If any Catholic calls NFP “contraception” or “Catholic Birth Control”, then either that Catholic does not know what the Church teaches, or that Catholic is purposely abusing language (i.e. lying).
Contraception is, in itself, a grave sin (and, thus could very well be mortal much of the time) … to say that NFP is “Catholic contraception” (or a “form of contraction”, as does RK) will very quickly lead many to think that the every use of NFP (in itself, according to the object of the act) is a sin of grave matter (and likely mortal).
If we end up making a couple think that their (legitimate or only venially sinful) use of NFP is a mortal sin (by comparing NFP to Contraception), then we would wrongly convince a couple of mortal sin.
But St. Alphonsus tells us that, if we make a person to believe (falsely) that they have have committed a mortal sin, we ourselves are guilty of a grave sin (which is to say, we could very well have committed a mortal sin).
Thus, the importance of being careful with our use of language! Many, I am convinced, many of the traditionalists that keep comparing NFP to contraception are in serious danger of committing mortal sin by misleading persons in this way.
Words have meaning, abuse of language is wrong … call it a “selfish mentality” or a “sinful mentality”, but if you call it a “contraceptive mentality” you are a liar, you expose the Church’s teaching to the critique of secularists, and you mislead the faithful.
Have you ever thought “NFP= surprise babies” or said something like “NFP was the best mistake I ever made?”
Or are you one of those who worries that NFP is misused, used with a contraceptive mentality, too effective at avoiding pregnancy, or over-taught to young couples who have no reason to use it?
If so, have you considered that perhaps you do not understand how NFP actually works? Yes, there can be the occasional purely miraculous surprise pregnancy with NFP. Yes some couples may struggle with separate (I cannot say “unrelated” because all of our life is interrelated) sins of selfishness while practicing periodic abstinence for the sake of avoiding pregnancy. But NFP itself inherently avoids both problems. How? Math.
The effectiveness of NFP is very closely matched to the determination of the couple to avoid pregnancy.
If one is very strongly motivated to avoid pregnancy, then it is likely that one will be willing not only to observe and faithfully chart multiple fertility signs, one will also be willing to accept significant abstinence.
If one desires to avoid pregnancy, but is somewhat less motivated, then one can skip charting in favor of methods that don’t require good records, chart poorly (noting observations on some, but not all days), track fewer fertility signs, or, the most classic of all: abstain less.
There are some people who are simply misinformed. They may mistakenly expect NFP to be 99% reliable for avoiding pregnancy without following the rules that allow for such a rate. Some examples:
The woman who is shocked to be pregnant when she thought she was being so conservative with NFP, even though she was not charting was probably either using the rhythm method or two-day method, or intuition, and while all of those are methods of NFP in the strictest sense, they are all methods where a “surprise” pregnancy shouldn’t be shocking.
The woman who is new to NFP and says that she “ovulated early” and was “not supposed to ovulate until 3 days later” than she did In reality, one has to chart cycles for 12 months before one can say anything about when one as an individual woman is “supposed” to ovulate. The whole “day 14″ thing is just a generalization. If one is depending on a theoretical view of when women generally ovulate, then one is using the classic rhythm method and should expect a pregnancy within about 5 years of using it faithfully.
The woman who “must have ovulated twice, or something” This is the reason God invented thermometers. And cervixes. And patience. And fertility monitors. And diligent following of the rules of the BOM-based method if that is really what one wants to use. Though, if this is an issue for you then I can’t imagine why a woman with access to computers would want to only use one sign of fertility and ignore all the rest. But that is another issue.
The woman who carefully follows her 96% effective method only to find herself in the 4% who become pregnant This may be the result of starting a method that assumes infertility for the first 6 days, and being one of the rare women who has cycles so short that this rule is inapplicable. Or it could be only making external observations of cervical fluid when you are a woman who really needs internal observations. Or it could be counting as infertile days prior to ovulation where there is no cervical fluid, even though it will start an hour later. These are not precisely the same as the previous cases, but the couples who choose to follow these methods need to be aware of the likelihood that they may indeed be the reasonable exceptions.
The man who does not know what rules were being followed, or even anything about his wife’s fertility cycles, he just knows that they were “using NFP to avoid” and she got pregnant These are always sad cases because they indicate the fact that, while NFP is never contraceptive, men can experience it in the same way that they experience contraceptive methods which are simply left to the wife to take care of. Men, for practical purposes, if you don’t understand the logic of where your wife is in her fertility cycle and why conception is unlikely, you should assume that it is likely.
Now, if you were one of the people on the other side, you should now have a slight inkling about what it is you were missing when it comes to assuming that NFP is selfishly overused. NFP requires a lot of dedication. In order for NFP to be used as an extremely effective tool for avoiding pregnancy, a couple must be willing to abstain a lot. Yes, NFP may be a good tool for avoiding pregnancy without a lot of work or abstinance for a few women for a few cycles, but eventually it takes both serious dedication to observing and charting fertility signs and significant abstinence.
If a couple does not have a good reason to avoid pregnancy, then it is highly unlikely that they will be willing to put in the diligent effort that it takes to practice NFP in a way that is highly effective. Not only is God always in charge of conception (or the lack thereof), fertility awareness + abstinence for avoiding pregnancy is specifically orientated toward being ineffective for those who do not have a serious reason to avoid pregnancy.
Ultimately the NFP equation of fertility awareness + abstinence =no pregnancy means that NFP is incredibly scalable in its effectiveness for avoiding pregnancy. Those who are seriously motivated to learn rigorous forms of NFP, and then continue to be motivated to chart faithfully and abstain as much as is necessary are incredibly unlikely to experience a surprise pregnancy. But those who are not willing to put forth the dedication and self-control will find NFP significantly less than “very effective” for avoiding pregnancy.
This is why it is incorrect to see NFP as either inherently ineffective or easy to misuse. NFP is both effective and challenging. And that is precisely why it is such a wonderful tool for a couple who seeks to follow the Church’s guidance in determining the number of children that is appropriate for their family.]]>
In my mind one does not have enough money to have a child (in the US) if one does not have enough money to pay for nutritious food for the child, and more immediately for the pregnant mother.
For me it would seem incredibly virtuous and self-sacrificial for a couple to delay children under such a circumstance, even if it did mean never having children.
It is sometimes a challenge for me to remember that the rest of the (good, conservative) Catholic world (in the United States) views children so very differently than I do. I view children as a supreme gift from God, and in many cases the greatest blessing of marriage.
Others seem to view children primarily as an obligation which can only be avoided for grave reason. And so, while I am inclined to think of what I need to do in order to be adequately prepared for the awesome privileged of being a parent, others are inclined to think of whether they have a good enough reason to get out of being a parent.
I am sure that all of my dear readers are now judging me as judgmental (and I’ll post more about that another time) so I feel the need to explain that I do not presume to know enough about others to have any idea of how they make their actual choices (talk, especially online, does not necessarily correspond that closely to behavior in reality). All I know is the implications based on what they say to me, and the tremendous sins into which I would fall if I accepted their counsel. This is, as usual, all about how I think.
For me, it seems that sex is so connected to procreation that it is irresponsible to engage in sexual intercourse without first considering whether one has sufficiently prepared for the likelihood of conception following from that act. It seems to me that basic justice would dictate that if one has not taken basic steps needed for responsible parenthood, then one should abstain from the act which would lead to the conception of a child who would be hurt by one’s lack of responsibility.
We are not currently able to fully eradicate miscarriage or congenital disorders. But we can take the basic steps necessary to dramatically reduce them. To me it would be basic responsibility to ask myself whether I have been able to take care of my body (and my spouse’s) for the last few months in order to do what is reasonably possible to reduce harm to any child who might be conceived. If the answer was that no and I had not been able to get adequate nutrients (particularly in the past several weeks–think of the importance of folate etc. preconception), or that my husband has not (months ago) been able to consume the nutrients that we know are necessary for preventing miscarriage, then I would consider myself obligated to abstain from sex if it were at all likely to result in conception.
Because of my understanding of responsibility, and justice, it is difficult for me to see how others can think of engaging in conjugal intercourse as nothing more than an issue of generosity. It is certainly an issue of generosity, but for those of us who believe that sexual intercourse must irrevocably be tied to procreation, it is about so very much more than simply having sex when we like and generously accepting whatever God happens to throw our way.
I know that for many of us simply having a child is the best way for us to mature to the point of loving self-sacrificially. But I do not think that that means that we need to ignore the reality of the ideals of justice and responsibility and hold up thoughtless sexual activity as the standard of generosity.
So, while I can appreciate the idea of not expecting a perfect moment for a baby (and certainly letting go of the idea that one needs to have the next 18+ years paid for!), I do not find the counsel to ignore finances to be universally sound advice.]]>
Q: Is there ever a medical reason for using the Birth Control Pill? There is always an alternative which may uncover the problem which caused the gynecologic disorder for which the pill was prescribed. There is always a reason why women don’t ovulate normally, have intermenstrual bleeding, have pain or infertility. To prescribe the pill for these symptoms may delay or prevent a diagnosis. Source.
Do you see what that actually says? You might think that it is a very long drawn out “no” but that isn’t what it says. What it basically says is that prior to going on the pill there is always an option for diagnosing the actual source of the issue. Going on the pill without investigating the issue might mean risking a lack of correct diagnosis.
But this says nothing about whether there will be non-pill remedies once a diagnosis is made, or whether the diagnosis will be helpful for anything other than having a nice name for one’s symptoms.
The real answer is that yes, there are sometimes medical reasons for using the pill, and even NFP only doctors will prescribe it for therapeutic reasons. One can hope that they will first do a good job of making a correct diagnosis and then exhausting other options for treatment, but sometimes the same hormones that are used for contraception can also be used to eliminate pain and preserve fertility.
It is confusing and troubling to some, but it is also reality. And it is probably better to simply not address the subject if one is unable to address it fairly.]]>
And I must confess, I’m a little bit fascinated with the concept of being blocked, and wondering why people block me. I only block people who are spammers, so I am inclined to imagine that these people must see me as an irredeemable evil. Otherwise, why wouldn’t they let me follow them and learn from their wisdom?
Just now I was again taken into contemplating this issue because the top of the #CatholicRulesforTwitter page contained tweets from two people who are blocking me. One I know about because she is a woman whom I respect, and I previously sought her out to follow, only to discover that I was blocked. The other I did not know about at all until I saw his funny tweet and went to star it and add him to my Catholic Dads list.
These are, of course, not the only people to block me, but I find it most fascinating because they represent opposite ends of the Catholic spectrum. I would like to pretend that that must mean that I am perfectly balanced, but I know the truth is just that I somehow manage to offend everybody!
One of the things that I loved about the big ol’ Twitter party that Jonathan started was the fact that so many of us with our very different preferred versions of Catholicism were having such a great time enjoying the humor. I could see the tints of our various approaches easily through the joking, but it was pure fun.
And somehow, even people who loathe me enough to block me were drawn into the goodness of it all. The funny thing about being a part of the Church is that you can never really block another member out. They will still reach you, and impact you, through the greater Communion.
Now, if only I can manage to be as chill about the people whom I offend with my blog…]]>
My parents told us kids a lot about fasting from food and not-a-lot about married people abstaining from sex. This makes sense given the fact that their sexual relationship was none of our business and we didn’t really have any need to think about religious sexual abstinence in our own lives. But we did know that the main reason the Bible addresses married abstinence is for prayer (not avoiding babies, lest the overly-zealous NFP-pushers confuse you).
So while I didn’t actually learn about the Christian tradition of married sexual abstinence until I was in college, I did not feel like I was learning anything. It simply does not make sense to have sex on a day of penance as sex is happy and penitential days are sad. This was intuitive knowledge. It was less obvious to me why there had been so many restrictions on conjugal intercourse on feast days, but the rest of it required no thought on my part. It was simply obviously true, and while I learned various facts from an academic perspective, my faith required no molding.
A few months before I got married my mother made comments about me possibly being a mother within a year. I knew that Josh’s family was likely similarly speculative, and so I told him that if they started asking questions that I didn’t feel like dealing with, I would solemnly tell them that we were so desirous of children that we’d been fasting and praying for them continually from the beginning. This was to be amusing because everybody knows that the implication is that we’d been trying to get a baby from God while never engaging in the act through which God typically grants children. Everyone knows that if you’re fasting you’re not having sex.
I did not learn the truth until I read infertility blogs. Women who thought of themselves as pious Catholics posted publicly about having sex during HOLY WEEK! There was no “we felt called to try to conceive a child during this holy time of penance” or anything else, just a complete lack of concern for anything other than having a baby.
After much denial, I gradually I came to understand that American Catholics really *are* as liturgically clueless as we are so often accused.
When I jokingly mentioned having sex on a Friday I did not think of it as personal. It was a joke and while I don’t ever directly address what I do or don’t do sexually, it doesn’t seem any more intimate to joke about penitential sexual abstinence than it does to Tweet vegetarian recipes with the #FridayFood tag. They may or may not be penitential for me, and I may or may not be fasting in some form or other, but as someone who Tweets random Catholic things it makes sense for me to say things that fit into a context of Christian tradition of penance, right?
While I don’t go around trying to bring back Ember Days or get Western Christians to give up olive oil, I don’t see why anyone would think of sexual abstinence as somehow randomly disconnected from other penance post-Vatican II or whatever. Yes, maybe our catechesis stinks so much that people really think it is fitting to give no thought to the crucifixion on Fridays and Lent is all about giving up chocolate and skipping lunch on Good Friday. But is it possible that our society is really so sexually dysfunctional that we no longer feel the natural connection between penitential days and sexual abstinence?
I don’t care who does what in the bedroom. I am aware of many good reasons for modifying penitential practices to fit into the reality of family life. I just do not understand why people think of standard Christian practice as peculiar or uber-holy or demanding. You don’t have to study Medieval canon law to just know that it isn’t normal to fast from food while indulging in sex. Or do you? Have our norms changed so much that one really must grow up in an extreme-Christian (or at least Eastern Christian) family in order to find abstinence more meaningful than merely skipping meat seven days a year?
These are questions that I don’t really want answered right now. It has been long enough that I’m no longer scandalized by what is apparently the real norm for American Latin Rite Catholics. But not quite enough time has passed for me to accept the Eastern bashing which insists that Westerners are, well, not exactly Christian, when it comes to penance.
So this is the closest I’ll get to a concession for now, and comments are closed.]]>
Which leads me to a thought: healthy married men enjoy sex. Hence they are aware of the difficulty of abstinence, and the laughability of our excessive focus on how exactly married couples may enjoy conjugal intercourse during times of low fertility.
There are, of course, always a few exceptions. But these seem to me to come from those who have at least some guilt over their lack of self-control, and so seek to justify it by condemning others for a practice which not only requires self-control, but results in a better (at least in the immediate sense–I do not imply that children themselves are ever anything less than good) situation overall.
So, maybe, just maybe we should all chill out in our condemnations and recognize a bit of reality. Married couples are naturally oriented toward conjugal intercourse. Sexual abstinence is not easy. And apparently neither is charity in understanding the struggles of marriage.
If a couple has a contraceptive mentality, then they will engage in contraception. Nothing is gained from misusing the Church’s terms in order to condemn those who follow Christ in a way which is unfamiliar to us.
If your libido is low enough that abstaining unjustly seems like a real danger for you, then embrace God’s gift to you and spend time in prayer and fasting for those who have more common struggles.]]>
When I was 9 years old my mother went to the healthfood store for something or other to help with her menopause symptoms. But for some reason she hesitated to actually start her new regimen. It turned out that she was pregnant, and my childhood was shaped by my mother’s expressions of thankfulness that she had delayed her natural remedies since it was extremely likely that they would have ended her pregnancy before she even knew about it.
In high school and college I read feminist literature of all sorts, and that included information about ancient, natural means for “interrupting pregnancy.” I cannot find any of the websites now, but the more legitimate looking ones included disclaimers and statistics of this or that method having been observed to work 30-50% of the time, but that it was at least worth a shot before one went to an abortion clinic.
So I tend to view “natural” ways of dealing with gynecological problems with at least as much suspicion as modern medicine. And I am quite bothered by those who tell others that using the pill for menstrual problems is sin, but give carte blanche to all “natural” remedies.
But I am still shocked to see what seems to me to be pretty stinking obvious indications that natural remedies are far more likely to result in abortion/miscarriage than the pill.
I recently read What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Premenopause. It is completely against the pill and instead offers suggestions of natural remedies to deal with various women’s health issues. The section on endometiosis begins with the statement that “endometriosis is very difficult to treat” which filled me with optomism since it seemed as if they were taking it seriously. Then came:
Dr. Lee has successfully treated endometriosis using relatively high doeses of progesterone cream to create a pseudopregnancy state from day 5 to day 28 (or whenever yoru normal cycle ends) of the menstrual month. This involves using 40 to 60 mg progesterone daily during those days, or 960 mg per month. This will often cause the pain to subside by the third or fourth month. In some patients with particularly stubborn endometriosis, he has increased the daily dose to 80 mg per day. Once the pain has been reduced, the dosage may be reduced gradulally each month to find a dose that keeps the pain away.
Progesterone, at doses similar to the first month of pregnancy, limits the endometrial tissue buildup caused by estrogen. By preventing the monthly release of blood in the endometrial islets, the inflammation that previously flared each month will subside, and the healing forces of nature will return the endometrial islets back to normal tissue. (Source pages 192-193)
That all sounds great, right? It does the same thing as the pill, except it is natural!
Except, of course, for the fact that unlike the pill, it hasn’t actually been tested to prevent ovulation, so you have no idea how the pseudopregnancy state is actually working in your body, and taking the week-long break is setting your body up for miscarriage. In short, you are much more likely to be conceiving and then miscarrying using this method than using the pill. And the troubling thing is that is obvious to anyone who actually reads the entire book. It isn’t exactly a secret.
In the section on infertility, the book offers this advice:
If you want to be pregnant and you’re using progesterone cream, it’s very important to keep using progesterone until you find out whether you’re pregnant. (You can take a pregnancy test a few days after your period would normally be due.) The sudden drop in progesterone levels created if you stop using the cream can cause what is, in effect, an abortion, by bringing on menstruation. This is the same concept used in the so-called morning-after pill, only in that case a very potent synthetic progestin is used in high doses.
So the advice given to women with endometriosis is, according to the infertility section, setting them up to “cause what is, in effect, an abortion, by bringing on menstruation” each month!
And I am no more impressed by the other suggestions that I have seen for herbs to use. For instance, one list of herbs recomended is:
You do not need to look up everything on the list unless it interests you, but “everyone” knows that vitex (also called chasteberry and who knows what else) is contraindicated during pregnancy because of what it does to the uterus, and blue cohosh? That only shows up on all the lists of abortion-inducing herbs. Nothing to worry about. Oh, except for the fact that since you have no idea what strength you’re taking you may overdose and seriously hurt yourself as well.
This should not be taken as an indication that I oppose herbal remedies. I do not oppose herbs or other natural remedies. I just happen to think that “natural” remedies are much more likely to both allow a pregnancy and then harm it than any pill taken as prescribed. So please do not tell me that “there are effective, natural alternatives to the pill” without telling me exactly what it is you’re so excited about. And if you want to combat reproductive health treatments that might possibly harm babies, you should probably focus on condemning “natural” remedies, not the pill.]]>
It is deeply disturbing to note the number of otherwise faithful Catholics who have no problem with engaging in sexual intercourse within months of the wife giving birth, and even while she is still breastfeeding! This, of course, was not always the case as faithful Christians used to believe that it was wrong to engage in conjugal intercourse while a woman was pregnant or breastfeeding.
But now Catholics disregard tradition and selfishly engage in a practice which results in abortions. We all know that women who nurse are unlikely to get pregnant. But what most people ignore is the fact that many (all?!) women’s hormones take some time to regulate after pregnancy and breastfeeding. This means that once she begins to ovulate the luteal phase is often too short to sustain pregnancy (luteal phase defect).
In the postpartum women, 32% of first cycles were anovulatory, and among ovulatory cycles, 73% had abnormally low luteal phase PdG excretion or short luteal phases. In second and subsequent cycles, 15% were anovulatory and 26% had luteal phase abnormalities. Source
Breastfeeding, of course, only prolongs the process of getting hormones back in balance. This means that women are extending the amount of time during which they may have sex while their bodies cannot sustain pregnancy, therefore causing abortions.
Your NFP teacher may tell you that you are “naturally infertile” and unlikely to get pregnant in the first few cycles after giving birth or as long as you are breastfeeding, but unless she is exceptionally informed and honest, she won’t tell you that the reason is that your body is incapable of sustaining pregnancy. Look around you. You know all of your friends who have babies 13 months apart? Well that is just because their bodies somehow managed to overcome the odds and sustain life. But most women who have sex within months of pregnancy or nursing simply end up with abortions they never knew about.
It is immoral to have sex before your hormones have returned to normal. You may disregard this fact, but if you do so you are killing your babies.
Note: please remember, this was all sarcastic. I will return to seriousness in the comment section should you wish to discuss it and the logic behind telling women that they may not use artificial hormones for pain management.
I am quite saddened by the number of faithful Catholics who assert that it is immoral for women to use artificial hormones (henceforth “the pill”) for therapeutic purposes (henceforth endometriosis, because ultimately everything is about me). This is one of a series of posts which will explain why I find their arguments sadly unconvincing. If you see what I’m missing, do chime in and kindly explain. Of course convincing me on one issue will not automatically change my mind, but it would be a start.
Dr Van der Vange’s research used high resolution ultra-sound which visually showed that women ovulate on the popularly prescribed low dose pill. A blood test confirmed that ovulation had occurred. The pill can have a break-through ovulation rate that can be as high as 17 ovulations per 100 women who used the pill for one year.
Other researchers have shown that the low dose pill has an even higher rate of break-through ovulation of almost 27 ovulations per 100 women per year.
The ovulation rate has been reported to be about 27 ovulations in 100 women using the pill for one year. But the detected pregnancy rate is much lower at around 4 pregnancies per 100 women using the pill for one year.
As you can see, there is a big difference between the number of women who ovulation (27) and the number of detected pregnancies (4). What has happened within the woman’s body to reduce the high ovulation rate to such a low number of detected pregnancies? I suggest that one answer to this important question is that pregnancies have begun, because ovulation and fertilization have occurred, but some of these pregnancies are terminated because implantation cannot take place. The pill has damaged the lining of the womb, stopping implanation[sic]. Source
I think we’re missing something. Let’s do the math. And since I’m not so great at math, you’re more than welcome to correct me.
A healthy woman (of unknown age, but in her reproductive years) has about a 25% chance of pregnancy for each month of randomly timed sexual intercourse with no attempt at avoiding pregnancy. Wikipedia says so, so it must be true.
But back to the women on the pill: 27 women who ovulate and have randomly timed intercourse. The pregnancy rate should be… ::counts on fingers. realizes fingers will never work and pulls up the calculator:: 6.25. But wait! That 27 number was from the low dose pill. And what woman with serious hormonal issues like endometriosis is going for the low dose pill? Certainly not me! So I’ll have to add this up again.
17 x 0.25 = 4.25. Now isn’t that funny! That looks a whole lot like the 4 pregnancies observed! Of course it isn’t realistic to expect a woman with reproductive health issues to have the same rate of pregnancy since the very issue which causes her to seek out the pill may also cause infertility.
I don’t think that this example proves that the pill is permissible, but it does indicate to me that this sort of anti-pill logic ignores reality. A woman’s body does not normally function with a 1:1 ratio or ovulation to pregnancy. There may well be *no* “missing” pregnancies.
Furthermore, if it is true that the pill can fail in one area (allowing ovulation) while still working correctly in another (preventing the thickening of the uterine lining) there is no reason to believe that it might not also succeed in the third area (making the cervical fluid inhospitable to sperm). If that is the case, then there is yet another explanation for lack of pregnancy: the sperm was prevented from reaching the egg. That would certainly count as contraceptive, but not abortifacient .]]>