it.

    But why vent all this angst about how difficult your protracted abstinences are HERE on a recent convert’s blog—Jen is a big girl with strong informed opinions of her own but I’m just sort of like, “why here, why now?”

    I’m a mother lion around the newly converted.

    Months of abstinence are not the norm of Catholic sex life–you and your wife have made a personal decision about family size that through contemplation you have felt the Lord guided you to.

    But you’ve chosen to be extra scrupulous and that is great.

    I’d ask my husband what he thinks, but a) he is standing right next to me and as a doctor who will soon be teaching NFP he agrees that you are being EXTRA scrupulous and b)he’d never agree to two months abstinence and I don’t think I’d ask him to–but that’s what the Lord guides US to do. We’re just not that scrupulous. You can say that we would be if we had children but that will remain to be seen, and then you can have the last laugh if I’m wrong. You’ll just have to take my word for it that being close to my husband with the risk of pregnancy will remain a priority even if I’m overrun with children who threaten to drain my essence.

    Just like I’ll have to take your word for it when you say having another baby right now would be a terrible thing for your wife and family and warrants the kind scrupulous avoidance of sexual relations you’ve described.

    But don’t ask me to accept that its the norm.

    For the record, I brought up my miscarriages NOT to compare suffering. Just to fully admit that I lack perspective, here. That we planned on having a big family of five or more kids and we don’t have any. That that hurts. So my objectivity is zilch.

    Peace brother–you put it out there I’m taking it apart. You seem game on other matters, why the hesitancy here?

    And I also think you missed the MAJOR drift of my argument.

    There are much bigger issues here than abstience and whether your wife can handle another pregnancy right now.

    The issue is the prevailing attitudes toward NFP and Catholic family life. The issue is the myths that have enshrouded the truth. And that, despite this, alleluia, Jen sees things so bloody CLEARLY it’s unreal.

    Jen is writing about how she feels being a stand out at her play group and I think , mother lion that I am, she needs nothing but reinforcement and passionate agreement from those who are in her corner. But she likes the diversity of opinion so I probably overstepped my bounds.

    I’m in a strange mood today, Steve. I’m just calling things like I see ’em. Sorry if your feelings were hurt. None intended.

    Can we strike vicious? Can we say passionately engaged and intelligent? 😉

    I have to be more careful about the strength of my words. I’m passionate about the topic, obviously, and sharp, pointed words come easily to me. They are intended to skewer an intellectual point, though, not a human heart.

    Forgive me if my aim was off.

  16. Ersza

    This has been a great debate. I’m really enjoying the different perspectives. SteveG, I really appreciate the insider’s view of NFP. We are extremely subfertile, going on five years between pregnancies, here, so it’s hard for me to imagine what it would be like to try to avoid pregnancy actively for a long period of time.

    Anonymous–you’re darn right about sex being more enjoyable during the fertile time. Maybe not all women are like that, but my husband swears I have an “on” and an “off” button.

    Jennifer P–I don’t think anyone was attacking NFP, here, or suggesting that it be gotten rid of. Your cross is objectively larger than Steve’s right now, but it’s undeniable that the demans of mulitple children can overwhelm a person. There were times after the birth of my son that I panicked at the thought I could be pregnant again. (I didn’t have a period for fifteen months, so it was kind of hard to know what was going on sometimes). I love my son, and he was desperately wanted, having been conceived after a period of infertility. But once he arrived, I was completely overwhelmed by his needs. Things got better, but it’s really amazing how something you wish for and want desperately could be so hard. I grew up on my grandparents’ stories, too. They had nine children back in the days before effective NFP existed. They didn’t use birth control, in obedience to the church, and like most mothers back in the 50’s, my grandma fed her babies formula. At one point, my grandmother had seven children at home under the age of eight, she was doing forty loads of laundry per week, and was working twenty hours a day taking care of her kids, with the help of a housekeeper. So, yes, I believe there is such a thing as “too many.” What that number is is probably different for each family. Breastfeeding could have saved my grandma some wear and tear (they’re calling it ecological breastfeeding now? Does that mean feeding on demand, through the night, no pacifiers, no bottles, etc? That’s what I did with my son).

    I want to go on the record as saying I am THRILLED with Jennifer F.’s insights into how the culture of death warps our thoughts and turns us against the very things that should be good. I am so happy that her playgroup friends will have her as a witness for the culture of life (it may take a few years, though, for them to realize they have a free thinker in their midst).

  17. Jennifer

    I wasn’t under the impression that NFP was being attacked–but I did think it was interesting that Jen F.’s revelation brought out more complaining and cautioning about NFP than celebrating we have another one on our side.

    I am one of those crazy ones that really feel strongly that NFP not be
    mistaken for another contraceptive mentality. It is easily blended into the contraceptive mentality of contemporary America and the feminist mentality that motherhood wrecks and drains women.

    I also want to challenge how readily folks accept things like oh, having babies is SO HARD ON MOTHERS.

    I know it seems like I speak too easily as one who has no children of her own.

    But its so easily accepted taht having multiple young children at home is SO HARD AND DRAINING I just challenge everyone to rethink that idea as an axiomatic truth.

    We are really spoiled here in America and like a certain level of comfort.

    But sometimes we like our comfort at the cost of greater joys.

    Some women I know thrive on it–having multiple children, that is. Is it possible that some personalities would do extremely well with large families?

    I think I’m one of them.

    But again, I’ll let you have the last laugh if I find myself overwhelmed once my adopted child arrives, running from Jim’s bedroom eyes, at the though of another set of little feet.

    How funny that folks think they have to be so quick to warn Jen against thinking she has to have a child every year, when, in this present culture really the danger lies so far in the other direction.

    My husband just said, “Western Culture is anti-breeding itself out of existence.” I agree whole-heartedly.

    I have been extreme in my reaction, I’ll admit. For reasons that I think are probably obvious to anyone who knows my story. But I have to say that I think that sometimes, my deep sadness at my losses, makes me see some things more clearly than I would have otherwise.

    In this case, I just want to point out how deeply entrenched the notion “big families are bad and opppressive to women” and that having children (and sex) freely in a marriage is insanity really is–so much so that even the NFP culture feels the need to apologize for itself and warn against the dangers of big families and popping out children every year.

    It used to be the biggest anti-Catholic stereotype there was–think Monty Python’s brillant and wicked “Every Sperm is Sacred” send up of Irish and English Catholics with children over running the home and exhausted women who drop babies from their over stretched uterus on the floor while doing dishes–but it seems to be more an an endangered speices than a stereotype at this point.

    My sister-in-law and I argue on this subject all the time. She always talks about how hard our husbands had it in their big family of 8 kids. Our husbands by the way thought living in that family was great.

    And I always asked her, so which one of them would you have liked to see not make it into the world? What a tragedy birth control would have been to that family since each one of them is such a wonderful part of the vibrant whole.

    I for one am delighted with huge family I married into and every single one of them loves coming from a big family.

    I’m hoping to be able to build a huge one of my own.

  18. Arwen

    Just for some clarification:

    The idea that a married couple is morally required to have as many children as physically possible is called maximalism, and has always been condemned by the Church.

    Judicious use of NFP for serious reasons, as we all know, is condoned.

    However, what is also condoned is something called providentialism, which means exactly what one would expect – engaging in marital relations when the couple pleases and letting the chips fall where they may. (It should be noted that those who subscribe to providentialism are generally ecological breastfeeders by nature.)

    It seems to me that many NFP-users believe that good stewardship requires making conscious choices about when children will or will not be conceived, seriously considering the available resources before deciding, “Okay, we’ll try for another one.”

    This mindset sends up serious red flags for me, as it seems to be rooted far more in the selfishness of our contraceptive culture – “can we really afford more children?” – than in Christianity, which has always taught that the Providence of an all-loving, all-mighty Father is more than sufficient to cover all of our needs.

    NFP is a good thing, but let us not be confused. The fact that our Church allows its use does not mean that its use is the default marital state. When Catholics are using NFP the way our secular counterparts use artificial contraception – to reserve all decisions about the spacing and number of children to ourselves – something is very, very wrong.

    The creation of children is God’s domain. Has been, is, and will be forever, amen.

    When a woman is terrified of becoming pregnant, to the point that she is willing to inflict months of abstinence upon herself and her husband, I see red flags as well. I was at one time terrified of never becoming pregnant, and God had to bang on my heart’s door pretty hard to make me realize how un-Christian such terror was. He has told us, again and again, that his grace is sufficient. It is always and always true. And fear, as we know, is never from God.

    A child, however inopportune his conception might feel to us, cannot be an accident, since he is the result of specific creative act of God.

    I cannot believe that, if we are using NFP out of abject fear of that creative act, we are using it generously. God’s providence has proved sufficient to carry me through a few years of waiting for a child, to carry Jennifer through her numerous miscarriages, to carry Ersza through a miscarriage and even more years of waiting. I simply refuse to believe that it is insufficient to carry anyone through the hardships of what is, ultimately, the amazing gift of an unexpected child. And if I am ever again in a position to consider using NFP to prevent conception, I am going to be damned careful about it. Because there is such a thing as being too damned careful. Literally.

  19. SteveG

    Steve:

    You like a good argument more than anyone and there are no ad hominem attacks here.

    True ‘nuff, I do like a good discussion. True also, that there were no ad hominems, but there were a lot of unfounded judgments and mischaracterizations of motivations with only a scant outline of the facts involved.

    Your personal relations with your wife are a very private matter with which I should have been, perhaps, more delicate but you offered yourselves as an example and I took it.

    What got my own dander up was that you not only took it (I have no problem with that or I wouldn’t have offered it-I am probably the least bashful guy you’ll ever meet when it comes to this stuff) and did more than a bit of diagnoses (misdiagnoses) and judging about motivations and such without asking for clarification. That’s continued in this post.

    This IS an extreme example and a common NFP myth that it involves months of abstinence.

    This is not an extreme example in the least, and it is not a myth that sometimes this is what NFP entails. I am NOT saying this is the norm ALL or even most of the time, but rather that this is a VERY common occurrence at some points in the child-bearing years.

    Specifically, in our case I am talking about the transition from breastfeeding amenorrhea to normal fertility. I’ve actually not met an NFP couple who hasn’t experienced something like this at least once in their practice of NFP.

    That includes our NFP teaching couple, the founders of CCL (I’ve already mentioned), and every couple I personally know who uses NFP. Likewise, our teaching couple assured us that their experience is that this occurs with most couples from time to time. Sometimes the ambiguous periods last a couple months, sometimes (in our case) a year of more.

    If it helps to clarify what I mean by ambiguous, I’ll explain. I am not talking about being scrupulous or playing it safe. I am talking about wildly erratic cycles (if they can even by called cycles). Cycles which last 45 days one month, and 18 days the next. Cycles where no discernable temperature, or mucus pattern can be found. Cycles where no temp shift occurs, or several occur. Cycles, in short, where there simply is no way to discern if, or when ovulation occurred, and for which phase 1, 2, or 3 simply don’t exist as such. It’s not about being scrupulous in that case, it’s about simply not having the information necessary to even try to make a decision. In that case, you either 100% throw caution to the wind, or you abstain.

    Again, to clarify, this is not all the time, and NFP mostly is as you outline it, but this IS in fact a not uncommon occurrence. There’s simply no arguing that fact. This doesn’t even mention the pre-menopausal phase where to my understanding this is a rather regular occurrence.

    I stand by my assertion that you are being VERY scruplous by engaging in months of abstience. You are trying to play it REALLY safe.

    We can keep going deeper and deeper into the details here (I’ll fax you our charts if you like 😉 ), or you can trust me that this is simply not what we were or are doing. I am the LAST person to be overly scrupulous when it comes to this area (I am half Italian for heavens sake). 😉 I know how to make a very reasonable interpretation given even the most scant information. But there are times during the practice of NFP when no meaningful information is present.

    But why vent all this angst about how difficult your protracted abstinences are HERE on a recent convert’s blog—Jen is a big girl with strong informed opinions of her own but I’m just sort of like, “why here, why now?”

    I really wasn’t looking for sympathy or sharing my ‘angst’. Anon made a comment about a ‘pathetic sex life’, and you seemed to take issue with that. I would never use terms as negative as that, but I was trying to fill in a bit of what I thought she might mean via my own experience. Have you read anon’s post in the initial contraception post Jen made? It’s absolutely heart-wrenching.

    As to why I shared it? Well a section of a wonderful series of talks I have from Fr. Benedict Groeschel comes to mind as an analogy. At one point, he is talking about the dark night of the soul. And he asks your question of himself. ‘Why am I talking about this depressing, bitter part of the spiritual life?’ he asks. The answer he provides is my answer. He said, ‘So that when it comes along, you won’t be shocked. You’ll be prepared and think to yourself, aahh, that’s what the mad monk was talking about.’ 🙂

    It’s in that vein that I brought this up. I don’t want Jen to be totally stunned and surprised (as my wife and I were) if and when this occurs. I am of the mind that I would rather have the truth told to me about what to expect, and I think the person who converts at the cost that Jen is, is not so faint of heart to be phased by that.

    I’ve been with Jen on her journey since September of last year, and I respect her too much at this point to give her the Pollyana view of things as others did with us when we entered the NFP culture.

    And your reaction somewhat proves out my point. I started out by saying that there are certain things that you’re not allowed to talk about in the NFP world. Certain things you don’t mention lest you drive off a potential convert. Certain things you don’t discuss lest you bring down the ire of the rest of the NFP world. And here you are doing just what I said, basically telling me to hush up.

    Well I think that’s a lot of bs and I think we do the culture of life and the potential convert a disservice to be anything but honest.

    I bluntly say screw that attitude. We are part of the only religion that’s so confident of the truth it preaches that the crucifixion is the very symbol that we are most identified by. Let us tell the truth, even when it’s not pleasant and then say, but wait till you hear the rest.

    Let’s leave the idea of packaging the product in the right way to increase market share to the charismatic mega churches.

    For my wife’s and my part, there is no turning back now. We’ve already lived that ‘other’ lifestyle before becoming Catholic and I know full well what it leads to, how empty it is, and that it does lead to emptiness and the death of love.

    NOTE: Anon, if I could offer you one piece of advice it would be to not give up no matter what the cost. From what I read of your story, this is your first foray into contraception, and I can tell you it will tend to wreak havoc on things (worse so than another child) in ways you won’t expect or imagine despite with the very best of intentions.

    Please reconsider. I offer this as someone who’s been down the road you have set foot on and it simply can not lead to good things. I’ll elaborate on that if you like.

    Have you checked with the Pope Paul VI institute? Have you read Fertility Cycles & Nutrition?

    Sometimes, a nutrititional imabalance can be the cause of ambiguity. In our case it was a lack of vitamin K and taking supplements almost immediately straightened things out (though it took us a while to figure out the issue).

    For my part, Jen (as usual) sums up my overarching take on these issues very beautifully.

    Every family I’ve ever known well uses contraception (or would seem to, anyway) and the vast majority of them are not at all what I would like for my family to be like, even (or, especially) the ones who seem to have the “perfect life” by society’s standards. .. But I literally, physically get a chill when I think about that family culture that permeates among people who I know who have small families. For me, nothing is worse than that.

    I’m a mother lion around the newly converted.

    I understand that, but converts like Jen (and myself if I may be so bold), don’t just stumble into the church. We usually come in through a hard fought battle. We are a pretty tough lot when it comes to this sort of thing.

    But don’t ask me to accept that its the norm.

    I hope I’ve clarified that this is not what I was saying.

    You seem game on other matters, why the hesitancy here?

    I’m game. No hesitancy. Let’s just play fair. Please ask for clarification if I am unclear, or if something seems amiss, rather than making assumptions.

    And I also think you missed the MAJOR drift of my argument.

    There are much bigger issues here than abstinence and whether your wife can handle another pregnancy right now.

    No, really there aren’t. My issues bear directly on the discussion. They bear on it because I am living the life Jen is entering into. My wife’s, and now Jen’s, ability to live this out honestly and meaningfully will have a direct impact on how our/her children will learn the faith, and on what kind of symbol they will be at that playgroup.

    A woman out of her mind and depressed because she can’t find time to do the basics to take care of herself because she’s so overwhelmed will serve to reinforce the stereotype, not rebuke it. We (all of us) are the representatives of the culture of life, so these things do matter a great deal.

    Can we strike vicious? Can we say passionately engaged and intelligent? 😉

    Yes, vicious was much too strong. Your substitute is just fine by me. 🙂

  20. SteveG

    Arwen
    Please come back and review this comment in 6 months. I am not saying you’ll recant it, but I promise you, you will see it in a different life.

    When a woman is terrified of becoming pregnant, to the point that she is willing to inflict months of abstinence upon herself and her husband, I see red flags as well.

    What red flags? That my wife, like all people is broken, imperfect, and a work in progress? That my wife, raised in a bitter atheist family where she is literally the only woman in her family (including mother, sister, a cousin, and her two aunts) who hasn’t had an abortion, has endured the mocking and criticism of that family for having three kids, who was raised to squelch her maternal side and told that success and fulfillment comes from education and career alone; but who nonetheless has been open enough to life to convert to the Catholicism her family despises, and has had three children in less than 6 years feels a bit overwhelmed by it all, and with a 5 & ½ year old, a 3 year old and a three month old doesn’t feel ready for another pregnancy yet. Is that the red flag you are talking about?

  21. Jennifer

    I’m going to do a longer post on my own blog at some point, as I think perhaps I have worn out Jen’s gracious hospitality–Arwen (as usual) put her finger on exactly the things I was reacting to and (as usual) said it much more logically and succinctly than I was able to on my own.

    I take issue with a lot of the issues raised in this discussion and I think it is all very interesting and edifying.

    Though I appreciate your offering it I don’t think I misunderstood or needed more clarificaiton of the kind of erratic cycles that can result from weaning a child off breast feeding. My husband’s background, and mine, makes us pretty well educated on that issue.

    The kind of erratic cycles you descibe by the way, are pretty much solidly anovulatory–so yes, you were being VERY scrupulous in being 100% abstinent in all of them.

    Is there a chance you could have conceived during one of those cycles? Yes. But frankly, “Irish twins” come from breastfeeding cycles that are supposedly anovulatory so despite the NFP party line, its not so pat as all that. (You could have asked my grandmother, may she rest in peace. My father is a breastfeeding surprise only 9.5 months younger than his brother John and they attended the same grade in school.)

    But Arwen’s point is the crucial one–how far do we go in striking a balance between Providentialism and scrupulous use of NFP as “stweards” of our reproductive powers?

    The kind of abstinence you describe, for anything but the most serious health risks for pregnancy (which are themselves are quite rare) or a grave circumstance of financial or emotional proportion, in my humble opinion can go contrary to the heart of the Human Vitae.

    Perhaps, those of us who have suffered loss or subfertility or both, can see arrogance in scrupulous NFP use where those who are more fortunate cannot.

    And perhaps we have something valuable to say on that score that has nothing to do with misundertsanding you or needing more information.

    Or not.

    I’ll leave you with this question and attempt to humbly leave Jen’s blog more thoroughly to her unique and powerful voice.

    At what point are you sacrificing the unitive aspects of the marital act in favor of a fear of the reproductive ones?

    Thank you, fair Jen F. for the use of this space. And Steve, Ersza, Anonymous, and others, thank you for sharing, frankly, your viewpoints on this matter.

    And thank you, dear Arwen, for your unbelievable clarity of thought. As usual, you astound me with the incisiveness of it.

  22. KathyJo

    But its so easily accepted taht having multiple young children at home is SO HARD AND DRAINING I just challenge everyone to rethink that idea as an axiomatic truth.

    I’m coming from a completely different place than the rest of you. I’m not Catholic and I have no moral dilemma with barrier types of birth control. And I say this only so that I don’t unintentionally mislead anyone.

    Jennifer, my heart breaks over your situation. But it is a self-evident truth that for most of us, it is incredibly hard and draining to be pregnant while still trying to take care of our very young children. The stork is not just dropping them off at the front door. When I say it’s hard and draining, I’m talking about physically hard and draining. Pregnancy takes a toll, more on some than on others, but it takes a toll on us all. I can’t imagine going through a pregnancy while taking care of a newborn. His will be done, but it’s certainly not an experience for which I’d ask. This isn’t a matter of just being spoiled or liking my own comfort too much.

  23. SteveG

    But its so easily accepted taht having multiple young children at home is SO HARD AND DRAINING I just challenge everyone to rethink that idea as an axiomatic truth.
    We are really spoiled here in America and like a certain level of comfort.
    But sometimes we like our comfort at the cost of greater joys.

    Yes, it really is hard and draining. And it’s not always because we are spoiled or choosing comfort, or unwilling to give those things up.

    Parenting is tough, and draining, and joyful, and beautiful, and painful, and exhausting, and exhilarating, and heartwarming, and a blessing, and hard and draining. Plain and simple.

  24. Anonymous

    Steveg,

    Thanks once again for so succinctly voicing a viewpoint that does NOT get voiced very often in the NFP crowd. To Jennifer, I am very sorry about your infertility and losses. I can’t pretend to know what it would be like to want desperately to be able to carry a child and not be able to. I do know what it feels like to lose babies, as I have lost four. We’ve baptized, buried, and cried over them, and I know the pain all too well.

    I’d also like to say that I am not surprised to hear that YOU are surprised to hear such honesty about feelings from people who have been in the NFP and child-rearing trenches for years and years. Like Steve said, some things just aren’t talked about, whether for fear of being a bad example to people who practice contraception or because of the fear of a reaction such as yours—-anger at hearing such things from the mouths of people who are “supposed” to know better and feel differently.

    Difficulty with NFP is NOT out of the ordinary—-I know of women who will only allow days 27 and 28 to be used because it’s the only days they trust, given the history of their cycles, and they are overwhelmed with 4 kids 4 and under already (I myself had my #4 when my oldest was only 4 1/2, AND I had had two miscarriages in there AND I had breastfed them all).

    When we first studied CCL (this was long before I had serious health issues to deal with), at our 2nd meeting the CCL husband looked at our very messed-up chart and just said, “Well, sometimes couples have to abstain a lot……….in fact, my wife and I have had to abstain for as long as 6 months at a time due to health reasons” My husband and I went home, threw away the stupid chart because at that point in our lives, we simply couldn’t fathom six months of abstinence, and BAM, I was pregnant within two weeks (literally, and no exaggeration).

    To those who question my serious reasons for not becoming pregnant again (not that it’s really any of anybody’s business, but I find that once you get into a discussion like this, many people decide you must simply be a selfish person to be so afraid of pregnancy and that you just HAVE to be one of those Catholics who practice NFP with a “contraceptive” mentality), I would just say that until you have laid on your bathroom floor crying in agony and resisting that next trip to the hospital, not able to eat or drink, please don’t judge me. My husband has seen me through a lot of physical suffering as a result of a chronic disease which I really do think was probably brought on, at least in part, by the stress (both physically and psychologically) of having so many children so close together.

    If you saw me in public, you would never know how I really feel or what my husband and I have been through. We’re just that “good” Catholic family with six kids you see at church on Sunday. I’m that mom in the SUV schlepping kids from parochial school to dance to baseball. Nobody would guess that motherhood has been the biggest challenge of my life (yes, even bigger than the disease I have), and every day for the past 12 years has been a struggle for me to be something I feel totally NOT cut out to be. I’m not a whiner, a user, or a sponge on society. I work hard to help support my family and give them the best family life I can, despite my many deficiencies in the maternal sphere. I’m a survivor! Hear me roar!!!

    To Jen (et tu), I just want to say that the only reason I posted here in the first place was to try to give you a slightly different perspective on that playgroup of yours. Those women really may not be as into the “culture of death” that you felt so pervasive in the room. Who knows, some of them may have even WANTED more kids but can’t for one reason or another. And some of them may be basing their opinions on some very real problems they have seen with large families and have decided that they want something different for their families. The truth is, NONE of us can really know what goes on in the heart and soul of another person, and that is exactly why the Bible tells us not to judge.

    I’m happy for all of those mothers who love having babies and are good at it. I’d go so far as to say I have had to struggle with envy of them. I didn’t go into this motherhood thing thinking that it was going to be like this and was in utter shock when I didn’t suddenly find that I loved being around children, loved breastfeeding, and loved the idea of having more and more of them. I can’t begin to describe to you the feelings I had upon having my first baby and realizing nothing about ME had changed, that I was still that same non-maternal person who really didn’t give a hoot about being around kids/babies and was bored out of my gourd. And who in the world could I talk to about it? These things just aren’t spoken, especially in the world of traditional Catholics and NFP-users. I felt like some kind of freak. I went through a very dark night of the soul and prayed A LOT. Nearly 13 yrs later, every day is still a struggle, but I do the best I can. I just don’t want anybody else to ever have to go through that same shock I did, and that’s why I posted here.

    You can see the reaction it brought on. Maybe I should just recede back into the shadows and keep my mouth shut. On the other hand, I do believe everything happens for a reason, and my experience is probably meant to be shared.

    I immediately recognized you as a strong person who wasn’t going to be driven away from the true Church just by hearing one woman’s story, and I realized I didn’t need to pussy-foot around you. You are smart enough to be able to handle going into this thing with open eyes!!

  25. knit_tgz

    Thanks everybody for this sincere discussion! It’s great that you are willing to write about the difficulties as well as about the advantages of NFP.

    Here in Europe, things are much harder. It’s getting more and more common that most couples only have one child or never ever have any children because “they want to have freedom”. Not freedom to serve society in a productive way (missionary/voluntary work, helping others in several ways), but financial and time freedom to be eternal teenagers.

    Here in Europe, NFP is something you don’t ever talk about. To tell you the truth, here most doctors expect that if you are a sexually active woman, either you are on the pill or you are actively trying to have a baby. (They don’t even understand that NFP/FAM is not just a “weird thing of obsolete Catholics”. I have a friend which is not a practising Catholic, which is a pharmacist (so, not uneducated on health matters at all) and who quit the pill because of terrible side effects. She practises FAM for contraception and is quite happy. This is not what the Catholic Church intends, but still, doctors could understand the health benefits of a method where the woman does not take the pill).

    Here in Europe, having a lot of babies is considered to be: a) a luxury of very rich people; b) a thing of other cultures (muslims, african people, gipsies); c) a thing of weird people. There are not many couples (even Catholic couples) with many children, because people falsely believe kids are “very expensive”. (Yes, you need to provide for them, it’s true. But people here in Europe seem to believe all kids must not wear hand-me-downs and must have expensive toys). I mean, a couple with 3 or 4 kids is already a large family, unless it’s a rebuilt family (where one kid is from the previous marriage of the mother, another is from the father, and another is from the actual marriage).

    Personally, I would like to have a large family (4 to 6 children), but I don’t know if life will allow me that. If I do, probably people will believe I am crazy (which is true, but not because of that).

    I don’t think couples should have as many babies as they can biologically. That would be irresponsible and unfair to everybody. I am just sure that here in Europe people have far less babies than it would be healthy. Some couples may be called to have more babies than others. I know an infertile couple which decided not to pursue treatment and instead devote themselves to several helping activities. They are fertile in their own way, and their fruits help a lot of people. I simply cannot believe that here in Europe couples are called to not have babies so that they can spoil themselves. I simply cannot understand why are we (Europeans) slowly extinguishing ourselves.

  26. Jennifer F.

    Those women really may not be as into the “culture of death” that you felt so pervasive in the room. Who knows, some of them may have even WANTED more kids but can’t for one reason or another. And some of them may be basing their opinions on some very real problems they have seen with large families and have decided that they want something different for their families.

    This is probably the case with many women, but in the case of this playgroup they’d all established in this or previous conversations that they were using contraception to limit the size of their families. And if their attitude had been one of “blessings to these women with large families but I personally couldn’t do it!” then I don’t think I would have even remarked on the situation. What bothered me so much was that they reacted to it as if children were cancer, just the worst thing in the world. (Actually, I have honestly seen people have more positive comments when hearing that a person was diagnosed with cancer.) I guess you would have had to have been there, but if that wasn’t the culture of death in action then I don’t know what is.

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