It’s Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, in case you weren’t… um, aware. Much has been written about it, in every corner of the Catholic blogosphere. How it strengthens your marriage, how it’s better for your body and the environment than hormone-based birth control, how terrible and/or wonderful it is, hyper-fertility and sub-fertility, you name it. Quite honestly, even though Kevin and I have practiced NFP (sometimes vigilantly, sometimes very lazily) for our entire marriage, I didn’t think there was much to add to the plethora of information shared by better writers.
I happen to have the distinction, however, of being an adult child in a family formed by NFP. I come from a family that, by today’s standards, is insanely – some might say obscenely – large. I’m the second oldest of eleven children (and the only girl until I was nearly 16 years old – a little sympathy please?). Since that’s a curiosity to most of the western world, I thought I’d share how I feel about my parents’ choice to practice NFP, and to openly accept more children than most people thought necessary or even wise.
Let me back up. My parents married young and had my older brother within a year. They were practicing Catholics, and my mom was one of the original granola moms (tofu and homeschooling in the 80’s firmly planted us in that category) but my parents didn’t always practice NFP. Or rather, they did, but rather haphazardly, and without fully understanding the teachings, the *why* of Natural Family Planning. Soon, my parents found themselves with 6 children under 9 years old, tired and unsure of why they were continuing with NFP when it didn’t seem to be helping them space their children at all.
Struggling to find balance in their lives, they consulted with a priest about the possibility of seeking permanent birth control via a vasectomy. The priest congratulated them on being open to life up to that point, and told them he would never be able to counsel them to permanently end their fertility. That wasn’t quite what my parents were hoping for, but they trusted the priest and decided to focus their efforts on practicing NFP more intentionally.
Thank God. Thank you God for that priest. If my parents had sought the counsel of a less faithful priest, or no counsel at all, my life – indeed, the world – would be radically different.
Over the next few years, my parents felt their hearts being called to having more children. My mom likes to half-joke that the only kids who weren’t surprises (she hates the term “accidents”) were the last four. After years of struggling to suppress their fertility, they finally embraced it and are eternally grateful for the blessings of all 11 of their children.
How would my life be different without NFP? Well, I’d be missing:
- 2 brothers
- 3 sisters (I’d have no sisters at all, in fact.)
- 1 sister-in-law
- 3 potential brothers-in-law
- ??? potential nieces and nephews
The world would be missing:
- a chiropractor
- a seminarian
- a prayer warrior
- an artist
- an animal lover
- 2 college students
- 2 redheads
- 1 lovely lady with heterochromia iridium
- 1 introvert
- 4 extroverts
My family would have less conflicts, and possibly greater wealth, I suppose. But we’d also have fewer:
- Baby showers
- Philosophical debates
- Ridiculous family competitions (Spoons, anyone?)
and far less:
- Opportunities for serving each other
These 5 people, and any future children they may have, exist because my parents, at great personal sacrifice, chose not to permanently end their fertility. These are my brothers and sisters that exist because of NFP.
This is what people often miss when we talk about the Church asking us to be open to life. It’s not an abstract concept or a list of rules, far from it. Our fertility strikes at the deepest desires of our heart: the longing to create as God has created and to love a child as God has loved us. Christ, through His Church, double-dog dares us to live in love and not fear, to trust and let loose our iron grip on control.
I am a child of NFP, and Kevin and I are forming our family the same way. I don’t want to get past my childbearing years and wonder if I refused my children the same love God has showered upon me through the gift of my siblings. NFP doesn’t just open us up to more babies, more children. It allows us to give the world irreplaceable people.
NFP changes everything.