28 April 2010

Guest Post: NFP: Why we don't bother

CSPP recently received a request for a post on the topic of Natural Family Planning. We are pleased to offer a guest post from Pastor H.R. Curtis of Gottesdienst Online, Four and Twenty Blackbirds, and the International Defensive Pistol Association.

First, a little disclaimer. The world is a very sadly broken place.

Any discussion of God's gift of children and our receiving of it inevitably introduces several elephants into the room. What about the hard cases? What about when disease and hardship disrupt God's world?

As some famous writer once said: people who are happy are pretty much happy in the same way, but people who are unhappy each have a unique story. It is very difficult to speak about the hard cases in a general way. So I'm not going to try. If you are suffering under such a hard case - a life threatening disease (including diseases of the brain), crippling hardship, etc - and wonder how God's gift of children applies to you and your spouse, then stop reading this and find a faithful pastor to talk it over with. If you have a flippant pastor who likes to talk about his elective vasectomy after three kids at age 37, then send me an email and I'll try to point you to a faithful pastor in your area.

But for the rest of us who do not fall into the hard case category - if you are interested in hearing how and why somebody went from being a normal follower of American culture to a reactionary, traditional Lutheran who frowns on all forms of birth control, well, this is just what you've been waiting for.

I grew up in a normal blue & white collar family in middle America: birth control is good, you should wait to be ready to have kids, three or so is a good number. Never heard anything elsewise from my normal LCMS church. She grew up in a Boomer pastor's family: birth control is within your Christian freedom.

Got married with a standard American plan: finish grad school, then have threeish kids. Heard about how the pill could cause her body to expel a newly created baby from Mrs. Gibbs at CSL about a year and a half into marriage. Tossed the pills. Started reading. Ewy-ew: most birth control is, like, totally gross! And now the more we read and think, doesn't sound too godly either. But we still wanted to cling to that plan. Eventually got hold of an NFP book. Bingo: no cross, plan intact, and how can a billion Papists be wrong?

Notice at this point that the plan is still there. But let's be more honest about the "plan." It's not really a plan, it's a metaphysical judgment: a baby right now would not be a blessing. That's what all "family planning" comes down to: in my judgment, a baby right now would not be a blessing. Rather, a baby is to be avoided right now.

What you've got to decide is whether or not you think that is a godly judgment.

[And remember that disclaimer, I'm not talking about the hard cases. I'm talking about normal folks: a baby right now would be annoying, difficult, painful, expensive, etc. I'm not talking about: a baby right now would likely kill me, or be permanently crippled, or cause one or the other of us to starve. If that's the spot you are: stop
reading, don't bother typing anything below, and go talk to a godly pastor.]

Through reading the Bible, our Lutheran fathers, the history of the birth control movement and the church's reaction, etc., we came to think that that statement is just not a godly statement. Children are a blessing from the Lord. Married couples are called to be fruitful and multiply. Trust in the Lord and lean not on your understanding.

Further, note how all forms of birth control share that judgment: a baby right now would not be a blessing. As such, they share the same end - though the means are different.

That is significant and I don't want to downplay it. I'm glad NFP was there as a stepping stone for us when we were too fearful to cast our burdens on the Lord. In my pastoral counseling I've held out NFP as an option for others who are likewise fearful. And there are significant differences between all of the following: a baby is not a blessing now, so I'm going to kill it while it's in my womb; a baby is not a blessing now, so I'm going to ask a man to cut me open and take my baby parts out; a baby is not a blessing now, so I'm going to take a hormone pill that will make be infertile; a baby is not a blessing now, so I'm going to slap a water balloon on my wang (I mean, really?); a baby is not a blessing now, so I'm going to tell my wife that no, we will not be making love tonight - or any night until that temperature of hers comes down.

There is a difference between all those - and yet, there is a similarity, isn't there?

A few more NFP thoughts.

* Remember when you were dating? Remember how you wanted to have sex but couldn't? If you liked that, then NFP is for you.

* I was speaking with a fellow pastor about this just today. He and his wife were also on the NFP wagon for a while. He said, "We determined that you don't really need charts or thermometers. If you wife is really in the mood and wants to have sex: that's the day you can't." Another pastor at the table said, "Hmmm. Almost like God created it to work a certain way..."

* What do you call NFP practitioners? Mom and Dad.

* Why do the Papists allow NFP? It's the only birth control method that doesn't work.

OK, the last two are stale jokes. But there is a truth to them. NFP is frustrating and stupid and so many people give up and many others "fail" at it - that is, they have babies (what a failure!). It's frustrating because marriage and sex go together. It's stupid because because sex and babies go together too, and trying to have the one without the other is just silly.

When NFP was being debated in the early-mid 20th century the Lutherans laughed at it as pharisaical, Papist nonsense. That's kind of where I have come down as well. If you are saying "a baby would not be a blessing right now because _____ (I'm 40 or I'm tired or the youngest is only 9 months old or the car payment is due or....)" then I would encourage you to read the Bible again and lean not on your own understanding, to not be afraid for the Lord will provide. Really, He will. Honest. He keeps his promises. Children are a blessing, the fruit of the womb a reward. It really says that in the Bible. You can trust it.

And one more time: if you are saying "a baby would not be a blessing right now because the doctor says I'll probably die or the baby will have CF or I honestly think I might kill myself or the child will starve" - then please don't comment here. You need more than internet kibitzing, you need to go talk to a godly pastor face to face.



Melrose said...

I'm going to print this out and keep copies in my diaper bag for every strange look I get from a friend or parishioner :)

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Thanks for posting this here. My own quick two cents' worth is that while I agree with Fr. Curtis' take on the matter in general, I have just a couple points I'd like to throw into the conversation.

1. Insensitive as this may seem to some, I do think that the "hard cases" are worth bringing up on a reasonable Christian forum. I do believe that artificial birth control is improper and unchristian, even in the "hard cases." I don't think it is out of place for one to at least voice that view, and I am always willing to have a reasonable dialog on the matter.

2. I believe that Fr. Curtis' take on NFP is unfair in one basic sense. Namely, it is best not to look at it as "birth control," but rather as a way to help couples increase their odds of having a child. NFP has been a great help to many women who were struggling to get pregnant. It helps to optimize a woman's chances of pregnancy by getting the couple's relationship more in tune with her body.

(It is not a cure-all, however. Some couples need a special divine favor, if they are to have a child, as I can testify personally.)

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Just thought I'd add this, to be clear. NFP could be thought of as a method not to tell you when not to have relations with your spouse, but the exact opposite, when to do so.

Pr. H. R. said...

Rev. Deacon,

Yes - NFP can be a boon to couples looking to get pregnant, a very good point I'm glad you brought up.

All the best,

Untamed Shrew said...

water balloon on my wang.


And yes, it all boils down to fear. But there is no fear in love.

MooreMama said...

Or NFP could be looked at as an attempt to retain control - instead of handing it over.

~MooreMama, half of a married couple tht tried to use NFP for nearly 3 years to achieve pregnancy, only to realize that even if we timed sex "right", two blue lines were far from guarenteed.

Anonymous said...

Opinions on LAM?

(from wikipedia:) The lactational amenorrhea method (LAM) is a method of avoiding pregnancies which is based on the natural postnatal infertility that occurs when a woman is amenorrheic and fully breastfeeding.

Untamed Shrew said...

None of my kids have ever had a drop of formula, but I always get my period around 6 mos post-partum. I don't breastfeed to avoid pregnancy; I do it because it's the Lord's order and by His grace I am able.

Rebekah said...

Anon, we discussed lactational amenorrhea/anovulation here: http://concordiansisters.blogspot.com/2009/03/to-wean-or-never-to-wean.html

HappyFox said...

My period came back at 4 months post-partum for both kids, both demand fed. At least they're good sleepers. (Actually, the 4-month old's a better sleeper than the 2-year old.)

Great article, Pastor Curtis! We'll be chuckling about the water balloon comment for a while. And you've gotta respect a guy who's secure enough as a man to use the phrase 'ewy ew'. :)

Rebekah said...

Just for clarity: we can thank the temp takers for discovering that many women have cycles while breastfeeding, but remain anovulatory for anywhere from one cycle to the entire duration of breastfeeding. This is another reason NFPers are known as parents--postpartum cycles are even more erratic and difficult to decipher than regular ones.

MooreMama said...

Ha! I currently have a 46" waistline, thanks to LAM. My cycle came back at about 8 months pp. By 10 months pp, I was pregnant again. Just saying.

mz said...

Another positive (no pun intended) of NFP, or at least the technique involved therein, is the ability of cycle data to allow a woman to work with her physician to pinpoint female health problems regardless of TTC/TTA status.

Even so, I think I need to print this out and put it on the refrigerator. Can those of you farther down the road than I am tell me if the monthly feeling of having dodged a bullet ever goes away? Even being grateful for your current blessing(s) and knowing that the Lord will faithfully provide, do the juxtaposed and simultaneous feelings of relief and sadness ever go away?

Katy said...

Great post! (And comments). I think "bother" is an accurate description of NFP. The work (and anxiety) is so not worth it.

mz--yes the simultaneous relief and disappointment greet me each month, too. But the suspense doesn't last too long (PG two months after wedding, 6 months after first baby, 5 months after second baby. It's now 3 months after third baby....AAAAAAHHH!)

I find myself sighing with envy when I hear some lucky mamma gets her babies 18 months apart. But I know I would start to really worry if the months kept passing and I wouldn't get PG ("Doc, it's been 9 months! What's wrong with me?!")

Susan K said...

Re: lactational amenorrhea...I love it! Love the way God built in some natural spacing. :)

My problem in general is DH and I can't very well discern if we are a "hard case" or not. Another child would be a blessing no matter when it happens, but after a c-section for my first birthing, another pregnancy and birth too soon could spell trouble for my equipment. Ultimately it comes down to our poor ability to plan, so we gladly relinquish control. God does a much better job of planning our family than we do. And I thank Him for good ol' LAM!

Great post!

Untamed Shrew said...

MZ, word. I'm flattered and happy when I get a positive test, and I'm happy and relieved when Aunt Flo announces that I've dodged a bullet. I do not enjoy being pregnant, certainly don't enjoy birth, and then feel like a failure for 6 mos when I can't accomplish squat around the house or make it one hour without yelling at a kid for acting age-appropriate. Then my cycle resumes, along with the fretting. Wretched sinner that I am!

btw MM, some of us run out of tape measure by the time we're 40 weeks, so count your blessings.

Jody S. said...

Another possible benefit of NFP (and I hesitate to call it that...I'd rather say "tracking your cycle") is that for those who don't necessarily have a regular cycle yet after giving birth, it can help determine about when your baby is due. Since we do not like to have routine ultrasounds, we have had some trouble figuring out accurate due dates, and tracking my seemingly non-existent cycle would certainly have helped.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I tried NFP for a while to avoid pregnancy, but we quickly realized that it was stupid. We then realized that it was wrong when we read 1Cor 7.5:

"Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control."

The only reason for a married couple to deprive themselves is for prayer, not because they don't trust God to provide. Avoiding sex for any reason but prayer is to invite Satan to tempt away.

Rebekah said...

Anon, indeed. I also think it's interesting to note 1 Cor 7:5's teaching that careful marital abstinence can be a beneficial discipline. Lutherans would probably take as kindly to this notion as they do to other forms of fasting (by which I don't mean giving up Coke II for six weeks).

Mrs. Hume said...

LAM worked for me, but I have a low BMI (19.5) so that may have something to do with it. 15-18 months no period.

Rebekah said...

I don't know that LAM is really a method so much as it is a fact of biology, and its duration from woman to woman varies as much as any biological variation among different people. It only becomes a method if some effort is made to manipulate it.

Gauntlets said...

Hooked on Nursing works for me, and I have no what my BMI is. :D I seriously think it "works" or doesn't precisely because God opens and closes the womb. This opening and closing we keep talking about, it isn't magic.

Untamed Shrew said...

My husband and I have a slightly different approach. Sex has a two-fold purpose (mutual joy and procreation). We make every attempt not to break up those purposes. It must be consentual and it must be with the attitude that conception would be a blessed thing. There are times when, due to my physically unrecovered state from the last pregnancy and a host of other complications with my fallen flesh, we abstain. I'm not convinced that this is sinful. Being reckless with the temples that are living ain't exactly God-pleasing. I think one pastor put it succinctly when it said everything we do is tainted by sin--regardless of how right our motives are.

Untamed Shrew said...

"When HE said"--that's what I meant! Oh my, what an unfortunate error! Ha!

Anonymous said...

Gauntlents... you are right! We have been blessed with 13 living children, the youngest is 7 they are all around 2 years apart except for the last 2 -- 4 yrs....We are not doing anything any different now than we did all the years our children were born.... GOD OPENS THE WOMB AND GOD CLOSES THE WOMB. It's not magic, it's saying "Thy will be done." During those childbearing years it was sometimes hard not to wonder just how many children we would be blessed with.... especially when my OB said, "you know you will probably have a child every couple years until your 60...." guess he forgot to consult with the Lord and His plans. Debbie S

Anonymous said...

Babies are blessings. Major abdominal surgeries are not blessings, however, especially when they happen repeatedly at less than 2-year intervals. I hate c-sections, but they're my reality.

Still, this post gives me a lot to think about. Thanks.

lisa said...


I don't presume to give you advice.

The question that came to my mind after reading your post was whether C-Sections are necessities for you based on unavoidable biological realities or something your current doctor strongly advises?

I'm asking bc I have girlfriends who have been told by one or more doctors that they needed/should have a C-Section, but they went on to change doctors (or homebirth) and deliver vaginally. I only share this bc these aren't flippant women who don't care about their health or their baby's health - they just found that their current doctor didn't have the only perspective on the matter.

I don't know you or your situation. Just passing on the info. I hope it's not offensive, bc that's not my intent.

Susan K said...

I agree with Lisa. I refuse to let my c-section be the reality for me, even though my doctor thinks I can't birth big babies (DD was 9#1oz). I've done my research and found that's not likely to be the case. It *might* be the case, which I'll find out with VBAC attempts, but it's not as likely as many doctors think.

Anonymous said...

Food for thought . . .
What do Drs. base their information on, is it "might be" or actual experience?
All of my 13 children except for 2 were born at home - I was labeled "high risk" after birth number 4. With having had multiple births and with my accompanying "mature" age I was automatically "high risk" even though I had had no problems during preg. or delivery.
I know for a fact (because I asked him) that my OB Dr. did not have actual experience delivering women who had had as many births as me, nor had he delivered many "older women". His knowledge was based on what had happened in a few cases that he had heard or read about from others. This became the norm and the way it would happen it was no longer "might." Because of a few others who became "high risk" I was automatically now flagged "high risk." The other Drs. in the area (I asked them too) did not have any actual experience because no one else were having as many children as me, nor were as old as me and still having babies. I was an oddity - my "high risk" label became what "would happen." It became the norm.
Thank the Lord for good midwives who did have experience in delivering women who had large numbers of children and who had birthed babies at a "mature age." They had actual experience to base their knowledge on. I was an individual person not what "might happen."
I go to a Dr. for his information and then I put that information with what other information I have gathered and then I make a choice. Sometimes the Dr. gives me good information sometimes not.
Susan K. brings up a good point it "might" be the case, but how do we know if we don't attempt it.
I feel more comfortable with fact, not just possibilities. As you all know every birth is different.
Going up stream has always been a difficult journey but it can be done. I have traveled that stream for years and it has been a wonderful journey. I refused to be labeled "high risk."
Debbie S

Anonymous said...

Guess this quote sums up some of what I was trying to say. (Your Baby, Your Way - Sheila Kitzinger)

". . . seeking the information you need in order to weigh up the pros and cons of different courses of action and learning how to use obstetricians and other professionals as valuable resource people. This is far from straight forward since access to information is controlled by those in power, and the very act of seeking knowledge is seen by some doctors as threatening. Yet one thing is clear: "If you don't know your options, you don't have any."
Debbie S.

Rebekah said...

Anon, allow me to attempt to express my sympathy by means of analogy. C-sections, as you say, are not cool. Neither are hospital births if you ask me, but they're my only option around here where laws and litigation keep people with a healthy sense of self-preservation from attending home deliveries (at least at my house). I weary very much of people telling me that if I'd just go for a homebirth, all my childbirth problems will be solved--easy for them to say. So I keep looking for other options and writing to my congressional reps, but sometimes there just isn't a better solution.

I'm sorry if there isn't a better solution for you than c-section. I know a little bit how that feels. Again, with the world as a sadly broken place . . . .

mz said...

Rebekah - Speaking of homebirth, I got an email tonight from a mailing list I'm on. Seems like tomorrow morning there may be a vote in the state legislature to legalize homebirth midwifery and greatly expand the options available to women all over the state. Below are the most pertinent details, in case anyone else is in the same state we are and would be willing to write their representative.


Even if you've called before you MUST CALL AGAIN BECAUSE THERE IS A NEW BILL NUMBER.

Here's the scoop. The language from HB226, the Home Birth Safety Act has been amended to another bill. This bill has already passed the Senate and is on the House floor.


EVERYONE PLEASE CALL YOUR LEGISLATOR TODAY! Ask them to “vote YES for SB3712 which will be amended with the Home Birth Safety Act (HB226) language.”

Rebekah said...

mz, thanks! I'm calling!

Mrs. S said...

This is a great post!

About LAM--My nursing daughter is 27 months and I would love to be blessed with another child but breastfeeding seems to have totally kept my cycle away. It is teaching me to trust in the Lord's plan though, so for that I am grateful.

Anonymous said...

As a Catholic whose sister is Lutheran, I have been searching for information to share with her about the reasons contraception is wrong. I was delighted to find your site! I thought, "finally, something I can share with her." But then I read this post. I don't offend easily but I am shocked at the way you referred to the only Church who stands up to contraception. This is an area in which we can dialogue, where Catholics and Quiverfull Protestants agree and can spread this truly pro-life message. But you chose to bash the Papists instead. No problem. This Papist won't be coming back to this blog. I will keep you in my prayers. I hope that you are able to share your often excellent information with a little more love and less hate in the future. Especially since you are in agreement with what the Catholic Church has consistently taught about contraception for 2000 years.

countrygirl84 said...

I realize this is an old post, but as a Lutheran practicing NFP one does feel quite "alone" when all my friends are either on the Pill or Catholic and practicing NFP.

Hubby and I love NFP. There's a few days out of the month we have to abstain, but it's never been a big deal. We waited a year of marriage so I could finish teaching before trying for a child, and got pregnant after 3 tries.

I find it puzzling that on one hand the post insinuates that NFP doesn't allow God to have complete control, and on the other hand declares that NFP doesn't work. If it "doesn't work," wouldn't that just being that God is in greater control of providing a child than if I were injecting or ingesting an artificial hormone to prevent pregnancy? I know that God could work at any time He chose and provide us with a child.

On another note, I would love to have a large family. People have shared that they have 7-14 kids, and I'm just wondering how it works financially, when there's only so much money to go around. I don't believe in day care, so would hate to have to work and have someone else raise my children for me. We don't have cable and go without a lot of other things already.