Tuesday, January 29, 2013

My Conversion Story - Part III (NFP)

In honor of pro-life week and in remembrance of all the children who have been legally murdered over the last 40 years here in the "land of the free"...

The post you've all been waiting for...NFP.  Don't worry, I'm keeping it rated PG because this is a family blog and I'm hoping my kids will be able to read this some day.  Contraception is not a modern concept.  Even the ancient Egyptians have records on it and it was a common practice in Roman times.  Historically, all christian denominations (Catholic and Protestant) rejected birth control.  This changed in 1930 when the Anglican church decided to permit contraception.  In response, the Catholic Church reiterated it's stance against it.  Other christian denominations soon followed the course of the Anglican church.  Then the Pill was invented in 1953, at that time the theological argument was that it prevented ovulation.  For those unaware, the Pill does not just prevent ovulation but it also blocks implantation of a fertilized egg.  If implantation does occur the baby usually does not survive because the lining of the uterus is too thin (that's why women on hormonal birth control have shorter, lighter cycles).  Also, in the 1950's they were unaware of the cancer danger to women on hormonal contraception.  There is a reason why we pulled hormone replacement therapy off the shelves for older women...it drastically increases the rate of breast cancer.  Did you know that those same drugs are in hormonal birth control (only at much higher doses)?  In fact, the women's breast cancer risk is higher because many young women on hormonal birth control have never been pregnant.  Pregnancy matures the breast tissue and offers some protection from the cancer risk of the chemical drugs.  But society seems to think it is an acceptable risk to give these drugs to our teenage girls and young women for the sake of "consequence free" (baby free) relations.  What's worse, most doctors don't even tell women about the dangers so they can make an informed decision.

Me at my bridal shower, 1998
(my mom is in the background)
As newlyweds, Doug and I were not counseled on any of this.  We went through premarital counseling at our Presbyterian church but the question was not "are you going to use birth control"?  The question was "what kind of birth control are you going to use"?  You see, most Protestant denominations have no issues with that question.  To them, using birth control is considered the mature, wise, prudent christian thing to do.  You're married, and married couples aren't expected to practice self control in this area.  There are even bible verses quoted on it...
"Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.  Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self control"  (I Cor. 7:5, NIV).
The following verse says "I say this as a concession, not as a command", but that part is rarely quoted.  The Apostle Paul himself states that he is not writing these words to be followed as law.  He acknowledges that marital chastity is a difficult discipline to master and concludes that if a person is struggling with it that it is certainly not wrong to have relations with your spouse.  I feel as though I got the wrong impression about marital relations growing up.  It was seen as something that was wrong to do before marriage, but it was wrong not to do it after marriage.  So the marriage certificate was the key.  Young people were expected to practice chastity in their lives up until the point of marriage and then after that all bets were off.  There was no discussion of marital chastity, except for the idea that affairs and pornography were probably off limits, because they involved other people besides your spouse. 
"Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure..." (Heb. 13:4, NIV).
6 month old Soccer Boy
The verse says "kept" pure, not "is" pure...there is a world of difference in the implications.  God does not section off your private life with your spouse and say "ok, I want you to work on being holy in all other areas of your life except this one, because I know it is just too much to ask".  No, that is not my God.  If anything, we have to rely on His strength and grace more in areas where we struggle.  His strength, not ours.  The struggle is in not treating your spouse like an object (whether in the bedroom or out).  They are your gift from God, but they are also a person and they have a dignity and a worth because they were created in the image of God.  He or she is a child of God...how do you want your children to be treated by their spouses?  Is it difficult to think of your son or daughter being married?  Why is that?  God intended marriage to mirror the union of Christ with His Church.  It is intimate and real.  This is especially shown in the marriage act, of two physically becoming one (as Christ does with us in the Eucharist).  It is the most intimate and vulnerable act in marriage and it is meant to be holy.  It is also meant to bring forth life, and the two cannot be separated without damaging the act itself.  Unfortunately, in our "Fifty Shades of Grey" culture, we do not respect the act and give it the dignity it deserves.  I could do a whole post on that book alone, but Brianna at Just Showing Up already did a really great one title Not as grey as you think.

Me and 11 month old Firstborn
Six month into our marriage we were surprised and delighted to be expecting our first child.  Nine weeks into the pregnancy I ended up in the E.R. with a barely missed miscarriage.  The next morning I was praying to God, begging Him to spare Firstborn's life, when I very clearly heard God say to me "Why him, why this baby and not the others?"  Others, what others, this was my first pregnancy?!  Then God opened my eyes, He lifted the veil and revealed to me my error.  You see, I had always considered myself to be pro-life, I would never consider getting an abortion if I became pregnant.  But, I wasn't really pro-life as much as I was anti-abortion.  I was ok with life as long as it was on my terms.  I realized the only difference between the baby I carried now and the children I would have had while I was contracepting was the timing, that was it.  That was why Firstborn would live and they died.  My heart broke at the realization that God may have sent Doug and I more children that I had unknowingly aborted because of choices I had made.  I couldn't claim ignorance because I knew how the hormonal contraception worked but I was ok with that because my heart was hardened.

9 months pregnant with Soccer Boy
God was gracious and I carried Firstborn to term.  After he was born we started looking for ways to space our children that didn't involve hormones.  That was how we came across Natural Family Planning (NFP).  When I refused the pill prescription my OB/GYN wrote me at my six week postpartum check-up my doctor acted like I was nuts...and he worked for a Catholic hospital!  He told me "NFP doesn't work...I'll write the script out for you because I'm sure you'll change your mind."  The hospital did offer NFP classes but they were too expensive (something like $200).  Too much investment for a young married couple who just had their first baby and weren't sure this method would even work.  I did some researching and came across the Couple to Couple League (CCL) online.  They had a home study course that was just $75 and you could opt to take the classes later for free if you wanted.  I ordered the books but the breastfeeding postpartum period is the absolute worse time to learn this method (it's much easier to learn it before you get married, which is why it is usually a required pre-cana course at many Catholic churches).  We ended up taking the classes when Firstborn was 8 months old.  He would occasionally accompany us to the class!  I think we were the only married couple there (besides our instructors), everyone else was engaged.  Our teaching couple was outstanding, I kept in contact with them long after the classes ended.  They became a sort of "mentor couple" for us (we overlooked the fact that they were Catholic).  The CCL classes also have some religious information in them, Doug didn't care for it but I was fascinated to hear about why Catholics believed birth control was immoral.

Me and 1 year old Soccer Boy
The CCL classes were held at the Catholic church that I would be confirmed in 10 years later.  The classroom was actually right off the sanctuary   I remember occasionally standing in the dark doorway of the sanctuary and staring inside at the altar before class started.  I could feel a presence there, a solemn peacefulness that drew me in and radiated from the empty church.  I would later realize the church wasn't empty after all, what I felt was the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Although the whole "Catholic" theology concerning birth control kind of freaked me out, I couldn't argue with the logic behind it.  I went back to my Presbyterian church and asked one of the elders about our denomination's stance on contraception.  He wasn't sure but promised to research it for me, which he did.  The conclusion was, we didn't have a stance.  It was sort of a non-issue for Presbyterians at that point in time.  I was disappointed, I thought surely something as important as having babies would have an official guideline.  Didn't we care what God thought about the subject?  The matter was left to the personal convictions of the individual couple.  The problem was, I knew Doug and I were essentially selfish, imperfect people.  How could I trust our judgement on a matter as important as this?  It would be very easy for us to just plan to have our 2.5 children, have a surgery and be done.  But something was missing, something just didn't feel right about leaving God out of the decision making process (unless He miraculously intervened).  In the end, I had to admit the Catholic Church got it right on this one.  I wasn't ready to concede defeat on all the other issues I thought they had but I could agree with their stance on contraception.

7 months pregnant with Game Boy
I don't want to give the impression that NFP is easy, because it's not.  It keeps the door open to the possibility of more children.  Every month we get the opportunity as a couple to re-evaluate where we stand on that issue.  It's great for our communication skills...if you can talk to your spouse about NFP you can talk to them about almost anything else!  Periodic abstinence is a discipline and a sacrifice and those two things are not always easy.  However, it is good and it does work to make us holy.  Just like the idea that marriage was not necessarily designed by God to make us happy, but to make us holy.  Practicing marital chastity makes Doug and I more holy, it makes us better spouses to each other.  It helps me identify with those who are called to a different type of chastity in their lives, like my soon to be teenage sons, or singles, or consecrated religious.  How could I teach my sons and daughter to be chaste if I wasn't practicing chastity in my marriage?  Chastity isn't even about abstinence, it is about placing those God given desires under control for something better.  It is not choosing to avoid something "bad" (which is what I thought when I was growing up).  Instead, it is choosing to wait for something better.

Next installment...Game Boy's church dedication and my aha moment about how little I knew about the Catholic faith...

Conversion Story - Part 4

Read Part 2 here

1 comment:

  1. I just saw this below your 7QT post and it caught me. Are you still CCL members? I'm always looking for sources for articles! :) :) If you're interested email me at kathleenbasi (at) gmail (dot) com.