I gave a little talk this morning to a group of pretty ladies in a parish north of Denver and I thought parts of it might be re-fashionable into a blog post. If it seems a little more obnoxious than usual, just imagine me speaking it to you in a hyper-caffeinated slur instead of it being the written word, and it should translate juuuuust fine.
I am in no position to talk to you about NFP, because:
- We’ve had 3 babies in 4 years, the most recent edition being somewhat surprising in her timing
- I forget to chart. Often.
- I frequently say terrible things like “Let’s give them back” or “Let’s never have sex again” … in jest, of course, but still… what kind of a mother/wife/Catholic says those things?
- I have often fantasized about taking a magical pill which will forever ‘free’ me from the burden of motherhood.
And that’s exactly why I want to talk to you about contraception, which is, as it turns out, an entirely different animal from NFP.
NFP does not equal contraception. It is not ‘Catholic birth control,’ however persistently our illiterate culture pushes the notion. Contraception necessitates a step taken, a physical or chemical interference in the life-giving process of human sexuality.
Delaying conception, on the other hand, or to use soon-to-be-Bl. Pope Paul VI’s phrase, "the intentional spacing of children," does not tamper with the life-giving potential of sex.
On the contrary, using knowledge of one’s cycle to avoid a pregnancy virtually bows down in the face of Divinely created human fertility and says “I defer to your awesome power” — there’s no funny business about shutting down or circumventing or cutting off or wrapping up and proceeding as if nothing has changed.
So in this way, fertility awareness aka NFP aka 'birth control' in the real sense of the phrase is about the furthest thing from contraception. A better term for it might simply be self control.
Instead of enabling sterilized, life-denying sex, it summons temperance. Prudence. Delayed gratification. Concepts few couples seem to have room for in their bedrooms or their marriages in our present culture.
NFP says “I recognize the gift, I am in no position to receive the gift, I offer the gift back to the Giver in gratitude…even when it’s a difficult offering to make.”
And it's sometimes a very difficult offering -- both the abstaining part and the 'maybe we really are ready to welcome another child' part.
The Church isn't anti contraception because She is anti science or anti technology (couldn't be further from the truth, actually, but that's another post entirely), but rather, because contraception is fundamentally anti-woman and anti-life. And anything that opposes life itself definitely opposes the Source of all life.
It's not a matter of finding a 'natural' way to avoid getting pregnant; it's about coming to terms emotionally, intellectually, physically, and spiritually to the reality that sex and procreation are intentionally, inextricably linked. For a reason.
Contraception says, if you’ll forgive the expression, screw you, Giver…now shove aside so I can screw my partner.
Too crude? Maybe. But for those of us for whom sex is a daily topic of conversation with relative strangers, it’s probably not entirely shocking to hear a tired mom throw around the term “screw.”
Or if it is, then you need to spend more time in the checkout line at Target.
Are they all yours?
Are you done now?
Finally got your girl, huh?
Are you going to try to give her a sister?
Oh, they’re NOT twins?
You’ve been busy…
You do know what causes that, right?
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…until you think you might scream at the very next person who comments on your reproductive activities.
I actually fairly frequently encounter friendly, non-hostile and curious strangers who are genuinely surprised and happy - if a little confused - to see a youngish mom with so many little kids in her charge. Especially kids who look like they could maybe be twins but aren’t.
Nobody has kids as close together as some of us practicing Catholics tend to (well, maybe Mormons), and so while to some people it’s repulsive, for most it’s simply … surprising. And I don’t mind being surprising.
Except when my kids are misbehaving. Or when I’m sleep deprived. Or when I’m in a hurry and I honestly don’t want to talk to you about how you came from a family of 10 but your husband had a vasectomy and you always wondered if you should have tried for a third but it’s a relief to be done with the diaper stage, anyway, and doesn’titalljustgobysofastanyway?
Those are the times when I have to summon my deepest reserves of grace and patience and put-a-smile-on-your-face-and-make-this-look-good attitude, because I, me and my little family, and you and your families, are cultural missionaries — emissaries from another planet — however you want to look at it. And we must send the message that we come in peace.
I remember hearing about how an acquaintance’s husband would sometimes remind her to smile when they were in public, “so people will know we’re enjoying this.”
“This” being the teeming, boisterous life with 5 small children in tow.
I recall being mildly scandalized by this, hearing it with only a year or so of mothering my firstborn under my belt (and pregnant with my second born under my belt, literally) and wondering how he could be so callous toward her, because mothering is hard, dammit, and you’re reminding her to smile?!
Now that I’m deeper into it, I realize how right he was. I think about it often, talking myself down when somebody is melting down in the grocery store or trying to crack my nose with their skull while we share a skinny airplane seat or maybe just pew-diving on any given Sunday … I mentally revisit his very helpful reminder to “look like you’re enjoying this.”
Because for as much as our culture professes to hate life, to fear life, to seek its destruction, even…our culture is starving for a little slice of authentic happiness.
Bl. Mother Teresa said that Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.
I think if it’s a painful smile, like the kind you might flash at Costco when a particularly horrific behavioral issue might be rearing its head over the lack of quality of samples that day or the denial of ice-cream from the snack counter, it’s probably even more beautiful.
So, act like you’re enjoying it, mama. Even when you're not. Maybe especially when you're not.
NFP isn't the Catholic solution to the problem of 'too many children;' rather, it is the Church's response to the gaping void of too little love.