A few weeks ago, I wrote about the joys of using NFP. My husband and I have been using it on and off for the past three and a half years, and we’ve become very familiar with both the advantages and disadvantages of Natural Family Planning. If I’ve learned one thing since we began three years ago, it’s that NFP can be complicated. It took us months to find a method that worked for us, and even after we found Ovacue, we faced months of technical malfunctions and faulty hardware. Once we got everything running smoothly, Ovacue worked great, but it became apparent pretty quickly that the technologies available to us aren’t where they need to be. We live in a world that has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into developing contraceptives like the pill, the morning-after pill, and other methods of preventing pregnancy, but most pharmaceutical companies wouldn’t touch NFP technologies with a ten-foot pole. Our modern world knows what it wants, and NFP does not fit into that vision.
Methods of NFP can be incredibly effective, and many forms can rival even the best contraceptives in effectiveness. Some methods have developed after years of research, and they work great. Others are a bit outdated with their technologies, but honestly, if you’re like me, then beggars can’t be choosers. I found a method that worked for me, and even if the adapter didn’t always sync properly with my phone, I wasn’t about to go out and look for another method that worked. It had taken me months to find the first method, and I wasn’t about to lose more time finding another one. I always got the adapter to work eventually, even if I had to restart the app ten times first.
It’s unfortunate that we live in a world that is so resistant to NFP. The U.S. Department of Health and Home Services claims that 25% of women who use NFP will get pregnant unintentionally, though plenty of studies suggest otherwise. HHS does not consider NFP to be a trustworthy alternative to artificial forms of birth control. Granted, I don’t know if you can really trust a resource that lists forms of birth control as a subcategory on their page for the Office of Population Affairs.
When science doesn’t consider NFP to be a suitable way to prevent conception, we shouldn’t be surprised that scientists are not concerned with creating even more accurate forms of NFP. Private companies have done their best to keep their technology up to date, but their resources are limited, as is their funding. The technology has advanced considerably in recent years, but it will continue to be a struggle for as long as our society continues to deny the effectiveness and suitability of methods of NFP. And unfortunately, you and I are caught in the middle.
I think the HHS website contains a warning to all couples looking to prevent conception, whether they use artificial or natural forms. Contraception is about control. The Department for Health and Human Services might consider contraception to be a way to control population growth, but couples see it as a way to control their bodies and the growth of their families. Contraception allows couples to expand their families on their terms, according to their choice. When couples have made the decision to have another child, they can quit their birth control and let nature run its course.
Even couples using NFP can fall prey to this contraceptive line of thinking, especially as methods become more accurate and efficient. Sure, it’s natural, and using NFP does not betray our bodies and our marital union like contraception does, but NFP can become about control too. Using NFP to prevent conception can become our default position, and years can pass before we consider having another child (or the first).
NFP has to be accompanied by prayer and conversation. Without a strong spiritual life, NFP can devolve into a natural form of birth control. It can become all about our choice to have children. We might be tempted to forget that children are not a choice; they are a gift. We do not choose to have them; they are given to us. As much as we might plan for our children, we don’t ultimately have any control over their conception. It’s about cooperation. God gives us our children according to His time, not ours. Sometimes His time and our time are the same; sometimes they are not. Sometimes everything goes according to our plan, and sometimes it doesn’t. We’re not omnipotent. We don’t always see the big picture. God does. He always knows what we need and when we need it.
Without proper prayer and reflection, NFP can become about control. It can also become about fear. When you use NFP month after month to avoid conception, it can become routine. It can become your default position. It can become something you can hide behind. It can be how you hide your fear of another child. It can be how you hide your resistance to being touched. It can hide your lack of desire, your reluctance to be intimate. When you and your spouse don’t pray and talk often enough, NFP can become a dangerous crutch.
When used properly, NFP can work wonders in a marriage. It can draw couples closer together. It can allow them to respect their marriage vows even when conception is not a suitable option. But NFP needs to be used along with prayer and conversation. If a couple does not pray and talk through their use of NFP, it can be damaging, creating a barrier between spouses and allowing them to hide behind their fears. Fear has no place in a healthy marriage. It is a sign that couples need to pray and communicate more. If a spouse finds themselves hiding behind their use of NFP, it’s time to change. It’s time to talk. It’s time to pray.
NFP is a wonderful gift, as long as it’s used right. We need to look at our family using God’s eyes. We need to see our children the way that God does. We need to recognize them for the gifts that they are. By cooperating with God, Andrew and I were given two incredible children, the best gifts I could have asked for, and I could not be happier with the life that we’ve been given with them.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!