Monday, February 15, 2016

Just Another NFP Rant

I don't blame my midwife. She's looking out for what's best for her patient, and she's unintimidated by awkward conversations. (I suppose you'd have to be.)

Usually she waits until after the baby's born to bring up contraception, but this time she asked at my 32-week appointment:

"So, have you thought about birth control?"

I get it. We've had FOUR surprise babies in six years. Obviously our birth control of choice (natural family planning -- Billings method) isn't working the way we expected. (The one baby we did plan came with a twin. If that's not enough to make you throw your hands in the air and forego all future attempts at planning anything, I don't know what is.)

She focused on the financial concerns of more kids, which surprised me.  She knows I dealt with postpartum depression after the twins (who wouldn't have?) and that my body is tired. I thought, for sure, she'd focus on the need to rebuild emotional and physical reserves.

The truth is, the financial side of large families doesn't bother me. I understand that limited resources are being split among a growing number of needs. But if I choose to prioritize more family over annual family vacations, why is that a problem? I believe even poor kids can grow up happy, healthy, emotionally stable, mentally strong, and most importantly, kind.

Life in large families can seem not-so-glamorous compared to the marketed best practices of family life in our society: one room per child, one phone/laptop/iPad per child, annual family vacations, biannual technology upgrades, and an approach to parenthood that emphasizes its life-changing irreversible inconvenience over any inexplicable desire for building up future generations.

Should only the wealthy or most financially secure have children? Does having money make someone inherently more loving, more patient, more committed, more naturally endowed to be a good parent? Sure money can buy good resources, but it still can't buy the love or attention of a parent.

It's so easy to get excited about a first or second baby born into a certain income level with employer-sponsored health insurance. But incomes are fluid and health insurance fickle. Why judge a child's potential success or happiness on the stability of his or her parents at a passing moment in time? What if the poor kid has a special gift for laughter, and it doesn't bother her that much to miss back-to-school shopping each year? What if the rich kid born to a trust fund and sports-themed nursery becomes so self-centered that he accidentally kills four people while driving drunk and his actual defense is affluenza?

Convenient as it may be, money can't buy happy, functional kids, or happy, functional families. 

But the truth is, I am frustrated by natural family planning. And I'm frustrated with the Catholic Church for teaching against contraception. It's not that I think they're wrong. I completely agree that contraception is harmful to women and to marriage and to society. (And I can trace how each of our children has been a blessing to us in their unexpected arrivals!) But I also think that many young children can be harmful to women -- especially when she doesn't have the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical support to carry the load. (I know the Catholic Church doesn't overtly teach families must have a million children. But for those of us who really suck at NFP, it's kind of a consequence of being married and Catholic.)

Simcha Fisher describes Natural Family Planning perfectly: It's the worst possible method, except for all the others. (Follow that link if you're a Catholic who's frustrated with NFP. It won't solve all your problems, but you'll feel better knowing you're not alone in the world.) 

The Catholic Church has never seen poverty as a character flaw; if anything it's elevated to a virtue. Even Jesus chose to be poor when He walked among us. 

But I feel like we're in a Catch-22 with our faith. Why is it so many examinations of conscience ask parents if we're providing a Catholic education for our children, yet Catholic tuition isn't accessible to most large families? Sure we can always homeschool (which also takes significant financial reserves and mental capacity), and yes, there's so much more to a Catholic education than attending a school that happens to share property and a budget with the local parish. But there just seems to be a disconnect between teaching that children are a blessing, yet not helping families with all these blessings. All these blessings.

I actually cried (like gross cried, in front of strangers) on the first day that I attended a women's Bible study at a local parish that offered free childcare. It had been such a long time since being around other women without my children, and for someone with this many little kids, childcare or babysitting really is a luxury. As a result, spiritual formation and the sacraments become luxuries too.

I don't have answers. But honest dialogue is always a good place to start.

Not Rich Kids. But Mostly Happy.


  1. Charlene, I think you've raised some amazingly good points, especially about our responsibility as Church to the families we've encouraged people to raise. As someone who has worked for two parishes, I get to see the other, and equally frustrating, side of this issue. I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to offer free child care whenever I am offering an adult education program, but our parish budget (dependent on contributions from families in the parish) just won't stretch to cover it. In today's climate of making sure we offer a safe environment (which is vital), we can't just ask any two teenagers to come in and sit with the kids (what was done when I was growing up). Instead, there are background checks, the need for adults to be present, and the lack of people willing to be reliable nursery help for free. To make sure we can offer it consistently, we have to pay the help...and a lot of parish budgets just don't cover it. There is also the issue of best stewardship of funds. One parish I served offered child care during all of the Masses; during most Masses, there were only 3-5 children in the nursery, which didn't justify the cost paying two people to be there each week. Another DRE I know is happy to offer child care if there are at least 10 children signed up to attend...that rarely happens, so she hears constant complaints about the lack of child care...but it's really too costly for her to offer it if less than 10 families are taking advantage of it. And then there is the issue of Catholic Schools...if one is attached to a parish, then a large percentage of the parish budget goes to supporting the school. If we didn't have a school at my current parish, I'd have the funds to offer free child care at everything I did. But that money is supporting the school, which also charges a very hefty tuition that I'm sure most large families could not afford.

    What is the solution?...I'm not sure, but I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned priorities. Until all Catholic families, large and small, make tithing a priority for their family, parishes will not have the resources to support the large families they encourage in the way that they would like. We have become a society so focused on accumulating things...I am just as guilty as the next person. And we have bought into the idea that we must have the fabulous summer vacation, which follows the fabulous spring break vacation. We must have the latest technology and all of our children must have their own bedrooms stuffed to the brim with technology. Christmas at some homes is embarrassing...I personally watched a child take a break from unwrapping presents because he had grown tired of it, there were that many presents under the tree. A new cell phone comes out and we must own it, we replace working equipment with newer models because we want some small feature that we then hardly ever use. All Catholics...married, single, with children, without children, with grown children...ALL Catholics need to examine our spending in light of the Gospel and change our priorities.

    I know of one tithing parish in San Antonio where there is a very nominal tuition at the Catholic School (similar to the book bills my parents used to get when I was in school). Their school is thriving and has a waiting list because it is affordable to their parish families (unlike most Catholic schools that are struggling to find students so that they can make their payrolls). I honestly believe that if all Catholics made tithing a priority in their lives, our Catholic parishes could provide all of our families with the support they need and desire.

    This probably wasn't what you were expecting as a comment, but I think it needs to be said. God bless you for following the teachings of a Church that in some ways appears not to support what it teaches, and for setting priorities that are in line with the Gospel message. I admire you and will keep you in my prayers.

    1. Silvia, I think you're right on. Tithing just isn't consistent for most Catholic families. It's definitely not for lack of passing the collection plate (perhaps we've become desensitized to the second and third collections?).
      As more parishes focus on discipleship, and adult formation, I think tithing will naturally increase, as a discipline of someone who loves their Church and sees the need to support their local parish, and the blessing of giving back to God a portion of all that is his anyway.
      And hand-in-hand with tithing, I think personal service and volunteering at the parish level needs to increase. We've become so reliant on a few burned-out volunteers and a skeleton underpaid staff that we don't have the human resources to support a healthy community.
      In our move to Conroe, I'm somewhat annoyed that this will be our third parish in 10 years that is doing a building campaign.
      I'm torn. I love beautiful churches. I like courtyards. I like stained glass. I like good architecture.
      But are we -- like St. Francis -- trying so hard to build up physical churches that we're missing the people, and the whole point?
      This is millions of dollars in physical building projects that could go to evangelization. Do people come to a building, or do they come to a community?
      I see budgets slashed, positions terminated, benefits abysmal for parish staff, to divert funding to building projects (or also for lack of tithing from members).
      The Catholic Church should be a model employer! We shouldn't have part-time positions for the sake of saving money on benefits. We shouldn't have quality ministers leaving for the private sector. We should love and support and prioritize those who serve our parishes!
      So yes, to a large extent, I see that the budget isn't there. But it also seems that the priority of many parishes is on building bigger buildings or fancier technology, so the real work of ministry falls on the shoulders of burned-out volunteers and under-appreciated staff.

  2. Yes! Yes! Yes! Nathan and I discuss everything you've posted on frquently. It's very frustrating. "Spiritual formation and sacraments become luxuries" hits us often. I love visiting and attending my father-in-laws Lutheran church. They are so young family friendly, and make it a priority to have care during events and the service. Whether 1 kid shows up to utilize it or 10, parents can rely on it and there is such a freedom in knowing "hey! I'm welcome here! I can participate! I can volunteer and attend that retreat! Yes, I'd like to attend mass instead of walking my squirmy toddler outside so my soul can be refreshed by the gospel and bring that home with me." I love my Catholic faith and my kids, but I do think it's support of young families is so bad sometimes, it's laughable. Sad cry laughable. *Gross crying*

  3. I am VIRTUS trained. Perhaps there can be a ministry where anyone who is fingerprinted and VIRTUS trained can all sign up willing to volunteer for events. Having a master list could help at least this part of young family participation. I'm going talk to my parish...

  4. My husband and I just had our 6th child. None of them were NFP failures. In fact, in the brief period we practiced NFP between child #4 and #5, it was effective for us. But this last pregnancy was tough. First of all, there were all the miscarriages before conceiving this child much desired by the whole family. Then,the disappointment at not being able to have a home birth because of complications. Then the complications turned life threatening for both and an early emergency was needed. A week in the NICU was such a roller coaster of emotions. Now 5 months later, all healed physically and with the happiest little baby, it's time for the serious talk of more kids. The bills are still rolling in after the insurance has paid it's part. This baby cost more than all of our other 5 combined (and some were born when we had no insurance).
    Looking at about 10 more years of fertility, our only option is NFP. I'm concerned because of how close I came to dying and at how much this cost my husband, our sole provider. I've researched all the methods and the most reliable seems to be the Marquette Method. It's the costliest NFP method but compared to what we just went through, it's worth it. It involves a lot of abstinence but at this point we are just happy that we don't have to become completely celibate. And we appreciate our marital embrace all that much more. Even in that moment we are conscious of how much we are trusting God with our very lives. The world may see us as reckless for trusting NFP vs something more drastic but we have been down the rabbit whole of sterilization, conversion, repentance and reversal. Contraception and sterilization hurt our marriage and we won't ever go there again. And so we trust God in His grace. And we thank Him for His blessings but honestly asking for no more for now LOL

    I wish that families who are open to life were more supportive of one another. It's so easy to give kudos for trying to live in God's will but pro life also means helping those who do accept life! People are willing to offer platitudes but no concrete help.

    But partly it may be our own fault in our pride at expecting others to offer help and suffering silently instead of humbly asking others assistance for some respite. I am so blessed to have teenage girls who are such a help to me and they would so gladly minister to other overwhelmed moms for free. I think there was a chapter about this kind of concrete help in Kimberly Hahn's Life Giving Love book. She touched upon much of what you are saying.

    Charlene, I will be praying your you. That God will give you His strength and grace. That He will send trustworthy people with servant hearts your way so that you may have some respite. You are not alone in your frustration with NFP but it may be time to reconsider your method. Have you looked into symto thermal (Couple to Couple) league? If I had cycles and fertility symptoms I'd probably charting with that one. I don't like flying blind so I opted for the Marquette method because it reliably tests hormonal changes. But it does feel like our intimacy is ruled by a petty tyrant (the monitor). We had a bit of a disappointing St. Valentine's just cuddling because the monitor read "high" that morning LOL

    God bless you!