Natural Family Planning is Hard

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Our bodies are complex, intricate mysterious things. They are not outer shells or machines that come with a user’s manual. There is a lot going on that we understand, and probably even more going on that we don’t understand.

This really hit home for me with breastfeeding. A forewarning of “it’s not intuitive” turned into a process of millions of questions that didn’t have an easy answer. Instead, the answers varied from woman to woman, baby to baby, etc. How long should the baby feed? How long from each breast? When is it best to switch sides? When should feeding positions be varied? Many other mothers shared with me the difficulties they had had, from nipple soreness to infections.

Just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it isn’t natural. In fact, it’s extremely natural and there are countless benefits. You have to get to know your body. It’s hard work and takes a toll on the woman’s body, but more often than not, things that are good for you are hard work.

This leads us to Natural Family Planning (NFP). If getting to know about breasts and baby’s hunger and how they work together is difficult, getting to know about a woman’s fertility and how it works with a man’s is even more so. It’s difficult because of the aforementioned issue of complexity. A woman’s fertility follows certain patterns that we can learn to recognize, but it varies with psychological factors, illness, age, etc. There are a lot of nuances and details to remember that take a while to learn. The stage I’m in now, after pregnancy, seems to be the most difficult. You have to watch for your ovulation like a hawk, as it isn’t preceded by menstruation. Signs can be deceiving.

Your cervix feels like a nose when you’re infertile and like your lips when you’re fertile, our doctor explained to us. Yet how long does it take to go from “nose-like” to “lip-like”? You have to get to know your body, our doctor told us. If you’ve ever tried to “get to know your body”, you’ll know this is easier said than done. NFP takes practice, to get to know the theory and especially to apply it to yourself. It takes some discipline and some effort, just like eating well and exercising, and just like breastfeeding. It’s natural, but not intuitive. Our bodies take some getting to know and this is a constant, lifelong process.

NFP also takes a lot of guts. Dealing with any life or death issue takes guts, but being “open to life” is not as easy as it sounds. Teetering on the edge of “to bring or not new life into the world” crashes directly into all our priorities and goals in life. NFP is scary because you are not as “in control” as with contraception. A little mistake and oops, you have a baby. Big deal. It takes a world view completely different to that of our current western mind-set to deal with this teetering on the edge. The Catholic worldview works well with this method, in which God is almighty and totally in control. We should trust Him with our lives instead of failing at trying to control them because He truly knows best. It works well with a “natural/ecological” worldview in which the body is beautiful and it isn’t necessary to pump it with hormones or plastic. It works well with worldviews of other cultures, in which a baby is a blessing and not a limit to your freedom or your lifestyle.

“You can go explore the world, go on holiday, you can have a villa in the countryside, you can be carefree. It might be better — more comfortable — to have a dog, two cats, and the love goes to the two cats and the dog. Is this true or not? Have you seen it? Then, in the end this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness.“ –Pope Francis

So why would you practice Natural Family Planning if it’s complex, takes work and goes against our society’s mind-set? Because the “easy way” is only easy in the short-term. NFP is complex because our bodies are complex, but the benefits are extraordinary and, more importantly, the knowledge of your body (=you) is priceless.

Julie Machado

Julie Machado

Julie Machado is a 30-year-old wife, mother and Portuguese-American who grew up in California, but moved to Portugal for college and has been there ever since. She has a degree in Theology from the Catholic University of Lisbon and has special interest in Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. She blogs at Marta, Julie e Maria.

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3 thoughts on “Natural Family Planning is Hard”

  1. Pingback: Pope Francis Speaks w/Family of Jim Foley -

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    It does not work for everyone. I like to be with my DH when I am most desirous without having a baby everytime. It’s unfair for me to be asked to give that up unless I want to drown in a sea of babies.

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    Can’t agree with scythe below. I’m sixty-five years old – ancient! My wife and I practised NFP throughout our fertile years and we have four children. She and I are catechists in our parish and we have come across a fairly comprehensive study of divorce and separation rates for NFP couples and for Catholic couples who contracept. Our jaws dropped to find that the Catholic contraceptors were eighty-five times (you read correctly) more likely to divorce or separate than the NFP couples. Wanna divorce proof your loved ones?? The Church should be shouting these stats from the housetops. In fact, I consider it almost criminal to be silent on such a powerful protector and generator of love.

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