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Throwing Out NFP

alec vanderboom

My husband and I had a little "kitchen summit" meeting after a pregnancy test came up negative on Saturday. I had some signs of pregnancy, and I never really know when Aunt Flo is going to reappear after childbirth. Twice, I've conceived a new baby while nursing a nine month old older sibling without having a period first. Currently, my newborn is ten weeks old and failing to breastfeeding in a normal pattern due to colic.

I surprised myself by being a little sad that the wash of blue sailed over the blank space without coalescing into that all import blue line.

I've read six million blog posts extolling the virtues of Natural Family Planning (NFP), so I want to share the thought process of one, insignificant Catholic family--who decided not to use contraception, of course, but also decided not to use NFP either.

Our Catechism talks about things that are not allowed in fertility planning, contraception, IVF, artificial insemination, etc. There isn't a real deep discussion of the flip decision --when to be open to life. This is a really important spiritual concept. The entire salvation of our human race happened because one person said "YES" to conceiving Our Lord at a time when pregnancy wasn't exactly the best fit on her personal life timetable. I'm not trying to irresponsible with my fallopian tubes, but there is this sense that my husband and I share, that good things happen when we trust God.

Our hearts have been shaped by leaving the sin of contraception, an unplanned contraceptive "accident", a miscarriage, secondary infertility, and a sick infant who almost died in the NICU. We're blessed by these trials. We're not the same people who flippantly talked about babies belonging in our late 30s after we're done settling into marriage and seeing the world.

Our humility in regard recognizing that God controls our fertility and not us, is hard won. We know that babies are gifts. The best ones are often unplanned. Babies might not stay in your womb or your arms as long as you want. I'll be damned if I'm going to answer this question "When am I ready to care for another child?" in the same way at age 37, that I did at age 28. I'm a different woman. I'm a different mother.

The Catechism talks about decisions regarding "responsible parenthood." Jon and I broke that down into three categories during our kitchen summit: financial standing, physical health and emotional health.

First, the financial facts. My husband and I are blessed to be Carmelites. We expect poverty. Its actually a spiritual blessing to have more mouths to feed with the same amount of money. My husband is blessed with work currently. We can afford to feed and clothe another baby. We home-school, so additional education expenses aren't a problem.

In deciding to be open to life right now, we decided to not worry about catostrophic events in the future. My husband might lose his job in this horrible economy--and if that happens, I might be too afraid to get pregnant until he finds another--but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. I won't turn down a new baby because of some future "what ifs".. what if he loses his job, what if this kid needs braces, what if we're forced to pay the full cost of 6 college educations, etc.

The same goes for my physical health. For now, my health is good. My fifth c-section was my easiest one. We're going to double check with experts to make sure that my uterus is healthy and healed. Everything in our experience is pointing that I've received extra grace to heal well from surgery, so there is nothing to say I can't heal similarly from a sixth. I'm not going to stop having babies based on some abstract number. I'm going to keep being open to babies until I get some sort of firm direction (in prayer or in my doctor's office) to stop.

Then there is my mental health. I think there is some sort of social pressure which says that having babies "to close together" is too hard on a Mom. There is some sort of deep seated fear I'm going to turn into one of those psycho Moms who drown the kids in the bathtub. It's so weird for me, because I have anxiety issues and post-partum depression in my past. So its not like I'm randomly walking around going "Hey, six kids under age 10--no problemo!"

I guess where I am, is that I really, truly trust God. I know that he's got me firmly by the hand. I know in the marrow of my bones that the grace he hands out to all Mothers is real. I just feel like, if he's got me through Five, there's no reason to not trust him to get me through Six.

Once again, I've got humility. Things might change. If I get cancer and I need to go on dangerous drugs, Jon and I will need to practice abstinence. If my anxiety issues get out of hand, then we'll revisit the issue. On the other hand, if I get to 43 without a new baby, we might revisit our old friend, NFP again. This time to try to become pregnant, not avoid it.

However, I'm not going to be afraid to have another baby because I'm convinced that it might ruin my physical health, drive me to the insane asylum, or drive us into the poor house. God has too good of a track record with us to fall for those old tricks.

Which leads me to the real issue for the Benjamins not to have another baby 10 weeks after childbirth--its embarrassing. My parents will hate it. His mother will hate it. People are church will raise their eyebrows. Strangers in Wal-Mart will say "are they all yours?" with even greater inflection.

Vanity is a pretty stupid reason to say no to God. Even for me. And I'm very, very vain.

So I'm saying YES. Or more accurately, I'm a little overwhelmed with caring for colic girl right now so my response is more like "Well, maybe a new baby..."