Dear People Who Feel We Shouldn’t Talk About Reproduction and Sex and Stuff in Public — I disagree, but am honoring your opinion by giving you a disclaimer that this post talks openly about reproduction and sex and stuff. Proceed at your own discretion.
I don’t have a strong opinion on natural family planning. I have strong experiences, mind you, but they are not the kind of experiences ideal for prescriptive purposes.
First of all, I am a fatalist when it comes to family planning. I have friends who conceived on NFP, the pill, and an IUD. Not the “oh, I knew somebody who knew somebody” “friend.” Immediate friends.
Your body wants to have babies. It will have the babies it wants. That is my current philosophy on reproduction as I cry over the prospect of being indefinitely pregnant until menopause.
Second, my use of NFP is borne of bitter travails with my body rather than a joyful acceptance of it. I don’t have a happy conversion story where NFP fixed my life and my marriage and my body image and prevented unwanted pregnancy.
Mostly, I just hate condoms. Hate them. And I am terrified of hormonal and chemical birth control’s side effects, which would mess with all my existing problems.
I’m of the opinion that the more natural a method is, the better, but I’m more of the opinion that something should get the job done. I take zinc for colds not because it’s natural but because it works. I take ibuprofen for cramps because peppermint oil and warm baths don’t. Natural and side effect free is a huge plus, but it is, in the end, only a plus.
I’m far more utilitarian than idealistic in my approach to the natural vs. unnatural showdown.
But since I’m a reproductive fatalist (see above), it’s nice to weakly combat the body’s intense desire to get pregnant with a natural method that doesn’t complicate sex or my mood.
Feminist friends, I am partially kidding about my reproductive fatalism. I’m not trying to spread misinformation about the effectiveness of certain reproductive methods over others. I’m not trying to disempower women’s choices over their bodies.
I’m just saying that my personal motto is, if you’re having sex, you might have a baby. Babies and sex often go hand in hand. It’s a natural thing. It’s a good thing — at least, babies are, even if the having of them isn’t. And I appreciate that NFP keeps that emphasis on natural in this context — using the body’s natural infertile period to plan your family as opposed to drugging up and suiting up as if you actually were in combat with your reproductive system.
On the flipside, I am no Michelle Duggar, God bless her. I love children. I love them so much that I believe they deserve as much time and individual attention as Mama can give them. My goal is quality, not quantity, mothering. If that means I feel I can only raise a handful of kids, so be it. If I feel I can effectively mother a string of five or six siblings one and a half years apart as planned, great. My actual children come first over potential children that I theoretically want.
That’s the idea, anyway.
With that in mind, I am strongly opposed to any notion that I should have a certain number of children or just forego all family planning and let Jesus take the wheel.
Obviously, there’s an important, abstract part of my beliefs that will happily welcome any child, no matter whether she’s number two or (gulp) number ten. But there’s also an important, practical part of my beliefs that knows that resources, time, and energy shrink the more children one has.
I don’t think it’s immoral to steward those resources, time, and energy for the good of existing family members, even if it involves unnatural means of family planning.
Fortunately, NFP provides an effective natural planning method (99% in fact, if you can forget that everybody you know got unexpectedly pregnant using NFP).
That leads to my experience with NFP itself.
Here’s my vote of confidence: I got pregnant while using NFP.
In NFP’s defense, we did not follow NFP strictly. We didn’t have any Catholic guilt or deep desire against children egging us into abstinence during the fertile period. We got lazy and lustful, relying too much on our luck and the regularity of my cycle to pay too much attention to basal body temperature or the exact consistency of cervical mucus.
So that happened.
I honestly don’t know what I’ll do if I ever want to actively prevent pregnancy, instead of half-heartedly saying, “Eh, maybe we should wait a year or two.” I extremely disliked intensive, conscious NFP tracking.
I’ll go into more detail in another post, but my time with NFP was nothing like the happy Catholics told me. It was wonderful to understand the rhythm of the female reproductive cycle — something I now miss as a pregnant lady — and that’s an aspect of NFP I think all women should learn.
But it also inadvertently introduced me to my reproductive fatalism. My body desperately wanted to get pregnant. It was made for pregnancy. I was nothing but a baby-making machine.
That was my happy encounter with NFP.
It felt dehumanizing, frankly, to check for cervical mucus all day, every day. I was being a drama queen about it, but that was my honest reaction. It was a headache trying to figure out how that particular consistency of the day matched up with the three vague categories of egg whites, water, and school glue.
And don’t even get me started on basal body temperatures. I struggled far too much with insomnia, particularly when I first started tracking as an engaged college student, to go to bed and wake up at a regular enough time that my BBT meant anything.
But I couldn’t stress too much about tracking, because stress (and alcohol and travel) also could throw your predictions off.
I don’t know who these 99% effective ladies are, but they’re definitely all stress-free, teetotalling homebodies.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of NFP for me was the failed promise that NFP would bring my husband and me closer. “He’ll understand the natural rhythm of your body!” the brochures said. “He’ll track with you! Your marriage will be rainbows and sunshine all because of NFP!”
Yes, my husband understands how women’s bodies work and mine in particular. He suspected I was pregnant long before I did and could roughly predict where I was in my cycle. That was nice, and helpful. I could commiserate in my reproductive fatalism with him, and he would listen politely.
But beyond the emotional support, there wasn’t much of anything he could do to help me. I was the one sitting alone on the toilet checking cervical mucus. I was the one entering data in my Ovia Fertility app. I was the one pausing during cuddle times to remember how close I was to my fertile period.
It brought us together in one sense, but it also reminded me that men still don’t have any clue of what it’s like to be potentially pregnant and how stressful that is if one wants a life outside of being a pregnant and nursing mother. (He meekly agrees to carry the next child to term whenever I complain about this. If only. But he’s a gem nonetheless.)
So those are my strong experiences. To try to extrapolate some helpful advice from those experiences: NFP works, allegedly, and if it works for you, I highly recommend it. If you cried as much as I did, I feel you. And if you think your beloved form of birth control or family planning will protect you from you body’s reproductive wiles, well, I’ll start prepping your baby shower gift right now.