Hi guys, this is a guest post by my friend Bethany Shields over at Snapdragon of the Field while I’m enjoying the snuggles of our new little one. I hope you love it!
Natural Family Planning and I did not begin on the best of terms.
I never considered natural family planning to be a reasonable option for birth control. Having been raised in an evangelical, Protestant home, I accepted the use of artificial contraception as an appropriate, even necessary, part of marriage. It was a cut and dry decision for me when my husband and I got married—everyone used contraception and it was irresponsible not to.
A change in plans
My husband was raised similarly, but as the six-week mark neared after the birth of our first child, he expressed his increasing moral uneasiness with using birth control. I brushed him off with comments like, “Sure, I see your point, but really, practically speaking, what will we do? Not use birth control?? There’s no way around it.”
He held firm. Although he was anxious about having another child right away, he decided he would rather practice abstinence than commit a sin. So it was that at six weeks postpartum, cleared to resume sexual activity, my dear husband decided he was not comfortable using birth control.
I was furious. My mind churned with arguments.
Maddeningly, not only did he hold firm, he had reasonable responses to my arguments.
As I struggled for more creative ways to strengthen my position—and further assessed the “why” behind my feelings—some of my previously unexamined attitudes came to light. Much of my “common sense” wisdom about marital relations did not seem very Christlike. As I reflected on all this, I had to admit that these fears were not of God.
Our NFP Journey
While my husband and I have (and had) a very good relationship—we remained chaste before our wedding, we believe in the sanctity of marriage, and we are very frank and open with each other—contraception did not contribute to its goodness. It allowed us to develop unhealthy patterns: using sex as temporary bandage for deeper problems; burying feelings of guilt about sex and contraception; and struggling with feelings of obligation and “wifely duty.”
I wouldn’t have expected it, but I’ve been surprised and delighted by all the ways my life and marriage have grown through the past few years of practicing NFP. I’ve grown to appreciate it and the valuable lessons it has taught me. Here are three areas where I’ve been particularly blessed by a positive shift in perspective and attitude:
NFP makes it clear that sexual fulfillment is not the highest goal of life or a guarantor of happiness.
Sex is a wonderful gift of God—but it is not everything.
Before practicing NFP, I worried that inability to have sex anytime we wanted would seriously jeopardize my marriage. I worried that my husband and I would be sexually frustrated, our intimacy and communication would break down, and eyes (or more) might start wandering.
I had bought into cultural assumptions that sex is a need and denial is detrimental. With that mindset, a family planning practice demanding frequent abstinence seemed insupportable. I feared that the burden would be too great.
Certainly, I do think that married couples should have sex. However, the prevalent cultural view (that an insatiable sex drive is normal and that immediately fulfilling all sexual desire leads to the greatest happiness) is baloney.
Let’s be honest—it’s impossible to have sex all the time. Before practicing NFP, though, the burden usually fell to me, as the woman in the relationship, to establish the boundaries. Now, though, instead of going through the hoops of “who wants to have sex when” and creating a difficult situation when one of us wants to have sex and the other doesn’t, we have it fairly well set out for us.
We both know when we can’t have sex (if we’re trying to avoid pregnancy) and we both know when we can and we plan accordingly. This actually makes our times of coming together all the more important and special to us both.
Even abstinence draws us together, as it teaches us to go deeper in our partnership and respect for each other. Most of all, we are learning new ways to care for each other and maintain intimacy instead of just relying on sex for connection.
Practicing restraint and abstinence helps us enjoy and cherish sexual intimacy as the wonderful gift of God that it is.
2. NFP maintains the vital link between sexual relations and conceiving a child.
I’ve been so blessed by NFP and all its practice has taught me about the “marital embrace.” While some might scoff at the euphemism, I have come to appreciate that this term most beautifully and precisely captures what sex should be. The pleasure of the marital embrace is inextricably tied up in the beauty and joy of the creation of new life.
Sexual intimacy should be connected to the birth of children and maintaining the relational bonds of the parents who are trying to raise a family together. When divorced from that, the door opens to all kinds of misguided desire and sexual misconduct.
Moreover, I realized that my reasons for wanting to use contraception boiled down to distrust that I could give this part of my life to God. Birth control was just that—control. Despite failing to conceive our first child for a frustrating year and a half, I still wanted contraceptives to shut out the month-to-month uncertainties of possible pregnancy. I worried that people would think we were reckless or foolhardy if we had another child “too soon.”
Ultimately, though, I realized that if I was truly going to trust God with my life, I had to trust Him with this area, too. Besides, no birth control method is foolproof and many come with some other significant drawbacks, which leads me to my next point…
NFP taught me to appreciate and value my body, instead of suppress and ignore it.
Through learning and practicing NFP, I’ve gained knowledge and understanding of my body as a woman that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
So much of the modern American approach toward women’s bodies seems to revolve around suppression, control, and containment. This breeds an attitude that women should “take care of it” and do what’s necessary ensure that they won’t get pregnant.
I can’t begin to express how much I dislike that.
Yes, I still carry most of the responsibility for determining when I am or am not fertile while practicing NFP (which was very intimidating for me, at first) but it’s a very different attitude altogether. I’m working with my body, understanding it, and learning more fully what it means to be a woman.
I’ve felt more empowered as a women through practicing NFP than by anything else I’ve done in my life (with the possible exception of childbirth 😉 ). I feel like I am working with my body instead of trying to manipulate it and force it to work within the confines of something it wasn’t meant to do. I’m celebrating who I am as a woman, and all the wonderful, spectacular, awe-inspiring wonder that comes with that.
Incidentally, NFP also has given my husband a much deeper appreciation for and understanding of women (me, in particular). It’s an amazing thing that he cares about and understands what is going on with my body and the amazing (and sometimes crazy!) things it can do.
Before my husband and I began Natural Family Planning, we communicated and worked on our relationship together, but something always felt lacking. In retrospect, contraception is one of the things that kept us apart. While striving for intimacy and openness, we couldn’t be on the same page while withholding part of ourselves.
Now, when we come together, we enter into a truer union. We are happy if we should conceive another child or we mutually make the decision to abstain. These lessons were not possible while using contraception. While I came to natural family planning very unwillingly, my marriage, husband, and I have been tremendously blessed through the new insights and intimacy it brings us.
Natural Family Planning has not been as difficult or as daunting as I thought it would be. While it certainly has its drawbacks, overall I’ve been so pleased to find God’s blessings through my journey with NFP.
Now, our family planning practice more accurately reflects what we believe about God, his creation, and his lordship. Relinquishing control of this area of our lives has blessed us with newfound perspective, as we witness God’s intentions for human sexuality, family, and marriage.
Bethany blogs at Snapdragon of the Field about being a woman of God in the middle of all the concerns of this world. She’s currently a stay-at-home wife and mom to two little girls. In the midst of cooking, cleaning, and crafting, she’s trying to learn how to listen for God’s voice in the chaos and trust herself to His care.