It's Natural Family Planning Awareness Week and I didn't really think I'd have much to add to the conversation. The Catholic blogging world is already saturated with posts about NFP this week and I've read many, many wonderful posts on every angle of the topic in the past. My experiences are unique (aren't ours all?) but not necessarily anything completely new or different. But to do my part, I wrote this post on Facebook yesterday to share my perspective and as I was writing it, for the first in my life it occurred to me exactly why NFP is so difficult - because it was never part of God's original plan.
You see, in the perfect world God intended - the world without sin or suffering - NFP doesn't have a place. The situations that make postponing a pregnancy necessary - physical and mental health issues, financial concerns, marital problems, lack of support system, etc. - they wouldn't exist. And fertility problems that require couples use NFP to become pregnant, they wouldn't exist either. There simply would be no need for Natural Family Planning. It's not the default for human beings as God designed us. But it's there because we live in a flawed world; not the natural order of things but a gift given to us by God to help us cope with our imperfect situations in an imperfect existence.
Many people need NFP for one reason or another, and I am incredibly grateful that it exists for those situations. For most of our marriage, we've used NFP. When we got pregnant with Lucia in 2011, my husband and I had hoped we'd never use NFP again. We looked forward to the idea of our family planned completely on God's timing, of never looking at a chart again, of being genuinely surprised (but not too surprised) by a new pregnancy. But then we went through a period of unemployment. Followed by miscarriage after miscarriage. And then my current bout of prenatal depression and anxiety (yes, it's back). And it seems that for the rest of our childbearing years we'll always have one reason or another to use NFP to either avoid pregnancy or help us decrease chances of future miscarriage. That's a tough pill to swallow.
Yes, the day to day practice of NFP can be difficult. But the emotional strain is even harder because it reminds us of the brokenness of our world (and my body). My chart is a symbol of how far we are from Eden. For all that people talk about how wonderful NFP is for marriage and communication and knowing your body and (fill in the blank), the truth is that if all were as it should be, we simply wouldn't need it.
NFP strikes me as similar to a cancer treatment, let's say chemotherapy. Of course, it's not poisonous or painful like chemotherapy (NFP is green! And completely natural! No physical side effects!), but bear with me. The only reason chemotherapy exists is to combat cancer. Those who have cancer (and their loved ones) are grateful it gives them the opportunity to fight the cancer, but they'd rather they didn't need it in the first place. My family has had several extra years (and hopefully many more) with my 84 year old grandfather because of two rounds of chemotherapy. But the chemo itself took its toll on him and is a reminder of the brokenness of his body, the unnaturalness of the cancer that necessitated it in the first place. I wish there was no chemo because I wish there was no cancer. Actually, I suppose that's how we feel about most medication. I'm grateful to God for well-trained doctors and medical researchers who allow us to combat the illnesses of the mind and body, but I'm still sad and bitter that we even have illnesses we have to treat.
So too with NFP. It's not a good in and of itself, but the best response we have to the evil in our world. I wish we didn't need it. I wish we lived in a perfect world where the circumstances were always perfect for more children to be welcomed and everyone had normal, healthy, functioning fertility. Since there is a need for NFP, I'm grateful it's there. But even if I appreciate it, I don't have to like it. It’s ok if it doesn’t feel natural and beautiful and effortless, because it’s simply not how it was meant to be.