The Super Suckage of NFP

*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.   

  • Annie

    But how is abstaining for months at a time being “open to life?” I could argue that using the pull-out method after having sex during ovulation is more “open to life” than abstaining, since the pull-out method is not 100% effective. Also, if NFP works for you and your marriage, that’s great. Acknowledging that the only good reason to use it is your Catholic faith is also totally right-on. Since you can communicate, be intimate in non-sexual ways because you want to (not just because you’re in a fertile time but don’t want to get pregnant) be green (after all, creating another American consumer is decidedly NOT good for the environment), and have a wonderful, loving marriage without NFP. I would know, since using a reliable method of birth control has been great for my own marriage. If you feel it’s bad for yours, then by all means don’t use it!
    PS Concerning carcinogens: alcohol, engine exhaust, mineral oils, paint, and UV rays are also carcinogens so beware.

    • Steve

      The pull-out method is the same thing as contraception. It’s engaging in the sexual act but then trying to avoid the consequences of it with a barrier, a chemical, or pulling out at the last second.

      NFP isn’t about being always, constantly open to life. It’s about when you *do* decide to have sex to be open to life, rather than short-circuiting the very natural consequences of it.

    • Mimi

      We had better start creating more American babies. Radical Environmentalists see children as consumers and parasites sucking the life out of the Earth. Children are the innovators, researchers, healers, and workers that we need to carve out the future. Our birthrate in this country has been dropping to almost European levels for the last 20 years. We are looking at an economic AND environmental disaster. The world without enough children is not the utopia that our culture would lead us to believe. Ask Greece, ask Russia, ask Germany, ask Italy, ask Japan. It may sound nice on paper, but the reality is chaos.

      • Newp Ort

        Children are not a means to an end. Environmentalists you say (strawman much?) see too many of them as something to be avoided to further their goals. To the degree that we need to crank ‘em out because they will save us from a demographic collapse, or there won’t be enough Americans is the degree to which we get it wrong. Man those mohammedans are havin a lot of kids – we better get our numbers up so we don’t fall behind the undesirables! I know you didn’t say this explicitly, but it is a logical conclusion from your need for children as a long term strategy. And I have heard this sky is falling strategy promoted by more than just a few prominent voices in the catholic mediasphere.

        If NFP is about loving more openly in your marriage and trusting God, I don’t see what your point has to do with it.

  • Jenn

    I really appreciate this blog. I am a cradle Catholic struggling to do the “right” thing when it comes to birth control. I have NEVER had a regular cycle, and like the author of this blog, I can never seem to check my temp at the same time because I also have small children ( 2 years and 7 weeks). I was given an NFP book by my mother about a month before I got married and was COMPLETELY overwhelmed by everything this practice entailed. How was I EVER going to be able to learn to do all that, let alone find the discipline to practice it, pardon the pun, “religiously”? My husband and I have been married 5 years and we have two children. Neither one planned, and our youngest was conceived on a day I thought I was infertile! Now that I’m 7 weeks post partum I am really trying to do the charting thing daily and figure out just what the hell my body is doing. Due to a deployment and a pregnancy, my husband and I have only been intimate a grand total of three times in two years. I am beyond stressed out about the lack of love making and can’t fathom continuing to wait while I figure out charting, which, for those that use this method, know that the “figuring out” process could take months. I think its ridiculous to be worried about intimacy with my husband so much. It takes away the enjoyment factor of “the act”, when I’m constantly worried that we are going to get pregnant. The author of this blog nailed it on the head when she mentioned it all comes down to faith. I know mine needs to be stronger in order to live in my marriage the way God intended. Financially it would be a complete nightmare now, not to mention the threat on my job having to tell my boss that we are expecting again so soon after having our last child! I feel overwhelmed and a little pissed off that the responsiblity falls entirely on the woman. With two small children, a husband, and a full time job, I don’t need another obligation and stresser in my life (meaning the charting and tracking of every little thing). I must also agree with the author on the subject of checking your cervix. If you can get past being totally disgusted how do you know what to feel for, or what you’re feeling? That process alone could take months of observing daily before you had any idea. Reading this blog made me feel like someone was voicing what my experience has been and I must say its refreshing not to feel alone. My hope is that a Catholic woman will figure out the quickest and easiest way to follow NFP (being effective of coarse) and will share her knowledge with those of us trying to keep God at the center of our marriages in an ever secular world. Thanks to the author for sharing. I feel I have found a sister who truly understands.

  • Pattie, RN

    OK, I know I am a post-menopausal Grandmother, but I am also a nurse who used NFP for a LONG time before I was a nurse…..the methods all get easier when you get more familiar with your body and its signals-REALLY!
    Stay strong……

  • AnonIMous

    I have really liked NFP up until today.

    Being really aware of your body can be good. But then, what happens when you realize you are a young woman and “off the charts”? I have a 35 day cycle, ovulate around day 25 or 26, and have a basal low temperature of 97.1 to 97.3.

    This could be nothing. But now I am worried: am I infertile? Do I have a short luteal phase? I am compulsively googling for medical reports. I might have a sluggish thyroid.

    Information can be a good or a bad thing. Just praying that I will rest in the peace of Christ. Thanks for the post. At first I thought it was shallow. Now I don’t at all.

    • Colleen F

      I know how you feel, you are describing me! It sounds like I have the same cycle as you
      Sad to say, I haven’t found any answers yet either..

      But I have a feeling, deep down in my heart, that I shouldn’t worry about it.
      Stress is a big factor in screwing up cycles and how you feel… Relax :)
      Information is a good thing, even if it doesn’t seem like it.
      My husband and I decided to just put those worries into God’s hands and trust in Him.

  • Newp Ort

    NFP enthusiasts remind me of mothers that loudly proclaim their own Herculean (Sysiphean?) struggles to save their children from the evils of sugar, dairy, gluten, etc. And of course the subtext that they are superior to those that don’t share this struggle.

    If your catholic birth control is such an arduous task just use a damn condom already. There are decent people that contracept and amazingly do have love and communication in their not-childless marriages. hey do it because of their lack of trust in God, which leads them to want to control their family size because “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.”

    Astoundingly, some of them, despite their contraceptive mentality, actually don’t want to kill babies and brainwash your kids into being gay.