Anxious thoughts bounced around my head as I tried to focus on kissing him back; after all, we only had one night in the cute, romantic, little airbnb apartment and there would be 3 snuggly kids (read sneaky ninjas who always manage to end up in our bed at some point) waiting for us when we got back. I was caught between the desire to take advantage of our mini, kid free, vacation to give my husband my undivided attention, and the nagging thought of my fertility monitor reading “high” that morning.
We have been using the Marquette method of Natural Family Planning for about 3 years now. I use a monitor to test my hormone levels each morning and my husband and I use the information gathered to inform our decisions about when to abstain from sex, depending on the needs of our family at the time. Although our “baby” is 14 months old we are still navigating the tricky time between having a baby and the return of regular cycles. Long story short, when trying to avoid pregnancy during this “postpartum period” we need to abstain on days when the monitor reads “high” or “peak.”*
He quickly caught on to my distraction and asked, “What’s wrong, Sweetheart?”
“I’m just....nervous. You know, since I got a ‘high’ today.”
He sighed, “Yeah, I know.”
“I know I keep mentioning wanting to have another baby, but when I push the baby fever aside and really think about it I just feel like there are some serious reasons to try to avoid pregnancy right now. I am still concerned about my anxiety and depression and how I would handle 4 kids 5 and under.”
I could tell he was frustrated, so was I! I wanted to throw caution to the wind! I wanted to be in a place with my mental and emotional health that we wouldn’t have to worry about possibly getting pregnant.**
I rolled over in bed, assuming that was the end of that. There goes our fun little getaway; once again NFP had rained on our parade and I was stuck feeling the downer weather person for breaking the news.
But that wasn’t that. A minute later he turned over, put his arms around me and whispered, “I want this to be a decision we make together. I want you to know that we are choosing this together, I’m not just agreeing begrudgingly; I love you and respect you and I want what’s best for us.”
He turned over, put his arms around me and whispered, “I want this to be a decision we make together. I want you to know that we are choosing this together, I’m not just agreeing begrudgingly; I love you and respect you and I want what’s best for us.”
I don’t know if I’ve ever felt such positive confirmation of our decision to practice NFP before this exchange; it had mostly felt like a default because of our desire to be faithful to Church teaching. I have never had any doubts about him respecting me, but his words wound deep respect and selfless intimacy together in a new way for me. Although we were choosing not to enter into physical unity at that time, our shared purpose and genuine good will for one another and our family as a whole was intensely unifying. His directness and compassion eased my mind and I wasn’t left feeling like I was at fault or selfish for speaking up about my concerns and needs.
“[Married love] is a love which is total—that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner's own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself.” Humanae Vitae, paragraph 9
If we were using birth control would we be having these kinds of conversations? My cycle and reproductive health, which are integral parts of who I am as a person, would very likely remain a mystery to my husband and could all too easily be regarded as an inconvenience that was mine to “deal with,” rather than a gift, the stewardship of which is a responsibility we share. Would I feel pressure - intentional or not - to always be available sexually because getting pregnant “wouldn't be an issue"?***
“Mother nature has cycles: It’s not always spring and summer—there’s fall and winter. Mother church has cycles: It’s not always Christmas and Easter—there’s Advent and Lent. Women have cycles—we are not always available. To say otherwise is the lie of porn, prostitution, male domination and a mistaken understanding of the Scriptures.” Sister Helena Burns, F.S.P., How “Humanae Vitae” helped one nun find her feminist voice
Sex should be an opportunity for unspeakable unity, but by divorcing this end from what has now been deemed just “recreational activity” between two consenting parties, our secularized world has instead created a paradigm in which the act of two-becoming-one actually drives the participants further away from each other. As each partner seeks to fulfill his or her own needs, wants, and desires, there is no room for genuine self-gift, for truly willing the good of the other and placing it before one’s own.
“A person’s rightful due is to be treated as an object of love, not as an object for use.” Karol Wojtya, Love and Responsibility
In these types of sexual relationships or encounters, one or both parties are treated as an object for use, rather than valued as a person worthy of love. This may be the case, even if one is not consciously and intentionally treating the other as an object for use:
“For in the sexual context what is sometimes characterized as love may very easily be quite unjust to a person. This occurs not because sensuality and sentimentality play a special part in forming this love between persons of different sex...but rather because love in the sexual context lends itself to interpretation, sometimes conscious, sometimes unconscious, along utilitarian lines.
In a sense this kind of love is wide open to such an interpretation, which turns to account the natural gravitation of its sensual and sentimental ingredients in the direction of pleasure. It is easy to go on from the experience of pleasure not merely to the quest for pleasure, but to the quest of pleasure for its own sake, to accepting it as a superlative value and the proper basis for a norm of behaviour. This is the very essence of the distortions which occur in the love between man and woman.” - Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility
Rather than liberating and empowering women, birth control excuses a general lack of male knowledge about and appreciation for female fertility and provides men with freedom from responsibility with regards to sex and resulting pregnancies. In our culture that often hails pleasure as the highest good, birth control has served as an effective catalyst to the widespread normalization of the treatment of women as objects to be used.
Birth control excuses a general lack of male knowledge about and appreciation for female fertility.
“Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.” Humanae Vitae, 17
We are all longing for genuine intimacy, to be known and loved and to love with our whole being. This desire finds its fulfillment in our relationship with God and the climactic experience of intimacy: the beatific vision. While we are still sojourners on our earthly pilgrimage, I am so very grateful for my husband’s constant dedication to knowing and loving me, in every phase of my cycle, and in every season of our life together. And I’m grateful to have a Church that provides insight and guidance, even in the bedroom, so that I may learn to love my husband and my God to the very best of my abilities.
*This description does not do the method justice and should most definitely not be used in place of reading the official documents on the Marquette Method and consulting with a professional Marquette instructor
**Contrary to popular belief, the Church does not teach that to be good Catholic married people a couple ought to procreate with the reckless abandon of rabbits:
“With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time...the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.” Humanae Vitae, 10
***For the record, no form of artificial birth control is 100% effective for preventing pregnancy.
***Sadly, even in marriages between Catholics who don’t use birth control there can be an expectation that a “good wife” should always be sexually available to her husband, even if there are grave reasons to legitimately avoid pregnancy using NFP. This is a dangerous distortion of Scripture and the Church’s teaching on human sexuality and stands in direct opposition to God’s plan for marriage.
When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women, issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is an invaluable resource for any woman who wants to be an advocate for those in abusive marriages or who is in an abusive marriage herself. For reference, domestic violence is defined as follows:
“Domestic violence is any kind of behavior that a person uses to control an intimate partner through fear and intimidation. It includes physical, sexual, psychological, verbal, and economic abuse. Some examples of domestic abuse include battering, name-calling and insults, threats to kill or harm one's partner or children, destruction of property, marital rape, and forced sterilization or abortion.”
The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides crisis intervention and referrals to local service providers. Call 800-799-SAFE (7233) or 800-787-3224 (TTY). For more information, go to www.thehotline.org. Hotline Advocates are available to chat online, Monday to Friday, 9AM-7PM CST.