I sat in the hospital bed nursing my second baby, Harmon, and marveled at him. My VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) attempt had failed, and I had undergone my second cesarean, but the large cut in my abdomen didn’t dampen my contentment in that moment. I heard a knock on the door, and the doctor on call quietly came into the room and asked if we could talk about my plans for contraception once I left the hospital.
My peaceful moment was interrupted, and I automatically felt my tired body tense up. I was used to this talk from previous doctor’s visits and births, and I knew where we would end up: at a standstill about who knew best how to handle my fertility. I was firmly informed that I needed to postpone a subsequent pregnancy for at least two years due to complications during the surgery, and so I should begin taking birth control pills. I agreed that postponing another pregnancy seemed like the best course of action, declined the offer of pills, and asked if she could help me learn a natural way to postpone my next pregnancy. The physician was at a complete loss as to the best way to help me.
Looking for Support
In the months after we left the hospital with our son, I grew more and more frustrated about my experience. To my own surprise, it wasn’t the unhelpful and irrelevant medical advice I received that was the target of my growing frustration, but the Church. I wasn’t resentful of being in this position or irritated that the Church’s teaching on contraception even existed. Rather, I was frustrated by the lack of resources available to me to help me in my commitment to Church teaching.
I wasn’t resentful of being in this position or irritated that the Church’s teaching on contraception even existed. Rather, I was frustrated by the lack of resources available to me to help me in my commitment to Church teaching.
I live in the mountains of southwest Virginia in a rural community. My home parish consists of four individual churches, and we share one priest. There are few Catholics in the area, and the resources available to us as a community reflect that reality. One area in which there are little to no resources available is natural family planning (NFP) instruction. We have no instructors, no classes, and no materials, yet we are called to the same level of adherence to the teaching on contraception as parishioners of a church with 1,500 families and ample financial resources, such as the parish 500 miles away in our state capital of Richmond. That parish, and others surrounding it, regularly offer NFP classes. My parish, in the four years I have attended, has never had someone come teach a class, much less have print resources consistently available for young couples.
As a faithful, working Catholic woman, one of the hardest things the Church asks of me is to adhere to its teaching on contraception. I find the Catholic commitment to life wholesome and true and, due to the lack of resources, extremely difficult to practice. All of the information I know about NFP, Church teaching, and contraceptives has come from my own online research. Catholic mom blogs about NFP are numerous, but one consistent theme I have noticed is that NFP, in all its variations, is difficult to learn properly if not learned in person with a trained instructor.
Virtual NFP instruction is becoming more popular, but it is not a cure for all rural communities, where internet access can still be an issue. According to my Diocese’s website, the closest NaPro doctor is two and half hours away from us and most likely out of my insurance network. The closest trained NFP instructor is an hour and a half away, but they offer instruction using only one of the numerous methods.
The Challenges of Rural Catholicism
It isn’t news to Catholics that the Church’s stance on contraception is difficult to follow. There are hundreds of blogs, books, small groups, and articles that prove it. There is no shortage of jokes about Catholics and their reproductive habits, which shows that secular society is also aware of the situation, to a degree. The teaching on NFP causes suffering among rural Catholics, and we must draw attention to the rural communities the Church is attempting, but in many areas failing, to serve.
If the Church asks the same of rural communities as she does urban, we must acknowledge the differences and unique challenges rural Catholic communities face. Our Church is universal and has many concerns and responsibilities. However, if we do not make resources available to our members in rural communities, I fear that (at best) they will add to the growing number of Catholics who don’t adhere to the teaching on contraception or (at worst) we will lose them to other faiths or denominations whose teachings on the subject are easier to follow.
If the Church asks the same of rural communities as she does urban, we must acknowledge the differences and unique challenges rural Catholic communities face.
Outside the Faith, the Church is known for asking difficult things of her members. She is perceived as restrictive and uncompassionate. For the most part, that has not been my experience as a Catholic. I have been shown and taught that true love requires sacrifice and, therefore, submit to the mostly gentle yoke the Church bestows upon me. I can gaze upon a crucifix in my church and understand that suffering will be involved in this journey, just as it was a part of God the Son’s journey. But maybe this particular part doesn’t have to be quite this hard?