Natural Family Planning: A nice article, a cheesy picture
Taking a page from Catholic doctrine, Protestants are avoiding artificial contraception for religious reasons
By Eileen E. Flynn -- AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Sunday, August 10, 2008
"Phaedra Taylor abstained from sex until marriage. But she began researching birth control methods before she was even engaged, and by the time she married David Taylor, she was already charting her fertility. . . ."
We didn't know the newspaper article would make front page of Sunday's Austin American Statesman. We didn't know they'd choose a very, very cheesy picture. "Ahhhh, wife, you look so lovely sitting there to my left." "No, husband, you look lovely." "No, darling, you do. And now let's just sit here and gaaaaaaze at each other while we hold for 300,000 people to see a record of how many times we've had sex in the last month." "Yes, let's gaze. I love gazing. Ahhh."
But after all these years of trying to get the Statesman to print something about the church and the arts in Austin I now have the honor of having a portion of my sex life on the front page.
Eileen Flynn did a good job, I thought. Naturally she wasn't able to say everything that could be said about NFP or any of our various experiences (see the lively comments section to view un-boring opinions). Shoot, Phaedra and I have been married only 6 months. We represent a very small part of what is a grand experiment and experience by the communion of living saints around the world, most of them Catholic, plenty of them married vastly longer than ourselves.
But Eileen's doing solid work here in Austin covering its religion beat. I respect her as a journalist. I'm glad she got ahold of Amy Laura Hall. Dr. Hall's a sharp cookie. If I end up studying at Duke Divinity I'm sure our paths would cross often. And way to go Katie Fox.
The topic of what we do with our bodies, in particular the sexual part, is volatile stuff. For your average Austinite I imagine they view it as a right--to do with it as they please, so long as they "do others no harm," however that's interpreted. For me it's straight-up theology: what it means not to have a body but to be a body, the incarnation, the resurrection, the relational dimension of our embodiedness, etc. On my end it's presently more theology than biology since the weight of the NFP physical experience lands more heavily on Phaedra. But I'm with her 100%.
And I've got plenty to learn. It's stretching my sense of what it means to be a man. On our wedding day I spoke these words: "With my body I thee worship." My body is not my own. I want my body to honor Phaedra and I want to honor hers. NFP is teaching me how truly my body is not mine to do with as I please. It's mine to steward. It's mine to give in love. And that is easier said than done, thank you very much.
As we got out of the car this afternoon after a long day of church and lunch with family, we half expected our neighbors, while pushing the lawn mower or washing the car, to wave at us, Truman Show-like: "Hey Taylors! How's your sex today?" And then give us a thumbs up.
It's a weird feeling to see the piece in today's paper. But if it encourages somebody out there to think more deeply not so much about NFP, as about sex and marriage and the mystery of both, then that's fine with us. Even better, in honor of our good friend and counsellor, Kyle Miller, if this piece inspires one spouse to pluck the courage to say to the other spouse, "Honey, can we have a conversation about our sex life at some point in the near future? I think it might be good to have a check in," then it will have achieved a very beautiful thing.
My parents house in Newark Valley, NY -- the annual famiily vacation that includes 19 of us now (all five of my siblings and our mates and assorted offspring of a variety of family planning methods -- including the newest nephew due any week now who is causing all kinds of entertainment performing gymnasics inside my sister's belly while we watch gymnastics across the world on my dad's little television);
we're all trying to stay up late enough to go out to the dew-covered upstate NY farm grass to watch the Perseids Meteor shower; I stumble across your ADORABLE pic and blog post;
the laptop starts making its way around the room starting with a very precarious position teetering on top of my sister's giggling belly.
Just thought you'd enjoy the image. Gotta wake my youngest daughter (a complete and total surprise to Brian and me 10 and a half years ago) to go look at the stars.
Isn't God just full of delights?!?
NFP raises many interesting questions. It may work out great for a couple who is married later than average, with maybe ten or twelve (if that) good, fertile years ahead of them for the woman. But what about those couples, like Sam and Bethany (whom the article references), who marry young (as so many Christians do), with well over twenty years of fertility stretching before them? I don't think there is only one "right answer," personally. But I love that the (Protestant) Church is finally talking about some of this stuff!
My wife and I discussed your interview on our Sirius Satellite Radio program Fully Alive! on The Catholic Channel, Sirius 159 last night (10p-Midnight Eastern). And i'll be talking about it today on my noon radio show (which airs on about 25 Catholic stations across the US including Dallas and San Antonio but not Austin).
Congrats on the article. Thanks for helping to spread the word. I don't know if you'd be interested, but my recent book, Holy Sex! A Catholic Guide to Mind Blowing, Toe-Curling, Infallible Loving (Crossroads, 2008) addresses how to get the most out of the spiritual, relational, and emotional benefits of NFP and deals with many other questions regarding the traditional Christian view of sexuality. As a counselor, I don't just deal with the theology of NFP (and Catholic sexual ethics) but the practical aspects of living out a traditional Christian worldview as it relates to sexuality.
Also, my wife and I were wondering if you and your wife would be interested in doing an interview on our Sirius radio program sometime in the next month or so. Our website is www.ExceptionalMarraiges.com my email is email@example.com
Thanks again for getting the word out!
Dr. Gregory Popcak
Ahna: so funny (ironic?) that the other ("dissention opinion") couple lives in Nashville and reside in your vicinity. Like I said in my blog, Phaedra and I are newbies. We don't pretend to know everything. We just got interviewed.
Gregory: Great to hear what you're doing. Sounds incredibly valuable. I'd love to see your book. Thanks for mentioning it. We'll check it out. So much to learn, so much to experience deeply, hey? God bless y'all in your work. I'll give you a shout via email.
The Statesman comments section: That's some fired up people.
I was quite surprised to find today all kinds of commentary happening about the article. GetReligion.org made an entry on it, giving Eileen the big two thumbs up. Then "Crunchy Con," aka Rod Dreher posted an entry (on beliefnet.com) which elicited a torrent of feeling. Kendall Harmon over at TitusOneNine/kendallharmon.net brought it to the attention of Anglican folks, and that's where my good friend, Jeff Fish, professor extraordinaire of classics at Baylor U., got wind of it. Exciting times all around, though I don't think Phaedra is all that fond of that first sentence flashing up overand over in the blogosphere: "Phaedra Taylor abstained from sex until marriage." It's true but quite the piquant phrase in our loosy-goosy age.
One thing I've wondered with all this Protestant-Catholic sex talk is where the Eastern Orthodox brethren and sistren stand on the topic of NFP et al. Hmmm.
My husband and I went to NFP classes before we got married as well (we're Lutherans). I started charting while we were engaged.
Part of the discussion started with my husband being totally against the Pill. I am a crunchy type and we're both very devout. Plus, I went to college with Sam Torode and he is a good friend of mine. So, of course we've read the book.
For us, NFP lasted about two weeks. After abstaining for 28 years, there was no way I could hold back that floodgate. We decided that we could welcome a child if that were the case, so we threw caution to the wind. I wasn't ready to have a baby, but awakening to the possibility made me ready faster than, I believe, if we had been using the Pill.
Then after a year, I still wasn't pregnant so we went to the doctor. As to not devulge too much info on the web, we likely aren't going to get pregnant. IVF wasn't comfortable for us ethically. We're happily adopting a baby from India. :-)
NFP is an amazing way to learn about your body. I hope to use the books I have to teach my pre-teen about her body. I never knew some of those things myself!
It also has a dark side, as Sam and Bethany write about in their update to Open Embrace. Personally, I find no problems with barrier methods in combination with charting (FAM method) as long as you approach love-making with fear and trembling. The Pill makes us forget the power of sex for new life, among other problems.
Best wishes to you in this amazing journey we call marriage!
To those who don't think NFP works: my NFP instructor, after having her 4 children, needed a way to prevent pregnancy for health reasons. She learned about NFP, and now about 22 years later, they still only have 4 children.
We decided on NFP shortly after we were married. We don't have a moral opposition to barrier methods, so we were using them as we learned to chart and read my body's signs. Our first was conceived during that time. No method of family planning works 100% of the time!
We started thinking about a second child while I was still breastfeeding our first. But because I was charting, I knew that I wasn't able to sustain a pregnancy. I was ovulating, but I wasn't producing enough progesterone to have a sufficiently long luteal phase. You need about 10 days between ovulation and the start of the following menses in order for the baby to be able to implant in the uterus before the lining begins to deteriorate.
So, my OB prescribed bioidentical progesterone (natural hormone) to extend my luteal phase, and we were able to conceive #2 and prevent an early miscarriage.
NFP is beneficial in so many ways. There are so many women's health issues that can be identified by charting. Infertility can be overcome. As you guys mentioned, it gives you an appreciation and respect for the God-given rhythms of your body. Most importantly, it puts sexual intimacy back in the context of marriage and bearing children. Our culture has strayed so far from God's design in this regard, and NFP is a wonderful way to reclaim it.
Does it get complicated? Of course. I had not heard that the couple of "Open Embrace" had recanted their position on NFP, but just a few weeks ago, a fellow NFP-er and I had been discussing that very issue. I wouldn't call it a "dark side", but an issue to be weighed and tested by couples in light of God's word and His leading. It isn't healthy to abstain from sex for long periods of time in marriage, and scripture seems to affirm this. Not every woman's signs are easy to read. There are times that it does seem irresponsible to have another child. Our generation must wrestle through these issues, and no doubt the next generation will be able to look back with much more clarity.
This is a pretty open forum on which to discuss this topic publicly, but then that's one of the problems with the church that you're discussing, isn't it: the very fact that the church has found sex such an awkward and non-community topic is exactly why we've ended up with some of the messes we have. So...
my husband and I also decided while we were engaged that we would, once married, practice a form of NFP...a specific method we were introduced to by friends, as having a much higher success rate than general NFP: the Billings Method (or, BOM). The WHO (World Health Organization) rates BOM as 98.5% effective [the FDA rates the Pill as 95% effective]. We now have a number of friends who practice BOM -- none of them have unintentionally become pregnant, except when knowingly not following their body-signs. Which, I suppose, is not much different that knowingly not using a condom. On the flip side, the BOM has also been really helpful for those *wanting* to get pregnant.
There are a few points I didn't see raised/expanded on elsewhere, which I think are worth considering (and yep, all are issues of theological outlook...):
-one of the biggest, I think: we live in a culture of immediate gratification: we get what we want, when we want it. We don't even have to wait till fruit and veg are in season any more, let alone for Ferrero Rochers at Christmas. I think it's incredibly healthy for us both as individuals and as couples to have to 'wait' sometimes, and to have that element of "this is something special" reinserted. That also means that couples are challenged to express their desire for each other in a greater manner of ways; it allows for a version of the 'sweet yearning' which existed for those couples who did abstain pre-marriage (and which actually *does* exist as a sweet yearning [as opposed to months of agonizing burning] for quite a few folk!])
-we live a society and age in which we are increasingly out of touch with our bodies. A method like BOM forces us to pay more attention again -- it should come as no surprise that it's been discovered that a number of aboriginal cultures have long been aware of what Dr Billings 're-discovered.'
-the WHO rating brings up an interesting global issue: not every woman in the world can financially afford to pay for regular contraceptives. Not only does a method such as BOM give them more control over pregnancy rates, it also helps women be more aware of irregular health issues.
-not only finances are affected...some stats on the links between the Pill and cancer are plain scary. That extreme health example aside, I know many many women who have gone off the the Pill not for reasons of ethics (our own initial reason -- though an increased awareness increased our reasons), or even of a desire for improved communication in their relationship, but for reasons of day-to-day health: for many women the Pill causes weight-gain, acne, hormonal problems, depression, sterility, etc etc.
Ten years on for us. Has it always been easy? No. But then, it hasn't been excruciating either. We'd even go so far as to say that it has enriched our marriage.
May it do the same for yours.
Katy: love it. I can't believe we didn't have these kinds of conversations while you LIVED here in Austin. Now you're far, far away in a land much greener than ours. Alas. But Phaedra and I think your girls are the cutest little people on the planet.
Kirstin: thank you as well. It's become quite clear to me that women by and large know a lot more about their bodies than we menfolk. We may know how much body fat we carry, but that's about it. Your comment about our culture of immediate gratification is spot on. I wonder, though, whether many of us know this but still get swept down the hard current of prevailing culture. We try to make changes here and there, and some do succeed, but many of us fail because it's a hand-full of individual wills against the millions headed in the opposite direction. I'm not without hope, though. But I think it'll take a reconstruction of whole systems, not just discrete behaviors, to see real change.
Some day soon, pray God.
There are times when it's sooo not easy--when times are tough economically, when a man is working outrageously long hours to support a large family and his wife is trying with what little time she has to find ways to help, when cycles are a little wacky... At these times another child is not the best choice humanly speaking. But, at the same time, said struggling parents could use a little more of the unitive aspects of conjugal love seem like they'd be a great benefit.
Reading well reasoned and bright (in more than one sense of the word) vingettes like yours make those hard times much easier.
Wow. Way to go on the transparency/publicity. Among our mutual friends, I have been accused (and yes, it was an accusation) of being an evangelist for NFP (but I use a totally different kind of charting so I do not know when you all are... you know... ) So I was told today that I had to read your blog about making the front page for your marital sex life.
I first started thinking towards NFP, when a little article I read put the idea out there that we live with a silent assumption that fertility is a curse or at least an inconvenience-- that is, until we want it. I realized that was true for the inner me, and that clashed with what I think and believe in the larger sense. Despite my love of children and desire to have them eventually, I had bought into the idea that one should be able to enjoy sex without worry about children popping up 9 months later. The disconnect between sex and life was assumed.
Then I got involved with this guy/husband that has all of these not-so-obvious earthy tendencies, and so he was totally enthused on NFP. So I put him in charge of pre-marital research and we ended up in a classroom in the basement of a Catholic hospital as the only participants of the NFP class who were not required to be there for Catholic marriage prep. Think awkward-- overhead projector with endless charts, awkwardly enthusiastic presenters, and compulsory students. We like to laugh at the memory.
Anyway.... We have been greatly blessed by the mutuality of the whole process. NFP requires that we both share in the whole deal, and that has questioned our individualism and cultivated care between us. We have been able to plan our family with open hands, aware that we are not the primary Planner. In six years of marriage, we have been given the gift of two lovely children, 22 months apart. At the birth of our children, we were blown away by the experience, like most people. I think a bonus of NFP is that you get to have that kind of wonder earlier on.