NFP is the buzzword of the week in my social media circles (yours too?).
Every year, NFP Awareness Week brings me mixed feelings.
On the one hand, I’m a faithful Catholic who loves the Church and her teachings on human sexuality and married love. My husband and I practice NFP, even when it’s (really, really) hard, foremost because we see the beauty of God’s design for sex, and we know that contraception of any kind doesn’t fit into that perfect design.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see how just and good it is to ultimately allow the Author of Life the freedom to work in our marital union, and for us to never separate our union from the possibility of cooperating in His creative power.
But, there’s another side to this.
See, I’d also be lying if I said that NFP is easy, that we always love it, and/or that it does wondrous miracles for our marriage. Because it’s not, we don’t, and it doesn’t.
The array of positive words and smiling, beautiful faces that tout the glories of NFP (maybe I am one of those smiling faces?! Gosh, that’s so not what I intended!) often fail to include this very real and hard fact:
For the majority of couples, NFP is a cross.
What?! That’s wasn’t in my NFP class or any of the books I read!
I know, it wasn’t in mine either, and I hate that it wasn’t. Because, as Jenny says, “everybody loses when we sugarcoat NFP.”
Because the truth is, anytime we embrace and live the Gospel, we can expect to feel some pain — it’s a sign that God is pruning our selfishness and the Holy Spirit is expanding our hearts by burning away all that is not of Him.
As I wrote on Facebook earlier this week:
No, NFP is not easy. It’s often very frustrating and lonely and hard. Yes, sometimes I wish I could throw in the towel and just be like everyone else. But God made us for life and for love and for generous self-gift. And NFP calls us to that in a radical way.”
With that little preface, I want to have an honest conversation about one aspect of the NFP cross.
This may not be your cross, but it’s mine (or part of mine) — and I have a feeling that a lot of other women bear it, too. I want to bring it to the light, just to let others know they’re not alone.
For those of us who’ve suffered the horrors of postpartum depression — or any other mental illness during pregnancy or postpartum — the possibility of going through that again is literally terrifying.
I’ve been through both prenatal depression and postpartum depression, as well as postpartum anxiety. My mental health has often taken its toll on our family life.
How can we be open to life when that openness has devastated us in the past? What if we make a mistake in charting? What if our method doesn’t work with my cycles and we conceive again?
The struggle is real. And this struggle doesn’t make me a bad person, but it just means I am human.
I have feelings of fear and repulsion at the thought of suffering PPD again. Separating the joys of new life from the natural consequences of that life to my mind and body isn’t possible for me. I love my children fiercely, but (in full disclosure) I dread being pregnant and I hate most aspects of postpartum.
And sometimes, if truth be told, in moments of weakness, I wish that I could completely throw away the possibility of conception and simply enjoy marital union without fear of the future.
And yet, the Church in her wisdom still lovingly says to me, No. Contraception is still not possible because it contradicts love.
My subjective situation, as difficult as it is, cannot change objective Truth.
And so abstinence is our sacrifice, made even longer and harder by other health issues that complicate my cycles.
I think often of St. Zelie Martin, mother of the Little Flower.
Did you know she had nine precious children, but only five lived to adulthood? She lost four children at very young ages. But she and her husband continued their openness to life, despite the immense pain in their hearts.
And look at the fruits of their generosity — they are both canonized Saints, and their youngest daughter is a Doctor of the Church and a beloved patroness of Catholics worldwide.
Faithfulness brings grace.
Maybe your own situation is similar to mine. Maybe you fear pregnancy. Maybe, like me, you’ve already conceived a baby or two by “accident” — and your mental or physical health precludes you from another pregnancy any time soon.
Maybe you silently feel that NFP is mostly about rules and that it has or can ruin your life. Maybe your marriage suffers with NFP, because sometimes physical connection is much easier than emotional connection and talking is just too hard.
I get it.
There are a myriad of reasons why NFP can be a cross. And there are a million ways it can be sanctifying. Each is unique in your marriage, and in mine.
I don’t have a nice, tidy little ending here. I only want to say that if mental or physical illness play a role in your family planning decisions, like they do in mine, then you are not alone in your via dolorosa.
St. Zelie once siad,
The good Lord does not do things by halves. He always gives what we need. Let us, then, carry on bravely!”
Carry on bravely, sweet mamas. I am convinced that this is what everyday Saints are made of.