My her.meneutics colleague, Liuan Huska, joins the conversation today in describing the choices she and her husband have made to first use NFP and then a barrier method as forms of contraception. I am so grateful for Liuan’s gracious approach to this topic:
When my husband and I first married, our decision to practice Natural Family Planning (NFP) had little to do with current debates surrounding the morality of various birth control methods. I was drawn to the idea of tuning in to my body’s rhythms and working with them. My husband supported me.
I don’t think NFP is the only way to go for birth control. Nor do I think it is the most virtuous. In fact, six years and a baby later, we are not using NFP, but rather a barrier method. However, the things I learned from our time of doing NFP still inform how I approach contraception and my body.
Because NFP relies on tracking signs of fertility in the female body, it requires great attentiveness. Women must take daily note of their waking temperature, mucus consistency, and sometimes cervical position. This kind of attention to detail can become burdensome, especially when the brunt of it falls on the woman, who, after a new baby, is usually shouldering most of the added responsibilities of child care. It is part of the reason why we chose not to continue NFP after we had our first child.
In some cases though, NFP can be empowering. Before I learned about NFP, I had no idea when I ovulated, when I was fertile or infertile, or how I would even know. The first time I was able to detect a pattern in my NFP tracking notes, from which I was able to approximate the different phases of my cycle, I felt a surge of pride, akin to what a toddler feels when he first uses the potty by himself. A laughable comparison, I know, but it works. I had learned something about my body that I didn’t know before, and was able to act on that knowledge. I was empowered. I gained confidence in my own skin and trust in my bodily capacities. Later, when we felt ready to have children, I was able to use the bodily knowledge I had gained from using NFP as a form of contraception to instead help us conceive a child.
Practicing NFP gave me greater awareness of and respect for both my own body and my husband’s. Through becoming more attuned to the way my body works, I came to realize that our bodies truly are wonderful mysteries designed by God, not to be manipulated without deep consideration.
To be sure, what is “natural” isn’t always best. There are many times when using a man-made solution (corrective glasses or vaccinations, for example) is far more prudent than letting the disease and decay that is part of our fallen natural world run its course. However, it is another thing altogether to think that we can use modern technologies to gain full control over our bodies and our fates, a mentality that can sometimes seep into our use of contraceptives. Because of my desire to tread lightly in this realm, after having our first child and deciding to use another form of birth control, I opted to stay away from hormonal methods. While they may be more efficient, they also fiddle with the inner workings of a woman’s reproductive system, changing hormonal balance and menstrual rhythms. That level of intervention makes me uncomfortable.
Like others who have written before me in this series, I recognize that every couple’s approach to contraception is deeply personal and specific to their situation. My husband and I have had one child in our nearly six years of marriage. NFP and then a barrier method have worked for us as forms of contraception – no unplanned pregnancies so far. If we had more children by now, or were in a situation where having more children would be unwise, for financial or health or relational reasons, I might give other birth control methods more consideration.
At the same time, my views on when having a child might be “unwise” have changed throughout the years. I have witnessed friends welcome unplanned pregnancies in situations that were less than ideal, and come through blessed and matured by their unexpected parenthood. Also, as I have written about elsewhere, practicing NFP cultivated in me an openness to life that might have been slower to develop otherwise. Sex could lead to kids. Couples who practice NFP grapple with this possibility more regularly than those who use other forms of birth control. In my case, entertaining the possibility of a new life every month actually transformed my initial fear of having children into a welcoming.
I don’t know if we’ll use NFP again for contraception. I am grateful, though, that we did for a season, because of the ways it deepened my appreciation for my body as beautifully and sacredly created, and for the ways it opened my heart to life. Now, in a different life stage, we continue to discern how to honor God in our marriage and remain open to his unexpected blessings, children and otherwise.
Liuan Huska writes on faith, culture, embodiment, and immigration, among other topics. She studied anthropology at Wheaton College and the University of Chicago. When she’s not writing, Liuan is running after her one-year-old son, reading cookbooks for fun, and teaching yoga and dance. She and her husband Matt bravely endure Chicago winters while constantly plotting to move to a warmer place. Follow her on Twitter @liuanhuska.