Another important aspect of our marriage preparations has been in the area of Natural Family Planning. Contrary to popular belief, the Church does encourage married couples to plan together their family size, but there is vast difference between the Church’s vision of family planning and that of the secular society. Out in the world ‘family planning’ usually means the choice of contraception that a couple will use in between having their one or two children. In the Catholic vision, however, family planning takes on a much more positive and personal understanding. At a foundational level, children are always seen as a great gift and a sign of God’s blessing. All through the Old Testament the blessings of the Lord were always seen in the children bestowed upon a couple and it is wise for us to recall that.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about one of our marriage preparation sessions on the sexual union and how it should be seen as the pre-eminent form of communication because it echoes the love of God. If this ideal is carried through then it can be seen why contraception is so harmful to marriage. Contraception says ‘I give you all of me but I withhold my fertility, I do not want our love to be fruitful’. With contraception, the language of the body becomes distorted. The Church is often criticised for prying into the bedrooms of couples but it is God himself who has made us as sexual beings and that sexuality has a very real meaning. In this fundamental teaching on contraception the Church is simply reminding couples of their dignity and the greatness to which they are called in their love. The Church could never approve contraception because contraception turns the sexual union into something other than what God planned it to be; and it is only in living out God’s designs for life and love that genuine happiness can be found.
A further criticism given to this vision is that the Church is requiring all couples to have twenty children and again this is very far from the truth. The Church makes it explicitly clear that the decision as to how many children a couple will have rests solely between them and God. I cringe when I hear well meaning family and friends prodding young couples about when they are having their children or why they are having the number they are having. Certain things are very private and the number and spacing of children is one of those things. We never know the particular blessings or struggles that have led a couple to have the number of children they have. What the Church does ask couples for though, is a continual openness to generosity. All through a couple’s fertile years, the Lord might call them to have another child. I am always concerned when a couple ‘know’ the number of children they are going to have before they even marry. How can a couple be sure at the very start of their life together what the Lord has in store for them, maybe they will struggle to even have one, perhaps the Lord will give them the means and generosity to have twelve!
Knowing that contraception is not even an option it was important for Jane and I to understand how our fertility works. We chose to see a Billings Ovulation Method teacher and she has been very helpful in guiding us to understand and chart accordingly the information needed so we are able to know how best to achieve, and if necessary, avoid pregnancy. Modern natural family planning has absolutely nothing to do with the old Rhythm Method which was highly inaccurate due to assuming that all women had the same length cycle. The Billings Method is scientifically based on the actual signs of fertility as they happen and can thus be used by any woman at any stage of her life. It is absolutely essential information for every woman (and her husband) to have. Unlike contraception which leaves many women taking a highly toxic cocktail of drugs for most of their fertile years, Natural Family Planning relies on an ongoing discussion between the couple about where they are at in their life. It allows for an openness and honesty that makes planning a family the joyful work of both husband and wife.