We are in the midst of yet another NFP Awareness Week. If you regularly follow Catholic blogs and news sites you’re going to read a lot about the benefits of natural family planning over artificial contraception and it can seem as though practicing NFP (by practicing NFP, I’m referring to using some sort of charting method to track one’s fertility) is essential for married couples who want to be faithful to Church teaching. That’s why I’d like to take a moment here to offer a reminder that you don’t have to use NFP to be a good Catholic.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a major proponent of NFP, myself, but I definitely don’t think that it is necessary for everyone. There are many different reasons to use NFP, but I’m talking specifically about it being presented as an ‘alternative’ to artificial contraception – with the focus being largely on how to avoid possibly conceiving when one wants or needs to. Colleen identifies the flaw in this approach perfectly:
“Instead of offering NFP as the main alternative to contraception, let’s offer CHILDREN as the alternative. The opposite of being “against conception” is being FOR conception. The Church teaches that having children is the ideal, and NFP is merely a tool we can use in our marriage if necessary…”
According to Humanae Vitae, which is often quoted when Catholics promote NFP, ‘responsible parenthood’ is about being open to more children unless there are serious reasons to postpone or avoid pregnancy:
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.
Obviously, every couple has to discern for themselves what those serious reasons are based on their own personal situations, but it strikes me that that our fertility rate is so low (2.06, last I checked) despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Surely we can afford to be having more babies — not that finances are the only reason couples avoid pregnancy.
Of course, couples who practice NFP have large families, too. I guess all I’m really saying here is that 1.) ideally NFP should be promoted with an emphasis first and foremost on being generously open to life and
2.) if you’re like my aunt and uncle, for example, who found NFP to be too much work and decided to dump it in favor of just accepting children as they come — possibly purposely abstaining (without the use of thermometers and charts) if a really serious reason to avoid pregnancy ever did present itself — there’s nothing wrong with that. I can’t think of a more natural way of ‘planning’ your family!
Recommended: What’s So Great About Large Families?