31 Days of Writing with the Nester,  Contraception,  Marriage,  NFP,  Sex

I’m contracepting because I’m being responsible

So you’re going to have a baby. Congratulations! Now let’s sit down and discuss how much that’s going to cost you, exactly. I think the going rate is like 300K from birth through college, but I don’t really have time to google it. So be my guest. Anyway it’s a crapload of money, so I hope you’ve got a great job, a banging 401K, and an unlimited slush fund for plastic surgery, because also, your midsection is headed down the road to ruin.

I’ve heard over and over again from plenty of people all the reasons why having more kids is stupid/too expensive/too dangerous/not possible in their situation.

I don’t want to make light of suffering and real, incredible hardships. Are there couples who absolutely cannot find another penny to afford another morsel of bread or drop of milk to sustain the lives of their children and should therefore be conscientiously choosing to postpone or avoid the conception of additional offspring. Absolutely. All over the world. In our county too. There are couples who are suffering and whose families are under incredible strain, both financial and otherwise.

And to these couples the Church champions the ONLY sane, compassionate and 100% failsafe approach, and that is abstinence during times of fertility.

To act otherwise, to do the thing with your body that says “I am open to life, I am doing the thing which has the potential to create new life” and then to be shocked or saddened or horrified when life finds a way (as it often does, Dr. Grant) is madness.

Here’s the bottom line here: when there is a circumstance that would make having another baby absolutely positively bat shit out of control crazy … you should not have sex, which is how babies are made.

Now let’s talk about the less serious issues driving the “we just can’t have any (more)” narrative. I get it, kids are expensive. The economy is crazy. Life is uncertain.

But that’s just it. Life is uncertain. You never know what the next year or hell, even the next day is going to bring. There’s just no way to entirely leverage your risk and manage your exposure in this life. And that includes the realm of family planning.

Now, the Church does not encourage wild, unfettered pop-em-till-you-drop copulation at the expense of the mother’s (or father’s, or family’s) health or sanity. That’s a tired old stereotype that was probably born out of some poor pastoral care and some truth. But we have such beautiful, life giving and profoundly freeing teachings on sex and love and marriage literally at our fingertips. It’s breathtaking.

(Go ahead and google “Humanae Vitae” right now. I’ll wait. Okay, now leave it open in your window and promise you’ll read it next. It’s like 5 pages long.)

Meanwhile, we are trying so desperately and so futilely to control and to manage and to arrange every single aspect of our lives – it’s as though God is not present at all, or at best is some doddering deadbeat of a deity who grumps at us from the Old Testament and shouts “thou shalt not’s” at us from his celestial perch.

The Church’s teaching on contraception is not a restriction. It is not a “thou shalt not.” It is an invitation to freedom. To wild trust and abandonment. To another way of living, to a fuller way of living. It is, quite simply, utterly counter cultural and completely unreasonable.

But whose standard of reason are we applying?

The world’s?

How’s that working out for us?

I’m extending an invitation to you to take a second look. To open your mind to the possibility that it might not be completely stupid to take the the Bride of Christ, the Catholic Church, at her word when she invites her children to not do the thing which will harm them. Jesus asks hard things of us when we take up our crosses and follow him. Sometimes the hard things are shaped like babies. And sometimes they’re shaped like seasons of abstinence and self denial. And sometimes they’re shaped like little pink pill cases nestled into the bottom of the bathroom trash can, opening up a new chapter and a new season of possibility.

Never say never.

Read the rest of the series here.


  • Christine

    I loved this line: “The Church’s teaching on contraception is not a restriction. It is not a “thou shalt not.” It is an invitation to freedom. To wild trust and abandonment.” Very true. I’m enjoying this series, Jenny, and very impressed that you’re able to bust out so many thoughtful posts in such rapid succession!

  • Kathleen

    I’m Christian but not Catholic specifically. However, one of my best friends went to a local Catholic college (we were roommates at the time) and she took a class about all this stuff…not sure what it was called but it was about human sexuality, etc. She wrote a paper on contraception and I read it and it completely revolutionized my thinking. I actually saved her paper bc it was so great. It was for that reason that I went off birth control (which I was on for other problems) when I got married and have never gotten back on. My doctor thinks I’m crazy sometimes but that’s fine!

  • Liz von Ehrenkrook

    Loved this: “The Church’s teaching on contraception is not a restriction. It is not a “thou shalt not.” It is an invitation to freedom. To wild trust and abandonment. To another way of living, to a fuller way of living. It is, quite simply, utterly counter cultural and completely unreasonable.”

    Totally blew my mind to consider this angle and I appreciate hearing you say contraception is not a “thou shalt not”.

    My husband and I have made the decision not to have children so I choose birth control. It is so hard for Christians to understand, and we often feel misunderstood. Our marriage is built on a spiritual foundation and we don’t haphazardly plan without considering what God is asking of us. We feel at peace being a two-person family and commit our time to ministry – and we have so much more time for ministry because we don’t have children.

    Thank you for sharing! I love hearing about the Catholic church’s perspective through your voice!

    • Marsha O'Flaherty

      Sorry… but you need to reread the first sentence. She is not saying that “contraception is not a ‘thou shalt not’ .” She is saying that the Church’s teaching on contraception is not a “thou shalt not”. Believing Catholics chose the ministry that GOD sends them. And married Catholics have accepted the ministry to bring souls into the world. Unmarried Catholics practice the other ministries. We bloom where we are planted. And the main point of being married is to bring children into the world… to learn to know, love and serve God here… then return to Him in the eternal happiness of Heaven. That is our ministry as “married” Catholics.

    • Lillian Keil

      Liz, I am also not Catholic but very intrigued by the idea of openness to life. My husband and I have two little kids and are currently trying to delay (but not necessarily avoid) pregnancy. The scripture we kept coming back to was Paul’s assertion in 1 Corinthians 7 that singleness makes it easier to have undivided devotion to God. Logically I think it follows that childlessness (or limited family size) could also be good, IF it makes it easier for you to have undivided spiritual devotion. But personally I think having kids has done more for my spiritual life than not having them would have, though obviously there is no way of knowing.

    • Liz von Ehrenkrook

      Marsha and Lillian, thank for giving me more input!

      As a youth pastor’s wife who spends most days, and often late nights, caring for parents and their teens, my husband and I believe we are actively answering God’s call by not having our own children. If we did have kids, the way we minister would need to shift drastically – and that’s not bad, but it’s not something we are being led into by the Holy Spirit. And ministering together, as a team, has aligned our spirituality like never before.

      Also, my personal spiritual life has grown immensely from working alongside teens as they wrestle with owning their faith – so Lillian, I absolutely agree that kids do so much for your spiritual growth. You are so so right!

      I appreciate you both engaging with me and offering other perspectives.

      • Heidi

        Seems to me that if the Lord believed that you and your husband are best off not having children, he would not send you any. If you are indeed following the Spirit, then you have no need of contraceptives. They enforce our will upon the situation instead of accepting God’s will.

  • Marsha O'Flaherty

    I’m an older Catholic mom of ten beautiful children. And I am massively impressed with what you have written so far. It is wonderful to see that there are those in the younger generation who have found the truths the Church teaches, and are not afraid to trust God and try to live those truths in all their beauty! Keep up the good work. I do hope you are going to bring up nursing and the importance of that first 9 months of the baby’s life. Once you find how wonderful that is, (and that God built that physical space in), it is amazing to see how it works for both mom and baby!

  • Kelly

    I work with homeless families who do not qualify for government assistance for housing because they make “too much” money. This currently means that if you are a single mother with one child making $9/hr working 40 hrs a week, you do not receive any help with housing. For many of these families, another child at this time would simply be untenable. However, the conclusion that “they should just not have sex” is also a very harsh, and honestly privileged judgement. Sex, in marriage, is an incredibly important part of intimacy. Yet, for families whose economic and community situation is more than stressed, does this mean that they must forgo this aspect of their marriage? The conclusion that they can have sex once “things get sorted” is woefully out of touch with the reality that many Americans live in a constant state of true economic hardship. This is not closing the door to life, this is respecting the lives of their current children and of themselves as parents.

    • Mary

      Hi Kelly!
      Just to clarify, Jenny stated that to avoid getting pregnant, a couple should abstain only during the fertile time of the woman’s cycle. This is also the teaching of the Catholic church. Of course a couple may have sex during infertile times! This is where Natural Family Planning comes in, to help the couple identify the woman’s fertile times. And no, it’s not the “rhythm method”. There are several methods of Natural Family Planning that aid a woman in her fertility awareness. With these awesome methods, women can often identify, almost to the day, when they are ovulating. I could tell you with as much certainty as is humanly possible when each of my four children were conceived, thanks to NFP. And my husband and I also have managed not to get pregnant by abstaining when I’m fertile and coming together when I’m not. It would be much more dignified and edifying for those in poverty to actually be taught how their bodies work rather than throwing pills at them.

    • Catherine

      Kelly, I agree with you that we also need to advocate for the existing family. I struggle with where the line is drawn on medical technology. Yes, self-denial of appetites is good for spiritual growth, but we don’t tell diabetics to reject insulin and just have more more self-control. So why is a thermometer and a phone app (daily work which falls disproportionately on the woman, and feels pretty physically invasive to me) an acceptable use of technology, when *all* other contraceptives are rejected? “NFP vs. the pill” is a false dichotomy because there are non-abortifacient options that are neither chemically nor physically intrusive and seem to meet all the criteria being discussed (and are much more reliable while breastfeeding, another sacramental activity the church should encourage).

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