Monday, March 18, 2013

Guest Commentary: Thoughts on NFP


I’ve been engaged in some correspondence with a reader of this blog whose comments are so reasoned and insightful I wanted to offer them as a post.

Guest Commentary: My Thoughts on NFP, by Andrea Lefebvre

I think you've raised a good question: basically, why don't people just not use anything? I agree that in marriage prep they can encourage a greater generosity in family life.

As a woman in the middle of child-bearing years and who grew up with the “planned mentality”, I believe it is important for couples to have some awareness of NFP even if they are not intending to "plan” their children. My reasoning here is that medical professionals have a lot of influence and will be pushing contraception on these couples. My husband and I have not really used NFP to prevent pregnancy except during one short period in our marriage. However, after my fourth pregnancy, I came to realize that I was stepping out of general society’s comfort zone; now I have to deal with comments everywhere I go with my children. I also have to deal with medical pressures. After I delivered my fourth child, the discharge nurse at the hospital made sure I knew that breastfeeding did not work as a contraceptive. In the 6-week postpartum check-up with the doctor, one of the primary focuses was contraception.

If I wasn't confident in understanding NFP, I would have found these confrontations far more imposing. I am also a nurse, so I am well-educated and well-informed regarding my "options." In these conversations with medical professionals, I like to tell them, "I have enough knowledge of my fertility that if for any reason my husband and I need to no longer have children, we have the knowledge and will-power not to." One of the things I do to support the Catholic women around me who are also having children is to help prepare them to deal with these pressures.

If marriage preparation classes don't offer any NFP instruction, the medical professionals will not remain silent. I think perhaps NFP has had to spend the last 60 years proving itself; perhaps now is the time to take on new directions.

In respect to the idea that NFP may sometimes act as a “gateway drug”, I agree that this might be the case if people are using it with a contraceptive mentality. People who may have an unintended pregnancy are not likely to have confidence with NFP again. Yet I have also seen the use of NFP prove useful in the journey of greater conversion to openness to life. Couples weaning themselves off artificial contraception find themselves to be so much more vulnerable by using NFP, and they seem always to shift towards a greater openness to life; it’s been beautiful to observe this. It is also usually a step in the pursuit to discover God's plan for family life.

I also agree that “serious reasons” are not emphasized very often. Much is left to the couple to attempt to discern “serious reasons” without direction from an objective source.
Some spacing is important in some circumstances; one of my friends has used NFP very effectively to space her children due to all her children being delivered via c-section. The 2-year spacing has allowed her to continue having a large family. I also know a woman who has 7 children all by c-section; she spaced them accordingly through all her childbearing years so she could have as many as possible.

NFP requires more abstinence than 8-11 days. During breastfeeding and weaning, if a couple is choosing to space their children, they usually have to abstain for quite a long time – longer than comfortable – which requires great sacrifice most particularly for husbands. Until a woman returns to ovulation, there is no “honeymoon period” in the cycle. When I work with couples who are trying to prevent pregnancy, I do mention that it requires sacrifice to not conceive because God has naturally ordered it for us to conceive. I also teach that people need to “own” their sexuality to practice NFP; husbands and wives struggle through and grow in respect for each other.

I have read a book on married saints and while they did not know NFP, some were known to have periodic continence during Lent and Advent and other times during their marriage. I particularly think of St Louis IX of France and Margaret of Provence from around 1234. [Editor’s note: Regarding abstinence during Lent and Advent, there is a qualitative difference from NFP: the period of continence is defined by the liturgical cycle of the Church rather than the fertility cycle of the couple. Even in instances of saintly married couples observing periodic continence for other reasons, they simply abstained, rather than plan their marital embraces around the woman’s fertile periods.]

TEENSTAR, the NFP program associated with the Billings Method, teaches abstinence and an understanding of the body that leads to chastity through teaching teens about their bodies. I think we need to teach teens that their sexuality is ordered towards family life. Many women my age were never affirmed or nurtured toward motherhood, and it makes it a more dramatic experience. Many men seem much less responsible and accountable to their actions. [Editor’s note: I think this hits the nail on the head; due to the availability of artificial contraception for teens, the sexual act has been divorced from its rightful end – procreation.]

One of my biggest problems with Natural Family Planning is that it is called “family planning”. I am an accredited Billings instructor; in the course of working with a woman who had an "unplanned pregnancy”, I realized society’s thinking around having children in general is disordered. There is now a stigma on "unplanned" children, regardless of whether people are married or not. When I am pregnant and people ask me whether it was planned, if I get the opportunity I say, “What is ‘planned’? My husband and I have set our lives up so that we could have children; that is the plan."

An observation I have made is that amongst my Catholic friends only a few came from families who used NFP, usually the Billings Method. Of the others, the majority all came from families that contracepted or sterilized. Many of these friends still practice their faith to some extent, but they don’t recognize the problem in not embracing the teachings of the church. Amazingly, the families that used NFP for their whole marriage did produce vocations, and usually all the children of the family have kept the faith. Honestly, I found something fundamentally different in these homes; I think one aspect was that the parents were obedient to the Church, and I think they received graces for this even though they may have only had 4 or 5 children. I know of two families who were “providentialist”, and similarly their children that I know seem to have all kept their faith.

A note on numbers of children in a family: I’ve spoken to many seniors in our parish who had anywhere from 0-10 children, and many say that’s just what they ‘had’. Another problem with the contraceptive mentality is that people think women will get pregnant at the drop of a hat. The truth is that no woman can know how fertile she is or how many children she will have (i.e., how many children God is calling her to have.) From what I have learned, most women on average would have 5 or 6 children if they used nothing at all to limit or space births. I believe there is research on this, but I have not looked into it; however, I have confirmed it in my own research through listening to seniors and others in my parish.

* * * * * *

Here are my own concluding thoughts:

There seems to be quite a stigma against "just having babies", and the medical profession tends to push the contraceptive mentality of our society; it is very difficult for young couples to overcome the pressure from the family doctor. Add to that the pressures from within the Catholic community; even here we find the negative comments about large families, and the notion that a couple should be “pray and discern” whether they should be open to pregnancy each month. These couples are  facing an uphill battle against the prevailing opinion of society!

Yet, we already know God’s will for married couples: they are to be open to life, unless a serious reason exists to avoid pregnancy. Another commenter noted (my emphases):

Discernment? Or pressure?
In fact, married couples don’t have to prayerfully consider whether they should have another child unless they are practicing NFP to avoid a child, in which case they have a moral obligation to prayerfully discern each month [whether] they still have a serious reason.

We must remember that our true home is in Heaven, and we must use our time here on earth to take us a little further along the path that leads us to God. We grow in virtue and holiness by conforming ourselves to God's will, not by conforming "God's plan" to our will. We have lost a sense of what it truly means to sacrifice for the Kingdom. Having a large family involves willingness to sacrifice, but I believe the benefits are huge.

37 comments:

  1. Jay,
    I agree with what you said. I do think that more women who would have died in childbirth years a go, may find that instead they have to avoid a pregnancy for serious reasons. For those reasons, I am grateful for NFP.

    In response to your guest blogger,I think every person is different.You can learn about NFP if you want to. But for me it was too much information. There is a certain amount of freedom in not really know when you are ovulating. Its a personal choice.
    The trouble with telling the doctor you will be using NFP if need be, is that when you come back in a year and half expecting again,the doctor will attribute this to method failure.
    then there is this quote that really upsets me.
    "During breastfeeding and weaning, if a couple is choosing to space their children, they usually have to abstain for quite a long time – longer than comfortable – which requires great sacrifice most particularly for husbands. Until a woman returns to ovulation, there is no “honeymoon period” in the cycle."
    for most women who breastfeed on demand, there is at least a six month period of amenorrhea. The idea that you would require this kind of abstinence from a couple when they are very unlikely to conceive and after that space the woman would probably be ready to have another baby. It imposes an unnecessary burden on a husband. Talk about the "yoke of the pharisees". Perahps instead it would be good to encourage mothers to nurse.
    I'll stop now.

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    1. I mean nurse properly. Skip the bottles and the babysitters until the baby is older.

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    2. Nursing is always promoted within NFP instruction. However, 6 months is not enough for a woman's uterus to heel if she is having consecutive caesarians. As an NFP instructor I have to meet people where they are at. Breastfeeding has been a great challenge for many women I know and so it is not so simple.
      In a similar way NFP is a process; it’s not the same thing as contraception that stops a woman from being fertile. A woman has to come to know symptoms and patterns of fertility and infertility. This can take time. I often tell couples it’s a way of living one day at a time.
      Andrea Lefebvre (Guest)

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  2. Just an interesting aside, regarding the contraceptive mentality that pervades everything these days:
    I recently went into hospital for a routine procedure, and got asked the usual questions; name, date of birth, address, allergies, that sort of thing.

    Then I was asked if I was on any sort of medication? No.
    Any contraception? No.
    Are you pregnant? No.
    Are you sure about that? I'm sure. I've been celibate for x years.

    I thought about that, and it makes me sad that there appears to be a default assumption that you are sexually active and may be ignorant enough to be pregnant and unknowing about it.

    It's also quite insulting as well to those of us who choose not to follow the herd in that direction.

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    1. It certainly is insulting. Its very hard to be a celelbate single Catholic. I think married people often forget this.

      The same thing happens with teenage girls. My daughter had appendicitis when she was thirteen. It didn't seem to be enough for me to say she wasn't pregnant or for her to say she wasn't pregnant. I had to leave the room for the second round of questioning. I think the doctor finally believed her when she started laughing and said, "I'm homeschooled. When would I get the chance?"

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  3. I just want to mention the idea of ecological breastfeeding. It involves nursing on demand, nursing for comfort, sleeping with your baby,and avoiding schedules and bottles and pacifiers. Seventy percent of mothers who breastfeed in this manner are in amenorrhea for 9-20 months on average. Ecological breastfeeding is also good for bonding and keeping a good milk supply. To find out more, go to the website of the Catholic Nursing Mothers League at www.catholicbreastfeeding.org

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  4. Several good comments made about nursing.

    While I object to the approach taken by the Couple to Couple League founded by Dr. John Kippley, the approach recommended by his wife, on the other hand, is truly "natural" in contrast to the unnatural methods of temperature measurements, mucus checking, charting, etc. Sheila Kippley is the author of "Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing." This is what God intended.

    http://www.amazon.com/Breastfeeding-Natural-Spacing-Sheila-Kippley/dp/1435746546

    Just now while looking for a link to "Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing" I noticed that Sheila Kippley has a new book that might be even better than her original classic, "Breastfeeding and Catholic Motherhood: God's Plan for You and Your Baby."

    http://www.amazon.com/Breastfeeding-Catholic-Motherhood-Gods-Plan/dp/1933184043/ref=la_B001K7LLFK_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1363702422&sr=1-2

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  5. Nilk and Sue A - yes, INSULTING! My daughter has also experienced the culture's assumption of sex before marriage; her boyfriend's aunt asked her outright, and as if it was to be expected, "So are you guys living together now?"

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  6. CNML Staff and Anonymous - thanks for the comments on ecological breastfeeding. Anonymous, I'm curious...are you saying the breastfeeding mother continues to chart etc.? I'm assuming this is so that she knows whether she is ovulating despite the breastfeeding?

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  7. Your concluding comments at the end of the guest post were very good.

    The guest poster made some valid points, and one can certainly understand and sympathize with her position. What she is saying boils down to this, "NFP helps those women cope who are trying to straddle the line between God and the world."

    Certainly it's that's a very difficult position in which many women find themselves, and the pressure that women face from doctors and nurses and their extended family is often horrendous. NFP is a coping mechanism in that situation.

    But the only true solution is to turn one's back on the world and choose God and choose life. The conflicts and the pressures will never go away, and they will only grow worse for as long as we try to have our cake and eat it too.

    In each generation God calls us to be faithful to Him in different ways. In some decades it is war, in some it is economic pressures, in our time we have to make a choice between God and the world in the area of marriage and family life. "As gold is tried in the fire, so souls are tested by God in the furnace of humiliation."

    This is the place where we will either stand firm for God or else we will give in to the world and compromise. Let us pray for the spirit of the martyrs.

    -John Galvin

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  8. "Anonymous, I'm curious...are you saying the breastfeeding mother continues to chart etc.? I'm assuming this is so that she knows whether she is ovulating despite the breastfeeding?"

    I would certainly hope not, but to tell the truth, I'm not totally familiar with all the details of Sheila Kippley's books. But my understanding is that you throw away your thermometers and charts and by using ecological breastfeeding your children will be spaced apart by a distance that nature intended.

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  9. Sue A, CNML staff, and Anonymous,

    These statistics on beastfeeding and ammenorrhea are misleading and do not reflect my own expirience or that of many of the actual people of my aquaintance. (I personally know people who have thrown the Sheila Kippley book in the trash. I kept my copy, but I do not reference it or recommend it.) It is much like how the perfect use effectiveness of condoms does not reflect the actual effectiveness, since real people do not have sex, or breastfeed, in a lab, the perfect use effectiveness isn't very helpful.

    What I do with my babies is very similar to ecological breastfeeding. I do not use pacifiers but a few of them have sucked their thumbs. I took a daily nap with my first and would love to with all my babies but it really is not possible all the time. My babies start each night in a co-sleeper by our bed and after the first waking the baby is brought to bed for the rest of the night. In this way, most start sleeping in 6-7 hour stretches at about 2 months old, though not every night. I wear my babies a bit each day but not always for very long periods. I leave my babies with my husband or a sitter sometimes, but only for an hour or 2 so that I don't need to pump for bottles. I am a healthy weight. My cycles, with ovualtion, return consistantly around 8 months, I imagine in response to introducing solids when the baby is about 7 months. This is similar to the expirience of my sisters, one of my sisters-in-law, and a few of my other aquaintances. I of course know many women who are more 'average' as you say, but the exceptions are plentiful.

    I am pregnant with my 4th so by now I know that pregnancy decreases my milk supply quite soon after I conceive. For this reason, my husband and I use NFP to delay pregnancy until our youngest is ready to wean. We have had to use formula in the past but would like to avoid it if possible. I have never seen any other person list this as a 'serious reason' for using NFP. (LLL does recommends that women consider this before getting pregnant again but they generally recommend barrier methods.) Even so, we are confidant that we are not using it selfishly. This is why it upsets me when I see people so quickly disregard the consciences of the couple in this area. Even if we are the only ones who feel this is a sufficiently serious reason, and we may be, I remain convicted about our reasoning. We pray about this, I assure you, every single day. More when we are actually using NFP, but even when we are pregnant or early postpartum, we pray a Memorare and a short prayer for the intention of our marraige, that it always remain open to life. We frequent the sacraments. We have expirence with using our consciences in other areas, such as charitable giving and media use. For example, the Holy Spirit has shown me how certain television shows, which may be fine for others, affect my thinking in a negative way. I cannot imagine using NFP improperly for long without the Holy Spirit revealing my selfishness to me. And this, I have to believe, is how most people discern these things. (I agree that there are probably many people who say they pray about this but don't actually, that is not a problem with NFP, that it a problem that goes deeper into the spiritual life) Anyway, my point is just that people's consciences should not be so easily disregarded.

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    1. I will agree that ecological breastfeeding does delay ovulation for many women. I have heard more times then I can count (online, never in person) a woman whose body naturally spaces children 2 years apart reflect that because this works for her, no woman should need NFP to space her children. Obviously this reasoning should not be applied across the board like this. If breastfeeding alone spaced my babies 2 years apart we wouldn't use NFP at all either. But it doesn't.

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    2. According to the Billings research on NFP, they encourage women to chart because every woman is different and will return to fertility at a different time. Also, they can be different after each child.
      Andrea Lefebvre (Guest)

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  10. If one delays the interval between flight arrivals for too long, some planes may never get to land before the runway closes...

    I've often considered the irony and the miracle of God making a great saint out of St. Catherine of Siena, the penultimate of 25 children. Surely, her parents are great saints as well!

    Dr. Boyd, I wish I had more time to read your book sooner. Thank you!

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    1. Father Gardiner,
      With all due respect, nearly half of St. Catherine's brother's and sisters died in infancy, including her twin sister. It would be truly unusual for a women to have that many live children. Babies are meant to be nursed and it is really bordering on scrupulosity to say things like this in response to someone like Anna. Clearly there are people who delay childbearing until it's too late, but a baby also needs to be nursed.

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    2. Sue A,
      My point was that since her parents apparently did nothing to forestall pregnancies, Catherine (and her sisters) were able to be conceived within the window of her mother's fertility. Deo gratias!

      My own dear mother conceived 15 children within about 16 years of fertility during her married life. Ten of these survived, of which I am the oldest. Would I trade away any of my younger siblings so that we older ones could be properly nursed, or properly housed, or properly educated. With all due respect... No way!

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    3. God bless your mother, It must have been such a cross to lose 5 children and to lose younger siblings must have been very hard for you, too.
      In response to what you said, Of course you would not trade any of your brothers and sisters for any material thing. That is not the point. "Proper" housing and education are relative concepts and certainly God will provide. At the same time there is a correct order to all things according to God's design. Nursing is part of that. And in the case of nursing, God is providing. A woman who is destitute can still nurse. Usually a woman does not conceive when nursing exclusively, just as a woman does not conceive when she is already carrying a child. That is how God designed it. We my inadvertently thwart this. Many women of our parents generation did not nurse. But that is not how it was designed by God. Having children is not a contest.
      Funny, I read this blog because I agree that there is a misuse of NFP or at least in how it is "marketed" but I think we need to be careful of the other extreme. I am in enough traditional circles to see this kind of contest attitude as if going out of your way to wean your baby and have more children makes you more holy.

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    4. Fr. Gardner,

      The Catholic Church teaches against the pre-existance of souls so there are not 'babies' waiting somewhere to be conceived that won't be because of NFP.

      I would love for the baby I'm pregnant with right now to become a great saint. If I had gotten pregnant 4 months ago with a different baby, this baby would never be. If God had desperately wanted to give us a child then He would have found a way to reveal His will to us; we were seaking His guidance on the matter. (and I'm sure Catherine of Sienna's parents would have also) As things are, I spend no time at all wishing for older children who would be different from the ones I have. To me these discussions just seem silly, and to reflect on 'what if's' that we certainly have no way of ever knowing is not helpful. I'm sure it's different for people who can look back and see that they were selfishly limiting God's will.

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    5. Anna, see my comment below in the regular comments, not in the "reply" part.

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  11. It has always amazed me to think of that many children in a family, but what a shame if her parents had precluded Catherine's conception!

    Fr. G, I think you have probably read most of the book right here on the blog!

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    1. Perhaps the point is not about what St. Catherine's (my daughter's patroness) or anyone's parents do or could have done differently. The point is that it's about God!

      Just this morning we were praying for someone who may be miscarrying. My 8 year old son asked "what made the baby come out?" And my 4 years and 3 days old daughter immediately answered "Jesus of course." (And they say she hasn't reached the age of reason yet!)

      Then I overheard their conversation as follows (out of the mouths of babes):

      Rose (4):"the fathers don't put a baby in. Them [sic] put the seed and it grows into a baby."

      Joe: "And it's all because of Jesus."

      "If dad wasn't there [we celebrate his birthday today it so happens] he wouldn't be able to make a baby. And there wouldn't be x, and x [etc. sisters]. So it's all because of Jesus, see?!"

      I certainly hope that my son won't hold it against me that I nursed him and his sisters, and didn't squeeze a few more kids in-maybe even a brother. Some theologians have gone so far as to say it is a moral duty to breastfeed. So I am not going to feel any guilt on that count.

      I guess I view God a little differently, that HE is not going to hold my honest discernment that tried to seek His will against me.
      :)

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  12. Anna, it is not my intent to disregard or dismiss people's consciences. Rather, I think we all need to continually be "updating" the formation of a good conscience that is in line with Church teaching. As I have said elsewhere, we're all at different points along the path to holiness; NFP might be a good stepping stone for some while being a stumbling block for others.

    My point is that we should acknowledge that NFP is birth control, even if it is licit according to current Church teaching. And birth control is not a Catholic value!

    Also, when there is a serious reason to avoid pregnancy, the option of just plain abstaining from the marital embrace for a period of time (even months) is always available, and perhaps objectively preferable to NFP. It's just that in our culture, people generally think it is crazy to "go without" for that long. But really, sex is not the be-all and end-all for a married couple - or at least, it shouldn't be. There are more profound ways of relating to each other. NFP keeps the focus on sex, it seems to me.

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  13. Dr Boyd,

    Whether that is your intent or not, you often point out that peoples consciences are not properly formed enough to be trusted in this area and it seems to me that you then go on to use this as an excuse to disregard them (I can't find where this has been mentioned right now), and I have read you to call a couple's reliance on their consciences as being moral relativism. As long as there is no specific guidance from the Magisterium as to what constitues a serious reason, we will need to depend a great deal on our consciences in this matter and relying on them should not be equated with moral relativism.

    I do somewhat agree with you that complete abstainance from the marital embrace may perhaps be seen as the objectively preferable option to NFP; it does not follow that NFP is sinful, and when you present this as an option you do not make this very clear. I do not think that it is crazy to 'go without.' My husband is military and we have had many long periods of separation in our marriage, so I am not speaking as one who has not been there. I know that you are aware of the Church documents that exist which make it clear that relying on the infecund times of a woman's cycle should not, when there is a serious reason, be seem as sinful. We don't view complete abstainance as being necessary in our case, even though perhaps it would be 'more' objectively virtuous. Celibacy in the form of non-marriage is commonly held as being, objectively, the most virtuous state (so says St Paul and Augustine). Here also, it does not follow that we all must choose celibacy.

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  14. When I write about NFP on this blog, I'm speaking in terms of general principles. I don't like to focus on individual case histories and personal experience; we need general principles to apply to those situations, and that is the duty of the individual's pastor. So when I say many people don't have a properly formed conscience, I'm speaking "in general", and I believe there is very good evidence that this is a correct assessment. There seems to be general agreement that forming one's conscience is not helped much by the lack of clear teaching from the pulpit on the moral evils of the day. Society in general is slipping ever faster into moral relativism that threatens to destroy us. Our consciences are victims of these things.

    I think it is easy for NFP use to slip into the "sin" category, even if the Church does teach that it is licit for serious reasons. Certainly complete abstinence can reach that point, too, but it is much less likely to become sinful.I'm trying to point out that abstinence isn't given much consideration by couples because of society's preoccupation with sex. Your case is different, obviously, but again, I'm trying to uncover general principles.

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  15. Dr. Boyd,

    Thank you for your response. It is exactly your criticism of the general principles surrounding NFP that I take issue. I agree that it can be misapplied. I have concerns with how it is promoted. I believe that we all need to learn how to form our consciences in this area. I do not believe that NFP is wrong in principle. When you attack the general principles that surround NFP you must know that you attack everyone who uses it, regardless of their individual case. I share my circumstances to demonstrate that: 1. Ecological breastfeeding alone does not work for all women. It should not be suggested as an alternative that can be used across the board. (This is mainly the reason I wrote.) 2. It is possible for couples to discern for themselves whether they have a serious reason for using NFP. Good and proper discernment that is grounded in Church teaching should be taught and encouraged, not mislabeled as moral relativism and tossed in the garbage (I believe in seeking guidance from a priest; we have moved around extensively in the past few years so I also know that it is not always easy to find a priest whose guidance you trust.) 3. There are reasons for using NFP that will not be apparent to others. This does not mean that they are not serious.

    You cover many areas that I think need to be addressed and for that I am appreciative. I think we all do need greater understanding of how NFP should be applied. But again, I do not think NFP is wrong at it's core and the Church does not teach that it is either.

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  16. I think it's hard to say what exactly is at the core of NFP. I have always acknowledged that the Church permits NFP for serious reasons. But there is no denying that NFP is birth control, and the Church has never supported that concept. So there's a bit of a disconnect. To promote NFP without providing a very thorough discussion of serious reasons AND a discussion of the primacy of the procreative purpose of marriage is irresponsible. The lack of teaching on the benefits of a large family is also problematic.

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    1. Respectfully Dr Boyd, I am in my 20's, married for 5 years and expecting my 4th child. As is par for the course of women who use NFP, I am well on my way towards having a large family (God willing). I do not find your critisism of NFP in general to be encouraging, but in fact, problematic (and not just for me, for many mothers of large families). I imagine we will just need to disagree about your approach.

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    2. Anna points out the saving grace of NFP -- the fact that it doesn't work. As Harry Crocker described in a much more humorous manner in his article, "Making Babies - A Very Different Look at Natural Family Planning."

      http://www.catholicity.com/commentary/crocker/04828.html

      "Natural family planning (NFP) needs a slogan, because as a "product" – if I might adopt business-speak – it's not selling too well. So let me propose a new rallying cry: "Use NFP: It Doesn't Work!"

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    3. In our case it has worked for as much as we have used it, which has been very discriminantly.

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    4. Dr. Boyd, you say that the Church has never supported the concept of birth control. I do not believe this is the case. Pope John Paul calls it "regulation of births/conceptions." in Love and Responsibility).

      Are you familiar with his homily in 1994, during which he said "Truly in begetting life the spouses fulfill one of the highest dimensions of their calling: they are God's co-workers. Precisely for this reason they must have an EXTREMELY RESPONSIBLE attitude. In DECIDING WHETHER OR NOT TO HAVE A CHILD, they must not be motivated by selfishness OR carelessness, but by a PRUDENT, CONSCIOUS generosity that WEIGHS THE POSSIBILITIES AND CIRCUMSTANCES." (Emphasis mine.)

      Yet you denounce the idea of "responsible parenthood." Are we supposed to be irresponsible? How could that be virtuous? Is having a large family, when one is physically capable of doing so, but has limiting reasons why it wouldn't be advisable the ONLY way to exercise virtuous parenthood? Surely there are other considerations that you're perhaps leaving out. This position seems a bit doctrinaire to me.

      Relying on Divine Providence is well and good, and many choose to truly abandon themselves and relinquish the management of fertility. This is something that noone can do for you. At a certain point it could become presumption, especially when dictating to others a policy of action that the Church nowhere demands. Heroism is something freely chosen.

      Do you realize that NFP use is generally predicated on a spirit of denial, temperance and fortitude, not merely rational self-interest? Do you really think people would have the commitment and wherewithal to persist for long if they didn't have a compelling reason?

      I am not trying to sound defensive, though I admit I find extreme providentialism disturbing. Pope John Paul specifically says that "the Church doesn't have an ideology of fertility at all costs, urging married couples to procreate indiscriminately and without thought for the future." (Homily on the Washington Mall, 1884)

      If I am misunderstanding your position, please tell me how.

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    5. The Church has never supported the concept of birth control until after Vatican II and Humanae Vitae. Yes, I know JPII said stuff that supports the limiting of births, etc. What I'm saying is that that is a dicontinuous breach that does not follow from past teaching and tradition.

      There is much more I could say, but I have said it all in my posts! I recommend you read my book; it lays out the posts in a thematic way and develops my line of reasoning more adquately. Email me if you want a discount code, or if you would like to read the book but feel you simply cannot afford it. drjayboyd@msn.com

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  17. Anna,
    I am the person who brought up breastfeeding in response to the guess blogger. It does space babies in a lot of cases and I think anyone teaching NFP classes should know that. That was my only point. Of course you need some time to nurse your baby.
    The problem I think is in how NFP is promoted. The reason I say this is because of a shift in thinking that I have noticed with younger Catholic women whose response to contraception is immediately NFP rather than having children. I suppose that depends on where you are from and who your friends are. In my circle you are the exception. I am glad to know there are some of you our there:)

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    1. Thank you, Sue. I am sorry that this has been your experience. I agree that there are many problems in the way NFP is promoted. Obviously that is very different from saying that NFP is fundamentaly wrong and based on principles that go against Church teaching. I am concerned to see that idea promoted publically on a Catholic blog where anyone can read. It could confuse a great many people. Some who are using NFP instead of contraception would likely not become motivated to have babies, but instead turn to contraception (since according to some, they are both wrong anyway). I know that is not the author's intent and perhaps this all appears harmless, but good does not come from untruth. So even those with good intentions need to be very careful.

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    2. Exactly. That's just it!

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  18. Anna, regarding your reply to Fr. Gardner (above), there is Church teaching related to the “pre-existence” of souls; it is found in the distinction between God’s antecedent and consequent will. God wills some things antecedently, but when our own human will does not cooperate, His will prevails consequently. For instance, St. Thomas Aquinas says that while God antecedently will all men to be saved, He also consequently will some to be damned because of their own actions and because justice demands it (see the second quote below).

    Here’s a quote from St. John Damascene:

    “The first then is called God's antecedent will and pleasure, and springs from Himself, while the second is called God's consequent will and permission, and has its origin in us. And the latter is two-fold; one part dealing with matters of guidance and training, and having in view our salvation, and the other being hopeless and leading to our utter punishment, as we said above. And this is the case with actions that are not left in our hands.
    “But of actions that are in our hands the good ones depend on His antecedent goodwill and pleasure, while the wicked ones depend neither on His antecedent nor on His consequent will, but are a concession to free-will. For that which is the result of compulsion has neither reason nor virtue in it.”

    St. Thomas Aquinas put it this way, using salvation of souls as an example:

    “In the same way God antecedently wills all men to be saved, but consequently wills some to be damned, as His justice exacts. Nor do we will simply, what we will antecedently, but rather we will it in a qualified manner; for the will is directed to things as they are in themselves, and in themselves they exist under particular qualifications. Hence we will a thing simply inasmuch as we will it when all particular circumstances are considered; and this is what is meant by willing consequently. Thus it may be said that a just judge wills simply the hanging of a murderer, but in a qualified manner he would will him to live, to wit, inasmuch as he is a man. Such a qualified will may be called a willingness rather than an absolute will. Thus it is clear that whatever God simply wills takes place; although what He wills antecedently may not take place.”

    So God might will antecedently that certain souls come into existence, but it is possible that they will not if we do not cooperate with His will.

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    1. Fascinating discussion about antecedent will. I wasn't familiar with this distinction. Your explanation is very clear.

      "So God might will antecedently that certain souls come into existence, but it is possible that they will not if we do not cooperate with His will."

      This theme is mentioned briefly but dramatically in C.S. Lewis' science fiction novel "That Hideous Strength."

      -John Galvin

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