*Like any post about NFP, you might encounter terrifying words like “cervix”, “mucus” and “vagina” should you choose to continue reading. Fair warning.
Let’s talk about NFP, and how it sucks.
|Image via the wonderful Katie|
I know, I can hear the furious clicking as my faithful followers abandon my blog in droves. But look, y’all, I have to be honest here, because honesty is kind of a thing with me. It’s like a tic or something; deep in my subconscious, there’s an inner Dalek shouting “HON-ES-TY” instead of “EX-TER-MIN-ATE.” Know what I mean? (If you don’t know what I mean because you’re not a total sci-fi geek, well then, I’m sorry and I hope you find something in life that makes you as happy as Doctor Who makes me.)
With the HHS mandate drama, the floodgates have opened and discussion about contraception hath poured forth. Everyone is talking about it, even WaPo. Dear, wonderful Janet Smith, the woman who I can only hope to be like if ever I grow up, has asked us to talk about it, and the blogosphere has responded with people talking about it.
I have been mostly silent, except for wearing a snarky T-shirt and offending the Duggar-hating underbelly of the interwebs.
Part of my unwillingness to post about NFP has been due to my own internal inconsistencies. I agree with every single one of the posts I linked to above, and they all basically disagree with each other. It’s kind of hard to write a coherent post about NFP when everything I read makes me say, “Yes! That!” But mostly I haven’t brought it up because quite a few people seem really keen on “re-branding” NFP. Making it hip. Showing that it works, that it’s simple, that it makes our lives so much better, that we freaks who use it don’t have sixty bazillion children all dressed in matching denim jumpers, and even picking up on the vernacular du jour and telling the world how green NFP is. And frankly, that’s not a bandwagon I can jump on without lying through my teeth. But I also don’t want to write a post about how NFP is, in the words of Darwin, “some sort of Bataan death march of marital suffering.”
So what’s a blogger to do? Stick to my strengths, I guess, and just tell it like it is for me.
I don’t use artificial birth control because five years ago this August I swore to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church. I don’t use birth control because I think the Pill is a very dangerous carcinogenic. I don’t use birth control even though, as my favorite OB/GYN ever so helpfully points out when I see him, my hormone-induced migraines qualify me (maybe) for an exemption from the Church’s moratorium on the Pill, I believe that the Church knows what she’s talking about. The explanations make sense to me. The rules make sense to me. Seeing the rapid free-fall into moral decay that our society has plunged into since the Pill was approved gives me empirical evidence to support the arguments laid out in Humanae Vitae.
I don’t use artificial birth control because I believe it fundamentally damages the relationship of a husband and wife and consequently undermines the fabric of society. My husband is dearer to me than anyone else on this earth. The worst times in our married life have been times when something has driven a wedge between us. Using contraception would be the mother of all wedges, and I couldn’t live like that. Neither could he.
But I also don’t walk around touting the magical wonders of NFP. As far as I can see, NFP has no magical wonders except for the magical ability to confuse and frustrate the hell out of me. We’ve gone through two methods now. The first, the Sympto-Thermal Method, was ridiculous on its face. The “thermal” part of it measures your basal body temperature, which requires you to wake up at the exact same time every morning, go to sleep at the exact same time every night, never have a cold, and most horrifically, never drink alcohol. It seems to me that the creators of this method never actually realized that it might be used by human mothers as opposed to the robotic variety, but there it is. I never go to sleep at the same time, nor do I set an alarm clock (because I have these loud things called children), someone always has a cold that inevitably ends up all over me, and I love wine. So my basal body temperature is all over the map, all the time.
The Sympto-Thermal Method also requires its users to *ahem* check their own cervix.
|I know, kid, that’s how I feel too|
Here’s the thing about that: Blue Cross Blue Shield and I pay highly-trained professionals good money to do that for me, and while I’m sure they’re doing an excellent job, those annual exams are an annual rite of torture. I am not about to go voluntarily spelunking around inside my own vagina on a daily basis until I figure out where my cervix is and what its various positions can tell me about my fertility. Because that’s gross, and quite frankly it sounds terribly uncomfortable. Count me out of the “internal examination” camp, for the foreseeable ever.
So that leaves the (sorry, everyone) mucus thing. The Sympto-Thermal Method does a bad job of explaining that particular sign of fertility. The Creighton Method, which is very magical and amazing when you’re taking the classes, does an excellent good job of explaining how to recognize and identify cervical mucus, and even provides you with an encyclopedia of color photographs to clarify and make you vomit. Here’s my big problem with Creighton, though: it’s equally as unrealistic in its own way as the basal body temperature nonsense.
Creighton requires that you “check your signs” each time you use the bathroom, both before and after, and before and after showering. Theoretically, that’s totally doable, right?
Right. 50% of my bathroom breaks usually come to an abrupt end when Sienna comes rushing in to tell me that “Liam has broken a dish/eaten out of the sugar bowl/pulled out all the knives/swan-dived off the bookshelf/gotten wet and turned into a Gremlin right on the kitchen floor!” Can you guess how many times I’ve responded with, “Oh, okay, I’ll come save his life, right after I check my signs?”
Uh-huh. Like I said, the creators of these methods seem to forget that they’re being used by human mothers with at least partially human children. If you miss checking, even just once, you could miss THE SIGN that tells you that if you throw yourself into your husband’s arms tonight, four months later you’ll be writing a blog post about how NFP sucks while sucking on anti-nausea Preggie Pop Drops.
The Marquette method holds promise, I think, particularly because it doesn’t require absolute faithfulness in checking temperatures or signs. One of my readers left a comment about a method that she developed that I will be trying in about six months. It’s basically the Marquette method minus the expensive monitor, and it sounds quite intriguing.
But the point is, I’m not interested in re-branding NFP. I can understand why some people want to do that, but I personally don’t use NFP because it works or because it’s green or because I love finding out about how neat my body is (I don’t…it’s neat, let’s leave it at that). I use NFP (or more accurately, fail to use it) because I believe in the teachings of the Catholic Church, and because I believe that artificial contraception is wrong. Period.
I think it’s a little dishonest to try and convince people to give NFP a try for any reason other than the one that matters. It isn’t fun to try and guess if you’re fertile or not. It’s not a pleasant bonding experience or a return to an “engaged state” when you haven’t had sex with your husband for three months because you cannot, for the life of you, figure out what the hell your mucus is telling you. It’s hard. It sucks. It hurts to have to say “not tonight, and I don’t know when.” It hurts to have to turn away from the one you love when you’re both stressed and weary and you really just want to seek the comfort of each others’ arms. It’s frightening to find yourself pregnant yet again when you don’t know where you’ll be living in six months or if you’ll have insurance or even a job. It requires faith. It requires trust. It requires an absolute commitment to attempting to live a virtuous life. Anything less, and you’ll find yourself cursing Humanae Vitae and wavering in your faith. I still find my faith wavering sometimes in the face of those two pink lines. But God has blessed me with a faithful husband and faithful friends who remind me that what I’m doing is right and good, that things will work out, and that even if they don’t work out, following Christ is worth suffering for.
I love the Catholic faith because it is beautiful, magical and wondrous. Not using artificial contraception is an integral part of that. It shows a deep respect for the dignity of both woman and man that I have never found elsewhere. But living that faith is not easy, and we ought not try to “re-brand” or re-package Catholicism to make it look more attractive. We don’t practice our faith because it’s attractive, we practice it because it’s true. The same can be said of NFP. Yes, the manuals are woefully dated and off-putting. Yes, we could use new and more practical methods based on the latest scientific innovations. I’m all for addressing those concerns. But I don’t think we should white-wash why it is that we chose this road, nor the difficulties that we face. It is fundamentally more difficult to practice NFP than it is to pop a pill or use a condom. It’s also a fundamentally better choice for humanity. That should be our message…not that NFP is easy, or fun, or green, but that it’s right.