Life isn’t always what you expect, and this post I’m writing was not my initially chosen topic. Instead, I’m writing in response to a few articles I read today, and a conversation I had with one of my husband’s classmates.
Today is Will’s first day of school for his Master’s program, and there was an open reception which I invited myself to as his special guest. Nothing fancy: his classmates, the program directors and corresponding staff, and me, the pregnant lady in the striped dress. The girl next to me and I struck up a conversation, gaining speed as we realized she grew up about 45 minutes from where my husband went to college. We talked about our shared faith, her boyfriend, my pregnancy, where we came from and why we moved to New Orleans.
“Sorry if this is too forward,” she said suddenly, “But do you use Natural Family Planning?”
“We do,” I said.
“Was the pregnancy planned?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, as my husband said, “No.”
I smiled, and explained that we conceived on my P3 day, which is the third day past my Peak Day and the last day of my fertile time. We knew we could get pregnant if we had sex, and rolled the dice. We got pregnant. Will says “no” because we had originally planned on waiting to try for a mini-us till the fall, but we also had sex knowing we could become pregnant.
She smiled and nodded, and the conversation went on. It wasn’t awkward, as the over-details I shared above may seem. I share those details because I need people to know: creation is no mistake.
The babble I hear surrounding sex is dehumanizing. Another couple broken up over infidelity. Pornography distorting love between people. Abortion on demand, with no apologies. Support contraceptives because then abortions will be reduced. Unrealistic sex-pectations, less romance and true love. And, more recently, a friend’s testimony about how being raised Catholic made sex (especially pre-marital sex) a source of fear, shame and guilt.
In all of this, I think of my husband, I think of my baby, and I think of the dignity my faith gives me as a woman.
My husband Will and I married each other with the understanding that we will always be married. We married without having sex beforehand, and we married with the expectation of growing our family size from two to many in its formative years. We married in the Catholic Church, of which we are active members. We have different spiritual lives, but the same faith. Before we married, we prepared our bodies for marriage by first preparing our hearts and minds. We talked about everything! We agreed, disagreed, reasoned, compromised, and worked together, hand in hand, in the making of “us”. Without us, together, there can be no children.
As a couple, we practiced a lot of self-control while we were dating and engaged. Those biological wants, needs and desires are not reserved for the non-believers: they are human wants, needs, and desires. But a person doesn’t lose weight by eating chocolate cake and then throwing it up anymore than a person can have consequence-less sex – there are always emotional ties if not physically bonding ones. And more often than not, the “consequence” is a tiny human being, whose life should not be terminated “with no apologies”.
President Johnson’s fruitless War on Poverty kicked off the nation’s misguided birth-control crusade with grants for “family planning” in 1965. The effort was redoubled in 1970 when, thanks to the efforts of John D. Rockefeller III and George H. W. Bush, Title X of the Public Health Service Act was signed into law by Richard Nixon the day after Christmas. Since 1970, the out-of-wedlock birthrate has tripled to 41 percent. With the help of the Supreme Court with its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, we have also seen the number of abortions spike through the 1980s and reach an equilibrium today at between 1.2 and 1.3 million annually. Both results are at least unexpected from the perspective of a public policy based on the premise that access to contraception will decrease the rate of unintended pregnancies.
The family planning my husband and I do is scientific and based on my body’s natural signs. Just as I prefer eating organic and hormone-free food, I am not inclined to put hormonal birth control pills into my body when I am only fertile 5-6 days a month (or 60-72 days out of 365 – below 20% of my year).
Moreover, the reason couples who practice NFP have a 2-5% divorce rate is not because the pool of participants is so small – it is because of the constant communication the couple has about their sex life. And after you’ve talked about mucus with your loved one, there really isn’t anything a person can’t discuss openly. Communication is the bedrock of relationships, of love, and essential in decision-making.
Sex is empowering because I have my husband’s total love, trust and faithfulness. I find sex beautiful, amazing and dignity-enhancing, and I am sorry when people’s experiences with the Church’s teachings on sexuality are negative and guilt-ridden. But their experiences do not negate the true beauty of the Church’s teachings, especially Theology of the Body. I know that I opposed sex before marriage when I was younger because I knew people who had been pressured into it, and that scared me. I did not want to be pressured – I wanted to have it freely. I opposed it when I was older when I saw how friends reacted when their boyfriends treated them, used them, dumped them. Will and I talked about what would happen if we had sex before marriage, and agreed: it would be great, but we would regret it. It would feel great, but it would not be as great as having the sacramental all-access pass to the whole person.
There are no regrets in my marriage when we have sex. There are no regrets that I am pregnant so soon after marriage. There are no regrets in sharing all of this, because I want people to know. Sex does not have to be split between the “good” and the “bad”, but rather the “true love” and the “love-ish.” The -ish means, “I love you but”: but not your fertility, but not your baggage, but not your hips, but not all of you. True love means, I love all of you; I will cherish you when I am angry, I will appreciate you when you annoy me, I will trust you above all others, and protect your heart in mine.
It’s okay to be scared of pregnancy – Mary was frightened by the angel came to her. She was going to be a seen as having a child out-of-wedlock, and her engagement was almost broken off. She was being given a huge responsibility, a child, the child of God. That wasn’t an easy “yes” she said.
NFP isn’t easy. Self-control isn’t easy. Marriage isn’t easy. But they’re all worth it. True love is worth it. Protecting the dignity and lives of other human beings is worth it. Supporting mothers is worth it. Honoring fathers is worth it.
And when my baby kicks me in the middle of the night, I know it — the baby, my marriage, full-of-consequence sex — is worth it.